Home from the Big Bend

Blizzard in the Chisos

We’re finally back from the Big Bend country of southwest Texas.  After the blizzard in the Chisos Mountains on Tuesday, Wednesday was nearly back to normal.  The snow was gone from the desert, but quite a bit remained in the higher elevations of the Chisos.  We drove back into BB National Park, but didn’t go to the higher peaks.

We spent our time visiting Rio GrandeVillage RV park on the eastern side of

Western Bluebird

 the National Park.  It is along the Rio Grande river, and the birding was pretty good for this time of the year.  We saw Roadrunners, Vermillion Flycatchers, Ravens, and a good assortment of winter birds.  We visited the Hot Springs, where are several Cliff Swallow nests, but they un-inhabited right now.  From there we went to the ruins of the old Sam Neil ranch.  In amongst the trees there were Cardinals, Thrashers, and several tiny birds that were flitting around and I couldn’t identify.

Gray-headed Junco

On Thursday we left Lajitas and headed for Davis Mountains State Park, to stay there overnight.  Before we checked in we took the approximately 45 mile loop that circles around through the Davis Mountains.  It was quite chilly and there weren’t a lot of wildlife moving around, but there was still snow in the areas that the sun doesn’t reach a lot.

On Friday morning, before we left for the trip home, we visited the bird blind


 in the state park.  The first thing we saw as we were parking the car, was five Javelinas in the bird blind doing a little grazing.  We waited until they finished eating and moved back into the brush before we went in.  Javelinas have an unsavory reputation when it comes to meeting the public. 🙂  But after they left, we spotted Black-headed Grosbeaks, Dark-eyed Juncos, Pine Siskins.

Scaled Quail

Then it was time to leave for San Angelo.  But a fantastic time was had by all three of us.  Of course, we will probably be making plans soon for another venture to our favorite places in the beautiful Big Bend. The pictures here are a selection of some of my photographs from the approximately 600 images that I shot.  Check the man-shaped formation photo from Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Click on any image to see enlargement.

Man-shaped formation

Man-shaped formation - close-up


Big Bend trip update

Hi everyone.

A surprise awaited us upon our arrival at Lajitas..  When I made reservations, they had rooms for 149.00, which normally I wouldn’t spend that much, but they had a “stay-and-play” special, stay three nights and get fourth free.  So we decided on that and reserved two rooms at that rate.  However on arrival, they told us our rooms were no available as they had a very large tour group arrive.  I was at first dismayed until the clerk said we had been upgraded.  Our upgrade was to a luxury suite, that normally went for 599.00 per NIGHT.  Wow!!  No extra charge to us.  Talk about luxury.  2  bedroom, large living room, 3 baths, 3 fireplaces, 3 flat-screen  televisions and a full kitchen.  So needless to say we are enjoying ourselves immensly.

After checking in, we felt in need of margaitas and some food.  We were provided both at the Lajitss Candelilla Cafe restaurant.   Margaritas-on-the-rocks and plates of Fajitas.  Excellent food.

Yesterday, Monday, we decided to drive into the El Saucedo Ranch headquarters, located in Big Bend Ranch State Park.  The drive is 27 miles from the main highway. The temp was about 74 degrees.  The trip took us one hour and 50 minutes, over a very rough caliche road.  Our average speed was about 15-20 mph.   Very desolate, but interesting geology mountain formations.  We got a few photos of them.  Not very many birds along there, but spotted two more lifers.  A Black Phoebe, and a Verdin.  So that made that trek worth while.  However, it was an exhausting afternoon, with it being about 5 hours round trip.  If it weren’t for spotting those two birds, I don’t think it would heen worth the trip.  That park really needs more development yet.

Oh, I almost forgot.  We also saw 3 aoudads before entered the park.  Ann spotted them first.  I failed to get a good photograph as the scamper back into the brush pretty quickly.

This morning we awoke to rain.  Not sure what we wanted to do, we decided to just drive into the Big Bend National Park.  We hoped that regardless of the rain we might see something of interest.  We did, however not what we expected.  As we left Study Butte to enter the park it started snowing, that’s right, you heard me right, snowing.  We kept on going and by the time we got to Panther Junction headquarters, about 30 miled into the park, it was almost a blizzard.  Snow had accumulated to nearly 3 inches I would say.  And cold, about 30 degrees and windy.  I had wanted to get some nice winter pictures, but I didn’t expect to get them in the upper desert.  On the way back, after we got to lower altitudes again, the rain and snow had stopped and we saw some Gray-headed Juncos.  I will post some photographs here after we get back to San Angelo.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be back to sunny and upper 60s.  Go figure.  Watch for another update in a couple of days.

Happy birding!!

Off to the Big Bend

Today Ann, Jodie and I are off to the Big Bend country.  Our first destination is Lajitas where we will be staying on the Rio Grande River, just outside Big Bend National Park.  It is a resort I guess you would say.  It is not actually a city in itself.  Their actual address is Terlingua and the post office is in Study Butte.  That’s pronounced “Stoodie”.  

We will be between Big Bend National Park, and Big Bend Ranch State Park.  The roads into the State Park have been improved  so this trip we may get to go into the central part of it.  There is a volcanic cauldera there, but I think it is only accessible by horse or maybe 4-wheel dr.  We will see about that if or when we get there.  Also we make make a short hike into Slot Canyon.  It just off the highway 117, and leads to about a 400 foot drop-off to the Rio Grande.  We probably won’t make it that far into the canyon, because the further you get into, there comes a point you really need climbing gear.  I only hope I can get far enough to get some photographs.

We’re also looking forward to doing a little birding in both the Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Big Bend National Park.  However, we will probably be a bit early for the migration.  But still there are great possibilities there anyway to see the other birds that reside there permanently. 

By the way, Big Bend Ranch State Park, is relatively new and almost as large as the National Park, but not developed nearly as much.  It’s pretty desolate.  It is a very huge working ranch that donated to the State of Texas a few years ago.  It covers 300,000 acres, with elevations ranging from 2350 feet at the river to 5000 feet.  That’s about 293,000 acres larger than San Angelo State Park.  I will give a more complete description and more information in a future post.

The weather is nice today, but windy, and we will have about 320 miles to go.  I’ll try to write a post or two the next few days and tell you what we’ve been up to.

Happy Birding!!

A Big Mea Culpa

What a dumbkoff I am at times.  In my blog post yesterday “Photography as Art”, I commited a bad faux pax.  In my expounding on the work of Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, I failed to mention another great photographer who is dear to my heart.  How I could leave her out is beyond me.

She is Deb Tappan, one of the finest photographers of the National Parks of the country.  You only need to check her web-site, listed in my blog-roll to the right of this page.  Her images belong right up there with the fore-mentioned photographers.  In fact, her amazing black and photos rival those of the great Ansel Adams.

I have been with her on many photo shoots, and hope to do it again.  I am proud to say that she is my dearest and best friend.  I have as many works of hers on my walls as I do of my own.  So, Deb, you may give me 50 lashes with your camera strap. 🙂

Photography as Art

This question comes up quite frequently.  Is photography considered it art?  Well, heck, ya, why shouldn’t it be?  But you’d be surprised at how many people refuse to accept that we, as photographers, can create art.  Take, for example the original charter for the San Angelo Art Club.  It forbids photography for their gallery and shows.  For their credit, they do have an annual show called “Anything Goes, Almost”, where art in all genres is accepted. 

Mountains in The Mist

To be fair, most of their members today, I think do recognize some photography.  They are quite complimentary of my work.  I entered their Anything Goes show one year and I got lucky and won 1st place.  I was even invited to join, but I saw no future in being a member if I couldn’t show or hang my photographs in their gallery. 

To get back to the subject of this post, there have been some great photographers that are certainly artists in their own right.  Ansel Adams is one of the greatest.  His beautiful black and white photographs of Yosemite are priceless.  He truly was an artist in the darkroom.  He was able to adjust the light and tonality to produce awesome images.  But he was one to admit that most people today wouldn’t know what the original picture looked like before he performed such artistry.  Then there was Galen Rowell, who I call the modern day Ansel Adams, and who was phenomenal working with color.  Yosemite was also one of his favorite places.  Not only was he a great photographer, but a mountaineer.  Many of  his photos were accomplished while he was hanging down the side of Half-Dome or EL Capitan.   Unfortunately, he and his wife Barbara were killed in a plane crash August 11, 2002.  He is certainly missed.  Anyway, Adam’s and Rowell’s photographs are certainly works of art.

I consider my images works of art.  Even though I can create a picture faster

Great Egret

 than the average paint artist, (in about 1/400th of a second)  it doesn’t mean that I don’t put a lot of work and creativity into it.  The average person thinks that I just aim the camera, then print it.  Not so.  When I am trying to make good scenics, I sometimes check out the location in advance, without taking the camera out of the car.  I want to see where the best location for a good composition is.  I want to check out the light so I know when the best part of the day will work best.  Of course, with my wildlife photos, I don’t have that luxury.  I have to be prepared to shoot with seconds notice.  I usually have my camera pre-set for the given circumstances so I can be ready.

After taking the photographs, I invariably am not satisfied.  I load the images into my computer for editing.  I check out the lighting, make color adjustments.  Then I crop for the best composition.  All this used to be done in a chemical darkroom.  Only now I don’t get my hands dirty.  Now the pictures are ready to be printed, framed and hung.

Eastern Bluebird

Nearly every time I participate in an art show, some one will invariably ask “where did you take that picture.”   It may be a mountains scene, such as my photograph of the rain-shrouded mountains that I call “Mountains in The Mist”.  I would prefer they just accept it as nice picture of the mountains.  If a paint artist created a picture like it, the  person would never ask “where did you paint the picture”.  They would, and rightfully so,  just accept as a nice mountain painting. 

Speaking of creativity, I sometimes am asked by someone who says he/she is an artist, if  he/she can paint one of my pictures.  I am glad that they like my work, but on the other hand, if they claim to be artists, why do they want to copy someone elses creativity.  It is rude and also violates all copyright laws.  So I tell them they can do so if they will sign my name to it.   ’nuff said.

I have to tell this tale that is somewhat unrelated.  A lady that works for the Chamber of Commerce whom I won’t identify, once asked me for photos of birds that were found in the San Angelo area.  I showed her all of my photos and she was about to select a few.  She came across one of my images of a Greater Roadrunner.  She asked, (wait for it), “where did you take that picture?”  I told her that it was somewhere near Knickerbocker,  near San Angelo.  She said she couldn’t use it because it wasn’t in San Angelo.   In actuality, most of the pictures she had previously selected, were taken at San Angelo State Park, which is outside the city limits.  She ended up not using any of them, since probably I couldn’t be trusted. :-).

So a final thought.  If a person can take a bucket of paint and just throw it at a canvas and call it art;  if a person sticks a paint brush in the mouth of a trained seal so it can swish a brush around and call it art;  then I think I can call my photographs art.

Incidentally, the image “Mountains in The Mist” was photographed in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. 🙂

Click on the photos to see enlargements.

Happy Shooting!! (with camera) and Happy Birding!!

Happy Valentines Day

Great Horned Owl

Ann was still under the weather today, so I decided to do a little birding my own this morning.  To start with, in the tree next door I saw and three Inca Doves, one Northern Cardinal, one Bluejay, and three House Sparrows.  I then headed to the San Angelo State Park three miles away. 

I stopped at the bird blind and put out some sunflower seeds.  Boy, they

White-crowned Sparrow

 must have been hungry because inside of two minutes there was birds all over the place.  Upon leaving blind I drove back down the lane and something caught my attention to the left.  I stopped and saw a huge Great Horned Owl about eighty yards in the trees off to my left.  I picked up my Canon 7D, with my 500mm and 1.4 teleconverter and shot this picture from my van.  A little later in the morning I photographed a White-crowned Sparrow that I have pictured here.

Cruising on around the park, I saw a Kildeer, an American Kestrel, a Rock Wren, and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker.  Coming back to the house, back in the tree next door, I spotted what I am certain was a Brewers Blackbird.  I was home in time to catch the Great American Race, the Daytona 500.  Hey, did you think that all I do is go birding?? :’)

Click on the photos to see and enlargement.

More photos at www.zellertexasphotos.com

Happy Birding!!

February Park Birding Tour

Well, today I conducted my first birding tour, and it was a resounding success.  I had a group eight participants.  The weather was cold and windy, but with sunny skies it started to warm a bit by the time we finished.  Ann was unable to join us as she is coming down with a cold, she thinks.  With the cold temps she didn’t want to take a chance on infecting anyone.

The people that joined me were Suzanne and Sid Johnson, Mike and Diane Coleman, Jackie Willis, Mary Creel, and a couple of very friendly tourists Paul and Joan Von Hardenberg from Connecticut, that were staying at the park.  It was fun visiting with all of them.  I hope to have a few more participants next month.

We were all avid birders, an it brings to mind a quote that was sent to me by Gary Lindahl  “There is a fine line between  hobby and mental illness.”

Sue Oliver, who didn’t attend as she had to work,  gave me a correction of her life list.  I had said that it was about 325.  Actually her list totals 361 with 307 of them all in the Concho Valley.

Happy Birding!!

Finally an Anhinga

Well, finally, after several days of searching in all kinds of weather, we spotted an Anhinga.  It has been hanging around since the 24th of January, so I guess it has found a home here along the Concho River.  When we found it yesterday, it was across the river in a tree about 100 yards away.  It was late and the light was waning, but the Canon 7D with my 500mm lens performed as advertised.

I have two of the photos here, along with images of a Prairie Falcon, and a Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.  All photographs were taken yesterday.  The Prairie Falcon is uncommon for this area.  It and the Anhinga were both “lifers” for me.

Click on any photo to view an enlargement.



Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Black-crown Night Heron - juvenile

Photo editing

It’s cold and blustery this morning.  About  35 degrees with a wind chill of about 25.  So I have been sitting at my computer editing some of my photographs.  At the present I have been using Photoshop Elements as my editing software.  However, I have Photoshop CS4 on order and will have it in a few days.  I just want to emphasize  the importance of photo editing.  You can take what you may think is a badly exposed or badly composed image and make something of them.  I have a couple of examples here. 

First is the Sharp-shinned Hawk I photographed a few days ago, and posted it on my previous post.  When I took the original photo, I was sitting in the blind with my Canon 7D with a 100-400mm tele-zoom.  The hawk flew in and settled in the tree for a minute or two, about 15 yards away.  Because of the tree branches and a bird feeder limiting  my view I used spot focusing.  I had just enough room through the obstructions to get my center focus point on the eyes.  That’s important.  Get the eyes sharp and everything else falls into place.  If you don’t the picture is a bust.  But anyway, the intruding tree branches nearly threw the metered esposure off a bit.  The resulting original shows the hawk almost as a shadow.  But using my editing software I able to brighten it up, increase contrast,  then I cropped it close.  You can see the results below.  The “before and after”.

Sharp-shined hawk un-edited

Sharp-shinned Hawk - cropped and edited

The other photo is of a Black-crowned Night Heron.  I was down town on the River Drive.  Ann and I spotted him across on the other side of the river, about 75 yards away.   I got out of the van with my Canon 7D and my 500mm super telephoto.  In this case the camera done it’s usual great job, and very little editing was needed.  I just cropped it to improve the composition.  You can also see those “before and after pictures here.

Black-crown Night Heron - un-edited

Black-crowned Night Heron - edited

Of course, it is always nice to be close enough so you can compose full frame, and not have to crop, or not have to edit anything.  My Canon 7D comes the closest to getting a perfect exposure more than any camera I have ever owned.  It usually nails the exposure near perfect.  (No, Canon doesn’t pay me anything for pushing there equipment). 🙂

You can click on any photo to see an enlarged image.  Enjoy.

Happy birding and photographing!!

more photos at www.zellertexasphotos.com.

Super Bowl weekend photos

Merlin on utility pole.

Dismal weather doesn’t hold me back.  We were in and out of the house, just hanging out and driving around.  Friday morning on the way home from breakfast we spotted a Merlin high up on a power pole.  I checked and it is a prairie sub-species.  Later we drove downtown along the river with Jodie Wolslager and saw several Hooded Mergansers again.  This time I got a photo of a female, with the familiar red Don King hairdo.  Also saw a female Belted Kingfisher, and a Ringed Kingfisher.

Yesterday morning, Ann and I went to the bird blind at the state park to

Wstern Meadowlark

check on the feed supply and ran into a couple of new-comers to San Angelo.  They are Mike and Diane Coleman, who have moved here from Fallon, Nevada, and birding is one of their hobbies.  We then drove through the park for a bit and saw some beautiful Western Meadowlarks plus some other interesting sights.  We saw a Northerh Harrier soaring near the lake, apparently hunting prey, and saw another Harrier sitting on a large rock near the shore of the lake, chowing down on a large fish.

I am going to put some photos here.  The weather, for the most part, was damp and chilly so a few of the photos were taken from the car. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk was photographed at park’s bird blind.  It flew in, scaring the crap out of all of the other birds, and landed in a smaller tree.  At the time I had my Canon 7D with my 100-400mm zoom lens in myhands.  For the shot my vision was limited by a tree, but I had just enough room to place my center focus point on the hawk and came up with a good enough image to be able to identify it.

The Great Blue Heron, with it’s breeding plumage was high up on a lamp pole

Great Blue Heron

 along the Concho River downtown.  For that photo I got out of the van.  I sought out a vantage point fron behind some trees and hand-held my 7D with my 500mm lens.  I then had Ann help me get up off the ground so I wouldn’t fall into the river.  It’s hell to get old. 🙂

The Roadrunner was photographed from the window of the van as we were driving around the park.  He had just caught what looked like a large grasshopper.  The Western Meadowlark was in a tree nearby also.  So enjoy the photos.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Belted Kingfisher - female

Happy Birding!!

Hooded Merganser - female

Greater Roadrunner

Northern Mockingbird