Jeepers Creepers, a Brown Creeper

This is a short post today about a tiny little bird that we encountered yesterday.  It is only the second time that I had ever seen a Brown Creeper.  They are hard to see and not very numerous.  In both of my sightings, it was pure accident that I even saw them.

They remind me of a nuthatch, but the nuthatches that I have seen are always upside down, climbing downward on tree trunks.  The Brown Creeper is just the opposite.  It continuously is climbing upwards, getting it’s little bill into the crevices of the tree trunks.  It keeps climbing, then when it get very high, it flies back down and starts all over.

Brown Creeper

Now to tell you how I got the photo.  When we spotted the bird, he was moving quite rapidly upward.  I scrambled to move the car off to the right so I would have an angle for my camera and 100-400mm zoom lens.  By the time I got my camera aimed out the window he was about 25 feet over my head and still going.  He was finally under a horizontal tree branch.  I focused the best that I could, feeling like I was standing on my head to do it.  I feel very lucky that I got the bird this much in focus.  I did have to use a little of that Focus Magic to get it to look this good.

Original image of Brown Creeper

Above is the original image.  As you can see, I used a little bit of  ‘artistic license’ and rotated the image to what you see in the top photo.  During editing I had trouble trying to look sideways at it.  I think the photo still looks natural enough to pass ‘inspection’.  Click on either image to see enlargements.

Big Birding Saturday with Sue Oliver

Who is Sue Oliver you might ask.  She is a friend of ours and one of the best birders in this area.  We had been talking about doing this for the past several months.  I also promised that I would put her name in headlines.  (Hence the title of this post).  She works at her job all week and only has time to get out on Saturdays.  We set it up to leave about 8:15AM, and we should have decided on going after a “Big Day” number.  We ended up seeing 51 species, and it could have been more, had we done a better job of deciding the route that we would take.

Belted Kingfisher – female

In the birders jargon, a “Big Day” is one where you try to see as many birds as possible.  Ann and I have, or had a record of 44 in one day back in 2011.  That was just she and I, and we were not really trying for a big number.  It just happened that way.

Pyrrholoxia – female

The weather was pretty cold when we started.  It was around 40 degrees and very cloudy, but not really uncomfortable unless we rolled the car windows down at higher speeds.  But as you probably know, birders do not travel at high speeds.

Northern Cardinal

We decided to head for Mertzon, Texas, a little town only about 20 miles southwest of San Angelo.  We took a round-a-bout way, through ranch country on some dusty caliche roads, and after three hours,(yes that’s right, three hours) of not many birds, we arrived in Mertzon.  We promptly stopped at a convenience store to answer nature’s call.  At that time, we had only chalked up about a dozen birds.  They were mostly sparrow types, grackles, and a few doves.  We were disappointed the way our birding exploits were going because we had wasted our time on those backroads.  Of course, we had now way of knowing that there would be such a shortage of birds on that route.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

There was a little county park there in Mertzon, with a dam and a low-water crossing.  We decided to check it out as we had heard that it would be a great place for birds.  We were really correct on that score.  There were Cardinals, Finches, Pied-billed Grebes, Pyrrholoxia and a Great Blue Heron.  But the star of the show was a Ringed Kingfisher, a rarity here in this area.  It was apparent that it had invaded the territory of two Belted Kingfishers.  Those two were not making the Ringed KF welcome.  All the time we watched they were constantly chasing one another.  Patiently waiting, I did get a couple of photos when it happened to perch for a few seconds.

Ringed Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

We stayed around for a bit to see if there were any more surprises.  Nothing more exciting showed up, except some American Goldfinches, American Kestrels, and another Red-tailed Hawk.  I think that by then, we had seen 35 different species.

By then it was only about 2:00 PM.  We decided that we would head for Eldorado, a drive of about 35 miles.  We thought that we could add a bunch to our list at the Water Treatment Plant ponds.  And we did.  Plenty of birds there, however, some of them were duplicates of birds that we seen in Mertzon.  But we added a Wilson’s Snipe and a Northern Harrier, and several others including an American Widgeon.

American Wigeon

On the way home, entering San Angelo, we saw the first two Ring-billed Gulls of the season, and some European Starlings.  So all in all it was another fun day of birding here in the Concho Valley.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Here is a complete species list for you who may be interested.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. Mourning Dove
  3. Common Raven
  4. Western Meadowlark
  5. Common Grackle
  6. Savannah Sparrow
  7. Vesper Sparrow
  8. American Kestrel
  9. Northern Mockingbird
  10. Loggerhead Shrike
  11. Red-winged Blackbird
  12. Green-winged Teal
  13. Turkey Vulture
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Pyrrholoxia
  16. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  17. Black Vulture
  18. House Sparrow
  19. Ringed Kingfisher
  20. Eurasian Collared Dove
  21. Belted Kingfisher
  22. Pied-billed Grebe
  23. Great Blue Heron
  24. Pine Sisken
  25. American Goldfinch
  26. Brown-headed Cowbird
  27. Northern Shoveler
  28. Eastern Phoebe
  29. House Finch
  30. Eastern Bluebird
  31. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  32. Great-tailed Grackle
  33. Lark Sparrow
  34. Western Scrub Jay
  35. Wild Turkey
  36. Double-crested Cormorant
  37. American Coot
  38. Gadwall
  39. Ruddy Duck
  40. Northern Pintail
  41. Northern Harrier
  42. Ring-necked Duck
  43. Redhead
  44. Great Egret
  45. Spotted Sandpiper
  46. Lesser Scaup
  47. Wilson Snipe
  48. Blue-winged Teal
  49. Ring-billed Gull
  50. Rock Pigeon
  51. European Starling

More Fun at Middle Concho Park

I hope you guys aren’t getting bored and tired of hearing about Middle Concho Park, because here is another post about it and Spring Creek Park.  I actually got a SPAM comment from a guy that said my posts were starting to get boring.  Well, I say to him, “live with it”.  I am writing what I think my own readers like, and “I ain’t gonna change”.  Anyway, I don’t think anyone will find this post boring.

So, today started out the same as usual.  We ate breakfast at the ‘Golden Arches’.  After that we went and voted.  I asked Ann what she wanted to do and she said let’s go birding.  I needn’t have asked, really.

When we got to Middle Concho there was a lot of bird activity all at once, in just one small area.  Bluebirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Woodpeckers, etc.  I was searching with my binoculars for what I thought was a wren, when I suddenly saw a Common Nighthawk in my lenses.  As you can see from the picture below, he was pretty well blending in with the surrounding tree branches.

Common Nighthawk

I was thrilled to see this bird, as I thought they had all left, as they are usually gone by mid-October.  I maneuvered my car so I could use my big lens and get this closeup.

Common Nighthawk

I then was able to get this shot of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in a tree.  He was working very hard.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We had seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker a few minutes earlier.  We searched but could no locate it again.  I really would have liked to get a shot of it.  We’ll keep watching.  After spending about an hour and a half at Middle Concho Park and listing about twenty species, we decided to get to the other side of the river into Spring Creek Park.  So we bade goodbye to the squirrels and birds and headed out the gate.


Now, to get to Spring Creek Park involves about a four mile drive, this is just to get to the other side of the river.  You have to drive back down Red Bluff Road to Knickerbocker Road.  Then you head south over the Lake Nasworthy Bridge then take a right on Fisherman’s Road.  Following that for a couple of miles takes you right into Spring Creek Park.

Anyway, about a mile after we left Middle Concho Park, we came upon two dogs wandering in the middle of Red Bluff Road.  They were acting like they were lost and this was an area about a mile from any residential area.  One was a Welsh Corgi who looked very exhausted and moved to a shade tree as we stopped.  The other was a young Beagle who was very happy to see us.  Only the Beagle had a tag, but since they were acting like BFFs, we assumed they belonged to the same owner.

The tag on the Beagle showed the name of the veterinarian that cared for him.  We didn’t want to leave the dogs, as it was very warm by then, and they needed water.  We decided to load the dogs in the car and head for that vet’s office back in town.  The staff there knew the owners so they took the dogs off of our hands and said they would make sure they got back home.

I was about ready to head back to the house by then, but Ann says, ‘what the heck, the day is still young’.  So, you guessed it, we headed back out to Spring Creek Park.  I am glad we decided to do that, because a few minutes after we got to the park, an older gentleman who is familiar with our car, hailed us and told us he knew where we could get a good picture.

He led us to a huge pecan tree and about twenty feet off the ground was a young Great Horned Owl.  I don’t know if I would have seen it if the guy hadn’t pointed it out, even though Ann and I are always watching the trees.  Anyway, I was able to get some very nice photos.  This first photo is my initial image that I immediately got.

Great Horned Owl

After I got the above image, we left it and continued a drive through the park.  About fifteen minutes later, we came back by the tree and the owl had moved to another branch, and up higher.  I found that if I set up my tripod farther away and used my large 500mm lens I could get another good photo.  Here is the result of that.

Great Horned Owl

So that ended our day in the parks.  But we had fun, got some nice images, and rescued two great dogs.  It couldn’t have been any better. Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Birding Middle Concho Park and Spring Creek Park

You have heard me tell you several times how much Ann and I enjoy going to Middle Concho Park, and it’s sister park, Spring Creek Park across the river.  It seems that there is always a chance to see something different.  Of course, that is because of the changing seasons, different birds are there at different times of the year.  There are over 380 species of birds that can be seen in the Concho valley,  and I dare say that most of them can be seen at these parks, at one time or another, depending when you happen to visit.   You may get lucky and spot one of the Horned Owls like the one pictured below.

Great Horned Owl

We spotted this owl high in a tree in Spring Creek Park.  There was a lady nearby, walking a small dog, unaware of what was perched above her head.  She laughed when we told her why I was pointing my camera up there.

Belted Kingfisher

This Belted Kingfisher was cavorting along the river and finally lit on a power line that crosses the water.  Nervously, I hurriedly set my Canon 7D with 500mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter on my drivers side window sill and got the shot before it flew off looking for another place to fish.

Great Egret

On another day we saw several Great Egrets.  This one was across the river and I was able to get the shot.  Another wading bird that you can see almost every day of the year, is the Great Blue Heron like the one pictured below.

Great Blue Heron

The Osprey is another bird that thrives on fish, and the catfish in these waters are one of his favorites.  Here one sits on a tree branch enjoying his dinner.

Osprey enjoying catfish dinner.

Another raptor that frequents these parks is the Red-tailed Hawk.  One morning Ann and I witnessed three of them.  Two were flying through the trees close together in Middle Concho Park, while the third was across the river perched high in a tree.  Watch out for low flying birds.

Red-tailed Hawk

Of course we can’t ignore the smaller birds, can we.  These parks teem with species like, Eastern Bluebirds, Robins, Warblers, etc.  Below is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The best way to appreciate the birding here is to just drive very, very slow through the area.  Watch the treetops, watch for un-natural movement in the branches of the live oaks, use your binoculars, and listen.  Sometimes we come to a complete stop, and discover there are tiny birds all around us.  At least we can hear them or see the branches move.  We then put our binoculars to work to locate the source.

Eastern Bluebird

These two parks are maintained very well.  The grass is mowed on a regular basis and early in the week the park employees are always on the job picking up trash left over from the careless individuals that use the place on weekends.  They seem to not see the trash cans that are placed about forty feet apart all through the park.

Northern Cardinal

We find that the best time to do any birding is on the weekdays.  On any given day you literally may have the park all to yourself.  Have fun.  Click on any of these photos to see some nice enlargements.

Damp Birding at Miles, Texas

Monday morning Ann and I traveled to Miles, Texas to see several ducks, geese and other water fowl that was reported to be on a large flooded area north of town.  It started a light drizzle on the way, and I had to put the wipers on to keep the windshield clear.  We kept on going, nevertheless, because as they say, you never know how things will turn out.

Well, by the time we got there the drizzle had nearly stopped, but the skies remained heavily overcast and slightly foggy.  With the poor visibility, it was hard to make IDs on most of the ducks in the water, as they were several hundred yards away.  However, we did make out plenty of Northern Shovelers, a half dozen or so of American Avocets, some Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese.  With there being several hundred birds, I am sure that if we could have seen better we would have added many more to our list.

When we left, we decided to take a longer drive home, through some country roads that we hadn’t traveled in a long time.  We were rewarded with the Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel that are pictured below.  This first photo of the red-tailed was shot with my 500mm lens and 1.4 teleconverter making it a total focal length of 700mm.

Red-tailed Hawk

This next photo was using my 100-400mm lens set at the 400mm focal length.  This image is heavily cropped.

Red-tailed Hawk

By the way, I believe this Red-tailed Hawk to be a light morph.  After the hawk flew, which I completely missed the shot, we continued towards San Angelo.  We came across this American Kestrel on a power line.  I only had time to grab my 7D with the 100-400mmlens.  I also had to crop this image extensively.

American Kestrel

So even though our primary ‘target’ was pretty well enveloped in drizzle, we still had a fun trip.  We will probably return to Miles later.  In the meantime, here is the total list for our little trip.  We should double it the next time.

  1. Northern Shoveler
  2. American Avocet
  3. Blue-winged Teal
  4. Killdeer
  5. Sandpipers (unidentified)
  6. Northern Harrier
  7. Gadwall
  8. Meadowlark
  9. Red-tailed Hawk
  10. American Kestrel
  11. Snow Goose
  12. Greater White-fronted Goose

Photogenic Golden-fronted Woodpeckers

We made a quick run through San Angelo State Park this morning.  We were so surprised to see so many Golden-fronted Woodpeckers there.  Like they were having a convention.

They get their name from the small golden patch above the bill and below the eyes.  The male and female each also have a golden patch on the nape, but the male has a distinctive red patch atop the head.  To me, they are the most photogenic of all of the woodpecker species.  Here are three of my images.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker – male

Golden-fronted Woodpecker – female

Golden-fronted Woodpecker – male

I hope you enjoyed these photos.  Click on any of them to see an enlargement.  Tomorrow, Monday morning Ann and I are headed for Miles, Texas.  It is a little farming town about 20 miles from here.  Our good friend Sue Oliver called this afternoon to tell us of a huge flooded area, left over from our heavy rains a few weeks ago.  It is teeming with shorebirds, etc.  I will give you a report later.

Here is a list of the birds that we saw this morning at San Angelo State Park.

  1.    Black-crested Titmouse
  2.    House Sparrow
  3.    Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  4.    Mourning Dove
  5.    White-winged Dove
  6.    Northern Mockingbird
  7.    Pyrrholoxia
  8.    House Finch
  9.    Northern Cardinal
  10.    Spotted Towhee
  11.    White-crowned Sparrow
  12.    Canyon Towhee
  13.    Red-winged Blackbird
  14.    Northern Harrier
  15.    Northern Shoveler
  16.    American Coot
  17.    Greater Roadrunner
  18.    Western Meadowlark
  19.    Turkey Vulture
  20.    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  21.    Killdeer
  22.    Lark Bunting

Pied-Billed Grebes – Cuties of the lakes

Pied-billed Grebes are the real cuties of the waters around here.  Ron Dudley wrote a post on his blog about the behavior of them and it is very enlightening.  He was writing about the Western Grebes, but they all have the same habits.  You will rarely see one in flight, and they migrate at night.  Because of the way their legs are attached to their bodies, they are very awkward on land, so you rarely see one walking.

During their first week of life, they spend their time on the back of their mother.  Then after that they are always on the water, diving in the presence of danger.  These three images were taken at our nearby Middle Concho Park.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

It is always so entertaining to watch them.  They have an innocent presence about them.  They will disappear while diving for aquatic insects, tiny fish and crayfish.  They may resurface several yards away.  So watch for these little creatures when you are around lakes and rivers.

Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker at work.

At Spring Creek park I came across this Ladder-backed Woodpecker cavorting among the trees.  On previous occasions, my photographs of them weren’t really anything to write home about.  But this time I got lucky.  I was able to walk into the trees and select my shooting positions at ease.  That is a big change for me, as I usually photograph from the car.  I guess he was pretty engrossed in whatever he was pecking away at.  The light was somewhat tricky, with the leaves filtering the sun.  I was carrying my Canon EOS 7D with a 100-400mm lens.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

As you can see, this is a male of the species.  It has the red crown on the head.  Of course, this does not mean that all woodpeckers with red crowns are Ladder-backs.  I have found out the hard way, since I was an ordinary person, (a non-birder), that several other woodpeckers have some red on their heads.  Most notably, of course, is the aptly named Red-headed Woodpecker.  So not to confuse you any further, it’s best to consult your bird guides for other field marks to determine the proper identification.

Click on either image to see an enlargement.

Birding Eldorado Water Ponds

One place that Ann and I always enjoy visiting is the Water Treatment Ponds at Eldorado, Texas.  About forty miles south of our home in San Angelo, it is consists of five huge ponds, each about 200 feet by 300 feet.  I think one of them is even larger.  Anyway, you never know what you will find when you visit.  We have had times when the birding was scarce.

This time proved to be a bit different.  It was cool, overcast and windy when we left and didn’t really expect to see much, but we felt that it may be worth the trip.  We sometimes tire of the routine birding locally and just like to get away for awhile.

Savannah Sparrow on fence.

By the time we arrived it had warmed a bit, and the wind had abated somewhat.  The clouds were still overhead, and I really don’t mind that as the light is softer for photography.  Some of the winter duck types have arrived there, such as Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers.  These we haven’t seen in San Angelo yet, but I guess they are on their way.

There were numerous Savannah Sparrows on the fences, and we saw several overflights of other birds that we couldn’t identify, however there were several Blue-winged Teal arriving.

At one point we were were driving slowly and watching the close shoreline, looking for Wilson’s Snipes.  They are difficult to see and we were not successful in sighting any.  However we saw an American Bittern, a few yards ahead with it’s familiar head stretching upward.  Wanting to get a photograph, I crept a slowly as I could, but it still managed to detect me.  By the time we reached the location where we had seen it, it had nearly disappeared.  Upon close examination, though, I spotted it in the grasses, nearly invisible.  I managed to get several photos of it.

American Bittern – trying to be invisible.

A few yards farther along was one of two Great Egrets that we had seen.

Great Egret at Eldorado Water Treatment ponds.

One of the highlights of the day was spotting this Merlin.  I got several images of it and I wasn’t sure of the identification until I got home and could get a closer look at it in the computer.  It is very similar to the Prairie Falcon.  But when it spread it’s tail, I could see the wider, bolder stripes.


But this gives you an indication of the variety of birds that can be seen there.  We also saw about three Great Blue Herons, a Double-crested Cormorant. an American Kestrel, a few swallows and some other un-identified birds.  In all, according to Ann’s list that she always keeps, we saw twenty-four species in about two hours.  Here is a complete list.

  1. House Finch
  2. Great Egret
  3. American Coot
  4. Northern Shoveler
  5. White-winged Dove
  6. Northern Mockingbird
  7. American Kestrel
  8. Turkey Vulture
  9. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  10. Ruddy Duck
  11. Eared Grebe
  12. Double-crested Cormorant
  13. Pied-billed Grebe
  14. Wild Turkey
  15. Blue-winged Teal
  16. Savannah Sparrow
  17. Gadwall
  18. American Bittern
  19. Barn Swallow
  20. Great Blue Heron
  21. Killdeer
  22. Merlin
  23. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  24. Red-tailed Hawk

Miscellaneous Monday Moments

I and Ann got out to Middle Concho Park this morning for awhile.  A little quiet at first, but we ended up seeing over twenty birds.  The weather was a little cool but gradually warmed.  Skies were partly cloudy.  We saw this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk zipping around.  At first, we saw him in the fork of a tree.  I managed to get this shot before he flew off to perch atop the utility pole that you see in the second image.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in tree.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk atop utility pole.

I was able to get a shot of a Red-winged Blackbird amongst some old sunflowers.  Several more shots were throw-aways, because the red of the wing was covered up with the vegetation.

Red-winged Blackbird in the sunflowers.

The following shot of a Great Blue Heron was made several days ago.  I opted to not clone out the bit of spider webbing that you see hanging from the branches.  I much rather keep things looking natural as much as I can.

Great Blue Heron

I hope you enjoyed these photographs.  Click on any of them to see some enlargements.

P.S.  My book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”, is now on sale at 20% off thru October 23.  Click HERE  and use the code FANS at checkout.  It is available in either softcover or hardcover.