Just a few birds………..


Monday morning was getting warm but there was a thin layer of high cloudiness.  With the diffused sunlight, I thought I would venture out to the San Angelo State Park to see what I might find to photograph.  Ann was doing the laundry and housecleaning and preferred that I was somewhere else anyway.

Arriving at the park, I decided on going to the bird blind first.  If a person is going to sit in there very long, it is best to do it early as it warms very fast these days.  However, when I got there I was very disappointed.  The grass and weeds were more than two feet deep.  The pond was covered in algae.  There was no trace of anything in the feeders.  I scrounged in the bin, and found only a handful of seed that I could scrape off the bottom.  I put that meager amount out in hopes of attracting a few birds.  It is obvious to me that the park personnel have no desire to maintain the place anymore.  The “Friends of San Angelo State Park”, seem to be directing their efforts elsewhere.  I don’t understand this, as birding is one of the largest growing hobbies in the state now.

Enough of my rant.  I sat there long enough to get a photos of a Northern Cardinal and a House Sparrow.  In it it’s own way, the sparrow is a very pretty bird.  Of course, I can’t say enough about the cardinal.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

I also saw, while sitting there, numerous White-winged Doves, a couple of Black-crested Titmouses, and a Curve-billed Thrasher.  There were a couple of Bobwhites calling in the distance, too.

I decided to take a drive thru the park then, only to find that the birding was a bit sparse there, too.  Probably a combination of the heat and scarcity of water.  However, I did spot a Greater Roadrunner that I was able to photograph.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Early fall migration is right around the corner.  Beginning in late August, we might start to see some birds coming back from their journeys elsewhere.  Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.

Don’t forget, Part IV of my music journey, will be published this coming weekend.  The plot thickens…………….

Yakkety-Sax Man Part III: From to Reno to Ardmore


Reno, Nevada. “The Biggest Little City in the World”, so says the big arch over the main street.  I arrived there during the early hours on the “City of San Francisco” streamliner out of Chicago.  A two-day trip if I remember correctly.  I got a hotel room and reported in at Stead AFB the next morning, a few miles outside of town.  It was the Survival School for the U. S. Air Force.  They trained pilots and other military to live off the land by taking them up into the Sierra Nevada mountains, giving them basic survival tools, knives, parachutes,, etc, and leaving them for the week.  They also had some serious training on how to survive POW camps.  My assignment was the headquarters building and my living quarters were in downtown Reno, near the University of Nevada.  Not a wise place to live for an airman with a paycheck of only $37.00 per month, plus a meager food allowance.

"The Biggest Little City in the World&quo...

“The Biggest Little City in the World” Sign – Reno, Nevada (Photo credit: travelswithkim)

Two days after reporting in, a friend introduced me to the casinos and I promptly lost my money.  With a week to go until the next payday, I found that there is such a thing as a guardian angel.  Another friend, a faithful Christian, invited me me into town to buy me a cup of coffee.  I was pretty down, and he kept telling not to worry, that things would work out.  We went to a place called Tiny’s Waffle Shop.  My pockets were empty, (I thought).  He bought me coffee and on the way out of the place, I happened to discover a dime in my pocket.  In a reaction that I don’t completely understand, I promptly dropped the dime into a slot machine that all establishments in town had near their doors.  I pulled the handle and I instantly won a $10.00 jackpot.  To an airman of my status, at that time it was enough that to live off for a week.  The Lord works in mysteriously ways………

I never went into a casino again during my stay there in Reno.

I had brought my saxophone with me, of course, and I promptly started looking for side work.  At first I got an evening job washing dishes at Dante’s Inferno, a pizza place.  During slow periods, I played the sax for entertainment.  That lasted a few weeks until I got a small 4-piece combo organized.  I ran into a few other musicians, and I organized the Bob Zeller Combo.  Drums, bass, piano, and my sax.  We booked into a small club downtown and played there on weekends.  During that time, Harrahs Club, offered me a job playing in the pit orchestra.  It probably would have paid well, but I get bored just playing as a sideman.  Also, I must not forget that I worked for the government, in the U.S. Air Force.  This wouldn’t be the last time that I was asked to take another playing job.

Since the “entertaining” hours in Reno didn’t begin until about 10:00PM, I would sleep a few hours after I got off work at the air base at 5:00, then get to the club about 9:30 to get ready to work.  We would generally play until around 2:00AM, then head to another club to jam a bit with other musicians for an hour or so.  I would then hop on the personnel truck heading to the base, getting there in time for breakfast.

English: Thunderbirds performing at Reno, Neva...

Thunderbirds performing at Reno, Nevada during the National Championship Air Races. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I only spent about three months at Stead, as it was in the throes of changing missions.  It is now a municipal airport and is the site of the annual National Air Races.

I got orders to be transferred to Ardmore AFB, at Ardmore, Oklahoma.  It was there that my music took a completely different direction.  I fell in love with Country/Western Music.  It doesn’t take long for word to get out that there are new musicians arriving.  I dropped into the service club and ran into other musicians.  One of them was Billy Deaton.  He was organizing a new western band.  He liked my sound, and we were soon one of the best western swing bands in the area.

The Melody Rangers photographed during a casual rehearsal.

The Melody Rangers photographed during a casual rehearsal.

In the photo above Billy Deaton is second from left on guitar and most of the vocals.  After his air force career he became one of the record producers in Nashville, Tennessee, and also had a band playing out of San Antonio, Texas.  The drummer was Lou Brown, and he was always asking me to date his mother, as she had a crush on me.  Of course, I am second from the right, and on the far right is Stu Basore, the steel guitar player.  After he got discharged he played steel for some of the best, including the great Ray Price.  I also did many of the vocals.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names of the others in the picture.

I also was involved with a singing group that we called “The Skylighters”.  There were three of us, me, S/sgt Hollis Davidson, and S/sgt Mickey Blanchard.  We, on purpose, decided to imitate the Four Aces of national fame.  Somehow, we were able to write our parts so when we sang we sounded exactly like that famous group.  This group and the Melody Rangers were always in demand for playing engagements and also for on-base functions.  The Air Force provided us with a C-123 Provider cargo plane and flew us to Oklahoma City, for their Centennial Celebration in 1957, if I remember correctly.

Back:  Melody Rangers Front:  The Skylighters

Back: Melody Rangers
Front: The Skylighters

The photo above was taken when both groups were competing for the Tops In Blue Air Force Talent competitions.  Billy Deaton was not available for the photo.  I competed with both groups, and the Skylighters took second place.

One notable experience was when a Grand Ole Opry touring show visited Ardmore. The headliner for the show was Judy Lynn, one of the best female western singers of the time.  Also on the show was Brenda Lee, soon to be one of the greatest of all time.  A friend of mine, Howard Short was stationed with me, and he knew some members of the Judy Lynn’s band.  He suggested that we go into town with my sax and his guitar.  He said that we could warm up with them before the actual show started.

So there we were, on stage, and having a blast playing with the band while a few of the paying customers started to dwindle in.  I can’t remember the names of the band’s musicans, but Brenda Lee was sitting there tapping her foot, with her mother watching over her.  I believe she was between 10 and 15 years old then.  Of course, at that time nobody knew how great she was going to become.  I am thrilled that I was able to say I met her.  Judy Lynn afterwards tried urging me to continue the tour with them.  They had about six more cities left.  Unfortunately, I had just re-enlisted for my second Air Force tour, just a few weeks prior.

I spent nearly three years at Ardmore, and it was some of the best years of my life.  On Saturday nights, if I wasn’t booked somewhere else, you could find me at the Cotton Club in Ardmore, where Leroy Thompson and the Western Swingtime Cowboys played.  I became friends with the whole band and I usually ended up playing about two hours with them each night.  I would sit in, playing the sax, and also occasionally the string bass and drums.

It was while I was there, that I married Ann, the love of my life.  We lived in a nice garage apartment in downtown Ardmore.  We moved into it about a week after we were married.  (And some of you may remember that we met in person only two days before we were married.)  Our landlord took a liking to us and promptly told us that his son would sell us his 1953 Buick Roadmaster for only $795.00.  It was a cream-puff of a car.  The following day I took Ann to the base, and she was able to get a Civil Service job.  So as you can see, our married life was off to a wonderful start.

Our next place of duty would be Karamursel, Turkey.  It is with our new asssignment there, that I will continue with Part IV.  Watch for it soon.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Before I start, I wish to welcome all of the new readers that have subscribed to my blog in the past several months.  One of them, in particular, caught my interest.  Duane Sugarbaker, of my hometown of Muskegon, Michigan recognized my former street address there at 913 Fleming Avenue on this image inserted in my last post.  He well should have, as he lived at 901 of the same street.L1000216-band-card He and I and my brothers were childhood friends back in the ’40s.  Talk about a small world.  I haven’t seen him in around 65 years.  Duane, tell all the guys from our sandlot baseball team, hello. 🙂

This blog now has 1,472 subscribed readers, plus hundreds more who haven’t subscribed, in 150 countries.  It has received, since the beginning about four years ago, 111,295 hits.  Rats, I was going to give a prize for the 110,124th hit, but it got away from me.  Sorry about that. 🙂

Okay, now about today’s birding.  Ann and I decided to see if there were any birds about at Spring Creek and Middle Concho Parks.  We spent about two hours, and only saw 17 different species.  So much for the mid-summer doldrums.  Here is one photo of a Black Vulture wandering around in the grass.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

However, one of the highlights was spotting a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  They usually keep themselves hidden.  This one did so, partially, but I was unable to get a decent shot.  So I will show these images from my archives.  I don’t think I ever blogged about them, anyway.  If I did it was probably several years ago.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

They perch pretty much upright on the branch, usually with their bill pointing upward.  Their white breast stands out when you are looking for them in the trees.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I don’t usually publish photos with birds and their tail cut off, but it didn’t hurt the composition in this photo, I don’t think.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I hope you enjoyed the photos and the narrative.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Coming this weekend, Part III of my on-going Yakkety-Sax Man epic.  If you haven’t done so check out Part I and Part II.

Also, I have now sold nearly 100 copies of my book “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”.  They are still available from my Blurb publisher on the right side of this page.

Yakkety-Sax Man – Part II: The Big Band Era


After writing Part I, I was over-whelmed by the comments that asked that I continue my story.  I deeply appreciate that you readers are so interested in my past.  Before I continue, I wish to make one disclaimer.  During all of my 50+year career, the only thing I ever smoked was regular cigarettes, the only thing I drank was beer or whiskey, and I never took anything worse than prescription pills or aspirin.  As you will find out as I go along, I was in an environment to ruin my life, but I stayed in control of my faculties, including fighting girls off with my saxophone.  I have remained faithful only to my wife, Ann.L1000216-band-card

Now with that out of the way, let’s continue.

I was beginning the part in my life when I enjoying playing in the big bands.  The Morrie Bectel Orchestra was one of the best in western Michigan.  We were made up of some of the best young musicians from the schools in Muskegon.  We had four saxes, three trumpets, three trombones, bass, piano, and drums.  Morrie, the leader, was the drummer.  I was also the vocalist.  The girls didn’t swoon, but they giggled a bit.  Ma, if you could hear me now.

We had some interesting bookings around the state, but mostly around Muskegon.  During the summer we played weekly concerts near the Lake Michigan beach, performing on a flat-bed trailer.  That was the only time that my parents ever heard me play professionally.

But we played one gig that was right out of the movie, “Snake Pit”.

In Traverse City, Michigan, there was a state asylum for the mentally ill.  The local musician’s union, Local 252, would take some bookings and mete them out to various bands.  So, of course, one night our number came up and we made the 150 mile trip, expenses paid by the union.

The venue was a large building that I surmised was probably a gym type facility.  There were three-tiered bleachers on each side of the room.  The male patients sat on one side and the ladies sat on the other side.  When the music started, both sides rushed at each other.  It gave new meaning to the words “musical chairs”.  A few were left standing without a partner and had to go back and sit down.

During the evening, one little lady, came up to the bandstand with a piece of paper in her hand.  She looked around furtively, and slid the note over under my chair.  She ran off, I picked up the note.  It said “Please tell mother that I am alright”.

harry-jamesAnother venue that we enjoyed was the Fruitport Pavilion at Fruitport, Michigan.  It was a regular stop for bands like Count Basie, Woody Herman, the Dorsey brothers, and Harry James and all of the other big bands of the era.  The day Harry James wedded Betty Grable he was booked at the Pavilion.  We were off that night and we, the other guys in our band, hurried out to see if we could get a glimpse of his new wife.  Alas, he left her in the hotel in Chicago, 200 miles away, where he would be headed after the gig.

Anyway, when the well known big bands were not booked there, we often got hired to play in their stead.  We drew the same large crowds.  It is quite a rush to play in a big band, be one of the featured musicians, and get up during a song to do a solo.  Quite an ego trip.

During those years, I also had my own band, Bob Zeller and his Orchestra.  Very aptly named, don’t you think?  I able to book jobs when I wasn’t playing with the other bands.

One of my peresonal quirks was that I was a very shy introvert, probably because I was bullied and teased when I was younger, but that is another story.  When on stage with the sax in my hand I was someone else, reveling in the applause and admiration of the crowd.  During a break, though, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bandstand and mingle with the audience.  I would go by myself, out the back door, and have a cigarette or just be alone.

Getting kicked out of the high school band, as I told the story in Part I, devastated me.  Music was my life, and I no longer had an interest in staying in school.  So I dropped out.  I was in the eleventh grade.  (I eventually got my high school diploma in later years.)

I went to work as a draftsman for the Brunswick-Balke-Collendar Company, makers of  bowling alleys, pool tables, and other sporting goods. I had studied drafting in high school and was pretty adept at it.  It was while I was working there, that one day my brother, Jim, talked me into visiting the local U.S. Air Force recruiter during lunch hour.  The next day, I was on a bus heading to Detroit, to get my enlistment physical.  I never returned home, as I was accepted on the spot.  Jim was rejected because of kidney problems, and he headed back home while I was being sworn in, then boarding a train for Sampson AFB in New York, for my basic training.

A/2c Bob Zeller

A/2c Bob Zeller

As it turned out, on my third day of training, we were double-timing back to the barracks, when we were hit by a surprise thunder-storm.  I got soaked, got pneumonia, and spent  a month in the base hospital.  I got out. had a relapse and spend another month and a half or so in the infirmary again.  In all, it took me nearly five months to do eleven weeks of basic training.  The good news was that my hair grew out and I looked like a veteran when my training was over.  I also was able to have my sax shipped to me during that time.

When I was not in the hospital I was afforded special privileges after it was noticed that I was pretty much talented.  I was able to play at certain base functions, even getting off base occasionally.  All with the approval of my superiors.  But not without me paying for it in other ways.  One night I came back late from one of those gigs, and found my cot folded up, my mattress and bedding rolled up and stuck in the rafters.  I heard muffled giggles as I struggled in the dark to get my stuff back together.  No lights, or risk bringing the brass to see what was going on.

So much for my days in boot camp.  From there I was assigned to Stead AFB, Reno, Nevada, the home of the Air Force Survival School at that time.  A beginning of great stories to tell about my my Air Force exploits.

To comment, click on the little “cloud” at the top of this post, or on “leave a reply” at the bottom of this page.

I will continue this epic when I publish Part III in about a week or so.  Watch for it.  Again, to read Part I if you haven’t already, click here.

Bob’s Best of the Big Bend


When I noticed that Far Flung Family Center was asking for people to submit favorite photos of the Big Bend for their Facebook page, I thought I’d post a few of my own favorite images from my past visits to that magnificent area.  This place is dear to Ann’s and my own heart.  We visit there around twice a year, and always find new thrills.  These photos are not of birds, but some of my own favorite images from Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Above is one of my favorite images in Big Bend National Park.  We were on the Ross Maxwell Highway heading down towards the eastern entrance to Santa Elena Canyon.  Aproximately five miles before reaching the canyon proper, the Rio Grande makes a bend towards the highway.  I used a wide angle setting on my 24-105mm zoom that was attached to my Canon EOS 7D.  With that, I was able to compose the picture to include the canyon in the background in the upper right.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

This is the eastern delta of Santa Elena Canyon.  The Rio Grande comes out of the canyon here on it’s journey to the Gulf coast.  As you can see in the picture, the water is running pretty shallow at the time of this photo.  You can see some canoers  getting ready to paddle upstream into the canyon.  The walls soar upwards to 1,500 feet, and you might see Peregrine Falcons flying overhead, as they nest in these cliffs.

Indian Paintbrush

Mountain Paintbrush

One of the wildflowers that you might see in the Big Bend is this Mountain Paintbrush.  I love the vibrant, glowing reds of the blossoms.  Mountain Bluebonnets are plentiful here in the spring, also.

Desert Storm

Desert Storm

A desert rainstorm can pop up anytime, with cooling rains.  Those tall desert plants in the foreground are Ocotillo.  They are tall with glowing, fiery red blossoms on the tips of the stalks.  We have two in our yard at home that are about 18 feet tall.

Mountains in the Mist

Mountains in the Mist

This is an image that was taken on a really, really wet day, early in the year.  Heavy, water laden clouds were everywhere.  The mountains of the Chisos range were peeking about the lower clouds.  I was having difficulty keeping my cameras dry, so I was photographing from the car window.  That is not a difficult task, however.  Fortunately, traffic was very light, mostly because of the obvious bad weather.

Desert Butte

Desert Butte

On drier days, this is a very familiar sight in Big Bend National Park.  Great vistas of mountains and buttes.  In such an environment a person has trouble in deciding which way to aim the camera.

Bobcat photographed near Rio Grande Village Campground.

Bobcat photographed near Rio Grande Village Campground.

Wildlife abounds Big Bend National Park.  High in the Chisos are approximately thirty black bears.  Throughout the rest of the park are bobcat, deer, rabbit, birds, hawks, small varmints, not to mention about two dozen or more mountain lions roam.  Recently, desert long-horned goats have been introduced to the area.

I was fortunate to photograph the Bobcat near the Rio Grand Village Campground in the eastern part of the park, near Boquillas Canyon.  As I drove through the deserted campground, he, or she, leaped from the brush and promptly sat down near a tree.  I used my 100-400mm lens from the car for the photo, before it loped off, nearly in the path of a hunting coyote.

Mule Ears Peak at dusk.

Mule Ears Peak at dusk.

Another of my favorite images from the park, is the photo of the Mule Ears Peaks, taken near dusk.

I hope you have enjoyed this pictures and narratives.  Prints are available for sale if you are interested.  Just contact me for particulars.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Summer Doldrums – American Kestrel


Okay, before I go any farther, some of you be wondering about Part II of my Yakkety-Sax Man story.  Never fear, it is being written as we speak.  Look for it Sunday, July 20.  In the meantime, if you haven’t read Part I, click here.

Now here is today’s post:

They are here.   The Summer Doldrums, soon to be followed by the Dog Days of August.  I don’t know why, but I always get a little restless this time of year.  The Spring Migration is over, now it is hurry up and wait for the reverse Fall Migration.

Which brings me to the subject of what to write about during this period.  It’s not that there isn’t birds out there, but they seem to be in the same mood as me.  They just don’t want to get out and be photographed.  I guess I need a new venue and some new birds.  But since I don’t have either today, I guess I will just show some of my favorite image of that lovable, cute, feisty American Kestrel.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

New Toy – the Leica V-Lux 4


Several months ago, on a whim, I purchased a Leica V-Lux 4.  I had read about it, thinking that it would be a great little light-weight camera for hiking and vacation fun pictures.  I used it very little, until we decided to take a few days off for a weekend trip to Fredricksburg.  It is a little more than a point and shoot.  It has 12MP, 25-600 equivalent zoom lens, f2.8 aperture, fast auto focus, and an easy to see viewfinder, plus a bunch of other great features.  I am still playing with it and what fun it is.  There are many shooting modes, including built-in HDR, 3D, Panoramic, among others.

On our little trip to Fredricksburg, I used it exclusively.  Here are some sample shots.

World War II B-25 Bomber - Nimitz Museum, Fredricksburg, Texas

World War II B-25 Bomber – Nimitz Museum, Fredricksburg, Texas. 1/15 sec at f2.8. ISO 1600. Hand held, No flash

Field of Flags, Nimitz Museum Compound.  1/200 sec @ f4.  ISO 160

Field of Flags, Nimitz Museum Compound. 1/200 sec @ f4. ISO 160

My best friend, Shannon, goofing off with yours truly.  1/250 sec @ f4,  ISO 100.

My best friend,click Shannon, goofing off with yours truly. 1/250 sec @ f4, ISO 100.

On Friday morning, I decided to take out into the field for some wildlife images., for comparison.  Here is a distant shot of a Great Blue Heron, approximately 250 yards away.  Top photo with my Canon EOS 7D and 100-400mm lens at full length.  The bottom photo with the Leica V-Lux 4, at it’s 600mm extent.

Great Blue Heron - Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm.

Great Blue Heron – Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm.

Great Blue Heron - Leica V-Lux 4 at 600mm.

Great Blue Heron – Leica V-Lux 4 at 600mm equivalent. Hand-held.

There was a noticeable lack of birds to photograph, but we did see these White-tailed Deer fawns.

White-tailedd Deer - fawn

White-tailed Deer – fawn – 1/500 sec. @ f2.8 – ISO 320

White-tailed Deer - fawn

White-tailed Deer – fawn – 1/80 sec. @ f2.8 – ISO 125

What I liked most was the light weight of the camera, and the fact it was easy to hand hold for those long range tele-shots.  For birders that want something a bit better than the ordinary point-and-shoot, this the answer.  For a complete overview of this amazing camera, click on the link in the first sentence of this post.  Also, click on any image to see some enlargements.

Yakkety-Sax Man – Part I: A Star is Born


Since the birding is a bit slow, I thought I would enlighten you a bit more of my personal history.  Don’t worry, I will have some more birding posts soon.

This post is the first in a series, describing my approximate 50 years as a saxophonist, 40 years professionally.  I don’t know how many parts I will need as I probably will try to cover everything I did over the years.  However, I think it will be fun for me as well as you, my readers, and I have thrown in some old pictures.  I have no idea how it will go.  I am just going to start typing and see what comes out.

I guess it all began when I was about five or six years old, when it was discovered that I had a strong aptitude for music.  I was always singing something.  My mother said that my favorite song was “Old Shanty Town”.  I guess I probably picked it up from the radio.  But you know how mothers are.  They tend to exaggerate quite a bit.  Personally, I wouldn’t know.  I don’t know if I could read at that age.  Maybe I just hummed.

My first grade teachers marveled at my voice, always inviting me to sing with at any school programs that would arise.  My music teacher, probably when I was about seven years old, who I only remember as Mrs. Hahn, started a bunch of us to use the “Tonette”.  It was a little plastic, tubular shaped thing with holes that you covered or uncovered while blowing through one end.  Kinda like the old “Sweet Potato”, if you remember them.  That was my first experience with any music “instrument”.

I think it was when I nine years old, I decided I wanted a real music instrument to play.  I didn’t know which one I wanted, whether it would be brass or woodwind.  So my parents took me downtown to Berman’s music store.  The owner showed me several different instruments; trumpets, clarinets, etc.  Finally my eyes landed on the saxophone.  I looked at all of those fancy keys, and I was in awe.  It was a Buscher Alto Sax.  I wanted one of those.  Thus, a star was born. 🙂

The man at the music store said that he could give me private lessons.  So we made plans for that and we drove home.  There, I couldn’t wait for a lesson.  I tinkered with it a bit myself, and was able immediately play a sour version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.  The neighbors probably heard that and thought, ” what are we in for now?”

Well, it didn’t turn out too bad for them.  My parents made me practice thirty minutes everyday.  At the time, there were times that I didn’t want to practice, buy they kept after me.  Eventually, I think the neighbors started to enjoy it.  I got pretty good, and my folks wanted to show me off to everybody that came to the house.  Even traveling salesmen were subjected to my mother’s insistence that they hear me play.

Muskegon, Michigan, High School Big Red Marching Band

Muskegon, Michigan, High School Big Red Marching Band – that’s me in the dark uniform.

I entered junior high school I guess when I was about 12 or13 and was able to get into the school band.  But I had my eye on the senior high school band.  The Marching Big Reds.  But I had to wait for that.  However, when I was in the ninth grade, when technically I was still in junior high, I was asked to join the big high school band.  I was about 15 years of age at the time.  One-hundred and eight members strong, it was one of the best in the state, and a blast to be marching with them in the football games.

The Muskegon High School Big Red marching band was under the directorship of Mr. William Stewart, Jr.  A strict disciplinarian.    I was always scared of him.  I don’t think he smiled much.  Under him, though, the members were alway winning state marching and concert competitions.  Our chests were proudly covered with blue ribbons.

Meanwhile, yours truly, was working towards other ambitions, such as playing professionally as a dance band musician.  Mr. Stewart definitely did not like dance band musicians.

kentwining-bob-zeller

Drummer Ken Twining

I guess I was fourteen when a drummer in the high school band decided to start up a ‘dance band’, Ken Twining and his Orchestra.  It was small, just a drummer, trumpet, sax (me), piano and bass.  We played our first gig at a school dance and got five dollars each.  I also sang for the first time professionally.  I stood at the mike and crooned “Because of You”.  My knees were knocking all the time.

About a year or so later, I broke away to do some free lance work.  I worked with any band that needed me.  I was doing a lot of night club work at the time and doing quite well financially. At 15 or 16, I couldn’t buy a drink.  But I was still playing in the Muskegon High School Big Red band, too.  One day Mr. Stewart called a night rehearsal in preparation for a school trip to Chicago, where the band was going to play at the Hotel Sheraton for some fancy affair.

Morrie Bectel and his Orchestra.  Bob Zeller 2nd from left in front row.

Morrie Bectel and his Orchestra. Bob Zeller 2nd from left in front row.

Well, heck, I had a paying gig at Ted’s Night Club in Muskegon Heights.  I was playing with a newly formed big 9-piece band, “Morrie Bectel and his Orchestra.  I opted to not attend rehearsal.  The next morning Mr. Stewart informed me that “we no longer need your services, Mr. Zeller”.  I was kicked out of the high school band.  He also added that ‘I would never be a soloist anyway’.  Yeah, right.

At this point, I might point out that Mr. Stewart had heard me play professionally on a previous occasion.  I was playing with the Charlie Bird Orchestra for the school prom, when he and the assistant band director, Alex Posvistak walked into the gym.  He completely ignored me, but later pointed out that he didn’t like the dance band tone that I used in school.

Check back soon for Part II of this exciting epic, and hear my Ann say, “What?  Are you gonna blow that thing again tonight??”

Actually, I will wait and see how this is received with my readers, whether to go on with Part II.

A Few Fourth of July Images


The Fourth of July holiday dawned cool with a high overcast.  Feeling lazy, I had a great Scrabble game going on with a dear friend in Houston when my iPad’s battery went down.   Alas!  What was I to do with no iPad or no Scrabble?  Well, I forgot my laziness and grabbed my cameras, after putting my iPad on the charger.  With the high overcast, the light was perfect with the sun’s light diffused and no harsh shadows.

This time of year, between the spring and fall migrations, the birding aspects aren’t too great.  I guess they call this the dog-days of summer.  Anyway, the temperature started warming, so we went to the bird blind at the San Angelo State Park.  There the water was trickling into the pond and there were a few birds around.  We sat on the bench and opened the large windows for easier viewing and photography.  Here are three images that I captured there.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

House Finch

House Finch

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

After leaving the bird blind, we took a quick drive around to see what else may be hanging around.  I caught this Greater Roadrunner in a tree.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Then who can refuse this bird that only a mother could love.  There is a certain beauty to the Turkey Vulture.  It’s not his fault that he appears to be, well, er, ugly.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Killdeer Family – a day at the beach


The beach in question being a mud-hole.  But that doesn’t matter to these young Killdeer, only a few days old.  We had driven up to one of our favorite birding spots, when I noticed some baby Killdeer walking around the water.  I pulled the car up behind a mesquite tree, but in position so I could shoot photos from the driver’s side window.

Killdeer chick

Killdeer chick

There were four of the little ones, all walking along the side of the mud-hole.

Killdeer chick

Killdeer chick

The adult mother was a few feet away in hovering mode.

adult Killdeer

adult Killdeer

Off to our right, was the adult father, doing the broken wing act to draw us away from the children.

Adult Killdeer faking a broken wing, to draw us away from the chicks.

Adult Killdeer faking a broken wing, to draw us away from the chicks.

Nearby, a Greater Roadrunner was making plans of his own.  He makes a run at the chicks, trying for a quickie lunch, but the two adult Killdeer give him a merry chase and sent him on his way.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

The mother is still wary and she draws her children close to give them protection.

Adult Killdeer with her children.

Adult Killdeer with her children.

Soon all four chicks are completely covered by the adult.

Adult Killdeer protecting her children.

Adult Killdeer protecting her children.

Soon after, the adults sensing that the danger no longer existed, released the children and they went back to play.  I and Ann were thrilled to watch this display of family love and togetherness.

We were reminded of some dear friends in Houston that have a similar family.  There are four children there, too, and the parents are completely devoted to protecting and loving them.  The only difference is, that the father may not fake the broken wing.  But I am sure he would do whatever it takes.

I hope you enjoyed this post and photos. Click on any of them to see some enlargements.