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

Posts tagged “Photos

A focus on flowers

It’s been a cool, very wet spring here in West Michigan. Too many of my few days off from work have been total washouts due to rain. Last Thursday was much the same, no matter when I get up on my last few days off, it seems as though the rain is just moving into the area when I check the radar, no matter what the forecast said the night before.

With rain just starting to fall, I had some errands to run, so while I hoped that the rain wouldn’t last long, I loaded my camera gear into my Subaru to run the errands. I thought maybe the rain would end early, and I’d be able to go somewhere to chase birds, but that didn’t happen. However, when I stopped at the bank to take care of some business, I noticed this domesticated viburnum bush there.

Domesticated viburnum?

That was shot with my 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm, as I was trying for as much depth of field as I could get. I probably looked like an idiot out there in the light rain trying to get the best composition possible, but I no longer care what people think of me, which helps.

On my way to the surplus bread store to pick-up a loaf of bread, I remembered an image posted by Allen who does the New Hampshire Garden Solutions blog, a must read in my opinion, of some creeping phlox that I really liked. I also remembered that after seeing his image, that creeping phlox had been planted at a local church on my way to the bread store, so I stopped to shoot this.

Cascades of color, creeping phlox

That was shot with the 24-70 mm lens, set at 31 mm. I used the same lens for this old water tower on the grounds of a Christian hospital that I’ve been meaning to shoot for years.

Historic water tower in Cutlerville, Michigan

There’s also a chapel on the grounds of the hospital that I thought that I’d like to shoot, but upon closer inspection, it’s in very poor condition, and I think that they’re beginning the process of tearing it down.

I stopped at the local park near me to shoot this, also with the 24-70 mm lens.

Dame’s rocket flowers in a sea of green

I went back to the 16-35 mm lens at 35 mm for this one.

White pine flowers

I switched to the 100-400 mm lens and 1.4 X extender for these two, as I didn’t want to lay down in the puddle surrounding this dandelion to get the images.

Dandelion seeds

I’m not sure which of these two I prefer, so I’m posting both.

Dandelion seeds

My final stop of the day was at the local camera store to pick-up more ink for my printer. While I was there, I also tested out Canon’s 35 mm macro lens.

That lens is interesting, it’s small and light, and has a built-in LED light in the front of the lens to illuminate whatever subject that you’re shooting. I thought that the built-in light was just a gimmick, but after trying the lens out in the store, it showed much more promise than I thought that it would. I had also brought my 100 mm macro lens in the store with me so that I could shoot photos with it to compare the two macro lenses. The 35 mm lens with the light on it allowed me to shoot some very sharp photos in the rather dark store. When I tried to duplicate those photos with my 100 mm macro lens, the first thing that I noticed was that my shutter speed got significantly longer, and I was only able to get one sharp image, the rest were all blurry due to camera shake. Also, the ISO increased dramatically when I used my existing 100 mm lens compared to the 35 mm lens with the built-in light.

So, the built-in light definitely helps a great deal, my estimate is that it adds three to four stops of additional light on the subject, at least in the test photos that I shot.

It’s an EF S lens, meaning that it only fits crop sensor camera bodies such as my 7D Mk II, which is one reason that I never gave that lens much thought before. Now that I have the full-frame 5D Mk IV, I thought that I’d only purchase lenses that would fit on it, but now I’m not so sure.

Before I go on any longer at this point, let me throw in a number of images of columbine flowers that I shot the day after the photos so far.

Columbine flower take 1

 

Columbine flower take 2

 

Columbine flower take 3

 

Columbine flower take 4

 

Columbine flower take 5

I shot those testing different sources of lighting, and different angles to get different backgrounds, all part of my attempts to get better, more artistic images of flowers and other macro subjects. They were all shot with the 100 mm macro lens on the 7D Mk II body, only because I’ve more or less dedicated one of the 7D bodies to macro photography, even though the 5D Mk IV would probably have resulted in even better images.

My last weekend off has left me much to ponder over the coming weeks, as I try to figure out various options that will allow me to shoot the images that I have in mind.

One thing has become clear to me, going to a wider angle lens may not produce any more depth of field over a longer lens, as depth of field also changes with the distance between the camera and the subject. With a wider lens, you have to move closer to the subject to make it as prominent in the image as desired, and when you move closer, the depth of field is reduced also, leaving almost exactly the same amount of a scene in focus as with the longer lens. In fact, there may be depth of field advantages to going to an even longer lens, and moving away from the subject. I’m afraid that using focus stacking software is the only viable way to get more depth of field for the images that I have in mind.

However, that’s not easy either, as there can’t be any motion between the images shot to stack in the software, meaning a tripod has to be used. That’s problematic when shooting flowers outdoors, when even the slightest breeze will move the flowers around in the frame. I suppose that’s why the true masters of macro photography shoot indoors for the most part.

I guess that I’ll never be a true master of macro photography then, as I’m not willing to pick wildflowers or bring other subjects found outdoors home and build elaborate sets to go with the things I found outdoors. I’ve mentioned it before, but I watched a video of some one who built a pond in their home to use as a set for a frog that they obtained by ordering it online. The images that they shot of the frog were stunning, but I’m not willing to go that far, and I prefer to shoot the things that I see in nature around me.

Another thing that’s becoming clear to me is that I’m on the right track in the way that I’m approaching photography these days. When the weather and other conditions are suitable for shooting birds and other wildlife, I do so, and give me a day with good light and light winds, I shoot mostly flowers and all but ignore the birds, other than to listen to their songs as I’m engaged in setting up and shooting flowers. On the same day as I shot the columbine flowers, I also shot these images of wild lupine.

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

 

Wild lupine

None of those were all that special, but they do reflect my mood at the time, happy for some good weather for a change, and basking in the beauty of the lupine. I did keep an eye out for a Karner’s blue butterfly, an endangered species that is associated with lupine plants, but I didn’t spot any.

Now then, here comes another series of photos…

Unidentified flowering objects

…as I often begin by shooting a group of flowers to help me get the exposure correct…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…but insects distract me from the flowers…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…especially this insect which was more purple in real life than the images show…

Unidentified flowering object with purple pollinator

…but after the insect left, I got the shot of the flower I thought was the best I could do.

Unidentified flowering object

Now then, time for some more boring talk about photography gear, and pulling various things from this post so far together.

Since the 35 mm macro lens with the built-in LED light is a bargain, and my testing in the store proved to me that the LED light could make a difference between getting the shot or missing it, I think that I’ll purchase one in a few months. That will require a few more changes in the way that I approach macro photography though, as the very short working distance between the 35 mm lens and the subject makes it close to impossible to use when photographing insects.

That may not be a bad thing though, as I really could have used an extension tube behind the 100 mm macro lens while I was shooting the purple pollinator, whatever it was. Readers may not remember this, but last year I was set-up with an extension tube behind the macro lens to photograph dandelions when a tiny green bee landed on the flower I was shooting. The fact that I was ready by accident lead to some very good images of the bee, better than I’d ever shot before.

When photographing birds, I’ve learned to use both the 5D and 7D in an effective combination that allows me to get shots that I probably would have missed if I weren’t using both cameras. The same applies to when I’m shooting landscapes with one camera body, and other subjects with the second camera. There’s no reason that I couldn’t do the same thing while I’m shooting macros.

Since the 35 mm macro lens will only fit on the 7D, I could use that for flowers, making use of the built-in LED light for that purpose. I could also have the 5D set-up with the 100 mm macro lens and extension tube to shoot larger than life-size images on the 5D if an insect comes along. I’m just afraid that once I begin using the 5D for macro photography more often, its better color reproduction over the 7D will make me want to use the 5D all the time. Although, the difference in color reproduction is negligible in very good light, as this image shot with the 7D shows.

Red honeysuckle

It’s only in low light when I’m too lazy add lighting to macro photos shot with the 7D that image quality suffers.

Unidentified flowering objects

 

Unidentified flowering objects

However, it would have been much easier to shoot the images of the columbine while shooting up at the flowers with the much shorter and lighter 35 mm macro lens, and the built-in light would have been very useful as well. It wasn’t easy to get under the columbine flower with the long, heavy 100 mm macro lens, and hold steady enough for sharp images while I shot them.

The homemade macro lighting rig that I built and is still in development can be quickly and easily be moved from one camera body to the other, as one of the things that I added to it was a quick-release clamp that fits the quick-release plates that I have installed on all of my cameras. I do have to find a better cold shoe or other method of attaching my flash unit to the rig though. Hopefully, I’ll have the lighting rig sorted out soon, as it’s worked great so far.

I have more flower photos, but for right now, I’m going to throw in a few photos of an American kestrel that I shot earlier this spring.

Male American kestrel in flight

 

Male American kestrel in flight

 

Male American kestrel in flight

 

Male American kestrel in flight

I’ve held on to those for months, hoping that I’d shoot better images of a kestrel. That may happen someday, but these will have to do for the time being.

Two more things I should mention before ending this post. First, I’m in the middle of the change in schedules for work, and it’s going to take me a week or two to adjust to this new schedule.

Second, and more important, is that I’m going to have to find some new places to go to shoot photos. Because of all the snow we received last winter, and the excess rain so far this spring, the water level of Lake Michigan has risen to set a record for the month of May. Because Muskegon Lake is connected to Lake Michigan, its level has also risen, to the point where most of the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is flooded. The same applies to the Snug Harbor portion of Muskegon State Park, and the hiking trail back to Lost Lake, at least the portions where I used to shoot the most photos are flooded.

I need to find some higher ground for the summer, and probably well beyond. The Muskegon County wastewater facility is still a viable option, but only for a few birds and flowers over the summer months, there isn’t the variety that I’d prefer to photograph. Oh well, I’ll take this as a challenge, and as a way to expand the scope of things that I photograph.

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

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Another quickie

This will be a quick post of a series of images of a mute swan that I shot as she chased an interloper away from her nest.

Female mute swan starting after an interloper

The female must have made a poor choice in mates, usually the male will chase any intruders away, but he left it to the female.

Female mute swan starting after an interloper

I thought about zooming out to keep both swans in the frame…

Female mute swan starting after an interloper

…but this was my chance for close-ups of a single swan in motion.

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

I also thought about going to a faster shutter speed, but I didn’t really have time to do so…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…and I like the amount of motion blur that’s in these images…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…while freezing the action enough so that the swan’s head and eye are good and sharp.

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

I may have cut off her wings slightly…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…but I was concentrating on keeping the single focus point where it needed to be…

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

…while following the action.

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

 

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

 

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

 

Female mute swan chasing an interloper away

With the chase over, I couldn’t resist shooting this photo.

Female red-winged blackbird watching the action

With the female swan off chasing the intruder away, the male went to the nest to make sure that the eggs were protected, I’m hoping to see cygnets soon.

Mute swan eggs, along with the male swan’s foot for size

Here’s the male on the nest, I was worried that he may come after me, but he didn’t.

Male mute swan ready to protect the eggs

I was a little surprised that the male didn’t cover the eggs immediately, but when the female returned, I learned something.

Both swans on the nest

After carefully inspecting the eggs as you can see in the photo above, she spent several minutes drying herself off before finally settling back down to cover the eggs. That makes sense after I had watched her, the water is still cold and may have harmed the eggs if she had gotten them wet. Once the female had settled back down on the nest, the male hung around, picking up some more dried reeds and dropping them where the female could reach them, and she used them to fortify the nest, and to make herself more comfortable while she incubates the eggs.

Of course I have no way of knowing how old these swans are, but I’ve found it odd that the male doesn’t stick closer to the nest than he does. In my visits to the area, he’s often completely out of sight, leaving the female completely alone, which I’ve found odd from having watched swans before. It was also odd that he didn’t chase the intruder away also.

I do know that a pair of swans built a nest in the same general area last year, and that eggs were laid in the nest. However, that nest was abandoned with the eggs still in it. So, I wonder if these are two very young swans just learning how to be parents? Also, I don’t know if this is the same pair as the one that abandoned the nest last year.

One quick personal note, I’ve made the final payment on my medical bills from my hospital stay two years ago. That’s a relief. That means that I can begin saving money for the fall vacation that I have scheduled, which I’m really looking forward to, as it will be my first vacation in three years!

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


Same photos, a lot more words

This post will be my thoughts on photography, with no, or very few new photos, so most of you reading this will probably want to skip this post.

I began my last post with this image of a white-throated sparrow, and there was a very important reason for that.

White throated sparrow

That was shot with the Canon 5D Mk IV, 100-400 mm lens, with a 1.4 tele-converter behind it. That set-up has a maximum aperture of f/8.

There are times when I start drooling over the thought of owning one of the even longer Canon super telephoto lens, say the 600 mm f/4 lens which sells for $12,999 or perhaps the 400 mm f/2.8 lens, which is a bargain at $11,999. The thing is, neither of those lenses would have gotten that image of the sparrow, as neither will focus as close as the sparrow was to me.

I’ve read articles, watched videos, and done other research on those very expensive lenses, and the lengths that people have to go through to photograph small birds is ridiculous, like stacking extension tubes behind those lenses to get them to focus a little closer to the subject, which then limits how far from the subject one can be and still shoot a photo. You’re stuck shooting photos of subjects within the narrow focusing range of such a set-up.

It isn’t just the focal length that makes me wish for one of those lenses from time to time, it’s also the wider maximum aperture. Not only would that allow more light into the camera, meaning that I could shoot at a lower ISO setting, but it would also limit the depth of field more, causing better separation between the subject and the background.

That may be the case with larger subjects shot at a longer distance, but it doesn’t apply to the sparrow photo above. If you look at the sparrow’s shoulder, it is already going out of focus due to the shallow depth of field, even at f/8, I could have gone to f/11 or even f/16 and still have gotten good separation between the sparrow and the background, for the sparrow’s tail is completely out of focus.

You can’t really see it in the reduced quality JPEG image above, but the amount of detail in the sparrow’s feathers in the original RAW file, or the print that I made of this image, is beyond what the average person viewing this image is probably going to notice. Shot at ISO 2500 with the 5D, there isn’t much noise in this image either, at least not so much that the average person would notice it. If the amount of noise was objectionable, it could be removed easily in Lightroom at that ISO.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that I already have the best set-up that I can get  to produce very good images of smaller birds, and that there’s no reason for me to continue drooling over those longer, expensive lenses, that I’ll never be able to afford any way. It also means that unless I want to impress other photographers rather than the average person, that the cameras that I’m using now, the 5D Mk IV and 7D Mk II, are all that I’ll ever need. That more or less applies to lenses as well, it’s better to get closer to the subject than to rely on longer focal length lenses to get the image, as atmospherics come into play with long lenses at greater distances.

Everything that I’ve said so far also applies to this image from my last post.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

Yes, he was on one of the feeders at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but that image is too good not to use. The other photos of him as he approached the feeder a little closer in steps as he decided whether or not I posed a threat to him are also good.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

The background isn’t quite as out of focus as I’d like, but it isn’t bad, and the emerging leaves near the grosbeak tell you that this image was shot in the spring, so I like this shot.

Now then, back to photo gear. It becomes more apparent to me all the time that one of the biggest things having to do with image quality is knowing your equipment inside out and upside down. The combination of cameras that I’m using now, the 5D Mk IV and the 7D Mk II make this easier because the controls on both bodies are almost identical. I don’t have to fumble around and remember how to set each of them, it’s becoming automatic, my fingers and thumbs know from muscle memory where the controls I need to adjust are. I’m to the point now where I can use either body at night in almost total darkness because I know exactly where the buttons and dials that I need to use are located without even looking at the camera.

That was made clear to me when I looked at one of the new Canon mirrorless cameras in the store. I was at a complete loss how to set even the most basic functions because that camera is completely different that the ones that I’m using now. The salesman had to give me instructions on how to make the changes that I wanted to make. I’m sure that it wouldn’t take me long to learn a new body, but why should I?

As I said, unless I’m trying to impress pixel peepers, what I’m using now is more than good enough, as I hope that my images show.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

I’m thinking about reviving a second blog that I was using to post my best images in, and posting my best full resolution images there so that viewers will be able to see the details in a bird’s feathers, or…

Unidentified purple flower

…in the flowers that I photograph.

One of the things that’s helping me to improve my macro photos is using one of the 7D bodies that I have and leaving it dedicated to macro photography. The rig that I came up with to hold my flash unit also helps, and in addition, I’ve begun using the LED light that I have on sunnier days when the flash is too much, but there are still shadows that need to be filled.

To be honest, the LED light didn’t help much when I was using a 60D body the same way, dedicated to macros, due to that camera’s lack of dynamic range. The 7D may not be able to match the 5D’s dynamic range, but the LED light seems to be enough to kill shadows with the 7D, so I’ll stick to that for now. And by the way, I’m shooting macros in the manual mode these days, and I often opt for manual focus as well, as with the photo of the purple flower above.

My basic settings are 1/200 second at f/16 to prevent camera shake and still get the depth of field required. If I’m using natural light or the LED light, I use auto ISO and let the camera set the exposure by adjusting the ISO. If I’m using the flash, then I find it best to set the ISO manually so that I can control the output of the flash better.

When it comes to manual focus, I try to nearly fill the frame with the subject, and that’s usually close to the minimum focus of the macro lens. However, auto-focus doesn’t seem to work well near the limit, so I set the lens manually, then move myself into position where the subject is in focus.

However, I think that what has helped me improve my macro photos the most is that I seldom try to shoot them on a windy day any longer, unless I have to. I seldom go looking for opportunities to shoot macros on windy days, and instead, on calm days, I’ll devote much more time to macros than to chasing birds. I miss a few flowers because of that, since some flowers are done blooming by the time that I get a day off from work and it’s calm enough to shoot macros.

Okay, I said that I’m very happy with the gear that I have now, and that I see no reason to upgrade any of my existing cameras or lenses. However, I’m leaning towards purchasing a fish eye lens, even though most photographers consider them to be a novelty lens. Canon makes a 8-15 mm true fish eye lens, which has a 180 degree field of view at 8 mm. This is what you get with the lens at 8 mm on a full frame camera.

Testing a fish eye lens

Sorry, I didn’t remove the lens hood as I’ve never shot with such a wide lens before, so the lens hood was captured in the shot. I was about 6 inches away from the package of socks, which is what intrigues me about this lens.

I’m not a huge fan of the circular image produced by that lens, but it can also produce rectilinear images as well as the circular ones, as this next image shows.

 

Testing a fish eye lens

Using Lightroom, I can correct the distortion even more if I want to, but I don’t have an example of that worth posting.

I like the idea of being able to get as close as 6 inches away from a subject and still get everything in focus due to the large depth of field of a lens that wide. By the way, those two were shot a f/4 because I wanted to see the depth of field of that lens wide open.

It is a novelty lens, not really suited to landscapes or interior photos the way that most people use a fish eye lens. I think that it would work well for flowers, lichens, and other small things seen in nature where I have a hard time getting everything in focus using my 100 mm macro lens. And, that lens will also work on the crop sensor 7D, where it would become a 12-24 mm lens, and I’d use it for the same types of subjects on the 7D, but it would also be useful for landscapes on that body at times.

I’m sure that there will be a huge learning curve with that lens as I learn to balance the field of view, depth of field, and the distortion inherent in a lens that wide. But, I have seen a few nature photos shot with a fish eye lens, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I’ve tried to duplicate those photos with my 16-35 mm lens, but its close focusing ability is a foot, and I’ve not been happy with the results. One thing that I’ve learned is that when it comes to extreme wide-angle photography, every mm of focal length and every mm of distance between the camera and the subject make huge differences in the final image produced.

I can also play around with cropping a rectilinear image from a true fish eye image as produced by this lens, I’d guess that you’d say that I’m excited about the possibilities.

The 8-15 mm fish eye lens would also come in handy for night photography of subjects such as the Milky Way, and star trails as well.

Since it is a novelty lens of sorts, a few of the people who purchase it aren’t happy with it, and sell them without having really used them much. I may pick-up one of the slightly used copies that are often available, and save a few hundred dollars on it that way.

I should add that this new found focus on ultra-wide angle photography is due to 16-35 mm lens that I purchased a couple of years ago. I still love that lens as much or more than any other that I own, even though I haven’t had much of a chance to use it lately. I haven’t been shooting many landscapes lately, and the few that I have shot, I’ve done so with the 24-70 mm lens.

It may sound funny since I’ve had the 24-70 mm lens for about a year now, but I’m still learning that lens. Heck, I’m still learning the 7D Mk II, and how to get the best from it. Of course that applies to the 5D Mk IV as well. But that is something that I absolutely love, learning that is, and seeing my images continue to improve over time as I do learn my equipment inside out and upside down.

Changing gears a bit, I’ve been thinking of getting the Sigma 150-500 mm lens out again because it’s the warbler migration season, and the Sigma lens always worked better for me as far as the auto-focus in picking up small birds in the brush. I probably should do that just to see what the image quality is with the Sigma lens on the 5D Mk IV. I still remember making the switch back to the Sigma a couple of years ago while I was on vacation photographing small birds near Alpena, Michigan. However, the image quality that I get from my Canon telephoto lenses is superior to what I get from the Sigma, if I’m able to get the birds in focus.

I spent a very frustrating day at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve yesterday. I was surrounded by hundreds of small birds such as warblers, vireos, and kinglets all day long, but came home with very few photos to show for my time spent there. I grew arm weary, lifting the camera and lens to my eye hundreds of times, but never shooting a single photo most of the time, for the birds moved before the 100-400 mm lens with the 1.4 X tele-convertor could get the bird in focus.

Since the 5D Mk IV has so much more resolution than my older crop sensor cameras, the image quality that I may get with the Sigma lens on the 5D may be a worthwhile trade-off for the much faster auto-focus. At least I’d get more images, even if they would be slightly lower quality than I’d get with the Canon lens. I’ll have to try that next week.

Weather, and how good the light is, will be the deciding factor next week. If there’s good light, I think that the Sigma lens will produce images with high enough quality for my current standards. But, I know that in poor light, the Sigma lens can’t hold a candle to my Canon lenses.

This image didn’t appear in my last post, because I shot it yesterday as I type this.

Red-tailed hawk

I shot that just after I had packed most of my camera gear into my vehicle. I had noticed the hawk perched near my apartment, and despite the poor light, decided to try for a photo. That was shot with the 5D, 100-400 mm lens, and 1.4 X tele-convertor, my normal set-up. The ISO was 3200, and the 5D produced an image with what I think is great detail in so low of light at that ISO setting. I know that the Sigma lens can’t match that, but if there’s enough light the results will be closer to what I get with the Canon lens.

That also reminds me to whine about the weather, and the weather forecasters. It seems like every day that I’ve had off from work for over a month has been either rainy, or the day begins with rain, and eventually the rain ends and there’s been a little sunshine in the late afternoon. On a couple of those days, there wasn’t any rain in the forecast at all, and even if they were predicting the rain would end and the sun would break through the clouds, the forecast has been for that happening much earlier in the day than what actually happened. It’s been disheartening to watch the weather forecast at 11:30 PM showing no rain, only to wake up early to find that it is raining again. It’s pretty bad when they can’t even forecast accurately less than 12 hours out.

Since I plan my days out off based on the weather reports, it’s been a frustrating month or more for me. I’ve gotten up early to take advantage of the fact that birds are most active early in the morning, even migrating birds. I look outside to find that the clouds haven’t moved out as forecast, or that it’s still raining, even though the rain had been forecast to move out by then.

In fact, the weather patterns on my days off from work have been amazingly similar, with the clouds finally starting to break up around noon or a little after each and every day that I’ve been out with my camera. By then, the chances of any dramatic landscape images as the clouds break up are close to zero. It also seems like the clouds continue to move on all afternoon long, so that as sunset approaches, the sky has become cloudless, or nearly so. With no clouds to catch the sun’s fading light, there’s been no reason for me to stick it out until sunset either.

Even though I’ve got much more to say, it’s time to wrap this one up with a couple of quick thoughts.

I’ve had the 5D Mk IV for almost a year now, and I’m loving it and the images it produces.

I’m thinking about doing another road trip on one of my next two days off from work, that will depend on the weather. In the meantime, a not so good image…

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

…but at least I caught him displaying his crown.

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


Maybe short and sweet is the way

Well, I’m trying once again to allow people to add their comments to my blog, I hope that I’ve finally set everything correctly this time.

I am going to try something a little different in this post, it will be mostly images, my best of the best the past two weeks, with very little of my thoughts.

White throated sparrow

 

White throated sparrow

Even though that means multiple images of the same species.

Male rose breasted grosbeak

 

Male rose breasted grosbeak

 

Male rose breasted grosbeak

 

Male ruby crowned kinglet

 

Song sparrow bathing

 

Song sparrow bathing

 

Song sparrow bathing

 

Song sparrow bathing

How I went about capturing these images isn’t that important to any one but me, I think, but I could be wrong about that.

Male hooded merganser

 

Male hooded merganser

 

Male hooded merganser

All that I’ll say is that I continue to play with the equipment that I have, trying to get the best from it.

Unidentified flowers

 

Maple flowers?

 

Flowers and leaves opening

 

Common field speedwell?

 

Unidentified purple flower

In my efforts to get the best possible images, I sometimes forget to look at the subject that I’m photographing as well as I should as I concentrate on shooting the image that I want. For example, I thought that these were pale leaves opening, they really caught my eye against the background. But, they were in a position where it would have been hard for me to get closer to them. I had enough trouble not sliding down a steep slope and into a drainage ditch as it was while I was in position to shoot this next one. I was more concerned with getting the shot than identifying what I was shooting, and after blowing the image up on the computer, I believe that what I thought were leaves are actually flowers opening. Either way, I love the color of the background and the fact that it’s completely out of focus so that the flowers stand out better.

Leaves or flowers?

Maybe I’m putting too many images into this post, I’ve had two really good weeks in a row…

Snow drop flower

…with plenty of subjects to photograph…

Common grackle

…with some very good light at times…

Common grackle

…and even slight changes in the light can change how a subject appears in an image, as these two of the grackle show.

Horsetail flower

I’ve also been working very hard at getting the best background that I can, as you may have been able to notice in these images.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

That isn’t easy with these smaller birds…

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

…but when I find an exceptional individual of a species, I try to stick with it as long as possible, shooting as many images as I can…

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

…until I get the cleanest background possible.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

While this is too many images already, I have one more that I’d like to throw in. This one is of a chickadee that some how lost all of its tail feathers. I can only assume that the loss of its tail was due to a run-in with a predator, perhaps a hawk, or more likely, a feral house cat. The reason I’m including it is that I watched as the chickadee flew, and it did remarkably well despite the lack of a tail to use for directional control.

Black capped chickadee that’s missing its tail feathers

I’m thinking of doing a long-winded companion post to this one in which I prattle on at length about my current camera gear, any possible future gear that I’m thinking of acquiring, and photography in general. I guess that I should wait to see if I have finally fixed the problem of people not being able to comment to my posts first.

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


Maybe not so far between

Well, how should I begin this post?

I suppose that I could begin by saying that as of the middle of April, I know that my work schedule is going to change before the middle of May, but I’m not sure what my new schedule will be or when it will begin exactly.

As far as the weather, it’s been a rough month, just last weekend as I type this, I had to drive through another major snowstorm that dumped up to 8 inches of snow along the route that I drive for work. My first day off from work this week was a total washout, it rained most of the day. Yesterday turned out nice after a cloudy, cool, wet start to the day, and I managed a few images worth posting.

As I’ve said, it takes time to get a good image most of the time, but luck and being observant also has their place in the mix. As I was driving from the Muskegon County wastewater facility to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, I noticed a loon in a small park that’s built into the median of a major road where the road crosses the Muskegon River. I returned, hoping for a good shot of the loon, but this was the best I could do because of the lighting.

Common loon

 

Although it’s not very good, it’s still one of my better images of a loon. But, I hoped that if I hung around the area for a while, that I’d be able to do better. It was while I was standing behind a tree to stay out of the loon’s sight that I noticed these.

White pelicans in flight during breeding season

I was lucky that they flew into an area where the light was better, and that they turned back towards me slightly as I changed my camera setting from trying to do portraits of the loon to the saved bird in flight settings of the 5D Mk IV.

However, I didn’t do so well with the loon, so there’s no reason to put any more of the images of it that I shot in this post.

After I gave up on the loon, I went to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and near the entrance, I ran into a huge flock of yellow-rumped warblers. Here are my two best images that I got.

Yellow-rumped warbler Myrtle subspecies

One reason that I’m including these is that they show the differences in coloration between the two subspecies that are most common in Michigan.

Yellow-rumped warbler, Audubon subspecies

The other reason that I’m showing these is that something dawned on me as I watched these and the kinglets, which will come later.

With as many of the butter butts as there was in this flock, I kept kicking myself because of the poor quality of most of the photos of them that I shot. However, they never sit still for more than a few seconds, making it tough to get a clear view of them, acquire a focus lock on them, and squeeze the shutter release before they flit away again.

I have no idea how many of the yellow-rumped warblers were in this flock, it had to have been several dozen at least. A few almost struck me as I stood there trying to shoot photos of them. That’s when it dawned on me, evolution drives these small birds to behave the way that they do, only the fastest of them gets the food when they travel in flocks the way that they do.

I watched as two or more of them would dart out of the brush to catch insects that flew past them, and of course, only one of them would successfully catch the insect. Nature rewards the quickest among the flock as they compete for food.

It was the same with the kinglets, which I’ll get to shortly, only the quickest individuals were able to catch insects flying in their area, the slow birds went hungry, or had to work harder to find food in other ways.

It also doesn’t help that in the flocks of both species, the dominant males were also busy chasing other males away when one of the other males got too close.

Since I mentioned the kinglets, specifically, ruby-crowned kinglets this time, I spent over two hours shooting photos of them, while also observing their behavior. This is the best image of the day, technically, it was cropped only slightly.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

I stood in one very small area near a willow tree as dozens of these little guys…

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

…and gals searched of insects. Only the males display the reddish-orange feathers on the top of their heads that give this species their name. Also, the males only show those feathers…

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

…when there’s another male nearby. I saw several of the males give the full display of the red feathers, but the only photos I got of them were as they either were hiding them again, or just starting to display the feathers as they prepared to chase the other male away.

Male ruby-crowned kinglet

Okay, you’re probably tired of these already, but here’s two more photos that show how quick this species can move. I was using the 5D Mk IV set to low-speed continuous shooting, which is five frames per second. I caught one of the kinglets…

Ruby-crowned kinglet

… with the next frame being this, shot as quickly as the 5D recycles to shoot at 5 frames per second.

Ruby-crowned kinglet

In the split second between frames, the kinglet had almost completed its turn. I had plenty of images of empty branches from my time spent trying to photograph them as even more proof of how quickly they move, along with olive-green blurs in other photos as they flew away between shots fired in a series.

Now, back to my observations of these two large flocks of small birds. As I said, the fastest of the flock were the individuals most likely to catch flying insects, so you’d think that traveling in smaller flocks would be better for the survival of the species. However, that many eyes looking for predators is an advantage to the flock, meaning more of the flock survives. Also, I can’t prove it, but it appeared to me that the frenetic behavior of as many of these small birds as were in the flocks actually caused some insects to take flight, making the insects easier for members of the flock to detect. I think that at least twice, when a dominant male chased another male, another member of the flock flew up to catch an insect that had been spooked from hiding by the males chasing each other.

It makes sense, now that I’ve thought about it, that many birds hoping up and down branches and flitting about must scare some of the prey insects into taking flight, revealing themselves to the birds that may have otherwise not seen the insects where they were hiding. It’s as if the birds are beating the brush to drive their prey out into the open.

I lucked out with the warblers and kinglets, I didn’t have to move around much because the flocks of each stayed in one small area much longer than I’ve seen before. That allowed my desire to get the best possible photo to work in conjunction with my desire to spend more time observing nature. While I wasn’t able to get the images that I wanted, I was able to spend more time observing the members of the flock that were out of camera range, so I consider the day a success.  I’m hoping that the way things went that day sets the tone for how I do things from now on. Slow down, work to get the best image possible that day, and learn from watching as I’m doing so.

Now then, my last series of images, maybe.

Male sandhill crane strutting his stuff

Good light, with just enough shadows under each layer of feathers to highlight the separation between the feathers, helps make this one a keeper. I wish that I had been a little closer, but because there’s nothing close to the crane directly behind it, the crane really stands out from the water behind it.

I got even lower for this next one, but that may have been a mistake.

Pairs of both sandhill cranes and Canada geese

I included this one because both cranes were calling at the same time, and to show how large they are when compared to the Canada geese in the foreground. However, because I got down even lower than in the first image, now the houses more than a mile away across Muskegon Lake become a distraction in the image.

This last in the series is to show how the cranes use their long beaks to probe for food.

Sandhill cranes

I have decided to add a few more photos to this post after all. Here’s a hermit thrush eating sumac drupes…

Hermit thrush

…so I can add this species to the list of species that I’ve seen eating them…

Hermit thrush

…and I added these to pass on a tip that I’ve learned, mostly on my own.

One thing that I’ve heard over and over again is to protect the highlights when shooting photos. In most cases, and in other genres of photography, that’s good advice. But in wildlife photography, when the subject is against an extremely bright background, forget the highlights, get the subject exposed correctly. As soon as I saw the thrush where it was, I went up plus 2 on my exposure compensation because of how bright the cloudy sky with the sun almost directly behind the thrush was. Yes, the highlights, the sky, are blown out, even after trying to recover them in Lightroom the best that I could, but otherwise, the hermit thrush would have been a black silhouette and you wouldn’t have been able to tell what species of bird it was, or make out the fact that it was eating the sumac drupes.

These next two images are of species common to me and appear often in my blog, but a good image is a good image.

Female mute swan

I know that this next bird is a female, because I saw her working on her nest. She’s built her nest under the boardwalk at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve for at least three years that I can recall, so she’s at least that old, and it was like seeing an old friend again. She’s appeared in my blog more than a few times over those three years.

Female eastern phoebe

When I shot these next three photos, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use them or not, but I’ve decided that the subject may be interesting to some people. In other parts of the country, and the world for that matter, you see photos of how they clear the roads of massive amounts of snow. In some areas along Lake Michigan, blowing sand becomes more of a problem than snow.

Clearing sand from the parking lot of Muskegon State Park

The sand is then trucked back to the beach…

Clearing sand from the parking lot of Muskegon State Park

…where a bulldozer spreads the sand out to rebuild the beach.

Rebuilding the beach at Muskegon State Park

It’s a sure sign of spring when they clear the roads and parking lots at several of Michigan’s state parks of the sand that has covered them over the winter.

Since I’ve already gone overboard in this post, I may as well add this experimental photo as well.

Willow flowers

In the past, I would have tried to get all three of the flower clusters in focus, and I would have failed. This time, I tried to use the limited depth of field at close range to add some depth to the image so that it looks more three-dimensional. You can see the progression of the flower clusters, even though the two clusters in the background are out of focus, while the most advanced of the clusters is in focus. And, because of the angle that I shot this image at, along with the shape of the prominent cluster, I do think that the experiment worked, that this image doesn’t look flat. My composition could have been better, but in my defense, I was chasing the flowers around while there were wind gusts above 30 MPH that day.

I’ve never tried to use depth of field and what’s in focus versus what’s out of focus to create depth in an image before, that’s something that I’ve learned from watching videos where the experts critique photos sent in by viewers. I suppose that selective focus is the reason that I like the photo of the male kinglet perched on the chain link fence that’s above this, the out of focus fencing closer and farther away from the kinglet help to give that photo some depth.

I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I also hope that I’ve gotten my settings correct to allow comments to my blog once again.

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


Fewer and farther between

First of all, I hope that I have gotten the settings correct in WordPress for this post, I thought that I had for my last one, but it didn’t allow any comments, sorry.

While I was taking a break from blogging, it occurred to me that my blog had become very boring, and hardly worth the effort it took to continue putting out new posts that were essentially the same posts over and over again. I’ve been going to the same few places, shooting the same few species of birds for the past couple of years. The only thing that changed from post to post were my thoughts on photography and photo gear, which most people find boring.

One of the reasons that I kept returning to the same locations every week is that those locations give me the best chance of shooting enough photos to fill a blog post during my two days off from work each week, rather taking a chance that I would miss doing a post now and then as I learned a new location.

In addition, trying to shoot enough photos to fill a post quickly often put me at odds with one of my goals, getting the best possible photos that I can. That became very clear to me a few times during my break from posting, as I would be sitting somewhere in hopes of getting a great photo instead of rushing from place to place, shooting a wider variety of fair photos as I typically do. That became very clear to me a few weeks ago as I sat waiting for a pileated woodpecker to move to a place where I had a clear view of him in excellent light, instead of settling for a shot through the branches that were between myself and the woodpecker. If he had moved just a few feet higher on the tree he was investigating, I would have gotten my very best image of that species to this date. But as I sat there, the thought that I was wasting such good light by waiting kept repeating itself in my head the entire time, so I gave up waiting and moved on, which was probably a mistake.

Also, trying to shoot enough photos in one or two days to fill a post has been taking the enjoyment out of simply sitting and observing the nature around me. Since I’ve been on my blogging break, I have spent more time sitting and observing instead of rushing around trying to shoot more photos. This photo came about because I was just sitting and waiting.

Bufflehead ducks coming in for a landing

If you’re feeling a bit down and need something to cheer you up, there’s few things better than watching bufflehead in action. They look to be completely out of control as they land as they use their wings and feet to steer, and once on the water, the show often continues.

Two male bufflehead fighting

I wasn’t able to photograph any of the antics of the males’ courtship displays, but I have in the past, and that is quite humorous also, but video would be a much better way to show that than still photos. However, still photos work fine when capturing a bufflehead on take off.

Bufflehead taking off

 

Bufflehead taking off

 

Bufflehead taking off

 

This seems like the place to switch over to some of the boring photography talk, as just as when I upgraded from the Canon 60D to the 7D Mk II and found that what I learned using the 7D improved the images that I shot with the 60D, what I learn using the 5D Mk IV is helping the images that I shoot with the 7D.

A pair of bufflehead

I was using the 7D because I thought that the bufflehead would take flight, and the 7D is still better for action photos than the slower 5D Mk IV. But, they didn’t take off, instead, I got my best photo to date that shows the beautiful colors of the male bufflehead’s head. However, I can still do better if I can get closer, use the 5D Mk IV, and get the light exactly right.

When it comes to photography, I’m still watching an occasional review of the newest gear coming on the market, not that I’m interesting in upgrading any of my gear now, but to stay current and to have an idea of what’s coming in the next few years.

I have taken to watching videos where the “experts” critique the images sent in by viewers, and I’m finding them helpful in my being able to improve my images. I put experts in quotes because not every one who does such videos is a true expert on the types of photography that I do most. A great example of that is Jared Polin (Fro Knows Photos) because he doesn’t shoot wildlife or landscapes. He does occasionally review those types of images, and he states up front that they are outside of his expertise, but I still find his comments and suggestions helpful. A good image from any genre is a good image, and learning how to better tweak my images in Lightroom is helpful, no matter which genre of image is being tweaked.

I find it very helpful to see so many more images shot by others than I would otherwise see, unless I was able to join and attend the meetings of the local camera club to get feedback on my images. I’m thinking that later this year, after I have my leftover medical bill paid, of taking a one on one session offered by the local camera store that includes feedback on my images along with pointers on how to improve my images.

I know that it’s mostly that I need to put more time into each image, although not always. I spent close to an hour to get these next two images, using my macro lens, an extension tube, and my homemade macro lighting rig.

Alder catkin blooming

 

Alder catkin blooming

It didn’t take me as long to get this…

Pussy willow

…but it did take me a few tries before I got that one. I wish that I could have found a better background, but I did the best that I could.

So, it’s been another week since I worked on this post as I’ve been working out how to say what I want to say in fewer words than I typically use.

Not only do I want to change the way that I blog, I want to change the way that I approach shooting photos for my blog, and for that matter, the subject matter to some degree.

My posts were getting to be all the same, and I’m tired of posting crappy photos just so that I can say that I saw a certain species of bird while I was out.

Common loon

Even if I get a technically good photo of a species…

Golden-crowned kinglet

…doesn’t mean that it was a good image of that species…

Golden-crowned kinglet

…when one shot under poor conditions showed the bird’s markings better.

Getting better images is going to require more time along with shooting more photos to sort through until I finally get the images that I desire.

I also want to take the time to photograph different aspects of nature photography, such as this image.

Moving water abstract

I suppose that you could add these to that list as well.

White pine at night in the rain

 

White pine at night in the rain

What it all boils down to is that I’d like to get more creative by shooting differently than I do now.

Mute swans

If only I had been a few seconds quicker as the swans swam under the bridge I was standing on.

I could continue to shoot and post images like this…

Common grackle

…but I’d rather shoot images like this if I could get into a better position so that I wasn’t shooting through a small opening in the brush between myself and the grackle.

Common grackle taking a bath

I’d like to have the time to document changes as well, even if these aren’t nature photos.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan, from June 2018

You can see the progress that’s been made in tearing down this old coal-fired power plant in the past year.

The Cobb power plant near Muskegon, Michigan from April 2019

But never fear, when I get good images of a bird, even a species that’s common and that I’ve posted many photos of, when I catch one singing its spring song…

Black-capped chickadee singing

…I’ll still post a photo…

Black-capped chickadee singing

…or more…

Eastern meadowlark singing

 

American robin singing

…because hearing the birds sing brings me a great deal of joy.

And, when I get better images of a species…

Brown creeper

…I’ll post them as well.

Brown creeper

Two last thoughts before I end this.

My work schedule will be changing in the next month, I have no idea what my schedule will be yet. I won’t know my hours or day(s) off until it’s my turn to bid on the runs left after the higher seniority drivers have bid on the runs the company that I work for has.

My other thought is that I’d like to add a fish eye lens to my kit someday. The earlier photos of the white pine at night weren’t quite what I wanted because my 16-35 mm lens isn’t wide enough to get the effect that I was going for in the way that the branches spread out from the trunk of the tree. I think that the addition of a true fish eye lens will work well for nature photography for close-ups of flowers and other similar subjects.

The lens I have in mind will focus down to 6 inches from the sensor plane. meaning that the front element of the lens can almost touch the subject and still get it in focus. A fish eye lens does distort reality, but it would also allow me to get more creative in my shots of flowers, fungi, and lichens, due to the extreme depth of field that comes with such a lens. I tested the lens that I have in mind out in the local camera store, and I can control how much it distorts reality by using Lightroom to control the distortion. Who knows, ultra-wide nature images may end up being the niche that I’m looking for.

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


I’m back, but for how long

Note:

I had started this post with the title “I’m back and fully recharged” thinking that is how I would feel by now, but that isn’t the case. I still like the idea of sharing some of the photos that I shoot if they’re particularly good, or show some form of animal behavior that I and other may find interesting. However, I’m not sure at this time if I want to reengage in the grind of blogging on any sort of schedule. There are many reasons for this, which I’ll explain in detail in a future post, but for now, this will have to do.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Okay, I’ve on my blogging break, but I thought that as I went along, I’d jot down a few notes along the way.

My first note is that on January 26th, I noticed that it’s staying light a little later in the afternoon, which cheered me up a little.

However, that was just before the first of what maybe many brutal cold snaps hit the area. As I type this, the temperature is -9 F (-23 C) and we may finally get back above zero tomorrow. It was a miserable week for work, with almost constant lake effect snow creating very slippery roads and close to zero visibility at times. In addition, the trucks and trailers often didn’t handle the cold very well either, I’m really glad that this week is over with.

As bad as it’s been in Michigan, the surrounding states have been even colder, because they don’t have the wind coming over Lake Michigan to warm the air at all, but at least they’ve seen some sunshine in the cold, and haven’t seen the snow that we’ve gotten. I’m not sure if ten to fifteen degrees warmer is worth all the snow that’s fallen here in Michigan this past week though.

We’re forecast to get a shot of warm air above freezing next week, but that will probably mean fog from the melting of the snowpack on the ground, and limited visibility again, I hope not.

Needless to say, I’m not going out in this weather to shoot any photos, which is a shame in a way, as there are some beautiful scenes to be photographed because of the snow and cold. But, I’ve had enough of dealing with driving in the snow and working in the cold, I’m staying home catching up inside where it’s warm.

Well, another week has come and gone. Yes, it has warmed up, and that brought the fog that I was worried about, creating difficult driving conditions for work this past week. We also had an ice storm, with almost an inch of freezing rain falling in the area where I live. Once again, it created some beautiful scenes that would have been worth shooting photos of, but I was working during that time frame. I would have loved to have been able to go around at night, capturing how pretty the trees and other things covered in ice were if I hadn’t been working at the time.

Before I forget, during the cold snap last week, a pipe froze in my apartment again, sending water into my kitchen and dining area again. I was lucky this time, I was home when the water started leaking, so I was able to call maintenance before any real damage, other than to the drywall, was done. It’s one of my days off from work as I type this, and I’m waiting for the drywall repair people to show up to repair the damage. I don’t have to be here while they work, but I may as well stay home, as there’s a miserably cold rain falling outside today.

I do have some good news, my request for the second week of October off for my vacation has been approved, so I hope to return to Michigan’s upper peninsula to shoot the scenery there while the leaves on the trees are in full fall color at the time. I’m really looking forward to that!

Another week, and another foot of snow, we’re over 5 feet of snow for this winter now. This coming week looks cold, but calm for a change, with only a little snow, that will be a welcome change. Truth is, I try to forget what the weather has been like since I began my break from blogging, as driving through heavy snow every night for work has been taking a lot out of me. Along with that, we went another 7 days straight with 0% of possible sunshine, yuck!

Despite a less than ideal weather forecast yesterday, I did venture out to Muskegon just so that I wouldn’t get too rusty when it comes to taking photos. It did warm up yesterday, but the rain and fog that had been predicted held off, and I even saw a few minutes of sunshine. It was a welcome sight to say the least, but my eyes reacted to sunshine like a mole’s eyes would, and I had trouble seeing well in the brightness of the day. Even though it was hard to get around due to deep snow, I did shoot a few photos, nothing special, but it was good to get out with a camera again.

I’m going to put two of the photos that I shot in this post, not that they are very good, but for other reasons. I like this one of mallards taking off because it shows how the male closest to the camera is pushing off from the water as he explodes into flight.

Mallards taking flight

Look at that leg extension, I had no idea that their legs were so long.

I’m also including this one, just because it reminds me of what an almost sunny day looks like, and because it reminds me of everything that I need to do in order to shoot even a so-so landscape photo.

Just an almost sunny day for a few moments

I know that there’s plenty of wintry weather left to deal with, but it was nice to get outside on a warmer day when my fingers didn’t stiffen from the cold as soon as they were exposed to the air outside. And, it was really nice to see a little sunshine, even if it did last for only a few minutes.

Today, we’re back to clouds, occasional light snow, and a biting wind, so I’m back to hibernation again.

Well, another week has gone by, and we’re getting closer to spring. You wouldn’t know that if you looked outside here where I live though, but at least we didn’t receive much snow and we even had a bit of sunshine this past week.

Both to get ready for spring, and to use up a gift card from B&H Photo before it expired, I purchased several small items that will make my life easier as far as carrying and using my camera gear.

One of the items was a quick release strap system so that I can quickly and easily remove the strap from the camera during times when the strap isn’t needed. This will come in handy user a couple of different circumstances. One is when I’m birding from inside my car, such as most of the time at the Muskegon County wastewater facility. I keep two camera/lens set-ups on the passenger seat as I look for birds, one set to shoot portraits, the other to shoot action scenes. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve grabbed one of the cameras, only to have the camera strap get tangled around the shift lever, the parking park handle, or something else in the vehicle, causing me to miss shots. Now, I can remove the strap while I’m moving, and when I exit my car, I can quickly re-attach the strap for carrying the camera.

Another circumstance when the removable strap will come in handy is when shooting landscapes on windy days when I have the camera mounted on my tripod. Having the strap blowing around in the wind has caused camera shake in the past, so I usually end up trying the strap to the tripod once I’m getting ready to take a shot. Now, as I’m moving around looking for the best place to set-up the tripod, I’ll have the strap attached to hold the camera as I set the tripod up, and once the camera is mounted on the tripod, rather than tie the strap up, I can simply remove it.

In my last real post, I explained that I had added a quick release system to the macro lighting rig I came up with, and that it works quite well. Similarly, I’ve purchased an Acra-Swiss compatible clamp and attached it to a Manfrotto quick release plate so that I can use my long lenses which have the Acra-Swiss plates attached for use on my gimbal head equipped tripod on my Manfrotto tripod that I use for landscapes. I could explain why different tripod heads work better for some subjects than others, and how the adaptor that I came up with works, but that would be boring.

What all of this week’s update is all about is that I’m content with the gear that I have now, and that I’m refining how it all works together.

Well, another week, another miserable week as far as work is concerned. It included snow almost every night, the worst night was that of the big blizzard of 2019, the worst conditions that I’ve run into as a truck driver. I’m not even going to describe how bad conditions were, because I just want to forget that night and move on.

The forecast for this coming week isn’t much better, with near record cold predicted, but hopefully it will begin to warm up after that.

The good news is that last Friday was the nicest day of the year so far, and I took advantage of that to get out and enjoy it while shooting a few photos. The day started out frosty, but few of the images that I shot during that timeframe are worth posting, so this is the only one that I’m including.

Frosty start

Later, I noticed a few large snow drifts, and shot photos from various angles and distances, and I settled on this one as the best of the lot.

Snow wave breaking

I was astonished by how much slight changes in the composition of the scenes dramatically changed how good the images appeared to me, changing by only a few feet made far more difference that I thought that it would. That’s something that I’m constantly reminded of when shooting landscapes, a genre of photography that needs more work on my part. But at least I did try different angles and compositions for a change, to get at least one good image.

I saw only one or two eagles at most, I guess that the time has come for the flock that had spent the winter there at the Muskegon County wastewater facility to break up, and move to their respective home territories, despite the fact that there’s still plenty of winter left. The breeding adults I can understand moving already, as it’s the time of the year for them to rebuild their nests, and begin laying eggs soon. I’m not sure why all the juveniles also left, maybe it’s so that they have time to stake out territories of their own.

I did find a few snow buntings, and once again, I tried to get an excellent image of one, but I failed.

Snow bunting

It’s frustrating in some ways, funny in others, how much time and effort that I put into getting exactly the shot that I want when it comes to certain species of birds, or other subjects, but those images never come to fruition.

On the other hand I guess that I’m lucky when it comes to other subjects.

Snowy owl

That was shot with the 400 mm lens on the 7D Mk II body, because I thought that the owl was about to take off. I spent well over an hour with that owl, working my way a little closer from time to time, and I did get this image.

Snowy owl yawning

And of course, I shot plenty of other images of the snowy as well, here’s two more.

Snowy owl

By the way, these were shot with the 100-400 mm lens, 2X tele-converter, on the 5D Mk IV and cropped only a little.

Snowy owl

I still haven’t gotten “perfect” images of a snowy yet, but I do pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. It helps that this one wasn’t squinting in the sunshine all the time like most of them do.

Well, it’s now the month of March, and not much has changed, it’s still cold and snowy here. In fact, we came close to setting records for how cold it was this past week. However, I can’t stand being cooped up inside, so I ventured out on a horrible day for photography last week.

I think that a few birds are beginning to return north for the summer despite the cold, and they were a sight for sore eyes even if the light was horrible.

Redhead duck

I like these next two despite the poor light, I wish that I could get the ducks to space themselves out like in these when the light is better.

Redhead ducks taking flight

Maybe someday.

Redhead ducks taking flight

Also, from the bad photos of interesting bird behavior files, I have these.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

When I saw the bluebird open its mouth, I kept my finger down on the shutter release.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

I thought that it may be going to sing, but I was wrong.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

Many species of predator birds swallow their prey whole, then hack up the indigestible parts of the prey in the form of pellets, I didn’t know that songbirds did the same thing when it comes to the seeds inside berries that the swallow whole.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

But this series of photos show that they do, and the bluebird acted as if it wanted me to know that by depositing the seeds on the branch in front of it.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

It’s kind of gross in reality.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

But there you have it.

Bluebird hacking up undigested seeds from berries

It was one of those days when all color seemed to be sucked out of everything, and I tried to capture that in this image.

Bright red fishing shanty on a grey day

Yes, it’s still so cold around here that ice fishermen are still out on a lake as large as Muskegon Lake is. I wish that I had found a composition that showed the bright red of the fishing shanty better, but that was the best of all the attempts I tried.

A quick stop at the Muskegon State Park beach produced this image.

The light at the Muskegon Lake channel covered in ice

From there, I went to Duck Lake State Park to shoot these.

Ice volcano

That’s a “dormant” ice volcano, when the wind is strong enough, it blows the lake water up under the ice, which rises to accommodate the added water. Eventually, the weight of the ice is enough, it falls again, pushing the water up through these ice volcanos. One of the days I’ll have to shoot a video of it as it happens, it was too calm on this day.

These next two are simply the best that I could come up with as far a landscape images this day. Nothing special, just practice.

Duck Creek entering Lake Michigan

 

Just a tree

I’m hoping that it gets above freezing tomorrow, with some sun, which would be very welcome!

Woo hoo! It looks as if spring is finally arriving here in west Michigan! It may not look that way though from the photos that I shot last week, but it was the nicest day of the year so far up until then, and we’ve had several even nicer days since. I shot more snow and ice photos than birds…

American tree sparrow

…and even this “bird” photo was more about the sun on the ice than the gulls.

Gulls on ice

Scenes like this next one won’t be seen around here until next winter…

Snow drift

…I hope, but that applies to most of the photos from last week.

Ice build up near Muskegon

 

Ice on the Muskegon channel light

I went from Muskegon State Park north to Duck Lake State Park to shoot the rest of the images from the day.

This ice formation looked to me like a giant sea turtle trying to pull itself out of the icy water of Lake Michigan.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

So, as I looked around for other interesting ice formations, I shot the “turtle” from many angles.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

I also tried a few black and white images.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on a piece of driftwood

But mostly, I shot the ice turtle on such a great day.

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

 

Ice bauble

 

Ice on Lake Michigan at Duck Lake State Park

With the bright sunshine, no wind to speak of, and warmer temperatures, it was the first day this year when it felt pleasant to be outside.

By the way, we’ve had almost as many minutes of sunshine the past week as we had all winter long going back to the first of November of last year, it was most welcome, believe me.

It won’t be as nice today when I go out to shoot photos, as there’ll be intermittent rain showers and possibly a thunderstorm or two moving through the area. In fact, it will be a wet, sloppy mess today, but the temperature will be warm enough to go without a parka or even a jacket if it gets as warm as the forecast says it will be. Plus, many species of birds have begun to arrive as they’re anticipating spring as well, and it will be great to see and hear them again after such a long, drawn out winter as this one has been.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve added anything to this post, for the reason in the note at the start of this post. This one is too long already, so as I said earlier, I’ll explain my current feelings on blogging in my next post.

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


Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons

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.

  

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons

The greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) is a species of goose related to the smaller lesser white-fronted goose (A. erythropus). It is named for the patch of white feathers bordering the base of its bill, in fact albifrons comes from the Latin albus “white” and frons “forehead “. In Europe it has been known as the “white-fronted goose”; in North America it is known as the greater white-fronted goose (or “greater whitefront”), and this name is also increasingly adopted internationally. Even more distinctive are the salt-and-pepper markings on the breast of adult birds, which is why the goose is colloquially called the “specklebelly” in North America.

Greater white-fronted geese are 64–81 cm (25–32 in) in length, have a 130–165 cm (51–65 in) wingspan and weigh 1.93–3.31 kg (4.3–7.3 lb). They have bright orange legs and mouse-coloured upper wing-coverts. They are smaller than greylag geese. As well as being larger than the lesser white-fronted goose, the greater white-fronted goose lacks the yellow eye-ring of that species, and the white facial blaze does not extend upwards so far as in lesser.

The male is typical larger in size, both sexes are similar in appearance—greyish brown birds with light grey breasts dappled with dark brown to black blotches and bars. Both males and females also have a pinkish bill and orange legs and feet.

Greater white-fronted geese make a variation of sounds, but notably the most recognizable is the high pitched cackle that can be imitated by the sounds “he-he.” There is a distinct breaking of the note from the first cackle to the second.

The North American midcontinent birds of the subspecies A. a. gambeli – which in 2010 had a fall population of about 710,000 birds – breeds from the Alaska North Slope across the western and central Canadian Arctic. The Pacific white-fronted goose of the American Pacific coast, which in 2010 numbered approximately 650,000 birds, and the tule geese, which are estimated to number 10,000 birds, nest in western Alaska. The midcontinent geese gather in early fall on the prairies of western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta, spending several weeks feeding before heading to wintering areas near the Gulf of Mexico, into northern Mexico. The Pacific birds migrate south down the Pacific coast, staging primarily in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon and northern California and wintering, eventually, in California’s Central Valley. The tule goose is somewhat rare and has been since the latter half of the 19th century, presumably it was affected by destruction of its wintering habitat due to human settlement.

In the British Isles, two races overwinter: Greenland birds in Scotland and Ireland, and Russian birds in England and Wales. They gather on farmland at favoured traditional sites, with a famous flock gathering at WWT Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, England. Greenland birds also overwinter in Ireland and from late September and through the winter months, Ireland is home to almost 50% of the Greenland population of white-fronted geese.

Weather conditions are a key factor in the annual breeding success of white-fronted geese. In the Arctic, the window of opportunity for nesting, incubating eggs, and raising a brood to flight state is open briefly, for about three months. Arriving in late May or early June, white-fronted geese begin departing for fall staging areas in early September. This means that a delayed snowmelt or late spring storm can significantly reduce the birds’ reproductive success.

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot a few years ago at the Muskegon County wastewater facility.

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese and mallards

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese

 

Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons with Canada geese

 

 

This is number 215 in my photo life list, only 135 to go!

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

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Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

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

  

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

The northern shrike (Lanius borealis) is a large songbird species in the shrike family (Laniidae) native to North America and Siberia.

In North America, this and the related loggerhead shrike are commonly known as butcherbirds for their habit of impaling prey on thorns or spikes. A folk name from Michigan is winter butcherbird.

The northern shrike can be distinguished from the loggerhead shrike by its larger size, lighter grey plumage and shorter black face mask that doesn’t cover the eyes completely. It also has a longer bill with more prominent hook. Their calls are similar.

Northern shrikes often sit on tall poles and branches surveying for food. They prey on arthropods such as spiders, beetles, bugs, and grasshoppers, and small vertebrates. Prey identified include passerine birds such as horned lark, black-capped chickadee, common starling, brewer’s sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, pine siskin, house sparrow, small mammals such as the vagrant shrew, western harvest mouse, deer mouse, long-tailed vole, meadow vole and house mouse, and reptiles such as spiny lizards. They have been observed hunting finches and house sparrows at bird feeders.

Northern shrike breed in taiga and at the border of taiga and tundra, in open country with medium or tall trees or shrubs. Winters in open country with tall perches, including shrubby fields, wetlands, and forest edges.

Their nests are large, bulky cup of twigs and roots, woven through with feathers and hair. Compact inner lining made of grasses, small feathers, and hair. Placed in trees and shrubs.

 

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot over the course of the past few winters, as winter is the only time of year this species is found in my part of Michigan.

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor

 

This is number 214 in my photo life list, only 136 to go!

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

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Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus

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.

  

Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus

The hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, averaging approximately 250 mm (9.8 in) in length with a 380 mm (15 in) wingspan. With an estimated population in 2003 of over nine million individuals, the hairy woodpecker is listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern in North America.

The hairy woodpecker inhabits mature deciduous forests in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States. Mating pairs will excavate a hole in a tree, where they will lay, on average, four white eggs.

Adults are mainly black on the upper parts and wings, with a white or pale back and white spotting on the wings; the throat and belly vary from white to sooty brown, depending on subspecies. There is a white bar above and one below the eye. They have a black tail with white outer feathers. Adult males have a red patch or two side-by-side patches on the back of the head; juvenile males have red or rarely orange-red on the crown.

The hairy woodpecker measures from 18–26 cm (7.1–10.2 in) in length, 33–43 cm (13–17 in) in wingspan and 40–95 g (1.4–3.4 oz) in weight. It is virtually identical in plumage to the smaller downy woodpecker. The downy has a shorter bill relative to the size of its head, which is, other than size and voice, the best way to distinguish them in the field. These two species are not closely related, however, and are likely to be separated in different genera. Another way to tell the two species apart is the lack of spots on its white tail feathers (present in the downy). Their outward similarity is a spectacular example of convergent evolution. As to the reason for this convergence, only tentative hypotheses have been advanced; in any case, because of the considerable size difference, ecological competition between the two species is slight.

These birds are mostly permanent residents. Birds in the extreme north may migrate further south; birds in mountainous areas may move to lower elevations.

These birds forage on trees, often turning over bark or excavating to uncover insects. They mainly eat insects, but also fruits, berries and nuts, as well as sometimes tree sap. They are a natural predator of the European corn borer, a moth that costs the US agriculture industry more than $1 billion annually in crop losses and population control. They are also known to peck at wooden window frames and wood-sided homes that may house prey.

 

 

On to my photos:

These photos were shot over a number of years in various locations. I chose these because they show the length of the bird’s bill quite well, which is the easiest way to differentiate this species from the much smaller downy woodpeckers.

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

Hairy woodpecker

 

 

This is number 213 in my photo life list, only 137 to go!

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

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