Last Saturday my wife went to her high school reunion in the small northern Michigan town where she was raised. I agreed to go along, but having been to these class reunions before I decided to just spend the day knocking about the countryside, looking for places to photograph. I didn’t’ know it at the time, but I was in for a real treat…
My wife was attending the reunion with her lifelong friend, and her friend’s father owns a working farm about 20 miles out of town. He offered to show me a more wild area of the farm - an area left for deer hunting in the fall, where beavers have dammed up a small creek and made a little pond in a low place.
I followed him out into the Newaygo County countryside. A ways out he turned onto a small two-track leading back into some fields. The road cut into a small wooded area and then ended at the edge of a hay field, a few weeks past its last mowing. We then drove directly across the field, through one low laying area near the beaver pond, and into a small field, also a few weeks past cutting. That’s where we stopped - and where I stayed for several hours.
Here’s a pano of the field where I spent the afternoon - click here for a much larger view. (This is made from 9 stitched together hand-held shots taken with a Nikon P6000.)
And here is a shot of the beaver pond… The pond straddles the boundary with a neighboring farm, and a barbed wire fence - not really visible in the web-sized image here - runs through the middle of it:
The field inthe pano is visible in this shot of the pond - it is the small area in the upper center of the fram, just above the pond and to the right of the large, dark mass of trees.
The owner of the farm went on his way after leading me back to this place. After a few minutes I spotted lots of dragonflies and other interesting subjects, and decided to start shooting. It has been some time since I found red meadowhawks in abundance, but I found a lot of them here. Here are a couple shots of Whitefaced Meadowhawks:
It is virtually impossible to identify most meadowhawks from photos - or even from casual observation - so I don’t know what this one is, but his bright red face is striking:
Here are two more unidentified red males:
And of course - for every male there is a female, more or less. Here are three females (or immature males) who retain a yellow-brown coloration:
And lastly a close-up of a summer coneflower:
It was a fabulous place to visit and I really enjoyed spending some very quiet hours out in the fields.
A while back I mentioned that my main workhorse lens - a Pentax A* (star) 200mm f4 ED - had stopped working. I sent it to Pentax Repair, who were unable to repair it due to a lack of parts., and so they returned it as it was.
Enter Eric Hendrickson at pentaxs.com… He disassembled the lens and, determined that it was essentially worn out A crucial part that operated the aperture blades had several hole worn out of round, and it was the primary reason why the aperture mechanism was no longer functioning correctly. But the lens. This lens has seen heavy use since I bought it new in 1998, and that use had caught up with it. In addition, several internal screws had simply worked their way loose over the years, making disassembly of the lens a real problem.
Since parts were not available Eric found somebody who could fabricate the worn out piece. There was no guarantee that it would work but I was willing to pay up front on the hope that it would. A few weeks later the lens arrived and is working like new! The shots in this post were taken with the repaired lens - it is meting accurately and the aperture blades are running smoothly! Since there is no longer any 200mm class macro lens made for Pentax, it was well worth the repair. All in all, the repair cost less than half of the only close match to the 200mm macro - which as of this writing is still not available.
Eric proved to be a great resource and I have more stuff to send his way. He can be reached at email@example.com.
And just a few more photos …
It’s mid July and the long sweet days of summer are upon us. I haven’t had the chance to blog much these last few weeks, but still I carve out a few hours on the weekends to visit the Allegan Forest and mark the passing of the season.
A midsized pond located in a field of 48th street is a frequent destination during these visits. When I first started photographing in this area the pond was just a vernal marsh. In 2006 it even dried up enough that I could walk through it. A mucky spot with a few reeds was the only sign of the water then. Now it is dozens of yards across and full of open water. Many larger trees have their roots submerged, and have finally succumbed to the rising water.
The pond is home to lots of odes (odonates), but also many frogs and toads. Usually, they scatter as I walk along the water’s edge – green frogs in particular cry out “eeeeee!” and then jump out into the water. Below is one green from that was unimpressed by my presence, and let get me get down to eye level with it for a portrait.
As I mentioned, the pond also hosts a large number of Odonates. Here’s a very large damselfly – these are about two inches long and are very numerous around the pond. I don’t know what kind of damsefly it is, and my field guides don’t show anything this large in Michigan (at least that I can find.)
Meadowhawks arrive at the peak of summer. It’s great to see them appear in their crimson glory. So far this year I have not seen any red ones, but it is still early. I have, however, spotted a few of immature meadowhawks – signs that the red dragons are not far off. Here’s a shot from this morning:
Of course, as the days progress the spring dragons start to waiver. This year’s cold and wet spring meant that many early dragons appeared later than usual and many are lingering longer than usual as well. Of course, some – like the dot tailed whiteface – will be around for several weeks yet. Here are three spring dragons taken on earlier trips in recent weeks. First, Dot Tailed Whiteface:
A Calico Pennant:
And lastly, a four spotted skimmer:
While the water level in the pond remains high, the last few weeks have seen little rain and the field is taking on the burnish of the drier months of summer. I hope to have some summer dragons – brilliant red dragons – in the near future.
There’s a new cat in my house - a male tiger a couple years younger than my two black females. So far they are getting along remarkably well. Here’s a photo, taken in April, 2010:
Last Sunday, June 19th for those who count the days, I went out to the Allegan Forest to look for dragonflies. I headed to the most westerly fields, about 8 miles past the actual town of Allegan. This is the west side of the high banks area.
I pulled up to the usual entry point. This is a popular place for folks to come and target practice, and whoever comes here brings the most interesting targets. Today we had bowling pins, blown to bits. A layer above the plastic WWII soldiers and computers and other stuff that has been brought out to be shot up. The dragonflies don’t care - they just buzz around. Today someone was off shooting in the woods,and the dull ‘thud thud thud’ of shotguns in the background music for anyone hanging out in the area.
Here’s a brown spike tail which is always in this field in the spring.
Wandering around a bit, I find the common blue dasher, with the markings of an immature male or female:
I wandered through the fields. There are a few large areas, mowed every few years and separated by thin bands of trees. A dashing blue eyed darner teased me incessantly, no luck getting that photo.
I wandered for a good half mile through the connected fields, over an hour, without getting a decent shot. On the way back I walked along the wood line and encountered a short but fat hognose snake. It was charming and entertained me with its impressive cobra hood affect and startling loud hiss. I’ve never seen one of these play dead, and it seems cruel to scare them to point where they do so, so I just snapped away until it got tired and settled down, ‘cobra hood’ still intact, looking rather happy in a goofy sort of way…
I stumbled back towards my car and ran into this most sedate brown spike tail, which even let me get very close:
Sitting next to it was this fine blue dasher:
Looking down, I saw another medium sized hog nose snake, this one right under my feet, With it’s cover blown it whipped into the underbrush. I should comment that I was just a few yards from where I ran into the baby hognose photographed in 2009 and noted in this post.
Wandering back towards the river, I ran into several more dragonflies - like this maturing white faced spot tail ("hand’s up, dude!"):
Yet another brown spike tail dragonfly (in most places I visit, it would be rare to see one, let alone three):
And a tiger swallow tail butterfly (I hope someday find one of these with both ‘tails’ intact):
And finally - mature male blue dashers:
Las summer I was able to get just a couple old battered male blue dashers, very late in the season. Old goats who just would not give up. This year I’m glad to see the young ones, bright in color, strong of wing, early in the season…
And lastly - a female blue dasher:
That was it - 3 hours north of the river, my plans to hit some familiar fields to the south were set aside. But it was a good fun trek through the tall grass. All of these shots were taken with the D-FA 10mm lens and 1.7x AF converter, as my 200mm macro lens is still broken.
Soon, I am sure, the red dragons will appear….
Here are some more spring wildflowers from 2009.
Here is one of the very first sping wildflowers - though it hardly looks like a flower. Skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to emerge from moist soil The flower smells like carrion and attracts flies for pollination:
Another fiarly early wildflower flowwer - Marsh Marigold:
May Apple Blossoms:
False Rue Anemone:
Thats it for wildflowers for now…
A while back I mentioned the my trusty old A* 200mm macro lens had begun to malfunction. I sent it off to Pentax for repair last week, and hope to hear a positive prognosis. Unfortunately, the lens is old enough that repairing it may be impossible, if parts are not available.
So that leaves me to find an alternative. Buying another lens is not an option – no similar lens is currently made for Pentax at this time. The Sigma 150mm lens may be coming in the future, but for now is only promised…
Well, the obvious alternative would be to use a 100mm macro lens plus a teleconverter, to simulate a true 200mm lens. SO earlier this week I tried just that – the Pentax SMC DFA 100mm f2.8 macro combined with a Kiron MC7 Teleconverter. It’s the only standard 2x converter I have on hand, and in my experience has been pretty good in terms of quality. However – there is never any guarantee that any teleconverter will work well with a particular lens. Sometimes a lens and teleconverter compliment each other, sometimes they don’t…
So – affixed to the 2x teleconverter the 100mm macro lens functions as a 200mm f5.6 macro. One nice bonus is that with the teleconverter the lens now focuses to 2x life sized. I had forgotten how much fun it is to get such high magnification – but, when I went out to the garden to experiment it all came back to me. Here’s a shot of a couple of mating Syrphid flies:
Here’s an actual pixel crop of their cute little faces – note the sexual dimorphism in the shape of their eyes. Also note the lacking acutance (sharp edges) in the image, largely due to the chromatic aberrations (color fringes). While this combo produces some decent resolution in images, the sharpness is lacking.
Another shot of the flies, along with another actual pixel shot:
Well… I took those shots on a gloomy afternoon and at a relatively slow shutter speed. They also were pretty high magnification – those little flies are only about 1/4th of an inch in length (~3 mm) and I was shooting well over 1x life-sized. I wondered if larger insects, better light, and lower magnification would produce better results…
So I went off to the Allegan Forest, to try again. It was cool and cloudy, but a little sun peaked through the clouds now and then. I found a sluggish four spotted skimmer and set it on a oak spring. It proved to be a very willing subject for a while – at least till it warmed up and flew off. Here’s the best shot I got of the Four Spotted Skimmer, plus an actual pixel shot of its eyes:
OK – not bad, better lighting obviously helps, but not great. The lack of acutance is confirmed. I moved on to another location an another alternative – the D-FA 100mm lens with the Pentax 1.7x autofocus adapter…
The 1.7x autofocus adapter is a curious beast. It is a 1.7x teleconverter, but links to the camera’s autofocus system. The camera can move the elements of the converter around enough to allow for some modest autofocus functionality. For my purposes, I don’t care about autofocus and I just turned it off. I then wandered into a familiar field and down to a small pond, looking for dragonflies.
Dot Tailed Whitefaces, Belted Whitefaces, and Frosted Whitefaces were all out in extreme abundance. After a while, I found this Dot Tail sitting on a sandy slope. The insect was pawing at the sand, I’m not sure why, and seemed quite unconcerned about me. So here’s a shot and the actual pixels:
Now… that’s what I’m talking about. The level of detail in the actual pixel shot is quite acceptable, possibly even rivaling the 200mm macro lens. You can see that the dragon’s right eye is damaged, and maybe that explains its distraction. This shot was taken at a little more than 1:1 life-sized, but I am very happy with the acutance, detail, and clarity.
Here’s another shot – not an odonate, but a Bee Hunter. Again – greater than 1x life-sized, and pretty good detail and clarity:
Well, I guess I have my alternative, and while I hope that the 200mm macro lens is repairable and comes back soon, if it doesn’t, that’s OK too…
I’m finally starting to run out of IR / HDR shots from my vacation last March - guess I should think about another trip somewhere…
Anyhow - some more shots of Chesapeake City. As I mentioned in my last post about this great little town, a massive bridge dominates the scene. Nonetheless, it is home to a very pleasant main street and lots of nice little shops. Here’s another photo of the main drag - Bohemia Street - on a warm March afternoon:
And here is an interesting building located downtown on the corner of Bohemia and 2896 - this is a glass works, I can’t remember the name:
And a couple of glimpses of the side streets:
And a parting shot of the bridge taken from the north side of the canal:
About a week ago I ventured out to the Pierce Creek Institute, partially to drop off a couple of prints that will be in an art exhibit celebrating their 10th anniversary, and partially just to hang out and get some dragonfly photos. Here are a few photos from that trip.
After weeks of cold, wet weather, things were finally sunny and getting hot. There were lots of large puddles and flooded areas, and the wetlands around the Institute were buzzing with dragonflies. As I drove down Cloverdale Road, the dragonflies filled the air, their bronze wings catching flashes of light as the buzzed around.
A few photos - first - the most prevalent early spring dragonfly around here, the White Faced Dot Tail:
And here are a couple of immature Common White Tails:
I’ll have a few more photos from that trip and last weekend’s trip to post yet. Unfortunately, my precious Pentax SMC A ’star’ 200mm macro lens began to malfunction in the field last weekend. Well, after 12 years of devoted service, and hundreds of thousands of photos, I can’t complain. But it is off to Pentax to hopefully be repaired. I may take that as a cue to step back from dragonflies and find some other way to pass the time, at over the next couple of months while the lens is repaired.
Here are more spring hepatica from 2009:
Ok - back to photos from my trip last March to Maryland and D.C. I’d better post these before I forget about them…
Chesapeake City was one of our last stops during our eastern shore tour of historic Maryland Towns. With somewhat narrow streets and mostly wood framed buildings, it was a bit quieter and less architecturally impressive than some other locales. But it more than made up for that with a really relaxed atmosphere and some really interesting stores. I even bought some stuff, which is pretty uncommon.
A bridge, which has Maryland Route 213 running over it, dominates the town. Per Wikipedia, the bridge is 500 feet tall. Needless to say, where ever you are in town, when you look up you see the bridge. (Well, unless you have your back to the bridge.) For being so big, it’s hard to get a clear shot of the bridge. Here’s my best effort from the downtown area:
And here’s a fine old home. Like I said, the bridge seems to dominate the place:
And again with the bridge:
Lastly - a snapshot of the downtown retail area. As you can see, it is a most pleasant and enjoyable place. At least, I found to be very enjoyable with some really nice shops:
As before - these are digital infrared shots, processed in Photomatix with other digital enhancements. A few more shots from Chesapeake City will be coming up…
Michigan’s cold and wet spring finally took a turn for the better today, with downright hot temperatures and sunny skies. So I slipped away for a bit and checked out the Mc Linden Nature Trails to see if any dragonflies were out.
The dragons were indeed out in the field - not as numerous as I expected, but given the cold temperatures I guess it is understandable. Here is the one shot I was able to get during my hour in the field - a Four Spotted Skimmer: