X-Bar Ranch Birding

As most of you know, Ann and I just returned from spending three days at the X-Bar Ranch Nature Retreat, near Eldorato, Texas.  We had a fantastic time.  Since we are in the midst of the migration, we were able to see quite a  number of birds.  The best part, all we had to do was to sit in an area about 50 feet from our cabin.  There was a small group of trees with a bubbling bird bath near by.
I set my Canon 7D on my tripod with a 500mm lens attached.  I kept my other 7D with a 100-400mm lens at my side.  So, between the two, I was pretty well equiped.  From the birding aspect, we saw 35 different species, all in that one little area.  A list is at the bottom of this post.


During our stay, one of the owners, Stan Meador, took us on a tour of the ranch.  He showed us a few other areas that could make good birding and photography areas.

Here are a few images that I captured.  I still have a large number of photographs to go through so there will be more posted in a few days.

Scrub Jay
Blue Grosbeak
Hermit Thrush
Summer Tanager

 Location:     X-Bar Ranch
Observation date:     4/18/11
Notes:     These are our observations at the Lodge April 18, 19, & 20th.<br>from
the north & south ends of the porch!
Number of species:     37

Northern Bobwhite     8
Wild Turkey     4
Turkey Vulture     6
American Kestrel     1
Eurasian Collared-Dove     2
White-winged Dove     6
Mourning Dove     10
Black-chinned Hummingbird     4
Golden-fronted Woodpecker     1
Eastern Phoebe     1
Eastern Kingbird     1
Western Scrub-Jay     7
Barn Swallow     2
Black-crested Titmouse     4
Bewick’s Wren     2
Hermit Thrush     2
Northern Mockingbird     6
Orange-crowned Warbler     2
Nashville Warbler     1
Yellow Warbler     2
Yellow-rumped Warbler     3
Spotted/Eastern Towhee     5
Rufous-crowned Sparrow     2
Canyon Towhee     2
Chipping Sparrow     6
Lark Sparrow     2
Savannah Sparrow     2
White-crowned Sparrow     2
Summer Tanager     3
Northern Cardinal     6
Pyrrhuloxia     1
Blue Grosbeak     1
Painted Bunting     4
Great-tailed Grackle     2
Brown-headed Cowbird     1
Scott’s Oriole     2
House Finch     10
House Sparrow     2


Pied-billed Grebe

I’m a little slow getting new posts published.  I have been busy going through old photos and transfering them to my new iPad.  I intend to use it as a portfolio per se, to show my work to interested buyers.  Anyway, I came across these two images and realized that I had never published any grebe photos.  So let me introduce you to the Pied-billed Grebe(Podilymbus podiceps).  They are residents the year around and nest in local lakes and ponds.  A bit on the shy side, they tend to hide or dive under the water when spotted.

Young Pied-billed Grebe

Adult Pied-billed Grebe

In other news we had our monthly birding tour at San Angelo State Park.  We had a total of nine people and here is the results.

Location:     San Angelo State Park
Observation date:     3/12/11
Number of species:     30

Gadwall     1
Cinnamon Teal     2
Northern Shoveler     75
Green-winged Teal     20
Ruddy Duck     6
American White Pelican     200
Great Blue Heron     2
Black Vulture     6
Red-tailed Hawk     1
Killdeer     6
American Avocet     3
Greater Yellowlegs     24
Least Sandpiper     10
Long-billed Dowitcher     24
Ring-billed Gull     100
White-winged Dove     6
Mourning Dove     2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker     1
Black-crested Titmouse     2
Rock Wren     1
Northern Mockingbird     6
Rufous-crowned Sparrow     1
Canyon Towhee     1
White-crowned Sparrow     12
Northern Cardinal     2
Pyrrhuloxia     1
Red-winged Blackbird     30
Brown-headed Cowbird     6
House Finch     10
House Sparrow     3

A Cold day for Birding

The outside temperature right now is 16 degrees and the wind chill is about zero.  But does that bother me??  You’re danged right, it does.  🙂  But not to worry as in a few days it will be back to our normal sixties weather.  I just decided that now is a good time to stay inside and get other stuff done.  Like writing another post.

Summer Tanager - male

However, I had a difficulty deciding what to write about, so I opted to just show some more of my older images.  Today those photos are of the Summer Tanager.  I took these pics nearly three years ago with my old Canon 40D.  I think that I had just acquired my Canon 500 f4 IS lens.

Summer Tanager - female

For a brief description of the Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), I will refer to my bird guides.  The Sibley’s Guide to Birds, describes it to have redish or greenish flight feathers.  Found in mixed woods, near water.  Found in the Concho Valley from April to October.  What I like about this species is the diverse color.  The male is mostly red, the female is mostly yellow, and the juvenile is logically a mix of the two.

Summer Tanager - juvenile

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, offers this information on the species. The Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra, is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae).[2] The species’s plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.

Their breeding habitat is open wooded areas, especially with oaks, across the southern United States. These birds migrate to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. This tanager is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe.

Adults have stout pointed bills. Adult males are rose red and similar in appearance to the Hepatic Tanager, although the latter has a dark bill; females are orangish on the underparts and olive on top, with olive-brown wings and tail.

These birds are often out of sight, foraging high in trees, sometimes flying out to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, especially bees and wasps, and berries. Fruit of Cymbopetalum mayanum (Annonaceae) are an especially well-liked food in their winter quarters, and birds will forage in human-altered habitat[3]. Consequently, these trees can be planted to entice them to residential areas, and they may well be attracted to bird feeders. Summer Tanagers build a cup nest on a horizontal tree branch.

The Summer Tanager has an American Robin-like song, similar enough that novices sometimes mistake this bird for that species. The song consists of melodic units, repeated in a constant stream. The Summer Tanager’s song, however, is much more monotonous than that of T. migratorius, often consisting of as few as 3 or 4 distinct units. It is clearer and less nasal than the song of the Scarlet Tanager.

The Summer Tanager also has a sharp, agitated-sounded call pi-tuk or pik-i-tuk-i-tuk.[4]

I hope you enjoy the information and the photos.  Click on any image ot see an enlargement.

Eagles, Vermilion Flycatcher – editing

For lack of anything else to do this cool Sunday afternoon, I decided to go through some very old images that I almost threw away.  Fortunately, I keep almost all the bad stuff, in hopes that sometime I can obtain the right software to maybe make something out of them.  You know, make lemonade out of lemons.

Here are three examples.  The first is a Vermilion Flycatcher that I photographed a few years back, with one of my older cameras.  The bird was so far away, I could hardly get him in my view finder.  I was using my 500mm lens with a 1.4 converter.  The first is the original, the second is a new edited image.  I first ran the original through my Image Focus software, then thru Topaz DeNoise to remove any noise.  I then cropped it as shown, done a little more sharpening.  I doesn’t look too bad.

Vermilion Flycatcher - original

Vermilion Flycatcher - edited

The second photo is a Bald Eagle, taken down at a nest near Llano, Texas.  In this case, I used my 500mm lens as usual, but I also had to use my 2x converter because it was very, very far away.  The problem is that when using my 2x converter, my auto-focus is inoperative.  So having to manual focus I was quite lucky to get any image at all.  As before, I used my Focus Magic software, my OnOne Phototune software, cropped then added sharpening..

Bald Eagle leaving nest - original

Bald Eagle leaving nest - edited

This third photograph is a juvenile Golden Eagle.  We were in Michigan visiting relatives.  My sister-in-law knew of this nest and took me over to the site.  He was about 65 feet off the ground, near the top of a large evergreen fir tree.  I had to set up on a little knoll about 150 feet away from the base of the tree to get an angle on the nest.  In this case I used my 1.4 converter on my 500mm lens.  I first used my Focus Magic again, then the OnOne Phototune software.  After cropping and playing with the lights and shadows, then sharpening I came out with the final image. 

Golden Eagle off the nest - original

Golden Eagle off the nest - edited

I hope you like the images and you may click on any of them to see an enlargement.  Both Focus Magic and Topaz Denoise are available on-line at pretty reasonalbe prices.  That also goes for OnOne’s Phototune.  That software, by the way, has nothing to do with music.  I believe they all have trial versions.

Happy birding!!

Bird of the Week – Greater Roadrunner

Today I have picked the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) as my Bird of the Week.  I was able to get some photographs recently and I will show them here.  This bird is in the cuckoo family, and better known as the bird that is always trying to outwit the wolf in the cartoons, with his familiar “Beep, beep!”

Greater Roadrunner

The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America describes the Greater Roadrunner as a large, very long-tailed bird with relatively long neck and thick legs.  The skin behind the eye is bluish, and sometimes  other colors show up in certain lighting. 

Greater Roadrunner

Other traits is that the roadrunner doesn’t require water.  He gets moisture through his diet.  He can fly short distances, mostly gliding with his wings and tail spread.  His voice is not the comical beep, beep, but actually a deep mellow cooing wooh wooh whoa whoa.  He loves the arid areas of the south and southwest parts of the country.

Greater Roadrunner

I hope you have enjoyed this narrative and pictures.  If you have, please leave a comment.  Click on any images to see enlargements.  Now I am outa here.  Beep! Beep!  🙂

Bird of the Week – Great Egret

Today I inaugurate my new series Bird of the Week.  Hopefully each Friday, I will post a photograph of a bird that I will choose at random.  I will provide a photograph or two, along with some useful information.  I think this may become informative for all, including myself, as I will be doing a bit of research to provide information.  Also you may click on the Bold Bird Name to go to a Wikipedia link for detailed info, if available.  My own resources will be my handy Bird Guides.  So here we go.

Great Egret. (Ardea alba).  The Great Egret is one my personal favorite water birds.  Long-legged and graceful.  Tall, slender and long-necked.  Length 39″, wing-span 51″, weight 1.9 lbs.  All white, yellow bill and black legs and feet.  When foraging, they will walk slowly thru open water or reedy areas, watching for fish.  When they spot their quarry, they use their bill as a spear, instantly stabbing their prey.

This first photo was taken along the Concho River in downtown San Angelo.  I was walking along the bank.  I spotted the egret flying down the river.  I hand-held my Canon 7D with the 100-400mm zoom lens.  I picked him up in my view-finder, the auto-focus locked on, and I just panned with him as he flew by.  I got lucky, with the background.  When this image was captured, the background was blurred of course, but also there was a large building completely in shadow.  Hence the completely black background.  The stats are ISO 1600, 1/500 sec at f9.

Great Egret

 This image ISO 100, 1/640 at f8 .  Canon 7D, 100-400mm zoom lens.

Great Egret

This final shot is an older one that I shot with a Canon Powershot SX10 that I tried for awhile.  ISO 80, 1/640 at f5.7  

Great Egret

Click on any image for an enlargement.

Another one for the life list……

Back in the spring, I think I had 187 birds on my life list, and I remember saying that I wanted to make 200 by the end of the year.  Being the novice that I am, I thought that was a reasonable goal.  Well, heck, today I registered number 214.  Gee whiz, and there are still two months to go.

Ann and I were able to spend an extra few hours at O. C. Fisher Lake this morning.  We have been busy with some other tasks so our birding was put on the back burner for a few days. 

Anyway, at the boat ramp I had set up my camera with the 500mm lens on it.  Ann had her spotting scope on her tripod.  She looked at an adjacent shoreline and exclaimed that she had spotted a Black-bellied Whistling Duck.  It was pretty far away.  I could see a bit of it through my camera lens, so I tried to get an image.  After bringing it home, and downloading it to the computer, then looking at Sibley’s book, I found that it was a Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons).  Here is the photograph, taken from about a quarter-mile away.

Greater White-fronted Goose

In addition while we were there, we spotted winter migratory new comers Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) and Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna).

Loggerhead Shrike

Eastern Meadowlark

I hope you have enjoyed the photos.  Click on either one for an enlargement. 

Happy birding!

Photographic and Bird Musings

Musings.  Steve, over at Photographyfree4all said he enjoyed my musings.  I like the sound of that word.  It makes me picture my self in an easy chair, leaned back with a pipe in my mouth, looking upward and musing.  However, I don’t smoke anymore.  I did many years ago when I was a kid, but never a pipe.  Okay, so I did try a pipe.  But I just didn’t look right with a pipe in my mouth.  Pipes look best in the mouths of professors.  Especially when they are looking up with them in their mouth and they are saying “hmmmm” and musing.  🙂

So here I am musing, I guess.  I would rather call it just rambling on.  I was just thinking (or musing) how I told Raymond at Braxisphotography that I took a lot of pictures from my car.  I hadn’t really thought much about it untill I brought it up, but some of my best images were captured from the front seat of my van.

My van, like most vehicles nowadays, has individual front seats in front, so my Canon 7D with the 500mm attached, sits on the floor beside me between the seats.  On my lap is another Canon 7D with my 100-400mm lens attached.  So I am ready for anything that may happen to appear.  My dear friend Deb, from Tennesse, kids me about stopping in the middle of the road to take a photograph.  I tell her that I absolutely do not stop in the middle of the road.  It is usually in one lane or the other. 🙂

So as an example, I was driving along on US67 heading for Ballinger one day.  Sid and Suzanne Johnson were in the back seat.  All of a sudden, Sid hollered out there was Red-tailed Hawk in the grass on the left.  Sure enough, there sitting near the road in the grass on the left was this beautiful hawk.  I stopped immediately, in the middle of the lane, after checking my mirrors, of course.  Hey, I may be crazy but I’m not stupid.  🙂  Anyway, I grabbed that camera off my lap and I was ready to go.

The following is the resulting image.  Actually one of many images, as I had that 7D on high-speed multiple shooting at 8 frames per sec.  This one is one of the best.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Okay, enough rambling (or musing)  for me today.  Check with me tomorrow and I might have some more “a-musing” musings.  Hey, that’s catchy, don’t ya think”  🙂

Black Vulture re-visited

When I wrote yesterday’s post I did not have an image of a Black Vulture.  Well, lo and behold, this morning when out for a drive, what did I spot in a tree.  You guessed it, a Black Vulture.  The ensuing photograph is posted here for your enjoyment.  Am I lucky or what??  🙂

Black Vulture

In other news, also while out there cruising near O. C. fisher lake I picked up another lifer, A Marbled Godwit  (Limosa fedoa)  wading near the shore.  Then at the bird blind, yet another lifer, a Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla).

I have no images of either the Marbled Godwit or the Nashville Warbler.  But perhaps I’ll get lucky soon on getting those.

Happy Birding!!!

Vultures Over West Texas

We, who live out here in west Texas, know who they are and where they live.  They are there in the skies, on the ground, and nesting in the trees.  Most of all they are most familiar when they are eating at their favorite fast food place, the “Carrion Carryout”, aka your nearby highway. 

Turkey Vulture


But to other folks, they are an amazement.  We had family visitors a couple of years ago from Northern Michigan.  Seeing Turkey Vultures was one of their highlights of their visit.  They were also enthralled with our numerous Jackrabbits.  As you can see, our relatives are easily entertained.

Juvenile Turkey Vulture


There are two types of vultures around here.  The Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura), and the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus).  The most common is the Turkey Vulture, easily distinguished by the red head on the adule.  The juvenile’s head is more gray.  The Black Vulture is, of course, all black, except for the wrinkled grayish head.  The Turkey Vulture can find it’s food by smell.

Turkey Vulture Warming it's Wings


In the early mornings, the vultures can be seen sitting in the open, maybe on fences or trees, with their wings spread to the morning sun, warming them to take flight.  They have been known to show some intelligence, such as when feeding on their road-kill, they do have the sense to fly off to avoid being struck by on-coming traffic.  Ann and I once observed a vulture, who was eating in the traffic ahead of us, instead of flying, he actually dragged his kill off the highway to get it out of the way.

I’m sorry to say that I do not have an image of a Black Vulture on file.  To see these above enlarged, just click on each image.

Happy Birding!!