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

Posts tagged “Photos

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

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

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

The American woodcock (Scolopax minor), sometimes colloquially referred to as the timberdoodle, is a small chunky shorebird species found primarily in the eastern half of North America. Woodcocks spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where the birds’ brown, black, and gray plumage provides excellent camouflage.

Because of the male woodcock’s unique, beautiful courtship flights, the bird is welcomed as a harbinger of spring in northern areas. It is also a popular game bird, with about 540,000 killed annually by some 133,000 hunters in the U.S.

The American woodcock is the only species of woodcock inhabiting North America. Although classified with the sandpipers and shorebirds in Family Scolopacidae, the American woodcock lives mainly in upland settings. Its many folk names include timberdoodle, bogsucker, night partridge, brush snipe, hokumpoke, and becasse.

The population of the American woodcock has fallen by an average of slightly more than 1% annually since the 1960s. Most authorities attribute this decline to a loss of habitat caused by forest maturation and urban development.

The American woodcock has a plump body, short legs, a large, rounded head, and a long, straight prehensile bill. Adults are 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) long and weigh 5 to 8 ounces (140 to 230 g).Females are considerably larger than males. The bill is 2.5 to 2.75 inches (6.4 to 7.0 cm) long.
The plumage is a cryptic mix of different shades of browns, grays, and black. The chest and sides vary from yellowish white to rich tan. The nape of the head is black, with three or four crossbars of deep buff or rufous. The feet and toes, which are small and weak, are brownish gray to reddish-brown.

Woodcock have large eyes located high in the head, and their visual field is probably the largest of any bird, 360° in the horizontal plane and 180° in the vertical plane.

The woodcock uses its long prehensile bill to probe in the soil for food, mainly invertebrates and especially earthworms. A unique bone-and-muscle arrangement lets the bird open and close the tip of its upper bill, or mandible, while it is sunk in the ground. Both the underside of the upper mandible and the long tongue are rough-surfaced for grasping slippery prey.

The primary breeding range extends from Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick) west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to northern Virginia, western North Carolina, Kentucky, northern Tennessee, northern Illinois, Missouri, and eastern Kansas. A limited number of woodcock breed as far south as Florida and Texas. The species may be expanding its distribution northward and westward.

After migrating south in autumn, most woodcock spend the winter in the Gulf Coast and southeastern Atlantic Coast states. Some may remain as far north as southern Maryland, eastern Virginia, and southern New Jersey. The core of the wintering range centers on Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Woodcock eat mainly invertebrates, particularly earthworms (Oligochaeta). They do most of their feeding in places where the soil is moist. They forage by probing in soft soil in thickets, where they usually remain well-hidden from sight. Other items in the diet include insect larvae, snails, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, snipe flies, beetles, and ants. A small amount of plant food is eaten, mainly seeds. Woodcock are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk.

Woodcock migrate at night. They fly at low altitudes, individually or in small, loose flocks. Flight speeds of migrating birds have been clocked at 16 to 28 miles per hour (26 to 45 kilometers per hour). However, the slowest flight speed ever recorded for a bird, 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour), was recorded for this species. It is believed that woodcock orient visually using major physiographic features such as coastlines and broad river valleys. Both the autumn and spring migrations are leisurely compared with the swift, direct migrations of many passerine birds.

In the North, woodcock begin to shift southward before ice and snow seal off their ground-based food supply. Cold fronts may prompt heavy southerly flights in autumn. Most woodcock start to migrate in October, with the major push from mid-October to early November. Most individuals arrive on the wintering range by mid-December. The birds head north again in February. Most have returned to the northern breeding range by mid-March to mid-April.

Migrating birds’ arrival at and departure from the breeding range is highly irregular. In Ohio, for example, the earliest birds are seen in February, but the bulk of the population does not arrive until March and April. Birds start to leave for winter by September, but some remain until mid-November

In Spring, males occupy individual singing grounds, openings near brushy cover from which they call and perform display flights at dawn and dusk, and if the light levels are high enough on moonlit nights. The male’s ground call is a short, buzzy peent. After sounding a series of ground calls, the male takes off and flies from 50 to 100 yards into the air. He descends, zigzagging and banking while singing a liquid, chirping song. This high spiralling flight produces a melodious twittering sound as air rushes through the male’s outer primary wing feathers.

Males may continue with their courtship flights for as many as four months running – sometimes continuing even after females have already hatched their broods and left the nest.

Females, known as hens, are attracted to the males’ displays. A hen will fly in and land on the ground near a singing male. The male courts the female by walking stiff-legged and with his wings stretched vertically, and by bobbing and bowing. A male may mate with several females. The male woodcock plays no role in selecting a nest site, incubating eggs, or rearing young. In the primary northern breeding range, the woodcock may be the earliest ground-nesting species to breed.

The hen makes a shallow, rudimentary nest on the ground in the leaf and twig litter, in brushy or young-forest cover usually within 150 yards (140 m) of a singing ground. Most hens lay four eggs, sometimes one to three. Incubation takes 20 to 22 days.

The down-covered young are precocial and leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. The female broods her young and feeds them. When threatened, the fledglings usually take cover and remain motionless, attempting to escape detection by relying on their cryptic coloration. Some observers suggest that frightened young may cling to the body of their mother, who will then take wing and carry the young to safety.

Woodcock fledglings begin probing for worms on their own a few days after hatching. They develop quickly and can make short flights after two weeks, can fly fairly well at three weeks, and are independent after about five weeks.

The maximum lifespan of adult American woodcock in the wild is 8 years.

The woodcock population remained high during the early and mid-twentieth century, after many family farms were abandoned as people moved to urban areas, and cropfields and pastures grew up in brush. In recent decades, those formerly brushy acres have become middle-aged and older forest, where woodcock rarely venture, or they have been covered with buildings and other human developments. Because its population has been declining, the American woodcock is considered a “species of greatest conservation need” in many states, triggering research and habitat-creation efforts in an attempt to boost woodcock populations.

Creating young-forest habitat for American woodcock helps more than 50 other species of wildlife that need young forest during part or all of their life cycles. These include relatively common animals such as white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, moose, bobcat, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse, and animals whose populations have also declined in recent decades, such as the golden-winged warbler, whip-poor-will, willow flycatcher, indigo bunting, and New England cottontail

On to my photos:

These photos were shot in April of 2017, near the headquarters for the Muskegon State Game Area.

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

American woodcock

 

This is number 202 in my photo life list, only 148 to go!

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

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Notable photos

Even though I’m supposed to be taking a break from blogging, I can’t resist starting another post of some of the more notable photos that I shoot. This post will be nearly all photos and few words. I’ll start with a species of goose that I just recently crossed off the list for the My Photo Life List project, a Ross’s goose.

Ross’s goose

Much better than any of the photos I shot the first time I saw that species.

Also, using the 400 mm prime lens, 2 X tele-converter, and live view focusing with the set-up mounted to my new gimbal tripod head, I was able to get my best ever photos of a golden eagle.

Golden eagle

What’s also notable about that photo is that I waited half an hour to 45 minutes for the sun to break through the clouds to give me some good light to shoot that one in.

I have the feeling that using the gimbal head is going to make a great deal more improvement to the quality of images that I shoot than I had thought.

I’ve only used it on flying birds a few times, but it allows me to better track the birds more smoothly than I can by hand. I’ve only used it on the eagle as far as perched birds, but it allowed me to do exactly what I hoped it would. After shooting a few bad photos handheld, I saw that the eagle wasn’t going to fly away soon, so I set the tripod up with the gimbal head and shot a few better images.

However, it was still quite gloomy then, but I could see that holes were opening up in the clouds, so I waited. The way that the gimbal head works, I could keep the camera pointed at the eagle as I waited, and I shot another series of photos every time that I thought that the light had improved a little. Eventually, one of the holes in the clouds opened so that there was sunshine on the eagle, giving me the image that you see here. I was hoping that the eagle would stick around long enough for there to be sunshine on it and blue sky behind, but the eagle flew away before that happened.

I can’t say for sure, but I believe that the eagle flew off to stay in the sunshine. It had been a chilly morning, and I could really feel the difference when the sunshine hit me, it felt very good. The hole in the clouds that had put the sunshine on both myself and the eagle had closed, so I took that opportunity to check the quality of the images that I had just shot. When I looked up, the eagle was flying off, and it stayed in the sun as it did. The last time that I saw the eagle, it was riding an updraft to gain altitude without having to flap its wings at all.

There wouldn’t have been an updraft for the eagle without the sunshine to heat the ground and the air above it, so I wonder if the eagle had stayed perched there waiting for the sunshine to create the updraft. I know that it warmed up quite a bit as soon as the sun came out for good, and that I remember being jealous of the eagle’s ability to follow the sunshine as the size of the holes in the clouds increased the way that they did that day.

Anyway, I have digressed again, back to the gimbal head and the tripod that I have it mounted on. The tripod is a Benro Com37c, which I would classify as a medium heavy-duty tripod. It’s much sturdier than the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for landscapes, and I was able to purchase it for about half price while it was on sale through B&H Photo.  It doesn’t have a center post to use to adjust the height, I have to do that through the angle of the legs and how far I extend them. I believe that not having a center post is one of the things that makes it so steady in use.

One added bonus to the Benro tripod is that it has a hook under where the center post would be if it had one, and I can hang my second long lens/camera set-up from that hook. It makes the tripod even more stable, and then I don’t have to set the second long lens set-up on the ground as I use the one that’s mounted on the gimbal head. If I hadn’t been reviewing my photos when the eagle took off, I would have snatched the second long set-up off from the hook, and used it to shoot a few images of the eagle taking off.

I could have mounted the gimbal head to the Manfrotto tripod that I already had, as it’s a fine tripod, but I don’t think that it would have been as solid as the Benro is. Also, the gimbal head works great with my long lenses for the way that I shoot with them, but I don’t think that the gimbal head would work as well for landscapes. Besides, I can see that there will come a time when I have the Manfrotto tripod set-up shooting landscapes, and the Benro tripod and gimbal head set-up for shooting wildlife at the same time.

An update. I got the excellent price on the Benro tripod that I did because it was being discontinued. That’s also why I was I was able to get the Manfrotto tripod that I’ve been using for a few years now. I really lucked out when it came to shopping for tripods, I now have two high quality carbon fiber tripods and I paid about what I would have paid for either of them if I hadn’t gotten them on sale.

In my never-ending playing with my camera gear, I used my 100 mm macro lens for this image.

Reflection of a flying ring-billed gull

If only there wasn’t the reflection of a second gull in that image, oh well, I learned a lot while shooting both perched and flying gulls with the macro lens.

Another week has gone by, and this past weekend was wet, cold, and windy. What’s notable about these images is that they turned out as well as they did in very poor conditions for photography, even the ducks looked as if they hated the weather at times.

Male northern shoveler

You can see the rain drops beading up on the shoveler’s back.

I think that ducks are some of our most colorful and beautiful birds, but with many species, you have to see their wings to fully appreciate their beauty, which means photographing them in flight. I wasn’t very hopeful when I saw that more species were returning in their full breeding plumage, but despite the low-light, I gave it a shot.

Male blue-winged teal in flight

 

Male redhead duck in flight

 

Male northern shoveler in flight

 

Male northern shoveler in flight

 

Male bufflehead taking off

With the 7D Mk II and the lenses that I have now, getting birds in flight is much easier, not only ducks, but raptors like this northern harrier as well.

Male northern harrier

I was able to shoot a few much better photos of another recent addition to My Photo Life List, the northern shrike.

Northern shrike

That brings me to a species of bird which has just returned for the summer, but isn’t colorful at all. They are fun to watch however, and I missed them while they were gone.

American coot

They use their oversized lobed feet as ducks use their webbed feet for swimming, but the coots are also able to wade in soft mud as well. They don’t fly unless forced to, so it’s a little unusual to see them with their wings spread.

American coot

That one was using its wings for balance as it climbed up on the rocks.

Give them a little food, and they look so happy.

American coot

 

American coot

A few weeks ago, I shot this photo of a horned lark showing its horns.

Male horned lark

And this past weekend, I got the quintessential image of a male red-winged blackbird staking out his territory.

Male red-winged blackbird

The time has come for me to put a hold on purchasing any more camera gear for a while, and instead, to get some type of portable blind to hide in and also some camouflaged clothes so that I can get closer to my subjects.

As if by magic, I found a portable hide designed for photographers and have ordered one. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to try it this coming weekend or not, the forecast for the weekend is looking very good right now. If it turns out to be as nice as predicted, I’m planning on doing some doing some longer walks at some of the better birding locations in the Muskegon State Game area.

I suppose that I’ll have to give the new hide a try, since the one that I ordered is made for photographers that move around quite a bit. It’s not much more than a tarp with an opening for the lens to stick through, and a mesh opening to look through to spot the subject. It folds into a carrying pouch that you can wear on your belt if so inclined and weighs less than three pounds. The one that I ordered is the right colors for spring or fall, and if it works out well, I may eventually order a second one in white for our snowy winters here in Michigan.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting out in nice weather for a change, and the forecast is looking good for that right now. For the last month or more, if it was warm on a weekend, it was cloudy and gloomy, if there was good light, it’s been cold. The forecast for the upcoming weekend is for slightly above average temperatures and sunny skies, something I’ve not had since last fall.

Also if by magic, since my last post where I complained about not having enough time to blog, I’ve been getting home an average of an hour earlier than I was when I wrote that post. That still doesn’t leave me a lot of time to work on my blog, it’s still more time than I used to have. And, I still don’t have time to make it outside during the week. So, I’m really excited about having two good days to be out and about for a change.

I shouldn’t have typed that last paragraph, since I did, work has gone back to the way that it was before, leaving me just enough time to eat, sleep, and do the other things required just to survive. Still, I’m looking forward to a full weekend of being outside starting tomorrow.

Well, it’s Sunday morning as I type this, and Saturday was every bit as nice as they had predicted. Although, the day did begin well below freezing, so I began with some drive by birding at the Muskegon County wastewater facility as I have been doing. The light was so good that I installed a polarizing filter to the 400 mm lens to shoot ducks in flight. The polarizing filter helps to cut the glare coming off from the water, but it seemed to shift the colors of the  ducks that I shot. Look at the colors on this northern shoveler’s wings…

Northern shoveler blasting off

…compared to the photos earlier in this post.

Also, nice weather brought out a lot of birders, keeping most of the birds well out of range of my camera. Still, I was having fun trying to get good shots of ducks in flight.

Bufflehead duck in flight

I hate to brag, but I’m getting better all the time. However, there are still times when the birds won’t cooperate. I saw this pair of hooded mergansers, and tried to get a photo with both of them looking back at me at the same time, this was the best that I could do.

Hooded mergansers

Then, there are the wood ducks. Getting close to one out in the open is tough enough to begin with, then, they have so many colors in so many places, that it’s hard to get an image showing all those colors in one shot.

Male wood duck

That one shows the purple on the back of the duck’s head, but then you can’t see how colorful its face is.

Male wood duck and mallard

That one does a better job of showing the duck’s face, but then you can’t see the purple on the back of his head. It’s going to take perfect lighting at the perfect angle to fully capture all the colors of a male wood duck, so I’ll keep trying.

Once it had warmed up, I went to the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, but there were some people target shooting there. they were set-up so that they were shooting right at the best birding trail, so I left. My next stop was Lane’s Landing, but by that time, most of the birds were taking their afternoon siesta, and I saw very few birds, and none close enough for a photo. I hope to do better today.

Sunday turned out to be a pretty good day, I could fill a post with the photos that I shot today, but I’ll stick to the notable ones, starting with another lifer for me, a rusty blackbird.

Rusty blackbird

I came across a small flock of them in a swamp near the Muskegon River as I was scouting for places to use the new portable hide when it arrives, and I managed to get that one good image, plus another not so good image of one of the flock.

The rusty blackbird looks a lot like a common grackle, but the common crackle has a much longer tail as you can see here.

Common grackle

I also got my first photos ever of a bird that I used to see quite often when I hunted, an American Woodcock.

American woodcock

They’re an odd-looking bird, their eyes are so far back on their head that they can see behind themselves.

American woodcock

They also have a flexible bill that they use to probe the soil for worms, and they constantly bob up and down as they walk. They are considered a shorebird even though they are seldom found near a shore, other than a small inland lake from time to time.

With the photos of those two species, I am now two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from as I try to photograph every species of bird seen regularly in Michigan. Not bad, it’s only taken me a few years to make it this far, now I need some time to be able to catch up in posting to the series of posts that I’m doing as I continue to cross new species off from the list. But, that would probably take away time that I could use in search of more species to cross off from the list.

I know that my ramblings about working on the My Photo Life List bore some people, but it’s one of the best things that I have ever undertaken. It helps to keep my eyes and my mind sharp as search for new species, and how to identify birds quickly. It’s improved my skills as a photographer as I often have to shoot under less than ideal conditions when I first see a new species. I’m learning to be more patient as a scan a flock of birds to see if there are any different species “hiding” within a flock of birds. Mostly, I’m learning how diverse birds are, how beautifully marked many of what are considered plain birds are, such as the woodcock, and I’m also learning much more about the state that I live in, Michigan, as I search out the correct habitats for the birds that I need to find yet.

Moving on, some of the insect-eating birds have returned from down south, including the eastern phoebe…

Eastern Phoebe

…tree swallows…

Tree swallow

…and eastern bluebirds.

Eastern bluebird

At one point, the swallow was discouraging the bluebird from using one of the nesting boxes people have installed in the area, but they were too far away from me to get any photos of that.

I did get photos of two buffleheads fighting over a female.

Bufflehead ducks fighting

I shot close to 100 photos of them going at it, but I’ll just post that one.

I added to my collection of good photos of ducks in flight, or I suppose that I should say, ducks landing.

Northern shoveler landing

 

Northern shoveler landing

This will be too many photos for this post, but I have to use them all. Male Bufflehead are quite comical in the way that they land as they are trying to impress females.

Male bufflehead landing

After they hit the water, they ride on top of the water as tall as they can make themselves look.

Male bufflehead landing

 

Male bufflehead landing

 

Male bufflehead landing

 

Male bufflehead landing

Until they run out of steam, and slip straight down into the water.

Male bufflehead landing

 

Male bufflehead landing

It’s fun to watch them as they run across the water to build up speed so that they can skate on top of the water until they sink, then surface, bobbing their heads up and down, all to impress a female nearby. One of these days, I’m going to be in the right position and in the right circumstances to shoot a good video of them going at it.

Well, that’s about it for this post, but I’m going to throw in one last photo that shows that spring has finally arrived here in Michigan.

Song sparrow singing

It’s so good to step outside and here all the birds that have returned singing away in the mornings, and it gets better each day as more birds arrive.

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


Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata

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.

Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata

The orange-crowned warbler (Oreothlypis celata) is a small songbird of the New World warbler family.

These birds are distinguished by their lack of wing bars, streaking on the underparts, strong face marking or bright colouring, resembling a fall Tennessee warbler and a black-throated blue warbler, both of which are also members of the New World warbler family. The orange patch on the crown is usually not visible. They have olive-grey upperparts, yellowish underparts with faint streaking and a thin pointed bill. They have a faint line over their eyes and a faint broken eye ring. Females and immatures are duller in colour than males. Western birds are yellower than eastern birds.

Their breeding habitat is open shrubby areas across Canada, Alaska and the western United States. The nest is a small open cup well-concealed on the ground under vegetation or low in shrubs. The female builds the nest; both parents feed the young.

These birds migrate to the southern United States and south to Central America.

They forage actively in low shrubs, flying from perch to perch, sometimes hovering. These birds eat insects, berries and nectar.

Four to six eggs are laid in a nest on the ground or in a low bush.

The song of this bird is a trill, descending in pitch and volume. The call is a high chip.

On to my photos:

These photos were shot at the local park that I used to walk in daily when I had the time.

Orange crowned warbler

 

Orange crowned warbler

This is number 201 in my photo life list, only 149 to go!

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

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Taking a break

I’ve been working on this post for weeks now, during the few moments when I have a chance to do anything with it. My work schedule allows me about an hour to myself in the morning, and that includes eating breakfast and getting dressed for work. On many evenings I have about an hour or a little more to myself, and that includes making supper and doing dishes after I eat. The only part of the week when I have any free time at all is on the weekends and that’s my time to be out shooting photos, editing them when I get home, adding keywords, and all the other things that I need to get done since I have no time during the work week.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been commenting on your blog posts, it isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the posts, but I simply have no free time for myself the way that my current work schedule is.

So, I am going to take a break from blogging for a while, until my schedule changes so that I have more time for both my blog and all of yours’. My schedule should change late this spring, about the time that I take my vacation in the middle of May, as the parts that I carry won’t be used on the next year’s model of car.

I may whip out a few of the posts on species of birds for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on, since I’m so far behind doing those posts. If I do publish any of those posts, I’ll turn off the comments and likes, since those posts are rather boring to most people anyway. I know who the readers are who actually appreciate those posts whether they comment or like the post anyway, and that way I won’t feel as obligated to keep up with their posts on their blogs, as I simply don’t have the time right now.

I really don’t want to take a break right now, as with the weather improving and the light getting better, I’m back to shooting some very good images again.

Male Bufflehead duck

So for now, it’s back to the post that I have been working on for a while.

The temperatures have been up and down around here over the past two weeks, with some days feeling like early spring, and others feeling like the middle of winter. It snowed here most of the day on Saturday, but by Sunday afternoon, it was feeling and looking like spring again.

Northern shovelers in flight

Northern shovelers in flight

Other than the dramatic change in the weather between Saturday and Sunday this weekend, the big news was how many species of birds are returning from their winter homes already.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

 

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

 

American robin

American robin

I’m really looking forward to this spring, and trying to improve my photos even more than what I have already. One group of birds that I’m going to focus on early is waterfowl, mainly ducks.

Male common merganser

Male common merganser

 

Female common merganser

Female common merganser

 

Canvasback ducks

Canvasback ducks

 

Redhead ducks in flight

Redhead ducks in flight

 

Male northern shoveler landing

Male northern shoveler landing

 

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

I can see that I’m going to have a lot of fun shooting the ducks in flight, both for their beauty and to show how different species make it airborne. For example, the male ring-necked duck in these next two photos was able to launch itself into the air without a running start. However, the lesser scaup that it was hanging out with need a running start to build enough speed to get off the water.

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

So, the ring-necked duck was staying low and close to the scaup as you can see better in this photo. You can also see that the two species look similar, but between the way that they take off and the differences in their bills, it’s really quite easy to tell them apart in a good photo.

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

Male Ring-necked duck and lesser scaup taking flight

Here’s a for the record photo, a lone trumpeter swan on a frozen farm pond…

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

…because it’s unusual to see a lone swan since they mate for life, you almost always see at least two together most of the time. This may have been a young male looking for a territory to call its own.

I was afraid that my blog would end up being just gulls…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

 

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…and mallards…

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

…with an occasional bird of another species once in a while.

Starling in flight

Starling in flight

But with the return of more species of birds every day, that shouldn’t happen.

Great blue herons in flight

Great blue herons in flight

 

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

 

Male downy woodpecker

Male downy woodpecker

 

Dark-eyed junco on the run

Dark-eyed junco on the run

 

Pekin duck

Pekin duck

 

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

Another week has gone by, and I’ve had very little time to work on this post. My work schedule leaves me with no time for blogging except for on the weekends, and then I’d rather be out shooting photos than writing about shooting photos. This past week was worse because I had that nasty cold which caused me to need more sleep, but it’s been the same since I started this run in January. All that I have time for during the week is to eat, sleep, and work.

My plan for over the winter had been to post a few of the species of birds that I have saved for the My Photo Life List project that I’ve been working on, but I haven’t had the time to do any of those posts along with my regular posts. That’s too bad in a way, for I have been finding a few new to me species of birds this winter, like this lesser black-backed gull that I found on Saturday.

Lesser black-backed gull

Lesser black-backed gull

And, I was able to better images of an adult glaucous gull also…

Glaucous gull

Glaucous gull

…if I remember correctly, my best photos of that species were of a juvenile, so I can update the post for that species with good images of an adult.

As with most things, I jumped into that project without thinking through everything that it entails, such as looking at thousands of gulls…

Ring-billed gull in breeding plumage

Ring-billed gull in breeding plumage

…to find the two odd individuals from within that huge flock of mostly ring-billed and herring gulls. On the other hand, I’ve been learning so much from taking on that project about birds, photography, and myself, that I’m extremely happy that I decided to tackle it. Who knew that common gulls like the ring-billed go through a breeding plumage phase?

And, getting good photos of a bird in question makes it easier to properly identify which species it is. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a greater black-backed gull, so I assumed that the lesser black-backed from above was also a greater, until I got good photos. Then, I saw that the gull in question has yellow legs, making it a lesser black-backed gull, since greater black-backed gulls have pink legs. If I had been working from just my memories of the bird in question, I wouldn’t have been able to make a positive ID.

 

Okay, the only way that I wrote the introduction to this post where I explained that I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while is by bringing my Macbook Pro with me while working, and typing while the trailer is being unloaded and then reloaded again.

I’m going to throw in a few more of my most recent photos to finish this off.

American kestrel

 

Killdeer

 

Male red-winged blackbird

 

Tufted titmouse

 

Red squirrel

 

Grey squirrel

 

male northern cardinal

 

Female northern cardinal

 

By the way, I shot another video of northern shovelers in a feeding frenzy, and it’s the best video that I’ve shot to date.

I should have, but didn’t, use my newest acquisitions to shoot that video. With all that I’ve been working lately, I’ve been able to afford a very sturdy but simple tripod and a gimbal head to go on the tripod. After much soul-searching, I went with a cheap off brand of gimbal head, only after having tested it out in the store with my birding set-up mounted on the gimbal head. While I’m sure that the head that I purchased wouldn’t be good enough for one of the monster long lenses that I’ll never be able to afford, it seems to be adequate for the medium length lenses that I have.

Ring-billed gull in flight

I also shot this image of a goose after it had fallen through thin ice and was on its way to catch up with the rest of the flock that had flown across the ice.

Canada goose in flight

I was surprised how easy it is to follow a moving subject the very first time that I used the gimbal head, it will only get better in the future. In some ways, it’s easier to follow the motion of a subject with the tripod and gimbal head supporting the camera, allowing me to concentrate on tracking the subject in a nice smooth manner. That’s because  I’m not dealing with my own wobbling around, the camera and lens are steady on the gimbal head making it easier to pan with the subject’s motion.

The gimbal head on the tripod will also come in very handy once I begin doing more of my photography from a blind or hide. That’s because the camera/lens can be balanced on the gimbal head so that the lens stays pointed where ever I want it pointed. So, I can leave everything set-up pointed in the general direction that I plan to shoot in, rather than having to set the camera down all the time because it’s too heavy to hold up all the time.

I didn’t use a hide or the new gimbal head, but I did sit stationary waiting for many of the small songbirds in this post, including these.

Black-capped chickadee

 

Common grackle

 

American tree sparrow

While these are good, I’m sure that if I were in a hide and had the camera all set-up on the gimbal head/tripod that I’d be able to do even better.

Like I said, I should have used the tripod for the video, but I had gulls flying overhead all the time, doing what gulls are known to do, as in pooping in flight so often that I had to wash my car on my way home, so I decided not to risk getting pooped on myself, since I can’t use the tripod and gimbal head inside of my Subaru.

You can be sure that I’ll continue to play with the new tripod/head set-up, just as I continue to play with lenses and settings.

A while back, I wrote that I had come up with new bird in flight settings based on using the manual mode, those settings worked so well that I’ve been using the manual mode more often lately for both flying and perched birds.

Herring gull shot in manual mode using 70-200 mm lens at 70 mm

Shooting in manual works best if I’m shooting the same or very similarly colored species of birds multiple times, so that I can get the exposure perfect for the birds. Then, it doesn’t matter if the background changes from light to dark or vice versa, the bird is exposed correctly most of the time.

I also used that photo to make another point, since I shot it with the 70-200 mm lens, you can see much more of the background due to the use of the wider lens. Most of the time a longer lens works better to reduce distractions in the background, but there are times when I like the wider view better. What I should have done is to have used the 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens for that shot, not that I needed the added focal length, but so that I could have used a smaller aperture to blur the background more. But, I’m not used to getting that close to my subjects.

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


The light that I’ve been waiting for!

I may as well start at the beginning for a change, since it’s rare that one of my first photos of a day is also one of best, unless it’s a sunrise photo.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

With the eagle perched there and willing to pose for me, I switched camera bodies and long lens/tele-converter set-ups to shoot this one.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

As I sat there watching the eagle, it assumed an aggressive posture to warn away other raptors, letting me know that another raptor was in the area.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

 

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

It turned out that a red-tailed hawk that was being mobbed by crows had landed in the same tree as the eagle. I didn’t get a good shot of the hawk though, here’s the best that I could do.

Red-tailed hawk sharing a tree with a bald eagle

Red-tailed hawk sharing a tree with a bald eagle

If the hawk thought that landing near an eagle would discourage the crows, it was mistaken, for the crows paid no attention to the eagle, and the eagle paid no attention to the crows.

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

The eagle was focused on the hawk, and giving the hawk “the look”, which meant that the eagle thought that the hawk should move on.

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

American crow landing near a juvenile bald eagle

It wasn’t long before the hawk took off, taking its entourage of crows with it, leaving the eagle by itself again.

Juvenile bald eagle with a red-tailed hawk and crow flying behind it

Juvenile bald eagle with a red-tailed hawk and crow flying behind it

Some of those were shot with the new 7D body, some with the older one. Some were shot with the 100-400 mm lens and 2 X tele-converter, some with the 400 mm lens and the same tele-converter. In good light, both set-ups are about equal as far as image quality.

I had very high hopes for the day, there was great light, very light winds, but very few birds. I saw very few mallards or Canada geese on Saturday, I have no idea where they had all moved to. I did find gulls to practice on though.

I was using the newer body with the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter for these next two. That set-up works great when I get very close to birds, I can zoom out to get the entire bird…

Herring gull at 140mm

Herring gull at 140mm

…or zoom in for a head shot.

Herring gull at 560 mm

Herring gull at 560 mm

I used the same set-up to get the best images of a snow bunting that I’ve ever shot.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

They may not have the wow factor of some other species of birds, but I love their markings…

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

…and it was nice of this one to do its yoga exercises while I was shooting photos.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

They’ve created a short nature trail at the Muskegon County wastewater facility, and so I walked it on Saturday for the first time. I missed the other birds because I was trying for only very good images, but I did get a chickadee…

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

…if I had been quicker, I may have gotten a shot of it as it tried to perch on my hat, but I had to settle for this one.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Stepping out of the woods and into one of the fields, I was greeted by two red-tailed hawks hunting together, probably a mated pair.

Red-tailed hawk number 1 in flight

Red-tailed hawk number 1 in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

Red-tailed hawk number 2 in flight

I had very high hopes for this weekend, as you can see in my photos so far, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky most of the time. However, two things limited the number of images that I shot. One was a lack of birds at the wastewater facility, and the other is that I’ve come down with a nasty cold or the flu. It’s hard to get close to birds when your nose is running all the time, and you’re coughing and sneezing most of the time as well. Yesterday, Sunday, I started at the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve hoping to sneak up on a few of the smaller birds there, but between how much noise I was making due to the cold, and just how cruddy I felt, I had to give it up and return to the wastewater facility where I could do most of my birding from my Subaru. I saw some promising signs that the waterfowl are returning, however, they stayed well out of camera range.

I must apologize to the people whose blogs I follow and comment on also, I’ve had a headache for the past three days which only gets worse when I try to comprehend what they have written. I’ll try to get caught up once I’m feeling better.

It’s now Tuesday morning, and this cold is still kicking my butt. That hasn’t been helped by returning to work yesterday. The hardest thing to deal with is trying to get enough sleep with the long hours that I have to work. At least I got a nap yesterday while waiting for the truck to be unloaded then reloaded on the other side of the state. I’ll probably do the same thing today.

Anyway, I’m going to throw in a few more photos that don’t require any comments from me, then call it good for this post.

Starling

Starling

 

Starling

Starling

 

Starling

Starling

 

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

 

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

 

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

Ring-billed gull finding lunch

 

Gadwall duck

Gadwall duck

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Canada goose

Canada goose

 

Female mallard

Female mallard

 

Male mallard

Male mallard

 

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch hopping

White-breasted nuthatch hopping

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

 

Common merganser

Common merganser

 

Common merganser taking off

Common merganser taking off

 

Common merganser taking off

Common merganser taking off

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

It may take me a while before I’m able to catch up on every one else’s posts, and the same will apply to comments that people may leave to this post also. Last night, I came home, ate supper, did the dishes, and went straight to bed, I’ll probably do the same tonight the way that I feel right now.

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


Killing time until spring

It was another mostly dreary weekend, that is for all of Saturday and most of Sunday. I went to a local park that I hadn’t been to in a while on Saturday, then went to the Muskegon County wastewater facility on Sunday. It was Sunday afternoon when gale force winds finally blew the clouds away to give me the best light that I’ve had for photography since the end of November.

Canada goose

Canada goose

I’ve shot more interesting photos of a Canada goose before, but I think that the photo above is the best technically as far as sharpness and exposure. The goose appears to pop out of the background, almost to the point of looking as if I combined two photos into one. That was shot with the 400 mm prime lens.

Unfortunately, because of the extremely strong winds, all the birds were hunkered down to stay out of the wind. They were having such a difficult time flying that I didn’t have the heart to try to get close to them which would make them take flight. But, in the few photos that I did shoot, I realized that I’ve just been killing time while waiting for good light all of this past winter.

The two days this past weekend couldn’t have been more different. On Saturday, it was cool and a bit foggy, with just a hint of a breeze now and then. Rather than walking in the park closest to me as I usually do, I went a few miles away to Palmer Park, which I used to walk on a regular basis.  However, the trail that I most wanted to take was the boardwalk that ran through a swamp and connected trails maintained by Kent County with trails maintained by the City of Wyoming, Michigan. The last few times I walked there, the boardwalk was closed due to damage caused by flooding, mostly to the footings that held the boardwalk up over the swamp. But, rather than repair the boardwalk, I found that it had been ripped out completely.

I also found that most of the birds were feeding high in the tops of trees. We had a couple of very windy days towards the end of last week, and I believe that the birds were taking advantage of there being no wind to look for food in the tops of trees. I even walked the trail that runs right on the edge of the park, where there are houses right next to the trail, with many of the homes having bird feeders in the backyard. I didn’t see a single bird on any of the many feeders that I saw. Most of our winter resident birds use bird feeders, but they don’t live on seeds alone, they eat mostly insects in the wild, and I think that’s what they were doing on Saturday.

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

That’s the only photo that I shot of a bird other than a few mallards which I’ll get to later. Because of the weather conditions and the light, it wasn’t worth shooting any other photos of birds in the treetops. It was very nice to hear them and watch them at times, but any photos would have been as bad as the one above.

I chose to walk Palmer Park because I knew that there would be other things to photograph besides birds, and that I’d also be able to try out the 100-400 mm lens on subjects that would require that I used its ability to focus up close. The strength of the 300 mm lens is that it functions almost like a macro lens because it focuses at such a short distance. According to the specifications, the 100-400 mm lens should focus as well as close as the 300 mm lens. I’m not convinced that it does though, it doesn’t seem to be as sharp as the 300 mm lens up close.

Before I get to the photos, I’ve been reading Allen’s blog, New Hampshire Garden Solutions, for years now, and I still can’t identify any of the mosses, fungi, or lichens that I see. Still, I find them both beautiful and interesting, and good subjects for photography.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

It must be that this winter suits this moss quite well, as I’ve never seen so many of the spore bearing parts of moss as I saw here.

Happy moss

Happy moss

I’m probably wrong, but I think these are turkey tails.

Turkey tails?

Turkey tails?

I tried and failed to get them all in focus at the same time, but I still like this photo.

Turkey tails? take 2

Turkey tails? take 2

I’m afraid that this tree isn’t long for this world, as I say, I don’t know much about fungi, but this looks deadly to the tree to me.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

The tree is almost 18 inches in diameter, and the entire side was covered with the fungus, here’s a closer look at it.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

It’s hard to believe that I almost missed this very brightly covered one, but it was hiding in a difficult to get to spot.

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Maybe my photos would have been better if it hadn’t been this kind of day.

The closest thing to sunshine all day

The closest thing to sunshine all day

You never know what critters you’ll find in the woods if you look hard enough.

Spring tailed critter

Spring tailed critter

Speaking of spring, I have no idea what this plant is, but it looks as if it’s getting ready to bloom.

Flower buds in the snow

Flower buds in the snow

I spent some time admiring the artwork produced by insects in a fallen log…

Insect artwork

Insect artwork

…and looking for a good background to shoot these alder catkins.

Alder catkins

Alder catkins

I found a few mallards in one of the small ponds, and was all set to catch them at take off. However, they refused to take flight while I was ready, they walked back into the reeds that surround the pond. I gave up waiting, but as I began to walk away, then they burst into flight. I was lucky, one pair circled me before moving on to the next pond.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

I suppose that those aren’t too bad considering the conditions, dreary and a bit foggy, but compare them to this one from Sunday when I finally had some good light for a change.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Have I said that I love the 7D Mk II and the way that it can track flying birds?

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

It took me a little over a year to fully understand how to get the auto-focusing system set-up for what and how I shoot, but it was worth it! This was shot with the new 400 mm prime lens, as were the mallards in good light just above.

I learned something again on this day, I had thought that the 400 mm prime lens wasn’t as good as the 100-400 mm lens is in tracking birds in flight, but it all depends on the light. With good light, the 400 mm lens does just fine, since I got a good focus lock on the kingfisher while it was in the open, the 400 mm lens continued to track it as it flew through some cattails.

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

It stayed locked onto the kingfisher as it prepared to land on one of the cattails…

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

…but even at ten frames per second, I didn’t catch the actual landing…

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

…and I had to settle for these.

Male belted kingfisher in flight

Male belted kingfisher in flight

That’s when I knew that I’ve been just killing time, waiting for better light for photography!

This series also makes me realize that all of the money that I’ve spent on better photo gear and the time that I’ve put into learning how to get the best out of it has all been worth it as well. There are two reasons that I’ve been working so hard to improve my photos, one is to capture action series like the one above, the other is to get better images to help me identify birds.

In my last post, I showed the differences between a crow and a raven, in this post, I’ll show the differences between a juvenile bald eagle…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…and a juvenile golden eagle.

Juvenile golden eagle in flight

Juvenile golden eagle in flight

The first clue was actually behavior, the golden eagle was hunting over a field the same way that a hawk would, gliding over the field and pausing to hover over one spot from time to time as it looked for lunch. Bald eagles seldom hunt that way, they prefer to perch and keep an eye out for prey.

The second clue is the golden brown feathers on the neck of the golden eagle, barely visible in this shot, but they are what gave the golden eagle its name.

The next clue is that the white on the underside of the golden eagle’s wings are in more of a distinctive pattern, rather than the mottled white of the juvenile bald eagle.

Then, there are their beaks, the bald eagle has a massive beak that joins its face above its eye, while the golden eagle has a smaller beak that meets its face below its eye.

Finally, there’s the white band on the golden eagle’s tail, young bald eagles may show some white on their tails, but never in a distinct band like the golden eagle has.

I’ve had a couple of very long days at work this week, but this weekend is supposed to be a fantastic early spring weekend with warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight. I sure hope so, as I’ve been getting ready mentally all week-long since I saw the forecast. The very long work days have meant that I haven’t had much time to work on this post, and the warm sunny weekend that they forecast is here. So, here’s the rest of the photos that I shot this past weekend.

American kestrel in flight

American kestrel in flight

 

Herring gull

Herring gull

 

Herring gull

Herring gull

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Herring gull in flight

Herring gull in flight

 

Bald eagles on ice

Bald eagles on ice

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

 

Mallards not flying

Mallards not flying

 

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

 

Starlings in flight

Starlings in flight

And with those, I’m out of here. I’m going to finish the last of my coffee, and get out there in the sun to shoot a few good photos for a change.

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


The first signs of spring

In my last post, I had a terrible photo of a male horned lark, the only reason that I included it was because he was singing his spring song. The very next day, Sunday, I heard this little guy singing his spring song also!

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

It was nice of him to take a split second off from trying to find something to eat to pose so nicely for me. Maybe it was because the sun came out as I was photographing him, and that prompted him to stop and sing a few bars in the warmth of the sun.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

I am so spoiled by my camera gear these days, and I’ve learned what sounded like overkill when I heard that the 7D Mk II had 65 focus points does indeed make it easier to get a better image.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

So does getting closer…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

…and even closer.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

That’s where having so many focus points comes in handy, I was able to put one of them on the squirrel’s eye so that its eyes were perfectly in focus. Those were shot at 400 mm and were not cropped at all. So, if I had left the one focus point that I used in the center, the composition wouldn’t have been as good and I would have had more empty space in the image. It may look like I used the single focus point in the center, but I moved it up one row, and shifted it two to the right for that image.

I shot this one at 170 mm and didn’t crop it…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

…but I don’t like that image as well because you can see the reflection of snow in the squirrel’s eye as well as my own reflection if I were to zoom in on the image. I like this one better, even though the light wasn’t as good.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

I suppose that the reason that I’m so impressed by how useful all of the 65 focusing points available in the 7D is that there is so much hype in the marketing of cameras and lenses that when I find out that something that I thought was just hype turns out not to be, it sticks in my mind.

I had made a mistake the previous day. In my testing the 100-400 mm and 400 mm lenses indoors, the 400 mm lens outperformed the 100-400 mm lens by a wide margin as far as sharpness. So, I tried the 400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it for all of my bird portrait shots that day. However, in my indoor tests, I was manually focusing on a subject that didn’t move, and had nothing around it to distract the auto-focusing system as there often is when shooting in the real world.

Since my indoor tests, I’ve noticed that the 400 mm prime lens doesn’t auto-focus as quickly or as accurately as the 100-400 mm zoom lens does, and on top of that, even once the 400 mm prime lens does focus on a subject, it is still prone to hunting for a focus even after that, unlike the 100-400 mm lens which locks on a subject and stays locked in.

That’s the reason that the photo of the horned lark singing came out as fuzzy as it is.

Horned lark singing!

Horned lark singing!

On the other hand, when there’s nothing around a subject to distract the auto-focusing system, the 400 mm prime lens with the tele-converter does extremely well.

Morning dove

Morning dove

Also, with the proper settings for both the camera and the lens, the 10-400 zoom lens does extremely well for birds in flight.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

 

Bald eagle in flight over the landfill

Bald eagle in flight over the landfill

 

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

What that all means is that I’m not going to be able to dedicate one of the two lenses to birds in flight, and the other to portrait shots as I had planned. I’m going to have to size up the situation and choose which of the two lenses will perform the best under the conditions at the time. That’s not all bad though, it’s great to have two lenses that perform as well as these two do.

To some degree, that means that I have to take that into account as far as the way that I set-up each of the two 7D bodies as well. Fortunately, because of how versatile and programmable the 7D is, that won’t be a huge problem either.

Anyway, here’s the rest of the photos that I shot on Saturday at the wastewater facility near Muskegon.

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Male common goldeneye and female ring-necked duck

Male common goldeneye and female ring-necked duck

 

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

And, here are the rest of the photos from Sunday around home.

Blue jay in the wind

Blue jay in the wind

 

Depth of field test

Depth of field test

 

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I have my next order for camera gear ready to submit as soon as my income tax refund clears my bank account. This order will be accessories for the second 7D, memory cards, a screen protector, extra batteries, and a battery grip. I thought about doing without the battery grip, but in using one body with a grip and the second without, I almost have to add a grip to the second body. I really miss the extra support that I can give the camera with the battery grip on it, no matter which way I have the camera orientated. That’s another of those things that seem like overkill until you’ve tried it.

You may wonder what my hurry is, I’m going on vacation in the middle of May and I want to be as fully prepared for the week as I can possibly be. Last year, I was using the 300 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter most of the time, and that set-up was the pits for the small birds like warblers that stay in the brush most of the time. I had to switch over to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) to get a set-up that could catch those smaller birds. But then, my photos of the larger birds in flight didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped because the Beast simply does not do well when the subject is in motion.

Based on what I’ve seen from my two new longer lenses so far, the 100-400 mm lens will be the one that I choose when chasing warblers and other small birds. The 400 mm lens will be the one that I choose when I’m shooting larger birds such as eagles, whether stationary or in flight. The beauty of the newer lenses is that either of them will work in a pinch for the subjects that they may not be best suited for.

I got by last year with the limited memory cards and batteries, but again, I want to be fully prepared for this year’s vacation. I may do something else different this year as well. I’m thinking of getting a motel room one for night during the middle of the week so that I have electricity available to recharge the camera batteries, and where I can safely set-up my Macbook pro and download the photos that I’ve shot so far that week to make it easier to keep the photos organized.

Just thinking of my vacation, even though it’s still several months away, has put me into the planning mode. Trying to decide what to bring with me, and what to leave home this year. I do know that the way that I slowed down a little and made sure that I took care of myself last year worked out very well. I may have missed a few opportunities for photographs while I was taking the time to eat real meals, but I’m sure that I made up for that “lost time” later in the week when rather than being run down, I was alert and on the go to the very end of my week up north. I just hope that the weather is half as good as it has been the past few years.

That reminds me, I have a pair of hiking boots that I’ve only worn a few times since I purchased them, and the boots that I’ve been wearing are about worn out. I should switch over now and get used to the new pair before my vacation since I’ll be on my feet most of the time that week.

In the meantime, here’s a few leftovers from last fall.

The color purple

The color purple

The next two show the difference between a raven…

Common raven in flight

Common raven in flight

…and a crow, mostly the size and shape of their beaks.

American crow in flight

American crow in flight

I have a number of images of a great egret leftover from when I was fine tuning my settings for birds in flight, this is as good of time as any to use them up.

Great egret sticking the landing

Great egret sticking the landing

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

 

Great egret in flight

Great egret in flight

I have a few from last fall from around home to use up also.

Fall color 1

Fall color 1

 

Fall color 2

Fall color 2

 

The color red

The color red

 

Crown vetch

Crown vetch

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Downy woodpecker in flight

Downy woodpecker in flight

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

 

Blue jay

Blue jay

It will be really nice when the sun makes its way higher above the horizon during the day to produce quality light for photography again!

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

There’s one odd thing that I should mention. When I ordered the second 7D body from B&H Photo, the way that I could get the cheapest price was to purchase the body with some accessories in a bundle, with them choosing the accessories. They were a 4T external hard drive, a 64 MB SD card, and a Lowepro camera backpack. I have set-up the external hard drive as a redundant back-up to the other 4T external drive that I already had. The SD card will come in handy, one can never have too many memory cards, especially when traveling. I haven’t had time to fully check out the backpack, since I already have two, however, this newest one looks as if it could be the one that I end up using most of all. I think that I can get the second body, my macro lens, and my 15-85 mm lens in this newest backpack, and it has room for lunch and a few other items in it as well. I think that it will work well on longer hikes when I take the minimum of gear with me and spend most of a day out in the woods.

But, the odd thing about the accessory package is that there were several hundred dollars worth of stuff in it, but by choosing that option, I got $300 off from the list price of the 7D. It makes no sense to me. I’m sure that B&H chose the items based on their excess stock, at least the items I received will be useful, unlike most of the packages I’ve seen bundled with a camera or lens.

I didn’t order the extra batteries from B&H though, because they have to go in a separate package and the shipping charges were more than I wanted to pay. I can pick up the batteries here locally.

Anyway, I’m about set for my vacation as far as photo gear. As far as my wish list goes, it has gotten much shorter the past few months, and I’m really in no hurry to purchase the items that remain on the list. I can get by quite well with the wide-angle lenses that I currently have for the time being. So, with that out of the way, time for a few more photos from last summer.

The color green

The color green

 

Jewelweed

Jewelweed

 

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

 

Turkey

Turkey

 

Asiatic dayflower

Asiatic dayflower

That wraps this post up, except for one last thing to say. In a way, it’s pretty sad that I make it out for both days of a weekend, and yet still have to fill the post with mostly leftover images from earlier in the year. Hopefully, that will change as soon as the weather around here improves.

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


Here comes the sun

It’s official, West Michigan was the cloudiest place on Earth last week with not a single minute of sunshine for the entire week. This week is shaping up to be very much the same, but with snow showers rather than the mist, drizzle and rain that we had last week because the temperature has dropped below freezing. I could post the statistics to let you know just how gloomy that it’s been around here, but that would only make me more depressed than I am already about the weather.

I shouldn’t be depressed at all, I just ordered the second Canon 7D Mk II and it should arrive later this week. But, with the weather forecast calling for the same old cloudy skies for the next week, it takes most of the thrill out of looking forward to the camera’s arrival. Still, it will give me time to get the new one fully set-up the way that I want it. The one that I already have will be the bird in flight body, and the new one will be used for bird portraits, landscapes, and macros.

I may sell one of the 60D bodies that I have, but I know that I’ll be keeping one of them as a back-up just in case one of the 7D bodies stops functioning. I thought of selling the beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) but it is a good back-up lens in case something happens to one of my newer lenses. I’d hate to be on a trip somewhere and have an equipment malfunction that would curtail the types of photos that I could shoot, and one never knows when that may happen.

I did some shopping this past Saturday, I picked up a copy of Sibley’s guide to birds so I finally have a good field guide to reference while I’m birding. The store where I got that used to carry binoculars and spotting scopes, but they have stopped carrying those items. So, I also stopped at the camera store, they do sell those items, but they only stock them in their Kalamazoo, Michigan branch, so I couldn’t try any of them out, darn.

I did something stupid while I was there as well, I played with the new Canon 5D Mk IV. I shouldn’t have done that. The low light, high ISO performance of that camera is leaps and bounds above what the cropped sensor 7D can do.

In a recent post, I bemoaned the fact that there’s no good way to be sure of the performance of any item of camera gear, but there is one way. As I’ve also said more than a few times recently, I’m following the North American Nature Photographer’s Facebook page. Not every one that posts there spells out the equipment that they used to get the images that they post, but enough do so that you can learn what stuff works well, and what produces just so-so results. I have to say, that the 5D Mk IV camera produces some stunning images, much better than one would assume it is capable of considering the way that critics panned it when it was released. Maybe someday, right now, I’m about set for camera gear.

Anyway, on to the photos, and I’ll start with sunrise a couple of weeks ago, one of the few days that there was any sunshine at all.

Sunrise over the ice

Sunrise over the ice

I purposely included more of the rocks in the foreground, for the patterns on them made by the frost. It was a very chilly start to the day. A few minutes later, the colors in the sky grew more intense.

Fire on ice 1

Fire on ice 1

 

Fire on ice 2

Fire on ice 2

The first image that included the rocks in the foreground was shot with the 60D mounted on my tripod, and is a HDR image of three bracketed images merged together. The second two images were shot with the 7D and 100-400 mm lens because I could tell that the light wasn’t going to stay like that long enough to get set-up for a proper shot. Also, you can see a hint of the haze that formed that day due to how cold it had gotten overnight, and warmer air and sunshine trying to warm things up.

It will be interesting to see how the HDR landscape images produced by the 7D turn out compared to what I get from the 60D. I could be wrong, but I think that the difference will be very small if it’s even noticeable. What I’m really looking forward to is using the 7D for macro photos, I think that there will be more of a difference in image quality then. That’s because of the 7D’s better auto-focusing and high ISO performance over the 60D. I can’t wait until spring when I get to try that combination out.

By the way, I’ve had a new schedule at work for almost a month now, I’m back to working days rather than nights. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it’s a better schedule for now. I have to work more hours, but as bad as the weather has been, that’s not all bad this time of year. In fact, I’m working so many more hours that I don’t have time to do anything other than eat and sleep when I get home. I haven’t had much time to work on my blog, or to leave proper comments on other people’s blog the past few weeks.

Anyway, the second Canon 7D Mk II has arrived, and I was able to take it out for a test yesterday, and should make it out later today. I don’t think that I have all the settings of the new body quite the same as the older body yet, but that will come. It worked out well having one body and long lens set for portraits…

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

…and the second body and lens set-up for birds in flight at all times, whether it was for a single bird…

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

…or a flock of birds.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

I went almost the entire day without switching lenses or tele-converters, although I did put the 100 mm macro lens on the new 7D body for these.

Lichens

Lichens

 

Lichens and ???

Lichens and ???

 

Dried fungi and Lichens

Dried fungi and Lichens

 

Lichens

Lichens

 

Lichens

Lichens

I know very little about lichens, so I don’t know how many different species of them there are in these photos. For example, I don’t know if the black ones are a different species than the orange ones, I believe that they are from their shape and size, but I’m not sure.

I had some problems shooting those, the wind was very strong yesterday, and the small trees that the lichens grew on were swaying in the wind. I also missed the set-up for the camera slightly for those as well. However, the important thing is that once I’m used to shooting macros with the 7D rather than the 60D, it will be easier, and with better results.

That applies to about everything concerning the new 7D body, I have to remember to set-up Lightroom to make the adjustments to the images automatically from the new body the way that I have it set-up for the other 7D and the 60D bodies also.

I could go on and on about camera and lens settings, but as I’ve said before, every piece of camera equipment has quirks, and one must learn to work around them. That applies to the 7D, and the new 400 mm lens. I will also say that not everything that was true during my indoor tests of that lens holds true when using it in the field.

Anyway, since I don’t have much time, here’s a few more photos from the last three weeks.

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher

 

Sunrise on goldenrod

Sunrise on goldenrod

 

Sunrise on teasel

Sunrise on teasel

 

Canada geese in flight

Canada geese in flight

 

Canada geese landing on a very frosty morning

Canada geese landing on a very frosty morning

 

Frosty feather

Frosty feather

 

Male common goldeneyes

Male common goldeneyes

 

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Male common goldeneye

Male common goldeneye

 

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

 

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

 

Ice patterns

Ice patterns

 

Oriental bittersweet berries

Oriental bittersweet berries

 

Another frosty morning

Another frosty morning

 

Horned lark singing!

Horned lark singing!

 

Canada geese resting

Canada geese resting

 

Bald eagle at a distance

Bald eagle at a distance

 

Bald eagle surveying the landfill

Bald eagle surveying the landfill

 

Morning dove

Morning dove

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

 

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

 

Female ring-necked duck

Female ring-necked duck

 

Female ring-necked duck

Female ring-necked duck

I should apologize for the quality of a few of these, but I don’t have the time to explain what I did wrong for each of the poorer photos. Most of the time it was because the light was wrong, for the rest, it was because I was working on those quirks that I have spoken about before.

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


Flashes of brilliance

You’ve already seen the photos of the snow buntings that I shot last weekend at the Muskegon wastewater facility. I have a few more from that day to get to in a while, but first, some images that I shot around home. It had been a dreary night Saturday as I made the run from here to the Detroit area and back for work, but the forecast was for a nice day ahead. I stopped on the way home from work to grab a bite to eat, then took a nap while waiting for the sun to come out. I awoke to bright sunlight flooding my apartment, but it was already just after noon, not the best time to find birds.

Although the 100-400 mm lens would have been a better choice to carry because of its versatility, I chose to take the new 400 mm prime lens instead, just to see what it could do in good light for the first time since I purchased it.

American robin

American robin

That was actually one of the last images that I shot, but I think that it represents just how good that 400 mm lens can be. I decided to start with that one because it shows that with a good sharp lens that captures the details of a subject very well it produces an image that begins to take on a three-dimensional look.

I knew that the first photos that I shot yesterday wouldn’t be very good, since the minimum focus distance of the 400 mm lens is so long. I had to crop this first image much more than I would have liked to.

Unidentified mosses

Unidentified mosses

 

Unidentified mosses

Unidentified mosses

Still, it was nice to see something green for a change.

I’m not sure if it’s because I move the camera a bit as the shutter is going, or if the 400 mm lens needs more time to get a solid focus lock, but I see that I need to work on both. Here’s another robin photo that isn’t as sharp as it should be…

American robin

American robin

…and here’s the next photo that I shot. You can see that the second is much better as far as sharpness, but the robin’s pose isn’t as good as in the first of these two.

American robin

American robin

My original plan was to use the 400 mm lens for bird in flight photos, and the 100-400 mm lens for portrait photos, now I’m not as sure about that. The 100-400 mm lens definitely focuses faster than the 400 mm lens, which is better for birds in flight. I had the chance to test the 400 mm lens out again for birds in flight yesterday, for I saw a raptor coming towards me, and I had the time to switch the camera over to the birds in flight settings that I have saved in the camera.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

My first few photos in the burst were okay, as you can see by that one and this one.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

But the images later in the burst I fired were much better as far as sharpness when the auto-focus had a good solid lock on the merlin.

Merlin in flight

Merlin in flight

But by that time, the merlin had changed direction slightly to avoid me, so the light wasn’t quite as good.

You know, I am getting spoiled by what my latest camera equipment is capable of. I would have been very happy with either of the first two images not that long ago, now, I want them all to be as sharp as the last one is. Look at how sharp the eye and the face of the merlin are in that last image, it’s better than I could do on a perched bird a few years ago.

Enough bragging, sort of. The merlin landed towards the top of tree not that far away from me, so I went over to see if I could find an opening through the branches to get a photo of it perched. I shot a few at 400 mm, but then, I slipped the 1.4 X tele-converter behind the lens for this one.

Merlin

Merlin

That confirms what my indoor testing from my last post told me, there’s almost no drop-off in image quality when using the 1.4 extender behind the 400 mm lens in good light. It’s hard to see in these small version of the images, but check out the details in the feathers on the Merlin’s forehead and throat in the next image.

Merlin

Merlin

The merlin was in no hurry to move on, it even decided to check its talons out for me.

Merlin

Merlin

I shot these next two as a test of sorts, to see if there’s any fall-off in performance at greater distances.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Both of those were cropped a lot more than I usually crop an image, just to see if I’d be able to shoot a rare bird at a longer distance and still be able to identify the bird. I think that the verdict is yes.

I don’t normally photograph English sparrows because they are an introduced and invasive species that are displacing some of our native sparrows, but I wanted to shoot as many photos in good light as I could.

English sparrow

English sparrow

Breaking news!

I still plan to put the photos from last weekend in this post, but first, I got another species for the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on. It wasn’t easy, and the photos are poor, but by using what I earned about using the 400 mm lens and 2 X teleconverter, I was able to get these photos of a Ross’s goose. I even used my tripod for these, although I couldn’t use live view focusing because the geese were moving as they looked for food.

Ross's goose in front of snow geese

Ross’s goose in front of snow geese

The Ross’s goose is the smaller one with the shorter neck standing in front of the three snow geese lined up behind it.

Ross's goose in front of snow geese

Ross’s goose in front of snow geese

I’m now just 4 species short of being two-thirds of the way through the list from the Audubon Society that I’m working from.

I think that I may be becoming a serious birder. As you can see, the Ross’s goose was in a flock of snow geese, just as the greater white-fronted geese were in a huge flock of Canada geese.

Mostly snow geese

Mostly snow geese

Seeing just the orange bill or foot of one of the greater white-fronted geese was enough to make me stay put and continue to scan the flock until I was able to pick the greater white-fronted geese out of the flock.

It was very much the same with the Ross’s geese, I saw two white geese within the flock that appeared to be much smaller than all the others. My first thought was that they may have been juveniles, but I also knew from researching the birds that I still need to complete my list that a Ross’s goose looks like a miniature snow goose, so I continued to keep an eye on the smaller geese in this flock.

I was also very lucky in this instance, there were two other serious birders there watching the same flock through binoculars. After a few minutes, one of them walked back to where I was parked and asked me if I noticed the differences in size, and if I had been able to make a positive identification of the smaller geese. I told him that I had noticed the size difference, but that I hadn’t made a positive ID. We then all got out of our vehicles and setup our tripods, them for their spotting scopes, me for my camera.

As far away from us as the geese were, I couldn’t tell for sure which of the smaller geese were the ones that we thought were Ross’s geese through the viewfinder, so I’d follow one of them, shooting photos hoping to be able to zoom in and tell for sure. I didn’t lock the tripod head solidly, I left it slightly loose so that I could follow the goose that I wanted to photograph as it moved around. This worked very well, keeping the shutter speed fast enough as I would have if I had been shooting handheld.

It helped that the serious birders had a field guide with them, and we could compare the photos that we shot with the field guide. I say the photos that we shot because one of the serious birders had an adaptor that let him mount his iPhone to his spotting scope to shoot photos through the scope. That’s known as digiscoping, and his photos were almost on par with the ones that I shot.

There have been other times in the past when I lucked out and received assistance from a serious birder with a good spotting scope in picking out the species of bird that I was looking for at the time. I may need to consider getting a good spotting scope for myself in the future.

The last three species of birds that I’ve added to my photo life list have been species of geese and all of the species have been in flocks of other species of geese. The cackling geese and greater white-fronted geese were in large flocks of Canada geese, and the Ross’s geese were in with the snow geese. For that matter, most of my photos of snow geese…

Snow goose, blue morph

Snow goose, blue morph

 

Blue morph snow geese, adult and juvenile

Blue morph snow geese, adult and juvenile

…up until this day also had Canada geese in the frame along with the snow geese.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t have the patience to sit there scanning a flock of birds through a spotting scope hoping to find another species within the flock, but that seems to be changing. It helps that in the case of all three species of geese that I’ve found lately, I first noticed the difference with the naked eye, or by scanning the flock through the viewfinder of the camera. I can see that a spotting scope would come in very handy for that.

And, if I’m going to purchase a good spotting scope, then I may as well purchase an adaptor to allow me to mount my camera to it to shoot photos through it as well. At the very least, having a good scope would allow me to ID birds at a distance, then I could decide if the species was worth getting closer to for better photos than I could shoot through the scope.

One thing is certain, I need to pick-up a good field guide to carry with me so that I don’t have to rely on my memory, or the kind gestures of other birders.

It doesn’t really matter what order I post photos in, so I may as well use up the ones from this week before going back to the week before, especially since the first bird that I saw when I arrived at the wastewater facility was this snowy owl.

Snowy owl in the fog

Snowy owl in the fog

The fog made photography difficult just after sunrise, but at least the owl had its eyes open then. I tracked it down later in the day when there was slightly better light for this photo.

Snowy owl in the fog

Snowy owl in the fog

That was another test of sorts, I used the 400 mm lens on one of the 60D bodies to see how well it would work for bird portraits. There’s not much difference in image quality between the 60D and the 7D Mk II when using just the 400 mm lens, but the auto-focusing of the 60D can’t hold a candle to what the 7D can do. I can’t even auto-focus with just the 1.4 X tele-converter and the 400 mm lens on the 60D.

I returned later when the light had improved a little more to shoot these with the 400 mm lens and 2 X extender on the 7D.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

The better the light is, the more they close their eyes and squint as they look around.

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

I said that the snowy owl was the first bird that I saw that day, here’s the second.

American crow in the fog

American crow in the fog

Dense fog, and I shoot photos of a white bird, and a black bird, but that’s me, always pushing to get photos no matter how poor conditions are at the time.

The same applies to this juvenile red-tailed hawk.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

Actually, I’m impressed by how sharp that one is despite the fog. The same can’t be said for this photo as the hawk took off though.

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking off

Juvenile red-tailed hawk taking off

If only there had been some light and fewer branches for that one. I have to be careful what I wish for, because I found another red-tailed hawk later…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

…but that was shot near the landfill, and you can see the trash in the background. By the way, the hawks don’t seem to go for the scraps of food in the landfill as the gulls, crows, and eagles do, I never see them on the ground as they would be if they did. They appear to be hunting rodents that just happen to live near the landfill, that applies to the rough-legged hawks as well.

Rough-legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged hawk in flight

This is the artsy attempt of the day.

Emerging from the fog

Emerging from the fog

I suppose that I could use up the previous week’s photos, but I think that I’d rather go further back in time to last summer to use these photos up instead. That’s just to remind me that this winter won’t last forever, and that it won’t be long until I can photograph these subjects again, but better.

Unidentified moth

Unidentified plume moth

 

jvis5848

White campion?

 

Eastern meadowlark

Eastern meadowlark

 

Eastern meadowlark in flight

Eastern meadowlark in flight

 

Green

Green

 

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

 

Grey catbird hopping

Grey catbird hopping

 

More green

More green

 

Bee

Bee

 

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

After a week of warmer temperatures, but with almost constant fog, mist, drizzle or rain, this week has been very depressing. I needed to see a few images from when the weather was nicer.

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


When it’s too cold outside

Since my work schedule has me up in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s too cold to spend much time outside even after the sun comes up, I was sitting around thinking about photography and how to improve the images I shoot. These days, I almost always use a tripod for landscape photos, so that I can dial the ISO down to 100 for the best image quality, and let the shutter stay open as long as necessary, since landscapes don’t generally move to blur the image.

Snow scene before dawn

Snow scene before dawn

That was shot on my way to the Muskegon County wastewater facility well before the sun came up. I know that because here’s the view that I had as the sun came over the horizon once I had arrived at the wastewater facility.

Sunrise January 8, 2017

Sunrise January 8, 2017

That scene lasted for only a few seconds, long before I could get somewhere for a better shot of the sunrise, the color was gone.

It turned out to be another very slow day as far as photography, I shot a couple of more snow scenes.

The creek still flows

The creek still flows

 

Looking down the trail

Looking down the trail

On this day, instead of shooting only fair photos of flying Canada geese, I shot fair photos of mallards in flight as soon as there was enough light to do so.

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Mallards taking off

Mallards taking off

 

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

 

Female mallard in flight

Female mallard in flight

I suppose that those aren’t too bad considering how gloomy it was and that they were all shot with the ISO set to 6400 trying to get enough light into the camera. I did find a few eagles, only one perched though, and it was in a bad spot.

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

 

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

There was a flock of crows on the other side of the road keeping their eyes on the eagle, here’s one of them.

American crow

American crow

A brief thin spot in the clouds allowed me to shoot this mourning dove at 800 mm, the 400 mm lens plus the 2 X tele-converter.

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

In fact, I spent most of the day practicing my manual focusing techniques with that combination.

Fidgety Herring gull

Fidgety Herring gull

 

Horned lark that wouldn't stop moving

Horned lark that wouldn’t stop moving

 

American tree sparrow that finally posed for me.

American tree sparrow that finally posed for me.

Those were the best that I could do yesterday, and I saw no point in going back today, which is Monday as I begin this post. By the way, none of the photos from the morning dove on were cropped at all, that’s why I’m trying to get better with the 400 mm lens with the 2 X tele-converter behind it.

Instead, I decided to do some indoor testing relating to the thoughts that I began this post with, how for landscapes, I use a tripod and can therefore set the ISO much lower. At first I couldn’t think of a suitable indoor subject for such a test. Over the past few winters, I’ve used a few different ones indoors as I experimented with my macro lens, my wide-angle lenses, or the extension tubes that I have. None of the subjects that I used for those tests really represented birds or wildlife well, even though one of the test subjects was a rubber ducky. The problem with it for testing is that it doesn’t have the fine detail of a real bird’s feathers. Then it hit me, I have a stuffed animal that an ex-girlfriend gave me 40 years ago.

My stuffed dog

My stuffed dog

That was shot with the 100-400 mm lens set to 400 mm, the camera ISO set to 100 and a several second exposure.

I learned a good deal in my testing, some of the things that I learned surprised me, but one thing that didn’t was that the 100-400 mm lens isn’t quite 400 mm even when zoomed all the way. That was confirmed when I switched to the 400 mm lens.

400 mm prime lens

400 mm prime lens

I hadn’t moved the dog or my tripod, yet the 400 mm lens gets a little closer than the 100-400 mm lens does. It’s common for zoom lenses not being quite the focal lengths that they are rated as.

But, here’s where the subject of image quality gets tricky. When I zoomed in on the stuffed dog’s eye in Lightroom, the 400 mm prime lens was significantly sharper than the 100-400 mm lens, even though it’s hard to see much difference in the full size photos. But, I prefer the color rendition of the 100-400 mm lens.

One of the things that surprised me right off the bat was how wobbly my tripod set-up is when using the long, heavy lenses. I had to set the shutter release to a two second delay to let everything stop moving before the shutter fired. The tripod legs are steady enough, as well as the head that I have on the tripod, but the quick release system that I have, along with the way that it mounts on the lenses seems to be where all the motion came from.

Also, the three-way head that I have may be rated to carry the weight of the long lenses, but getting aimed at the exact spot I wanted was a pain. I’m already planning to upgrade to a more suitable tripod system for my longer lenses, so that’s not really an issue, but it did open my eyes a little to how important that will be if I do begin using a tripod more often when shooting birds and wildlife.

Neither lens would auto-focus accurately in the low light in my kitchen, in order to get a sharp image, I had to manually focus to get a good sharp image. That led to the next surprise, the 100-400 mm lens is a royal pain in the you know where to manually focus. I think that it’s because of how fast it is to auto-focus, it requires only minute adjustments of the focus ring to make large differences in where it is focused at. I gave up testing that lens, and worked with just the 400 mm prime from there on for the most part. The 400 mm lens is a bit slower to auto-focus, and it requires that I turn the focus ring much more to make significant changes to where it is focused at, much like an old film era lens.

Next up, I added the 1.4 X tele-converter to the 400 mm prime lens. I found that I couldn’t manually focus accurately through the viewfinder, but if I went into the live view mode, and zoomed in on where I wanted the image to be in focus, I could pull off images like this.

400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender

400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender

That surprised me also, the 1.4 X extender didn’t seem to work well with that lens when I tried it in the field, but there was almost no loss of sharpness when mounted on the tripod.

Of course the next step was to switch to the 2 X extender on the 400 mm prime lens for this image.

400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender

400 mm prime lens and 2 X extender

There is a little fall-off in sharpness, but it still performed much better than I had expected, and better than cropping an image down to make the subject appear as close. That confirms the limited testing that I’ve done in the field with that lens so far.

I also learned a few things about my Canon 7D Mk II that I didn’t know before I did this testing. I had the ISO set manually to 100 for these test shots, or so I thought. When I went into live view to focus, I would see ISO 16000 appear in the screen while I was focusing. That makes sense, the camera had to turn up the ISO to form the live view image for me to see. Most of the time, I would switch live view off before I pressed the shutter release, but there was one time that I forgot to switch it off. Then, the  camera stayed at ISO 16000 even though I have it set in the menu system to never go higher than 12800. But, the results weren’t that bad.

800 mm ISO 16000

800 mm ISO 16000

You can’t see the noise in the image as it appears here, but when I zoomed in using Lightroom, I could see the noise then, not as much as I thought there would be, but there was some.

Yet another surprise was that when I forgot to turn off live view before taking the shot is that the camera crops the image slightly as you can see by comparing the last two photos. When I viewed the images in the camera, it showed the entire image with bars across the image, but when the images were sent to Lightroom, all that was sent were the parts of the image within the bars.

I went back and tried the 100-400 mm lens again, using live view, but that was my last surprise, that lens can not match the 400 mm prime lens in sharpness, at least not in this test. I would have guessed that the two lenses were about equal, that’s what I had found from using both in the field. I should repeat this testing someday when there’s good light outside to see if I get the same results.

Having had more time to think about my unscientific testing, I should have turned off the Image Stabilization of the 100-400 mm lens since it was mounted on a tripod. The experts say that isn’t necessary to turn it off, but I always do on my short lenses when I’m shooting landscapes, and it seems to work better.

I did switch the lenses to manual focus while I was manually focusing. Despite what Canon says about manual over-ride, I found that the camera would fight me as I manually focused, and it would attempt to set the focus where it wanted.

Okay then, this very unscientific testing did confirm my original thoughts, that if I were to use a tripod and set the ISO much lower, I can get better quality images that way, if the subject sits still long enough.

It also confirms something that I’ve been thinking about as I read lab reviews of lenses, they don’t always equate into real world results. For example, the 100-400 mm lens failed in what I was trying to do inside, but as I’ve used that lens as I normally do outside, it has stunned me with how good it is. I would have rated it equal to or better than the 400 mm prime lens from the images it has produced in the field. I suppose that lab tests have their place, they tell you how well a piece of camera gear will perform in the lab under controlled conditions.

You can’t trust the reviews done by many of the professional photographers, because many of them either receive some form of compensation from the manufacturers, or are angling to be one of those who receive some form of compensation from the manufacturers.

It’s also hard to trust user reviews as well, since one never knows if the person doing the review is being honest, or if they even know how to use the equipment that they are reviewing.

You could rent a lens for a week or two, but I’m not sure that one would become familiar enough with a lens in such a short period of time. If you were to rent it for a long enough count of time to become sure of its capabilities and shortfalls, you may as well have purchased it in the first place.

The manufacturer’s specifications don’t help much either. For example, many manufacturer’s give a spec for the least amount of light required for a camera to auto-focus, what they don’t tell you is how inaccurate the auto-focus becomes as the amount of light approaches that lowest limit. That’s what happened when I started the test that I did, both lenses seemed to auto-focus, however, the fuzzy photos that I got told me otherwise.

As always, I learned a great deal during this little exercise, about my camera, the lenses, and my tripod system. One thing that still puzzles me though is why there isn’t more noise visible in the image shot at ISO 16000. I have to use Lightroom to remove noise in photos shot at ISO 6400 or higher normally. That one is a real head scratcher.

I’ve heard that Live view focusing is the most accurate, because you are seeing what the sensor actually sees as it’s about to capture the image. You’re not using the focusing screen or relying on an auto-focus sensor to make the determination if the lens is in focus or not. I will say one thing though after this test, just how good the auto-focusing systems are today is amazing, despite their weaknesses.

So, another week has gone by, and I’ve made another trip to the Muskegon wastewater facility. It was a rare, almost sunny day, however a ground inversion in the atmosphere created a haze in the light, scattering it in ways that didn’t lead to the best photos. I tried to get my best images ever of a snow bunting using what I had learned from my indoor testing, but I couldn’t use live view focusing for them because they move around so much. Still, these aren’t bad considering that I was manually focusing the 400 mm lens with the 2 X extender behind it.

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

 

Snow bunting

Snow bunting

I’ll save the rest of the photos from my most recent trip for the next post, I’ll fill this one out with a few more images shot over the summer and fall. Heck, some go all the way back to spring.

???

Wood sorrel?

 

Lily of the valley?

Lily of the valley

 

Hawkweed?

Hawkweed?

 

Another that I've forgotten

Another that I’ve forgotten

 

Male brownheaded cowbird

Male brown-headed cowbird

 

I don't know what it is, but it's pretty

I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty

 

White Pine

White Pine

 

From the viburnum family

From the viburnum family

 

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

 

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

 

Female brownheaded cowbird

Female brown-headed cowbird

Looking at these photos from last year make me wish that spring was here already! It’s been even gloomier here than usual this past week, other than on Sunday when I shot the snow buntings. It’s been warmer since then, which was nice, but the warm air has led to the snow melting, and that in turn has led to foggy days and nights with the moisture from the melting snow in the atmosphere. I am so ready for spring!

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