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

Posts tagged “Nature photography

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

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

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

The pintail or northern pintail (Anas acuta) is a duck with wide geographic distribution that breeds in the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America. It is migratory and winters south of its breeding range to the equator. Unusually for a bird with such a large range, it has no geographical subspecies if the possibly conspecific duck Eaton’s pintail is considered to be a separate species.

This is a large duck, and the male’s long central tail feathers give rise to the species’ English and scientific names. Both sexes have blue-grey bills and grey legs and feet. The drake is more striking, having a thin white stripe running from the back of its chocolate-coloured head down its neck to its mostly white undercarriage. The drake also has attractive grey, brown, and black patterning on its back and sides. The hen’s plumage is more subtle and subdued, with drab brown feathers similar to those of other female dabbling ducks. Hens make a coarse quack and the drakes a flute-like whistle.

The northern pintail is a bird of open wetlands which nests on the ground, often some distance from water. It feeds by dabbling for plant food and adds small invertebrates to its diet during the nesting season. It is highly gregarious when not breeding, forming large mixed flocks with other species of duck. This duck’s population is affected by predators, parasites and avian diseases. Human activities, such as agriculture, hunting and fishing, have also had a significant impact on numbers. Nevertheless, owed to the huge range and large population of this species, it is not threatened globally.

The northern pintail is a fairly large duck with a wing chord of 23.6–28.2 cm (9.3–11.1 in) and wingspan of 80–95 cm (31–37 in). The male is 59–76 cm (23–30 in) in length and weighs 450–1,360 g (0.99–3.00 lb), and therefore is considerably larger than the female, which is 51–64 cm (20–25 in) long and weighs 454–1,135 g (1.001–2.502 lb). The northern pintail broadly overlaps in size with the similarly-widespread mallard, but is more slender, elongated and gracile, with a relatively longer neck and (in males) a longer tail. The unmistakable breeding plumaged male has a chocolate-brown head and white breast with a white stripe extending up the side of the neck. Its upperparts and sides are grey, but elongated grey feathers with black central stripes are draped across the back from the shoulder area. The vent area is yellow, contrasting with the black underside of the tail, which has the central feathers elongated to as much as 10 cm (3.9 in). The bill is bluish and the legs are blue-grey.

The adult female is mainly scalloped and mottled in light brown with a more uniformly grey-brown head, and its pointed tail is shorter than the male’s; it is still easily identified by its shape, long neck, and long grey bill. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the drake pintail looks similar to the female, but retains the male upperwing pattern and long grey shoulder feathers. Juvenile birds resemble the female, but are less neatly scalloped and have a duller brown speculum with a narrower trailing edge.

The pintail walks well on land, and swims well. It has a very fast flight, with its wings slightly swept-back, rather than straight out from the body like other ducks. In flight, the male shows a black speculum bordered white at the rear and pale rufous at the front, whereas the female’s speculum is dark brown bordered with white, narrowly at the front edge but very prominently at the rear, being visible at a distance of 1,600 m (0.99 mi).

The male’s call is a soft proop-proop whistle, similar to that of the common teal, whereas the female has a mallard-like descending quack, and a low croak when flushed.

This dabbling duck breeds across northern areas of Eurasia south to about Poland and Mongolia, and in Canada, Alaska and the Midwestern United States. Mainly in winters south of its breeding range, reaches almost to the equator in Panama, northern sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South Asia. Small numbers migrate to Pacific islands, particularly Hawaii, where a few hundred birds winter on the main islands in shallow wetlands and flooded agricultural habitats. Transoceanic journeys also occur: a bird that was caught and ringed in Labrador, Canada, was shot by a hunter in England nine days later, and Japanese-ringed birds have been recovered from six US states east to Utah and Mississippi. In parts of the range, such as Great Britain and the northwestern United States, the pintail may be present all year.

The northern pintail’s breeding habitat is open unwooded wetlands, such as wet grassland, lakesides or tundra. In winter, it will utilise a wider range of open habitats, such as sheltered estuaries, brackish marshes and coastal lagoons. It is highly gregarious outside the breeding season and forms very large mixed flocks with other ducks.

Both sexes reach sexual maturity at one year of age. The male mates with the female by swimming close to her with his head lowered and tail raised, continually whistling. If there is a group of males, they will chase the female in flight until only one drake is left. The female prepares for copulation, which takes place in the water, by lowering her body; the male then bobs his head up and down and mounts the female, taking the feathers on the back of her head in his mouth. After mating, he raises his head and back and whistles.

Breeding takes place between April and June, with the nest being constructed on the ground and hidden amongst vegetation in a dry location, often some distance from water. It is a shallow scrape on the ground lined with plant material and down. The female lays seven to nine cream-coloured eggs at the rate of one per day; the eggs are 55 mm × 38 mm (2.2 in × 1.5 in) in size and weigh 45 g (1.6 oz), of which 7% is shell. If predators destroy the first clutch, the female can produce a replacement clutch as late as the end of July. The hen alone incubates the eggs for 22 to 24 days before they hatch. The precocial downy chicks are then led by the female to the nearest body of water, where they feed on dead insects on the water surface. The chicks fledge in 46 to 47 days after hatching, but stay with the female until she has completed molting.

Around three-quarters of chicks live long enough to fledge, but not more than half of those survive long enough to reproduce. The maximum recorded age is 27 years and 5 months for a Dutch bird.

The pintail feeds by dabbling and upending in shallow water for plant food mainly in the evening or at night, and therefore spends much of the day resting. Its long neck enables it to take food items from the bottom of water bodies up to 30 cm (12 in) deep, which are beyond the reach of other dabbling ducks like the Mallard.

The winter diet is mainly plant material including seeds and rhizomes of aquatic plants, but the pintail sometimes feeds on roots, grain and other seeds in fields, though less frequently than other Anas ducks. During the nesting season, this bird eats mainly invertebrate animals, including aquatic insects, molluscs and crustaceans.

Pintail nests and chicks are vulnerable to predation by mammals, such as foxes and badgers, and birds like gulls, crows and magpies. The adults can take flight to escape terrestrial predators, but nesting females in particular may be surprised by large carnivores such as bobcats. Large birds of prey, such as northern goshawks, will take ducks from the ground, and some falcons, including the gyrfalcon, have the speed and power to catch flying birds.

It is susceptible to a range of parasites including Cryptosporidium, Giardia, tapeworms, blood parasites and external feather lice, and is also affected by other avian diseases. It is often the dominant species in major mortality events from avian botulism and avian cholera, and can also contract avian influenza, the H5N1 strain of which is highly pathogenic and occasionally infects humans.

Pintails in North America at least have been badly affected by avian diseases, with the breeding population falling from more than 10 million in 1957 to 3.5 million by 1964. Although the species has recovered from that low point, the breeding population in 1999 was 30% below the long-term average, despite years of major efforts focused on restoring the species. In 1997, an estimated 1.5 million water birds, the majority being northern pintails, died from avian botulism during two outbreaks in Canada and Utah.

The northern pintail is a popular species for game shooting because of its speed, agility, and excellent eating qualities, and is hunted across its range. Although one of the world’s most numerous ducks, the combination of hunting with other factors has led to population declines, and local restrictions on hunting have been introduced at times to help conserve numbers.

This species’ preferred habitat of shallow water is naturally susceptible to problems such as drought or the encroachment of vegetation, but this duck’s habitat might be increasingly threatened by climate change. Populations are also affected by the conversion of wetlands and grassland to arable crops, depriving the duck of feeding and nesting areas. Spring planting means that many nests of this early breeding duck are destroyed by farming activities, and a Canadian study showed that more than half of the surveyed nests were destroyed by agricultural work such as ploughing and harrowing.

Hunting with lead shot, along with the use of lead sinkers in angling, has been identified as a major cause of lead poisoning in waterfowl, which often feed off the bottom of lakes and wetlands where the shot collects. A Spanish study showed that northern pintail and common pochard were the species with the highest levels of lead shot ingestion, higher than in northern countries of the western Palearctic flyway, where lead shot has been banned. In the United States, Canada, and many western European countries, all shot used for waterfowl must now be non-toxic, and therefore may not contain any lead.

On to my photos:

Although pintails are not rare in Michigan, getting close to one is a rarity because they are very wary of humans due to the hunting pressure that they endure during migration. In fact, pintails were one of the first species that I photographed for this project, but it has taken me almost 5 years to get a reasonably good photo of a male in full breeding plumage. These photos were shot in January of 2018 at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Male Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Northern pintail ducks in flight

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

Northern pintail ducks

 

This is number 206 in my photo life list, only 144 to go!

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

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First real post of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muskegon sunrise 1

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

Muskegon sunrise 2

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

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

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

Muskegon sunrise 3

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

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

Northern pintail ducks in flight

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

Male northern pintail

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

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

Mallards in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

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

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

Northern pintail ducks in flight

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

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

Male Northern pintail ducks in flight

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

Northern pintail ducks

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

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

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

American crow in flight

 

American crow in flight

 

American crow in flight

 

Great blue heron resting

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

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

Cooper’s hawk in flight

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

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

Snowy owl in flight

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

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

Bald eagles in flight

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

Bald eagles in flight

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

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

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

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

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

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

Male common goldeneye in flight

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

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

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

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

Rough-legged hawk in flight

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

Rough-legged hawk in flight

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

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

 

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

 

American crow harassing a red-tailed hawk in flight

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

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

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

Unidentified lichen

 

Unidentified lichen

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

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

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

Sneezeweed?

 

Unidentified sunflower

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

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


Great Black-backed gull

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

Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus)

The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), mistakenly called greater black-backed gull by some, is the largest member of the gull family. It breeds on the European and North American coasts and islands of the North Atlantic and is fairly sedentary, though some move farther south or inland to large lakes or reservoirs. The adult great black-backed gull has a white head, neck and underparts, dark grey wings and back, pink legs and yellow bill.

This is the largest gull in the world, noticeably outsizing a herring gull (Larus argentatus). Only a few other gulls, including Pallas’s gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) and glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus), come close to matching this species’ size. It is 64–79 cm (25–31 in) long with a 1.5–1.7 m (4 ft 11 in–5 ft 7 in) wingspan and a body weight of 0.75–2.3 kg (1.7–5.1 lb). In a sample of 2009 adults from the North Atlantic, males were found to average 1,830 g (4.03 lb) and females were found to average 1,488 g (3.280 lb). Some adult gulls with access to fisheries in the North Sea can weigh up to roughly 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) and averaged 1.96 kg (4.3 lb). An exceptionally large glaucous gull was found to outweigh any known great black-backed gull, although usually that species is slightly smaller. The great black-backed gull is bulky and imposing in appearance with a large, powerful bill. The standard measurements are: the bill is 5.4 to 7.25 cm (2.13 to 2.85 in), the wing chord is 44.5 to 53 cm (17.5 to 20.9 in) and the tarsus is 6.6 to 8.8 cm (2.6 to 3.5 in).

The adult great black-backed gull is fairly distinctive, as no other very large gull with blackish coloration on its upper-wings generally occurs in the North Atlantic. In other white-headed North Atlantic gulls, the mantle is generally a lighter gray color and, in some species, it is a light powdery color or even pinkish. It is grayish-black on the wings and back, with conspicuous, contrasting white “mirrors” at the wing tips. The legs are pinkish, and the bill is yellow or yellow-pink with some orange or red near tip of lower bill. The adult lesser black-backed gull (L. fuscus) is distinctly smaller, typically weighing about half as much as a great black-back. The lesser black-back has yellowish legs and a mantle that can range from slate-gray to brownish-colored but it is never as dark as the larger species.

Juvenile birds of under a year old have scaly, checkered black-brown upper parts, the head and underparts streaked with gray brown, and a neat wing pattern. The face and nape are paler and the wing flight feathers are blackish-brown. The juvenile’s tail is white with zigzag bars and spots at base and a broken blackish band near the tip. The bill of the juvenile is brownish-black with white tip and the legs dark bluish-gray with some pink tones. As the young gull ages, the gray-brown coloration gradually fades to more contrasting plumage and the bill darkens to black before growing paler. By the third year, the young gulls resemble a streakier, dirtier-looking version of the adult. They take at least four years to reach maturity, development in this species being somewhat slower than that of other large gulls. The call is a deep “laughing” cry, kaa-ga-ga, with the first note sometimes drawn out in an almost bovid-like sound. The voice is distinctly deeper than most other gull species.

This species can be found breeding in coastal areas from the extreme northwest portion of Russia, through much of coastal Scandinavia, on the Baltic Sea coasts, to the coasts of northwestern France, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Across the northern portion of the Atlantic, this gull is distributed in Iceland and southern Greenland and on the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the United States. Though formerly mainly just a non-breeding visitor south of Canada in North America, the species has spread to include several colonies in the New England states and now breeds as far south as North Carolina. Individuals breeding in harsher environments will migrate south, wintering on northern coasts of Europe from the Baltic Sea to southern Portugal, and regularly down to coastal Florida in North America.During the winter in the Baltic Sea, the bird usually stays close to the ice boundary. North of the Åland islands, the sea often freezes all the way from Sweden to Finland, and then the bird migrates to open waters. Exceptionally, the species can range as far south as the Caribbean and off the coast of northern South America.

The great black-backed gull is found in a variety of coastal habitats, including rocky and sandy coasts and estuaries, as well as inland wetland habitats, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, wet fields and moorland. They are generally found within striking distance of large bodies of water while ranging inland. Today, it is a common fixture at refuse dumps both along coasts and relatively far inland. The species also makes extensive use of dredge spoils, which, in the state of New Jersey, comprise their most prevalent nesting sites. It generally breeds in areas free of or largely inaccessible to terrestrial predators, such as vegetated islands, sand dunes, flat-topped stacks, building roofs and sometimes amongst bushes on salt marsh islands. During the winter, the great black-backed gull often travels far out to sea to feed.

Like most gulls, great black-backed gulls are opportunistic feeders, apex predators, and are very curious. They will investigate any small organism they encounter and will readily eat almost anything that they can swallow. They get much of their dietary energy from scavenging, with refuse, most provided directly by humans, locally comprising more than half of their diet. The proliferation of garbage or refuse dumps has become a major attractant to this and all other non-specialized gull species in its range. However, apparently, in attempt to observe how much time they spend foraging at refuse dumps in Massachusetts, great black-backed gulls were only observed actively foraging 19% of their time there, eating less garbage than other common gulls, and spent most of their time roosting or loafing.

Like most gulls, they also capture fish with some regularity and will readily capture any fish smaller than itself found close to the surface of the water. Whether caught or eaten after death or injury from other sources, stomach contents of great black-backed gulls usually show fish to be the primary food. On Sable Island in Nova Scotia, 25% of the stomach contents were comprised by fish but 96% of the regurgitations given to young was made up fish. Similarly, on Great Island in Newfoundland, 25% of the stomach contents were fish but 68% of regurgitants were fish. The most regularly reported fish eaten in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were capelin (Mallotus villosus), Atlantic cod (Gadus morrhua), Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) and sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus). Other prey often includes various squid, Jonah crabs (Cancer borealis), rock crabs (Cancer irroratus), sea urchins, green crabs (Carcinus maenas), starfish (Asterias forbesi and Asterias rubens) and other echinoderms, crustaceans and mollusks when they come across the opportunity. From observations in northern New England, 23% of observed prey was echinoderms and 63% was crustaceans.

Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. When attacking other animals, they usually attack seabird eggs, nestlings or fledgings at the nest, perhaps most numerously terns, but also including smaller gull species as well as eiders, gannets and various alcids. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, 10% of the stomach contents of great black-backed gulls was made up of birds, while a further 17% of stomach contents was made up of tern eggs alone. Adult or fledged juveniles of various bird species have also been predaceously attacked. Some fully-fledged or adult birds observed to be hunted in flight or on the ground by great black-backed gulls have included Anas ducks, ruddy ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis), buffleheads (Bucephala albeola), Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus), pied-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps), common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), terns, Atlantic puffins(Fratercula arctica), coots (Fulica ssp.), hen harriers (Circus cyaneus), glossy ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) and even rock pigeons (Columba livia). When attacking other flying birds, the great black-backed gulls often pursue them on the wing and attack them by jabbing with their bill, hoping to bring down the other bird either by creating an open wound or simply via exhaustion. They will also catch flying passerines, which they typically target while the small birds are exhausted from migration and swallow them immediately. Great black-backed gull also feed on land animals, including rats (Rattus ssp.) at garbage dumps and even sickly lambs.

Most foods are swallowed whole, including most fish and even other gulls. When foods are too large to be swallowed at once, they will sometimes be shaken in the bill until they fall apart into pieces. Like some other gulls, when capturing molluscs or other hard-surfaced foods such as eggs, they will fly into the air with it and drop it on rocks or hard earth to crack it open. Alternate foods, including berries and insects, are eaten when available. They will readily exploit easy food sources, including chum lines made by boats at sea. They are skilled kleptoparasites who will readily pirate fish and other prey captured by other birds and dominate over other gulls when they encounter them. At tern colonies in coastal Maine, American herring gulls (L. smithsonianus) occasionally also attack nestling and fledging terns but in a great majority of cases were immediately pirated of their catch by great black-backs. In one observation, an adult great black-back was seen to rob a female peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) of a freshly caught gadwall (Anas strepera). In another case, a third-year great black-back was observed fighting an adult female northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) off its kill, although the goshawk attempted to strike the gull before leaving. Due to their method of using intimidation while encountering other water and raptorial birds, the species has been referred to as a “merciless tyrant”. Naturally, these gulls are attracted to the surface activity of large marine animals, from Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) to humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), to capture fish driven to the surface by such creatures.

This species breeds singly or in small colonies, sometimes in the middle of a Larus argentatus colony. Young adult pair formation occurs in March or April. The following spring the same birds usually form a pair again, meeting at the previous year’s nest. If one of the birds doesn’t appear, the other bird begins looking for a new mate. Usually a single bird does not breed in that season.

They make a lined nest on the ground often on top of a rocky stack, fallen log or other obstructing object which can protect the eggs from the elements. Usually, several nest scrapes are made before the one deemed best by the parents is selected and then lined with grass, seaweed or moss or objects such as rope or plastic. When nesting on roofs in urban environments, previous year’s nests are often reused over and over again. The female lays usually three eggs sometime between late April and late June. When only two eggs are found in a nest, the reason is almost always that one egg, for one reason or another, has been destroyed. It takes around one week for the female to produce the three eggs, and the incubation doesn’t begin until all three eggs are laid. Hence all three chicks are hatched the same day. The birds are usually successful in bringing up all the three chicks.

The eggs are greenish-brown with dark speckles and blotches. Both parents participate in the incubation stage, which lasts for approximately 28 days. During this time, the birds attempt to avoid being noticed and stay silent. The breeding pair are devoted parents who both take shifts brooding the young, defending the nest and gathering food. Young great black-backed gulls leave the nest area at 50 days of age and may remain with their parents for an overall period of around six months, though most fledglings choose to congregate with other immature gulls in the search for food by fall. These gulls reach breeding maturity when they obtain adult plumage at four years, though may not successfully breed until they are six years old.

Mortality typically occurs in the early stages of life, when harsh weather conditions (including flooding) and starvation can threaten them, as well as predators. Chicks and eggs are preyed on by crows (Corvus ssp.), cats (Felis catus), other gulls, raccoons (Procyon lotor) and rats (Rattus ssp.). The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), white-tailed eagle (H. albicilla) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) are the only birds known to habitually predate healthy, fully grown great black-backed gulls. A great skua (Stercorarius skua) was filmed in Scotland unsuccessfully attempting to kill a second or third year great black-backed gull. On the other hand, the slightly smaller pomarine jaeger (S. pomarinus) has been observed to have been predated by great black-backed gulls. In Norway, great black-backed gulls have been reported to fall prey to Eurasian eagle-owls (Bubo bubo). Killer whales (Orcinus orca) and sharks also reportedly prey upon adult and juvenile birds at sea. In some biomes, where large eagles are absent the great black-backed gull may be considered the apex predator.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at Grand Haven, Michigan State Park in December of 2014.

Great Black-backed gull

 

Great Black-backed gull, juvenile and adult

 

Great Black-backed gull, adult

 

Great Black-backed gull in flight

 

Great Black-backed gull in flight

 

Great Black-backed gull

 

Great Black-backed gull with herring gulls

 

Great Black-backed gull with herring gulls

 

Great Black-backed gull

This is number 205 in my photo life list, only 145 to go!

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

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Looking forward to 2018

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

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

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

Snowy owl

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

Blue skies for a change

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

Merlin in flight

In February, I shot this common merganser taking off.

Common merganser

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

Male northern harrier in flight

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

Green heron showing its crown

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

Green bee on a milkweed flower

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

Hooded mergansers

But for July, I returned to a flower.

Purple coneflower

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

Bald eagle

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

Aster

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

Misty morning

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

Bald eagle in flight

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

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

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

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

Snowy owl in flight

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

Snowy owl in flight

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

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

Snowy owl landing

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

Snowy owl landing

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

Snowy owl landing

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

Snowy owl sliding across the snow

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

Snowy owl landing

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

Snowy owl landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowy owl

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

Red-shouldered hawk

…along with another leftover from last summer.

Great crested flycatcher

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

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

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

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


Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus

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

Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus

The short-eared owl is a species of typical owl (family Strigidae). Owls belonging to genus Asio are known as the eared owls, as they have tufts of feathers resembling mammalian ears. These “ear” tufts may or may not be visible. Asio flammeus will display its tufts when in a defensive pose, although its very short tufts are usually not visible. The short-eared owl is found in open country and grasslands.

The short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl measuring 34–43 cm (13–17 in) in length and weighing 206–475 g (7.3–16.8 oz). It has large eyes, a big head, a short neck, and broad wings. Its bill is short, strong, hooked and black. Its plumage is mottled tawny to brown with a barred tail and wings. The upper breast is significantly streaked. Its flight is characteristically floppy due to its irregular wingbeats. The short-eared owl may also be described as “moth or bat-like” in flight. Wingspans range from 85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in). Females are slightly larger than males. The yellow-orange eyes of A. flammeus are exaggerated by black rings encircling each eye, giving the appearance of them wearing mascara, and large, whitish disks of plumage surrounding the eyes like a mask.

Over much of its range, short-eared owls occurs with the similar-looking long-eared owl. At rest, the ear-tufts of long-eared owl serve to easily distinguish the two (although long-eared owl can sometimes hold its ear-tufts flat). The iris-colour differs: yellow in short-eared, and orange in long-eared, and the black surrounding the eyes is vertical on long-eared, and horizontal on short-eared. Overall the short-eared tends to be a paler, sandier bird than the long-eared. There are a number of other ways in which the two species the differ which are best seen when they are flying: a) short-eared often has a broad white band along the rear edge of the wing, which is not shown by long-eared; b) on the upperwing, short-eared owls’ primary-patches are usually paler and more obvious; c) the band on the upper side of short-eared owl’s tail are usually bolder than those of long-eared; d) short-eared’s innermost secondaries are often dark-marked, contrasting with the rest of the underwing; e) the long-eared owl has streaking throughout its underparts whereas on short-eared the streaking ends at the breast; f) the dark markings on the underside of the tips of the longest primaries are bolder on short-eared owl; g) the upperparts are coarsely blotched, whereas on long-eared they are more finely marked. The short-eared owl also differs structurally from the long-eared, having longer, slimmer wings: the long-eared owl has wings shaped more like those of a tawny owl. The long-eared owl generally has different habitat preferences from the short-eared, most often being found concealed in areas with dense wooded thickets. The short-eared owl is often most regularly seen flying about in early morning or late day as it hunts over open habitats.

The short-eared owl occurs on all continents except Antarctica and Australia; thus it has one of the most widespread distributions of any bird. A. flammeus breeds in Europe, Asia, North and South America, the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Galápagos Islands. It is partially migratory, moving south in winter from the northern parts of its range. The short-eared owl is known to relocate to areas of higher rodent populations. It will also wander nomadically in search of better food supplies during years when vole populations are low.

Sexual maturity is attained at one year. Breeding season in the northern hemisphere lasts from March to June, peaking in April. During this time these owls may gather in flocks. During breeding season, the males make great spectacles of themselves in flight to attract females. The male swoops down over the nest flapping its wings in a courtship display. These owls are generally monogamous.

The short-eared owl nests on the ground in prairie, tundra, savanna, or meadow habitats. Nests are concealed by low vegetation, and may be lightly lined by weeds, grass, or feathers. Approximately 4 to 7 white eggs are found in a typical clutch, but clutch size can reach up to a dozen eggs in years when voles are abundant. There is one brood per year. The eggs are incubated mostly by the female for 21–37 days. Offspring fledge at a little over four weeks. This owl is known to lure predators away from its nest by appearing to have a crippled wing.

Hunting occurs mostly at night, but this owl is known to be diurnal and crepuscular as well. Its daylight hunting seems to coincide with the high-activity periods of voles, its preferred prey. It tends to fly only feet above the ground in open fields and grasslands until swooping down upon its prey feet-first. Several owls may hunt over the same open area. Its food consists mainly of rodents, especially voles, but it will eat other small mammals such as mice, ground squirrels, shrews, rats, bats, muskrats and moles. It will also occasionally predate smaller birds, especially when near sea-coasts and adjacent wetlands at which time they attack shorebirds, terns and small gulls and seabirds with semi-regularity. Avian prey is more infrequently preyed on inland and centers on passerines such as larks, icterids, starlings, tyrant flycatchers and pipits. Insects supplement the diet and short-eared owls may prey on roaches, grasshoppers, beetles, katydids and caterpillars. Competition can be fierce in North America with the northern harrier, with which the owl shares similar habitat and prey preferences. Both species will readily harass the other when prey is caught.

Because of the high pH in the stomach of owls they have a reduced ability to digest bone and other hard parts, they eject pellets containing the remains of their prey.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility in the fall of 2017.

Short-eared owl in flight

 

Short-eared owl in flight

 

Short-eared owl in flight

 

Short-eared owl in flight

 

This is number 204 in my photo life list, only 146 to go!

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

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Looking for something different

Honestly, I did try to find other species of birds, or other subjects for that matter, before I began this post. However, given the type of day that it was when I had the chance to get out with the camera, and the time of year that it is, I wound up with more eagle and snowy owl photos, with a few northern shovelers thrown in also.

Male northern shoveler

He’s getting close to being in full breeding plumage, although most of the male shovelers are running behind him.

Male northern shoveler

I didn’t want to shoot the second one in the light that I had at the time, but I had to when the shoveler opened its mouth. The light was too harsh and I wasn’t close enough to show the structure of the inside of the shoveler’s mouth so that every one could see how they filter food out of the water. I love the first photo though, it shows how colorful the males are, other than you can’t see its blue and green wing patches as you can when I photograph them in flight.

It could be that the days when one of my posts contains many different species of birds is over. I spent quite a long period of time watching the shovelers. I’d pick out one of the males that looked like it would be a good subject for a photo, then track it the viewfinder, waiting and hoping for a good photo. That’s how I got the one of the shoveler with his mouth open, I was tracking him, but not shooting any photos until I saw him open his mouth. In some ways, all the time that I spent there watching the shovelers seems wasted, since I shot very few photos during that time. But, I did learn more about their behavior and I enjoyed the time that I spent watching them.

Later in the day, I spotted an eagle in the distance that appeared to be hunting. I was headed in that direction to begin with, so I kept an eye on the eagle as I approached the area where it was hunting. Then, the eagle disappeared from view, I didn’t know it had made a kill or if it had just flown out of sight while I was looking for other subjects to photograph as I made my way towards where the eagle had been soaring back and forth across a small area of one of the farm fields there at the wastewater facility.

When I got close to where I had seen the eagle in flight, I found it perched in a tree, still on the look-out for lunch. It’s relatively easy to tell when a raptor is just resting versus seriously looking for a meal. When they are resting, they may be looking around, but they do it slowly, only turning their heads now and then. When they are looking for a meal, their heads never stop moving, and not only do they turn their heads, but they bob their heads up and down, and from side to side almost constantly.

Getting close to the eagle was no problem…

Adult bald eagle

…but getting a clear view of it was. I tried to find an opening in the branches to shoot through, but this was the best that I could do.

Adult bald eagle

Making getting a photo of the perched eagle even tougher, it was a windy day, and the branches on the tree that the eagle was perched in kept blocking my view of its head. So, since I could tell that the eagle was hunting, and with the strong wind blowing, I moved into a position that I hope would yield a good photo of the eagle when it decided to fly in search of food. Although I’ve been fooled more than a few times, large birds generally prefer to take off into the wind, especially a strong wind.

I sat there waiting, and waiting, watching the eagle. I sat there so long that I began to wonder how many calories it was burning as it bobbed its head all around, looking for a meal. Finally, my patience paid off.

Adult bald eagle in flight

That’s full frame, but I missed the composition slightly, the eagle is a bit too low in the frame. I continued shooting…

Adult bald eagle in flight

… until the eagle was flying slightly away from me. I let up on the shutter release, but continued to track the eagle in the viewfinder. When it banked towards me…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…I shot another burst…

Adult bald eagle in flight

…until the eagle filled the frame again.

Adult bald eagle in flight

Just after this next shot, the eagle was so close to me, and moving so fast, that this is my last good photo of it.

Adult bald eagle in flight

Not bad, but you may have been able to tell by the sky behind the eagle that the bright blue sky that I had for my first photo of the eagle perched in the tree was gone. I had been there watching the eagle so long that the sky had clouded over by the time it took flight.

In some ways, it seems silly to sit and watch one bird, or one species of bird, for as long as I did that day, given the limited time that I have available to me to be out with the camera. Although the quality of my photos is improved when I sit and wait for just the right subject, or the right light, I end up shooting very few photos over all. In the case of the eagle, as I sat waiting for it to fly, the quality of light that I had actually got worse instead of better. Still, I was pleased by how well those photos turned out as far as sharpness, and my ability to track the eagle as it flew.

I also spent too much time watching a snowy owl.

Snowy owl

Where the owl was perched, I didn’t really have a clear view of it as I have in my other posts lately. It was down in the rocks and vegetation, and worst of all, the sun was behind the owl when I had the best view of it. Still, I used the occasion to test the 400 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter on it to shoot this uncropped head shot of the owl.

Snowy owl

Using Lightroom or Photoshop, I could remove the vegetation in the right side of the frame, but it really isn’t worth the effort. I may have gotten a better photo if I had sat there longer watching the owl, but I could tell that it really wanted to take a nap in the warm sunshine of the day. This photo that I shot as I left the owl shows that.

Snowy owl

So, I spent the entire time that I had to be out and came back with just those few images to show for it. It’s something that I struggle with every time I go out with the camera, should I shoot photos the way that I used to, run and gun style, getting more varied subjects, or should I sit and wait, hoping for the best possible image that I can get that day.

It’s now the middle of December, and I haven’t been out with the camera at all this month. For one thing, I’ve been working eight days straight at a time, then I get one day off. To make things worse, it’s been snowing almost every day since the last time that I was out.

Since I work for a company contracted to carry the mail for the Postal Service, this is the busy time of the year for us. Things should slow down after the first of the year, but I have no idea what my schedule will be then. Right now, I’ve been starting a couple of hours either side of midnight, and completing my shift in the morning. That’s not a great schedule for getting outside to shoot photos, because I don’t want to screw up my sleep schedule when I do have a day off from work. To make things even worse, twice last week the dispatcher called me while I was sleeping to tell me when I was starting work that night. Things are settling down now, I have my full schedule for this week, and I even know what day I have off in advance.

Then, there’s the snow, as I said, it’s been snowing just about every day this month. There haven’t been any big storms, just light snow that never seems to stop falling. We can thank the Great Lakes for that, along with near record cold. As the cold air passes over the Great Lakes, it is warmed and it also picks up moisture from the lakes. As the air gets back over land, it cools, which causes it to lose its ability to hold the moisture that it gained out over the lakes. The results are clouds, and lake effect snow. Grand Rapids has had only 7.3% of possible sunshine over the last 11 days.  We had more minutes of sunshine before solar noon last June 7th than we had in the last 11 days total.

There’s another reason that I haven’t ventured out, since I drive a truck for a living, and I’ve been having to battle the snow and traffic so much this month, I really don’t feel like driving anywhere in the snow when I do get a chance to. I could have gone out yesterday, but it was snowing again, of course, another couple of inches of the white stuff fell. It’s the same today, we’re getting a few more inches of snow today, mostly in the morning, when I could get outside for a change.

One last reason that I’ve stayed inside, I needed the time to unwind and relax from the stress of trying to maintain the Postal Service’s schedules. I won’t go into detail, but it sure has felt good not to have to go anywhere or do anything for a change.

I’m not the only person hibernating, I have checked the reports on eBird to see if any rare species of birds have been seen in the Muskegon area, and there aren’t any. Not only no rare birds, there are very few recent reports of any birds by any one. We’ve had cold spells before, but there were always a few people out reporting their bird sightings to eBird, but not so much this winter.

With all the fresh snow, I’ve thought about trying to shoot a few landscapes, but there’s a problem with that also. Sunshine and blue skies when there’s snow on the ground looks beautiful in a photograph, but we’re under the lake effect clouds all the time. Then, even with freshly fallen snow, the photos that I’d shoot would still look dull and dreary, just as our winter weather here is.

So, as most of you already know, I’ve begun adding new posts to the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on. It looks as though I’ll have plenty of time this winter to do those posts, since I’m not shooting any other photos.

Well, I lied. I couldn’t sit in my apartment with the equivalent of two days off and not go out to shoot a few photos. I quickly learned why there are no bird reports coming from the Muskegon area, the lake effect snow has gotten so deep that it’s difficult to get around unless you have a vehicle with 4 wheel or all wheel drive and you’re on one of the main roads. My Subaru Forrester handled the snow well enough, but there were plenty of two-tracks that I’d normally go down that I thought it wiser to avoid on this outing. Besides, both of the lagoons at the wastewater facility are frozen over, and there are few waterfowl of any type remaining there at the wastewater facility, other than mallards.

I arrived well before sunrise, too early in fact. The snow that was falling was down to just flurries by then, after several more inches had fallen over night. I sat and checked out all my camera gear while I was waiting for it to get light enough to shoot any photos, and I also went over my work schedule for the up coming week. I had stopped off at work on my way to Muskegon to see if it had been posted, and it had.

It must be that the Christmas rush is slowing a little, because I did get a schedule for the entire week, including my day off from work, so that was a plus.

Once it became light enough for me to see, I set off in search of birds or a landscape scene to photograph. Of course, the first bird that I saw other than mallards was a snowy owl, one of five that I saw on this day. I didn’t like the set-up if I had approached the owl from where I first spotted it, so I decided to circle around the owl and approach it from the opposite direction. Because of the deep snow, I had to take the long way around, and on my way, I saw a small flock of Canada geese, with one snow goose hanging out with the Canada geese. I went past them, turned around, which wasn’t easy, then waited for more light.

Once I saw that the exposure settings needed could be obtained in the light available, I went back to the geese. At first, my biggest problem was other geese moving between myself and the snow goose.

Snow goose and Canada geese

But eventually, the geese settled down, and I was able to get this photo.

Snow goose and Canada geese

As you can see, it was still snowing lightly at the time, and the snow goose shook itself to get rid of the snow.

Snow goose and Canada geese

It was interesting, I saw that several of the geese had allowed themselves to be buried in the snow other than their heads, although I wasn’t able to get a photo of that. It makes sense, snow is good insulation from the cold wind, as silly as that sounds. So, I wondered why the geese that had moved were shaking the new snow off from themselves, I can only assume that it was because they were going to move to another location to feed soon. I returned a short time later, and the geese had done just that, flown off somewhere to eat.

Anyway, I went back to the snowy owl I first spotted…

Snowy owl

…and shot a few photos of it.

Snowy owl

It isn’t easy to get the owl to stand out in a white world where the ground is white from snow, and the sky is white from clouds.

In my quest to find other species of birds, I tried to get photos of the snow buntings, of which there were many, but they never sat still long enough for me to get close to any of them. I don’t know how they survive, they form large flocks and they never sit and feed in one location for more than a few seconds. The flock lands, they pick up a few seeds, then the entire flock moves on to the next spot. It seems to me that they are consuming more calories with their constant movements than are able to take in for the few seconds that they are on the ground.

But, I did find an American kestrel to photograph, all puffed out against the cold.

American kestrel

They are about the size of a dove, and very wary. That’s a species of bird that I should use my portable hide in an attempt to get better photos of.

American kestrel

I also found one great blue heron trying to stay out of the snow and cold by hunkering down under a small tree hanging out over the water.

Great blue heron

That brings me to this bird, a dark morph red-tailed hawk.

Dark morph red-tailed hawk in flight

I saw this, or a similar one, several times last spring, and I was never sure what it was. As you can see, it looks completely different as far as markings, than a typical red-tailed hawk, as shown in this earlier photo from last summer.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

The dark morphed hawk in the photo above, also like the one that I saw in the spring, was very wary, and never let me approach close enough for a good photo to aid me in making the right identification. The photo of the dark morph hawk isn’t very good, but at least it allowed me to make the proper identification.

Other than what I’ve shown so far, the only other bird that I was able to get photos of worth posting was yet another of the snowy owls.

Snowy owl

I was going to say that I saw no reason to return to the Muskegon County wastewater facility in the foreseeable future, due to the amount of snow on the ground. Getting around was difficult, and most of the two tracks had snow so deep that I didn’t dare test the limits of my all wheel drive Subaru. But, we’ve had a bit of a warm-up here, that hadn’t been forecast. By the time my next day off from work rolls around, most of the over a foot of snow on the ground should be gone. The warm-up will be short-lived though, it’s forecast to get very cold here next week, with more lake effect snow to go with the cold.

So, I had my day off from work, and most of the snow had indeed melted. However, most of the open water at the wastewater facility was still frozen over, so there were just a few waterfowl left there. I shot this male mallard soon after sunrise.

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

There were also plenty of Canada geese around, but I didn’t bother shooting any photos of them.

With most of the snow having melted, I was able to get around to more places easier, but I still had a difficult time finding any species of birds other than the mallards, a few northern shovelers, and of course, snowy owls.

Snowy owl

Here’s another one, this one…

Snowy owl

…had been posing for the other photographers that were there to see the owls.

Bird watchers in action

I’m getting bored with the few birds that there are to photograph this time of year, but I’ll throw in one more snowy owl, because this one was shot with the 2 X tele-converter behind the 400 mm prime lens and manually focused.

Snowy owl

My only other photos from this day were a series that I shot of a whitetail doe running, or I should say bounding.

Whitetail doe

They make it look so effortless as they run like that, someday I hope to get a good photo of one in action. Even better would be a video.

Okay, I’ve been trying to think of other subjects to shoot this time of year, and so far, I’m drawing blanks.

A few years ago, I went to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo and shot the planes that they have on exhibit there, because I’m interested in planes. I’ve also gone to the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park to shoot some of the flower shows there over the years as well. I suppose that since the posts that I did when I visited before were so long ago, that most of the people reading my blog wouldn’t remember the earlier posts, but I would. Also, the rules for photographers at both venues make photography very difficult, such as the no tripod rule that both venues have. The other indoor venues that I can think of visiting probably wouldn’t yield a blog post.

I’ve been thinking of shooting the historic buildings in the area, but so far, I’ve only gotten to the point of thinking about which buildings may be interesting enough to include in a blog post.

In past winters, I have done some testing of my photo gear inside, under controlled conditions, to see what works and what doesn’t, but I think that I have a firm handle on that now, and I’ve also learned that what works under controlled conditions doesn’t always work in the field. There are a few things that I’ll test this winter, one will be a test of ways which I can get the 400 mm prime lens to focus closer than it’s designed 11 feet minimum focusing distance. That distance is all right when I’m shooting larger birds like the snowy owls or eagles, when I can fill the frame with birds that size, but 11 feet is too far away from small birds, and I’d love to use a lens as sharp as that when photographing small birds just to see how sharp that lens really is.

It’s funny in a way, the 100-400 mm lens is almost as sharp as the 400 mm prime lens is, there’s much less of a difference in sharpness between those two lenses and those lenses and the other long lenses that I used to use for birding. In fact, if I didn’t have the 400 mm prime lens, I’d be astounded by the sharpness of the 100-400 mm lens. Yet, I still want to use the 400 mm prime lens whenever I can for that little bit extra in sharpness. That’s even though when I reduce my RAW files to JPEG for my blog, the slight difference all but disappears when you see the photos in my blog.

What I should do is take the 100-400 mm lens to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, fill the feeders there with seed, and sit and shoot our winter resident species of birds until the cold overcomes me. I’ve been thinking of doing just that, but it would be nice to have good light if I did. Sunny winter days in West Michigan are as rare as hen’s teeth though. But, that applies to anything that I’d like to photograph this time of year, without light, photography becomes difficult.

In the meantime, I’ve been watching more how to videos online, and I’m also working on goals and plans for the coming year. Also, I’ll be adding more posts to the My Photo Life List over the winter as well.

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


Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus

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

Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus

The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) is a small New World blackbird and the only member of the genus Dolichonyx.

Adults are 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in) long with short finch-like bills. They weigh about 1 oz (28 g). Adult males are mostly black with creamy napes and white scapulars, lower backs, and rumps. Adult females are mostly light brown, although their coloring includes black streaks on the back and flanks, and dark stripes on the head; their wings and tails are darker. The collective name for a group of bobolinks is a chain.

The bobolink breeds in the summer in North America across much of southern Canada and the northern United States. It migrates long distances, wintering in southern South America in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. One bird was tracked migrating 12,000 mi (19,000 km) over the course of the year, often flying long distances up to 1,100 mi (1,800 km) in a single day, then stopping to recuperate for days or weeks.

They often migrate in flocks, feeding on cultivated grains and rice, which leads to them being considered a pest by farmers in some areas. Although bobolinks migrate long distances, they have rarely been sighted in Europe—like many vagrants from the Americas, the overwhelming majority of records are from the British Isles.

The species has been known in the southern United States as the “reedbird,” or the “ricebird” from their consumption of large amounts of the grain from rice fields in South Carolina and the Gulf States during their southward migration in the fall. One of the species’ main migration routes is through Jamaica, where they’re called “butter-birds” and at least historically were collected as food, having fattened up on the aforementioned rice.

Their breeding habitats are open grassy fields, especially hay fields, across North America. In high-quality habitats, males are often polygynous. Females lay five to six eggs in a cup-shaped nest, which is always situated on the ground and is usually well-hidden in dense vegetation. Both parents feed the young.

Bobolinks forage on or near the ground, and mainly eat seeds and insects.

Males sing bright, bubbly songs in flight.

The numbers of these birds are declining due to loss of habitat. Bobolinks are a species at risk in Nova Scotia, and throughout Canada. In Vermont, a 75% decline was noted between 1966 and 2007. Originally, they were found in tall grass prairie and other open areas with dense grass. Although hay fields are suitable nesting habitat, fields which are harvested early, or at multiple times, in a season may not allow sufficient time for young birds to fledge. Delaying hay harvests by just 1.5 weeks can improve bobolink survival by 20%. This species increased in numbers when horses were the primary mode of transportation, requiring larger supplies of hay.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, the first two in July of 2017, and the other one, a few years earlier as I tried to get close to one.

Male bobolink in full breeding plumage

 

Male bobolink in full breeding plumage

 

Male bobolink

This is number 203 in my photo life list, only 147 to go!

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

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And, they’re everywhere

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

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

Snowy owl

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

Snowy owl

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

Now, back to what I had typed earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little color on a grey day

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

Looking down the road

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

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

Two snowy owls in one shot

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

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

Male bufflehead ducks

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

Snow bunting

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

Snow bunting

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

Peregrine falcon

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

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

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

Male mallard take-off

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

Male mallard take-off

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

Northern shovelers in flight

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

Northern shovelers in flight

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

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

Bald eagle, manually focused at 800 mm

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

Bald eagle, live view focusing at 800 mm

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

Bald eagle in flight

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

I also used the 400 mm lens for this one.

Ripples at sunrise

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

Snowy owl

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

Snowy owl yawning

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

Snowy owl yawning

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

Snowy owl

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

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

Snowy owl in flight

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

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

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

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

Snowy owl

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

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

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

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

Remembering spring

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

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

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

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


They’re back

Well, it’s been a while since I had any time to be outside with a camera lately, compounded by the fact that there hasn’t been any light to work with the past few weeks. I’m sure that as the winter progresses, and West Michigan is under nearly constant lake effect clouds, that you’ll all tire of hearing me whine about it. So far though, we’ve been lucky with only trace amounts of snow, it’s been mostly mist or rain coming from the clouds.

So, on Monday, the 13th, I was overjoyed to have a few hours of time to run over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility to shoot a few photos when it wasn’t raining for a change. The big news is that the snowy owls have arrived from up north already, I saw at least two, possibly three different ones, here’s the second one.

Snowy owl

There were four of us parked near the owl shooting photos of it from time to time, including an older woman using a Nikon 600 mm lens on a tripod. The owl didn’t seem to mind at all, as it just sat there paying little attention to us. There were even a few breaks in the clouds from time to time, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Snowy owl

While snowy owls are active during the day, the brighter the sunlight is, the more that they squint, hiding their beautiful yellow eyes as you can see. However, the sunlight does help to bring out the details in their faces, even if they do squint.

By the way, snowy owls spend most of their time above the Arctic Circle, the land of the midnight sun, so they have to be active during the day if they are going to survive in an area where the sun doesn’t set for several months.

Shortly after the second photo was shot, another couple joined the group, and they thought that they’d get a little closer to the owl than the rest of us were. That was more than the owl could take, so it flew off to find a safer place to perch.

Snowy owl in flight

That isn’t very good, but it’s the best that I could do with the flight path that the owl took.

That reminds me, the snowy owls come from an area where there are no trees, so they typically perch on the ground, which isn’t the best as far as backgrounds for photos. So, I felt very lucky when I saw the first snowy of the day, and it was perched on a rock above the vegetation.

Snowy owl

I sat there shooting a good many shots of that owl, my biggest problem was the large number of northern shoveler ducks swimming behind the owl at times. It took me a while to get that image, one without a shoveler behind the owl to distract the eye from the owl itself.

You can see blood stains on the owl’s feathers around its neck, it must have recently made a kill and eaten it, and the owl was content to perch there and digest its meal. That image is almost full frame, I didn’t have to crop it very much at all, unlike the first two photos from this post, which were shot from farther away from that owl, and therefore cropped a good deal more.

The first owl kept one eye closed most of the time, which made getting the shot that I wanted even harder, but I did catch it once as it opened the eye that it had closed most of the time slightly.

Snowy owl

This is what the owl looked like most of the time.

Snowy owl

That’s something to keep in mind if you ever see a snowy owl, many of them have a tendency to use only one eye when resting, leaving the other one closed most of the time. In sunlight, they squint through eyelids that are almost closed. I’ve whistled at them, yelled, and even honked my car horn, but none of those things has worked as far as getting a snowy to open their eyes when they don’t want to. And, I’ve seen several with blood stained feathers after they have eaten, so it’s easy to think that a snowy seen with one eye always closed and bloodstains near its face has suffered an injury, but in most cases, it hasn’t, it has just eaten and is snoozing, and will ignore you until you get too close for their comfort.

Or, if you begin to behave as the late arriving couple did as they tried to approach the snowy, they crouched down and tried to stalk the owl when the owl was fully aware of their presence. You can’t behave like a predator when trying to get close to wildlife that already knows you are there, it will make the wildlife flee even sooner than they would have otherwise. In fact, the couple stalking the snowy didn’t make it as close to the owl as some one else in the group was already parked, they made it as far as in between my vehicle and the one of the person that was shooting the owl when I spotted it.

By the way, I parked 100 yards or so away from where the other person had parked, until I saw them motion me forward. I gave him time to get the best photos that he could, a little common courtesy goes a long way in the birding world especially bird photographers. It helped that I had already shot a snowy from even closer, and with a better background, but there’s no excuse for spooking wildlife that some one else saw first, and are trying to photograph. When the other photographer motioned me to join him, I still parked 20 to 30 feet behind him as to not crowd the owl too much.

The couple in question weren’t equipped properly as far as camera gear, which is why they tried getting closer. The female was using Canon gear, and had what looked to be a 70-200 mm lens on her camera, not a long enough lens for serious bird photography in most cases. The male was using a Lumix DSLR with what appeared to be a similar length lens as the female was using. I’ll cut them some slack, they were young and probably hadn’t learned not to attempt trying to be stealthy when the subject is aware of your presence.

Since there had been four of us there, standing and chatting between the first photographer’s vehicle and mine, it had to be the late arriving couple’s actions that spooked the owl, since they didn’t get more than a few feet closer to the owl than the group was to begin with. Like I said earlier, snowy owls are birds of the Arctic tundra, and both of the owls that I photographed probably hatched this spring and were this year’s young, you can tell by the dark barring that they show. The adult snowy owls are almost entirely white. We may have well been the first humans that these owls had ever seen up close in their short lives so far. They may not have any fear of humans, other than a natural fear of creatures larger than themselves, but all wildlife learns the ways of predators at an early age, like a predator trying to remain hidden as it approaches possible prey.

Because of the hours that I’ve been working, I haven’t had much time outside, but I have had time to think about things and equipment that will improve my photographs in the future. The 100-400 mm lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter behind it gives me a good deal of reach, as the photos of the snowy owls show. However, the auto-focusing of that set-up is very slow, often too slow to catch smaller birds as they flit about. So, I thought back to when I was using the Sigma 150-500 mm lens, otherwise known as the Beast, as I remember quite well how quickly it can auto-focus on small birds trying to hide.

I was thinking of purchasing the newer Sigma 150-600 mm lens for times when I was chasing smaller birds such as warblers and sparrows. Using Lightroom, I went back through all the photos that I shot while using the Beast on the 7D Mk II camera that I have now, and took a good hard look at the quality of the images. Those simply can not compare to the image quality that I’m getting now with my current Canon L series lenses. I can’t see the same level of detail in even the best images shot with the Beast that I see in my current photos, even when those older photos were shot in very good light. As the level of light falls off, the Canon L series lenses out perform the Beast by even a wider margin. As bad as these are, if I had been using the Beast, I probably wouldn’t have been able to salvage them in Lightroom.

Peregrine falcon at sunrise

Not great, so I moved in even closer.

Peregrine falcon at sunrise

The second one was shot at ISO 5000, which is higher than I can get a very good image at using the crop sensor 7D Mk II. Still, it’s far better than I could have ever hoped for if I’d been using the Beast to get the same image. Because of the high ISO setting, there isn’t the resolution in those images that I’d love to get, or that I do get when shooting in better light with the equipment that I have now. In the past when I was using the Beast, I had the camera set to limit the ISO to 3200 or less, it’s only been since I’ve been using the Canon L series lenses that I’ve set the camera to use higher ISO settings. You simply can’t beat good glass, no matter what camera you’re using.

So, I have given up the idea of purchasing a replacement for the Beast, no matter how slow the auto-focusing of what I’m using now is. I’ll just have to work harder when I’m shooting smaller birds, and live with the slow auto-focus. There may be times in the future when I dig the Beast out again when I’m on a trip dedicated to photographing smaller birds, and live with the lower quality of images that it produces. That’s what I did two years ago when I was on my last real vacation, I carried the Beast when I was chasing small birds, and used the Canon lens while I was in areas where larger birds were the likely subjects of my photos.

I knew this was going to happen. We had a summer and early fall with above average amounts of sunshine here in West Michigan this year, and as a result, I was able to shoot my best images ever of many species of birds. Now that the clouds have set in for the winter, I feel the need for a full frame camera body again. The reason being is that you get less noise and better resolution at the same ISO setting with a full frame camera as you do with a crop sensor camera at the same settings. Lenses aren’t going to change that, although better lenses do result in better images.

And, there’s been another factor to consider as well, weight. I had convinced myself that I could get by with the 7D and then add another lens or two to my arsenal, and manage to carry them all. However, between the low-light situations I’ve had for the past month or more, and the thought of carrying more lenses with me all the time, I’ve decided that the best course of action is to splurge for a good full frame camera and just one more wide-angle lens for it to complete my kit once and for all.

With a full frame body, I can get by with the 16-35 mm lens that I recently purchased, the 24-105 mm lens to go with it, along with the 100-400 mm lens that I have now. If I stick with the 7D body, I’d need to carry two or three more lenses to cover everything as far as focal lengths because of the crop factor of the 7D. I like the idea of getting by with just two camera bodies and two lenses 70% of the time while hiking.

That’s because with the crop sensor 7D, the 16-35 mm lens is about the same as the 24-105 mm lens on a full frame camera at the short end of the focal lengths of those lenses as far as their angle of view, which translates into how much of the landscape they will allow you to see while using them.

At 16 mm on the 7D, the 16-35 mm lens is the equivalent of a 24 mm lens on a full frame body. I can get most landscape images that I’d like to get, but there would be times that I’d want to go even wider, meaning adding another lens to my kit. Going the other way, there’s too much of a gap between 35 mm and 100 mm to get by with most of the time when shooting landscapes and even some other subjects, so I still need a lens to fill that gap. Enough of that, back to the weather and the birds.

And like I said, for the past month or more, it’s been raining most of the times that I’ve had a chance to get outside, meaning I’ve been shooting in low-light situations for the past month. This photo is from my previous trip to Muskegon, in the rain, when I only shot two species of birds due to the weather.

Herring gull portrait

That image hasn’t been cropped at all, I got that close to the gull. For the second image of the peregrine falcon from earlier in this post, I had to turn the camera to the portrait orientation to keep the entire falcon in the frame. For some reason, wildlife allows you to approach closer in low-light situations than they normally do on nice days. It was the same with this northern shoveler, the second species from the earlier trip to Muskegon.

Male northern shoveler

I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever been closer to a northern shoveler, and it was on a rainy day with no light to work with. That was a let down, as you can almost see the details in the shoveler’s bill. Their bill has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water. So, along with the muted colors, I also missed getting a shot of a part of a duck’s anatomy that I’d like to be able to show people who aren’t familiar with that species.

But, getting back on track, I have to face the reality that wildlife photography means working in low-light situations often enough to warrant the expense of a full frame camera. There’s no getting around that fact in any way that I know of, and it’s about the only way that I’ll be able to improve the technical aspects of my images. I’ve reached the financial limits of my ability to purchase a longer lens, which wouldn’t help as far as working in low-light anyway.

I’m not saying that the images that I shoot in good light are perfect yet, but they are still improving, which is a good thing. As much as I complain about the low-light performance of the 7D Mk II, it’s the images that I shoot at high ISO settings that are showing the most improvement. Those, and birds in flight, this was the year that I got the 7D dialed in and learned to use the 400 mm L series lens to good effect to get my sharpest and best images of birds in flight.

That takes me back to the first snowy owl that I saw, the one perched nicely on a rock above the vegetation. It didn’t take off because I got too close to it, it took off because a pair of crows began to harass it. I missed the first part of the action because I wasn’t expecting it, but the owl only flew a short distance away, then landed again. I shot a short burst as the snowy landed, but it was really too far away for me to post any of the photos. But, even though these aren’t great, I post these of the crows following the owl to land near it to continue their harassment of the owl.

American crow harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

Not wanting to scare either the owl or the crows away, I moved a little closer to watch what was happening and let them calm down a little. As I sat in my new location, I spent some time shooting northern shovelers that were getting nervous because of the owls presence.

Male northern shoveler in flight

Every once in a while, one of the crows would attempt to drive the owl away. This series was shot from too far away also, but they do show what was going on.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

From time to time, the owl would bark at the crow as it approached…

American crows harassing a snowy owl

…and the owl tried to keep both crows in sight all the time…

American crows harassing a snowy owl

…but when that wasn’t possible, it would turn its head back and forth quickly to make sure that the second crow wasn’t planning a sneak attack while the owl was distracted by the flying crow.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crows harassing a snowy owl

With the three of them preoccupied with each other, I finally moved closer for these.

American crows harassing a snowy owl

 

American crow harassing a snowy owl

 

American crow harassing a snowy owl

Funny thing, when I tried to get even closer for a good shot, it was the crows that I spooked first, and they took off, followed by the owl. Of course I fired off a burst of the three of them flying away from me, but the images of three birds flying away from me aren’t that interesting.

I also shot poor images of two other species of ducks, this gadwall,

Gadwall

and this hooded merganser.

Male Hooded merganser

I’ve posted very few images of either of those species recently, as they are both much more skittish than other species of waterfowl.

Anyway, I’m going to finish this post with an image from last summer, when there was good light.

Cabbage white butterfly

One last word about the weather here. Since the drought broke back in the middle of October, we’ve been getting almost two inches of rain per week on average, and are closing in on having gotten a foot of rain since then. It’s hard to shoot good photos when it’s raining all the time.

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


Chalk up another one

Because of my new job, I haven’t been able to make it out to shoot many photos over the past two weeks. I don’t want to bore every one by going into detail, but it’s been mostly because I’ve been trying to take it easy on my legs. At many of the stops for my new job, I have to unload and/or load the trailer myself, and I’ve found out just how out of shape my legs were for such work.

Also, there’s been the weather. We’ve had a rare drought this summer and fall, but as often happens, when the drought broke, it did so by swinging to the other extreme. The first half of October was as dry as it’s been all summer, with hardly a drop of rain, and plenty of sunshine. Once the rains came, they’ve stuck around and refuse to leave. We’ve now set the record for the most rain ever in the month of October, with almost all of it coming during the past two weeks. In fact, we’ve gotten more rain in the last two weeks than the months of June, July, August, and September combined, over ten inches.

Despite the rain, I did run over to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Sunday, just to get out of my apartment for a while, to see what I could find, and to stay in practice. It was a lucky day for me, for as I was about to leave, I noticed what I thought was a northern harrier flying right along the side of the road. I fired off a couple of bursts of photos, as I did, I noticed that while the bird I was shooting was about the same size as a harrier, and that it hunted much as harriers do, it had a different shape than a harrier. It was a short-eared owl out hunting in the rain.

Short-eared owl in flight

I was also very lucky in that it thought that there was something in the bushes that you can see behind the owl, and so it circled the bushes several times, giving me many opportunities to photograph it.

Short-eared owl in flight

That was good, because even my Canon 7D was having trouble focusing on the owl as dark as the day was, and in the rain. I have a few shots were the camera focused on raindrops that were closer to me than the owl.

Short-eared owl in flight

But, I was able to get enough fair shots of the owl to include in a post in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Short-eared owl in flight

Since I’m two-thirds of the way through the list of species of birds seen in Michigan, the rate at which I’m finding new species has dropped off to almost none of late. So, it was great to be able to cross another species off from the list of species that I still need photos of.

I have to say it, the Canon 7D Mk II with the 400 mm f/5.6 L series lens made those photos possible. Great equipment may not guarantee great images, but, equipment such as I have now, makes photographing in tough conditions possible. Shooting on a dark, dreary day, in the rain, and I was able to get photos good enough that there’s no mistaking the short-eared owl for any other species of bird. I was even able to catch the color of the owl’s eyes.

However, because it was so dark that day, sensor noise was an issue in most of the photos that I shot at the high ISO settings required.

Bald eagle

I was able to remove most of the noise by using Lightroom, but then the sharpness of the images suffered too much, so I left most of the noise there.

Bald eagle

A few people have commented on the expressions on the birds’ faces in the images that I post here, so I thought I’d show how I’m able to get those expressions. It’s by shooting many photos of the same bird when I can, then selecting the one image that I like the best.

Bald eagle

In this case, I posted three photos of the same bird, since it was a slow day, and also so that you can see how the position of a bird’s head makes a great deal of difference in an image. It’s always best if the bird has its head turned toward you as you photograph it rather than looking away from the photographer, so I included both a left and a right profile, along with a photo of the eagle staring straight at me. You may not believe it, but you can feel the stare of a raptor when it’s looking straight at you, even through the camera. I didn’t include any of the photos that I shot while the eagle was looking away from me, I should have, just to illustrate how much of a difference the position of the bird’s head makes.

One of my next goals is to learn how to shoot better videos. I am getting better as I learn what settings to use, but my videos still look “choppy”, and I’m not sure why that is. Here’s a female northern shoveler that I filmed a few weeks ago.

At one point, you can see her stop for a drink, a little later, it looked to me as if she nabbed an insect flying past her out of the air. While this video is much better than some of my earlier attempts, I need to refine the camera settings along with my techniques to give the videos that I shoot a more polished look to them. On the positive side of the ledger, I’m getting better with Canon’s dual pixel AF auto-focus tracking of the subjects that I shoot. I shot several videos of the shovelers in action, and I was able to keep the subject in focus for the duration of the video in all of them. That is a step forward. On one of the cold, snowy days that’s coming all too soon, I need to sit down with the camera manual to learn how to adjust all the settings for video.

There are times when still photos are the best way to show people the things that I want, as when this male northern shoveler decided that it was bath time.

Male northern shoveler

That was shot in the rain, better lighting would have turned that into a good photo. I don’t think that a video would show how the shoveler had a water helmet covering its head as it came up for air. Still photos are also better for showing the duck’s beautiful colors on its wings.

Male northern shoveler

Along with the colors, still photos also show the intricate layers of feathers on the underside of a bird’s wing.

Male northern shoveler

That photo shows that the shoveler has at least 4 bands of feathers on the inside of its wing, from the row of small feathers on the leading edge of its wing, to two layers of flight feathers, with a band of intermediate length feathers in between. You can also see different layers of feathers on the top of his wings, how they all work together in flight is one of the natural world’s true wonders.

You can see the bands of feathers on the underside of the wings of this juvenile herring gull in flight as well, but here the bands show up due to the coloration of the feathers.

Juvenile herring gull in flight

These next few images are nothing special, other than they show birds doing what comes naturally to them, flying.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Northern shovelers in flight

With ducks, I think that they look their best while flying, it’s then that you can see how beautifully colored their wings are. These would be even better if the males had regrown the green feathers on their heads.

Northern shovelers in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Switching gears slightly, here’s another example of how birds differ, look at the size of the feet of this American coot.

American coot

Although they are distantly related to ducks, you can see that coots don’t have webbed feet as ducks do, but the feet of coots are very large, which they use to their advantage as they propel themselves through the water. The very large feet also allow them to walk in very soft mud without sinking in.

American coot

My other saved images from the past few weeks were my feeble attempts to find some bright fall colors around here.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall

All three of these are of the same small stand of trees, but shot at different angles and focal lengths.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall 2

I wanted to take a trip up north for a weekend to search for more color, but the new job didn’t allow for that.

One bright spot in an otherwise colorless fall 3

For the first two weeks at the new job, I had only one day off from work which I spent on household chores for the most part. For my third week there, I did get two full days off, but I had to go from working days to working nights, so I had to change my sleep pattern as much as I could during that weekend. I also did overnight runs, so I lost some time because of that.

Well, another wet, chilly weekend has passed. Once again, I had to change my sleep pattern around for work, as I’ll be starting this morning at about the same time that I finished on Sunday morning. Luckily, it isn’t as hard to change in the direction required this time, so I was able to make it to the wastewater facility for a day. Not that it mattered much, for the weather pattern refuses to change, and it continues to be chilly and wet.

Also, there aren’t many different species of birds around, even though I saw literally thousands of ducks and geese during my time at the wastewater facility. You’d think that with so many birds around that I’d find it easy to get good photos, but that wasn’t the case. For one thing, the storage lagoons have been drawn down due to the drought earlier this year, along with the fact that they always lower the water level in the fall to make room for water coming in over the winter months when it’s below freezing. With the water level so low, it puts many of the ducks out of range for a good photo in the first place. On top of that, most of the ducks are in their fall plumage yet, like this ruddy duck.

Ruddy duck

The same applies to this female red-breasted merganser.

Female red-breasted merganser

I spent a little time working on shooting videos, hoping to produce better ones than my past efforts. I think that they are improving.

The rocks and weeds in the foreground are no-nos, but I think that the video of the northern shovelers in one of the feeding frenzies is the best that I’ve done yet. It helps that there was very little wind at the time, I also used my auxiliary microphone which I should do more often, as it produces much better sound than the one built into the camera. I also learned to use a lens with image stabilization when shooting video, and which of the three settings for the IS works best for videos, as this one is the smoothest that I’ve shot so far.

Here’s a close-up still photo of one of the feeding frenzies.

Northern shoveler feeding frenzy

My last post had too many great blue herons in it, this one is going to end up with too many bald eagles. I didn’t even bother to photograph the first eagle that I saw, because it was the same eagle in the same tree as the eagle in the first part of this post. A little later, I spotted this eagle, and decided to shoot it just to get some type of photo for the day.

Bald eagle

I missed him when he flew off, but he flew across the lagoon to join his mate.

Bald eagles

Since the two of them sat there and posed for me, most of my photos from the day were of the two of them together.

Bald eagles

I believe that the female is on the left, and the male is on the right, as with most species of raptors, the females are larger than the males. You can also see that the shape of their heads are slightly different, I don’t know if that has to do with the sex of the bird, or if it’s an individual difference. Either way, it is a way to tell individual eagles apart at times.

Bald eagles

It was nice of the two of them to stick around and let me photograph them for as long as I did. On the other hand, this whitetail buck wanted only to get away when I spooked it.

Whitetail buck

I’ve seen very few deer this year at the wastewater facility, and this was one of the few bucks that I’ve seen.

I have one more image of the fall colors to post.

Fall colors

I also have three photos of a northern harrier in flight. This first one was shot with the right set-up…

Northern harrier in flight

…but it wouldn’t turn towards me a for a really good photo.

Later, I saw the same, or possibly another, harrier land very close to me, so I grabbed the set-up for bird portraits, and just as I did, the harrier took off again.

Northern harrier in flight

So, I was shooting with the wrong settings for a bird in flight, but these turned out reasonably well in spite of that.

Northern harrier in flight

But, because of the slower shutter speeds, the last two aren’t as sharp as the first, and the exposure was off a little as well. What you can’t see in the photos is how much harder that I had to work to get the photos that I did with the wrong set-up. That’s the reason that I keep one camera and lens combination set for flying birds at all times, but this harrier didn’t give me the time that I needed to make the switch when it took off unexpectedly.

That’s about it. It’s a Saturday morning, barely, as I finish this one. I’m not sure if I’ll even make it out to try to shoot any photos this weekend, as I think that once again, my work schedule and household chores will preclude it. I’ve been starting work around midnight for the past few weeks, and I will be again next week, which starts tonight. Since I sleep all day, I have to try to stay on this schedule for work. So, I’m not sure how things are going to work out in the longer run. I’ll get back to posting new species to the My Photo Life List project if I’m not able to get any other photos soon.

I almost titled this post into the frying pan because I’m not sure how this new job is going to work out. I don’t want to bore every one with the details, but I hate being a truck driver, but that’s what I’m looking forward to for the next 4 years until I can retire. One good thing about the new job is the money, nearly $100 a week more than my last job, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. I’m only working around 40 hours a week to make that much, which is a lot less than the hours that I had to put in at the old job. But, the hours that I do work are almost all during the night, but that’s subject to change. Anyway, I guess that’s it for now.

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