Cedar Gap Farm


Today being overcast for the most part this morning, we decided to go do a little clean-up around the Bird Blind at the SA State Park.  I worked the trimmer, Ann done a little weeding.  After that we put feed out, but there wasn’t action after that.  The birds weren’t interested in entertaining us, I guess.

Speaking of an entertaining adventure, you might want to consider a birding trip to Cedar Gap Farm.  To get there from San Angelo, take Hwy 67 north to Ballinger, Hwy 83 to Tascola.  Join Hwy 84, go north about 5 miles or so, watch for Hwy CR150.  I’m not entirely sure about that distance so watch the signs.  Turn right on CR150, then take a left on dirt road Hwy CR563 and follow the signs to Cedar Gap Farm.

There you will find the Bird House, a rather large building.  It is climate-controlled, seats probably up to 75  people if necessary, although the number never reaches that high, unless there is a special tour group or special occasion. Large windows surround the building for easy viewing.  It is open from dawn ’til dusk everyday.  There is no charge, but there is a donation box inside the door, if you care to contribute.

Juvenile Mississippi Kite

Juvenile Mississippi Kite

There is a variety of both western and eastern species that hang out there year round.  Eastern and Spotted Towhee, Scrub Jay,Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo, Painted, and Lazuli Buntings to name  just a few.  A nearby pond invites shorebirds.  There are also various trails looping through the Juniper and Mesquite to invite views of the vegetation and wildlife.

On a recent trip there I was fortunate to see a juvenile Mississippi Kite atop a

Mississippi Kite feeding young

Mississippi Kite feeding young

 utility pole.  He was crying for his mother who was circling high overhead.  Periodically it would swoop down to feed a little insect or tidbit.  I set up my tripod with my camera and 500mm super-tele lens.  I focused on the youngster, and waited for mama to begin her approach.  When she did, I rattled off several exposures at 6.5 frames per second, and got some nice images of lunch being served.  You can see those photographs here.

Cedar Gap Farm is owned by Homer and Earline Hutto.  Contact them at 325-572-4738 or 325-669-2879 or e-mail: cedargapfarm@aol.com.

By the way, Ann and I did see approximately 250 American White Pelicans at O. C. Fisher Lake today.  I hope they’ll hang around for awhile.

Happy Birding!!

See more photos at www.zellertexasphotos.com.

The Hummer House


Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

If you are thinking that this place is for a chorus that doesn’t know the words, you are wrong.  The Hummer House is a quaint bed and breakfast located at Christoval, Texas.  Well, actually it is about a mile outside of Christoval, which is about twenty miles south of San Angelo, Texas.

I spent part of the day there yesterday.  It is part of the Brown Ranch, owned by Dan and Cathy Brown.  It is aptly named for the proliferation of various Hummingbird species that reside there in season.  That would be from about mid-March until late September.  Dan and Cathy put out a couple dozen hummingbird feeders. and the hummingbirds return each year to this refuge.  Also other bird species and wildlife abound there.  Deer and wild turkey are regular visitors every evening. 

There is a bird viewing room that measures about 25 feet long with a large

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

window over-looking the feeders and a small pond.  It will seat about 40 people, either spectators that like to watch, or photographers.  I am one of the latter and this is one of my favorite places to spend time with my cameras.

The viewing area is open to the public, for a small fee.  Guests of the bed and breakfast can use it at no charge.  But you must call ahead or you won’t able to get through the gate.  Because of the popularity of the place, Dan and Cathy were forced to lock the gate and put a key-pad on it.  When you make your reservation to visit the viewing area, they will furnish you  the number.

The guest quarters consist of three separate cottages.  The Hummer House that accomodates 4-6 adults, The Lodge for 8-10 adults, and The Hideway, a romantic little place for 1-2 guests.  All are luxurously appointed and stocked with basic cooking ingredients, breakfast foods, fresh fruit, etc.  My wife, Ann, and I stay there 2-3 times a year.

Because of the high population of hummingbirds and other species, it is a popular place for the people that do bird-banding.  Literally thousands of birds are banded there every year.  Bird-banding is done to keep up with the immigration habits of different bird species.

So for a great birding experience, in the air-conditioned comfort of this wonderful place, check it out.

Happy Birding!!

See more photos at www.zellertexasphotos.com

Need Help on Breeding Robins


American Robin

American Robin

Terry Maxwell asked me to pass this on.  He needs to know of any other towns (other than San Angelo) in our region that hosts breeding American Robins in late spring and summer, i.e.  Ballinger, Eden, Grape Creek, Mertzon, Eldorado, Robert Lee, Bronte, Sterling City.   Let’s hear from some of you on this.   You may e-mail Terry at toucantoad@yahoo.com.

On another subject, I said in my State Park blog that Gary Lindahl and I saw a Purple Finch.  I was a little uneasy about that, so I e-mailed photos to Mark Lockwood,  secretary of birds records at the Texas Ornothological Society.  He said that it was an “over-pigmented” House Finch.  To expand on that, he also said that the House Finchs’ upper mandible was slightly curved, whereas the Purple Finch upper mandible was straight.   A useful lesson for me.

Happy Birding!!

More photos at www.zellertexasphotos.com

San Angelo State Park


Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Since I do a large percent of my birding and photography at San Angelo State Park, I feel compelled to tell a little bit about it.  I imagine a large percentage of you readers have never heard of it, let alone visit it.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

It was created in 1952 when O. C. Fisher Dam and Reservoir were completed for flood control.  In 1995 it was officially opened as San Angelo State Park.  It is comprised of 7,677 acres, mostly undeveloped land.  But the developed part is a gem. 

IMG_4660_blog_sasp

Picnic site

There you can find wildlife of all types, white-tailed deer,  rattlesnake, javelina, bobcat, porcupine, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, and many more than I have space to list.  There is a herd of bison, and part of the Official Texas State Longhorn Herd  resides there. 

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Did I mention that there many types of birds in the park.  There are 356 species of birds in the Concho Valley and you can see most of them in the park at various times of the year.

Also available are many campsites, some dry camps, other full-featured hook-ups.  Picnic tables abound for the day-trippers.  Air-conditioned cabins are for rent for visitors who don’t happen to own an RV or other camping gear.

Air-conditioned Cabin

Air-conditioned Cabin

Kurt Kemp and his staff do a wonderful and efficient job of maintaining the numerous areas of the park.  At the South Entrance gate-house you can find maps, souvenirs, and get park information.

Plans for the future include additional bird-blinds for the birding enthusiast and bird photographers.  An amphitheater is under construction, and when completed, it will be available for outdoor events, including weddings.

So all in all, I would say that the future of San Angelo State Park looks rosy indeed.  Now if only we could get a little more rain on the North Concho River water-shed, the level of the lake would rise.  Then we could make use of the many boat ramps that are currently hundreds of yards from the shoreline.  At that time, boating can truly be added to the already long list of activities for park visitors.

In birding news, I and Gary Lindahl, saw our first Purple Finch this morning.

Happy Birding!!

For more photos visit www.zellertesasphotos.com

American White Pelicans


We saw about twenty of these beautiful birds at O. C. Fisher Lake in San Anglo State Park yesterday.  They were on a little spit of sand a few yards off

American White Pelicans and friends

American White Pelicans and friends

shore.  We went out there this morning and they were still there, although they had moved to the shore.  When they arrive it is a beautiful sight to be hold.  They come gliding over in a swirling vortex, then gliding in to land.

I have a photo that I took earlier in the year that is shown here.  The three pelicans are accompanied by a few Ring-billed Gulls.  A little side note to this photo.  I had set my 500mm on a tripod and when I was sighting through the viewfinder on my camera, I heard, or felt a ruckus behind me.  Ann had been standing nearby and a bobcat came charging through, chasing a jackrabbit.  It came within about three feet of Ann, nearly knocking her down.  I’m glad that it was after the rabbit, as I don’t believe that it noticed us.

While on the subject of these birds, this photo is of a Brown Pelican.  They are rarely seen in this area.  But I guess this one got off course and ended up down in Eldorado, at the water treatment ponds.  Our good friends, Suzanne and Sid Johnson, called us about them and we high-tailed it down there so as

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

 not to miss the photo oportunity.  It stayed around for several days before heading for, I presume, the coast.  Those ponds are getting to be a mecca for unusual birds showing up

If you are interested in birding at the Eldorado water treatment ponds, the easiest way from San Angelo is to go south on Hiway 277 into Eldorado, turn left at the light (Hwy 190), go several blocks to East St.  Turn left, go about a half mile or so, turn right on the gravel road just this side of a Gray colored metal building.  Follow that road through two open gates, then bear to the right and drive to the ponds.  They are open daily to the public, from 8 ’til 5.  A wide variety of species can be seen there.

Also today, we returned to the spillway at Lake Nasworthy Dam.  We searched fo the Ringed Kingfisher.  Alas, I believe it has finally moved on.  But we saw some more Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Spotted Sandpipers, and a Green Heron. 

That’s it for today.

Happy Birding!

For more photos visit www.zellertexasphotos.com

Birding at Lake Nasworthy Dam


Ann and I went out again yesterday to see if the Ringed Kingfisher was still there at the Lake Nasworthy Dam   She was, but only briefly, as she left hiding to fly downstream.  We discovered that this place is a really great place for birding.  We saw a Great Blue Heron fishing.  Also a Green Heron, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and a Killdeer.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

There were probably many more species in the trees and reeds, but I got involved in photographing the Great Blue Heron and the Green Heron.  Here some shots for you to see.

To get to this area, drive south on Knickerbocker Road, go past Bentwood Country Club, turn left at the bottom of the hill onto Beatty Road.  Follow it as far as it goes, follow the curve around to the right.  You will see a dirt road

The Catch of The Day

The Catch of The Day

branch off to the left.  That will lead you down around to the base of the dam.  Drive as close to the dam as possible.  After you get out of the car, walk towards the dam.  You will see some more shallow little pools of water among the boulders. 

Green Heron

Green Heron

Have binoculars and/or spotting scopes.  Watch the reeds across the river, look in the pools, and especially look carefully at the dam itself.  You may see different species of shorebirds or others, either along the bottom of the dam, or sitting up in hidden spaces, or on the rails above.  This is one place that I am going to add to my favorite hot spots list.  Please let me now what some of your favorite hot spots are, and I’ll mention them here.

In other news, I’ve heard that there are tentative plans for building an additional bird blind at the San Angelo State Park.  That will be nice for all the birders that frequent that place.  The water is way down at the lake.   It only gained a little over 3 inches from the rains, and that will probably be gone again soon.  The eleven or so American Avocets are still out there.

Happy Birding!

More photos at www.zellertexasphotos.com.

Ringed Kingfisher


Yesterday after Terry Maxwell notified me of the female Ringed Kingfisher at the Lake Nasworthy Dam, Ann and I loaded up and headed out there.  As we drove down to the bottom of the spillway, we watched for it, as we really didn’t know exactly where it would be.  After we parked the van, I started scanning the reeds and the small trees along both banks of the river, to me the logical place to look.  Ann, on the other hand, aimed her binoculars at the dam itself, and immediately spotted it high up on top, sitting on a rail.  She got my attention, but by then, it had flown down and disappeared.  I missed it, didn’t see it. 

Somewhat disappointed I returned to the van, got my tripod and camera out.  I attached my 500mm lens with a 1.4x converter, then hiked down over the rocks, to get as close to the dam as possible, but not so close that

Ringed Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

I would be looking straight up.  I ended up being probably about 100 yards away from the base of the dam itself.  I didn’t know what would happen, but after a few minutes, the kingfisher did return.  She was high up again, sitting on the rail again.  The photo you see here is one of the images I captured.  I estimated that the actual shooting distance was somewhere around 150 yards.

I might add that during this time, Jerry Rosenband, the man that originally sighted the bird, showed up with his spotting scope.  He is a friend of Terry Maxwell, and of course, he initially notified Terry, who in turn, notified me, knowing that I would jump at the chance for a photograph.  So I am grateful to both of them.  Terry reports that this is only the seventh time that the Ringed Kingfisher has been sighted in the Concho Valley.  Terry Richmond of San Angelo Birding passed this information to me.

I hope you enjoy the photograph.  In the original, the bird takes up just a tiny portion, a very tiny image.  I cropped the RAW image in Photoshop Elements, and sharpened it up a bit using Nik ProSharpener.  Shooting in the RAW format, I am able to obtain quite a bit more detail, especially in the shadows. 

Well, I’m heading back out there again this morning, to see if I can get some more shots.

Happy Birding!!

Here Come the Avocets


After a few nice days of rain, great weather is here again.  Ann and I were glad to see it.  We finally got to go out to the San Angelo State Park for a little birding.  We found that there had been a tiny bit of run-off into the lake, as there was a little more water in some of the pools.. 

American Avocets

American Avocets

That was when we spotted the American Avocets.  There were about eleven of them.  Too far away for a good photograph, but we were able to spot them with our spotting scopes.   The photo at left is one I got last year.  The ones we saw today were all non-breeding adults, as is the one in the foreground of the picture, I believe.  Along with the Avocets were two Black-necked Stilts.  I love these delicate-looking little shore-birds.  They look so fragile on their straw-like legs.  There also were some Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, several Great Blue Herons, and a Cormorant or two.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

After looking at the shore-birds we folded our scopes and headed for the bird blind.  There was not much activity for awhile, but our patience was rewarded when a Yellow Warbler flew in.  I was able to get nice photograph that you can see here.  I used my Canon  40D with my 100-400mm zoom lens attached to it.  As I said before, it is one of my favorite lens for bird photography.  With the closeness we are able to get while in the blind, usually it is not necessary to use my 500mm.

After leaving the blind, we just drove around a bit, to just enjoy being out of doors.  We spotted a Greater Roadrunner in the top of a small tree near the only working boat ramp.  A fisherman was unloading his gear and spooked it, so it was gone before I could get a shot.

We came back by the Prairie Dog village and noted that there were four ‘dogs’ visible.  Hope they make a comeback.  We then drove up that “new” old road that they recently re-opened, and spotted a Red-tailed Hawk just as he flew from the top of a tree.  I got a couple of shots, but they were nothing to write home about.  Ann thinks different.  She is my critic, you know.  Maybe you’ll be seeing one of the shots here in the future.

I am hoping to put a gallery page here to show off more of my photos.  I have a link to my web-site, but I thought it may be more convenient to you readers to have a quick gallery here on the blog.  Stay tuned on that…….

Let me hear from you.  Just click on “Leave a Comment’ at the beginning of this post.

Happy Birding!

Uneventful Weekend


Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

It was a wet, but welcome, rainy weekend, so Ann and I stayed in for the most part.  Watched TV, etc, the usual weekend sitting around stuff.

However, we eat breakfast out pretty regularly, so we did notice something of  interest.  For the past several mornings we have seen, at the intersection of Johnson St., and Sherwood Way, a Common Nighthawk sitting on a utility line.  We have been seeing it at about 7:00AM each morning.

They are easy to recognize  because of their profile.  They don’t sit or perch like a normal bird, but rest parallel to the branch.   Ann and I saw our first nighthawk a couple of years ago, after Terry Richmond talked us into birding with her monthly group at San Angelo State Park.  When she first pointed it out, I had a hard time seeing it, simply because I didn’t know what I was looking at.  Now when we make trips to the park, we always watch for those long, level tree branches where they like to sit.  The image pictured above, is one that I photographed there.

During the hot summer, we also found one on the ground, out near the Prairie Dog village.  I was walking around looking carefully, because I had been told that one had been seen in the area.  Because they have that camoflage pattern, I nearly stepped on it.  I carefully stepped away and was fortunate to get several close-up photographs.  It appeared to be almost asleep and I do not know if it was on an egg.  After getting my images I left it in peace.

For you photographers out there, my favorite combination for shooting such photos is a Canon 40D.  I own two.  I use a Canon 100-400mm L series tele lens most of the time.  It is more portable, and of course with the zoom, it is ideal  for composing the shot.  I can use it from the mini-van easily.  I also use a Canon 500mm f4 L series super telephoto, and most of the time with a 1.4x converter attached.  Difficult to hand-hold but I have done it when needed.  But I get best results with it if I have time to set-up a tripod.  I use a Manfrotto-Bogen tripod and a Wimberly II gimbel head. 

Having said that, I must describe an experience of trying to photograph an American Kestrel.  We were cruising slowly through the San Angelo State Park.  We spotted this Kestrel in the top of a tree.  I slowed to a stop and tried to get a shot, but before I could get it in focus it flew off.  Now that rascal must have known what I was after, because he kept teasing me.  He would let me stop the van, just long enough for me to raise the camera, then he gleefully would take off again.  Finally, after an exhausting “chase”,  I finally decided I had better try to get a shot from a longer distance.  I put the “beast” (my 500mm lens) on the camera, then attached a 1.4x converter.  That game me an extra 200mm of focal length.  Not much, but it was enough.  I maneuvered the van into position and managed to hand-hold the camera long enough through the window.   I came away with an awesome image of the American Kestrel, on a branch, showing off with all of his colorful tail feathers spread out.  The image can be seen in my gallery at www.zellertexasphotos.com.

Again, thanks to all who have commented.  It’s good to know that people are reading my “stuff”.  And, by the way, most of my writing is of course, about the local area.  I know that a lot of my readers are from other far-flung places, so I welcome you here and hope to hear from you.

Happy Birding!!

Birding Rained Out


Wet Eastern Wood Pewee

Wet Eastern Wood Pewee

No birding today.  But heck, we can always use the rain.  I have 3 inches in my gauge for the last 72 hours.  The Eastern Wood Pewee, pictured here, by the way, is not caught in the rain.  He is sitting under the mister at the Dan Brown’s Hummer House, down in Christoval, Texas.  That’s another one of my favorite birding sites.

I want to thank everyone that responded to my first post yesterday.  What a great start.  I appreciate everyone’s comments.  I even learned a few things.  For example, I was not aware that the Heron rookery did not exist anymore off Catalina Dr near O.C, Fisher dam.  Sharon Camfield informed me of that.  So I guess this will be a good forum for publishing such news from the local birding community.

Another idea I have, if anyone has a photo of a bird they can’t ID, e-mail it to me, I will put it here, and maybe one our experts can be of help.  That would be an educational experience, for me anyway.  I am quite a novice birder as Terry Maxwell can attest.  I quite often query him about bird IDs.  But not without a few embarrasing moments.  I once sent him a photo of this mysteriously blackish bird.  He told me that it was just a wet Northern Mockingbird.

Birding is quite a learning process.  Every time I get a nice photograph, if it is not a common bird that I know, I now dig into my books more.  My favorie is the Sibley’s guide.  But I have a few other assorted books, too.  Another one I like is the Birds of North America, published by the American Museum of Natural History.  It is a real tome, 744 pages, and weighs about ten pounds.  Definitely not a pocket guide.

Before I forget, I have just produced a DVD of about 80 of my bird photographs, set to music.  It runs about 15 minutes.  I am pretty proud of it and it is being well received around the country.  An optometrist in Knoxville, TN plays it in his waiting room for his patients.  Another restaurant loops it on a large screen TV for the customers.  The music is a nice background and helps the overall viewing experience.  They go for 10.00 each.  I’ll pay the taxes and any postage fees if I mail them.  If anyone is interested just let me know at: bobzeller1@aol.com

‘Til the next time, Happy Birding,

Bob Zeller

www.zellertexasphotos.com