Mid-November Musings

Of course, I could have said mid-November blues, but that sounds so discouraging.  Again, our high record temperatures here in the San Angelo area, has kept the birding slow.  The northern birds are reluctant to  come this far south until the temps get down a bit.  Fortunately, that time is coming next week.  Unfortunately it took me the past two weeks to amass enough photographs for this post.  The good news, fortunately I did get a nice collection to show you from our sporadic trips into the field.

Let’s see, my last post was on October 29.  Sorry, folks, I didn’t mean to wait so long, but here we go.  I am just going to post photos more or less in the order I got them.  By the way, click on any of them to see some very nice enlargements.

On October 30 we took a little time, early in the morning, to run to Spring Creek Park.  We had been watching for the Great Horned Owl that frequents the area.  We almost missed him when he appeared in a nearly bare tree near the water.  Of course, some little twigs almost got in the way.  I think that he thought he was hidden.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl – 1/1000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV at 6400 ISO.

Continuing along the water, we saw this Great Egret doing a little hunting of his own from a tree branch.

Great Egret

Great Egret – 1/000 sec. @ f6.3, -0.3 EV at 500 ISO.

We didn’t get out again until November 3.  This time we visited San Angelo State Park.  The only usable image I captured then was this beautiful female Pyrrhuloxia.


Pyrrhuloxia – 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 1000.

On November 4 we ventured to Middle Concho Park.  There I found this gorgeous Great Blue Heron just hanging out along the shore line.  It was another beautiful day, just right for basking in the sun near Lake Nasworthy.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron – 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 1250.

On the way home we spotted this Osprey high on a utility pole.


Osprey – 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 1600

November 13 found us back at Spring Creek Park, where we happened to meet fellow birder, Randy Hesford.  We were sitting under some trees eating a burrito and sipping coffee, when he drove up next to us.  He had just spotted a Wood Duck and wanted to give us directions to where we could see it.  I hadn’t seen one in the past couple of years, and I grabbed at the chance.  All bird photographers have nemesis birds, birds that they have difficulty finding and getting good photos.  This duck is one of my nemesis birds, and I was happy to get this photo.  It wasn’t that easy,though.  I had to leave my blind, aka my Ford Escape, and hike to the shoreline, hoping I wouldn’t spook him.  Before getting out of my vehicle, I grabbed my other camera, another Canon 7D Mark II, only with a 100-400mm zoom lens.  It is a lighter setup, easier to handle when I am walking.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck – 1/1250 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 640.

We didn’t get back out to Spring Creek Park again until the 17th of November.  We were searching for some Golden-crowned Kinglets that have been seen, but they eluded us.  Instead I was fortunate to see three little Dark-eyed Juncos hopping among the branches of a tiny tree.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco – 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 4000.

From there we decided to go over to Middle Concho Park.  There, we spotted this red-shafted Norther Flicker high atop a tree.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker – 1/1000 @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, at ISO 320.

We finished the day with this beautiful Western Bluebird.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird – 1/1600 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3 EV, at ISO 3200.

I hope you enjoyed these photos from the past couple of weeks.  With the exception of the Wood Duck, all other photos were with an identical Canon 7D Mark II and my Tamron 150-600mm lens.  Incidentally, I have upgraded that lens to a second generation Tamron 150-600mm lens.  It has some refinements over the original and I will be using it in the future.

So, until my next post, Happy Birding!!

Birds and the Beasts

Wow!  People sure enjoy reading about Red-tailed Hawks.  That post about Shooting Red-tailed Hawk got a near record number of views around the world.  I appreciate all of you.  Now I will tell you about the birds and the beasts.

Today, I will bring you up to date on all of the other bird and other images from the past week or so.  We have made several trips to San Angelo State Park and the local parks within the Lake Nasworthy environs.

This little critter was munching among the fallen leaves at the blind at San Angelo State Park.  I am not sure what it is, as I am not up to date on the rodent population in the park.  Perhaps a field mouse of some kind.

Mouse or rodent

Mouse or rodent

This Hermit Thrush showed up at the blind.  It was the first time I had ever seen one there.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

This is a Dark-eyed Junco, the Oregon variety.  We were prowling along the perimeter of Spring Creek Park near Lake Nasworthy and spotted about six of these in one brushy spot.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

We spotted this Carolina Wren just a few yards away from the juncos.  That blurred object near it’s right foot is a blossom on a weed, and I think it caused me to get a less than perfectly focused image.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Along the way, we saw this cat, perhaps a feral, or maybe someone’s lost house cat.  He may have been eye-balling some of those Juncos.

Feral Cat, I assume

Feral Cat, I assume

There were many White-tailed Deer in abundance.  This one had a beautiful eight-point rack.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

We caught this Osprey having it’s lunch on a mesquite branch.  He was alert for anything that may want to try to snitch a bit from him.  I don’t think he had to worry about me.  I was about 175 yards away.

Osprey with fish lunch

Osprey with fish lunch

Over near Middle Concho Park, we spotted this Porcupine in an open field.  He was feeding in the grass and weeds.  He look pretty battle-scared in the face, from an old fight with something.



Meanwhile, back at San Angelo State Park, this young Armadillo was doing some feeding of it’s own.  Back-lit gave it some lighting problems, but I think you can see enough of it’s face.

Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

Hope you enjoyed this post, where sometimes the beasts outnumber the birds.   Such as it is in a wildlife photographer’s world. 🙂

No place like home……

After having a great time birding at South Llano State Park, we decided to stay home in San Angelo and see if we could have another sucessful day.  We did, counting 41 species and getting some nice photographs.  It was another gorgeous day weather-wise, windy early but beautiful later on.  Here are some highlights of that excursion.

Hooded Merganser - female

Hooded Merganser – female

Hooded Merganser - male

Hooded Merganser – male

These Hooded Mergansers were gliding along nearly side by side.  I was lucky to be able to get these close-ups, thanks to my Tamron 150-600mm lens.  All of the images in this post were taken with that particular lens, attached to my Canon EOS 70D.

Dark-eyed Jumco - slate-colored

Dark-eyed Jumco – slate-colored

The Junco was the first we had seen here in the past two years.  They are not present all the time.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

I cute little sparrow with the distinctive white bars on the crown.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

The Wilson’s Snipe was all alone, just doing his thing, looking for food along the opposite bank of the river.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Another bird that I have been missing seeing is the Carolina Wren.  They pretty much stay hidden, like this one that is trying to stay out of sight.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans

I was able to practice getting birds in flight with this image of the two American White Pelicans.

After another sucessful day we headed home where I started to post-process all these, and more, images.  We added two more birds to our Big Year List.  The Dark-eyed Junco and the Carolina Wren.  Total is now 111.

Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Quiz #2 – Final Results

Here we go again.  This second quiz garnered more votes than the first one, so it seems that the interest in them are growing.  I, for one, am really enjoying them, but of course I have an advantage.  I know the answer.  But I hope more of you are starting to use some photo guides to help you along.  It is not cheating to do so.  I encourage it.  This is the original picture that you were asked to identify.

So after a world-wide vote of 84 votes, here is the final tabulation:

  1. Spotted Towhee                                 39
  2. Black-headed Grosbeak                  19
  3. American Robin                                18
  4. Orchard Oriole                                     7
  5. Dark-eyed Junco                                 1

The correct answer is Spotted Towhee.  That means that nearly half of you readers got it right.  That’s not bad, as the wrong answers were birds that are very similar. as these pictures show.

Black-headed Grosbeak

American Robin

Orchard Oriole

Dark-eyed Junco 

So that does it for Quiz #2.  I will let you digest this for the evening.  Tune in tomorow, Saturday morning for the always exciting, Quiz #3. 🙂

Fun Birding with Bob and Ann

Did you hear the one about the drunkard that was standing on the beach throwing rocks at the seagulls?  When the cop asked him why he was doing that, the sot said, “I don’t want to leave any tern un-stoned”. 🙂

Boy, that is a great lead-in to my post today.  Around noon Saturday Suzanne Johnson called, said she was in town with her husband, Sid.  They had just been near Lake Nasworthy and told us there was a couple of Forster’s Terns (Sterna forsteri) out there on some buoys.  Well, you know me.  “Have camera, will travel”.  I grabbed my camera, then grabbed Ann and we headed out there.  Forster’s aren’t really common around here.

Sure enough, when we got there about 10 minutes later, we saw one of them.  It was a little far for a decent photo.  The one that I show here is one that I took a couple of years ago down at the water treatment ponds in Eldorado.

Forster's Tern

Since the weather was pretty nice, and since we were already there, we decided to check out the parks around the lakes and see what else might make a showing.  It turned out to be a fun afternoon.  Another highlight was seeing some Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis). I am very familiar with the Juncos, but it was the first time I had ever seen them here in San Angelo.  Our local check list shows them to be uncommon here.

Dark-eyed Junco - slate-colored

For you interested birders, here is a complete list of the 30 species we saw Saturday afternoon.

  1. Forster’s Tern   1
  2. Mute Swan   1
  3. Ring-billed Gull   11
  4. American Coot   75+
  5. Northern Mockingbird   4
  6. Great Blue Heron   2
  7. Northern Shoveler   15
  8. Pied-billed Grebe   4
  9. Western Meadowlark   10
  10. House Finch   18
  11. Orange-crowned Warbler   1
  12. Dark-eyed Junco (slate)   12
  13. Cedar Waxwing   30
  14. White-crowned Sparrow   12
  15. White-winged Dove   10
  16. Northern Flicker   1
  17. Red-winged Blackbird   6
  18. American Goldfinch   14
  19. Eastern Bluebird   12
  20. Clay-colored Sparrow   12
  21. Yellow-rumped Warbler   6
  22. Golden-fronted Woodpecker   4
  23. Ladder-backed Woodpecker   1
  24. Double-crested Cormorant   20
  25. Eastern Phoebe   1
  26. Cinnamon Teal   3
  27. Great-tailed Grackle   1
  28. Great Egret   1
  29. Vermilion Flycatcher   1
  30. Ring-necked Duck   2

Camera used on both photos was my Canon EOS 7D with 500mm lens.

Forster’s Tern:  1/1250 sec @ f22, -0.3EV.  ISO 1250, partial metering, aperture priority.

Dark-eyed Junco:  1/400 sec @ f4, ISO 3200.  partial metering, aperture priority.

Click on either photo for an enlargement.

Dark-eyed Juncos

First, before I get into the subject of this post, I’d like to mention that two of my favorite bloggers are down in south Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  One is David Skinner’s (blog) from Canada.  He reports that during a three-hour hunt yesterday he and his group saw 57, yes, folks that is 57 species.  He said that 11 of those were “lifers” for him.

If you remember, in an earlier post I had mentioned that Ann and I had seen 27 species on a recent outing.  David’s total of 57 makes ours look like childs-play.  I need to get to south Texas one of these days.

Another individual, Linda Rockwell of Photo Feathers (blog) is down there, but in a different tour group.  Check out her photos of a couple of Crested Caracaras.  She said that she will be reporting back later on her results.

Now, about the Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis).  These photos were taken at two different times with different equipment.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon Group)

This Oregon Junco was photographed at the Cedar GapFarm bird viewing center in February 2009.  If you have never been there, click the above link to my post describing it.  I was using my Canon EOS 40D at the time.  I had my Canon 100-400 lens attached and hand-held it for this shot.  1/500 sec. @f5.6, ISO 400.  Center-weighted metering at aperture priority.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)

The Slate-colored Junco was photographed at the X-Bar Ranch in November of 2010.  Another great place to bird.  They have a little patio area next to a copse of trees with a little bubbling fountain.  Many species of birds, and all you have to do is sit back in one of the chairs, sip a refreshment of your choice, and enjoy the different species.  Of course, I passed on the refreshment as I was quite busy taking photographs.

It was getting quite dark when I took this particular photo, as you can see by the ISO of 3200.  I had my Canon 7D on a tripod with my Canon 500mm lens.  Other exposure info: 1/400 sec @ f4, partial metering at shutter priority.

Remembering the Dark-eyed Juncos

Another of the forgotten species of birds that inhabit this part of west Texas is the Dark-eyed Junco. (Junco hyemalis).  In all honesty, I have never personally seen one here in San Angelo, but I have in nearby places such as the Abilene area and Fort Davis, for example.  Why they avoid San Angelo, I do not know.

The two types that I am familiar with are the Slate-colored group and the Oregon group.  Rather than try to tell you the differences in text, I will show a couple of  images that I took over the past few years.  In these photographs you can see the difference between the two.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon group)

  • Photographed February 15, 2009
  • Canon EOS 40D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens  (400mm)
  • 1/500 sec. @ f5.6  ISO 400
  • Metering – center weighted
  • Aperture priority

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored group)

  • Photographed November 10, 2010
  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 500mm f4 IS super-tele lens  (500mm)
  • 1/400 sec. @ f4 – ISO 3200
  • Metering – partial
  • Shutter priority

There are also some other variations of the junco that are not ususally seen  around west Texas.  They are Pink-sided, White-winged, Gray-headed and Yellow-eyed.

Click on either of the images to see enlargements.

While you’re here click Avian101 to read a guest article that I contributed to H. J. Ruiz’s blog about birds and birding.

To see more of my photographic prowess, click on my Flickr logo a the right of this page.

X-Bar Ranch – The Hike

Ann and I spent three wonderful days down at the Live Oak Lodge at X-Bar Ranch.  We had the place literally to ourselves.  No hunters yet, and no other guests.  So we spent most of the time eating, sleeping or watching birds.  However, on Tuesday we decided to take a little walk.

When we had checked in on Monday, Christy and Stan Meador, our hosts were pointing out different things to do.  Christy mentioned the various trails that would be open, as there were no hunters around.  During that conversation I thought I had heard the words “green trail’  and “six tenths mile”.

Dark-eyed Junco

So, when Ann mentioned that a walk would be fun, I interjected that the Green Trail would be great because it was only .6 tenths of a mile.  Heck, we have a little route around our neighborhood that we figure is a mile, and we handle that with ease.  This would be a piece of cake, right??  Not!!

We set off at approximately 10:45AM.  We had light jackets because it was a little cool and windy.  I had a camera slung over my shoulder.  Ann had binoculars.  We carried no water, because, heck, it was only six tenths of a mile., right?  We had drank up before we left, though.

We got to walking along, me taking the occasional snapshot along the way.  The trail was well marked.  No way could we get lost, so were just enjoying the day.  The trail is pretty rugged in places.  Hilly, not real steep, but rocky in most places, as it follows some water runoff areas or washes.

Spotted Towhee

 After about thirty minutes, I thought we should be very close to the end of the trail, because this trail was only six tenths of a mile, right?  Well we kept walking and were starting to get a little worn.  I am 76 years old, just recently recovered from a back fracture, and Ann is 72, so I began to think that maybe we unknowingly bit off more that we could handle.  Any time now we expected to see the cabins.  We walked more.  No cabins in sight.  We were both starting to really get concerned.  We were getting warm as the temperature started to climb, and had shed our jackets.  Also we were getting  very thirsty.  After about an hour or maybe a little more, we knew something was very wrong.  We knew we were on the trail, as it was marked and easily to follow.  We also knew by then that it was longer that we originally thought, but how much longer, we had no idea.

Finally, we got a glimpse of something in the distance.  I borrowed Ann’s binoculars and discovered that the cabins were still about a mile or more away.  We were stunned, and wondered how could this be.  We knew even if it was a mile, that the trail wouldn’t be in a straight line.  There were too many switch-backs in the hilly trails.  I tried to sit down on a rock to rest a minute while we were trying to decide whether we should try to call someone on our cell phone.  We decided that no one could reach us very fast, even if we found someone to contact. 

So we hugged each other a bit, prayed to the Man upstairs and decided there was only one way out, and that was just to go ahead, one step at a time.  I knew that if I sat down again, I wouldn’t be able to get back up.  There were very few places to sit, anyway.  Only an occasional rock.  By then I was using the only walking stick we had, plus a piece of tree branch that we had picked up.  Ann was making it without any aid, though with difficulty.   How she done it, I will never know.   In places, we were literally leaning on each other.  Plus we were chastising ourselves for being so foolish.

Northern Cardinal - female

After what seemed forever, actually about two hours and a half, we finally made it to the last gate.  It was similar but not exactly like a cattle guard.  For me, just getting across that was a struggle.  But make it, we did.  Thankfully, we sat down on a chair by the patio.  I found that God looks after fools and drunks……….. and we were sober.

Afterwords, we found trail maps in the lodge.  There are four trails a person can take.  The shortest is a mile and a half.  We DID NOT take that one. 

We got a valuable lesson that day.  Do not attempt such an undertaking unless you are absolutely sure of the facts, then go prepared.  In retrospect, we also should have let someone know where we were going.  But, what’s done is done.  On Wednesday, we didn’t leave the lodge.  We just sat on the patio and watched and photographed birds.  I needed to use the walking stick anyway, because I pulled a muscle in my hip during our hike.  But I am feeling great again.  No more hiking again for awhile, thank you very much.

By the way, Ann did not want me to tell this story.  She thought it would make us look stupid.  Maybe or maybe not.  After all, we just misunderstood what was said and did not get confirmation.

By the way, the length of the Green Trail is three miles……….

Happy birding! 🙂

Back from X-Bar Ranch

We got back from the Live Oak Lodge at the X-bar Ranch this morning.  Still in the act of getting caught on some of my stuff that needs doing.  We picked up Suzie, our Shi-Tzu from the sitters and she is glad to be back.  We had a great time and are looking forward to going back in the spring.

We saw a bunch of birds there that we don’t usually see around San Angelo.  There were many Hermit Thrushes.  I hadn’t seen one in the wild in a couple of years.  Susan and Sid Johnson, who live in Eldorado not far away, brought pizza out to our cabin Tuesday evening so they could bird with us for with a couple of hours.  Suzanne instantly brought our attention to a Dark-eyed Junco.  Darn, she’s good. 🙂 

Hermit Thrush

Wednesday morning Ann and I got out early and saw a Spotted Towhee, then a somewhat rare White-throated Sparrow.  That is another lifer.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of it.  It didn’t stay long enough to get a decent image. 

In other news, I have decided to start a Bird of the Week series.  It will begin tomorrow, so watch for it every Friday.  Earlier I had contemplated doing a Bird of the Day, but decided that series wouldn’t last very long at that rate.   But the weekly idea means I can string it out much longer.

As you can see, I have inserted a photo of the Hermit Thrush.  On Monday, I will show you some more images after I sort through them and do a little editing.  And I’ll have a little story about our hike.