Birding before the storm…….


Well, I don’t know how much of a storm it will be, but getting extremely cold, (for here), tomorrow.  High predicted 38 degrees.  That’s after us having the hottest temp in the nation yesterday of 85 degrees.  Today was almost as warm, but a beautiful balmy day.  What to do.  What to do.  Go birding, of course.

First we decided to visit the blind at San Angelo State Park.  There we saw basically just the regulars, but not much in the way of anything new.  Like going into a tavern and seeing all the regular locals at the bar, but no new pretty girls coming in.  I did get a nice photo of a House Finch.

House Finch

House Finch

After that we headed for our usual spots at Lake Nasworthy.  Two parks, Spring Creek and Middle Concho, are usually pretty good at producing a nice variety for us birders.  Today was no exception.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Ann spotted the Great Horned Owl.  We knew one was hanging around, but we didn’t know which tree it would be in.  It was in a sleepy mood.  Whooooooo could blame him. 🙂

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron was busy looking for breakfast, or was it lunch.  No matter.  He probably didn’t know the difference.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

This American Wigeon was doing a bit of searching on his own.  I don’t know what the American Coot was doing.  He may have been jealous of the wigeon’s colors.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal

A Cinnamon Teal gliding placidly along showing off.

Wilson's Shrike

Wilson’s Snipe

This Wilson’s Snipe was in a very shallow area near the bank of the river.  I almost didn’t see him as they are so tiny.  Actually, they measure 10 inches, but half of that is it’s bill.

All in all, we saw about 35 different species.

We added three more to our 2014 West Texas Big Year list.

#88  Mourning Dove

#89  Cinnamon Teal

#90  Blue-winged Teal

Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.

Canada Geese plus Sunday photos


I got a call from my bird look-out friend yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.  Sue Oliver is an intense birder always watching for anything new to appear.  It was late in the day, but I was ready to go.  She said there were some Canada Geese at a neighborhood park near downtown San Angelo.  Since I am the “have camera, will travel” type of guy I headed out.

When I got there the sun was very low as evening was coming on.  I spotted a few of the geese in the grass, but they were far inside the fence.  This is a private neighborhood park.  They were feeding then, but as we watched they took flight and flew into the pond about 100 feet away.  I drove around the block to the other side of the park which was closer to the water, and it was easier to get a few images there.  Because of the late, low sun, the exposure was difficult.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Granted, the Canada Geese are thought of as nuisances in some cities.  As a matter of fact, one time when we where were visiting relatives near Mackinaw, Michigan, we ventured into a park where there were many mother geese with their goslings following them around.  In trying to get photos I got more than my share of goose poop in and on my shoes. But it was nice to see them here, as they are a rarity around here.

This morning, Ann and I woke early to a beautiful Sunday morning and decided that we would venture to the local parks after partaking of our Happy Meals at the nearby Golden Arches.  After arriving at the Spring Creek Park, we spotted this Red-tailed Hawk high in a tree.  He was facing away, but decided to have a look at me before making his way to more promising hunting grounds.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

After checking out some other smaller birds that were there, we drove over to Middle Concho Park.  There we drove along the water and got images of a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Great Egret

Both birds were across the river and I was able to use my 500mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, shooting from my car parked along the near side of the water.

Enjoy the photos and click on any of them to see enlargements.

Photographing Birds in Flight


As most of you photographers know, one of the most challenging projects to tackle, is to photograph birds in flight.  A few of my other blogging photographer friends have touched on the subject recently.  I thought I would put my proverbial two cents worth in about this challenge.

Of course what is needed is a fast shutter speed along with a long lens.  Most of the time I am shooting with my Canon 7D or my 70D.  My preferred lens is my Canon 100-400mm zoom.  Sometimes I use the same camera with my Canon 500mm lens attached, using my tripod with a gimbal head for fast maneuverablity.

For the larger birds, I can use the widest angle of the lens to acquire the bird, then zoom in to pan the camera after locking in my auto-focus.  The fact that the large birds, hawks, vultures, pelicans, etc, appear to be flying slower helps quite a bit.  As for the tiny birds, well, I practice a lot and therefore get lucky alot.

House Finch in flight.  Canon EOS 7D, 500mm lens /1.4 teleconverter.  1/2500 sec, f5.6, ISo 1000

House Finch in flight. Canon EOS 7D, 500mm lens /1.4 teleconverter. 1/2500 sec, f5.6, ISo 1000

One of those lucky shots was the one above of the House Finch in flight.  I was on a porch, with the described setup mounted on my tripod with a gimbal head.  The finches were flying back and forth between some shrubs below me.  I kept trying to swing the camera as the birds flew, and fortuntely the odds were with me, and I got lucky and captured it with it’s wings spread.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight.  Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens.  1/3200 sec. @f6.3, ISO 400.

Red-tailed Hawk . Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens. 1/3200 sec. @f6.3, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

This Red-tailed Hawk pictured above was somewhat easier.  I was driving towards Ballinger when I spotted the bird in the grass off of the left shoulder.  I moved quickly to the right hand side of the road, grabbed my camera off of my lap, where I always have it at the ready.  By then he had started to take flight.  My lens and camera easily acquired him, locked onto the auto-focus.  In burst mode I was able to fire off several exposures.

Red-tailed Hawk  Canon 40D with 100-400mm lens.  1/800 @ f6.3, ISO 400.

Red-tailed Hawk.  Canon 40D with 100-400mm lens. 1/800 @ f6.3, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

This photo is an example of being able to pan and therefore not having to use a super fast shutter speed.  The hawk and been perched atop a sotol int the desert of west Texas.  I had stopped to observe it from about 150 yards.  When it decided to take flight, I was ready.  I locked in on him and panned the camera.  Notice the 1/800 second shutter speed versus the 1/3200 speed in the previous photo.

Red-tailed Hawk - Canon EOS 40D, 1/1000 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.  Hand-held

Red-tailed Hawk – Canon EOS 40D, 1/1000 sec. @ f8, ISO 400. Hand-held.

The shot above was quite easy.  He was soaring overhead.  I exited the car and just panned as he flew around.  Again with burst mode, I got several nice exposures.  I liked this pose even though, I clipped a wing a bit.

Great Egret.  Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens.  1/500 sec. @ f9, ISO 1600.

Great Egret. Canon EOS 7D, 100-400mm lens. 1/500 sec. @ f9, ISO 1600.  Hand-held.

The Great Egret was flying slowly down the Concho River in San Angelo.  I was able to pan with the slower shutter speed again.  The under-exposed dark background is the shadows of a building in the background.

Great Blue Heron.  Canon EOS 40D, 100-400mm lens.  1/1000 @  f11, ISO 400.

Great Blue Heron. Canon EOS 40D, 100-400mm lens. 1/1000 @ f11, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

Of course, what would my post be without a photo of one of my favorite subjects, the Great Blue Heron.  This photo was made near Lake Nasworthy here in San Angelo, Texas.

You may click on any of the images to see enlargements.

To update my west Texas “Big Year”, I added one more.

#85  Greater Yellowlegs.

Note:  My book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes” is still going strong.  You can obtain one at this link, here.  Over 100 of my best photographs.

Weekend of the Merganzers


I am finishing up the year of 2013 with a few miscellaneous photos from the past weekend.  We hadn’t seen any of the merganzer species in several months.  Of course, we wouldn’t see them during the summer anyway, but it is later than usual, what with it being  just a couple of days away from the New Year Holiday.

Yesterday we ventured out to our usual haunts at the Middle Concho and Spring Creek parks.  Actually we have been seeing several birds lately, but what surprised us yesterday was that as I was taking a long look at a bunch of Northern Shovelers, I notice that one of them looked out of place.  Upon further review thru my long lens, I realized that it was a Common Merganzer swimming right along with the Shovelers, like he belonged to the family.

Common Merganzer

Common Merganzer

This morning, Monday, I had a check-up with my doctor, and on the way home we drove along the Concho River.  There we saw a couple of Hooded Merganzers.  I got out of the car and ventured down along the river bank and managed to get one decent shot.

Hooded Merganzer

Hooded Merganzer

Although the Merganzers were the highlight of the weekend, we did see some more of our favorites, the Great Blue Heron.  I have a hard time resisting photographing them when the opportunities arise.  This one was no exception and I took two while he was just spending time on a tree log.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.  I wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2014.

Blue Heron, Egret, and new lifer


This morning was mild but quite windy.  Wanting to get out of the house and do a little birding, Ann and I headed to Middle Concho Park.  With the winds, many of the smaller birds were hunkered down and out of sight.  However, as we entered the park, something caught my eye in the water to my left.  At first I thought it was a Doubled-crested Cormorant, but did a double-take when I noticed  a quite larger bill, and the head didn’t look familiar.  I knew that whatever it was, I knew I had never seen one before.  I told Ann that I was going to chase it down and try to get photos.

It had started swimming away from us, farther down this long inlet that eventually emptied into the river.  It bordered a Disc Golf Course.  Nobody was there, so I drove the car across the course to the water and drove along the shore.  The creature was making good time, occasionally diving under the water then coming up another 100 yards farther down.  I was finally able to catch up and was able to prop my 500mm lens on the window and get some shots.  We were then able to check the image in the camera with our Stokes guide and found that it was a Common Loon.  It is rare to our San Angelo area and it turned out to be lifer number 264 for me.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Driving farther along that same body of water, we then saw this Great Blue Heron doing some hunting.  It was completely oblivious of me as I slowly drove my car up within 25 feet of it.  I again used my 500mm lens with a 1.4. teleconverter and it was almost too much lens.  The photo below is full framed un-cropped except a little from the sides for size.  I love the detail of the feathers.  Give credit to the outstanding Canon L series lenses.

Portrait of a Great Blue Heron.

Portrait of a Great Blue Heron.

Later we also saw this graceful Great Egret doing a little searching for prey.

Great Egret

Great Egret

It was a fun morning, getting to photograph two of my favorite birds and also getting another addition to my life list.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

More Great Blue Herons


Because of cold temperatures, I have been reluctant to do much birding.  Not a good thing for a guy that loves to photograph birds.  So I need to get off of my lazy butt and get out soon.  Maybe this afternoon.

In the meantime, I realized that I hadn’t posted anything lately, so this morning I dug into the archives.  I discovered that I have hundreds of Great Blue Heron photos.  Some I may have published in the past, and a few that I don’t think you have seen.  So just for funsies, here are a few for your enjoyment.  Click any image to see an enlargement.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron with catch of the day.

Great Blue Heron with catch of the day.

Great Blue Heron in flight.

Great Blue Heron in flight.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron mating dance

Great Blue Heron
mating dance

Great Blue Heron pair

Great Blue Heron pair

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron with snake.

Yellow-breasted Sapsucker


Another of the woodpecker species, is the Yellow-breasted Sapsucker.  Often mistaken for a woodpecker, it and the Red-naped Sapsucker are not too frequent visitors here.  Our local bird guides list them as “uncommon, not present every year”.

It is always nice to be able to photograph one close up, as I did this morning at Spring Creek Park.  We saw it moving among the trees, so I drove my car among the trees.  I was only about ten feet away to photograph this one.  It has a red crown, and a bit of red on the neck below the beak.  Forget the yellow belly.  This specimen was a bit ratty looking, it’s plumage dirty, and the reds not very vivid.  It probably hadn’t cleaned up yet from the recent rains.

Yelllow-bellied Sapsucker

Yelllow-bellied Sapsucker

In contrast, here is an older picture of a Red-naped Sapsucker.  Notice the red nape and the red crown.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

While were out we encountered this Double-crested Cormorant trying to swallow his Happy Meal™.

Double-crested Cormorant with fish.

Double-crested Cormorant with fish.

Why not end the day with another photo of one of my favorites, the Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Enjoy the pictures and click on either of them to see an enlargement.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker Video 2


First and foremost, I need to give credit to my dear friend, Shannon.  She generously took up some of her valuable time to tutor me, and walk me through the process of uploading and embedding videos.  I would say she done a fine job.

After publishing that “test” run in my last post, I thought I would go out and try for some more.  My target was to get a video of a Great Blue Heron grazing along the water.  Alas, none were to be seen.  But lo and behold, I came across the same Ladder-backed Woodpecker, pecking the same hole in the same tree as my previous post.  I took the opportunity to try to improve on that.

I again used my new Canon EOS 70D with a 100-400mm lens.  I was in my vehicle, parked about 15 feet away.  The bird was oblivious to me, since I was hidden in the car.  The camera worked perfectly as advertised, the auto-focus stayed on track, and the exposure seemed to be right on the money.

Here is the result:

This video is best viewed from my blog, rather than from this e-mail.

Patience Pays in Photography


This Friday afternoon it was quite cloudy and cool.  Ann had finished grocery shopping and we wanted to visit San Angelo State Park and see how much water had been caught in our previously dry O. C. Fisher reservoir, after recent rains.  After driving out there, we found the gates were locked.  The park was closed for use of the dove hunters.  So that will wait for another day.

After that I thought we should return to our favorite birding places near Lake Nasworthy.  We stopped at Middle Concho Park for a little drive around.  With the cool wind blowing and cloudy skies, I didn’t hope for much.  But I told Ann, patience is the key.  We may not see many birds, but we may get a surprise or two.  As I predicted we saw nary a bird, until we were about to leave that park and we saw a hawk swoop thru the trees.  We saw the approximate area that it went, so I drove towards that spot, watching the trees.  After some close searching, we spotted a Cooper’s Hawk in a tree.  It was the first Cooper’s that I had seen in several months.  I was able to maneuver my vehicle so I could photograph it from a distance with my Canon EOS 7D and 500mm lens.  Here is the result, a nice image of that beautiful bird.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

We left that park and ventured over to it’s sister, the Spring Creek Park.  Driving through there we saw this Great Blue Heron, one of my favorite birds to photograph.  It was hunting across the river.  At one moment it decided to show off it’s wings and I took this shot, among others.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We decided to go home, but since it was early and we had extra time, we decided to drive to Twin Buttes reservoir and see if our luck would continue.  In a small tree we spotted this red-shafted Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker - red-shafted

Northern Flicker – red-shafted

Then, lo and behold, in the same tree on another branch was this Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

So when you are out in the field, thinking that there is nothing going on, just be patient.  You never know what might suddenly appear.

All of my images are cropped and post-processed in Photoshop CS5.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Notes from a Saturday morning


I and Ann ate our usual breakfast at McDonald’s and that’s where it all started, I guess.  Some bully stole my toy from my Happy Meal™.  You can’t trust those 6-year olds.  Anyway, I had forgotten that this particular morning was when the Concho Valley Photo Club had their monthly meeting.  I had recently told them that I would join.  So after getting home, I realized that the skies were a bit cloudy, my favorite conditions for photography.  Forgetting about the meeting, I decided to head for my local favorite birding areas.  Ann opted to stay home and work on finishing up some glorious looking afghans she is making for gifts.

As I was driving into Middle Concho Park, I was greeted by five small dogs of a breed that I was not familiar.  At the same time a truck rushed by me, going in the opposite direction.  My first instinct was that somebody had just dumped the dogs on the road to get rid of them.  Thankfully, as I continued on my way, I passed a campsite where a lady said they were hers.  I was tempted to say that she shouldn’t be letting them run loose, for their own safety, but by then the dogs had returned to her.  I am not a trouble maker.

Weekends are usually busy at the parks, with day visitors and weekend campers.  This day was no different.  I was approaching a large area where there were about eight campers and motorhomes parked tightly together.  Obviously, a family reunion or something of that nature.  I was about seventy-five yards away when I spotted an Osprey high atop a dead branch of a tree, overlooking this group.  It was feeding on a fish.  I backed off about twenty-five yards, turned the car so I could shoot from my drivers side window with my Canon 7D and 500mm lens.

Osprey feed on fish.

Osprey feed on fish.

I took several images from a distance of about 100 yards.  But because of the clamor or the people below, who were completely oblivious of what was going on above them, the bird decided to take his meal elsewhere.  My lens was still focused on him so I held the shutter down.  Unfortunately, with no time to make a great composition, I clipped his wing.  But I feel that the images are still exciting, as you can still appreciate the action.

Osprey taking off.

Osprey taking off.

Osprey in flight.

Osprey in flight.

Notice how the Osprey always positions the fish so the head is always pointing forward.  I guess they feel they are more streamlined that way.

As I continued on my way I saw some beautiful Great Blue Herons on the other side of the river.  They are one of my favorite wading birds.  This one was just enjoying the beautiful weather.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Here is an image of a Belted Kingfisher watching the water from a power line across the river.  These guys are amazing.  When they spot a small fish, they dive at high speed, crashing into the water at seemingly a hundred miles per hour.  It is a wonder that they don’t get a concussion.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

I decided to call it a day, and when leaving the area, what did I see over a wetland area?  Of course, another Osprey sitting in a dead mesquite.  Even though most of our winter birds haven’t arrived yet, it was still a nice way to end an exciting morning.

Osprey in dead mesquite.

Osprey in dead mesquite.

My apologies to my fellow members of the Concho Valley Photo Club.  I will try to make it next month, unless……….. 🙂

Click on any image to see enlargements.