Sunday, March 25, 2012

Muskrats of The Vermilon River. A Post To MWT and WBW

I'm posting the foggy scenes again to show the conditions on the River, which is the effect of this unusually quick thaw. Remember all the photos are reduced, so read the copy and click on any photo to enlarge and watch the slide show.

The fog takes until noon time to clear, as you can see from this photo.

You can also see the fog lingering in the ridge area in the back ground.

The thaw brings out the near hibernators such as the beaver, and the muskrat pictured opposite.Otherwise all these guys are mainly nocturnal, but the spring brings them out in search of food. The muskrat will hole up in bad winter weather with a food hoard, but move around in good winter weather. Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents, but not rats.

Their fur has two layers, and  is medium brown in colour. The two layers insulate them against cold. Their tail is covered in scales for the same purpose. They are able to stay under water for 12 to 17 minutes, and close their ears to prevent water penetration. Exceptional swimmers, their tail is used for propulsion.

They are territorial and will fight to protect it. In fast moving rivers, they live in dens in the banks, and in wetlands in lodges.

They are nocturnal creatures and feed on aquatic weeds , but are omnivorous as they also feed on turtles, frogs and small fish, or crayfish.

.They in turn are preyed upon by all the wild canines such as wolves,or coyotes, in addition to wild mink,or fishers. So many enemies means that nature has made them like the red Squirrel, prolific. They have 2-3 litters per year.

 Mature animals weigh about 1.5kg and are 40 to 60cm (16 to 24 inches) in length.
All the information came from Wikipedia, and Nature.ca:Canadian Museum of Natural History.

The river is in flood now and most of the local ice is gone, although the weather has become more seasonably cold, say 10C or 40F. I'm not so happy with the quick thaw as the four legged critters will be harder to find as they move to their nocturnal hunting.

I put this photo of the beaver in so you could see the obvious differences with the muskrat

Since this is a post to WBW, I thought I'd post some token birds. Also Dave had asked me to post some comments about the Sigma 150-500mm lens, and this is a good area to do it it. All of the the muskrat shots above were made with the Sigma lens. I have a Nikon camera, but I'm not brand loyal,so if the Canon had been available for the same price I would have bought it. I use a Nikon D3000, a starter DSLR. All my money went into the lens set up. I started off with a Nikon70-300mm, and added a Nikon 18-55mm as soon as I started to shoot wildflowers, insects, scenes, and trees. Its usual in camera lingo to relate to a 35mm camera so unless you have a full frame you multiply the lens lenght by 1.5 to see how it acts in in a 35mm situation. For instance my 70-300mm is in 35mm camera terms a 450mm lens (1.5 x300=450)

I really became frustrated when the 70-300mm failed to have the reach for wildlife, especially four legged critters. I found this out when I missed a coyote pack, simply because I was too far away. Nikon in its infinite wisdom does not make an extender for the 70-300 mm. So I started looking around at the same time that the Sigma 150-500 came on sale. So I tried it out, and bought it. Before I go any further let me remind you of the area in which I hike,because that's important in any choices that I make in equipment.

It's a wilderness. There are no rangers, and usually no one else for that matter. The wildlife is not habituated. And some of the animals you don't want to be near.  The trails are abandoned railway lines, railway maintenance roads, mining roads and snowmobile trails, and are not groomed, nor do they go where you want them to. The forest has a heavy underbrush, so short cuts are impossible. The ridges are high, and the weight you carry is important. It's the rocky Canadian shield and setting up tripods, or playing with unipods is almost impossible. The subject is gone, the moment you make a noise. So you're going to be hand shooting. It's cold and snowy in the winter, and warm and buggy in the spring, so you're carrying water, seasonal clothing, and personal safety gear.

Added weight is exactly what you don't want. On the positive side, I don't have to drive to it since I'm already there. So now back to lenses.The Sigma weighs 1.91kg or 4.2 lbs. So a major disadvantage is the weight. The 70-300mm weighs 745g.The Sigma 150-500mm lens is an f 5-6.3 lens, so it loves bright light. In grey light, its slow and sometimes useless. If you go to the bottom of the this post, you'll find a red squirrel. The lighting was just the same for that shot as in the first scene above,but the squirrel was in a dark cedar. It was just too dark for the Sigma, but the Nikon performed OK, because its a f 4.5-5.6.

Would I give it up? Absolutely not, it has the reach I need. In fact I'm just debating whether to get the 1.4x, or the 2.5x extender to use in one of the wetlands which is the size of a small lake. In bright light it produces sharp images every bit as good as anything in the field. Its configured for all brands, adapting readily to the non-shake technology of all brands. How do I carry it the lens? Cradled in my right arm

And suspended on a chest carrying case, which although somewhat unorthodox works. Maybe next year I'll add a cotton carrier case which would work also.Hope that answers your questions. YOU SHOULD SEE THE COMMENTS BELOW FOR MY ANSWER TO SOME OF THE QUERIES!!
Since this post is so long I'll just caption the remaining photos. Opposite are a male and female Hooded Merganser, as are the ducks above. The series started off with a Common Grackle. Of course you recognize the Geese.

Ring-billed Gull In Flight.

Male Downy

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow.

76 comments:

  1. love the shots of the muskrats on their haunches. too cute! i use a sigma 150-500mm for the majority of my shots around the place, too.

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  2. What a beautiful wildlife around you. Fantastic photo's.
    gr. Marijke

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  3. Great post as always, love the birds and the squirrel.
    Thanks for writing about your lenses.
    I've a Sigma 70-300 mm, but I'm not to happy about it.
    Mette

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  4. I immediately thought of Toni Tennille when I saw the Muscrats. Fun images!

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  5. I love those photos and appreciate the discussion on cameras and lenses. I know that if I get serious about photographing wildlife I will need a bigger lens, so it's good to get some advice from people in the field. By the way I love that photo of the goose; the reeds in the foreground are very artistic.

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  6. Wonderful photo of the muskrats. I have never seen one in the wild so that was a treat.

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  7. Great post, Gary. Loved the muskrats!

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  8. Wow, those muskrats are neats. What a great sighting! I enjoyed your post and photos.

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  9. Loved the photos of the muskrat, I would comment about the discussion of the cameras and lens, but I haven't graduated to a DSLR and probably never will. I like my Kodak Z981 digital because it has everything I need for now.

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  10. Your muskrat photos are just wonderful! We are having a melt and warmer weather here in Breckenridge, too. It seems so strange.

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  11. I like your misty images of spring thaw and, of course, the muskrat. I've only once caught one out during the day. I understand the lens problem. My 100-300 is often too short and the 400 too heavy for me to carry while hiking unless I have a specific shot in mind that requires it and the hike will be short. If the picas return (they were absent last summer) I will hike the mile with the 400 up to the scree.

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    1. Weight is the problem of every wilderness hiker as you realize because of other things you have to carry. Of course age doesn't help either.If you disciver the fountaine of youth on your travels, send me some.

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  12. I've never seen a muskrat, so thank you for sharing those photos. Your other photos are fabulous, as usual. Take care!

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  13. Yes, I love the muskrats, too! Wonderful captures of the birds as always, Gary! And always a delight to visit your blog! Have a great week!

    Sylvia

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  14. Really enjoyed seeing your furry and feathered friends ... fun to see what is hiding in the fog!

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  15. we have Mergansers, but not that one. Love it.

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  16. I´m so impressed. How can you carry so much??? I hate to carry so much. I can´t use my tele without tripod, but you seem to manage it! I have only used my iPhone for a while now...love to just catch a moment in this easy way. I only use my professional camera in my studio now. But perhaps I´ll change in a couple of weeks.

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  17. Very interesting information and shots of the muskrat. I also found it interesting hearing about your camera set up. All of your shots are good as usual and I love the foggy icy scenes.

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  18. What an interesting little creature ... I'm sure we don't have muskrats here in Australia ... They remind me of something out of a story book.

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  19. Your pics are so beautiful! Especially the pics of the muskrat.
    Greetings from Germany,
    Imke

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  20. A much enjoyed journey. Thank you for your effort. Please have a wonderful Tuesday.

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  21. c'est superbe, bravo pour ce magnifique reportage animalier

    Publicity ;o) Every Friday (and the Weekend), The Challenge "Walk In The Street Photography"

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  22. Wonderful pictures of melting with fantastic light and color. I love them.

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  23. I always enjoy looking at your photos Gary :)

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  24. Lovely shots, you have such an abundance of wildlife there.

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  25. Great photos, and such interesting information. We had a muskrat close to a place we lived on a wetlands once many years ago, but I didn't know much about them!

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  26. The muskrat shots are amazing!

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  27. Great photos and a very interesting post as usual, Gary. I was very interested in your comments about the Sigma lens. I have a similar one but with the mount for my Pentax camera. I really like it as well but do find it a bit heavy. I did not take it my NZ trip - too much weight for the plane! I have a friend with one for his Canon camera and unfortunately it does not perform as well at the 500 range. I have read similar comments from other Canon users.

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  28. I think I had a dream about your muskrat, I am so impressed with the pics you take...it was interesting to learn about your gear...especially as I have gone through the same agony on lenses and understand now so much more about light and also having no time to put a tripod up. I just ended up with Canon as that is what we started out on.

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  29. Wow - you really do live in the wilderness! Fabulous shots of the birds and most of all, the muskrats, which I've never seen before.

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  30. Great journey... I have enjoyed it very much, Gary!
    and I loved the musket shots... we have them also over here...
    Greetings from Holland,
    Anna :-))

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  31. I really enjoyed this post - learnt a lot, and found your photos to be fascinating.

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  32. What an interesting wildlife you can watch ! I don't even see a squirrel, only cats and dogs !

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  33. I'm in the process of trying to work out which lens I'm going to get sometime in the near future. Nikon (as far as I am aware) don’t make converters for their zoom lenses because the apertures are too small. If you start with a smallish maximum aperture to start with, then add a converter your effective aperture is really small!

    What I wish they would do is produce a f2.8 300mm lens! Then you could use the converter! Well, we live in hope!

    Stewart M - Australia.

    PS: I have a old sigma 500 and basically stopped using it because of the light issue - I may have to try it out again with higher ISO settings. SM

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  34. @ Mick and Stewart: I think what I learned about shooting wildlife is this: You want lens reach so that you can splash the image across as many pixels as possible. This permits minimium loss when you enlarge the image. You want to focus on the eyes in wildlife shots as the eyes establish contact with the viewer. Shelley was right; the eyes are the key to the soul. Look at the squirrel, and what gets you first is the eyes. Similarly, the eyes and the nose and wiskers get you in the muskrat shots, and in the beaver shots. The eyes are even visible in the duck shots, and they're on the other side of the river. In lieu of eyes, get action. The geese are way up river but in the fog the skipping around is interesting. To do this you need the pixel splash which reach gives you for enlargement. Yes Stewart Nikon makes teleconverters for selected lenses, a 1.4x, a 1.7x, and a 2x. But not for the 70-300mm because there is not sufficient room in the lens to accomodate the teleconverter glass. I think the 70-300mm lens was a stop gap product because they didn't have the 80-400mm, comparable to the Canon equivalent ready for market in time.Just the feeling of an old marketer. The cost of the Nikon 80-400mm is 1629 Cdn here while the last price I saw for the Sigma 150-500mm is 1200 Cdn. Not the same lens, but the Sigma saving is substantial unless you know how to print money. As to the Canon feeling that the last 100mm is less sharp. I think that's just a myth. Sort of like the one you need to idle your car to warm up the oil in cold climates. You use a multigrade oil in cold climates ,a 5W30, which act like light oil in the cold and a heavy oil in the warmer months.I expect the images that these guys wanted was beyond their reach. Also remember reviews are suspect because the camera companies support the mags with ads. The real test is to deal with a legit camera store who wants your return business. They'll let you use the lens on your camera. In my case, I set up the lost coyoto shot using a fire hydrant and paced off the distance. The image was sharp, The skipping geese is really beyond the lens except I felt the action and the fog eas neat. Now my disclaimer, I'm an amateur!!

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  35. Had to come back! Love the muskrat.
    My world!

    Mine eating voraciously!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECzawDdNT5w

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  36. Oh, the muskrat is cute! Excellent captures Gary! I love the Mergansers.

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  37. Nice pictures! A very good post!
    But, I think your Common Merganser is a Hooded Merganeser. It looks like one!
    Happy WBW!

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    1. I think you're right!! Too many commons I guess.

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  38. The muskrat is a wonderful looking little animal Gary.. many thanks for sharing it.
    The only one I have ever seen was Muskie in the Deputy Dawg cartoons... and that was in the 1960's lol.

    Wonderful images of all your great wildlife...

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    1. That's what comes from being so much younger than me. Although I know who deputy dawg was, I was too old for the comics by then. Gary.

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  39. Cute and interesting critters,beautiful fantasy-movie like scenery,great post!

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  40. I shot a video of a muskrat working on some reeds but your stills are much nicer. Was very interested in your lens review. I can see where the Sigma would work best for your needs - wide open spaces. Fortunately 90% of my long range photography is in a much closer range format so my Nikon 70-300VR works very well for me requirments. Lugging it for miles on trails using a monopod is managable. Anything bigger...well I'm hauling enough crap as it is - food, water, binoculars, video camera, stuff I might need but never use yet surely wish I had brought it when I find I left it back in the car. Good post. Continue to enjoy the great outdoors.

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    1. Gee I think you got that wrong. All the scenes show a dense forest behind the river, and my copy stated the trails are not for hikers, but RR Maintenance etc., and you hike reserves I hike a wilderness. The only open part is the river.

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  41. That poor old muskrat .. must be feeling cold. Some great reflection photos of him/her in the water.

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  42. I always enjoy your posts filled with so much info. Love the song sparrow and the male downy, such wonderful shots. Of course squirrels are always a favorite of mine and that one is a little cutie.

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  43. The Beaver is my favourite today!

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  44. Fantastic photos! Great capture of the muskrat!!

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  45. I love all the images...esp. the beaver.

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  46. Very interesting discussion of your camera equipment, and wonderful shots!

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  47. I fretted over buying the Canon version of the Sigma "Big Ma" glass your using (The 150-500mm) and the other classic choice in the less than $1500 range, the Canon 400mm prime 5.6, my eventual choice. Certainly both pieces of glass make tremendous pictures. The Sigma has that extra 100mm and is image stabilized, extremely important when your hand holding that long glass in the low light. Like all prime lenses the simpler 400mm is a wee bit faster and presumably sharper. I think I will rent Canons 500mm glass this summer just to see how different that would be. The point being, no mater how long your lens, there will always be something just out side its range. That is why, other than the camera, our feet are our most important photographic tool. No one starting out should underestimate the difficulty of getting detailed pictures in the natural world. Even with excellent entry level equipment ($2,000 or so) thousands of shots must be taken to learn the skills involved in taking pictures like you do. As you say, just walking in the wilderness is difficult enough!
    Thank you for your amazing blog, and your clear advice.
    You are still the best!

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    1. You're mixing up two concepts. The difference between a prime or telphoto lens and a zoom lens. The Sigma is a zoom lens, and is much more flexible in that it can be used at any lenghts between 150 and 500mm. In short for what is close and what is far. The prime, although somewhat faster, and maybe even sharper (?) only operates at 400mm.If the subject were close to you, you can't take the photo without changing lens to a smaller one. To duplicate the 150-500mm you'd have to buy at least two more lenses. Unless you have a money printing press, and want to carry more weight, I don't think so. Even for scenes,a zoom telephoto is more flexible as you can change perspectives in your photo, i.e. between foreground and background.I don't use the sigma for scenes at all; I do use the 70-300mm from time to time. If you look at the river photo with the large rock in front, I can change perspective by zooming down to enlarge it and give it prominence over the river/rock area, and change the look of the whole photo.Hope that explains it.

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  48. oh but that muskrat is so cute!! beautiful scene and great bird acptures!!!!

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  49. The lenses you use sure seem to work very well for you. Good information here!

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  50. Oh my gosh did you take all those pictures - they are gorgeous! And those muskrats - ew first - hey do look like rats - but I loved their little feet! sandie

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  51. Hi Gary, I love your muskrat shots! Such a funny animal! I think the shot of the red squirrel came out quite well, not too dark. I wouldn't use a teleconverter on the Sigma lens; you loose just too much light. Have you thought of adding exposure compensation? It's a quick way of adding (or subtracting) light without changing the ISO or shutter speed.

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    1. Hilke EC doesn't change the kind of light in the atmosphere, it just lets more of the same light into the sensors, so it has nothing to do with the lens. Changing to a higher ISO, the equivalent of using a faster film doesn't help the sigma much because it likes bright light. The squirrel was shot with the 70-300, which is a faster lens and you can change ISO with it, but changing ISO runs the risk of noise in the image, and that happens with the sigma. That was the whole point of mentioning the squirrel.

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  52. Lots of great info Gary - wildlife and cameras!

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  53. Gorgeous scenery! I love it. Enjoyed the muskrat and beaver photos...I've never seen them posted on a blog before.

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  54. Loved the photos! And, I appreciated the tutorial on the lenses...I am currently exploring for a better lens for wildlife...while I would love the 500mm lens, I don't think I could handle it (the weight or the price)...so this looks like a good possibility!

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  55. wow...great muskrat photos! I only get to see them swim across the water occasionally at the wetlands. We have to worry about them destroying the dam on our lake. Such nice bird photos, too. I don't seem to be seeing too many since coming back from Arizona. Need to get out there looking!

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  56. Excellent post, photos and text!!!
    Regards,

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  57. Thanks Gary

    The shots of the muskrat were great. You really captured all the features of the animal I loved the feet. You information on the animal was very good and your discussion of the lens will be very helpful as I want to save up for a longer lens.

    Regards
    Guy

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  58. I always enjoying seeing your beautiful area. The muskrat is a special sighting...aside from the lovely birds.

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  59. I love the photos of the muskrat. I've never seen one up close before. Interesting discussion of lenses also.

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  60. I like the fog....it adds a bit of mystery.

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  61. Thank you so much for the info about the lenses. I have just purchased the Nikkor 70-300mm and I'm quite happy with the result. I was considering the Sigma lens for a while but the weight was a factor, carrying a monopod is not always viable.

    Beautiful images...love the lifting fog, it adds so mush mystery to the place.

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  62. Great post. I know it took awhile to put it together..Loved the photos...Thank you

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  63. Thanks everyone for the visit. We hope that you enjoyed the muskrat,birds and the discussion about lenses. Boom & Gary.

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  64. Interesting post. Loved it all even the lens info. LOL MB

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  65. Thanks Gary -- I can only dream! (Of seeing a muskrat, of buying a new camera, of being talented.......). Thanks for sharing.

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