Two Warblers, a Wren and a Kinglet

That title sounds like the first line to a joke,  “two warblers, a wren and a kinglet all walk into a bar………”.  Just kidding.  I don’t have a punch line for it anyway. 🙂

The weather was somewhat damp and drizzly the last few days, so I again starting browsing through my old files.  I picked out the warbler and kinglet  photos first, then I decided I liked that Bewick’s Wren image, too, and decided to throw it in.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Bewick’s Wren

Wilson’s Warbler

Nicer weather is in the forecast, and new winter birds should be arriving, so my next post is a couple of days might be more interesting again with some newer images.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Great Surprises Await….If You Go

In her post, Mia McPherson talked abut not giving up on a trip if the weather doesn’t fit or if you think it is going to be a bad day.  If you don’t go, you will always wonder what you might have missed.  That bit of wisdom served Ann and I rightfully so on Monday morning.

The temperature was low 40s, very cloudy.  A glum day if ever there would be one.  We decided to go, even though we were thinking that there would be few birds and not very much excitement.  Boy, were we wrong.

We decided to go to Middle Concho Park.  We drove in the entrance and headed for the river area.  I looked to the left and said, “Hey, Ann, there’s a Great Egret!”  She answered, “No, that’s a Snowy!”  We did a double-take and saw there was one of each standing about four feet apart.  I turned down the road to the left, whipped a U-turn so I could photograph out my window.  I was able to get images of each one.

Snowy Egret

Great Egret

I started to drive straight ahead and Ann exclaimed, “Bob, up in that tree dead ahead!”  I looked and there was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk staring down at us.  I turned the car to the right temporarily so I could again use my window and got a nice image of the hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk – juvenile

I straightened the car and we continued.  We immediately saw a Golden-fronted Woodpecker in a tree to our right, then saw eight American Coots in the water to our left.  At this point, we had been in the park only about five minutes.   Later I photographed another Great Blue Heron across the water.

Great Blue Heron

After turning at the end of the park and started coming back, we saw several vultures flying through the park.  At one point I thought I saw one land on a tree branch about forty feet to my left.  I looked at it again, and realized it wasn’t a vulture, but a Zone-tailed Hawk.  A certain rarity for this area as they don’t come around here hardly at all.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and I got some great images of it with my Canon 7D and 100-400mm lens.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Soon after that, I looked across the river about 200 yards away, and I said, “Ann, there’s that Kingfisher again.”  It seems that they are always far off and this was certainly no exception.  I used my 500mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter and rattled off a few shots.  Because of the extreme distance, I wasn’t able to crop as close as I did for the one in my prior post.

Belted Kingfisher

After that, we moved to Spring Creek Park and added more birds to our list of sightings for the day.  So it turned out to be an exciting morning.  We’re glad that we didn’t let the weather change our mind about going.  We were having so much fun that we didn’t notice how cool it was.  In all we saw twenty-seven species.  Not bad for about three hours.  Here is complete list.

  1. Northern Mockingbird   4
  2. White-winged Dove   5
  3. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher   2
  4. Turkey Vulture   11
  5. House Sparrow   9
  6. House Finch   5
  7. Eastern Bluebird   14
  8. Great Blue Heron   4
  9. Snowy Egret   1
  10. Great Egret   1
  11. Great-tailed Grackle   15
  12. Red-tailed Hawk   1
  13. Golden-fronted Woodpecker   3
  14. Pied-billed Grebe   4
  15. Belted Kingfisher   3
  16. Zone-tailed Hawk   1
  17. Black Vulture   3
  18. Barn Swallow   3
  19. American Coot   8
  20. Killdeer   1
  21. Mallard   4
  22. Northern Cardinal   2
  23. Red-winged Blackbird   30
  24. Yellow-rumped Warbler   1
  25. Black-crowned Heron   2
  26. Common Grackle   9
  27. Mute Swan   1

Enjoy the photos, and click any of them to see enlargements.  P.S. My Blurb publisher has offered a 20% discount on my book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”.  Click this link, Bob”s Book.  Use the code  FANS  at checkout.

My Dirty Little Secrets

As most of you have found, from following my posts, is that I like to get extreme close-ups of my birds.  Many of you have commented on the sharpness of my images.  I appreciate those compliments.

The fact is, that I really don’t to things in an orthodox manner.  At least, I don’t think so.  I have friends that use Photoshop, Lightroom or other methods to get their ends.  I do use Photoshop to convert my RAW images.  But to obtain my sharp images, I also employ Topaz’s DeNoise, a noise eliminating software, and Focus Magic, a focus blur eliminating software.

In combination with those two amazing programs, I then use Smart Sharpening, and Unsharp Mask, (what a misnomer), in Photoshop.  I cannot tell you in what order I use each one as I just tinker.  I’ll admit that I probably start with the DeNoise, to check out the noise.  After that, I just fly by the seat of my pants.  I might even use Sharpen more than once.  If my friends could watch, they would roll their eyes, and ask, “Bob, what in hell are you doing?” 🙂

Case in point.  Here is what I started with, in deciding to edit the Kingfisher photo that I published in my previous post.  This image is what I saw through my viewfinderand I was using a 500mm super-telephoto wth a 1.4 tele-converter attached.  The bird was 150 yards away across the river, and you can imagine how tiny it looked with the naked eye.

Kingfisher – original image

Here is where I decided I wanted to crop.

Kingfisher photo with crop lines. Pardon the un-straight lines.

As you can see, with this I am really cropping a large part of the picture.  But I decided to go for it and here is the finished product.

Kingfisher – final cropped and edited image.

As you can see, it turned out pretty good.  Probably not an image that  people will fall over themselves wanting to buy, but acceptable for my internet use.  Upon close scrutiny you may still detect a tiny bit of noise.  This is crop is really a bit more extreme than I usually have to do.  But I love the challenge.  Now if you want to know how I did it, I don’t remember, except I clicked here and there and back again, and then clicked okay. 🙂

It is the final result that is important, not how you get there.  So now, all of you know all of my dirty little secrets. 🙂  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

P.S. My Blurb publisher has offered a 20% discount on my book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”.  Click this link, Bob”s Book.  Use the code  FANS  at checkout

Great Blue Heron plus Two

I thought you’d enjoy a nice brief post with a few photographs to enjoy your weekend.  They were taken between my birthday on October 2 and October 4.  Hey, did I tell you that I turned 78 on that day on the 2nd?  Darn, I must have forgot.  They say that you lose two thing when you get old.  One is your memory.  I can’t remember what the second one is.

Great Blue Heron with fish

Anyway, we were driving around Middle Concho Park, checking out the rising level of the water.  We got over 7 inches of rain finally. and things are looking good.  This Great Blue Heron was enjoying himself, too, partaking of the goodies in the water.

Great Egret

This Great Egret was watching for the same thing, but I didn’t hang around long enough to see if he was as successful.  I love this reflection.

Belted Kingfisher

In another area we saw three Belted Kingfisher flying around and arguing over territorial rights.  This one finally perched across the river to catch it’s breath.

Click on any image to see an enlargement.

P.S. My Blurb publisher has offered a 20% discount on my book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”.  Click this link, Bob”s Book.  Use the code  FANS  at checkout.

Red-tailed Hawks – More from the Big Bend

To expound a bit more on my previous post about photographing tiny birds I would like to offer this tip.  Birders like to walk through areas and look for birds.  This is all well and good.  I, as a birder, like to do that on occasion myself.  However, as a bird photographer with heavy equipment, I prefer to find a location that is a bit more sheltered to shoot from.

One such place might be a bird blind, or an area where there might be feeders, etc, located, along with a sheltered place for the photographer.  I do a lot of my work from such places, although it is not my favorite.  I prefer to not have my photos include feeders, seed trays, etc.  I prefer to have the natural look.

So, my favorite place is in my car.  It is a natural blind.  Birds are not afraid of it, and I can maneuver it into some isolated places for better sight lines.  I usually drive very slowly, around 5 mph or slower, creeping through woods, parks, and empty roadways.  If I come across a copse of trees where there is bird activity, I come to a stop.  With patience, you will see birds flitting between trees.  I keep my big lens resting on my “noodle”, on the window sill.

My only pet peeve about all of this, is when the action takes place outside the passenger side window.  That can be exasperating.  That is when I slowly move the car around for better position.  I have tried to quietly get out of the car, to take a photo over the roof, or from behind it, but almost every time the bird gets spooked.  It is so amazing.  I can get sometimes within 15 feet with the car and get great shots, but if I leave it when I am 40 or 50 feet away, the birds scatter.

There are times, though, that I find myself in a large area of bird activity, some times in parks.  I have been able to set up my tripod, maybe next to a picnic table for comfort, and just watch and wait.  This is particularly nice it the trees are large and open like large oaks.

So, try these methods.  I think that you will find that you will come away with more usable images.

I also love photographing raptors.  One of my favorite subjects, and the one that I have the most opportunities to shoot, is the Red-tailed Hawk.  The following three were shot last week in or near Big Bend National Park.  All were photographed from my car, but in all cases, they were much farther away.

Red-tailed Hawk in tree.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk in ocotillo.

In an intial post about our visit to the Big Bend I erred in quoting the number of species that we saw.  After carefully auditing our lists, we discovered that we had seen a total of 60 species.  I wish that I could have photographed all of them.  As it is, we still didn’t see any of the birds that should be arriving for the winter, or the list might have been greater.  For you who might be interested in seeing what there, is to view there here is our complete list.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. White-winged Dove
  3. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  4. Turkey Vulture
  5. American Kestrel
  6. Chihuahuan Raven
  7. Vermilion Flycatcher
  8. Eurasion Collared Dove
  9. Northern Mockingbird
  10. American Coot
  11. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  12. Townsend Warbler
  13. Black Vulture
  14. Black-throated Sparrow
  15. House Finch
  16. Mourning Dove
  17. Say’s Phoebe
  18. Wild Turkey
  19. Canyon Towhee
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Red-naped Sapsucker
  22. Blue Grosbeak
  23. Cassin’s Kingbird
  24. Eastern Phoebe
  25. Loggerhead Shrike
  26. Greater Roadrunner
  27. Sage Thrasher
  28. Scaled Quail
  29. House Sparrow
  30. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  31. Clay-colored Sparrow
  32. Western Wood Peewee
  33. Yellow-billed Sapsucker
  34. Wilson’s Warbler
  35. Brown-headed Cowbird
  36. Vesper Sparrow
  37. Belted Kingfisher
  38. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  39. Nashville Warbler
  40. Chipping Sparrow
  41. White-crowned Sparrow
  42. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  43. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  44. Pyrrhuloxia
  45. Lesser Goldfinch
  46. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  47. Orange-crowned Warbler
  48. Northern Cardinal
  49. Inca Dove
  50. Yellow-breasted Chat
  51. Cactus Wren
  52. Acorn Woodpecker
  53. Steller’s Jay
  54. Mexican Jay
  55. Scott’s Oriole
  56. Common Grackle
  57. Northern Harrier
  58. Bell’s Vireo
  59. Western Scrub Jay
  60. Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Catch Me If You Can – Photographing the Tiny Birds

A lot of the images that I got last week were of those tiny, hard to find little birds that flit around in the dense shrubs and bushes.  I think you know what I am talking about.  You watch some dense foliage, see a branch or twig move unnaturally, then try to see what is in there.  I can usually, eventually see the hidden bird.  Photographing it is another challenge.

Wilson’s Warbler

I am usually photographing from my vehicle.  I have my Canon 7D and 500mm lens resting on the window.  I use it after I have had an inital location with the binocular.   I set the camera to use only the center focus point.  When I can locate the bird, I try to get that focus point on the bird and then take the shot.  If the foliage is extra dense, I sometimes have to use a bit of manual ‘help’ to keep the focus.

These images illustrate how hard some of these little birds can be to see.

Bell’s Vireo

Townsend’s Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat

All of the images have been drastically cropped.  In a few, I didn’t know what I had until I got them into the computer and magnified them enough to ID them.  It is always nice to be able to get shots of birds that are more exposed in the open, like the two below.

Acorn Woodpecker

Clay-colored Sparrow.

So I hope you enjoy this little narrative, and the images.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Visiting Big Bend Country

In my previous post, I wrote about the Acorn Woodpeckers that we saw during our visit.  With this writing, I would like to talk more about the trip itself.  To appreciate it more you must know where the Big Bend country is.  In far southwest Texas, the Rio Grande bends southeastward away from El Paso.  Then it abruptly makes a sharp bend and travels northeast.  That vast area in between contains Big Bend National Park.  The park and surrounding areas north and west is what we call simply the Big Bend.

The land there is raw, desolate, seemingly forbidden.  Mountains, canyons, isolated areas where it is dangerous to go unprepared.  But, having said all of that, it is also awesomely beautiful.  Ann and I made our first trip there in the mid 1980s.  We had already lived in Texas since 1961, but had never ventured there.  We had no idea that such a place existed in the state.  We were struck by the beauty, isolation, and the ever-changing views when driving through the area.

Mt. Casa Grande

It is said that on the busiest day in Big Bend NP, it is still not as busy as the Smoky Mountains NP on their slowest day.  At over 800,000 acres it is one of the largest in the park system.  But it is also one of the least visited.  Definitely one of Texas’ best kept secrets.  On our recent trip, at one point Ann and I encountered four other cars, yes, that’s right four other cars traveling behind each other.  Ann remarked that it was a traffic jam.  Although that is what actually happened, including Ann’s quote, we may have exaggerated.  But you certainly have the feeling sometimes that you are only person there.

The purpose for our trip was to go birding, do bird photography and just enjoy the quite solitude.  We have our favorite places to visit.  The ruins of San Nail’s ranch for one.  There are a few adobe walls still standing and the park service has kept the windmill in good repair.  Otherwise it it pretty well overrun with mesquite, creosote bush, etc.  Some large cottonwood trees make for good birding there.

Red-tailed Hawk

We also like to go to Rio Grande Village RV park on the east side of the park.  It is adjacent to Boquillas Canyon.  There is a delightful nature trail with a boardwalk over a wetlands area.

The “Window” formation, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.

A must place to see is the Chisos Mountains Basin, high in the Chisos Mountains.  You must take a spectacular drive up through Green Gulch, over the pass, then drop down into the area that is called the Basin.  There the altitude is at 5,000 feet, surrounded by mountain peaks.  A lodge is located there where you can book rooms for your stay.  From your room you may, repeat may, see deer, bear, mountain lions, and various species of birds.

For our lodging we stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  It is located in Study Butte, outside the western entrance to the park. There you can book rafting or canoe trips through the canyons, Jeep tours, ATV trips, etc.  But to stay there you are not required to participate in any of those activities.  In the past, though, Ann and I have rafted the Rio Grande, and also took a couple of the Jeep tours.

Santa Elena Canyon

The restaurant facilities in Study Butte or Terlingua, are limited but all offer excellent food.  One of our favorites is the La Kiva.  We ate there one evening, feasting on one of the best T-bone steaks I have ever tasted.  Margaritas were only a dollar at the time we ate, which was somewhere between 5 and 7PM.

In my next post I will get back to more bird photos, and birding tales.