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

Posts tagged “Great blue heron

Some blasts from the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

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

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

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

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

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

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swans

Mute swans

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

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

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

Mute swan courtship

The lakes attracted plenty of geese as well.

Canada geese taking flight

Canada geese taking flight

Canada goose in flight

Canada goose in flight

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

Juvenile barn swallow

Juvenile barn swallow

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

American robin

American robin

Male house finch

Male house finch

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

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

Male turkey

Male turkey

Young male turkey

Young male turkey

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

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

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Spring flowers

Iris

Iris

Green heron

Green heron

Fall foliage

Fall foliage

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Patterns on the Lake Michigan beach

Patterns on the Lake Michigan beach

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtle

IMG_2032

Spring flowers

 

Green heron

Green heron

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

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight

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

Oh, one more photo for this one.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

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

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

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Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, more shorebirds

This post is the second from the trip that I made to Muskegon on August 10th, 2014, you can see the first one here.

I may as well start with a few photos of a pectoral sandpiper which I have also used to update the post on them that I had done earlier in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since some of my earlier photos weren’t as good as these.

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Pectoral sandpiper

Not only weren’t some of the photos very good, I had incorrectly put a few photos of an upland sandpiper in that post.

Identifying shorebirds is still difficult for me, but the more of them I see frequently, the easier it is becoming. The first time that I went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to photograph shorebirds, they all looked alike to me. I’m getting better, I could tell that the pectoral sandpiper wasn’t a yellowlegs…

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

…nor was it a solitary sandpiper, as this is.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

I’m learning to spot the slight differences in the color patterns on their backs, in their bills, and leg color, all of which are clues to their ID.

Another thing that I’m learning is how to get good photos of them. The first few times that I tried I had a very hard time getting the exposure correct. With the sunlight reflecting off from the water and rocks, it results in “confused” light entering the camera. Confused lighting isn’t easy to work with, but getting closer helps a lot, along with checking the images and adjusting the exposure for each and every situation. You can see some of the reflections from the water in the first photo of the pectoral sandpiper. However, those aren’t the worst offenders as far as reflections, it’s the ones that you can’t see which make photography difficult.

One thing that I meant to try was to use a polarizing filter to cut down on the reflected light coming from the water and rocks, but I haven’t shelled out the big bucks for one of those filters to fit the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) yet. It takes an 86 mm filter, and they don’t come cheap for a good one of that size. I do have a polarizing filter for the 300 mm prime, but I didn’t want to do any testing and risk missing a photo of something special. It turns out that I didn’t see any birds that fit that category, but you never know around Muskegon.

Another thing that I want to try is using fill in flash to help when the lighting is less than ideal. I’m jumping way ahead, but just before I packed it in for the day, I found a treasure trove of birds to photograph, but on the north shore of the lagoon. That meant that I was shooting towards the sun, and my photos from that spot are not what I wanted, but they’ll have to do.

Bonaparte's gull in breeding plumage

Bonaparte’s gull in breeding plumage

The only photos that I had up until them of the Bonaparte’s gull were of juveniles, or adults after they had molted. I didn’t know it when I shot that photo that just a bit later I would get a chance to photograph another of the gulls while perched on shore.

Adult Bonaparte's gull

Adult Bonaparte’s gull

Still, the light was wrong for that shot, but it was the best that I could do, birds don’t always perch where I would like them to for the best images. 😉

I used to use the flash on my Canon Powershot camera for fill-in flash quite often, but that camera seemed to be programmed to get good results that way. My old Nikon was junk, but I learned some bad habits from it, like not using fill-in flash. I also made a poor decision in purchasing an off brand flash unit that had little control over the unit’s output for the Nikon.

I thought about trying the flash on my Canon to improve the gull photos, but as large and long as the Beast is, I didn’t think that the built-in flash would work well. I could have been wrong. It’s been rainy the past two days, so I’ve been playing, but not with the Beast on the camera. However, the results when using the flash and the 300 mm prime lens have been encouraging so far.

Still, if I’m going to get serious about using a flash more often, as my brother keeps telling me I need to do, I need a better, more controllable flash than the one built-in on my camera.

I’ve been researching Canon’s speedlites, and I’ve settled on the 320 EX. It can be used as a wireless slave in addition to or instead of the camera’s flash. That means that I don’t have to have the flash mounted on the camera in order to fire it. The camera will do that wirelessly, meaning I can hand hold the flash off to one side for macro photography. In addition, I can have the camera on a tripod, point the flash at the camera and press a button on the flash to trigger the camera’s two second shutter delay, and it’s the same as pressing the shutter release on the camera using a two second delay. The two seconds will allow me to position the flash before the shutter fires. I can even trigger the camera remotely with the flash, and have the flash not fire, just like the remote control that I was going to purchase.

So, that flash will kill two birds with one stone, not only will it work as a flash, but it will also work as the remote control that I needed. Speaking of birds, it’s time for a few more.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I included the killdeer because I saw so many of them, dozens at least.

This spotted sandpiper was jumping from rock to rock in search of food…

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

…and seemed quite proud of itself after making the leap without getting wet.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

I tried to catch a jump, but I missed, a little early on the shutter.

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

Spotted sandpiper jumping from rock to rock

By using the sparse brush along the dike that created the lagoon, I was able to sneak up on the short-billed dowitcher from the last post.

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

A little closer.

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

Short-billed dowitcher and least sandpiper

I almost got even closer to the dowitcher, but a bird that I hadn’t seen as it hid in the rocks took off when I spooked it, and spooked the dowitcher as well. Birds weren’t the only critters hiding between the rocks.

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

Thirteen lined ground squirrel or gopher

I did get two poor shots of the dowitcher in flight.

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

Short-billed dowitcher in flight

I also saw a small flock of semipalmated plovers, they’re such cute little birds!

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plovers

Semipalmated plovers

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

The look like killdeer, but they’re less than half the size, only have one black band at the neck, and have slightly webbed feet, which if you look closely at the last photo, you can see.

For the other birds that I saw, there were quite a few hawks….

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

Red-tailed hawk taking flight

….another juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…a great blue heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…a common raven…

Common raven

Common raven

…and last, but certainly not least, a sandhill crane.

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

Sandhill crane

I had mentioned earlier in this post that I had found a treasure trove of birds along the north shore of one of the lagoons. That’s where I shot the gulls and plovers. But, by that time I had nearly baked my brain again in the hot sun as I stalked the shorebirds from this post and the last. Since I had been sick that morning from too much sun the day before, and since the light was so poor on the north shore of the lagoon, I decided to call it quits for the day. The rest of the photos were shot as I drove slowly towards the exit of the wastewater facility.

I’ll probably be going back this next weekend, I know of no other place where I can see and photograph the variety of birds that I do there.

I think that I’ll pick-up the flash unit tomorrow if it is in stock locally, that will give me time to read the manuals for it and my camera, and test it out around home here before I try it on some rare bird that I may spot.

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

 


Muskegon trip Aug. 10th, sharing a thermal

I had great plans for the day, starting with getting up early so I’d beat the heat of the day. I was up early, but I was also sicker than a dog, so I piddled around home for a while until I felt well enough to go. That meant that I had to change my plans a bit. I was going to start at Lane’s Landing again, but instead, I started and finished at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility.

I shot 600 photos, and no, I’m not going to post them all, not even close. The “curse” of the wastewater facility struck again, I have to be very close to a subject to get a sharp photo of anything there. I’ve discussed possible reasons for that in the past, no need for me to rehash them again. It is a shame though, there are more birds to be seen there than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The area is mostly open as well, making it hard to sneak up on the birds. The first few times I went, I shot most of my photos from my vehicle, but I am learning a few tricks that let me get closer to the birds on foot, so that my photos are a bit better at least some of the time.

As soon as I turned off from the main road to enter the facility, I began shooting photos, starting with a red-tailed hawk and a great blue heron, but those images have been deleted, since both species made frequent appearances during the day. On the other side of the road I spotted some spotted bee balm, and so I decided to look them over and if they looked good, I’d set up my tripod and get some good macro photos of them. Silly me, since the flowers were within a few feet of the road, I didn’t grab a camera, and several species of waterfowl went winging past me as I inspected the bee balm. I quickly returned to my Forester and grabbed the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) but the waterfowl seemed to know that I had a camera then, and stopped flying past me. The spotted bee balm was well past its prime, but I did find this insect feeding on the few remaining flowers.

Wasp-like insect on spotted bee balm

Wasp-like insect on spotted bee balm

Not bad for a “junk” lens not worth buying. 😉 But, I’ve hammered that review of the Sigma lens enough, time to move on.

And move on I did, checking what are called the grassy cells for any birds that were worth exiting my vehicle and attempting to stalk on foot. I did spy a red-tailed hawk recharging after a rough morning.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

A little farther on, this great blue heron.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

As good as the Beast is, the 300 mm prime is better under the right circumstances, and I’d love to see what the prime lens can do on a heron. So, I drove down the road a short way until I could find a place to park in the shade, swapped lenses, and started back on foot, hoping to sneak up on the heron. It didn’t work.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I don’t know if the heron heard me, or if it just decided to try other hunting grounds, but you can see that it left well before I got close to it.

However, what happened next was one of those magical moments in nature that I’ll never forget, although it began on the bland side. I was walking back to my Subaru when a small flock of vultures came from over the woods out in the open very close to me.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

As I was standing outside of the car, changing back to the Beast, the vultures continued to circle above me, catching a thermal updraft to help them gain altitude without expending much energy. The vultures were still over me as a pair of sandhill cranes came from across the grassy cells, headed straight at me, giving me plenty of time to get ready for them.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

The cranes joined the vultures circling over me as they gained altitude also. Next, a red-tailed hawk came along to do the same.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

By then, I had a flock of vultures, the cranes, and a hawk all riding the thermal upwards, which begs the question, how do the birds know where to find updrafts? Because the vultures and the hawk as well as more birds I haven’t mentioned yet came from over the woods, I don’t know how far away from the updraft that they were to start. But, I know the cranes flew a quarter of a mile directly towards the updraft to get to it.

Can the birds tell by the lay of the land, experience, weather conditions, or a combination of various factors to find an updraft?

Anyway, the first hawk had hardly gotten out of photo range when the young eagle joined the parade.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

I was getting arm weary keeping the beast pointed almost straight up, but the birds kept coming.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I thought about zooming out and trying to get several of the birds in one photo, but the vultures were mere specks in the sky by then, the cranes were slightly closer, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell what they were, and besides, more hawks joined the upward spiral.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

You may think that I’m cheating and using many photos of the same hawk, but I’m not. Look closely at the markings of the hawks and you can see that there were five individual hawks circling over me, along with the eagle, cranes, and vultures.

It was truly an awesome display, seeing all those birds circling over me, I forgot how sick I had been earlier. 😉 I neglected to say that I think that I felt as poorly as I had because of my allergies kicking in combined with too much sun the day before. I had gotten the top of my head sunburned even though I wore the same hat that I always do.

I may not have gotten a great photo of the heron which I had set out for, but I have to thank the heron anyway, for if I hadn’t parked there to try, I would have never seen all those graceful birds flying over me to begin circling above me.

For most of the rest of the day, I spent my time chasing shorebirds, of which there were many. The fall migration has begun in earnest, believe me! Two years ago I had never heard of most of the species of shorebirds that I saw this day, and it was just a year ago that I wondered if I would ever get a good photo of a species like the lesser yellowlegs. Little did I know.

There were so may yellowlegs everywhere that there was no way I could keep count of them all.

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

IMG_8251

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs in flight

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

I’m sorry for so many photos of them, but they were everywhere! And as many of them as there were, there were even more least sandpipers!  (I won’t bore you with as many photos though)

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

When I did see a species of shorebird other than those two, my biggest problem as far as photography was getting the other species alone. Most of the time, there were either least sandpipers or yellowlegs in the frame at the same time. Here’s a wider shot showing a Short-billed Dowitcher in a mixed flock of shorebirds.

Short-billed Dowitcher and mixed shorebirds

Short-billed Dowitcher and mixed shorebirds

Luck was on my side, later I caught the dowitcher even closer, with just one least sandpiper in the frame. However, those photos and the rest that I saved from this trip will be in the next post. 😉 And I promise, no more yellowlegs or least sandpipers unless they just happened to be in the frame as I shot another species of bird. 😉 But, I know of no other way to convey the shear numbers of those two species that I saw on this trip.

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

 


Jumping ahead, Lost Lake again

Even though I have photos from last week to use up, I’m going to jump ahead, and do a post on my day at Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park today. For one thing, I shot a series of photos of Atlantic Blue-eyed grass using three different lenses, and I want to put them in a post before I forget which images were shot with which lens.

Some of you may find so many photos of the same flower boring, but I’m doing this for any budding photographers who may read this, or for more experienced shutterbugs that may be considering what lens(es) to purchase. It was also a learning experience for me, so I’d like to document it.

I may as well start out with the lens test that I did, even though I did it in the middle of my day.

First, Canon 300 mm L series lens with Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter, at near the limit of how close it can focus. The image wasn’t cropped at all.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm

I forgot to shoot one to crop, so here’s a cropped photo from last week, taken with the same lens/extender combo.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm, cropped

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 420 mm, cropped

Next up, my Canon 15-85 mm lens, as close as it will focus.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, not cropped

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, not cropped

Sorry about the tripod leg being in the background, I was using the it to hold the stalk of the flower still in the wind, and I thought that it would be out of focus for a nice dark background. 😉

Here’s the cropped version from the 15-85 mm lens.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, cropped

Atlantic blue-eyed grass at 85 mm, cropped

Finally, two from the Tokina 100 mm macro lens, neither of them cropped at all, I didn’t have to. I could have, and maybe should have, gotten much closer.

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Atlantic blue-eyed grass, Tokina 100 mm macro lens

Because I reduce the quality of the images that I post here, you may not see how much of a difference that there is between the three lenses. The Tokina is the clear winner, followed by the 300 mm L series lens, with the 15-85 mm lens lagging slightly behind. That’s more or less what I had expected, but I had time to play, so it seemed like something worthwhile to try. If there was anything surprising about this test, it was how well that the 15-85 mm lens did compared to two lenses with the reputation for being extremely sharp for macro photos.

Even though I tried to use the tripod to hold the flower still, I think that it moved a little in the wind during the last photo. I was using the servo mode of auto-focus because of the wind, and the Tokina’s auto-focus is extremely slow, it may not have been able to keep up with the movement of the flower. That’s the nature of most macro lenses, because the focusing mechanism allows for very fine focus adjustments, they are very slow to auto-focus.

The images from the Tokina point out another problem that I have, the viewfinder of the 60 D body only shows 96% of what ends up in the image. I wanted the flower to almost completely fill the frame, but I mis-judged how much difference there is between what I see and what I get. But, that’s minor, I’ll learn as I go along how close to get to subjects to fill the frame the way I would like.

Anyway, the test showed me what I wanted to know, which was, how much closer the Tokina macro lens would allow me to get to a subject. Like I said before, I probably should have gone even closer, since I could have.

I am a little surprised, according to the specifications, the 15-85 mm lens will focus to 1.15 feet, the Tokina 100 mm focuses down to 11.8 inches, I didn’t think that there would be as much difference between the two lenses as there is. But, that’s measured from the focal plane, not the end of the lens.

Okay, with that out of the way, a few other photos.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Eastern chipmunk

Eastern chipmunk

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

The 300 mm L series lens has a reputation for being “soft” at longer distances, so I shot this heron and haven’t cropped the photo to test that out.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

It looks darned sharp to me when looking at the trees in the background. I would say that from 5 to 20 feet, there are few lenses that can match the sharpness of the 300 mm lens. It seems to go soft from 25 feet to around 75 feet, then, it stays sharp all the way out from 75 feet. And, soft is a relative term, most people would be very happy with the performance of the 300 mm lens. I am, but I can see its weaknesses, and to get the best photos, I have to find ways to work around those tendencies.

The Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) is a bit soft up close, it is at its sharpest from 20 to around 80 feet, then it gets a bit soft from there on. That’s what makes it such a good birding lens for me, it’s at its best at the range that I normally shoot at.

Along with testing lenses, I also did an eyesight test. I stopped by the eagle’s nest, even though I was fairly certain that any eaglets had fledged and left the nest by now. I didn’t see any eagles, but I did see a scarlet tanager hunting bugs in the eagle’s nest, see if you can spot him.

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle's nest

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle’s nest

I’ll crop an image down for you.

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle's nest

Male Scarlet tanager under an eagle’s nest

The tanager’s mate was also there, but she stayed hidden most of the time, so I didn’t get a photo of her. But, it dawned on me that my eyes must be pretty good yet to watch such small birds at so great a distance, remember, the first photo was shot at 420 mm, and the second one was cropped to bring the tanager even closer.

That reminds me, I hadn’t stopped at the eagle’s nest at all this year as it was getting hard to view the nest because of other trees in the way. Some of the trees blocking the view of the nest came down this past winter, so now there’s a clear view of the nest. I’ll have to remember that next spring.

I shot a few photos of a song sparrow.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Then, I went for a close up.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

The sparrow was not amused.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

I also got a red-eyed vireo, even though its red eye doesn’t show up in my photos.

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

Red-eyed vireo

A little later, the heron from the earlier photo came flying across the lake for these photos.

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron coming in for a landing

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

A few of the other things I saw.

Buttercup?

Buttercup?

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Water lily

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Some one spooked the heron again, sending it my way for a second time.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

And to wrap this up, a few photos of the wild iris growing around Lost Lake. I was busy fending off swarms of mosquitoes while I shot these, so I didn’t spend much time on composition, it was shoot and run.

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

Iris

I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find any of the wild orchids blooming yet, but that gives me an excuse to go back again in a week or two.

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


From two days in the Muskegon area, Part II

While I was on vacation, I went to the Muskegon area for two days of birding. On the first day, my first stop was Lane’s Landing, then the State Game Area headquarters, next was the wastewater facility, then the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve.

Even though my thoughts about the new 300 mm prime lens are now moot, I’m going to include them in this post, as they were definitely on my mind at the time.

This picks up where my last post ended, towards the end of the first day in Muskegon, my last stop of the day was the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve.

I had been growing more frustrated with the new 300 mm L series lens all day. It was too slow to auto-focus, it wouldn’t auto-focus at all far too often, so when I got to the nature preserve, I removed the Tamron extender and shot these photos.

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

Female palm warbler

Female palm warbler

Female palm warbler looking rather demure

Female palm warbler looking rather demure

Blue-headed vireo

Blue-headed vireo

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

Female Baltimore oriole

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Lincoln's sparrow

Lincoln’s sparrow

Common grackle

Common grackle

The bad thing about a day of birding like that day is that I didn’t know how “soft” many of the photos from earlier were. When I went through the nearly 400 photos that I shot on this day in total, I was even more frustrated with the new lens.

So, a few days later, when I returned to the Muskegon area, I took old reliable, otherwise known as the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) and started the day using it.

In good light, the Beast is no slouch when it comes to getting excellent images! There’s very little difference between what it can produce, and what the 300 mm prime lens can produce, as you can see here.

Female tree swallow

Female tree swallow

It’s under less than ideal conditions that the better quality of the 300 mm L series lens begins to assert itself. But, on this day, poor lighting wasn’t an issue, so here are the rest of the photos that I shot with the Beast.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Female rose-breasted grosbeak

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

There weren’t very many species of birds around to photograph, my timing was off that day, as I arrived at mid-morning when the birds were taking their siesta.

In a pinch, the Beast also works for landscapes.

Early summer

Early summer

And finally from the Beast, a woodchuck trying to help me out by pretending to be a bird, since I hadn’t seen many.

Woodchuck

Woodchuck

This was the day when as I was walking back to my vehicle at Lane’s Landing, that I decided to bite the bullet, and switch the settings of the camera body that I had only used for landscapes and macros up until then, and to use that body with the 300 mm lens and Tamron extender for birds at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. The difference was amazing, right off the bat.

Not only was the auto-focus faster and more accurate, the second body came up with slightly different exposure settings for the lens/extender combo than the first body did.

If you remember, for a few days, I thought that the problem with the 300 mm lens was an exposure problem, as the first body came up with different exposures for that lens than it does when I use the Beast. It wasn’t, well, I suppose that’s a symptom of the overall problem, which is that the first 60 D body that I bought simply does not work well with either of the L series lenses that I own.

Anyway, here are the photos, although I didn’t find as many birds as I had hoped for.

Turtle

Turtle

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat really singing

Common yellowthroat really singing

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Mute swan

Mute swan

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

Yellow warbler, not cropped

Yellow warbler, not cropped

Willow fuzz

Willow fuzz

So, it may not be “right” that one body works well with the L series lenses, and the other body doesn’t, but I can live with that. I have since done more testing, and the 300 mm lens definitely works better on the second body.

I have also tried the Beast on the second body. I used that combo for one day, and for very few birds. I can see that when I was shooting flowers and insects that the auto-focus of the Beast missed by between two to three inches, focusing that much behind where I wanted it to focus. But, the Beast has never done well with close focusing, the margin of error that I saw was very close to what I had come to expect from it on the first body. But, I’ll have to shoot more birds before I can say for sure whether it will work well on the second body.

It really doesn’t matter that much any longer. It was only my stubborn streak that made me stick to having the bodies dedicated to just certain types of photos anyway. As I’ve had the Canon bodies for a little over a year now, I’ve gotten used to changing the settings all the time as my skills have improved, as well as my photos. I still have my basic walking around, shoot quickly settings, but I use those settings less all the time, I’m changing at least the exposure compensations for almost every photo. I automatically go to aperture mode for flowers and insects, to get more depth of field, for example.

So, if I have to use the Beast on the first body for birding, and the 300 mm lens on the second body, it’s no longer a big deal to me. As long as I have a second body along that I can set-up for landscapes or macros, it doesn’t matter which is which.

I think that you’ll see what I mean when I get to the photos that I’ve been shooting since this I shot the ones in this post. Here’s a teaser of what’s to come.

Turkey

Turkey

That just happened to be shot with the 300 mm lens, Tamron extender, on the second body. But, I’ve been getting many other really good photos the last two weeks as well, using almost of my gear, other than the 70-200 mm lens. I may even get that lens out one day this coming week. When I was planning my lens purchases, I thought that the 70-200 mm lens would be my least used lens, and that has held true.

Before I begin babbling like a brook, I’d better end this post. 😉

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


From two days in the Muskegon area, Part I

While I was on vacation, I went to the Muskegon area for two days of birding. On the first day, my first stop was Lane’s Landing, then the State Game Area headquarters, next was the wastewater facility, then the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve.

Even though my thoughts about the new 300 mm prime lens are now moot, I’m going to include them in this post, as they were definitely on my mind at the time.

As I was driving back to the parking lot at Lane’s Landing, I noticed these Dame’s Rockets next to the road, so I set up my tripod and shot these with my Tokina 100 mm macro lens.

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

Dame's rockets

Dame’s rockets

It would have been easier to have used the 300 mm prime lens for those images, and if I had, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference here in my blog. However, I would have had to crop any photos from that lens to get as close as I did with the Tokina, as these are full size, not cropped at all. If I were to print the photos, there would be a difference.

Anyway, I got back to the parking lot and started hiking along the dike at Lane’s Landing that splits a large marsh into two smaller marshes, and controls the water lever in the “upper” marsh. I was using the 300 mm prime lens and Tamron 1.4 X extender for these, more on that later. But for now, birds and a bee.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

This female yellow warbler was bashful, and didn’t want her picture taken.

Female yellow warbler

Female yellow warbler

The 300 mm prime lens is great for birds in flight!

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

And when it auto-focuses correctly, it does very well with perched birds.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

These next three are of a male yellow warbler letting the rest of the bird world that he’s the baddest warbler of all.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

In my opinion, the photos are great because of the warbler’s actions, but the photos themselves are a bit soft, the 300 mm lens didn’t quite hit the mark when it focused.

But, that lens is great up close.

Bumblebee on a dandelion

Bumblebee on a dandelion

Bumblebee on a dandelion

Bumblebee on a dandelion

I think that this next one should have been sharper though.

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

This one is OK, it’s of a very pale male goldfinch, I’ve never seen one this pale before, they are usually bright yellow.

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

The 300 mm lens nailed the grosbeak!

My second stop was the State Game area headquarters, where there are several trails back through woods and fields along what used to be the Maple River. Back in the logging days, the Maple River was diverted to feed into the Muskegon River to provide more water to float logs down the river to the sawmills in Muskegon. What used to be the Maple River is now just a slough, or very long, narrow lake, depending on your point of view. There are plans to let the Maple flow freely again, but I don’t know when the work will begin on that project.

My frustrations with the 300 mm prime lens as far as its focusing continued to build on this stop. Here are the few images that I saved, as a good many that I shot were too out of focus to use.

Painted turtles basking in the sun

Painted turtles basking in the sun

Cinquefoil?

Cinquefoil?

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

I know that I already inserted photos of a male yellow warbler, but here’s a few more. This one was looking at the other males singing in the bushes next to where he was perched, first to his right….

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

…then to his left….

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

…and decided that he had better join in the chorus.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Here’s one of his competitors.

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

Male American redstart taking flight

Male American redstart taking flight

Male indigo bunting

Male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

First year male indigo bunting

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Blue-winged warbler

Blue-winged warbler

I was disappointed in the photos of the buntings, and many other birds that you won’t see in this post. And, I had to shoot twenty some photos of the blue-winged warbler to get a few to use in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. The more that I used the 300 mm prime lens, the more frustrated I became because of how poorly it focused on small birds in the brush.

My next stop was the wastewater facility, only because I had to drive past it to get to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. I thought that the new prime lens would really work well on the larger birds there, not really. I had to manually focus for this photo.

Herring gull portrait

Herring gull portrait

I had no idea why the lens wouldn’t auto-focus on the gull, but it wouldn’t.

I also shot these waterfowl while I was at the wastewater facility.

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Male blue-winged teal

Male blue-winged teal

American coot

American coot

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male canvasback

Male canvasback

When I got home and saw those last few photos, I was thoroughly bummed out. I was able to get sharper photos of a coot and canvasback (to name two species off the top of my head) using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) with the extender and manually focusing than what the 300 mm prime lens had produced. The one sharp waterfowl photo that I got was this one.

Female canvasbck

Female canvasback

That was shot within seconds of the photo of the male, they were just a few feet apart, yet you can see distinctly that the photo of the female is much sharper than the one of the male.

The photos of the waterfowl aren’t terrible, but they are the very best that I got of each species, some of the other photos were much worse.

Most of you have at least an inkling of where my troubles with the 300 mm lens were, so I won’t go on any more about it in this post, other than to say that while I was taking the photos on this trip, I was getting more frustrated all the time.

I’ll save the photos from the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, plus those from a second trip to Muskegon for the next post.

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


Learning a few lessons

On Sunday, April 14, I drove over to Muskegon for a day of birding, using my new camera and lenses. Since part of the day consisted of photographing waterfowl from my vehicle, drive by birding as I call it, I am going to bore every one to start by heaping praise on my new Subaru.

I Love my Forester! I filled up the gas tank before starting for Muskegon, and with a tailwind on my way there, the display for the fuel mileage was reading just under 32 MPG! Not bad for a small all wheel drive SUV. I say small, because that’s how the Forester is classified, there’s more head and leg room in it than in my old Ford Explorer, and just as much cargo space in the rear. Yet the Forester drives like a vehicle much smaller then the Explorer, as far as how nimble it is. And, getting almost 32 MPG sure beats the 20 MPG that was the best the Explorer ever got.

However, I found out that the extra cabin space was actually a hindrance while trying to shoot photos from inside of the Forester. The old Explorer was so narrow that I could easily open the passenger side window, and stick my lens out when required for photography purposes.

The Forester is just enough wider that I found it extremely difficult to do the same thing in it. But, part of that is the due to the size and weight of the Sigma 150-500 mm lens as well.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a fun to drive, safe, fuel-efficient, well-built vehicle, you owe it to yourself to at least check out a Subaru. They’re not sexy, but they get the job done.

Next up, the weather report. The forecast called for morning rain/snow showers, with clearing and possible sunshine for the afternoon. The rain/snow was over here in Grand Rapids when I set out, but I ran into it again just as I got to Muskegon. Boy, did I ever, as you will see.

My first stop was the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility, and just as I pulled in, the snow really picked up in intensity, reducing visibility to less than a quarter of a mile. It was snowing so hard that the ground was soon covered, in spite of the fact that the temperature was above freezing.

In the very first pond that I came to, there was a pair of hooded mergansers taking shelter from the storm. This is when I learned that I couldn’t shoot photos out of the passenger side window of my Forester. So, I drove past them, turned around and came back, and to my surprise, they sat there as I started shooting photos. I was overjoyed! They are such skittish birds, I couldn’t believe it when I could zoom in on them to the point where I could see the water dripping from the male’s bill in the viewfinder of my camera as I was shooting. What I didn’t know, but the birds must have, was that the photos I was taking would come out like crap because of the heavy snow falling at the time.

Hooded merganser pair

Hooded merganser pair

Believe me, it looked much better through the viewfinder.

So, I drove around the west lagoon, blissfully shooting photos of bufflehead, golden eye, northern shovelers, coots, ruddy ducks, etc. thinking that I was getting some really good photos. Because of the bad weather, as is often the case, the birds were holding tight, not wanting to move from the sheltered areas in which they were holding. What I didn’t know was that I was actually shooting photos of the falling snow as much or more than I was shooting photos of waterfowl. But, I didn’t now that until I got back home and downloaded the photos to my computer.

One lesson I did learn right there at the time was to never shut the camera off. I hate to harp about the position of the on/off switch on the Canon 60D, but the second or two I lose while fumbling for the switch is enough for a bird to take flight, or dive to avoid being photographed. After a couple of instances when I missed the opportunity to take a shot of the falling snow with a duck in the background, I left the camera on except when I was travelling to other areas….

Horned grebe in the snow

Horned grebe in the snow

Battery life is good enough to let me get away with it.

I used that last shot for a couple of reasons. One is that the horned grebes are beginning to change to their breeding colors. The second was to show just how hard it was snowing, you can see snow on the grebe’s back because the snow was coming down faster than it would melt off from the grebe.

By the time I got to the back corner of the west lagoon, the snow was letting up, and I managed to salvage a few shots.

A pair of Ruddy ducks

A pair of Ruddy ducks

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

Female northern shoveler

American coot

American coot

Blue winged teal

Blue winged teal

Herring gull

Herring gull

Herring gull

Herring gull

There were few waterfowl in the east lagoon, I have no idea why, but that’s the way it was. There were however, dozens if not hundreds of tree swallows skimming over the waterways that ring the lagoons, and connect the ponds together. Feeling really brave, I tried my hand at photographing the swallows in flight, and here’s the best of a half a dozen attempts.

Tree swallow in flight

Tree swallow in flight

Keeping a 500 mm lens on a swallow in flight is no easy task, this female gadwall proved to be a little easier.

Female gadwall in flight

Female gadwall in flight

But, I missed the male, darn.

This meadowlark fell victim to camera shake I believe, because I was trying to shoot through the passenger window of my Forester, and couldn’t get into a steady position.

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

I was able to catch this kestrel through the driver’s side window, some sun would have helped this one out.

American kestrel

American kestrel

I drove around the north end of the wastewater facility, but found nothing special worth photographing. By that time though, the sun was breaking through the clouds. I thought about going around the lagoons again, but I didn’t know how bad the photos I had taken previously were, and I had other stops I wanted to make. That, and more people were showing up since the weather was getting nicer. I looked for the hooded mergansers, they were gone, and I saw several cars working the lagoons, so I doubted if I would get as close to the waterfowl as I had earlier, when I was the only one there.

I headed up to the headquarters for the Muskegon State Game area, to do some walking rather than driving. I learned another lesson there.

The Sigma lens came with a very nice carrying case, complete with strap. I had the Sigma on the camera, but had placed the Canon 70-200 mm lens in the case to make it easy to carry, I thought. The strap on the case is too short to go over my head and carry over my shoulder that way, I can only put the strap on my shoulder. The strap kept sliding off my shoulder as I walked, so I ended up carry the case and spare lens in one hand, and the camera and Sigma lens in the other, not a great arrangement. That’s one instance when I should have tried that at home. 😉 On one of the rainy days this week I’m going to have to rearrange the dividers in my camera bag to hold the Canon lens I have so I can carry it with me. I’ve been so busy buying and learning new equipment that I haven’t gotten around to that chore yet. I’ll wait until I pick up the EF S 15-85 mm lens so that I can rearrange the dividers to hold both Canon lenses, then find a way to attach the Sigma lens case to my camera bag solidly.

Anyway, it didn’t matter too much, I only walked a few hundred yards down the trail when I came to a large flooded area, with no way around it. I headed back to where I had parked and set off in the other direction, only to go a short way before coming to another flooded area. So much for this spot.

I drove down to the Messenger Road parking area to try that. I had never been there before, but had heard it was a good spot for birding. As I entered the parking area, I wasn’t holding out much hope, as it turned out to be on the edge of a very large marsh, hundreds of acres of marsh. With all the rain we had, which flooded the birding trails at the headquarters, I didn’t think that I would find a place to walk at all. But, there’s a dike there that controls the water levels in the marsh, with a trail along the top of it. It looked high and dry, so I set off down the trail.

It wasn’t long before I saw this raccoon hunting for food on the edge of the dike.

Raccoon

Raccoon

When it spotted me, it took off swimming through the swamp to a tree to safely climb.

Swimming raccoon

Swimming raccoon

I made it almost a mile from my vehicle when I came to a spot where the dike was being washed away by the flood waters, so much for this trail.

I turned around and headed back to my vehicle, pausing long enough to shoot this kingfisher.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

Yeah! With some sun, the Sigma really does the job! That extra reach sure came in handy for those.

OK, so I wasn’t having much luck looking for a place to walk, as everything was flooded, so I headed to the Muskegon Lake channel, as I knew that would be high and dry. I went to the north side this time, in Muskegon State Park, as it was now late afternoon, and I would get good lighting on either side, but the north side was a shorter drive.

I got to the channel to find the wind blowing out of the east in excess of 30 MPH, with three-foot swells (at least), and no birds other than gulls in sight. I felt a moment of letdown, then saw some wind surfers doing their thing at the entrance to the channel. I thought “What the heck, shooting them will be a good test of the lens and camera”.

So, I walked down to where I had a good view of them, and shot away.

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

Windsurfers

One is a little blurry, but I would say not bad at all. The windsurfers were moving at a pretty good clip, and I think that they were a good test of my new gear. But, I was after birds, so I thought that I would go to the snug harbor access area in the State Park to see what I could find there.

Oh, before I forget, the wind was so strong there that every time I set the case holding the spare lens down on the ground to take photos, I had to be careful that it didn’t blow away, or into the channel. That held true when I spotted this female red-breasted merganser that appeared out of nowhere.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

She did her best impression of a submarine periscope for me.

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Then I got a good shot of her while zoomed in all the way between waves!

Female red-breasted merganser

Female red-breasted merganser

Her mate wanted nothing to do with having his photo taken.

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

Male red-breasted merganser in flight

I started walking back to my vehicle, when this also appeared out of nowhere!

Common loon

Common loon

Common loon cropped

Common loon cropped

Common loon diving

Common loon diving

After the loon dove, I never did see it again, and believe me, I looked for it!

I did however find another horned grebe in the process of getting its breeding plumage.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

And, I shot a few more of the windsurfers for the heck of it.

Windsurfer

Windsurfer

Windsurfer

Windsurfer

They were catching some serious air in that wind.

I did stop at snug harbor, and shot a few of a great blue heron in flight, with and without swans.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Nothing great, other than the heron, but it was good practice with the new camera and lens. Seeing them here, I’m tempted to put them in full resolution, as they are sharper than they appear here, but you’ll have to take my word for that. I still need to conserve the free space that WordPress provides for photo storage, and if I started posting full resolution photos, I’d never stop, and would soon run out of space.

Oh, and the swans in the photos are all young swans that haven’t reached breeding age yet.

Anyway, I also got some very good photos of red-winged blackbirds to finish off the day.

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

I saw a couple of eagles as well, and there were many smaller waterfowl hanging out with the swans too. All too fay away for a good photo even with the Sigma lens.

All in all, a very good day, despite the early crop of bad snow photos, but that’s how I learn. I feel I made some real progress as far as getting used to the controls on the camera and Sigma lens, I didn’t have a chance to work with the Canon 70-200 mm today, its time will come. I am also learning their capabilities, and how to adjust to overcome their shortcomings, not that they have many I didn’t know of when I purchased them. The Sigma is a bit slow for action shots, other than in good light, I knew that going in.

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


Warning, I’m going to cheat, and other random thoughts

I have begun my project of creating a photographic life list of birds, as you may have seen with my posts on American Robins and grey catbirds. In addition, I linked my recent post about American Goldfinches to my life list.

I don’t want to flood every one with multiple posts per day, but on the other hand, I am chomping at the bit to get some of the list filled in. It bugs me to have started something and to have it sitting there “empty”.

This is especially true because I have recently posted photos of sandhill cranes, a northern harrier, and a few other species that I don’t see on a regular basis. So, I am going to do posts on those, and you can just ignore them if you would like, since you’ve already seen most, or all of the photos in those posts. I’m sorry, I know no other way of doing it.

Between the way that WordPress functions, and how large of an undertaking I have taken upon myself, I hope that you will understand. Just doing the pages that list the families and species of birds was 55 pages here on WordPress. I could do the individuals as pages, but they don’t get publicized like posts do, and doing it that way would also make it much more difficult to find the pages later on if and when I go to update them.

Sorry, but here’s a list of the species where I am going to recycle some of my recent photos.

Sandhill cranes

Northern Harrier

Northern shovelers

Western Grebe

So you can ignore those posts if you wish. I hate to do that, I have even stopped following blogs because the bloggers post multiple times per day, but this is a one time shot for me. I will be posting everyday or two after these for a while, as I have this last summers photos saved and at the ready!

On other subjects, we’ve had a few sunny but cold days here in a row, and I am almost convinced that the reason for some of my bad photos has been due to my exposing my camera to drastic changes in temperature. Time will tell if I’m right on that.

I heard the first spring song of a bird yesterday, January 18th. It wasn’t singing in earnest yet, just getting warmed up for spring when it gets here, still, it was good to hear it.

As I was listening to the song, I was watching a red-bellied woodpecker saving energy. It would watch as a downy woodpecker was searching for food under the edges of bark and such, and when the red-bellied thought that the downy had found something, it would swoop in to chase the smaller downy away, what a bully! (no photos, they were too far away)

As I was watching those two in action, I noticed a female northern cardinal less than 30 feet from me, on my side of a bush, perched right out in the open. I slowly pulled my hand out of my pocket, switched the camera on, and of course, off she went, no photo!

Birds are so darned good at fouling up good photo ops, even bad photo ops. Take this great blue heron for example.

Great blue heron trapped in the branches

Great blue heron trapped in the branches

The heron was coming up out of the creek when I caught sight of it, and needing practice at shooting birds in flight, I had a go at it. I was panning with the heron as it was rising almost straight up, and I was leading it slightly to allow for shutter lag. Just as I pressed the shutter release, the heron’s upward motion was stopped as it got its wings tangled up in the small branches, so some of the heron was cut off in that photo.

It has always amazed me at how a bird as large as a great blue heron, with its 6 foot wingspan can negotiate thick brush the way that they do. That’s the first time that I’ve seen one get tangled up like that!

Once it freed itself, I shot a couple more bad photos, just to have some to post.

blurry great blue heron

blurry great blue heron

Blurry great blue heron

Blurry great blue heron

All three of those were shot at 1/100 of a second, with my lens zoomed all the way to 300mm.

There are a couple of reasons that I posted those, even though they are rather blurry.

One reason is because I have never seen a heron having so much trouble making it through the brush.

And, the other reason has to do with image stabilization, and my questions about it.

I have read that some lenses with image stabilization have two different levels of stabilization, for lack of a better term. Some have a switch that you can use to set to IS off, full IS, or IS that only functions on one plane, usually vertical.

The reason that is given for the last setting is so that the lens can be used to track subjects moving horizontally, such as birds in flight, or sporting events.

Having never used a lens with IS built-in, I wonder what would happen if I tried to take a photo of a moving subject if I had the lens set to full IS? Does the image stabilization “fight” the movement of the subject and cause a bad photo?

Because I normally shoot handheld while on the move and take a good deal of action shots, I would probably have the IS turned off all the time if it doesn’t work on moving targets. Knowing me, I’d forget to turn it at times when I could make use of the IS.

So what I am wondering, in my own long-winded way, is whether or not it would be worth it for me to spend the extra money on lenses with image stabilization? I now have a tripod that I can use for landscape work and for other times when absolute stability of the camera is a necessity. Since the difference in price between what is essentially the same with lens or without image stabilization is $400 to $500, and I’m on a limited budget, would it be worth that price difference to gain one or two stops in shutter speed? I am leaning towards no.

Well, that’s all for this one, thanks for stopping by! And, once again, I apologize in advance for posting in rapid succession.


The continuing saga of Lonesome George, evil heron returns!

Here’s the links to the earlier post in this series,

Where do I begin? Lonesome George, friends, and enemies

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part I

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part II

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part III

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, astonishing changes in attitudes

Setting the stage for this one, it was now early autumn when this occurred, I had just gotten to the pond, when the evil heron went gliding past me, headed for a corner of the pond already occupied by a small flock of geese.

Great blue heron in flight towards Canada geese

Great blue heron in flight towards Canada geese

The geese tried to let the heron know he wasn’t welcome there..

Canada geese diverting the flight path of a great blue heron

Canada geese diverting the flight path of a great blue heron

The evil heron landed

The evil heron landed anyway

Meanwhile, Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and a few other geese were minding their own business a short distance away.

Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and friends

Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and friends

The evil heron set off down the shore towards Lonesome George and his friends, croaking as he went, prompting Molly the mallard to head to the weeds to get away from the evil heron’s path.

The evil heron approaches

The evil heron approaches

As some of the other geese deserted him, George took up a defensive posture, but stood his ground.

The evil heron approaches

The evil heron approaches

The geese nearest the evil herons path were getting out of the heron’s way as it approached. Lonesome George stood his ground firmly, between the evil heron and Molly the mallard, even making the evil heron alter his path to get past George. (You can’t see it in these small versions, but there was even a killdeer running down the shore to escape the evil heron)

Geese fleeing the approach of the evil heron

Geese fleeing the approach of the evil heron

Finally, a couple of the geese with some backbone charged the evil heron.

Canada goose chasing the evil heron

Canada goose chasing the evil heron

Canada goose charging the evil heron

Canada goose charging the evil heron

The evil heron’s escape route took it just past Lonesome George, and right over poor Molly the mallard, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The evil heron dances away from the attacking goose

The evil heron dances away from the attacking goose

The evil heron landed just a few feet from Lonesome George and Molly the mallard.

Lonesome George, molly the mallard, and the evil heron

Lonesome George, molly the mallard, and the evil heron

And immediately turned back towards George and Molly.

Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and the evil heron

Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and the evil heron

Once again, Lonesome George took a defensive posture, stood his ground, and made the evil heron go around him. But, Molly wanted no part of the evil heron, and she started waddling away from the evil heron.

The second approach of the evil heron

The second approach of the evil heron

(editor’s note, for some reason I wanted to get a wide shot to show just how out-numbered the evil heron was, and chose a poor time to do so)

It looked like the evil heron was chasing Molly down the shore.

The evil heron chasing Molly the mallard

The evil heron chasing Molly the mallard

Lonesome George saw that, and turned to go after the evil heron!

Lonesome George chasing the evil heron, who was chasing Molly

Lonesome George chasing the evil heron, who was chasing Molly

But before George could catch up to the evil heron, another goose attacked the heron.

DSC_9749

A Canada goose driving off the evil heron

The heron hadn’t gone far enough to suit one of the other geese, who chased the evil heron even farther from the pond.

DSC_9750

A Canada goose returning after driving off the evil heron

(another editor’s note: I swear that I had gotten a shot of the goose airborne and in close proximity to the evil heron, which was also airborne, but when I did the transfer to my computer, that shot was nowhere to be found. This isn’t the only time that my camera has “lost” photos, there have been several times that when sorting through photos after a transfer to my computer that I wondered where a shot of something had gone. Another reason to update my equipment!)

Anyway, the evil heron flew down to the other end of the pond…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…and landed back around the bend in the pond, out of my sight.

Great blue heron landing

Great blue heron landing

Just after that, Craig the cormorant decided to make a cameo appearance, and do a fly over.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

But the geese had things well in control.

A Canada goose setting off to attack the evil heron

A Canada goose setting off to attack the evil heron

But that little fracas took place behind the brush, so I have no photos of it. The evil heron decided that he had enough, and flew off to another place to hunt, with all the geese around the pond letting the evil heron know that he wasn’t welcome there.

The evil heron leaves

The evil heron leaves

OK, the evil heron isn’t really evil, so why do I call him that? Just as I was getting to the point where I was able to identify individual red-tailed hawks by their plumage, I was beginning to recognize individuals of other species by their personality. That’s one of the great lessons I learned by hanging out watching Lonesome George and the other birds that came to the pond, and watching them interact.

I could post dozens of photos of Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, the large flock of geese, the nice herons, and even a young red-tailed hawk all sharing the area around the pond peaceably, but I won’t bore you with them, you’ll have to take my word on that.

I knew it was never as simple as species A + Species B = reaction C, it depended on the circumstances, such as a mother defending her young, when if there were no young around, the same animal would have run or hidden itself.

I began calling the evil heron the evil heron because I could identify him from other herons by his personality. I am fairly certain that it was a dominate male, by his aggressive nature, towards all other species of birds. The evil heron was far more vocal, and aggressive, than any of the other herons in the neighborhood.

You can see different personalities present in the geese in this post, some of the geese were frightened by the aggressive personality of the evil heron, while other geese, who were more aggressive themselves, attacked the evil heron.

Then there’s Lonesome George, in my first post about him, he was frightened by the aggressive personality of the evil heron, but in this post, he stood up to the evil heron, and even seemed willing to attack it when Molly the mallard was being frightened by the evil heron.

However, you can’t always assign aggressive behavior to the males of the species. For example, both in my experience, and the experience of a Facebook friend who follows a family of mute swans, after the cygnets hatch, it is the female that becomes the most aggressive as far as chasing other birds away from her family. The maternal instinct of a mother protecting her young comes into play. At least it’s that way with swans, the problem is that I can’t identify the sex of a goose visually, could some of the geese that attacked the evil herons been females protecting young geese?

How many of you noticed the change in George’s body language in the last few photos?

When the evil heron was approaching George, he took up a defensive posture, not an aggressive posture, I’ll insert the photo again so that you don’t have to scroll up.

The evil heron approaches

The evil heron approaches

You can see that George is crouched down a little, and leaning away from the evil heron, telling the heron that I won’t attack you, but if you come near me, I’ll make you wish that you hadn’t.

Then, look at George as he’s chasing the evil heron…

A Canada goose chasing a great blue heron

A Canada goose chasing a great blue heron

George is standing tall, going as fast as he could, telling the evil heron “I’m after your butt!”. Body language plays a large role when it comes to communications between animals, between members of the same species, and between different species.

I’m fairly certain that the evil heron wasn’t really chasing Molly the mallard, she took of going the same direction as the heron wanted to go, but it sure looked like George was worried about her, at least to me.

Another good question to ask is why was the evil heron so determined to walk through the flock of geese? There was a lot of water available for him to fish if he had only wanted food, so was the evil heron trying to chase the geese away just to assert his dominance?

And then, what about Craig the cormorant, who showed at in the middle of this little melee to do some serious squawking at the evil heron as he flew past. Was that just another coincidence, or had Craig heard the ruckus and come over to see what was going on? I vote for the latter, as the only time I saw Craig that late in the season is when some type of fight was going on at the pond involving the evil heron. But then I have to ask myself, where was he to start, and how could he have heard what was going on? The evil heron was croaking, and most of the geese except George were honking, but that wasn’t unusual by any means.

There’s around 10 rainwater retention ponds and two small lakes in a half mile square area there, the waterfowl moved freely between them all, and I would often hear geese in the other bodies of water in the distance as I was watching the flock at this one pond. So how could Craig the cormorant know about the skirmish taking place at this pond? And, why would he even care? What was it about the evil heron that made Craig the cormorant take such an interest in skirmishes that involved the evil heron?

So many questions, so few answers, maybe I need to get a life and stop wondering why birds behave the way that they do?

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


The continuing saga of Lonesome George, astounding changes in attitudes

I suppose that for new readers, I should start this one with links back to my other posts about Lonesome George, in case they’re interested in starting at the beginning.

Where do I begin? Lonesome George, friends, and enemies

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part I

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part II

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part III

Other than little bit of housekeeping, I won’t keep you in suspense, here’s the first shocking photo of the day.

Lonesome George and his new buddy, the great blue heron

Lonesome George and his new buddy, the nice great blue heron

It seemed a bit strange to me when I first saw Lonesome George hanging out with a heron, given the history up to this point. But, when Molly the mallard wasn’t around, and the nice heron was, George would stroll the shore as the heron fished.

Lonesome George and the nice heron

Lonesome George and the nice heron

With summer winding down, other mallards that had been busy raising their young all summer began to visit the pond more frequently, and Molly would leave George’s side to spend more time with her own species. The other mallards would often join George and Molly, but the other mallards never got as close to George as Molly did.

Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and a few friends

Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and a few friends

As you can see, Molly still spent time with George, right at his side as she had done from when George was first injured. In fact, one morning when I stuck my head over the hill for a look-see, I saw George, and a mallard I thought was Molly…

Lonesome George and Molly?

Lonesome George and Molly?

…but the real Molly showed up to chase the interloper away!

Molly chasing of the impersonator

Molly chasing off the impersonator

Lonesome George and the real Molly the mallard

Lonesome George and the real Molly the mallard

With each passing day it was becoming less likely that Molly would be right at George’s side,and more likely that George would be hanging out with his new BFF, the nice heron. I’m not sure how keen the heron was to George hanging out near him, but the heron seemed to tolerate it well.

Lonesome George and the nice heron

Lonesome George and the nice heron

And so it was on the day that I shot the photo above, George and the nice heron hanging out together. The heron decided fishing wasn’t all that great, and headed up the hill to hunt rodents in the grass, with George following a few feet behind, grazing as he went.

Lonesome George and the nice heron

Lonesome George and the nice heron

A small flock of geese arrived, and a couple of members of the flock headed up the hill towards George and the heron, but in a move that totally surprised me, George turned on the geese and chased them back down the hill!

Lonesome George chasing off other geese

Lonesome George chasing off other geese Go George!

I know that it’s hard to see in that photo, but I was shooting all the way across the pond. The critters don’t let me know ahead of time what they are going to do, to let me get in position for good shots.

That was the first time I had seen George defend himself, or display any type of aggressive behavior towards anything, other than one time very early on, when he nipped Molly’s butt, because she was standing in his spot. That was right after he was injured, I’m sure he was in pain, and he had one spot that he always stood in at first where he could see all around him while staying somewhat hidden, and was just a few feet from the water in case he had to evade a predator. Molly just moved a foot or so, and the two of them settled down for a nap right after.

Anyway, here he was chasing off other geese, when for a month and a half, they had been pushing him around whenever any geese stopped at the pond. Little did I know at this time, it marked a complete change in the way that George interacted with other geese, I never saw him being chased by other geese again.

In fact, just a few days after that incident, a small flock of five geese arrived at the pond, and stayed there more or less continually for weeks. They didn’t just leave George alone, they seemed to welcome him into their flock.

Lonesome George, Molly, friend, and the flock of five

Lonesome George, Molly, friend, and the flock of five

I called them the flock of five, I have a bunch of photos of them and George together, and you can see Molly the mallard in that photo, as well as another mallard feeding.

I won’t bore you all with photos of George, Molly, and the flock of five hanging out together everyday, but it was nice to see that George now had some friends of his own species to hang out with, and the flock of five tolerated Molly well when she was around. As I said, she was spending less time with George, and more time with other mallards as summer turned to autumn.

If you’re wondering about Craig the cormorant, he was there less often as time went on, and stopped landing in the pond altogether soon after the flock of five began staying at the pond, although he will make a couple of fly by appearances in future posts.

With the flock of five around, George expanded his range quite a bit. Up until then, he was never more than a few feet from the water of the pond, unless he had been chased into the weeds by other geese or the evil heron. That’s understandable, the water would have been his safe place if any land based predators such as a fox or coyote would have come along. With other geese around, I’m sure George at least felt safer, and he would feed right with the flock of five, as long as it was within walking distance for him, of course.

All in all, life seemed pretty good for George, he still couldn’t fly, but he had food, water, and friends, and he seemed to be getting stronger, although when he did try to flap his injured wing for any reason, I didn’t hold out much hope that he would ever fly again.

With every passing day, more geese were showing up to rest at the pond. Small family flocks joined into one large flock, and as I said, I never saw George being chased by another goose after the day he had chased the two geese away from the nice heron.

Over the next few weeks, the flock of five turned into a flock of at least two hundred geese that would arrive at the pond in small flocks, and spend the majority of the daylight hours at the pond. I assume they fed in other places at night.

Now, not only wasn’t George being pushed around by the other geese, he became somewhat of a leader of the flock. This picture shows most of the flock, with Lonesome George the last goose on the far right.

Lonesome George and a lot of friends

Lonesome George and a lot of friends

A closer view of George.

Lonesome George and friends

Lonesome George and friends

When George turned to head up the hill to feed, I zoomed in on him as he gave the announcement to the rest of the flock that it was chow time. This was one of the few times that I heard George make any sounds at all. He was shaking his head as geese do, and honking to the rest of the flock as if to say “follow me”.

Lonesome George leading his flock

Lonesome George leading his flock

And most of the rest of the flock followed him up the hill to graze.

Lonesome George leading his flock

Lonesome George leading his flock

You may ask how I knew which goose was George with so many geese there, as the photos here are rather small, but he was the only goose with an injured wing, so it sometimes took me a while to pick him out of the flock, but it wasn’t impossible.

Another reason I could pick out which goose was George is that he often made it very easy for me. Even though he was welcome in the large flock, and he would often lead them to his favorite feeding spots, I would often see George leave the flock to be on his own.

Lonesome George leaving the flock

Lonesome George leaving the flock

I don’t know if it was because he spent so much time alone right after he was injured, or if it was because his family flock never came to the pond, or why, but Lonesome George remained Lonesome George in some respects, even with all those other geese nearby.

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

He would stroll along the shore watching the other geese, but seemed to enjoy being off by himself.

Lonesome George still lonesome

Lonesome George still lonesome

That’s another of my many unanswered questions, why would George leave the flock as often as he did? The flock was both safety and companionship for George, yet he would go off by himself, never far, since he couldn’t fly, but to the other side of the pond from where the flock was, just to be alone. Being a loner myself, I sort of understand, but George is a goose, not a human. I never saw any of the other geese separate themselves from the flock the way that George did. Sometimes small parts of the main flock of geese would break away and join George, but for the most part, the rest of the geese would allow George to come and go as he pleased.

Even when parts of the flock would follow George, he would often remain apart from those geese. (George is the goose to the left, up on the hill)

Lonesome George watching over his flock

Lonesome George watching over his flock

So George split his time between being right in the flock, and standing off to the edges, watching over the rest of the flock. Most of the time when the flock was feeding, the other geese would follow George around, or he’d be right in the middle of the flock, and very hard to pick out. One day I would get to the pond to see George surrounded by the large flock as they grazed, the next day, George may have been off by himself, usually on higher ground than the flock, watching over the area. Overall though, life seemed to be as good as it could get for an injured goose.

By this time, there was a flock of about a dozen mallards hanging out around the pond as well as all the geese. Molly spent most of her time with that flock when they were feeding, grooming, or doing any of the typical mallard activities, but once in a while she would return to George for nap time.

It was quite remarkable to see the way that the interactions between George, other geese, and herons changed over time. I think that there were many factors involved, from George getting stronger, his taking control of the pond as his territory, and the other geese becoming less territorial as the summer wound down, but hey, your guess is as good as mine about all that. Maybe George was even protecting his BFF, the nice heron, when he chased those other geese down the hill. We’ll never know for sure. I do know this, watching George this last summer taught me a lot, mostly that I know next to nothing about some things that I thought I knew.

I think that this is a good place to take another break, I am going to repeat the links to the earlier posts about Lonesome George for those people who would like to go back to the beginning.

Where do I begin? Lonesome George, friends, and enemies

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part I

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part II

The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part III

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


The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part III

As I ended the last post, the geese that thought that they were going to chase the three cormorants out of the pond had instead been split into two small flocks by the two cormorants who took part in the rather anti-climatic rumble of my previous post. There was one cormorant keeping each of the small flocks of geese “corralled”, and every time a goose would try to move out into the main part of the pond, the cormorant working that flock would head the goose off, and turn it back into the rest of the flock.

Double crested cormorant herding geese

Double crested cormorant herding geese

I’m not sure, but I think I heard the cormorants snickering from time to time. The geese didn’t like this at all, so they decided to leave, rather than to continue to be embarrassed by their own wimpiness.

Canada goose taking flight

Canada goose taking flight

Canada goose taking flight

Canada goose taking flight

Canada goose taking flight

Canada goose taking flight

Canada geese taking flight

Canada geese taking flight

Canada goose flying past a great blue heron

Canada goose flying past a great blue heron

With the geese gone, one of the cormorants shot the heron a nasty look, which, even with the distance between them, the heron understood and it retreated back from the water.

Double crested cormorant and great blue heron

Double crested cormorant and great blue heron

With the other geese gone, George came out of hiding and returned to the edge of the pond where he could watch what was going on.

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

The three cormorants got together for a good laugh at the way they had handled the geese, then, first one…

A double crested cormorant flying past two others

A double crested cormorant flying past two others

then another…

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

..left the pond.

I was thinking that all the action was over for the day, and I was preparing to leave myself, when I saw a small flock of geese headed toward the pond, with their wings set to land.

Canada goose set to land

Canada goose set to land

The geese saw that there was still one cormorant at the pond, pulled up, and continued on.

Canada goose deciding not to land

Canada goose deciding not to land

I have no way of knowing if these geese were the same ones as the cormorants had just run off, but they definitely been set to land until they saw the cormorant still perched on the fountain.

The evil heron came flying past…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

..it was croaking away…with the remaining cormorant squawking back at the heron…

Double crested cormorant

Double crested cormorant

…which seemed to make the heron already at the pond nervous….

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

…and this is one of those things I have no explanation for. Within a minute or two of the ruckus between the flying heron and the cormorant, one of the cormorants that had left came winging its way back to the pond.

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

The heron at the pond watched in interest, seeing if the cormorants were going to come after him..

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

..but, the two cormorants swam around the pond very close to one another, as if they were a couple out for an afternoon stroll together.

Double crested cormorants

Double crested cormorants

They went around and around the pond like that, and even paid no attention to the heron, which had gotten brave and was hunting for fish while standing in the pond.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

This was one of those times that I wished I could recognize individual birds of the same species, and knew more about how acute their senses are. Did the cormorant just happen to return right after the heron flew by, or had it heard the heron and other cormorant jawing at one another? Was that cormorant even one of the two that had been there earlier, or was this yet another one? The two cormorants swimming around the pond looked for all the world to be a mated pair, but up until then, I saw no evidence of that. Up until the pair did their laps around the pond, whenever the heron had approached the water, one of the cormorants would chase it back away from the pond, but now they left the heron in peace, why? Oh, by the way, there was also a little green heron there at the pond, which I hadn’t noticed until very near the end of my time at the pond, but none of the other birds paid any attention to it at all. (I do have a photo of the green heron, but it’s bad, so I’m not going to post it.)

Whenever a flock of geese would land at the pond, the first thing they would do is chase Lonesome George back away from the edge of the pond, and force him to hide in the weeds, yet a mallard and a cormorant would hang out with him, and even protect him from his own species, or other species, why?

I’m just scratching the surface here as far as questions about bird behavior, all animal behavior for that matter. How much of it is instinct, and how much of it is learned behavior?

As I was growing up, I think that the prevalent school of thought among biologists at the time was that all animal behavior is simply instinct, and that animals didn’t really think in the way we do. (They may not think like we do, but that may not be such a bad thing 😉 ) Some scientists would even dismiss any first hand accounts of animal actions that showed any type of rational thought by animals.

I never believed that all animal actions were only due to instinct, I grew up in the woods, watching critters solve problems, too many to go into here, besides, science has reversed itself, now we even have animal behaviorists and dog psychologists. I am still fascinated by the subject, and the more I watch animals in action, the less I seem to know.

Anyway, I’ll try to provide a few (pathetically few) answers in some of future posts, right now, I’m going to wrap this one up.

The two cormorants flew off to who knows where..

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

…eventually, the heron left as well. (a pushy wannabe photographer may have given the heron some help in making up its mind to leave)

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

That left Lonesome George alone.

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

But, he had a beautiful day to rest, and enjoy the weather.

Lonesome George looking out over his pond

Lonesome George looking out over his pond

So, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The continuing saga of Lonesome George, birds of a feather? Part II

OK, where did I leave off, and where should I begin? Oh yeah, I forgot to put in my last post that at some point while the cormorants were carrying on, Molly the mallard flew off to parts unknown. That wasn’t particularly unusual, I had seen her leave the pond for a few hours or so on other occasions. I always assumed it was to visit relatives, or at least spend some time with others of the same species. I can’t help but wonder if on this day she had an inkling of what was to come, and had decided that discretion was the better part of valor. After all, it does take a brave little duck to stand up to a flock of geese, and I wouldn’t blame her at all if she had thought it over, and thought better of ever doing that again, despite the obvious affection she had for Lonesome George.

Lonesome George and Molly the mallard on an earlier day

Lonesome George and Molly the mallard on an earlier day

Anyway, let me reset the stage for this one, Lonesome George was standing on the east shore of the pond by himself…

Lonesome George wishing he too could fly

Lonesome George wishing he too could fly

….watching Craig the cormorant and his two buddies playing “King of the mountain” using the half sunken fountain as their mountain…

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Each of the cormorants would take a turn on the fountain, drying their wings, until one of the other two would sneak up from behind, and take over the fountain.

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Oh, the heron was still in the back corner of the pond, trying not to attract the cormorants’ attention, and it seemed to be working. (no picture, how many bad shots of a lone heron does one need to post)

Then, the honking of geese signaled their arrival to the pond.

Canada geese coming in for a landing

Canada geese coming in for a landing

Canada geese coming in for a landing

Canada geese coming in for a landing

The geese quickly formed a battle line, and headed for poor George, standing there by himself.

A flock of Canada geese attacking Lonesome George

A flock of Canada geese chasing Lonesome George

George beat a hasty retreat as best he could.

Lonesome George trying to run

Lonesome George trying to run

I wondered if Craig the cormorant would come to George’s aid, but I guess that he and the other cormorants figured it was a “domestic” dispute between geese, and that they wouldn’t get involved. Besides, they were having too much fun playing.

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants at play

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Double crested cormorants playing

Having run George back into the tall grass, the flock of geese had been milling around, watching Craig and his buddies playing on the fountain. The geese apparently thought that with only three cormorants there, that they had the superior numbers and could drive the cormorants away. They formed a loose battle line and set off across the pond towards the cormorants.

The bird version of West Side Story

The bird version of West Side Story

Of course the cormorants saw the geese coming, and got together to plot their defensive strategy.

King Craig the cormorant giving instructions to his troops

King Craig the cormorant giving instructions to his troops

The strategy was for Craig to stay on the fountain so that he had a good view of the action, and so he could squawk instructions to his troops as they met the enemy.

The rumble begins

The rumble begins

Away with you geese!

Away with you geese!

Away I say!

Away I say!

Be gone!

Be gone!

The geese began to retreat, albeit slowly, and one of the cormorants turned back towards King Craig to let him know the geese were a bunch of wimps, and to receive further instructions.

What a disappointing battle

What a disappointing battle

I missed the most significant part of this, as I didn’t want to fill the memory buffer of my camera.(Isn’t that the way it always goes?) I paused in my shooting to let the camera write the pictures I had just taken to the memory card, and during that brief pause, the cormorant left by itself spread its wings, squawked, and the geese broke into a panic.

Canada geese in a panic, being chased by a cormorant

Canada geese in a panic, being chased by a cormorant

The great blue heron was enjoying the show!

Great blue heron watching West Side Story

Great blue heron watching West Side Story

The panicked geese split into two smaller flocks as they ran across the water halfway across the pond, with a single cormorant keeping an eye on each flock.

Wimpy geese pretending to be brave

Wimpy geese pretending to be brave

Wimpy geese pretending to be brave

Wimpy geese pretending to be brave

Before I overload this one with too many bad photos, I am going to take another break in the action for now. I won’t lie to you, there wasn’t much more action left that day other than flying birds, but happened the rest of the day will add context to future posts about Lonesome George, and the happenings around the pond. I also need time to sort through the rest of the photos, and add my two cents worth as to my thoughts on this.

I hope that you all enjoyed this one, and will stick around for part III, thanks for stopping by!


Great blue herons in flight

I’m sorry about the appearance of my last post, I tried something different, didn’t like it, but didn’t have the energy to go back and do it all over. So I’m going back to the old way of doing things, I hope you enjoy these photos of great blue herons in flight.

I know I said at one time that I wasn’t going to take any more shots of heron’s butts as they flew off, well, I lied. I still do, for practice, but then I normally delete them, but I like these three as they show how herons twist their wings as they flap.

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

Great blue heron taking off

I have to tell you though, it’s a lot easier to get a shot of a heron flying away from you than it is one flying directly at you!

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

So here’s the story behind this little series. I was on my morning walk, minding my own business, and had just passed two young women going the opposite direction as I was. Suddenly, there was a great commotion in the brush along the creek I was approaching, and two herons burst out of the brush headed straight towards me, so close and so low that I thought that I was going to get hit by their wings. Out of instinct, I began to duck, and at the same time, brought my camera to my eye and fired. I swear that I heard the beep of the focus lock as I shot that photo, which by the way, was taken with the zoom set at 70mm, for I didn’t even have time to zoom in at all. My composure was not helped by the sounds of the two women screaming and breaking into a run right behind me, thinking that we were all going to be attacked by the herons.

I managed to regain my composure and shot these two as the chasing heron looked the situation over, and returned to the creek to hunt.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Do you know that it is darned near impossible to keep a bird as large as a heron in the your viewfinder when it’s less than 20 feet up and directly overhead?

For these next two, it was much the same situation, I was walking upstream along a creek, when a heron came gliding along headed downstream.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

We spotted each other at about the same time, and the heron turned away.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

From those experiences, and several others with various species of birds, I was learning that I have to anticipate when the auto focus is going to focus on the bird, and that I have to already be pressing the shutter release the rest of the way when it happens to get an incoming bird in focus. I thought that I had gotten the timing down for this one, but noooo….

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

For this series, I was using the closest thing that I use as a blind, standing against a fence in chest high weeds on top of the hill overlooking the pond you see in the background. I don’t think that the heron saw me when some one else spooked it, it was headed straight at me. I had to step away from the fence I was leaning back against in order to get the freedom of arm movement required when the heron spotted me, veered off to my right, and did a slow circle around me.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

As some one who has never used Photoshop or any other photo editing software, I wonder if I could remove the sign from the background so that the photo looks more natural?

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

I wonder if I could edit out the building?

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Bright sunshine is great for high shutter speeds to freeze motion, but then you have to deal with shadows.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Cloudy days mean little or no shadow, but then, getting sharp photos is more difficult, at least with my old Nikon. When I bump the ISO up higher than 400, the photo quality drops off to the point that I’m better off shooting at 400, and living with a little blur from motion.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Here’s a few more of my many attempts to capture the perfect shot of a great blue heron in flight.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Another heron butt, I do really need to stop posting those!

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Just when I think that I am going to get the perfect shot, the stupid trees jump in the way and spoil it.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Sometimes more so than others.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

So I keep trying.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Who knows, one of these days I may even get it right.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

DSC_0461

Great blue heron in flight

I’m getting closer to that perfect photo, one of these days!

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

That’s about it for this one. On a side note, I’m thinking of upgrading my photo equipment. Currently, I am using an older Nikon D50 and a Nikkor 70-300mm lens. Since I have worked all the glitches out of the body, I am very pleased with it, yet I think that the newer technology built into today’s cameras would be helpful. I would just purchase a new camera body, but I have read and heard that the lens I am currently using isn’t the best that Nikon has ever produced. I know that it has way too much chromatic aberration in it, and a few other problems as well. Since I’m on a budget, this won’t be easy, but I’m thinking of switching over to either a Canon 60D or a Pentax K5, with a couple of lenses for each.

One of my younger brothers uses a Pentax, and I can see that his photos are a notch above what I can get with the set up that I’m currently using. On the other hand, I am somewhat familiar with Canon, as I use a Powershot as a backup camera, and I am very pleased with the color rendition and sharpness it is able to achieve. Also, many of the bloggers that I follow use Canon equipment, and I’m often in awe of the quality of their photos.

I know that the most cost-effective way I could upgrade is to purchase a new Nikon body and lens like an 18-105mm lens so I would have something more suitable for landscape work, and continue using my current lens until I can afford to replace it with one of a higher quality. Or, I could continue to use the D50 body, and purchase a better lens now.

I’m so confused!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and any thoughts on the camera situation would be most welcome!


I failed at trying to save the world, back to photos

DSC_0412 DSC_0411 DSC_0410 DSC_0423

To get back to the photos, I’m just going to throw a bunch of great blue heron photos in this one, as you will plainly see.

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DSC_9356 DSC_9347 DSC_9345 DSC_9342 DSC_9340 DSC_9336 DSC_9332 DSC_9323 DSC_9315 DSC_9314 DSC_9313 DSC_9205 DSC_1288