Raptors ‘R’ Us – Part II


Okay, getting back to my chatter about raptors……..  I believe I left off with discussing the Red-tailed Hawks.  I might as well add this photo that I captured a couple days ago, after I published part I.

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Red-tailed Hawk

Another hawk that is similar to the Red-tailed, is the Swainson’s Hawk.  In fact, when I got into birding and was new, I often confused the two.  They are a stately bird.  That dark bib is one of my favorite markers for this specie.

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Swainson’s Hawk

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Swainson’t Hawk

I love watching the Northern Harrier.  Some people refer to him as the Grey Ghost. It hunts by flying low over the grasslands.  It’s eyes seemingly never leave the ground.  I have found them very difficult to photograph, but in truth, I have had few opportunites to do so.  When I do see one, it usually takes me by surprise, as it flies by.  However, I am proud of this photo that I captured on a trip to the Davis Mountains.  I spotted it from my car as it was streaking across the land.  I stopped the car, and caught it as it turned around and made a return flyby.  Not one of my best technically, but I do like the composition.  It is readily identified by that large white spot on it’s rear.

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Northern Harrier on the hunt.

One raptor that is rarely seen here in the Concho Valley is the Crested Caracara.  Sometimes known locally as a Mexican Eagle.  It is more familiar in south and central Texas.  It is a peculiar looking bird, and it sometimes can be seen hanging out with the vultures, eating road-kill along the highways.  I did get a few photos while visiting our friends at Uvalde, Texas.  He is not wearing a toupee.

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Crested Caracara

Another hawk that favors the southern part of the state, is the Harris’s Hawk.  I was able to capture several images of this bird when visiting Uvalde.  It seemed that it was everywhere.  Of course, as usual, I was hunting them from the car.

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Harris’s Hawk

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Harris’s Hawk

There are two hawks that confuse birders and cause great debates about identification of the two.  I am talking about the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  They are very similar.  I will offer a photo of each here.  The Cooper’s has the black-cap on a flattish shaped head.  Also the eyes are set forward more.  The Sharp-shinned lacks the black cap and has a more round head shape.  Even then, I imagine that I will get letters disputing my IDs.  I am definitely no expert, but this is my story and I am sticking to it. 🙂

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Cooper’s Hawk.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Red-shouldered is a slightly larger bird.  It is easily identified with that red area on the shoulder.  This one was photographed at the Hummer House Bird Sanctuary in Christoval, Texas.

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Red-shouldered Hawk

The White-tailed Hawk is one that I know very little about.  It usually lives in far southeast Texas.  However, I photographed this one near Uvalde.  A friend helped me with the identification.

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White-tailed Hawk

Before I forget, I must include the Osprey, a fish-eating raptor.

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Osprey

Getting into some of the smaller hawks, I have seen and photographed a Merlin several times at San Angelo State Park.  At only ten inches tall, they still look formidable.  You can see that look of innocence, though.  Here are two of my favorite photos of one.

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Merlin

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Merlin

Ah, my definite favorite of the tiny hawks is the American Kestrel.  Beautiful marking.  A very feisty raptor that can sometimes act benign and easy to photograph, or often as not, give me a merry chase through the countryside.  It depends on his mood.  This particular image is one of the latter.  I was in a mini-van at the time several years ago, driving through San Angelo State Park.  Ann was with me, and this little bird moved from tree to tree, finally stopping and giving me nice views of his tail feathers.

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American Kestrel

Finally, I am going to end this raptor series with one of the fastest falcons on the planet.  We were at San Angelo State Park, watching the brush for some warblers, when something flashing by caught my eye.  It zipped past some trees and out of sight with great speed.  I told Ann, I just have to go see if I can see if and where that bird might have  landed.  She started to protest, but I had the keys and was driving.  The effort paid off, as we didn’t go far.  It had landed atop a picnic table shelter.   I was able to get shots from afar, but since it didn’t move, I was able to maneuver in closer with the car.  It continued to sit as I took several photos.  I discovered then that it was a young bird.

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Peregrine Falcon

Here is an adult that I photographed a few years back.

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Peregrine Falcon

This concluded my 2-part series about the raptors of the Texas bird world.  There are a few more species, but as of this date, I have yet to see or photograph.  When I do, you will be the first to know. 🙂

So on this date, December 31, 2017, I want to wish everybody a fantastic Happy New Year and best wishes for a great 2018.

Happy Birding!!!

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Photographing the tiny birds


I love getting out in the field and photographing raptors when I can find them, but there is something to be said about shooting the tiny birds, too.  It is such a challenge.  Most of them can only be found in dense brush or small trees.  I have found that I get the best results if I just use only a single focus point when using my Canon &D Mk II.  If I use more like the five-point or nine-point, there is too much clutter in the branches to get the bird in focus.  Of course, with the single-point, the trick is to get that fleeting little bird in the viewfinder.  Also for your information, I use my Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens.  For my settings I shoot Shutter Priority at usually 1/1600 or 1/2000 sec.  I set the ISO at Auto, at a maximum of 1600, and the aperture just floats pretty much wide open.  I keep my thumb on the big dial on the back of the camera, so I can adjust the Exposure Value quickly if needed.

My post-processing is quite simple.  It is a secret recipe handed down.  I just crop for composition, then adjust the lighting and/or the contrast, and perhaps tweak the color saturation.  I then adjust the sharpening to compensate for any loss when I crop close.

I have been able to come upon a couple of areas where I have been successful in spotting several species of those tiny variety.  Here are a few of those, plus a few of my other images that I captured the past ten days.  I hope you enjoy.

The Pine Warbler is somewhat rare for the San Angelo area, although they are spotted occasionally.  This one surprised me when I was observing an area of cat-tails near Lake Nasworthy.  It is the first one of this species that I have seen this season.

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Pine Warbler

Nearby in the same area, this House Wren popped into view.  Wrens sometime give me a hard time in trying to identify them.  This was early morning, and at first I thought it was a Marsh Wren, but after perusing my Stokes’ guide I was able to discern the correct ID.

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House Wren

I got real lucky with the light when photographing this Bewick’s Wren.  Again, we were early getting to San Angelo State Park, and the morning sun was at a perfect angle.

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Bewick’s Wren

The goldfinches are starting to arrive.

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American Goldfinch

The Lincoln’s Sparrow is one of my favorites of that species.  Easily identified with that beige coloring in the breast.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

Another easily identified sparrow, the White-crowned.

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White-crowned Sparrow

We were in an area favored by the Spotted Towhee when this Green-tailed Towhee showed.  I was quite thrilled as it is another rarity here in the Concho Valley.  The wind was blowing a bit, and it fluffed up it’s crown.

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Green-tailed Towhee

As I said, we were in the area so this Spotted Towhee decided it needed to show off a little bit, too.  He appeared on an upper branch so I was able to get a nice background of the nice blue sky.

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Spotted Towhee

Before we left to come home, I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk making a fly-by.  I couldn’t resist getting this last shot.

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Red-tailed Hawk

That is all for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my narrative and the photographs.  I appreciate any and all comments you might have.

Enjoy the snowfall. 🙂

Happy Birding!!

All in a Day’s Work


Somebody mentioned to me a few days ago, that I was good at making bird photos into a work of art.  I appreciate compliments like that, but it is all in a day’s work.  Some days are a bust when I am out looking for good photos.  On the other hand, when I have great days, it makes it all worth while.  Such was a recent day, when, although the birding was slow, the quality of what little we saw was great.

We were roaming through the local city parks, here in San Angelo.  It was cloudy, even a little foggy when we left the house.  Our first stop was at Spring Creek Park, but there wasn’t much to see.  The birds were in hiding, I guess, because of the dampness.  The fog lifted a bit as were were leaving so we headed to Middle Concho Park.  The skies brightened then although it stayed cloudy.

It made for nice even lighting.  We came upon this Vermilion Flycatcher and he was quite nice to give me some good poses.  It looked like we might have a pretty good day after all.

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Vermilion Flycatcher

This House Wren was in a brushy area near the water.

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House Wren

The most fun of all was seeing this bobcat.  In a large open area outside of the park, we had seen two bobcats from a distance.  Too far for photos, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get photographs.  They were both on the run, heading for the brush, so I wouldn’t have been too sucessful anyway.  We were beginning to leave the area, when I happened to look to the left into the brush.  I was thrilled to see this young Bobcat, laying there looking contented, and staring right at me.  It was one of those one-in-a-million chances.  I was about 150 feet away.  I stopped the car, turned off the engine, and proceeded to take as many photos as I wanted.  He didn’t move too much, except for opening and closing his eyes.  I surmise he had just finished a sucessful morning hunt, and was resting.  Anyway, after getting about 50 exposures, I drove away and let him sleep.  As beautiful as he was and I enjoyed watching him, there was nothing to gain by staying.  I hate to disturb or agitate any wildlife.

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Young Bobcat

After leaving that park, we decided to head for home.  However, luck was still with me, and as we rounded a bend in the road, off to the right there was a wetlands area.  In a tree overlooking the water was this beautiful Osprey.  I drove down the road further, copped a U turn, and came back, driving in the weeds on the left side of the road.  I wanted to photograph him from my drivers’ side window.

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Osprey

So, anyway, I love days like that, when I turn a lemon into lemonade.  But I have been busy since my last post, so here are a few more memorable photos that I have gotten since then.

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Lark Bunting

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American White Pelicans at O.C. Fisher Lake

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Black-throated Sparrow

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American Robin – pale adult

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Great Blue Heron

That’s all for this post.  Now, I would like to mention that Christmas is coming so how about checking out my on-line store.  Not only can you get prints of my work in any size, but also home accessories like coffee mugs, tote bags, etc., all featuring my photography.  Click on “Bob’s Gallery”  at top of this page for more information on how to purchase.

Also, I have several of my 2018 calendars left.  They make great stocking stufffers. Click here for info. https://bobzeller.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/my-2018-texas-tweeties-calendar/

More from the San Angelo State Park


The San Angelo State Park has been our most productive area in the past couple of weeks of birding.  Here are a few of my most recent images.

This Merlin was really nice to pose for me for several images.  When we spotted it, an American Kestrel was sitting on the same branch.  Upon spotting us, the kestrel immediately flew off.  The Merlin was in the act of finishing a meal, and from the looks of a yellow claw that we saw him devour, I suspect he had just finished off another kestrel.  This turned out to me one of my best photos of this species……..if I do say so myself.

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Merlin

A Curve-billed Thrasher, perched in a tree.  It was a chill morning for this one, and he didn’t feel like moving.

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Curve-billed Thrasher

The cooler weather didn’t bother this American White Pelican.  Usually they are out more in the middle of the lake, but this one was a bit closer, making for a nice photograph.

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American White Pelican

Mourning Doves are very plentiful in the park, and I usually pass them by because they are so common, but I decided that this one deserved to be seen.

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Mourning Dove

This Cactus Wren seemed to be working on it’s nearby nest.

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Cactus Wren

In one area of the park, there is what we have named our ‘warbler bush’.  It seems that we can always see a warbler, kinglet or some other small bird there.  We just need to park and watch patiently.  This time we were not disappointed and saw many of these Orange-crowned Warblers.

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Orange-crowned Warbler

It is always nice to see a Pyrrhuloxia.  Locals that can’t pronounce the name, simply call it the desert cardinal.

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Pyrrhuloxia

Click on my “Gallery” button at the top of this page to see more photos, and information for purchase.  I add more images frequently, so keep checking.  I hope you enjoyed these and would love any comments that you wish to make.  Also refer to my last post if you are interested in purchasing one of my 2018 calendars.

Happy Birding!!

Summer Birding at San Angelo State Park


I have been birding at San Angelo State Park for about ten years.  I have seen highs and lows.  The highs were in the years of 2007-2008.  Then O. C. Fisher lake started drying up.  Gone were a lot of the water loving birds, herons, ducks, etc.  You could literally walk across the lake and not get your feet wet.  Then there was a program where spraying was done to kill the mesquite.  Those trees and shrubs started dying and losing foliage, which was cover for some birds.  About that time, we had some welcome storms that brought water back into the lake.  The water reached the levels of 2007.  That was welcome as the water fowl started to return.  But now with withering temperatures we had recently, the lake is slowly dropping again.

I am not saying that birding is bad, but the birds that once were plentiful have had their numbers decreasing.   There was a time when we would always see large numbers of hawks, osprey, and other birds of prey.  Now we rarely see a raptor.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.  It is just to show that they are scarce.  In our searches we have discovered one Swainson’s Hawk, two Red-tailed Hawks, and until yesterday we knew of only one Great Horned Owl that was hangout near the Isabell Harte picnic area.  That increased by one yesterday when I tell you of a nice experience we had.

Great Horned Owl

Yesterday morning, Ann and I decided to got to the park early, to check out the bird blind.  It had been recently damaged in a storm, but it was now open again to the public.  We drove down the lane to the structure and turned into the little parking area.  Lo and behold, sitting on the fence next to the blind and about ten feet from the door, was the Great Horned Owl, pictured above.  We sat in the car, or what I call our mobile blind.  I was able to get that shot and several others from there.  I was only about 35 feet from the bird, and to get out of the car would probably spook it.  We observed it for about 10 minutes, not wanting to disturb it.  However, after a few minutes, a volunteer that puts birdseed in the feeders drove up.  That spooked the owl and off he flew.  but it was an amazing experience, to be that close.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

We were at the blind for about an hour and we saw Painted Buntings, Northern Bobwhite,  Northern Cardinals, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Bell’s Vireo, Bewick’s Wren, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, (pictured above) and the usual doves, sparrows, etc.

After leaving the blind, we took a drive all through the park, seeking birds that don’t frequent the blind.  Here are a few photos from those drives during the past couple of weeks.

Blue Grosbeak

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Of course, I have so others that I haven’t processed yet, and some others that are just throw-aways.  But we saw around 40-45 species in the past couple of weeks.  Others that deserve mentions are Common Nighthawks, Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatachers, Black-throated Sparrows, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Greater Roadrunner, Wild Turkey, Pyrrhuloxia, Canyon Towhee, Bullock’s Oriole, plus the various doves and sparrows.

Looking back at what I have written, I suppose that I may have painted a bleak picture of the birding.  But then I realized that most of the birds are here, just not in large numbers, such as the raptors.  You just have to look a bit harder to see them.  But, isn’t that the fun of the hunt????

So, I believe the birding at San Angelo State Park, is alive and well.

For information on purchasing prints click on the Bob’s Gallery button at the top of this page, or this link:https://bobzeller.wordpress.com/photo-album-guide/

Happy Birding!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Catch me live, in living color…..


To begin this post, I would like to let you know that yesterday, Thursday June 29, I was honored to be featured and interviewed on a local TV program, Concho Vally Live on KLST.  I spoke about photography, and showed several of my photographs.  Here is a link to see that interview if you want to finally meet and see me up close.  You will see that I am not the handsome hunk that you thought I was.  http://www.conchovalleyhomepage.com/concho-valley-live/photography-talk-with-bob-zeller-concho-valley-live-june-29-2017/754138109

It went pretty well except the person in charge, loaded the photos so they would loop rather than show individually, so each photo showed for only 5 seconds.  You will see that I had a difficult task to try to describe  of them.  Ashley Cunha did a great job doing the interview, though.   But I must say, she had the advantage of reading from the teleprompter, whereas I had to wing it.  I hope you enjoy seeing the show.

In other news, many of you have probably heard about the storm that hit San Angelo a week ago.  It was really devastating, millions of dollars damage through out the city.  We were one of the lucky ones.  Our flag pole got snapped in half, a portion of our fence blew down, and our roof lost a couple of shingles.  Other parts of town lost building, roofs, signage, etc.

San Angelo State Park, where we do most of our birding, and where I get many of my photographs, sustained major damage.  Trees uprooted, RVs destroyed or damaged.  The trails are impassable for the present, and of course closed until cleanup can be completed.  The park itself, was closed for about three days, then it opened yesterday, but only to travel paved roads.  Most of the RV sites have been cleaned up.  Here are a few photos that showed the damage.  The bird blind took a “direct hit’ I was told.  The roof was partially blown off and the fence was down.  I wasn’t permitted to take the trail back there to get a photo.

San Angelo SP storm damage

San Angelo SP  storm damage.

San Angelo SP storm damage

San Angelo SP

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.  One lady obtained a cut on her head, when she got slammed around when her RV trailer got tipped over.  For me, this was one of the worst storms I had seen in years, in terms of the widespread damage.

This morning Ann and I finally made a serious attempt to see some birds and for me to get a couple of photographs.  Birding was slow but a couple of shots made it worthwhile.  Here are those results.

Swainson’s Hawk

Common Nighthawk

That is all for this post.  To see more photos, or make purchases, click the “Bob’s Gallery” button at the top of the page.  Enjoy!

Burrowing Owl and other stuff.


Drizzly, chilly and over-all a gray day.  So it is a good day to get caught up on my blog.  We have been getting out pretty regular so I did get some new photos to post.  The highlight of the week was getting to see a Burrowing Owl.  A friend had spotted one a few miles west of Eldorado.  He gave us directions and we drove down on Thursday to see if we could locate it.  Sure, enough, it was where he said it would be.  We had difficulty seeing him a first as he was behind a road culvert, just peeking his head over to see what we were up to.  Here is my first image.  Click on it and the following photos to see enlargements.

Burrowing Owl peeking at me.

Burrowing Owl peeking at me.

We stayed in the car, using it as a blind. I was only about twenty feet away.  The owl eventually started exposing himself so I could get more photographs.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

The last one may be my favorite, although I took many photographs, about one hundred.  It was hard to resist.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Now for the other ‘stuff’.  Back here in town, at Spring Creek Park.  Again, we were out there early, with our coffee and burritos.  This Orange-crowned Warbler was one of the first to make an appearance.

Orange-crowned Warbler. 1/640 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

Orange-crowned Warbler. 1/640 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

Then a Fox Sparrow.

Fox Sparrow - 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3, ISO 1600

Fox Sparrow – 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3, ISO 1600

Back down by the water, this Marsh Wren emerged from the reeds.

Marsh Wren - 1/640 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 3200.

Marsh Wren – 1/640 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 3200.

A few minutes later, the shy, elusive Common Yellowthroat decided to let himself be seen.  It is such a cute little bird, only about three inches long.

Common Yellowthroat - 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 3200.

Common Yellowthroat – 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 3200.

That’s about it for the photos this week.  You can buy prints and other merchandise featuring my photography here at FineArtAmerica.  Or click the link under my Galleries in the right side of this page.  I have added the photograph of the Burrowing Owl.  Available in many of the gifts, including a nice coffee mug.  Just click on the image you like, and a menu will appear with a list items for purchase.  I would certainly appreciate your business.  If you have any questions, e-mail me at bobzeller@pobox.com.