American White Pelicans Returning

I went out to O. C. Fisher Dam and lake to check on the water fowl that have been returning.  The first thing that caught my eye was several American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) nearly out in the middle of the lake.  We spotted them from the top of the boat ramp, (that is 50 yards from the water).  I got my 500mm out of the van, Ann carried my tripod, and we hiked down the shoreline so I could get a little closer shot.  What was funny, but really not that unusual, was a Great Blue Heron standing amongst them. 

American White Pelicans plus a friend

Yes, I said standing out there in the middle of O. C. Fisher, in about eight inches of water.  That gives you an indication what the drought is doing to this area.  It is a shame how such a little amount of water remains.  There is not a single boat ramp available anymore.  Some ramps are nearly a quarter-mile from the water.  But I was still a good five hundred yards from the birds, so I attached my 1.4 tele-converter to make the shot.


But it does make a good area for the wading birds.  We also saw many Americn Avocets, various sandpipers, egrets, herons.  I did photograph  another lifer, number 213, but who’s counting.  🙂  It was a Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), a bird thats a little rare around here.

Well, ’till the next time,  Happy Birding!!

Blue Jays and More

We have had several Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) hanging around our neighborhood lately.  For a while I thought it was the Northern Mockingbird that loves to tease me in my backyard.  They, the jays, can sure cause a ruckus, though.  I finally got a photo in my back yard.  The first one below.   

Blue Jay

This Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) was photographed at the Cedar Gap Farm wild bird viewing area.  It is a little north of Tuscola, Texas.  For some reason or other, we in San Angelo, don’t see many scrub jays.   

Western Scrub Jay

The Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina)  is indigenous in the United States only to the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.  It, like the scrub jay, does not have the familiar crest  A good spot to find them is the Lost Mine Trail there.  That is where I made this photograph several years when I was still shooting on film.   

Mexican Jay

Speaking of Big Bend National Park, Ann, Jodie, and I are leaving Sunday morning for that area.  Our first stop is Marfa, Texas where we hope to see the mysterious Marfa Lights.  Quite a phenomena that no one can explain.  While there we may be able to make a quick run about 20 miles north of there and catch some birds at the Davis Mountains State Park.   

On Monday morning we will head for Lajitas, but will  take a long route down through Pinto Canyon, up around Chinati Peak to the little village of Ruidosa.  Population about 50.  From there we will head back eastward to Presidio, then down the spectacular river road along the Rio Grande, and into the resort of Lajitas.  We will be spending four nights there, using it as a base for daytrips to Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Big Bend National Park.  I hope to come home with some great photographs.

Black Vulture re-visited

When I wrote yesterday’s post I did not have an image of a Black Vulture.  Well, lo and behold, this morning when out for a drive, what did I spot in a tree.  You guessed it, a Black Vulture.  The ensuing photograph is posted here for your enjoyment.  Am I lucky or what??  🙂

Black Vulture

In other news, also while out there cruising near O. C. fisher lake I picked up another lifer, A Marbled Godwit  (Limosa fedoa)  wading near the shore.  Then at the bird blind, yet another lifer, a Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla).

I have no images of either the Marbled Godwit or the Nashville Warbler.  But perhaps I’ll get lucky soon on getting those.

Happy Birding!!!

Vultures Over West Texas

We, who live out here in west Texas, know who they are and where they live.  They are there in the skies, on the ground, and nesting in the trees.  Most of all they are most familiar when they are eating at their favorite fast food place, the “Carrion Carryout”, aka your nearby highway. 

Turkey Vulture


But to other folks, they are an amazement.  We had family visitors a couple of years ago from Northern Michigan.  Seeing Turkey Vultures was one of their highlights of their visit.  They were also enthralled with our numerous Jackrabbits.  As you can see, our relatives are easily entertained.

Juvenile Turkey Vulture


There are two types of vultures around here.  The Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura), and the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus).  The most common is the Turkey Vulture, easily distinguished by the red head on the adule.  The juvenile’s head is more gray.  The Black Vulture is, of course, all black, except for the wrinkled grayish head.  The Turkey Vulture can find it’s food by smell.

Turkey Vulture Warming it's Wings


In the early mornings, the vultures can be seen sitting in the open, maybe on fences or trees, with their wings spread to the morning sun, warming them to take flight.  They have been known to show some intelligence, such as when feeding on their road-kill, they do have the sense to fly off to avoid being struck by on-coming traffic.  Ann and I once observed a vulture, who was eating in the traffic ahead of us, instead of flying, he actually dragged his kill off the highway to get it out of the way.

I’m sorry to say that I do not have an image of a Black Vulture on file.  To see these above enlarged, just click on each image.

Happy Birding!!

American Avocets and other news

It has been a busy past few days.  The annual Water Lily Fest was held at the Water Lily Collection in downtown San Angelo, per my post a day or two ago.  Through that, we met a real nice couple from Lake City, Florida.  Don Bryne is a hybrid breeder of water lilies.  In 1991 he bred a beautiful species and he named it for his wife, Shirley.  He donated it to the water lily collection here in San Angelo.  We met them at the Fest and they invited us to dinner, Texas style.  They were staying in their motorhome at San Angelo State Park, so we went out there for a nice outdoor fried chicken meal.  In the course of dining, we managed to polish off a nice bottle of St. Genevieve Light Zinfedel from a Texas winery near Ft. Stockton.

Shirley Bryne Water Lily

 In other news, many shore birds are starting to make there fall appearance.  Among them were several American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana).  Who thinks up these Latin names anyway?  I have to squint in my Sibley’s bird guide to read the danged things. 🙂  Anyway, they are beautiful slender-legged waders.  They feed in shallow water by walking along and sweeping their long-upturned bill from side to side.  Here are a couple of photos that I shot yesterday, or was it yesterday?  Click on all photos to see and enlargement.

American Avocet

American Avocets

 Ann has all the luck.  We were sitting in the bird blind a few mornings ago when I needed to go answer nature’s call.  I jumped in the van and while Ann stayed in the blind, I raced to the nearest facility.  When I returned Ann was all excited.  While I was absent, a Cooper’s Hawk flew in and lit in a tree at the viewing area.  Hawks are rarely seen at the bird blind so it was a thrill for her.  I, however, was disappointed that I missed a photo opportunity.

A day before that a Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens).made an appearance.  (I should have studied Latin in school).  I did get a photo, but the bird was at an awkward distance and direction from the blind.  I was just barely able to get it in the view-vinder.  This bird, according to Sibley’s, “skulks” in dense and sunny brush.  This photo shows the spectacle eye markings, but the photo isn’t one of my best.  Aha!  And you guys thought I was perfect. 🙂

Yellow-breasted Chat

Happy Birding!

Bob Zeller  (boboronacea zellerictus)

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Raptors, and especially hawks, fascinate me.  They soar majestically in the skies and sometimes nearer to the ground in their hunt for prey.  I watch in awe as they alight in tree-tops or on the ground.

This photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk gives me mixed feelings.  It and another one have started nesting on Dan Brown’s ranch near Christoval.  I had photographed one of them earlier.  In it, he is majestically resting on a tree branch staring intently at me as I took his photo.  This image is the second one below, and a print of it is framed and hanging above Dan Brown’s mantel.

But I have a certain un-easiness with the first photograph.  Indeed I am proud of the image, as it shows the hawk contemplating his dinner.  But, ethically, I don’t really approve of the way I got the job done.  You see, it was “staged”.  Dan Brown wants the hawks to stay longer, so he has taken to feeding the hawks, by throwing meat out for it.  In this photo, one of Dan’s help threw the snack so I get this great photograph.

I usually abstain from doing this, as I would rather get my pictures by catching these wild creatures doing things naturally.  I wouldn’t take pictures of animals or birds in a zoo and use them for publication.  But in this case, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the bird.  Of course, this is a wild bird, at least for now.  I would hate to see it get too used to humans.

Contemplating Dinner

Red-shouldered Hawk

Enjoy the photos, and as usual, click on either image to see and enlargement.

Happy Birding!

San Angelo Water Lily Fest

Today was the final day of the Water Lily Fest here in San Angelo.  Most of the festivities wound up yesterday but that didn’t stop the beautiful water lilies from opening today for all to see.  I didn’t get down to see the main event yesterday, so I took advantage of the smaller crowd today.  The skies were a bit overcast,  making the lighting perfect.

The San Angelo Internationl Water Lily Collection is the premier such garden in the world.  Ken Landon the owner and curator, has collected specimens from countries of both hemispheres.  This brought water lily esperts from the Unites States, Australia, Far East and Europe for the 4-day symposium.

Some of the lily pads are five feet in diamater, such as the third photo.  That blossom is nearly twelve inches across.

Here are four images that I photographed this morning.  I hope you enjoy.  Click on any of them to see an enlargement.

Just Singin’ in the Rain

A couple of photographs of a Black-chinned Hummingbird, singing (actually humming) happily in the rain.  They were under a mister and getting pretty wet.

Black-chinned Hummingbird


Black-chinned Hummingbird


These energetic birds were photographed at Dan and Cathy Brown’s ranch at Christoval, Texas.  I used my Canon 7D with  a 500mm lens and a 1.4 tele-converter.  It was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head.  Shooting distance was about 40 feet.  Click on either image to see and enlargement.

The Mysteries of Bird Identification

I photographed this Greater Yellowlegs last winter sometime.  I don’t remember the exact date.  I do remember it was in “K-mart  Creek” doing some foraging.  I edited and filed it away, printing myself an 8×10 before doing so.  I claimed it was a Greater Yellowlegs and I still do.  Click image to enlarge.

Greater Yellowlegs

My previous post was about identifying Sandpiper type birds.  So before publishing that post, I carefully went over each of the six images that I had culled to put in the article.  I compared all the markings, colors, etc., with the information  in my Sibley’s guide book.

I checked out the Greater Yellowlegs.  Everything went fine, until I noticed that according to Sibley, the bill should be slightly upturned.  Oops!  The bird in my picture showed a straight bill, and matter of fact, there is a slight downturn on the tip of the bill..  Hmmmm.  Must be a trick of light.   I pondered a bit, didn’t think much of it.  After all, I am a novice birder and I probably wasn’t looking at the picture right. 

Then I noticed a little note at the bottom of the next page.  It said that the Greater Yellow legs rarely had bright orange legs.  Oops again!  My bird has bright oraange legs.   I then started looking through all of the sandpiper pages and couldn’t find any thing else that resembled my picture until – uh oh!  What is this??  A Spotted Redshank.  Right on the next page to the Greater Yellow Legs.  Bright yellow legs – check.  Straight bill with a tiny downturn on the tip – check.   But no!  It simply cannot be.  Spotted Redshanks are thousands of miles away.  Not a chance that this was one. 

What to do.  What to do.  After all, I am a novice birder.  Us novices simply don’t have the knowledge about these things, so it had to be something else.  I have embarrassed myself a few other time by jumping to conclusions and I am not jumping to conclusions here.  But I also didn’t want to mis-identify any picture in my post.  So, I simply swallowed my pride, and even though I KNEW it was a Greater Yellowlegs (what else could it be?) I opted to confirm it with the experts. 

First I e-mailed the picture to three local people that I knowwould know, and they probably wouldn’t laugh too hard at me for asking such a preposterous question.  Then for good measure, I e-mailed Mark Lockwood, with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and is a darned good bird expert.  I got a prompt back from Mark, who confirmed that it was a Greater Yellowlegs.  Of course, I should have known that!  Before I heard from the other three, I promptly e-mailed and thanked them for their time.  Therefore, I didn’t have to read their e-mails, telling me that  I erred again and were stifling their snickers. 🙂

So I KNOW that it is a Greater Yellowlegs.  How do I know??  Because the experts told me so, and by the way, I am not trying to discredit these people.  They are all friends of mine and they are experts in their field.  And it is too far-fetched to believe a Spotted Redshank would ever show up here.  I am definitely not saying it is one of those.  I would be laughed out of town and not get asked to the Annual Birders Ball.  🙂

But how do they know it is a Greater Yellowlegs?   No slightly upturned bill that I can see.  Bright yellow legs.  The mystery deepens.  (cue eerie music here)  What have I missed??  Danged if I know.  So the mystery is, how in heck do they know??  🙂

Sandpipers – Shorebirds of of West Texas

In west Texas. when sandpipers are mentioned, it brings to mind little birds pecking around in the desert.  At least, that to the un-informed.  Meaning the non-birder.   Well, we out here do have rivers, albeit small in comparison of the giants waterways of the mid-west and the east.  We also have lakes, albeit all man-made, with the lone exception of Caddo Lake in east Texas.

Sandpipers are little skitterish little birds that scamper along the shorelines feeding in the shallow water.  There are many other shore birds besides the sandpipers but we’ll get into those another day.  The problem with these species is that all resemble one another, making identification difficult.  I have six photographs here, and I dearly hope that I haven’t got them mixed up or mis-identified.  It was good practice for me to write this.

First we have the Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus).  8.5 inches, weight 2 oz.  Wingspan 18 in. Long legs and a slightly drooping bill.

Stilt Sandpiper


Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca).  Similar to the sandpipes but a little larger.  14 inches, weight 6 oz. and 28 in. wingspan.  They forage after small fish, and bob their when alarmed.  It has a slghtly upturned bill.

Greater Yellowlegs


The Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) is smaller than the yelowlegs.  8.5 in.  1.8 oz and 22 inch wingspan.  It has a distinctive spectacle eye-ring.

Solitary Sandpiper


The Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) is a tiny thing weighing less than an ounce.  6.5 inches tall with a wingspan of only 14 inches.  Has a bit mor rufous color.

Western Sandpiper


The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) 7.5 inches, 8 oz., and 26 inch wingspan.   It is a little larger and heavier, and has striking markings when seen in flight.

Spotted Sandpiper


And last and certainly the least is the Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla).  Only 6 inches tall, weighs .7 oz, and has wingspan of only 13 inches.  Has small head, thin pointed bill, and crouching posture.

Least Sandpiper


I hope you enjoyed these pictures of some of our popular sandpiper type birds.  More shorebirds will follow in another post.  Click on any photo to see an enlargement.