Hark, the lark, the Meadowlark

There I am again, getting cute with a catchy title.  But, I have to get your attention.  Today I have some Western Meadowlark images to show you.  I went out with Ann on Sunday morning to try and get some more improved images than what I have seemed to have gotten lately.  I was starting to doubt my own talents.  The day was one of those days where the birding was a bit sparse, but it was probably because of some chilly winds.  That is, chilly early morning, then it warmed to upper 70s in the afternoon.  I can hardly call that chilly.

Anyway we came across an area where there were several Western Meadowlarks, both on the ground and in the trees.  One thing that I have noticed about them, is they like to keep their back to you.  Maybe it is some kind of defensive thing, but it is hard to get nice photos of their beautiful yellow breasts.  Having said that, though, I did get a shot of one lurking in the grass a little further away.  I was able to capture it with my 500mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter.  I used the same set-up on the other two images as well.

Mind if I lurk a little bit??

Here’s another with a side view.

Western Meadowlark’s great profile

This one keeps looking over his shoulder.

Here’s lookin’ back at ya. 🙂

In closing, here is a frontal view of a Western Meadowlark that I captured back in the year 2009.  I was undecided about posting it because of the reeds that are in front of his face.  But the picture grew on me, and I think that the growth adds a bit of a natural look.  I hope you agree.

Western Meadowlark on barbed wire.

I hope you enjoyed these photos.  I am going to the central Texas area tomorrow.  First to visit Hornsby Bend Bird Sanctuary in Austin, then on Wednesday we will go to the Canyon of the Eagles at Lake Buchanan and take the Vanishing River Cruise and hopefully get some images of some Bald Eagles.  So my next post will be around next weekend.

Llano, Texas – Bald Eagles

About two and a half years ago, Feb. 7, 2008, to be exact, Ann and I, decided to make a trip down to Llano, Texas, a distance of 130 miles.  A pair of nesting Bald Eagles have been going there annually, for the past six or seven years, always using the same nest.  We had been there a few months previously, when they had arrived to start re-building the nest.  During that time, we had watched them haul up branches, sometimes the size of 2x4s.

This time we were interested in seeing the young eaglets.  We got glimpses, but they were pretty tiny, and mostly hidden from view.  To see the eagles, a person has to watch from the side of Highway 71, about 7 miles from Llano.  For best viewing use binoculars or long lenses.  Because of the large amounts of people that flock to see the eagles, the highway department has cleared a spot off the road to allow for parking, so is not to impede traffic.

As usual, there were 3 or 4 other photographers there, each with a long lens set-up because the nest is about 200 yards from the highway, high in a tree.  Some were using Nikons, but I didn’t hold that against them. 🙂  Seriously, we were all friends and enjoyed swapping tales and talking photography.  For best lighting it is best to get there early in the morning.  Also, to get the better spot to set up a camera. It can get a bit crowded.

It was pretty cold and nippy that morning, so it wasn’t long before Ann opted to sit in the car and read a book.  I was thankful that I had dressed for the coolness.  At least, the sun was bright and shining.

As we watched, one of the adults was going and bringing food for the young ones.  We watched him/her bring up a whole leg of a deer, a large duck or goose, and a large fish of some kind.  Those kids were going to be well fed.

I got many images, of course, but none that really showed much of the eaglets.  As I said, they usually were hidden by one or both of the adults, and also because of the depth of the nest.  By the way, those eagles nests, or aeries, are huge.  This one probably measured 8 feet across.  I have chosen this image to show you.  First the original, to show you how far away it was.  Remember I was using the equivelent of a 700mm telephoto lens.  The second photo is of course, my cropped and edited version.

Bald Eagle from 200 yards thru 700mm lens

Bald Eagle - cropped close-up

  • Canon EOS 40D
  • Canon 500mm IS lens with 1.4 tele-converter – tripod mounted
  • 1/1600 sec. @ f7.1
  • ISO 400
  • Lens focal distance  700mm
  • Metering  – pattern
  • Aperture priority
  • Bogen-Manfrotto tripod
  • Wimberley II gimbal head

Click in either image to enlarge.

Bosque Del Apache Trip – Part II

The Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge consists of open fields, copses of trees, and several large lagoons or ponds.  Also included is a board-walk over one watery acre where there are reeds and water birds.  But the main part is the 12-mile driving tour that goes through and around these areas.  You may take your time and do it at your own pace.  You may stop anywhere you desire.  All you have to do is pull to the side of the road.  There are also many permanent viewing areas placed along the drive.  At the visitors center you can use the blinds and cactus gardens to see quail and other birds and small wildlife.  Rather than bore you with a lot of narrative. I will show some more images that I captured there.

But before I do that, I want to relate one our most thrilling experiences.  As we were doing the driving tour, we came upon this large lagoon that was filled with several species of ducks.  I spotted with my naked eye what I at first thought was a rather large white breasted duck.  Then through my binoculars, I realized that it was a hawk trying to sink it’s claws into a Northern Shoveler.  I figured that I might have as much as a minute to grab my 500mm and the tripod.  But just I reached for them, a beautiful Bald Eagle swooped down, snatched the duck from the hawk, and flew away.  An awesome image that I regretted that I wasn’t able to capture.

Gambel's Quail in tree

Cactus Wren

Black-throated Sparrow perched on Cholla

A young Western Meadowlark

Merlin in the brush

Sandhill Cranes in afternoon sun

So those were some of the highlights of the trip photographically, that is.  While in Las Cruces we enjoyed the fine Mexican food that can be found there.  However, a trip by Bob Zeller must have a dramatic ending, shouldn’t it.  After dining at La Posta restaurant in Old Mesilla, I stepped off the curb.  Then after seeing an automobile approaching, I stepped back up on the curb, slipped, fell and badly abraised my arm and hand.  So a trip to Walgreen’s drug store, for bandages, etc. ensued, followed by going back to our room to get cleaned up.  No broken bones, fortunately, but it will be several days before my arm and hand will be without bandages.

Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Happy Birding!!

Bosque Del Apache Trip – Part I

Well, after a quick, but wonderful trip to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, we are back and getting things back to normal here. 

The trip nearly didn’t happen.  The distance from San Angelo to Soccoro, New Mexico, the nearest city with lodging, is about 640 miles.  We decided that was too far to try to travel in one day.  After all, in addition to my wanting to do some photography, the three of us are also birders and we tend to get distracted if we see something perched on a telephone pole.  So we decided to stop in Las Cruces , NM and go from there the second day.

We had originally wanted to leave Monday morning, but because we could not get the lodging we wanted, we opted to stay at the Dream Catcher Inn, a bed and breakfast.  But even then, we could get our three night stay only starting on Tuesday night.  So we left on Tuesday morning. 

A good thing we did.  On Monday morning we awoke to no hot water at home.  Our hot water heater was leaking water and had to be replaced.  If we had left on that Monday morning we would have had a mess to clean up after getting home.  So things happen for a reason.

The inn is east of Las Cruces, up near the foothills of the Organ Mountains.

View from our room at Dream Catcher Inn

On Wednesday morning we woke to the view pictured above.  Our hosts, Ken and Anita McLeod, were already awake and had our breakfast ready.  Hot coffee, sizzling bacon, a wonderful egg quiche, and bowls of fruit.  We then hit the road for the Bosque Del Apache NWR.  It was a drive of about 140 miles, but well worth it, as you will see.

At the bosque, you can take a 12 mile self-guided driving tour through the refuge.  You can stop anywhere along the way and there are several observation points.  There are numerous lagoons filled with water birds of all kinds, dead tree snags in the ponds with Bald Eagles perched,  tall trees where you can find many hawks.  At one end of the reserve was a large concentration of several thousand Sandhill Cranes.  It was late in the day by time we reached them, and they were just arriving after spending the day feeding in nearby fields.

Sandhill Crane

I will continue with more in Part II.  More pictures to come.  My monitor crashed  yesterday morning, so I ordered a new one, but it will be a couple of weeks before it arrives.  But I did manage to get another image or two edited besides these.  Click on either one for 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!!

Sunny days are back

Sunny days are back again.  The temps are supposed to get up to high 60s and low 70s this week.  So I am going to look forward to getting out and finding more birds and wildlife to photograph.

Brown Thrasher - Bill Yeates

Bill Yeates didn’t waste time though.  Yesterday he got out to the bird blind at San Angelo State Park.  He sat in the blind and was rewarded by seeing and photographing  this Brown Thrasher.  I haven’t seen one yet so I hope to come across one this week.  Bill also made a visit to the eagle’s nest down near Llano and got this great picture of one in flight.  He gave me permission to publish them here for all to see.  Thank you very much, Bill.

Bald Eagle - Bill Yeates

As most of you know the temperature got down to a low of 10 degrees last Saturday morning, so that discouraged anybody from coming to the monthly Adult Birding Adventure at the state park.  Keep in mind that we will try again on February 13.  That is the 2nd Saturday of the month.  I hope to see a few more people there.

Diane Coleman called for information on that birding tour.  She and her husband are newcomers to San Angelo.  She says that they are novice birders, like myself and Ann, so I certainly welcome them.

Happy Birding!!