Flashes from My Past


As I mentioned in my last post, it is getting into the summer doldrums.  The summer birds are here but they feel like I do.  Just a bit lazy about getting out in the warm afternoons.  So, to break up my routine a bit, I think I will veer away from birds only, in this post.  After all, this blog is also about photography, not only birding.

As a longtime professional outdoor and nature photographer, I have encountered some very interesting and exciting photo opportunities.  In the past fifteen years or so, I have amassed thousands of images, some great, some not so good.  But I have been published in over a dozen publications or books, including many covers.  My work has appeared on a billboard, murals and various websites, and in homes and offices across the country.  Like any photographer, I have several favorites that that I have secreted back in my files.  I thought it would be nice to share a few with you.  If you like them, I may publish a few more in a later post.

Let’s start with this photograph that I took earlier this year down in Big Bend National Park.  That area was created millions of years ago by exploding geological formations.  Canyons were created.  Mountains were created.  Wow!  It must have been something to see!  This photograph shows some of the geodes that were tossed around by some kind of volcanic upheaval.  In the back ground are hills of volcanic ash, called tuff.  Those boulders are really just a bit larger than bowling balls, but with my 10x16mm wide angle lens they appear bigger.  I actually got down on the ground to capture this.  Fortunately, my dear friend and fellow professional photographer, Deb, was nearby and she and her husband helped me up.  It’s hell to get old.  Anyway,it turned out to be one of many favorite photos from my travels to Big Bend National Park.

Big Bend Moonscape

Big Bend Moonscape

This bobcat was in the woods out near Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo a couple of years ago.  Ann was with me, and we were creeping along a boundary fence next to a wooded area.  Ann spoke up and said she saw a shadowy figure moving up ahead.  We both then saw it as we got closer, and realized it was a bobcat.  It was starting to get deeper into the woods.  As we got parallel to it I hesitated. thinking that it was too far away to get a usable photo.  But then, it stopped and turned facing us.  I grabbed my Canon 70D and Tamron 150-600mm lens and settled it on the window sill of our car.  By then there was a lot of brush between me and the animal, but I was using only my center focusing spot of the camera, and I was able to “thread” it through the twigs and branches to focus on the animal’s eyes, at a distance of about 75 yards.

Bobcat

Bobcat

This next photo of a Vermilion Flycatcher was created during another trip to Big Bend National Park.  There are many great birding areas there, and we always try to visit each one.  One of our favorite places to see a good variety is the Rio Grande Village campground.  We were there late in the spring of one year and the snowbirds, i.e. visitors from the north that come south for the winter, had mostly vacated the area to return home.  By driving thru the area, we see a good collection of birds and an occasional bobcat.  Anyway, this photo is one of my favories of the flycatacher species.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Oh, yes, I must tell you about my photo life before birds.  I was really into photographing flowers and landscapes.  In San Angelo we have one of world’s largest and best water lily collections.  For photographing flowers this is a must place to visit.  For this photo I was down there late in the afternoon.  Skies were partly cloudy with those nice puffy white clouds floating around.  I browsed around the five pools of lilies, looking for the right shot.  I came upon this particular lily, and I liked the way the lily was juxtaposed near the lily pads.  The white clouds reflecting in the water look gold, because of a treatment in the water.  I had and old film camera, I believe it was a Canon EOS3, and a Tamron 200-400mm lens on a tripod.  I worked for around 30 minutes getting set up, as the cloud movement and light changed every few minutes.  I finally was satisfied.  I clicked three bracked exposures.  Ann looked through the viewfinder while it was still on the tripod and remarked, “Bob, you have a real winner here.”   This was the one of the three that I picked.

"Prima Donna Magnifico" (Magnificent Ballerina"

“La Prima Donna Magnifico” (Magnificent Ballerina”

Later, I was showing it at an art show, and an art professor from Angelo State University saw it and proclaimed it to be “La Prima Donna Magnifico”, meaning Magnificent Ballerina.  I liked that name and went with it.  The photo won me first place in three local art shows, and in an international competion sponsored by Photographers Forum Magazine it took 4th place out of about 18,000 color entries.  It went on to be my most profitable image for several years.

I also love photographing golf courses.  We have some beautiful courses here in San Angelo.  I have done work for Quicksand Golf Course, and framed photos of all of their holes hang on the walls there.  At least they were there the last time I played there several years ago.  But one of my favorite golf images is one of the first hole at San Angelo Country Club.  When I was photographing the course, I was trying to pick out a feature of the hole that was memorable.  In this photo, I positioned myself behind a water pond short and to the right of the green and took the shot through the trees.  You can see the flag there if you look close.

Hole #1 - San Angelo Country Club

Hole #1 – San Angelo Country Club

Several years ago, a new Visitor’s Center for the San Angelo Chamber of commerce was constructed along the Concho River.  Hailed as one of the most beautiful such visitors’ centers in the state, I decided to try and get a nice photo of it.  To do so, I picked a morning when the water was dead calm and I could get a nice reflection.  I chose a position directly across from the building so I could get the entire structure in the image.  The exact spot that I needed was precisely where a tree was growing.  I sat down on the ground with my back to the tree and composed the picture.  Here is the result.  For a short period it was on a billboard, north of the city, welcoming visitors to the area.

San Angelo Visitors Center

San Angelo Visitors Center

San Angelo Billboard

San Angelo Billboard

One spring Ann and I took a little tour in the hill country of Texas to see the Texas Bluebonnets in bloom.  One image I particularly liked.  We had come across this little knoll, and right before us was some bluebonnets in the foreground.  Then right across a low water crossing there was a meadow with whitefaces, (Hereford cattle), grazing.  I crouched low so as to get the bluebonnets in the photo.

Later, the people that owned the local McDonald’s Franchise contacted me to buy the rights to one of my images for a mural in one of their restaurants.  I showed them my portfolio and they decided on that particular photo, as they liked the bluebonnets.  They in turn had another compny make the mural, which turned out to be in a wall covering form.  They installed it on a large wall.  But, would you know, they positioned furniture in place that covers the bluebonnets.  It still looks very nice.

McDonald's Mural

McDonald’s Mural

Well, I think I will end this post here.  I don’t want to bore you with to many of these memories.  But I promise I will be back with some more soon.  Please click on any image to see some very nice enlargements.  I also feel obliged to mention, prints of any of my photographs are available for sale.  If interested, contact me at bobzeller@pobox.com.

Back after a brief rest……


I have been reminded that it has been about ten days since I last posted.  Sorry about that, folks.  It has been a somewhat traumatic ten days.  I was diagnosed with a severe urinary tract infection nearly two weeks ago.  An anti-biotic was prescribed.  It was the type that can have a nauseous side effect.  And it did.  We had previously made plans for a three-day trip to the Big Bend, leaving the 26th.  Up until that date, we were trying to decide if we had to cancel, as I was having some difficulty.  We decided not to cancel, and on the 26th we left, after Ann loaded the car.  I wasn’t feeling really great, but decided the worse that could happen would me spending a restful three days in a motel bed.

Well, that was not to be.  I started to have serious problems with light-headedness, nausea, and nearly passing out as soon as we arrived.  The EMTs were called to the motel, and after much discussion, we decided to return to San Angelo the following morning, with orders to see the doctor to have the meds changed.  We ended up going to the Emergency Room here in San Angelo.  By then, we were informed that the urinary tract infection was gone and to stop the meds.  To be brief, it was determined that the unsteadiness, headaches, etc., were caused by a serious sinus infection.  We had been thinking that the all the problems were caused by the prescribed antibiotics.

The sinus infections has improved although not completely gone, and I have been able to get back out the past few days and catch up on the avian populations in the San Angelo area.  We are now seeing returning grosbeaks, buntings, flycatchers and others.  All good signs of returning summer birds.

Here are a few images that I have captured since my last post.  These are from San Angelo State Park.  Please click on the images to see enlargements at their best.

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

Blue Grosbeak - female

Blue Grosbeak – female

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

On Sunday, May 1, we ventured out to the Twin Buttes Reservoir.  I managed to get these photos although we were constantly near a bunch of noisy off-roaders in the vehicles.  Of course, the area is open to everybody, but I think a few of them were trying to make it uncomfortable for us.

Lark Spararow

Lark Spararow

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Killdeer

Killdeer

By the way, lest I forget, during the few hours that we were in Big Bend National Park, I came away with the only photo of the short trip.  this Cassin’s Kingbird on an ocotillo branch in the desert.

Cassin's Kingbird

Cassin’s Kingbird

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!!

 

 

 

Birding the Big Bend – Part I, Fort Davis


Over social media such as FaceBook I have seen comments from many people who have never visited the Big Bend area, wanting more information about birding, lodging, the national park, and other areas of interest.  So I have decided to do a couple of posts telling about our experiences and favorite stops.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon – Big Bend National Park

Ann and I have two main areas of interest when we visit the Big Bend area of west Texas.  One is the biggest area near the bend of the Rio Grande.  That includes Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Our other favorite area, that I will write about in this post, is Fort Davis. In the area there are the Davis Mountains, Davis Mountains State Park, McDonald Observatory and Balmorhea.  I should also include the actual Fort Davis, one of the best preserved frontier forts in the country._MG_1609 036-net-fort-davis-bsob-zeller

An ideal trip for Ann and I would be to leave from San Angelo, head south to Sonora, and take I-10 west until finding Hwy 17 that leads to Fort Davis.  Traveling on I-10 is typical as Interstate travel can be.  The fun starts when you make the turn off onto Hwy 17.  You will travel through Balmorhea, then head through the beautiful Davis Mountains into the city of Fort Davis.

There are several places to stay in Fort Davis.  At the Davis Mountains State Park there is the Indian Lodge.  Nearby is the Prude Ranch and Fort Davis Motor Inn.  Ann and I prefer to stay at the Davis Mountains Inn, a nice little bed and breakfast.

Davis Mountains Inn

Davis Mountains Inn

We like to eat at the historic Fort Davis Drugstore.  Great food, and upstairs is the Drugstore Art Gallery, where yours truly, (that’s me) has numerous prints for sale.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker – Davis Mountains State Park

Birding is great at the Davis Mountains State Park, about seven miles northwest of town on Hwy 118..  There are two recently renovated bird blinds and plenty of birds.  On occasion, if you are lucky, you might spot some Montezuma Quail.  That place is one of our favoite birding areas.  The blinds are very good at attracting birds.  You can elect to sit inside and observe through the windows, or sit in the convenient stools outside.

Southwest of town on Hwy 118 is the Chihuahuan Nature Center and Botanical Gardens.  When we last visited it was literally humming with various species of Humming Birds.  There is also some very nice hiking trails.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - female

Black-chinned Hummingbird – female

One of our favorite things while in the area, is to take the Wildlife Viewing Loop.  It is a 75 mile drive heading northwest on Hwy 118, going by the McDonald Observatory high in the mountains.  A few miles later you will see a park on the left at Madera Canyon.  Pause there for awhile as it is a very good birding area. A Stellar’s Jay, was just seen there just a few days ago.  After that continue the loop, bearing left to Hwy 166, always looking out for the hawks and other birds and wildlife that inhabit the area.  You will end up back in Fort Davis, ready for a good meal at the Drugstore or a pizza from Murphy’s Pizza.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

After a good night’s sleep, a trip to Balmorhea sounds like a nice side journey.  The drive is north on Hwy 17 for about 40 miles.  We love that trip, because the drive itself is a great birding drive.  Hawks in abundance; Aoudads and Pronghorned Antelope line the mountain ridges.  And who can not stop to photograph Wild Rose Pass.

Wild Ross Pass

Wild Ross Pass

As you approach Balmorhea, you will see Balmorhea State Park.  It is small and it’s main feature is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.  But it also has a wetlands area where you can see some great birds.  East of town, is Lake Balmorhea, where during the colder months many species of water birds, ducks, egrets, herons, grebes, etc. can be found.  A Bald Eagle is usually seen hanging around, too.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Be sure to schedule your Balmorhea trip to include lunch at the Bear Den. It bills itself as “the cutest restaurant in town”.  Great Tex-Mex food and cold beer.

In the evening, you might be interested in driving south to Marfa, where you can see the famous “Marfa Lights”, that mysteriously glow after sundown in the direction of the Chinati Mountains.  We have see them every time that we have visited there.  Very strange, indeed.  They are just east of town on Hwy 90 where the Texas Highway Department has erected a special viewing area.

After a couple or three days here, we are ready to go south to the area of the Big Bend National Park.  That area will be the subject of Part II.

Big Bend the Beautiful


I have been busy the past three days processing photos from our trip last week to the Big Bend Country.  All I can say is that I have never seen this area look so beautiful in all of the many years that Ann and I have been visiting there.  Right from the git-go, driving down from Marathon and entering Big Bend National Park this is what greeted us; and it lasted for nearly all of the 35 miles or so to the park headquarters at Panther Junction.

Texas Bluebonnets along the highway into Big Bend National Park.

Texas Bluebonnets along the highway into Big Bend National Park.

What a way to start our little vacation!  I am not going to go into a great narrative in this post.  Mostly, I will let the photos do the talking.  Here is some more of the beauty.  By the way, if you are reading this on your computer, by all means please click on each photo and you will see beautiful enlargements.

Ocotillo - a sea of red.

Ocotillo shrubs – a sea of red.

Ocotillo and the Chisos Mountains.  You can see Mt. Casa Grande in the distance.

Ocotillo and the Chisos Mountains. You can see Mt. Casa Grande in the distance.

On a couple of mornings we went to the ghost town in Terlingua for breakfast.  A small place that we liked, served good hot coffee and a vast assortment of burritos.  It got us off to a good start for the day.  I took this photo from there one morning, before we left.

Sunrise from the ghost town at Terlingua, Texas.

Sunrise from the ghost town at Terlingua, Texas.

Now, speaking of eating, and before I get into the rest of this post, if any of you make this trip and you like pizza, don’t pass up this little place.  Don’t judge it by the appearance, like we did for so many years.  Inside is the best pizza around, made from scratch and the beer is cold.  I few miles south of the ghost town of Terlingua.  Opens at 5:00PM Wednesday through Sunday.  And no, Nancy, the owner is not paying me for this.

Long Draw Pizza

Long Draw Pizza

So, we did get into some birding.  After all, that was the main reason for coming.

Bell's Vireo at Cottonwood Campground

Bell’s Vireo at Cottonwood Campground

Summer Tanager at Rio Grande Village.

Summer Tanager at Rio Grande Village.

Ocotillo and canyon in ackground.

Ocotillo and canyon in ackground.

Ocotillo and Mule Ears Peak.

Ocotillo and Mule Ears Peak.

If you think I like ocotillo plants, you are right.  We have two that reach a height of about 20 feet, in our yard back home in San Angelo.  Okay, back to some birds.

Cattle Egret in early morning sun at the ghost town of Terlingua.

Cattle Egret in early morning sun at the ghost town of Terlingua.

Cattle egrets are named for the fact that they are usually found among milling cattle.  We have often found them in the desert of Big Bend National Park before, but I don’t think they stay long and are just on the way to nearby ranches.

Cactus Wren with an insect lunch.

Cactus Wren with an insect lunch.

Pyrrhuloxia trying to hide in the bushes.

Pyrrhuloxia trying to hide in the bushes.

Scaaled Quail - also locally know as a blue quail.

Scaaled Quail – also locally know as a blue quail.

Gambel's Quail.  Found along Highway 170 in Big Bend Ranch State Park near Redford, Texas.

Gambel’s Quail. Found along Highway 170 in Big Bend Ranch State Park near Redford, Texas.

Sunrise over the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.

Sunrise over the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.

I hope you enjoyed this brief trip through the Big Bend Country of far West Texas.  For us, we had a blast.  A gorgeous part of the state that Ann and I visit again and again.  For those who are following our birding exploits, we added sixteen new species for the year.  Our list is currently now at 140.  As you know, our goal is 210.  We are gaining on it.

A little this and that…..


Since my last post I have been trying to catch up on springtime duties around the house.  Mowing lawn, weeding, etc.  So our birding outings have been limited, but we managed to get a few images to show for it.

We ventured out to the north portion of San Angelo State Park today for awhile.  The Lewis’s Woodpecker has finally left, I believe.  We haven’t seen him in over a week anyway.  However, we did see 24 species of birds.

Black-throated Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

IMG_0823-net-wren-cactus-bob-zeller

Cactus Wren watching over her nest.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

This next photo is unique.  The prickly pear is growing from a mesquite tree limb.  A bird probably dropped a piece or a seed from a cactus into the bark and it took root.  Believe me, prickly pear will take root anywhere you want.  Actually, you can just lay a piece on the ground, forget about it, and it will start growing on the spot.

Prickly Pear growing from mesquite branch.

Prickly Pear growing from mesquite branch.

Mexican Ground Squirrel

Mexican Ground Squirrel

The ground squirrel was photographed a couple of days ago at Middle Concho Park here in San Angelo, as was this image of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - female

Ladder-backed Woodpecker – female

Ann and I are getting antsy to travel again.  So in two weeks we are heading back to the Big Bend country of far west Texas.  We will visit Big Bend National Park and the surrounding area for about 3-4 days.  We hope to again see this Common Blackhawk that I photographed a couple of years ago.

Common Blackhawk

Common Blackhawk

A rarity in Texas, it has again been seen in it’s favorite area in the Rio Grande Village RV Park.  I think this is the fifth or sixth year that they have nested there, but not sure.  I hope you enjoy the photo.

Okay, that’s it for now.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Happy Birding!!