Goldfinches have arrived.


Ann and I spent a couple of hours doing some birding at San Angelo State Park‘s bird blind.  We saw the collection of the regular birds that stay here year round, but was surprised by this winter adult American Goldfinch (carduelis tristis).  We actually spotted two.  Also of late, we have seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Soon we should start seeing Pine Siskens.

adult winter American Goldfinch

But the target of many of my searches out there continues to evade me.  I am speaking of the Northern Harrier.  Again, I almost had a great shot of it as it appeared sitting on a fence.  But before I could get the camera on it, it was gone.  I rattled off a few shots as it left, but they were just blurred streaks.  I swear I heard it’s laughter as it went away.  I am determined to get a nice frameable photograph of that cotton-pickin’ bird.  I’ll get lucky soon.

Information on the Goldfinch photo is, 1/1600 sec @ f5.6, -1/3 EV, ISO 800.  Canon 7D with Canon 100-400 lens.  Edited in Photoshop Elements, Focus Magic, Topaz DeNoise.  Click on the image to see an enlargement.

My secondary quest, besides trying to add to my life list of 218, is to photograph all of those birds.  Cindy Kilpatrick, better know to you as “missus76k” in my blogroll, asked me how many of the 218 had I photographed.  Well in doing some checking, I think I have gotten about 190 images of that 218.  Of course, some of the photos aren’t anything to write home about, as quite a few were just good enough for identification.  But, eventually, I would like to have at least an 8×10 of each. 

Happy birding!!

A time to be thankful


Then

A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago, “Do you have your Christmas shopping done yet?”  I replied, “I sure do, and tomorrow I am going to shop for my wife.”  A little humor there, but in reality I am thankful for my wife, Ann.  She has put up with a lot of stuff from me in our 52 years of marriage.

It all started those 52 years ago, of course.   I am going to relate this story because I was inspired by this story http://threestatesplusone.blogspot.com/2010/11/some-things-to-be-grateful-for.html.  It was written by my friend, Toby, up there in Maine.  His story is about how he met his then wife-t0-be on line.  A great read.  Just click on that link, then come back and catch the rest of my story.

My story is similar except it was done the old-fashioned way, i.e. thru the United States Postal Service.  Now how can that be, you may ask.  Well, it all started 52 years ago, as I said before.

I was 23, and in the Air Force stationed at Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma.  I was dating a few local girls off and on, plus writing to a few girls.  Ann, age 19, had moved to Muskegon, Michigan,  from Beulah, Michigan.  Beulah is 150 miles north of Muskegon, and famous for the annual Smelt run in the creek that runs through town.  You can dip the Smelt out of the creek by the bucket full, literally.  I know, because I”ve done it.

Anyway, the reason for her moving to my hometown of Muskegon, was to go to business school there.  With a stroke of luck, for me, anyway, was that she rented a room on the second floor of my grandma’s house.  Now, my 80 year old grandma wished to be a match-maker, so she wrote me that I should write to this cute girl that was living upstairs.   She may also have said that she had great legs, but I don’t remember that for sure.  🙂

I dropped her a line.  It must have been a great line because she answered me immediately.  Curious, I guess.  That was on March 21, 1958.  I answered her, she answered me, I answered her, etc., etc.  I think that within a month or less, we were writing everyday.  I had dropped dating the local girls and destroyed my mailing list.  Well, we really got to know each other through these daily letters.  About two months later,and I don’t remember this important date, but I wrote and asked her to marry me.  Five days later I got the answer.  “Bob, I don’t know how to tell you this”…………(Uh Oh, what’s this)……..”but I’d be honored to be your wife”.

Oh, my God, what do I do now??  🙂

I thought I had better call her so we could talk and set a date.  This was going to be really something, because I had never talked to her in person, nor of course, had I ever seen her.  She had previously sent me two pictures, (Yes, she did have great legs).  I sent her a bunch of me, ‘cuz I wanted for her to see what she was getting into.

Problem.  My grandma didn’t have a phone.  Ann didn’t have a car.  I called my Dad, asked him to go pick up Ann, bring him home, and I would call back later.  Talk about awkward.  My folks had one phone and it sat on a litle stand right next to my Dad’s favorite armchair. 

Now, before I called, I went over the calendar so I could check out when I would be getting paid, etc., so I could afford to come home to get married.  I had decided that August 18, 1958 would be a good date.  I would get paid on Friday morning, then I could take a Greyhoud bus and meet her at the bus station on Saturday.

So I made the call.  She thought that the plan was great.  That way, people wouldn’t think we were rushing into it.  Yeah, right…..  She said that she would line up the church, the preacher, etc., and every thing that goes with a wedding.

So during tht two and a half months interim, we just wrote more letters.  At one point I though I would try to fly home one weekend.  It would be a tight schedule, and I would probably be able to just meet for an hour or two before I would try to fly back.  My plan was to hitch-hike to Tinker AFB, in Oklahoma City and get a free hop on a cargo plane to maybe Detroit, then get a bus to Muskegon, then turn around and do it all in reverse.

I called my Dad to tell him to go tell her that I was coming.  I hitch-hiked to Oklahoma City.  But alas, a huge thundrstorm came in, grounding all flights.  I couldn’t fly out.  So I called Dad and told him the news, and he had to go tell Ann.  She was understandably devastated.  I was pretty disappointed my self.

We never did talk again on the phone.  So on Saturday August 16, at 2:00 PM I met my lovely wife-to-be for the first time.  It was like we had known each other for years.  There never was any doubts about what we were doing.  The wedding rehearsal was at 4:00 PM.  We were married on Monday night August 18.  My Dad led Ann down the aisle.

There is more.  I didn’t have enough money for a bus ticket back for her.  I had expected to get a bit cash for wedding presents.  But not.  I had an old alto saxophone that I had left with my parents, so I took it to a local music store and managed to get enough money for her ticket.  We packed all of her belongings into seven suitcases and put them on the bus and shipped them as luggage.

Before I had left Ardmore OK, I had put a deposit on a little garage apartment, and bought a week’s supplies of groceries.  The day after we got back, Ann got a Civil Service job at the air base.  A day after that, our landlord’s son said he would sell his 1953 cream-puff Buick Roadmaster, and he financed it for us. 

So you can say that the the Lord was definitely looking after us.  And he has been looking over us ever since.  Sometimes I say to myself, why me?  I am not anything special, I never did anything special, but I am blessed with a great wife, great friends, great health for my age, a good  sense of humor, and enough money to pay the bills.

Now

So I am continually thankful.

Love those Hawks


I have this love of hawks and other raptors, regardless of the species.  I was riding around yesterday and spotted the top two birds.  The first is an American Kestrel. They are a cute but ferocious little bird.   He was perched in the top of a tree.  I hand-held my Canon 7D with a 500mm lens and 1.4 teleconverter attached.  Exposure information,1/1600 sec at f7.1, ISO 100.

American Kestrel

Later, out by O. C. Fisher Lake we saw this Red-Tailed Hawk sitting atop a sign.  I am especially fond of this image, as he was posed so naturally and I was relatively close to him.  Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm lens, 1/1600 sec. at f6.3, ISO 150, -1/3 EV.

Red-tailed Hawk - jevenile

This Osprey was photographed two years ago near Lake Nasworthy, here in San Angelo.  There will be a story about this photograph this coming Thursday, as the Osprey will be the subject of my Bird of The Week series.  Watch for it. 

Osprey with catch

The all photos were edited in Photoshop Elements, but with the first two I also used Focus Magic, and Topaz DeNoise, and OnOne PhotoTune.  Three very good plug-ins.  Click on any image to see an enlargment.  Enjoy.

Happy Birding!!

New Lifer – Herring Gull


Lifer number 218.  Hey I’m getting up there.   But I am a long way away from my friend David Skinner, up there in Canada.  He is at 454 and counting.  Hey, wait up, Dave, wait for me.  🙂

Oh, back to the lifer.  Ann and I were at O. C. Fisher lake this morning and spotted what turned out to be, a couple of Herring Gulls.  At first I thought they might be California Gulls.  One photo resembled that species.

They were a long way off.  I only had my 100-400mm in my hand.  The wind was blowing about 25mph and it would have knocked my tripod down if I tried to set up the big guy.  So I set the shutter-speed at about 1/1600, zeroed in on them and hand held the camera.  I usually shoot at aperture-priority, but in the wind I wanted to be sure that I had a fast shutter.

The images were very, very tiny so I ran them through Focus Magic software.  I then was able to crop them to a small 4×5 image.  After more finagling around to fine-tune the sharpening, I was then able to use my Blowup enlarging softwaresoftware to enlarge to a usuable 5×7 at 72dpi.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull with Ring-billed Gulls

Like I said, the photos aren’t that great aesthetically, but good enough for identification.

In other news, Diane and Mike Coleman thought they may have seen a Northern Shrike.  That would have been a rarity in this part of the state, but not an impossibility.  A lot of rare birds have been making this area a stopping place.  However, they didn’t get a picture, and the Northern and the Loggerhead Shrikes are so similar, it would be hard to say.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


I am going to forego my Bird of The Week series tomorrow.  I will be back with it next Thursday with another exciting installment.  I am already working on it.  The reason for the postponement is that many of my readers and follow blogsters have holiday plans, and I want to be able to reach as many as possible.

So I want to wish all a very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are around the world.

Bob and Ann Zeller

Happy Birding!!

Cute Bird – but what is it??


I need a little help on this one, if anyone can be of help.  I photographed this bird last month down in the Big Bend area of West Texas.   I feel that it is one of the sparrow species, but I am enough of a novice to admit that I may be wrong about that. 🙂

Unknown - un-retouched

You may click on the image to see an enlargement.

Horned Toad Sunday and other news


I thought that the title would get your attention.  Another example of my weird and eerie sense of humor.  This isn’t Horned Toad Sunday.  I just made that up.  🙂

Actually, I didn’t do too much today in the line of birding.  I spend most of the day doing the Sunday crossword.  However, I did get busy and put some new pictures in my bird album.  Also I put one new one in my animal album.  You can see all of them by going to my Photo Albums page by clicking them above, or on the blogroll at the right.

I won’t hold you in suspense, so I will show you the new animal photo here live and in color.  It is a Horned Toad, a.k.a. Horny Toad and Horned Frog.  They are getting scarce out here in west Texas.  Many things have been blamed for there demise.  Imported fire ants, disease, etc.  Nobody know for sure.  This is the first one that I have seen in several years.  He was crawling across the road out at San Angelo State Park.

Horned Toad

Okay, you twisted my arm so I will also show you one of my new bird photos, too.  This one of the Western Meadowlarks that are starting to arrive.  Someone will probably tell me this is an Eastern Meadowlark.  They may be right.  I have a hard time telling them apart.

Meadowlark

Click on either image to see an enlargement.

Does anyone know a six letter for a weasel’s cousin??

Photography: Showing scale in images.


This is a short post about an interesting subject.  Steve, over at  http://photographyfree4all.wordpress.com/  blog, or see my blogroll at the right, posted an interesting article about showing scale in your landscape and scenic photos.  He is so right in describing how necessary it is. 

Here is one of my photos of Santa Elena Canyon, in Big Bend National Park.  The canyon walls rise 1,500 feet and I wanted to show the scale in the photo.  I was on a narrow trail on the north wall, about 100 feet above the Rio Grande River.  I was trying to show a total view of the walls in the photo, so I needed to do a vertical shot.  I needed that something to show scale, as Steve mentions.  I noticed a hiker plodding along the shore below me.  I waited until he walked into the frame, before snapping the photo.  Here is the result, and you will see the tiny hiker down in the bottom left corner.  Click on the image to enlargement.

Hiker in Santa Elena Canyon

It always amuses me, when I have this photo on display at art shows.  People will notice the canyon walls first, then when they finally notice the hiker, it is like,  WOW!, it blows their mind.  But without the hiker, those grasses wouldnt look as large as they actually are.

Bird of the Week – Red-tailed Hawk


Red-Tailed Hawk(Buteo jamaicensis)  This is the hawk that which all other others are compared.  The benchmark, so to speak.  It is one of the largest of the hawks, perhaps the largest.  You can often see it perched along the roadside,  on utility poles, trees, or other high points.  It hunts mostly mammals from these perches, and also from the air.  They are a beautiful bird in flight, their red tail glinting in the sun. 

This image was shot during a trip to Ballinger, Texas.  The hawk was in the grass along the roadside, apparently in the act of feeding on something.  As I slowed, he started to fly.  I was prepared with my Canon EOS 40D with a Canon 100-400mm zoome lens.  I was able to lock-on my auto-focus and pan with him as he flew, continually pressing the shutter.  ISO 400, 1/3200 sec. at f6.3.

Red-tailed Hawk

Sibley’s describes them as stocky, broad winged, with bulging secondaries.  The adult has the distinctive red tail, where the juvenile is much paler.  It sports a length of 19 inches, a wingspan an impressive four feet and one inch.  It weighs in at 2.4 lbs.  More information on these gorgeous birds can be found by clicking on the link at the beginning of this post.

This image was photographed with my Canon EOS 40D, hand-held with a Canon 500mm lens with 1.4 tele-converter.  Exposure was 1/800 sec. at f6.3 with ISO of 400.

Red-tailed Hawk

I hope you enjoy this information about a majestic bird.  Click on either image for an enlargement.  In the future, my Bird of the Week posts will be on Thursdays, instead of previously mentioned Fridays.

Happy birding!!

X-Bar Ranch – The Hike


Ann and I spent three wonderful days down at the Live Oak Lodge at X-Bar Ranch.  We had the place literally to ourselves.  No hunters yet, and no other guests.  So we spent most of the time eating, sleeping or watching birds.  However, on Tuesday we decided to take a little walk.

When we had checked in on Monday, Christy and Stan Meador, our hosts were pointing out different things to do.  Christy mentioned the various trails that would be open, as there were no hunters around.  During that conversation I thought I had heard the words “green trail’  and “six tenths mile”.

Dark-eyed Junco

So, when Ann mentioned that a walk would be fun, I interjected that the Green Trail would be great because it was only .6 tenths of a mile.  Heck, we have a little route around our neighborhood that we figure is a mile, and we handle that with ease.  This would be a piece of cake, right??  Not!!

We set off at approximately 10:45AM.  We had light jackets because it was a little cool and windy.  I had a camera slung over my shoulder.  Ann had binoculars.  We carried no water, because, heck, it was only six tenths of a mile., right?  We had drank up before we left, though.

We got to walking along, me taking the occasional snapshot along the way.  The trail was well marked.  No way could we get lost, so were just enjoying the day.  The trail is pretty rugged in places.  Hilly, not real steep, but rocky in most places, as it follows some water runoff areas or washes.

Spotted Towhee

 After about thirty minutes, I thought we should be very close to the end of the trail, because this trail was only six tenths of a mile, right?  Well we kept walking and were starting to get a little worn.  I am 76 years old, just recently recovered from a back fracture, and Ann is 72, so I began to think that maybe we unknowingly bit off more that we could handle.  Any time now we expected to see the cabins.  We walked more.  No cabins in sight.  We were both starting to really get concerned.  We were getting warm as the temperature started to climb, and had shed our jackets.  Also we were getting  very thirsty.  After about an hour or maybe a little more, we knew something was very wrong.  We knew we were on the trail, as it was marked and easily to follow.  We also knew by then that it was longer that we originally thought, but how much longer, we had no idea.

Finally, we got a glimpse of something in the distance.  I borrowed Ann’s binoculars and discovered that the cabins were still about a mile or more away.  We were stunned, and wondered how could this be.  We knew even if it was a mile, that the trail wouldn’t be in a straight line.  There were too many switch-backs in the hilly trails.  I tried to sit down on a rock to rest a minute while we were trying to decide whether we should try to call someone on our cell phone.  We decided that no one could reach us very fast, even if we found someone to contact. 

So we hugged each other a bit, prayed to the Man upstairs and decided there was only one way out, and that was just to go ahead, one step at a time.  I knew that if I sat down again, I wouldn’t be able to get back up.  There were very few places to sit, anyway.  Only an occasional rock.  By then I was using the only walking stick we had, plus a piece of tree branch that we had picked up.  Ann was making it without any aid, though with difficulty.   How she done it, I will never know.   In places, we were literally leaning on each other.  Plus we were chastising ourselves for being so foolish.

Northern Cardinal - female

After what seemed forever, actually about two hours and a half, we finally made it to the last gate.  It was similar but not exactly like a cattle guard.  For me, just getting across that was a struggle.  But make it, we did.  Thankfully, we sat down on a chair by the patio.  I found that God looks after fools and drunks……….. and we were sober.

Afterwords, we found trail maps in the lodge.  There are four trails a person can take.  The shortest is a mile and a half.  We DID NOT take that one. 

We got a valuable lesson that day.  Do not attempt such an undertaking unless you are absolutely sure of the facts, then go prepared.  In retrospect, we also should have let someone know where we were going.  But, what’s done is done.  On Wednesday, we didn’t leave the lodge.  We just sat on the patio and watched and photographed birds.  I needed to use the walking stick anyway, because I pulled a muscle in my hip during our hike.  But I am feeling great again.  No more hiking again for awhile, thank you very much.

By the way, Ann did not want me to tell this story.  She thought it would make us look stupid.  Maybe or maybe not.  After all, we just misunderstood what was said and did not get confirmation.

By the way, the length of the Green Trail is three miles……….

Happy birding! 🙂