Gray Catbird quest finally realized.


In search of that elusive Gray Catbird, Ann and I have been getting up with the chickens, about 6:30 in the morning.  We get dressed then head to the Jack and Jill Donut Shop for some coffee and a burrito to go.  We then headed to the area near Spring Creek Park where the catbird had been spending several days.  We had seen it once previously, but I was on a quest to get a photograph.  Anyway, Friday morning we followed the same routine.  But again, the Gray Catbird failed to make an appearance.  In case you were wondering about the excitement, the catbird is very rare to this area.  It’s normal range is much more to the east.

We decided to sit and wait and see what else might shot up.  We weren’t disappointed.  This Orange-crowned Warbler made a stop in the reeds.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

The light was really low this early in the morning so I boosted the ISO to 5000.  My Canon 7d Mark II handled it very nicely with minimal noise.  I also got these two Lincoln’s Sparrow images.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

A Yellow-rumped Warbler perched in a nearby tree.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

A Northern Mockingbird checked out his territory from a log near the water.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

We probably spent nearly two hours at this location, but when we decided that the catbird had left the building, we moved on.

We hit the brushy areas in the park.  At one point, we saw another birder friend, Randy Hesford, waving us to stop.  We drove near to him where he was peering into the brush.  We got out of the car and carefully walked over to see what he was looking at.  There it was.  A Gray Catbird!  It was moving all over in the tangled bushes.  After several attempts, I finally was able to get it in focus.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Not the greatest photo, but I had to work with what was in front of me.  At least, I finally got my picture.

We continued to stroll along the brush line and caught a few other small birds.  This Ruby-crowned Kinglet seemed to have an attitude.  I was surprised that his red crown wasn’t showing.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Another Yellow-rumped Warbler posed for me.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

We also so a variety of other small birds while there, but failing to get anymore usuable images.  Some birds that we saw were a Verdin, Hermit Thrush, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe to name a few.

After that foray, we headed to Middle Concho Park and I will save the pictures from there for my next post.

Click on any image to see enlargements.

 

Happy Birding!

An exciting weekend……


Ann and I woke up early this morning.  The weather look great, so we had this great idea, to get out to Spring Creek Park early enough to get a look at a Gray Catbird the has been seen regularly.  We got to that designated spot about 7:15.  Alas!  Just as we drove near we spotted a grayish bird fly across the water.  We don’t know if that was the catbird or not, but after 30 minutes of waiting and watching, we decided to get back home for breakfast.  We missed him, but we will try again tomorrow morning.  So stay tuned.  But all was not lost.  During the time it took to get there and watch, we observed a Song Sparrow, Osprey, Ringed-bill Gull, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, Wild Turkey, and several White-tailed Deer.

Over the weekend, we got out a couple of times and although the birding was not great, I got some nice looking photos if I do say so myself.  Here’s a re-cap.

On Friday we got out for a little while but not much was stirring.  However, I got lucky and came up with this nice photo of a Dark-eyed Junco.  This is a slate-colored variety.  He was back-lit and in the shade, but with a little finagling in my digital darkroom I was able to correct the lighting.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

On Sunday, things were a little better but not as good as usual.  However we decided to hit Spring Creek Park and Middle Concho Park.

First up was this Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This Great Blue Heron was standing a log and not doing much of anything, but just staring.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Before leaving the lake area we drove by the little beach area at Mary Lee Park.  I tried my luck at photographing gulls in flight.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

That was it for the Lake Nasworthy area.  We had plenty of time, so off to the San Angelo State Park we went.  We drove around through the area where they had burned off the unwanted Mesquite trees and brush.  Not much stirring, I imagine because of the loss of so much habitat.

We headed in the direction of the Burkett multi-use area.  Along the way it finally got real exciting.  Off to the right of the road was an American Kestrel clinging to the top of stem from a bush.  I was hesitant because these birds are known to not hang around very long.

But since he appeared to be just enjoying himself, I decided to take a chance.  I turned right and drove into this rough area, carefully avoiding driving over any prickly pear.  I swung around enough so I could photograph from my driver’s side window.  One thing I have learned, folks, is to never get out of the car.  The birds will fly for sure.

So, I was in position, about thirty yards away.  Believe it or not, he continued to sit and sway in the wind, at times staring at me.  I managed to get off about forty shots of varying poses.  Here are two of them.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

I love this one………

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

After those forty shots, I was getting brave and decided to do what I tell people not to do.  I got out of the car. Hey, I wanted creep closer.  Instantly, the kestrel took flight.  Of course, I knew it would.  Will I ever learn??

But that ended our day on an exciting note.  It was definitely the highlight of the day.

I hope you enjoyed the story and the photos.  Click on any of them to see nice enlargements.

Happy Birding!!

Footnote:  I always try to live by the rule that you should never disturb the wildlife.  I violated that principal by trying to get out of the car.  I didn’t need to get closer.  I had all of the shots I wanted.  My long lens gets me as close I need to be.  I should have stayed in the car and drove away.  So, in recflection, I am sorry for my actions.

 

The Day the Birds Stopped Co-operating


We just had a day of fun birding, seeing a good variety of species, but for the photography, it was somewhat of a bust.  I missed shots or they were to far away to get good close-ups.  But I am not complaining.  A bad day birding beats a good day of sitting in my office at the computer.

At one point, we spotted a Cooper’s Hawk high in a tree, about 65 feet off of the ground.  It’s back was toward me.  As I was maneuvering my mobile blind, AKA my Ford Escape, I startled a Great Horned Owl in a tree branch right in front of me.  I hadn’t seen it.  It instantly flew off, and that startled the Cooper’s hawk, and it, too, left the scene.  I missed two great opportunities there.

But not to be discouraged we drove on.  We stopped and parked near the water’s edge where a Gray Catbird had been seen previously.  We spent about 15 minutes just sitting and watching.  We never did see the Catbird, but just as we were about to leave, we spotted a splash of yellow about 125 yards across the water in thick brush.  With our binoculars we discovered at Common Yellowthroat flitting around.  I put my super zoom camera lens on it, but it was really to tiny and too far for a decent shot.  But, doggone it, I am going to show you what I got, anyway.  Look very close, and you can see the Yellowthroat in the center of the picture.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

At one point, Ann was looking across the water, and said she could see an owl.  I scoped out the trees over there and I couldn’t see it.  I moved the car along and had another look.  Sure enough, after a few minutes of carefully scanning the trees with my binoculars, I finally saw it, too.  How Ann was able to spot it so easily, is beyond me.  I stopped the car, and turned off the engine so I could steady the camera better.  It was about 175 yards away.  I was able to get a fair shot of it.  At least, it made up for the previously missed owl photo.  Here is the heavily cropped photos.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Also, again across the river, (what is it about all of the birds appearing across the river) we spotted a Belted Kingfisher.  Just a dot of white until we put the binoculars on it.  I decided for another long range shot, this from about 150 yards.  Not bad.

Belted Kingfishe - female

Belted Kingfisher – female

Again, at another location across the water, we could barely make out this Black-crowned Night Heron.  I am so thankful for my long Tamron 150-600mm lens.  I am really giving it a workout today.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Some photos along the water came out much better.

This Wilson’s Snipe was not doing a great job of hiding from me.

Wilson't Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

A Pied-billed Grebe glides silently and happily on the water.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

A Great Blue Heron rest on a log across the water, but at a much closer location.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Back into the more wooded areas we caught a few smaller birds.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Pine Warber

Pine Warbler – female

White-crowned Sparrow - juvenile

White-crowned Sparrow – juvenile

I hoped you enjoyed this post.  Click on the images to see enlarged photos.

 

Happy Birding!!

Birding Eldorado Water Treatment Ponds


As you know, Ann and I recently took a five day trip to the Big Bend area.  Upon returning, we were barely unpacked, when our friends Sid and Suzanne Johnson called from Eldorado.  They had been birding the water treatment ponds a few days before and had seen a Black Scoter, Least Grebe, Common Golden-eye, and a Sora.  Holey Moley, Batman!!  All four of those are relatively rare to these parts.  That was Tuesday morning.  We had errands and chores to do so we were unable to go immediately, even though we were pretty excited!

So, keeping our eyes and fingers crossed that the birds would stay longer, we finally got away Wednesday morning.  Eldorado is only about 40 miles away from San Angelo, and easy 30 minute trip. 🙂

We met up with the Johnsons and headed to the ponds.  There were ducks of all descriptions there.  The water was fairly calm and it made for somewhat easier photography.  I say somewhat easy, because the ducks are always on the other side of the pond, but nevertheless, with my long lens I was able to come up with some images.  Alas, we found only two of the four fore-mentioned species, the Black Scoter and the Least Grebe.  Oh well, two out of four isn’t bad.

Here are those images plus a few others that I managed to photograph.

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Black Scoter

Black Scoter

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

American Pippit

American Pippit

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Along with those birds we saw Buffleheads, Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, Green-winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Great Blue Heron.  I think that about covers it.

Anyway, it was much fun!  I hope to get back down there soon and look for those that we missed. 🙂

Visiting the Big Bend – Part Two


In this part two or our visit to the Big Bend area,(click for Part one) I am going to show you more of the scenic grandeur of the place.  I know that this blog is mainly about birds, but sometime I just have to get out of that mode for awhile.  Not that I didn’t watch for birds during our visit.  We saw a total of 35 species, but I was also overwhelmed with all of the beauty.  You will understand when you see this scene to welcome you in the morning.

Big Bend Sunrise

Big Bend Sunrise

What a way to start the day.  For breakfast we headed to La Posada Milagro in the Terlingua ghost town for their fantastic burritos and steaming hot coffee.

Energized and ready to go, we piled in the car and headed out.  We entered the Big Bend National Park and headed for Ross Maxwell Highway.  It is a route that will take us past some high scenic views and on down to Santa Elena Canyon.  Again, I will mostly let the photos do all of the talking, as to be perfectly honest, I am not an expert on the geologic materials of the land.  A lot of lava created formations dot the area.

This highway skirts the western side of the Chisos Mountains and there are some great scenic pull-offs.  Such as the Sotol Vista pull-off where this photo was taken.  From an altitude of what I surmise to be about 6500 feet, you can see Santa Elena Canyon, about 20 miles distant.

View from Sotol Vista

View from Sotol Vista

This is Tuff Canyon, so named for the white material that is beneath most of the topsoil in the region.  There is a hiking path to the bottom of the canyon, but we were content to just roam the rim.

Tuff Canyon

Tuff Canyon

Tuff and volcanic rock formation.

Tuff and volcanic rock formation.

This next photograph, I have named “Texas Moonscape”.  One of my favorite photos of the trip.

"Texas Moonscape"

“Texas Moonscape”

A lone Loggerhead Shrike surveys the desert for maybe a snack.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Old ruins are scattered all over the big bend area, many of them are in this national park.

Old ruins and Cerro Castelan in the background.

Old ruins and Cerro Castellan in the background.

Farther along the way, we passed the Cottonwood Campground.  It is a popular RV campsite, but one of best birding areas in the park.  We decided to spend some time checking it out.  We saw many species there including this Vermilion Flycatcher.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Arriving at Santa Elena Canyon is an awesome sight to behold.  This image shows the Rio Grande exiting from it’s nine mile run through the canyon and heading downstream to cut more canyons on it’s journey to the Gulf of Mexico.  These walls reach a height of 1,500 feet.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

After spending some time at the canyon, we decided to return by the Old Maverick Road.  It is a thirty mile rough, washboard road that will eventually return us to the park entrance, but not before showing some amazing scenery and this old Mexican Jacal.  A man by the name of Gilberto Luna built it when he was first married.  He lived there all of his life, had five marriages and many children, finally dying in 1947 at the ripe old age of 108.  So if you do the math, this jacal is roughly 150 years old.  The National Park Service manages to keep in close to original condition.

Gilberto's Jacal

Gilberto’s Jacal

That pretty much concludes our visit.  Of course, this is condensed as I had taken several hundred images.  But I believe I covered the main points.  I hope you enjoyed the journey,

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

and on the way out of the park, I managed to capture this amazing beauty.  What a great way to end the trip.  I can never get enough photographs of the beautiful Red-tailed Hawk.

Click any image to see beautiful enlargements.

Happy Birding!

 

Visiting the Big Bend – Part One


We just returned from a glorious trip to the Big Bend area of Texas.  That is the place where the Rio Grande makes that bend from flowing southeast to flowing northeasterly.  In that Vee shaped area is the Big Bend National Park, and adjacently, Big Bend Ranch State Park.  It is a harsh, isolated, but beautiful environment.  There you will find the wild Rio Grande cutting through narrow canyons with cliffs up to 2,ooo feet high.  The Chisos Mountain range is the center piece of the national park, with high peaks laced with hiking trails and home to black bear, mountain lions, and other wildlife.

This is where Ann and I, along with our dear friends from Tennesse, spent five wonderful days.  In this post, and part 2, I am going to show you some of the scenic land, along with some of the avian activity.  I will, for the most part, let my photos do the talking. They are random highlights from our adventure, and in no particular order.  Also, click on any image to see enlargements.

This is a view of the Chisos Mountains from about twenty miles.

Road to the Chisos

Road to the Chisos

A Cactus Wren looking for meal in the bark of a desert plant.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Greater Roadrunners abound in the area.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Along the Rio Grande is a trail that leads to a natural hot springs bath, built back in the early 1900’s by J. O. Langford.  He was seeking relief for his own ailing health.  The original rock walls are still in place, and tourists can sit and dip their feet or slip on a bathing suit and go all the way.

Indian Pictographs

Indian Pictographs

Hwy 170, of which a portion is in Big Bend Ranch State Park, is known as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country.  The following two images are from that highway.  Across the river, of course, is Mexico.

Along the Rio Grande

Along the Rio Grande

Colorado Canyon

Colorado Canyon

A Say’s Phoebe perches on an ocotillo branch.

Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

When driving through the Big Bend stay alert.  You may see a scene like this sneak up on you.  A Red-tailed Hawk, having lunch in some high rock croppings.

Red-tailed Hawk at lunch.

Red-tailed Hawk at lunch.

I hope you are enjoying our journey, so far.  I am working at processing more of my photos from the trip and will be publishing Part Two in a few days.  Watch for it!!

 

 

 

Last post before Big Bend


Today, along with trying to write this post, I am also getting my various equipment cleaned, sorted, stashed and packed.  We are leaving for the Big Bend area on Wednesday morning.  We are meeting our Tennessee friends in Terlingua, staying at The Chisos Mining Company at Easter Egg Valley.  That is a motel, named after a now defunct mercury mine and the pastel painted cabins that dot the desert.

We will be spending five days and nights, prowling the mountains, canyons and desert of Big Bend National Park and the adjacent Big Bend Ranch State Park.  That area of the state of Texas is a well kept secret I have come to discover.  I say that because I have had people ask me, Texans mind you,  where Big Bend is.  It is in far west Texas, down where the Rio Grande makes it’s big turn from flowing southeast to turning to flow northeast.

As most of my regular readers know, I love going to that area, not only to photograph birds, but also the four-legged wildlife and the magnificent landscapes.  Of course, if I can add to my bird lists, so much the better.  On that note, I will tell you that in the past three days, I have put 53 species on my 2016 Big Year list.  Soooo….. with my goal of 210 for the year, I should get there in the next 12 days.  Right????

Okay, let’s get to the images that I have captured these past three days.  In no particular order.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Let’s start with a rare visitor to this part of Texas, the Green-tailed Towhee.  It’s range is usually in far west Texas, but occasionally one will show up that can’t read a range map and won’t ask for directions.  This one wound up at the blind at San Angelo State Park.

Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

Also at the blind, this Curve-billed Thrasher.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

This pretty Pyrrhuloxia showed up, too.  I just love trying to spell his name.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Driving into Spring Creek Park we saw this female Golden-fronted Woodpecker working without a net.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker - female

Golden-fronted Woodpecker – female

On another tree branch, just sitting and looking pretty, was this Western Bluebird.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

I have a hard time passing up a photo of a Great Blue Heron.  One of my favorite subjects.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Looking far across the water, Ann spotted what looked like a bird in the brush.  At a distance of about 250 yards, we had to look through our binoculars to see what it was.  It was a challenge to my Canon 7D Mark II, but it and the Tamron 150-600mm lens got the job done.  It was hard to make the ID from that distance, but I see a rounded tip of the tail, and perhaps some black on the top of the head.  I will call it a Cooper’s versus a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

I love the challenge of capturing the tiny birds in the brush.  Here is a neat photo of a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow - juvenile

White-crowned Sparrow – juvenile

Speaking of juveniles, let’s finish up with this young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – juvenile

That’s it for this post.  Now back to packing up for our trip.  My next post will be around the 13th of January.  I hope to have some fun stuff to show you.

‘Til then, Happy Birding!!