An Uneventful Weekend

(This is a re-run of a post that I published back in about January of 2009, about five years ago.  The present weather here has prevented me from getting out and getting fresh materiel.)

It was a wet, but welcome, rainy weekend, so Ann and I stayed in for the most part.  Watched TV, etc, the usual weekend sitting around stuff.However, we eat breakfast out pretty regularly, so we did notice something of  interest.  For the past several mornings we have seen, at the intersection of Johnson St., and Sherwood Way, a Common Nighthawk sitting on a utility line.  We have been seeing it at about 7:00AM each morning.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

They are easy to recognize  because of their profile.  They don’t sit or perch like a normal bird, but rest parallel to the branch.   Ann and I saw our first nighthawk a couple of years ago, after Terry Richmond talked us into birding with her monthly group at San Angelo State Park.  When she first pointed it out, I had a hard time seeing it, simply because I didn’t know what I was looking at.  Now when we make trips to the park, we always watch for those long, level tree branches where they like to sit.  The image pictured above, is one that I photographed there.

During the hot summer, we also found one on the ground, out near the Prairie Dog village.  I was walking around looking carefully, because I had been told that one had been seen in the area.  Because they have that camo pattern, I nearly stepped on it.  I carefully stepped away and was fortunate to get several close-up photographs.  It appeared to be almost asleep and I do not know if it was on an egg.  After getting my images I left it in peace.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

For you photographers out there, my favorite combination for shooting such photos is a Canon 40D.  I own two.  I use a Canon 100-400mm L series tele lens most of the time.  It is more portable, and of course with the zoom, it is ideal  for composing the shot.  I can use it from the mini-van easily.  I also use a Canon 500mm f4 L series super telephoto, and most of the time with a 1.4x converter attached.  Difficult to hand-hold but I have done it when needed.  But I get best results with it if I have time to set-up a tripod.  I use a Manfrotto-Bogen tripod and a Wimberly II gimbel head.

Having told you that, I must describe an experience of trying to photograph an American Kestrel.  We were cruising slowly through the San Angelo State Park.  We spotted this Kestrel in the top of a tree.  I slowed to a stop and tried to get a shot, but before I could get it in focus it flew off.  Now that rascal must have known what I was after, because he kept teasing me.  He would let me stop the van, just long enough for me to raise the camera, then he gleefully would take off again.  Finally, after an exhausting “chase”,  I finally decided I had better try to get a shot from a longer distance.  I put the “beast” (my 500mm lens) on the camera, then attached a 1.4x converter.  That gave me an extra 200mm of focal length.  Not much, but it was enough.  I maneuvered the van into position and managed to hand-hold the camera long enough through the window.   I came away with an awesome image of the American Kestrel, on a branch, showing off with all of his colorful tail feathers spread out.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Again, thanks to all who have commented on my posts.  It’s good to know that people are reading my “stuff”.  And, by the way, most of my writing is of course, about the local area.  I know that a lot of my readers are from other far-flung places, so I welcome you here and hope to hear from you.

Happy Birding!!  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Canada Geese plus Sunday photos

I got a call from my bird look-out friend yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.  Sue Oliver is an intense birder always watching for anything new to appear.  It was late in the day, but I was ready to go.  She said there were some Canada Geese at a neighborhood park near downtown San Angelo.  Since I am the “have camera, will travel” type of guy I headed out.

When I got there the sun was very low as evening was coming on.  I spotted a few of the geese in the grass, but they were far inside the fence.  This is a private neighborhood park.  They were feeding then, but as we watched they took flight and flew into the pond about 100 feet away.  I drove around the block to the other side of the park which was closer to the water, and it was easier to get a few images there.  Because of the late, low sun, the exposure was difficult.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Granted, the Canada Geese are thought of as nuisances in some cities.  As a matter of fact, one time when we where were visiting relatives near Mackinaw, Michigan, we ventured into a park where there were many mother geese with their goslings following them around.  In trying to get photos I got more than my share of goose poop in and on my shoes. But it was nice to see them here, as they are a rarity around here.

This morning, Ann and I woke early to a beautiful Sunday morning and decided that we would venture to the local parks after partaking of our Happy Meals at the nearby Golden Arches.  After arriving at the Spring Creek Park, we spotted this Red-tailed Hawk high in a tree.  He was facing away, but decided to have a look at me before making his way to more promising hunting grounds.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

After checking out some other smaller birds that were there, we drove over to Middle Concho Park.  There we drove along the water and got images of a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Great Egret

Both birds were across the river and I was able to use my 500mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, shooting from my car parked along the near side of the water.

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

Photographing Birds in Flight

As most of you photographers know, one of the most challenging projects to tackle, is to photograph birds in flight.  A few of my other blogging photographer friends have touched on the subject recently.  I thought I would put my proverbial two cents worth in about this challenge.

Of course what is needed is a fast shutter speed along with a long lens.  Most of the time I am shooting with my Canon 7D or my 70D.  My preferred lens is my Canon 100-400mm zoom.  Sometimes I use the same camera with my Canon 500mm lens attached, using my tripod with a gimbal head for fast maneuverablity.

For the larger birds, I can use the widest angle of the lens to acquire the bird, then zoom in to pan the camera after locking in my auto-focus.  The fact that the large birds, hawks, vultures, pelicans, etc, appear to be flying slower helps quite a bit.  As for the tiny birds, well, I practice a lot and therefore get lucky alot.

House Finch in flight.  Canon EOS 7D, 500mm lens /1.4 teleconverter.  1/2500 sec, f5.6, ISo 1000

House Finch in flight. Canon EOS 7D, 500mm lens /1.4 teleconverter. 1/2500 sec, f5.6, ISo 1000

One of those lucky shots was the one above of the House Finch in flight.  I was on a porch, with the described setup mounted on my tripod with a gimbal head.  The finches were flying back and forth between some shrubs below me.  I kept trying to swing the camera as the birds flew, and fortuntely the odds were with me, and I got lucky and captured it with it’s wings spread.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight.  Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens.  1/3200 sec. @f6.3, ISO 400.

Red-tailed Hawk . Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens. 1/3200 sec. @f6.3, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

This Red-tailed Hawk pictured above was somewhat easier.  I was driving towards Ballinger when I spotted the bird in the grass off of the left shoulder.  I moved quickly to the right hand side of the road, grabbed my camera off of my lap, where I always have it at the ready.  By then he had started to take flight.  My lens and camera easily acquired him, locked onto the auto-focus.  In burst mode I was able to fire off several exposures.

Red-tailed Hawk  Canon 40D with 100-400mm lens.  1/800 @ f6.3, ISO 400.

Red-tailed Hawk.  Canon 40D with 100-400mm lens. 1/800 @ f6.3, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

This photo is an example of being able to pan and therefore not having to use a super fast shutter speed.  The hawk and been perched atop a sotol int the desert of west Texas.  I had stopped to observe it from about 150 yards.  When it decided to take flight, I was ready.  I locked in on him and panned the camera.  Notice the 1/800 second shutter speed versus the 1/3200 speed in the previous photo.

Red-tailed Hawk - Canon EOS 40D, 1/1000 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.  Hand-held

Red-tailed Hawk – Canon EOS 40D, 1/1000 sec. @ f8, ISO 400. Hand-held.

The shot above was quite easy.  He was soaring overhead.  I exited the car and just panned as he flew around.  Again with burst mode, I got several nice exposures.  I liked this pose even though, I clipped a wing a bit.

Great Egret.  Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens.  1/500 sec. @ f9, ISO 1600.

Great Egret. Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens. 1/500 sec. @ f9, ISO 1600.  Hand-held.

The Great Egret was flying slowly down the Concho River in San Angelo.  I was able to pan with the slower shutter speed again.  The under-exposed dark background is the shadows of a building in the background.

Great Blue Heron.  Canon EOS 40D, 100-400mm lens.  1/1000 @  f11, ISO 400.

Great Blue Heron. Canon EOS 40D, 100-400mm lens. 1/1000 @ f11, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

Of course, what would my post be without a photo of one of my favorite subjects, the Great Blue Heron.  This photo was made near Lake Nasworthy here in San Angelo, Texas.

You may click on any of the images to see enlargements.

To update my west Texas “Big Year”, I added one more.

#85  Greater Yellowlegs.

Note:  My book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes” is still going strong.  You can obtain one at this link, here.  Over 100 of my best photographs.

New Equipment Update – Canon 70D

Call me crazy.  As I have mentioned in the past, I have been using the Canon EOS 7D for the past several years.  I owned two of them.  A few months ago I heard about the new 70D and purchased one of them.  Well I am here to tell you that I am so impressed with it, I have added a second 70D to my bag.  I intend to use them, the 70Ds as my main cameras.  I have already sold one of the 7Ds, and will keep the 2nd one for a possible backup.  The 70D, to me has so much to offer, 20 MP versus 18, gorgeous HD videos, fast auto-focus, better over-all performance.  It just feels better in my hands.  The Loggerhead Shrike and Anna’s Hummingbird in my previous post are products of my 70D.  The shrike was taken from about 200 feet away from inside my car.

Great Egret - Canon EOS 70D - 100-400mm lens, 1/3200 sec., f5.6, ISO 320.

Great Egret – Canon EOS 70D – 100-400mm lens, 1/3200 sec., f5.6, ISO 320.

I have also ordered the new Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens.  I own the Canon EOS f4 AF IS 500mm prime lens.  But it is tough to maneuver around in the front seat of my car, simply because I am nearing 80 years of age, and not as agile I once was.  The Tamron lens promises to be lighter and smaller so we shall see how that works out.

Update to my west Texas Big Year bird count  (goal 210):

#78  American White Pelican

#79  Verdin

#80  Canyon Towhee

#81  Lesser Goldfinch

#82  Black-crowned Night Heron

#83  White-faced Ibis

#84  Turkey Vulture

Some recent random photos.

I’ve been getting out more, since the weather has been so nice lately.  Wow, is spring around the corner?  I think for this post I will just keep my mouth shut and let my photos do the talking.  These are just a few from the past week.  Enjoy and click on any of them to see an enlargement.

Anna's Hummingbird photographed at Lajitas, Texas.

Anna’s Hummingbird photographed at Lajitas, Texas.

Loggerhead Shrike photographed near Eldorado, Texas

Loggerhead Shrike photographed near Eldorado, Texas

Osprey, San Angelo, Texas

Osprey, San Angelo, Texas

Great Egret, San Angelo, Texas

Great Egret, San Angelo, Texas

Great Blue Heron, San Angelo, Texas

Great Blue Heron, San Angelo, Texas

Update on my quest for a west Texas ‘Big Year” quota of 210:

#64  Common Merganser

#65  Green-winged Teal

#66  Northern Harrier

#67  Spotted Sandpiper

#68  Wilson’s Snipe

#69  Belted Kingfisher

#70  Rufous-crowned Sparrow

#71  Red-winged Blackbird

#72  American Goldfinch

#73  Chipping Sparrow

#74  Bewick’s Wren

#75  Rock Pigeon

#76  Ruddy Duck

#77  Wild Turkey

Banding the Hummingbirds

As most of you know, Ann and I spent the weekend down at the Casitas of Far Flung Outdoor Center in Study Butte, Texas.  We arrived there Thursday afternoon and found out that Kelly Bryan of Fort Davis, was going to be banding hummingbirds there the following morning.  We had planned on going birding in the Big Bend National Park, but this sounded exciting and made up our minds that we were going to attend the event.

At 8:00 Friday morning, Kelly pulled up with his equipment.  Along with his friend, Carolyn Ohl, from Alpine, they proceeded to put covers on all of the existing hummingbird feeders.  They then took another one to the center of the courtyard area, and set it in a cage with a large opening.  The idea was that all the hummers in the area, upon finding the other feeders useless, would eventually locate the cage with the feeder inside.  It worked handsomely and several birds were caught.

Kelly and Carolyn carefully retrieved each bird and put it in a little cloth sack, which they took over to the bench where Bryan would do the banding.  He then carefully takes the bird from the bag and proceeds to examine it to check the overall condition of the hummer and take measurements.  All such information is recorded in his log book.  After that, he puts a very tiny metallic band on the leg with the date, location, etc.  These bands are very light, with it taking 5,000 of them to weigh an ounce.

On completion of this operation, the hummingbird is then ready for release.  Kelly simply puts it in his palm, (or yours) for a brief few seconds of rest, then the bird flies off.  It is quite a thrill to watch.  In one photo below, an Anna’s Hummingbird is resting on Ann’s palm seconds before taking flight.  Click on all photos to see enlargements.

After getting her new band, this Anna's Hummingbird gets a drink with the help of Bryan before taking flight.

After getting his new band, this Anna’s Hummingbird gets a drink with the help of Kelly before taking flight.

Anna's Hummingbird rest briefly in the palm of Ann's hand before taking flight.

Anna’s Hummingbird rest briefly in the palm of Ann’s hand before taking flight.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

After watching these proceedings, Kelly and Carolyn suggested that we go down to Lajitas and check on the hummingbirds that hang around the restaurant area there.  There we were very fortunate to see three new hummingbirds that we had never seen before.  Not only the Anna’s, which was new to us, but both a Broad-billed and a Blue-throated Hummingbird.  All three of them lifers for me and Ann, bringing our life-list total to 267.  (but who counts?)  Plus we spotted a Black-chinned and a Rufous Hummingbird.  In all, there were five different hummingbird species in that one area.  A real bonanza.

Since we were there just for the weekend, we didn’t do too much birding per se, except for a quick trip to the Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend NP to do check out a few.

But for the weekend, I think we saw a total of around 40 birds, and added the ones below to our 2014 list.  Our goal is 210.

#44  American Kestrel

#45  Eastern Meadowlark

#46  Common Raven

#47  Loggerhead Shrike

#48  Mountain Bluebird

#49  Sage Thrasher

#50  Scaled Quail

#51  Black-chinned Hummingbird

#52  Anna’s Hummingbird  (lifer)

#53  Eurasian Collared Dove

#54  Blue-throated Hummingbird  (lifer)

#55  Rufous Hummingbird

#56  Broad-billed Hummingbird  (lifer)

#57  Northern Flicker

#58  Pyrrhuloxia

#59  Townsend Warbler

#60  Chihuahuan Raven

#61  Great Roadrunner

#62  Ruby-crowned Kinglet

#63  Cactus Wren

The Forgotten Dickcissel

When I got into birding about five years ago, I was told that I would be finding that there were many species that I had never heard of.   Well that certainly proved to be right, when we were birding with experienced birders and they mentioned the possibility of seeing a Dickcissel.  What??  What the heck is a Dickcissel??  A bird that Richard Cissel discovered???  No, it turned out to be another of the 854 species found in this country.  I don’t know how it got it’s name.  Maybe I’ll look into it.

Pair of Dickcissels.

Pair of Dickcissels.

Anyway it is a bird that is found in the rural areas in grasslands and shrubs.  About two years ago, we came across this pair while driving along a quiet highway.  They are about six and a half inches, and because of their coloring and quickness they don’t immediately catch your attention.  They have yellow breast with a black bib, but unfortunately in these photos it doesn’t show up.  And these are the only photos I have of them.





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

Update:  In my quest to see 210 different species during 2014 I have added two more.

#42  Northern Pintail

#43  Blue Jay

I should add several more in the next few days.  Ann and I are leaving tomorrow morning, Jan. 9, to spend the weekend in the Big Bend country of west Texas.  Ann wanted to spend her 75th birthday on the 10th  there.  I won’t be doing another post until early next week.

About those Ruby-crowned Kinglets

It has been a long time since I have written about the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  I tried to see some yesterday morning but they were not to be found.  So I am going to write about them anyway.  These photos were taken about a year ago, and I took them from my archives.  They are tiny birds.  They flit around in thick underbrush.  They think they can hide from my long lens.  To actually get the images showing the ruby colored spot on the head of the male was a bonus.  It is usually concealed.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

In actuality, I was only about 25 feet away from him, sitting in my car/blind.   At the Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park there is an area along the boundary of the area where there is fence that is partly obscured by thick vines and brush.  I brought my car close and drove very, very slowly at a silent idling speed along the area.  I was constantly looking into the brush with my binoculars.

We finally noticed a lot activity in the dense foliage.  We stopped and silently watched the kinglets and some other sparrow types hassling  each other.  I had my Canon EOS 7D with a 100-400mm zoom lens at the ready.  I spotted one kinglet throught the viewfinder and tracked him through branches, trying to catch him at a brief stop.  That is the only way one is going to get a photograph.  To make it easier, I set the focus so I was using only one center focus point.  Otherwise, the lens goes wild trying to get the bird in focus between the vines and twigs.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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

On the subject of birding, Ann and I are on a quest to see at least 210 birds this year.  Our previous annual record is 194 and we feel that if we stay alert we can get to our new goal.  We are off to a good start.  Here is our list for the first four days of the new year.  I will update you as we go. 41 is our current total.

  1. Mute Swan
  2. Gadwell
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Mallard
  5. Northern Shoveler
  6. Redhead
  7. Ring-necked Duck
  8. Lesser Scaup
  9. Bufflehead
  10. Hooded Merganser
  11. Pied-billed Grebe
  12. Eared Grebe
  13. Double-crested Cormorant
  14. Great Blue Heron
  15. Great Egret
  16. Black Vulture
  17. Osprey
  18. Red-tailed Hawk
  19. American Coot
  20. Killdeer
  21. Ring-billed Gull
  22. White-winged Dove
  23. Great-horned Owl
  24. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  25. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  26. Eastern Phoebe
  27. Vermilion Flycatcher
  28. Black-crested Titmouse
  29. Eastern Bluebird
  30. Western Bluebird
  31. Northern Mockingbird
  32. Curve-billed Thrasher
  33. European Starling
  34. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  35. White-crowned Sparrow
  36. Northern Cardinal
  37. Western Meadowlark
  38. Common Grackle
  39. Great-tailed Grackle
  40. House Finch
  41. House Sparrow

2014 off and running……

Ann and I celebrated New Years Day by trying to get a big start on our 2014 bird count.  The best we have done in previous years is 194.  Our goal this year is to try to hit 210.  So off we went to spend a couple of hours before we wanted to watch the Rose Bowl Game.  We are both natives of Michigan, albeit we haven’t lived there in 60 years.  But we are still Michigan State fans.  Many of you older generation folks may remember the great Earl Morrel, the quarterback for MSU the lead the Spartans to multiple Rose Bowl wins.  Later he starred as the great backup for John Unitas in the NFL.  He went to high school at the same time I did.  We knew each other, but distantly, he was the BMOC (big man on campus).  I was the local nerd.

So back to birding.  We counted 32 species in a couple of hours, so maybe that will give us some momentum towards our 210.  It was cool and windy, but sunny and cloudless.  Photographically, I didn’t come away with much.  We saw a beautiful Great Egret feeding along a small waterway, so we watched and waited for him to take flight.  When he did I was able to capture some nice images.  This is one that I liked.  Photographed with my Canon EOS 70D and 100-400mm lens.  Shutter priority, 1/3200 sec. @ f5/6, minus 1/3 EV adjustment, ISO 320.

Great Egret in flight.

Great Egret in flight.

So let’s lift our glasses, (binoculars or tumblers, your choice) to having a great 2014.  Happy New year to all. 🙂