Birding 101 According to Bob

This ought to be a lot of fun.  I was surprised to get several comments in my previous post, that several of you were surprised that we had seen so many birds.  I am flattered that you think that it is such a big deal.  Actually, many serious birders will be saying, ” You spent four days and saw only 38??”.  (Note: My original post said 35, but after going through our notes, we discovered that we had left three off the list.)

Let’s start at the beginning.  About three or four years ago, I was just photographing any thing that came to mind; air shows, balloon fests, animals, scenics, etc.  Then I happened to be visiting some close friends, and I happened to shoot pictures of some birds in her front yard.  The photos came out pretty well, but I couldn’t  identify what they were.  That is not a good thing for a photographer, not to know what he is photographing.  So I got hold of some books on birds to see what the heck I had.

Then a local lady that I know here in San Angelo saw my photographs and tried to talk me and Ann into going “birding” with a group at San Angelo State Park at, get this, 7:30 AM in the morning.  I said, “Are you nuts?  Looking at birds at 7:30 AM??  It’s cold out there here in January”

So, about two months later, when it got warmer, she asked us again and we somewhat reluctantly decided to go.  I thought, what the heck, they can see all the birds they want and I’ll photograph them.  And that is what we did, and we actually enjoyed it, albeit we didn’t know a pigeon from a parakeet. 🙂

But, you know what?  We got hooked.  We started keeping our “life lists”.  Each time we saw a bird that we could identify on sight, that got added to our list.  Of course, I tried to photograph each one, too.  In fact, it was important at first, that when we saw a new bird, that we had a photograph that we could check with in our bird guide.  It made identifying them easier.

My personal “life list” is now at 236.  I added two new ones, the Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Black-chinned Sparrow, on our trip to Big Bend.  I didn’t get decent, (publishable) photos of them, but good enough pictures of them to make identification.  There is one bird that is native only to the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park.  The Colima Warbler.  It can be found if you can take the Lost Mine Trail into the mountains.  I can’t take the hike anymore, but there is always the chance one of the birds may wander astray.  I haven’t seen one yet.  That would be a “lifer”. 🙂 By the way, out of the 236, I have photographed perhaps 150 of them.

So it goes.  Ann and I go birding around here in San Angelo whenever we get the chance.  Our goal is to see how many we can see in a day.  Ann keeps up with the list, and I have my cameras.   One day we may see only 20, another maybe 37 or more if we’re lucky.  Really, really good birders may see 65 in a day, with a yawn.

On one trip, Ann and I were going to join Sid and Suzanne Johnson on a birding trip to Lake Ivie, about 60 miles away.  We started about 8:00 one morning, and we always watch for birds on the way.  By noon we had made only 30 miles to Ballinger, Texas.  We ate lunch there, and decided to take a different route to return home.  Again with birding on the way, we made it back by 4:30PM with a total of 47 different bird sightings.  We haven’t made it to Lake Ivie yet. 🙂

Each time is a new adventure.  We never know what we might see.  We might see one that is a new bird for us.  After all, in our area there is a total of 358 different species, somewhere out there.  I sure haven’t seen them all.    But with a set of binoculars and a camera, and a handy bird guide book, it may come easier.

So all of you, grab your binoculars, head to your back yard, and you may see something new.  If you do, snap a picture, e-mail it to me and we will see what it may be.  Try these for practice.  I took two photographs of each of these two birds.  I am not sure what they are.  The first two are of what I think can be an Eastern Phoebe, an Eastern Wood Pewee, or an Olive-sided Flycatcher, or maybe something else.  I don’t know what it is and I need help.

What is it????

What is it???

The next one is, I think, some kind of sparrow, but which one is it.  Sibley’s Guide to Birds says there are 36 different types.  I don’t know.  I hope one of you can help.

What is it???What is it???

What is it??

 As you can see, sometime even photos may not help, as they don’t always show enough detail.  These photos were snapped not under the best conditions.  But you can click on them to enlarge them and maybe one of my serious birder blog readers can help me.  Or maybe you can.  I am anxious to see what kind of comments I receive.

I am hoping that some of you get hooked on this addictive hobby.  It can be great fun.  Happy Birding!!

(UPDATE:  H. J. Ruiz over at Avian 101 has identified the first one as an Eastern Phoebe, as I had already surmised it to be.  However, he also IDed the second one as a female Red-winged Blackbird.  I dropped the ball on that one.  I was researching sparrows, and never considered it to be any other.  But the markings definitely point to the blackbird.  The bird was at a distance and I mis-judged the size.  Thank you, H. J.)

Birding the Big Bend

Since this blog is about birding, among other things, I thought it would be nice to show you the list of what we spotted during our visit to the Big Bend area last week.  Actually, Sid and Suzanne Johnson, reminded me that they would like to see such a list.  We birded in several areas of Big Bend National Park, plus a few spots outside of the park.  A few more we saw in nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park.  So without further adieu, here is, in no particular order are the 38 species.

  • 3  Turkey Vultures
  • 21  Common Ravens
  • 5  Mockingbirds
  • 2  Red-tailed Hawks
  • 7  House Sparrows
  • 1  Common Black-hawk
  • 9  Greater Roadrunners
  • 1  Merlin
  • 3  Hermit Thrush
  • 8  Black-throated Sparrows
  • 7  Black-chinned Sparrows
  • 9  Savannah Sparrows
  • 6  Loggerhead Shrikes
  • 2  Green Heron
  • 2  Golden-fronted Woodpeckers
  • 7  Western Meadowlarks
  • 11 Vermilion Flycatchers
  • 20 White-winged Doves
  • 1  Northern Flicker
  • 6  Olive-sided Flycatchers
  • 5  Cactus Wrens
  • 1  Curve-billed Thrasher
  • 20 Common Grackles
  • 2  Eurasion Collared Doves
  • 2  Pyrrhuloxia
  • 8  White-crowned Sparrows
  • 3  Hermit Thrush
  • 2  Northern Cardinals
  • 3  Gambel’s Quail
  • 1  Great Blue Heron
  • 5  Orange-crowned Warblers
  • 4  Eastern Wood Pewees
  • 1  Eastern Phoebe
  • 1  Orchard Oriole
  • 3  Song Sparrows
  • 2  Loggerhead Shrikes
  • 5  Red-winged Blackbirds
  • 1 Red-naped Sapsucker (see photo below.)

Since we are still novices, in my opinion, I think that there were probably many more, that we could hear but couldn’t readily identify, as there were also many that we could see, but weren’t quick enough to make definite IDs.  For example, I feel certain that I may have seen a Green-tailed Towhee, but couldn’t confirm it, although they are reportedly quite numerous in that area.

Red-naped Sapsucker

 This sapsucker was photographed at the ruins of the Sam Nail ranch.  Near the ruins is a still-working windmill that pumps a trickle of water into a copse of trees.  It is a little haven for many species of birds, plus an occasional Javelina.  It is about 500 yards off of the Ross Maxwell Highway that skirts the western side of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend NP.  Ann and I had to hike in, carrying my tripod and cameras, plus our binoculars, etc.  Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Photo Data:  Canon EOS 7D, Canon 100-400mm zoom lens, 1/400 sec. @ f7.1 plus 1/3 EV adjustment,  ISO 3200.  Spot metering with aperture priority.

It was very shady in the area, which accounts for the increase of 1/3 EV adjustment.  Also notice the ISO 3200.  There was very little noise in the original photo, which I took care of with Topaz DeNoise software.  The bird was about 20 feet above me, so I had to hand-hold the camera.

Home from the Big Bend Country

We got back home from the Big Bend area late yesterday afternoon.  As usual, it was an enjoyable four days.  We saw lots of wildlife and got several hundred photos that I will be sharing over the next few days and weeks.  We don’t have any plans to go back before spring.  The weather was delightful, mid-nineties, then much cooler on the trip home on Friday.

We had left home early Monday morning, headed due south to Sonora, Texas.  We picked up Interstate 10 West where the speed limit is 80MPH and were able to get to Fort Stockton in quick time.  From there south again on Hwy 385 to Marathon, Texas where the Big Bend National Park is just a few miles south.

After filling the gas tank, we headed that way south, intending to spend a few hours in the park before heading to stay in our little cabin in Study Butte.  While traveling towards the entrance to the park, as we were about to approach the Border Patrol check-point, we spotted a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) on a post.  Since I went a few yards past, I promptly took a quick U-turn to go back and photograph it.  I may have looked a bit suspicious to the men at the check-point, as they watched me go back.

Anyway, I got a these photos of him on the post, then one as he left the perch.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Further down the road, we saw this Common Raven, (Corvus corax).

Common Raven

 I think it is one of my best photos of a raven.  With their solid black color, my past attempts left much to be desired.  I adjusted the EV enough so I think it worked well.  I also like this photo as he, at this point, scruffed up his chin feathers.

 After shooting the raven we sped on down the road, and waved at the Border Patrol as we went by.  By the way, they only stop vehicles that are leaving the park, away from the border.  So they will be seeing us later in the week.

Photo data:  All photos were shot with my Canon EOS 7D and Canon 100-400 IS zoom lens, using spot metering with aperture priority.

Hawk:  1/1000 sec. @ f5.6 – minus 2/3 EV, ISO 100

Raven:  1/400 sec. @ f6.3 – plus 1/3 EV, ISO 200

 As you can understand, these are just a few of the first day highlights.  It will take me several days to process and edit  all my photos.  But these will do for a start.  I will also be telling you about other places we visited along the way.  So have a great weekend.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Carolina Wrens

First, this will probably be my last post until I return from my travels to the Big Bend.  We are leaving Monday morning and will return Friday.  Hopefully, I will post something next Saturday.

Digging back through my archives, I again found a few gems that you might enjoy looking at.  These are the Carolina Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus).  I again, photographed these birds at the Hummer House in Christoval, Texas.  I think I will do a post about the Hummer House in the future, since I have been talking about it so much.  Some you that reside here in Texas would probably be interested in visiting.  Carolina Wrens reside here the year around.

1. Carolina Wren

2. Carolina Wren

3. Carolina Wren

These were all photographed in the spring of 2008.  I had not yet purchased my 7D so I was using my older Canon EOS 40D.  I had it attached to my Canon 500mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter.  I mounted it on my Manfrotto tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head, and was sitting inside the viewing center.  The images were all captured through the plate glass window.The basic exposures were all identical, aperture priority, center weighted metering, ISO 800, f7.1.  Only the shutter speed varied from 1/125 to 1/250 sec.

In the third photo, you can see the advantage of using only one focus point.  There was considerable grass growth, but I was able to put that lone focus point on the bird with no problem, as you can see.

In the second photo you might notice a metal band on the leg.  Dan and Cathy Brown, the owners of Hummer House, regularly invite the Concho Valley Bird Banders to come and do their work for research.

Well, again, I hope you enjoy these images of another cute bird.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Images from Middle Concho Park

Ann and I took a brief visit to Middle Concho Park a couple of days ago.  Birds from the migration are starting to return.  Eastern Bluebirds, American Coots, grebes, etc.  Also I got this image of a Red-shafted Northern Flicker (Colapts auratus).  It was the first flicker that I had seen this season.

Northern Flicker - Red-shafted sub-species

Further along we spotted this female Golden-fronted Woodpecker looking for bugs on a tree branch.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker - female

Photo EXIF data:

Flicker:  Canon EOS 7D with Canon 100-400mm lens, 1/640 sec. @ f8 , ISO 125 minus 1/3 EV.  Spot metering with aperture priority.

Woodpecker:  Canon EOS 7d with Canon 500mm f4 IS lens and 1.4 tele-converter.  1/1600 sec @ f9, ISO 400.  Partial metering with aperture priority.

Click on either image to see an enlargement.

Chisos Mountains and “Window” Banner Photograph

I am always tweaking my blog a little, adjusting and changing things to make it more interesting.  I decided to put a new photo up in my banner at the top of this page.  Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite venues for birding, bird photography, and great landscape photography, so I thought it to be very apt.

The image above, in my banner, is of the Chisos Mountains, taken at an excellent vantage point on the highway just a few miles inside the west entrance to the park.  At this spot the mountains are probably a good twenty miles away.  If you look under the word “by”, you will see a ‘vee’ formation.  That is called “The Window”.  The mountains surround an area called the  “Basin”, and through the window from inside the basin, which is at the 5,000 foot elevation, you can see for miles across the Chihuahuan Desert.  Also in the Basin is the Chisos Mountain Lodge, many campgrounds, and lots of hiking trails.

All of the rain that falls in the Basin drains down and over a pour-off at the bottom of the Window.  It is a drop of several hundred feet from there.  The rock at the bottom of the pour-off is polished like glass, from the eons of waterflow over it.  A very slippery area for any foolhardy hikers or photographers. (Not me).  The photo below is by Joe Rossi.

Joe Rossi Photo

There is a trail from the lodge that leads down to that pour-off.  About a 5.5 mile round trip, it drops 800 feet in elevation.  Easy going down, but mean and exhausting coming back.  This photograph of mine is of the Window, from a little window viewing area near the Chisos Mountains Lodge.

The "Window" - Chisos Mtns - Big Bend NP

Pertinent Photo Data:

Pour-0ff photo courtesy of Joe Rossi.

The Window photographed with my Canon EOS 7D with 28-105 IS lens.  1/100 sec. @ f18, ISO 100.  Aperture priority, with partial metering.

I hope you enjoyed the photos and my descriptions.

The Gorgeous Painted Buntings

I had the Lazuli Buntings yesterday in my post.  It got such great reviews I decided to do another post about my favorite of all, the Painted Bunting, (Passerina ciris).  This bird to me is the most beautiful thing I had ever seen here in west Texas.  For what reason, I do not know.  Maybe because it looks, and you will agree, like it was hand-painted.  You just need to look at the various colored feathers.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting - female

Painted Bunting singing in tree top

Painted Bunting - bathing

I am not going to bother you with all of the EXIF data today.  Just sit back and enjoy the images.  I will say that all of them were captured at the Hummer House Nature Retreat at Christoval, Texas.  I had described the viewing area there in yesterdays post about the Lazuli Buntings.

I sincerely hope that all you do enjoy my photographs.  Click on any of the images to see an enlargement.

Lazuli Buntings

These are some photos I shot of a Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), back in May of 2010.  It was at the Hummer House in Christoval, Texas.  They have a large viewing room with large plate glass windows, with seating for about 35 people.  This particular day the sun was shining bright and there were many species of birds present.

When I bird there, I find a comfortable spot so I have my camera on a tripod right next to the window.  I attach my Canon 500mm f4 IS lens and a 1.4 tele-converter.  Dan Brown, the owner of the establishment keeps the birds well fed and a little mister keeps spraying a bit of water intermittently over a little pond in front.  The distance from my camera to these buntings approximately 30 feet.

Lazuli Bunting

Lazuli Bunting

The two images above were both photographed in aperture priority, 1/640 sec @ f5.6 at an ISO of 500, partial metering.

Lazuli Bunting

The above image was shot about two years earlier in May of 2008.  As you can see all photos were taken during the spring migration.  My old camera, a Canon EOS 40D was used at this time.  I still had my 500mm lens, though, and the exposure was 1/320 sec. @ f7.1, with ISO of 800.  Aperture priority with center weighted metering.

I hope you enjoyed my photographs of the Lazuli Bunting.  Click on either of them to see an enlarged view.

About those Swainson’s Hawks

So many times I have posted about hawks, but I realized that I had never mentioned the Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). It is slightly smaller than the red-tailed and I guess that is why I sometimes confuse the two, especially if it is a younger hawk and I am unable to see the color of the tail-feathers.  The folowing images were captured out here in west Texas.  In flight, their wings are rather long,  tapered, and more pointed than the red-tailed.  They can also be identified by their white throat and large chocolate bib.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Photo EXIF data:

Swainson’s Hawk on utility pole crossbar :

  • Canon EOS 7D with Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/800 sec. @ f10 minus 1/3 EV – ISO 250
  • Partial metering – Aperture priority

Both images Swainson’s Hawk in tree:

  • Canon EOS 20D with Canon 100-400mm zooms lens
  • 1/1600 sec. @ f10 – ISO 400
  • Partial metering – Aperture priority

I didn’t have any photos of a Swainson’s in flight.  That surprised me, as I have so many pictures of various flying hawks.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, and have a great week.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Pied-billed Grebes – Aquatic cuties

Middle Concho Park, here in San Angelo, Texas, has the Middle Concho River, then there are little lagoons, or sloughs that branch off a bit.  It is in one of these sloughs that we spotted this lone Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).  It is a winter adult and was oblivious of me in our car, only about 50 feet away.  By the way, these are the best close-ups of a grebe that I have ever had.  Usually, I have had to contend with distances of several hundred yards, and have never been able to get shots like these.

Pied-billed Grebe - Image 8092


Pied-billed Grebe - Image 8091


Pied-billed Grebe - Image 8093


Pied-billed Grebe - Image 8089

To shoot these images, I used my Canon EOS 7D and Canon 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4 tele-converter attached.  I hand-held it, resting it on a Puffin’ Pad window rest, from our car.  Exposure was Aperture Priority, 1/2500 sec. @ f6.3 with ISO400, minus 1/3 EV adjustment.

I have never seen a dry grebe anywhere.  They are always on the water, diving every few minutes, to come up several yards away in a different spot.  Theyre never above the water long enough to dry off.  At least, that has been my experience.

Click on any image for an enlargement.  Enjoy. 🙂