Visit to Spring Creek Park

On Sunday afternoon, Ann and I realized that it was going to be a beautiful time to go for a short drive around Spring Creek Park, out near Lake Nasworthy here in San Angelo.  The Dallas Cowboys were off, so I wasn’t obligated to stay around the house.  🙂

Anyway, I thought I would practice up using the 2X converter on my 500mm lens.  It is a heavy sucker, and difficult to hand hold.  But with care and patience it can yield great results, as you can see from this photo.  We saw several of these Golden-fronted Woodpeckers (Melanerpes aurifrons).  Most of them were too far away, or flitting around too much.  Finally we came upon this one that was intent on trying to get something to eat from that hole in the tree.  It was in good shooting distance for the lens.  I steadied it with a new SafariSack that I recently purchased from L. L. Rue.

The SafariSack is a bit larger than my Puffin’ Pad, but I think it is also a bit sturdier.  It is like a bean bag, but with the use of little straps, it can be folded a bit to fit over the car window sill.  I turned off the car engine to lessen any vibration.  I might mention that when I use the 2X converter, because of the smaller aperture it gives, f8, the auto-focus is dis-abled.  However the image stabilization still operates and so it was easier to manual focus.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker - female

Exposure was 1/800 sec. @ f8 plus 1/3 EV compensation.  ISO 400, partial metering at aperture priority.  Lens focal length 1,000mm.  Distance to subject about 120 feet.

Click image to see an enlargement.  Enjoy.

Little But Proud – Green Herons

After my previous post about the Black-crowned Herons, several people remarked about the similarities between the juveniles and the Green Herons (Butorides virescens).   Here are several photos of some Green Herons that I have taken over the past year or two.  Something that I didn’t mention before, neither of these species is what you would call majestic, like the much larger Great Blue Heron which stands nearly 4 feet tall.  The Black-crowned is only 25 inches tall, and these Green Herons pictured below are still smaller at 19 inches.

Green Heron - adult

Green Heron - young adult

Green Heron - juvenile

Green Heron - juvenile

Green Heron - juvenile

Green Heron - juvenile

A little story about the 3rd and 4th photos from the top.  (I know you love a story.) 🙂

It was during the annual Lily-Fest at the International Water Lily Collection here in San Angelo.  It was the year 2009.  The festival is to bring the vast ponds of beautiful water lily blossoms to the attention of the masses.  They have music, vendors, etc.  But it seemed that at this presentation, two Green Herons decided to steal the show.  They flew into the ponds, of which there are five.  They skipped from one water lily pad to another, to the joy of the 300 or so people in attendance.  They were oblivious to the crowd as they tried to catch the little minnows that were in the water.

I hoped you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed bringing them to you.  Click on any of them to see an enlargement.

Jovial Black-crowned Night Herons

I can’t say for sure that they are jovial, but these Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), seem to be enjoying themselves.  A couple of the images look like they are laughing, and I haven’t even told one of my corny jokes yet.  Anyway, I have been culling images since it is cold and windy around here today.  There are many species of Herons besides my favorite, the Great Blue.  The Black-crowned is probably my second best favorite.

Except for the image of the juvenile standing in a pool of water, the rest were all taken in Knoville, Tennessee on the Tennessee River.  Ann and I were visiting a dear friend of mine there, and she and her husband took us there.  There must have been nearly one hundred of the herons flying all over the place.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron - juvenile

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron - juvenile

Black-crowned Night Heron

I used my Canon 7D and 500mm lens mounted on a tripod with a Wimberley II Gimbal head, for all of the shots except for the juvie 2nd from top.  A litle story about that particular image.

Ann and I were driving slowly down River Drive, along the Concho River here in San Angelo.  Near the Irving Street crossing there is a low-water crossing and a small dam.  I spotted the juvenile, and at first I thought it was a Green Heron.  Anyway, it was close enough that I could use my 100-400mm lens.  I had to walk down a steep embankment of about 8 feet.  The path that I took was hard-packed sandy dirt.  I started to slide, right into a huge mesquite tree growing into the bank of the river.  The tree stopped me from going into the river.  I sure know how to make my life exciting. 🙂

But as my other photographic friends, like Mia McPherson, can attest, sometimes a guy has to get a little down and dirty.

Hooded Merganzers – New Winter Arrivals

One of my favorite winter water birds is the Hooded Merganzer (Lophodytes cucullatus).  Thanksgiving Day morning, while Ann was cooking our holiday meal, I decided to stay out of her way, and out of the house.  First I went to San Angelo State Park, the first time I had been there in a couple of months.  More on that a little later.  After I left the park, I decided to go by a small lake a few blocks from our house.  I don’t know if it has an official name, but because it is near Sunset Mall on Sunset Drive, I will call it Sunset Lake.

It is a regular place where a lot of waterbirds hang out.  I stopped at a favorite viewing spot on Huntington Street and walked down to the shore.  There more than  a hundred Hooded Merganzers, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, and I think I saw some Lesser Scaups.  I was walking and traveling light, so I had my Canon 7D and a Canon 100-400mm zoom lens.  Perfect for the situation.  From my position, though, all of the birds were back-lighted in the morning sun.  But I had to live with it as, because of the residental homes, this is probably the only place that I could get close to the water.

Hooded Merganzer

female Hooded Merganzer

Hooded Merganzer

female Hooded Merganzer

Now back to the subject of San Angelo State Park.  I was very disappointed in the condition of the bird blind.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, Ann and I took upon us the care, maintenance and feeding the blind for a couple of years.  We retired from the job at the end of June 2011.

When I arrived there Thursday morning, I saw one, and only one Savannah Sparrow, and that was the only bird that I observed.  There obviously hadn’t been feed put out in several days (weeks?).  One feeder was broken.  A window in the blind was broken out.  No water was flowing in to the water basin.  Weeds were tall.  I walked around for about 15 minutes and saw not a sign of any other bird, save for that one and only sparrow.

I don’t know what the problem is.  It seems to me that know one really cares about the birding prospects for the park.  The powers-that-be haven’t  grasped the fact that birding is getting to be a very, very popular past-time in Texas.  Texas is one of the leading states for birding, as it is in the migratory paths of most species.  All of the other state parks, are taking advantage by erecting new blinds for photographers and birders.  Therefore, they are getting a lot more revenue that is sorely needed.

So unless San Angelo State Park wakes up, they are going to lose out on a very good source of income.  In the past I have always bragged about the park, but now I have to say that is not the park that it used to be.

So now I have vented, and I feel good about it.  Now, I’ll probably get letters.  So be it.

Mary Had a Little Lamb………

……….Her fleas were white as snow. 🙂

At breakfast this morning I ran into an old acquaintance.  She remininced how she loved an old photograph of mine of a newborn lamb.  I got to thinking that I have never posted it before.  It really isn’t one of my best photos, but back then I really wasn’t into photography as seriously as I was to become later.

The photograph was taken about 15 years ago.  I think I was using an old EOS 3.  Anyway, a friend of mine, Ace Phinney, invited me to ride around his ranch with him.  I thought it would be a chance to get some photos of some wildlife.  We came upon one of his flocks of sheep.  While he was scattering some feed, I roamed around amid the ewes and spotted this lamb standing apart from his mother.  I liked the way he was backlit in the morning sun.

A little lamb

I had really hoped to see one of the large male rams, with the big curly horns.  But there weren’t any big ones nearby.  As far as any wildlife, while driving around in Ace’s truck we came across a huge Western Diamondback Rattle snake.  The length of it was the whole width of the lane were driving on plus a couple feet.  I would guess 8-9 feet in length.  It also looked to be about 8 inches in diameter.

As it moved across in front of us, I swung my camera out the window to get a shot, but the rearview mirror was in the way.  Ace brought the truck to a stop, and by then the snake was under a large mesquite bush.  I jumped from the truck and ventured as close as I dared.  I peered under the bush.  I could see him coiled up and staring at me.  I had a medium telephoto lens, I think about 28-200.  I tried to get a shot but it was too dark under the branches to get a good exposure, even when I turned the flash on.

In the meantime, Ace was trying to run his truck into the bush, trying to dis-lodge the snake.  But the bush was too big and strong for him to make much headway, but all of a sudden the snake slithered out and headed for some other deep brush in my direction, so I jumped into the truck, and we got the heck out of Dodge.  A photo will have to wait for another time.

About six months later, Ace pulled up in front of our house in his truck.  He called me out, and said he had something for me.  In the back of the truck was a stinking gunny sack.  In it was a head of a large ram, with a great curled horn.   It had died of illness on his ranch.  He had remembered that I wanted a photo, but also thought I’d like a souvenir.

Ann wasn’t too thrilled with it, and I didn’t really know what the heck I was going to do with it.  For sure, it wasn’t going to sit in the garage for very long while I decided.  So the next day, I took it to a taxidermist and had it cleaned up and mounted, so I could hang it on the wall.

"Old Roadkill"

I named it Old Roadkill.  My weird sense of humor again.  Below is a photo of a Diamondback Rattlesnake that I photographed in the Big Bend country.  It is similar to the one that got the best of me, but quite a bit smaller.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

I hope you enjoyed my thrilling adventure of yesteryear, and the photos. 🙂

Thanksgiving Day Odds and Ends

First and foremost, I want to wish all of my faithful readers and bloggers in the United States, a Happy Thanksgiving Day.  For you who live all of those other 116 countries, please have a Happy Day.

In my post about the Eastern and Spotted Towhees, check out this AOU link.  The American Ornithologists Union is the official authority about classifications of birds.  The are responsible for the renaming of the species as they see fit.  As I was saying in that post, the two above species were once one, the Rufous-sided Towhee.

Another bird that causes similar confusion is the Tufted Titmouse, or the Black-crested Titmouse that is found here in the western United States.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says on it’s AllAboutBirds website, “The Black-crested Titmouse of Texas and Mexico has at times been considered just a form of the Tufted Titmouse. The two species hybridize where they meet, but the hybrid zone is narrow and stable over time. They differ slightly in the quality of their calls, and show genetic differences as well.”

I would have liked to have had a nice photograph of a tom turkey, posed in it’s strutting position, with all of those tail feathers spread out, but I only have one it it’s normal pose.  Well, okay, I lied.  I do have one in the mating pose, but the light was bad and it isn’t as great as I would have liked.  I’ll show you both.

Wild Turkey - male strutting

Wild Turkey - male

Now, how about a little turkey humor to give you a little chuckle.  You all know about Chicken Little and her sky is falling tale.  Well, Mrs. Turkey Little was walking along and she saw a man dropping from the sky in a parachute.  She yells, “This guy is falling, this guy is falling!!”  🙂

Okay, I know you’re saying, “Bob, where in the heck do you come up with this stuff?”  Heck, I don’t know.  My imagination partly, and partly stealing jokes from other people.  But I do know that if you smile, you will live longer.  🙂

So keep on smiling along with me, and we’ll be blogging for many years to come. 🙂

Spotted and Eastern Towhees

A male Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus...

Image via Wikipedia

Katie Johnson asked me if I had any photographs of the Rufous-sided Towhees that she has seen near her home.  Well, Katie, alas and alack, I do not have photos of the Rufous-sided Towhees.  KIDDING!!  Actually I have photos of the Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).  Several years ago, the people that are responsible for doing such things, separated the Rufous-sided Towhee into two distinct species, the Spotted Towhee and the Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), pictured here (not my photo).  So the rufous-sided is no more.  Giving Katie’s geographical location, I suspect she is seeing the Spotted Towhee.  They are, obviously, very similar.  As you can see from the above Wikipedia photo, the Eastern lacks the spots on the wings.  The four photos below are mine and they are all of the Spotted.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

So there you have it.  I hope everyone enjoyed this article about the Eastern and Spotted Towhees and their differences.  Click on the images to see enlargements.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. 🙂

Eared and Pied-billed Grebes

Since I ended up getting a nice photo of an Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) Sunday morning, I thought I would show it to you along with another type, the Pied-Billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps).  An interesting thing about grebes is that they spend most of their time on the water.  Because of lobes on their feet that help them to be better swimmers, they are rather ungainly trying to walk on land.  They use floating nests among reeds and other growth.  When preening, they eat their own feathers and feed them to their young.

Eared Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe - adult

Pied-billed Grebe - adult winter

Pied-billed Grebe - juvenile

Adult pied-bills can be identified by the dark band around the bill.  Winter adults and juveniles do not have that band.  Grebes are rarely seen in flight.

I hope you enjoy these photographs, and also those that you can see by clicking on the Flickr Logo on the right side of this page.

The Great Blue Heron Comes Courtin’

Yesterday, Ann and I decided to take another, yes, still another run down to the water treatment ponds at Eldorado, Texas.  I had mentioned in previous posts, how this place was one of our favorite places to bird.  It is one place where you absolutely never know what you might see.  This time we were rewarded again.

When we drove in, the temperature was mild, no wind, and the waters were quite calm.  We drove around and saw many of the usual species and I got several new photographs.  But one of the highlights of the morning was seeing this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)as he was doing a mating dance for a nearby female.

Great Blue Heron - Mating Dance

Great Blue Heron - Mating Dance

I was so happy to get the opportunity to see and photography this ceremony.  One doesn’t often get the chance to see such happenings in the wild.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs.  Photographic information is as follows:  Canon EOS 7D.  Canon 500mm f4 lens with a 2X tele-converter, focal length 1000mm.  1/800 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.  Shooting distance was approximately 250 yards.  Hand-held, camera resting on window sill of my Ford Edge using my Puffin’ Pad as a cushion.  As usual click on either one for an enlargement.

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers

You, my dear readers, are giving me some large shoes to fill.  Melissa (her blog) says I am an “awesome dude”.  Cindy (her blog) says I have a “magnetic personality”.  My friend Ross McSwain (his website) says “Bob, you are the best bird photographer that I have ever come across”.  Of course, he is a personal friend of mine and he better danged well say that. 🙂

Anyway, after all those fine words, I find it difficult to keep coming up with subjects to write about.  Each day, I stumble through my images and try to find some that I haven’t shown you.  Or a story that I haven’t told you.  On that subject I could actually think of many stories, but I have to decide which ones are fit for print.

So, today, I came across these photos of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris).  They were taken on various occasions during my travels across west Texas and here at San Angelo State Park.  At one time, pre-birding days, I thought any woodpecker with a red head was a Red-headed Woodpecker.  Not so.  The Ladder-backed Woodpecker has a red head, but so has the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker and the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  Some others have litle red spots but we won’t count them.

I tossed in the names of the sapsuckers, because they look like woodpeckers.  So the mystery deepens even more.  How about this?  The Red-bellied Woodpecker doesn’t have a red belly.  Not that you would notice.  I think there is a pink tinge in the lower abdominal area.

Now if you look at the “ladder back”, you can also see the same patterns on the Gila Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and lest we forget, those sapsuckers.  So, IDing the woodpecker species can get a bit tricky.  So I guess if I can ID them correctly, that make me an “awesome dude.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

So there you have it.  I am sure that someone will tell me about other distinctive differences that I missed, but this is my story and I am sticking with it. 🙂

Click on any image to see an enlargement.  Have a great time enjoying them.