The Audacious Acorn Woodpeckers

Well, we had a grand time this past week visiting the Big Bend area of southwest Texas.  As most of you know, Ann and I visit that place on average of a couple of times each year.  The sights there never fail to amaze us.  The ever changing light in the canyons and mountains, to the varied wildlife that we come upon, whether it is beasts or birds.

On this trip, we hoped to time the bird migration so we might see a few new species.  The winter population hadn’t started to arrive yet, so in one sense the bird numbers were down.  On the other hand with the summer species that were still around and a few migratory ones that were traversing through we saw a total of 59 different birds.  Of those we added three new “lifers”, birds that we had never seen before.  Plus, I got some new photographs of birds that I had photographed on earlier occasions.  The Acorn Woodpecker is a good example of that.

Acorn Woodpecker

My previous images of the Acorn Woodpecker were taken on a trip to Davis Mountains State Park a couple of years ago.  Of those shots, they were nice close-ups but they were taken in a blind, where they were pictured at bird feeders.  I think you will enjoy these two images as they were taken in the wild, up in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.

Ann and I had driven up into the area that is referred to as the ‘Basin’.  It is a valley type area at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, surrounded by mountain peaks.  We parked in the lot by the lodge, and took a stroll down towards the Window Trail.  The ‘Window’ being a V-shaped formation that looks out over the Chihuahuan Desert.  Anyway, along the way there was a dead tree nearby, and the two woodpeckers were there.  One of them was at the very top, the other down on a lower branch.  I was very much surprised that I was able to get so close.  I was using my Canon EOS 7D, with my 100-400mm lens.

I took a few shots from farther away at first, just to be safe and have something.  Then progressively I moved a bit closer, then closer still, until I was only about 20 feet away.  One thing in my favor, was the quietness of the area.  There were no other people in sight.  Probably because of the MOUNTAIN LION ALERT signs that were posted nearby.  But it is naturally quiet up there anyway.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Stay tuned.  In the upcoming few days, I will be posting more photos from our trip.  I hope you will enjoy them.

Last post before Big Bend journey.

How time flies.  Ann and I have been looking forward to our upcoming trip to the Big Bend country for several weeks.  Now all of a sudden it’s upon us.  Wham!  Bam!  No time to make dessert.  Gotta get to packin’.  We’re leaving in less than 48 hours.  We will be on our way to Marathon, Texas and the Gage Hotel early Sunday morning.  After checking out some birding hotspots there, we will head on for the Terlingua/Study Butte area, where we will be staying for  the next four nights.

So this will be my last post for a few days, probably not until next weekend after we get back on the 28th.  But as is my practice, I will leave you with a few shots that I got this week here in the area.

Great Egret taking off from the water.

The reason that I hadn’t shown you this photo of the Great Egret, was because I had clipped the wings a bit.  But that happens, when your subject is in motion and you are trying to keep up.  But after some re-consideration, I changed my mind about publishing it.  I will just have to live with the clipped wings.

Wood Duck

The above Wood Photo was one of those that I was disappointed in the original image.  The exposure was off, and I didn’t think that I could salvage it, but thanks to the digital darkroom, it worked out pretty good.

How about one more shot of everyone’s favorite, the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Vermilion Flycatcher

So I will leave you with the above images.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.  I hope to be back next week with some nice images of the Texas desert, canyons, and the wildlife that lives therein.  We will be staying at the Far Flung Advertures Casitas.  If any of ya’ll want to join us, come on down.

Vermilion Flycatcher – That vivacious red bird

One of my favorites of the tiny birds is the Vermilion Flycatcher, (Pyrocephalus rubinus).  At only 6 inches, it is surprisingly feisty.  I was fortunate to find this one at Middle Conco Park, just lazing on a tree branch.  I was also lucky to be able to pull my vehicle within 25 feet of it, so I could comfortably take this series of photos with my Canon 7D and 500mm lens, with a 1.4 teleconverter.  I could have removed the TC, but with leaving it attached, I could nearly fill the frame.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Click on any image to see an enlargement.

If you interested in previewing or purchasing my book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”, click on the link on the right side of this page.  Available in hard cover or soft cover, and now available in e-edition for the iPad.


The birds are coming! The birds are coming!!

We are finally starting to see some more birds arriving again.  Where we would see just empty waters at Middle Concho Park, here in San Angelo, Texas, we are seeing now a few more waterbirds, and other migratories.

Wood Ducks

Our latest trip allowed us to see some Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, and four Wood Ducks.  On that latter one, I got an improved photo over the one I showed in a previous post.  We also saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and possibly a second one.  I was unable to get a photo, but the red nape and center white feathers on it’s back were pretty distinctive.

Swainson’s Hawk

We also saw a flyover of about a dozen geese, but I was unable to identify them, as they were moving pretty fast.  I got a pretty good image of a Swainson’s Hawk, and also one of a Belted Kingfisher as he was intent on watching for a meal in the waters below him.

Belted Kingfisher

In the case of the Wood Ducks and the Belted Kingfisher, the birds were quite a distance away and I had to rely on some creative cropping to get these close-up images.  My old friend, the Great Egret, was still hanging around and I have a hard time resisting getting more images of him.

Great Egret

So that’s it for this post.  It is raining this morning, but later, if it clears out, I may make another run to see what is arriving today. 🙂

Just give a little whistle………..

We ran across a bunch of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, (Dendrocygna autumnalis), yesterday at Middle Concho Park.  There were probably about twenty-five of them, just sauntering along by the river.  They were whistling, too.  Really.  They seemed happy.  I got several shots of them before I went on my way.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Since I didn’t know how to whistle along with them, I decided to let them alone and continue downstream.  Or was it upstream.  Anyway, I was watching for the pair of Wood Ducks that I had seen a few days ago.  They were nowhere to be seen.  However, I got another image of a Great Egret to share with you.

Great Egret

More ducks and other water birds are starting to arrive from the north and I saw some Least Sandpipers and also I got this image of a Greater Yellowlegs, (Tringa melanoleuca).

Greater Yellowlegs

  Enjoy the photos and click on any of them to see enlargements.

Wood Ducks – a new lifer

I knew that we have the occasional Wood Duck, (Aix sponsa), in the area, but I have never had the opportunity to see one.  We ventured out to Middle Concho Park, to see if any migrants had paid us a visit, and we spotted this pair of non-breeding adults.  I was happy to add them as number 247 to my life list.  Again, the morning sun was very bright from my left, and with the glare from the water, getting a good exposure was difficult.

Wood Ducks – adult, non-breeding

Driving further along the bank of the river, we saw this Great Egret,

Great Egret

then we flushed this Great Blue Heron from a nearby tree.

Great Blue Heron

Porcupine up a tree

A few days ago, my friend Ron Dudley wrote a post (click) about his encounter with a porcupine.  It reminded me of my own encounter with one a few years ago.  I really can’t remember if I had written about it at the time, but today is as good as any to mention it to you.

Ann and I were on our way to the bird blind at San Angelo State Park.  As we turned down the little lane leading to the place, Ann glanced to the right and exclaimed about an indistinctive blob in the fork of a tree.  I stopped the car and we gazed at it wondering what the heck it was.  It was only about 20 feet away.  I put the binoculars on it and lo and behold, I saw a face.  I told Ann, I think that it’s a porcupine.  I had never seen one close up before.

I put my 24-105 lens on the camera and got out of the car to approach it.  The fork of the tree was only about 5-6 feet from the ground.  That put the animal right at eye-level.  I took several shots of it then.  It was asleep or maybe just drowsing.  Anyway, it didn’t move but I felt that it was staring at me.  I put my hand out to “pet” it, then decided that I didn’t really want to disturb it.  An aside note, if you do pet a porcupine, don’t move your hand against the grain. 🙂

Here are a couple of images from that encounter.  My only disappointment was that the porcupine was back-lit as you can see, so I had trouble getting detail in the face.

Porcupine in tree

Porcupine Portrait

A year or so later, I came across this porcupine crossing the road.

Porcupine crossing road.

Rehab Green Heron photos

I am still ‘rehabbing’, you might say.  I am getting out to do my regular thing, but still taking it easy and not trying to over do.  Just a little drive by the river netted me these shots of a Green Heron.  He was about 125 yards away, on the other bank.  In no hurry, I suspect because of the 105 heat that day, he just sat and squirmed and preened.  I used my Canon 7D and 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4 tele-converter.  I maneuvered my car into position so I could shoot from the drivers side resting my camera and lens on my ©Noodle.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

A Merlin and a Hummingbird

Yesterday Ann and I made a return trip to the blind at San Angelo State Park.  We wanted to see if the Ruby-throated Hummingbird was still around.  It was starting to get quite warm when we headed out.  We didn’t know that the heat would be another record breaker.  The record for the day was 102 set in 1908.  It turned out to reach 105 for a new record.  Today is expected to be the same story, with a new record of 106.  That’s pretty warm for a September day.  Relief is on the way, they say, with the highs only getting into the 80s this weekend.  Hooray for that.

But getting back to our little foray yesterday, on the way out we spotted a very small hawk, about ten inches tall, on some phone wires.  Thinking it may be a young hawk I stopped to get photographs, carefully pulling to the side of the road and turning on my blinkers.  I took the photo with my Canon 7D and 100-400mm lens.  After getting home later and examining the image closer, I believe it to be a Merlin, (Falco columbarius).  Unfortunately, I only have the frontal view for ID purposes.


Continuing on our way, we arrived at the park.  I set up my tripod and the 7D with my 500mm lens.  I was hoping for another shot at the Ruby-throated but it was nowhere to be seen.  However, a female Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), made an appearance, allowing me to make several images.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – female

So, with the weather changing very soon, and with the beginning of the fall migration, things may be looking up for the near future.  I can’t wait to see what might happen to “fall” in.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

First, before I write anything else, I want to thank each and everyone of you that has given me good wishes and support through my hospital stay and subsequent surgeries.  I am now feeling nearly 100% thanks to the miracle of modern day medicine.  It is hard to believe that it has been only, as of this writing, one week since my last surgery.

Now to get to this post.  I can’t believe my luck.  Anxious to get out of the house finally, I decided to just go sit in the blind at San Angelo State Park.  That was yesterday, and maybe I was feeling just a tad weak, so I opted to just use my Canon 100-400mm lens on my Canon 7D.  I left my big 500mm lens at home.

While we sat there, our patience was rewarded.  I heard a distinctive hum of a hummingbird.  Thinking that is was just another Black-chinned, the predominant hummer of this area, I almost ignored it until I saw it land on a twig in a tree.  Much to my surprise, it was a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, (Archilochus colubris).   It was the first one that I had seen this year.

The light was terrible, as you can see.  This was about 8:30AM, and the bright sun was from the left.  With the help of Photoshop I was able to salvage these two images, even though they are a bit noisy.  On a side note, I read somewhere that hummingbirds spend about 80% of their time perched.  I didn’t know that.  Enjoy the images, and click on either one to see an enlargement.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird in bad light.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird in bad light.

Now that I am able to get back in the saddle, so to speak, I hope to get back out in another day or two, and get some more images.  It’s great to be alive. 🙂