Birding Eldorado Water Treatment Ponds

As you know, Ann and I recently took a five day trip to the Big Bend area.  Upon returning, we were barely unpacked, when our friends Sid and Suzanne Johnson called from Eldorado.  They had been birding the water treatment ponds a few days before and had seen a Black Scoter, Least Grebe, Common Golden-eye, and a Sora.  Holey Moley, Batman!!  All four of those are relatively rare to these parts.  That was Tuesday morning.  We had errands and chores to do so we were unable to go immediately, even though we were pretty excited!

So, keeping our eyes and fingers crossed that the birds would stay longer, we finally got away Wednesday morning.  Eldorado is only about 40 miles away from San Angelo, and easy 30 minute trip. 🙂

We met up with the Johnsons and headed to the ponds.  There were ducks of all descriptions there.  The water was fairly calm and it made for somewhat easier photography.  I say somewhat easy, because the ducks are always on the other side of the pond, but nevertheless, with my long lens I was able to come up with some images.  Alas, we found only two of the four fore-mentioned species, the Black Scoter and the Least Grebe.  Oh well, two out of four isn’t bad.

Here are those images plus a few others that I managed to photograph.

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Black Scoter

Black Scoter

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

American Pippit

American Pippit

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Along with those birds we saw Buffleheads, Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, Green-winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Great Blue Heron.  I think that about covers it.

Anyway, it was much fun!  I hope to get back down there soon and look for those that we missed. 🙂

Two for One

It is unusual to see two rarities in a day.  Saturday was one of those days.  The Johnsons from Eldorado told us of the three Snow Geese that were hanging around the water treatment ponds there.  We ran down there to check them out.  Lo and behold, not only did we see the geese, but discovered that there was only one Snow Goose.  The other two were Ross’s Geese.  Both species are rare to this area.  Here is one of the photos that I obtained while there.

Snow Goose, leading two Ross's Geese.

Snow Goose, leading two Ross’s Geese.

The Ross’s Goose is another lifer for our list.

Long-tailed Duck – another lifer

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I often get calls telling me of new discoveries.  Yesterday I received an e-mail from Suzanne Johnson down in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo, informing us that a Long-tailed Duck was making a stop-over.  It is a bird that usually winters on either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, then spends the rest of the year in the far north.  Ann and I hopped into the car and headed that way this morning, as it is a bird that neither of us had ever seen before.  It took a bit of patience and searching but we saw it at the waste water ponds outside of town.

Again, I got lucky.  We searched for about 30 minutes, and as I was about to give up, I saw a bird splash down in the water.  I zipped my big lens around just in time to get it in focus.  It was my bird, i.e., the Long-tailed Duck.  It was windy, the water a bit choppy as the ponds are large, but I managed to get a couple of images of it.  Not great photos, but good enough to prove the Identification..

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck accompanied by a couple of Eared Grebes.

Long-tailed Duck accompanied by a couple of Eared Grebes.

We then came home after seeing about 15 other species in the ponds.  Later this afternoon, I got a call from friends in Eola, about 25 miles west, to come over and shoot photos of their cotton harvest.  Since they were half-way finished and cold weather on the way I though I would get over there and get the job done.

Cotton fields surround home on west Texas farm.

Cotton fields surround home on west Texas farm.

If the above photo was an aerial view, you would see that the home is surrounded by a sea of cotton fields.

Modules of compressed cotton harvested on cotton farm.

Modules of compressed cotton harvested on cotton farm.

Pictured are 19 modules of compressed cotton, freshly harvested.  14 are full, 5 are nearly finished.  Each the size of a school bus.  And they are only half finished.  Looks like a good harvest.  (The modules appear shorter because of the long telephoto lens I was using.)

On the way home from that project, we spotted this Merlin atop a warning sign.  I barely had time to get the camera off of my lap and grab a shot, before it took off.



The Long-tailed Duck is number 262 on my life list if any of you are interested.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.  By the way, the WARNING sign is for buried cable in the area.

Blue Grosbeak and more…….

Last week was a little slow for me.  I didn’t get out to do much shooting as I usually do.  But when I did get out I managed to get a few keepers.  Here area few from a trip to the water treatment ponds at Eldorado, Texas.

Female Blue Grosbeak in yucca plant.

Female Blue Grosbeak., (Passerina caerulea).  Exposure was 1/2000 sec. @ f5.6, ISO 640.  Canon 500mm f4 lens with 1.4 tele-converter.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret, (Bubulcus ibis).  Exposure 1/2000 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 400.  Canon 500mm lens with 1.4 tele-converter.

Great-tailed Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle, (Quiscalus mexicanus).  Exposure 1/2000 sec. @ f6.3 -1.3EV, ISO 100.  Canon 500mm lens with 1/4 tele-converter.

Snowy Egret

This Snowy Egret, (Egretta thula), appears to be staring at the insect in front of his face.  Exposure 1/1600 sec. @ f5.6, -0,7EV, ISO 100.  Canon 100-400mm lens.

Blue Jay on fence

This Blue Jay, (Cyanocitta cristata), was photographed after we got back into town.  He was sitting on a fence in residential area.  I grabbed a quick shot from the car with my Canon 7D and 100-400mm lens.  Exposure 1/320 sec. @ f5.6, +0.7EV, ISO 3200.

Click on any image to see enlargements.

Photography – Sense of Scale – plus Wilson’s Snipe

I just recently read Jeff Lynch’s post (his blog) about showing sense of scale to your photographs.  Give it a read.  It is excellent and has great photographs.  I was impressed with it and decided to show you here, what sense of scale can accomplish.

Santa Elena Canyon - Big Bend National Park

These walls of the canyon reach a height of 1,500 feet.  The photo looks somewhat nondescript until you notice that speck at the bottom left.  That is a hiker making his way into the entrance of the canyon.  You can also see another person showing as a white speck in the center of the green growth.  Click on the photo and you see what I am talking about.

This photo was taken about ten years ago.  I was on a narrow trail up on the wall of the canyon, about 100 feet above the Rio Grande River(I am sure that Jeff has been there.) The wall was near my right side looming high above me.  I wanted a vertical shot, but I needed something to show the scale of it all.  I looked down and saw the hiker meandering along.  I waited until I could fit him into the image.  I was using a slightly wide angle lens so I could include a sliver of sky at the top.  I was using film and all my EXIF data has been lost.

So you can see how important it is to show something in your photos to show sense of scale.  For example, if you are photographing a lizard, an object, or anything that your viewer has no idea the size, include a pencil, ruler, or something that is familiar.

Now onto birding news.  The Common Goldeneyes have left the water ponds at Eldorado.  As you remember I saw them back on, I believe Dec. 29.  They were a lifer for me and I showed you the photograph.  Ann and I drove back down there today, as I was hoping to see them to add them to my 2012 species viewed list, but alas, not to happen.  We did add 11 more to my 2012 species list, bringing it up to 44 towards my goal of 225 for the year.

But the wind was blowing quite hard and most of the water birds were hunkered down under the banks of the ponds.  I did come up with another photo of a Wilson’s Snipe which I will share with you here.

Wilson's Snipe

Exposure data:  Canon EOS 7D, Canon 100-400mm lens.  1/400 sec. @ f8, +0.3EV, ISO 640.  Spot metering with aperture priority.

For more photos click on my Flickr link in the right side-bar of this page.

Another Cattle Egret – Plus More

Ann and I decided to take another run down to the Eldorado Water Treatment ponds again yesterday, Monday, morning.  With all that bird activity, I wanted to see if I could pick up some more good images, or at least improve on some previous photos.

First of all, we found that the little juvenile Cattle Egret was still hanging around.  I got this photo of it as it was perched upon a post in one of the ponds.  It was an easy shot with my Canon 7D and 100-400mm lens.  1/500 sec. @f8 and ISO 400.  Sky a little overcast so it made for excellent lighting.

juvenile Cattle Egret

We started to drive around the ponds again, slowly, as we always do.  I had my other Canon 7D with the 500mm lens and 1.4 converter in my lap, leaning slightly out the window.  My Puffin’ Pad window cushion was in place.  I was hoping to see another Wilson’s Snipe.

As we were making a turn around the corner of one of the ponds, I was rewarded.  Right down to my left, only about twenty feet away, I spotted one.  I quickly set up my camera in the window.  I discovered that I nearly had too much lens.  The snipe, as you can see, filled up the frame, with the 500mm and 1.4 converter.  He froze thinking that I couldn’t see him, which was nearly true, as he was blending in with the weeds and mud.  I didn’t want to grab the other camera with the 100-400mm for fear that he might fly.

"Hiding in Plain Sight"

Wilson Snipe.  Canon 7D with 500mm lens and 1.4 tele-converter. 1/400 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.

These ponds are about 150 feet across.  There are hundreds of ducks of different species, and it has been hard to get decent close-ups even with using the 500mm and the 1.4 converter.  The ducks always seem to swim away to the furthest side of the pond.

To solve the problem, or at least help it a bit, I decided to do something that I never tried.  I have a 2x tele-converter that I can use on the 500mm, but because it would change the aperture to an f8, the auto focus is dis-abled.  Therefore I would have to hand-hold it and manual focus.  Plus the ducks are moving on the water.  But, I figured what the heck.  Nothing to lose.

I went ahead and attached the 2x making my working focal distance 1,000mm.  I sat it on the window sill, and focused it on this female Northern Shoveler, so far away it was pretty tiny with the naked eye.  The result, as you can see, isn’t so bad.  I was able to crop it and print out a nice 8×10.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler.  Canon 7D with 500mm lens plus 2x tele-converter.  Focal Distance 1,000mm.  1/4000 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.  Manual focus, hand-held with aid of a Puffin’ Pad window support.

Now that I can get these great results, I may use the 2x tele-converter more often when down in Eldorado.

I hope you enjoyed the images, and my little telling of the experience.  Click on any photo to see an enlargement.

Big News from Eldorado Ponds

Black Scoter, Barnegat Inlet N.J.

Image via Wikipedia

We got an e-mail from Suaanne Johnson in Eldorado last evening.  It seems another rarity was seen there at the water treatment ponds.  Suzanne and her husband, Sid, were birding there and spotted a Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra).  They got pictures and had the sighting verified with the proper authorities.  The Black Scoter (male pictured above) is normally seen only on the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines.  So the female that they saw apparently was lost.

Ann and I drove down there this morning, but we weren’t able to see it.  I probably took off and got back on course to it’s normal habitat.

Wilson's Snipe

But while we were there, we saw this Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) in the weeds along the shorline of one of the ponds.  Then further along this juvenile Cattle Egret  (Bubulcus ibis) appeared.  He looked like he lost his momma, but he was large enough to fly, as he did shortly after I took this photo.

juvenile Cattle Egret

Soe even though the Black Scoter eluded us, I feel satisfied that I got the above photographs.  Our total birding species count was 23.  We were there for only two hours.  Following is the list:

The EXIF data was identical for both images except for the ISO, which was 100 for the egret and 640 for the snipe.  Otherwise the camera was my Canon 7D, Canon 100-400mm lens, 1/640 sec. @f7.1.  Spot metering with aperture priority.  Of course, the image of the Black Scoter is not mine.

Click on any photo to see an enlargement.  Have a great weekend. 🙂

Eldorado Weekend of 42 Species

In my previous post I mentioned that we had seen 42 species at the Eldorado Water Treatment ponds and surrounding area.  Maybe some of my readers would be interested in the entire list.  All viewed within about 3 hours.

  1. Turkey Vultures  15
  2. Chihuahuan Raven  3
  3. Northern Cardinal  2
  4. Baltimore Oriole  2
  5. Lesser Goldfinch  6
  6. House Finch  10
  7. Black-chinned Hummingbird  4
  8. House Wren  2
  9. Pied-billed Grebes  24
  10. White-winged Dove15
  11. Mourning Dove  8
  12. Yellow Warbler  3
  13. Barn Swallow  25
  14. Northern Shoveler  50
  15. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  13
  16. Clay-colored Sparrow  3
  17. Eastern Phoebe  2
  18. Egyptian Goose  2
  19. Great Egret  1
  20. Northern Pintail  24
  21. Wilson’s Phalarope  16
  22. Great Blue Heron  2
  23. Blue-winged Teal  18
  24. Green-winged Teal  17
  25. Blue Grosbeak  1
  26. Vermilion Flycatcher  1
  27. Red-winged Blackbird  5
  28. Yellow-headed Blackbird  2
  29. Spotted Sandpiper  3
  30. Baird’s Sandpiper  1
  31. Greater Roadrunne  4
  32. Lesser Scaup1
  33. Red-tailed Hawk  1
  34. Marsh Wren  25
  35. Common Yellowthroat  1
  36. Belted Kingfisher  1
  37. White-faced Ibis  26
  38. Dickcissel  6
  39. Savannah Sparrow  1
  40. Green Heron  1
  41. European Starling  4
  42. House Sparrow  8

Another Foray to Eldorado Water Treatment Ponds

This past weekend Ann and I decided to make another trip to one of our favorite birding haunts. the water treatment ponds at Eldorado, Texas.  Our friends, Suzanne and Sid Johnson, who live there accompanied us.  It was fruitful day, to say the least, as we saw 42 different species.  Three of the highlights are pictured below.

The first is a Wilson’s Warbler, (Wilsonia pusilla).  A pretty little yellow bird, identified by the black crown on it’s head.  This one was in a Hackberry tree along with a few of it’s friends.

Wilson's Warbler

  • Canon EOS 7D with Canon 500mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter
  • 1/640 sec. @ f13 minus 2/3 EV adjustment – ISO 100
  • Lens focal distance – 700mm
  • Partial metering
  • Shutter priority

After that we came across this bird sitting on a fence.  It was hard to ID at first, because of difficulty in getting close enough.  I thought it looked familiar, but wasn’t able to confirm what I saw until I was able to maneuver the car so I could get a shot with my long lens.  It is a Dickcissel (Spiza americana).  This is either a winter male, or a first year male.


  • Canon EOS 7D with Canon 500mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter
  • 1/800 sec @ f6.3 – ISO 100
  • Lens focal distance – 700mm
  • Partial metering
  • Shutter priority

Along the ponds there an abundance of reeds.  In those reeds we saw a large proliferation of Marsh Wrens (Cistothorus palustris).

Marsh Wren

  • Canon EOS 7D with Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/1250 sec. @ f5/6 minus 2/3 EV adjustment – ISO 400
  • Lens focal distance – 340mm
  • Spot metering
  • Shutter priority

A  side note to this story.  Late last night I received an e-mail from Suzanne Johnson.  She and Sid made another trip to the ponds after dinner and saw four Soras (Porzanna carolina).  They are the first ever to be seen in that area.

Click on any image to see an enlargement.  To see more of my photography click the Flickr Logo at the right side of this page.

Birding Eldorado Water Treatment Ponds

It started out to be a day to search for a reported eagle’s nest.  One had been reported on Hwy 67 between Rowena and Miles.  We took off yesterday morning to have a look, but couldn’t locate it.  Perhaps it is at another location, and we will check into it further.

So, we decided to detour to the south and visit the water treatment ponds at Eldorado.  There are usually some surprises to be found there and again, we were not disappointed.  Here are some photos that I managed to capture.  I will put a complete list of our sightings at the end of this post.  Also, you will find my camera data below each image.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 500mm lens w/1.4 tele-converter – hand-held
  • Shutter priority
  • 1/2500 sec. @ f5.6 – EV – 1/3 – ISO 200
  • Partial metering 
  • Bonaparte’s Gull in flight
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • Shutter priority
  • 1/2500 sec. @ f5.6 – ISO 160
  • Partial metering
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 500mm lens w/1.4 tele-converter – hand-held
  • Shutter priority
  • 1/2500 sec. @ f5/6 – EV-1/3 – ISO 640
  • Partial metering
  • White-faced Ibis in flight
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/2500 sec. @ f4.5 – EV-1/3 – SO 250
  • Shutter priority
  • Partial metering
  • Baird’s Sandpiper
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • Shutter priority
  • 1/2500 sec. @ f5.6 – ISO 400
  • Partial metering

I hope you enjoyed the photos and the addition of the camera settings, etc.  Now here is a list of the sightings for the day.  Again, those water ponds produced another fun day of birding.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  3. Western Kingbird
  4. Brown-headed Cowbird
  5. White-winged Dove
  6. Mockingbird
  7. Field Sparrow
  8. Turkey Vulture
  9. Wild Turkey
  10. Greater Roadrunner
  11. Barn Swallow
  12. Double-crested Cormorant
  13. Egyptian Goose
  14. Wilson’s Phalarope
  15. Bonaparte’s Gull
  16. Savanah Sparrow
  17. White-faced Ibis
  18. Upland Sandpiper
  19. Spotted Sandpiper
  20. Killdeer
  21. Eastern Phoebe
  22. Greater Yellowlegs
  23. Painted Bunting
  24. American Pipit
  25. Least Sandpiper
  26. Common Grackle
  27. Chipping Sparrow
  28. European Starling