Raptors ‘R’ Us – Part II


Okay, getting back to my chatter about raptors……..  I believe I left off with discussing the Red-tailed Hawks.  I might as well add this photo that I captured a couple days ago, after I published part I.

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Red-tailed Hawk

Another hawk that is similar to the Red-tailed, is the Swainson’s Hawk.  In fact, when I got into birding and was new, I often confused the two.  They are a stately bird.  That dark bib is one of my favorite markers for this specie.

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Swainson’s Hawk

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Swainson’t Hawk

I love watching the Northern Harrier.  Some people refer to him as the Grey Ghost. It hunts by flying low over the grasslands.  It’s eyes seemingly never leave the ground.  I have found them very difficult to photograph, but in truth, I have had few opportunites to do so.  When I do see one, it usually takes me by surprise, as it flies by.  However, I am proud of this photo that I captured on a trip to the Davis Mountains.  I spotted it from my car as it was streaking across the land.  I stopped the car, and caught it as it turned around and made a return flyby.  Not one of my best technically, but I do like the composition.  It is readily identified by that large white spot on it’s rear.

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Northern Harrier on the hunt.

One raptor that is rarely seen here in the Concho Valley is the Crested Caracara.  Sometimes known locally as a Mexican Eagle.  It is more familiar in south and central Texas.  It is a peculiar looking bird, and it sometimes can be seen hanging out with the vultures, eating road-kill along the highways.  I did get a few photos while visiting our friends at Uvalde, Texas.  He is not wearing a toupee.

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Crested Caracara

Another hawk that favors the southern part of the state, is the Harris’s Hawk.  I was able to capture several images of this bird when visiting Uvalde.  It seemed that it was everywhere.  Of course, as usual, I was hunting them from the car.

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Harris’s Hawk

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Harris’s Hawk

There are two hawks that confuse birders and cause great debates about identification of the two.  I am talking about the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  They are very similar.  I will offer a photo of each here.  The Cooper’s has the black-cap on a flattish shaped head.  Also the eyes are set forward more.  The Sharp-shinned lacks the black cap and has a more round head shape.  Even then, I imagine that I will get letters disputing my IDs.  I am definitely no expert, but this is my story and I am sticking to it. 🙂

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Cooper’s Hawk.

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Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Red-shouldered is a slightly larger bird.  It is easily identified with that red area on the shoulder.  This one was photographed at the Hummer House Bird Sanctuary in Christoval, Texas.

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Red-shouldered Hawk

The White-tailed Hawk is one that I know very little about.  It usually lives in far southeast Texas.  However, I photographed this one near Uvalde.  A friend helped me with the identification.

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White-tailed Hawk

Before I forget, I must include the Osprey, a fish-eating raptor.

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Osprey

Getting into some of the smaller hawks, I have seen and photographed a Merlin several times at San Angelo State Park.  At only ten inches tall, they still look formidable.  You can see that look of innocence, though.  Here are two of my favorite photos of one.

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Merlin

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Merlin

Ah, my definite favorite of the tiny hawks is the American Kestrel.  Beautiful marking.  A very feisty raptor that can sometimes act benign and easy to photograph, or often as not, give me a merry chase through the countryside.  It depends on his mood.  This particular image is one of the latter.  I was in a mini-van at the time several years ago, driving through San Angelo State Park.  Ann was with me, and this little bird moved from tree to tree, finally stopping and giving me nice views of his tail feathers.

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American Kestrel

Finally, I am going to end this raptor series with one of the fastest falcons on the planet.  We were at San Angelo State Park, watching the brush for some warblers, when something flashing by caught my eye.  It zipped past some trees and out of sight with great speed.  I told Ann, I just have to go see if I can see if and where that bird might have  landed.  She started to protest, but I had the keys and was driving.  The effort paid off, as we didn’t go far.  It had landed atop a picnic table shelter.   I was able to get shots from afar, but since it didn’t move, I was able to maneuver in closer with the car.  It continued to sit as I took several photos.  I discovered then that it was a young bird.

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Peregrine Falcon

Here is an adult that I photographed a few years back.

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Peregrine Falcon

This concluded my 2-part series about the raptors of the Texas bird world.  There are a few more species, but as of this date, I have yet to see or photograph.  When I do, you will be the first to know. 🙂

So on this date, December 31, 2017, I want to wish everybody a fantastic Happy New Year and best wishes for a great 2018.

Happy Birding!!!

A little of this and that…..


Today , because of some cold weather the past few days, I am just going to touch on a few odds and ends.

Being inside gave me a chance to go back through some of my old files.  One of my favorite subjects is the photographing the raptors.  Large hawks, etc.  Well, going through my old photographs of Red-tailed Hawks, I found an image that I had photographed back on September 27, 2013.  In checking my records I found that during that time, we were in Big Bend National Park.  I had taken this photo of a beautiful hawk, sitting on a fence post.  I had never posted it anywhere before.  Looking at this image again, I realized that I had mis-identified it.  Not a Red-tailed Hawk, but a beautiful Peregrine Falcon.  Back in those days, I didn’t know as much about IDing hawks as I do now.

The irony of it is that the Peregrine Falcon had been on my bucket list to get a great photograph of one.  I had seen one in flight in the distance but that is all.  Now, here is one that was right in front of me, and I never realized it.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

A few days before the cold front blasted through, our friends, Suzanne and Sid Johnson, invited Ann and I to come down and do some birding around the Eldorado, Texas area.  We jumped at the chance, as we love to bird with them, and the birding is usually good around there.

We visited the water treatment ponds there, and it was teeming with many water birds.  But we also saw our first Yellow-headed Blackbird and Marsh Wren of the year.  Always nice to add to our 2015 list as we still have a way to go to meet our goal of 210.  One of the highlights was an American White Pelican on the water.  As we drove around checking out the ducks, birds, etc. it was content to just swim and feed by itself.

Eventually, it decided to take flight.  I was a bit unprepared for it, but I jumped from the car and quickly was able to acquire it in the viewfinder of my Canon 7D Mark II with a Tamron 150-600mm lens.  As it flew toward me I rattled off a few shots at 10 fps.  It was shot at 273mm as I didn’t have time to zoom in closer to the 600mm focal length.  But with cropping I came away with this nice image.  1/8,000 sec. @ f11, ISO 3200.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

This morning, my friend, Jim Miller, ranted in a post about Lightroom and Adobe’s CC (Creative Cloud).  He also jokingly referred to it as Adobe’s Cash Cow.  Anyway, he was telling how Adobe is making it harder to edit your photos, import the files, etc.

Personally, I don’t use Lightroom or the Adobe’s Creative Cloud.  I am the black sheep, I guess, but I use a much simpler method.  I download my photos to FastStone Image Viewer.  It is a cheap, read free, software.  I convert my RAW images there, then simply import them into my old Photoshop CS5 for editing.  I use an old secret recipe that has been handed down.  In other words I will not tell you the plug-ins that I use to assist me. 🙂

Using my methods I feel that my results speak for themselves.  I have been called the best bird photographer they have ever seen, by some of my peers.  I have been published in various magazines, including a back cover shot in National Wildlife Magazine.  I am not speaking negatively about Adobe Lightroom as I have several friends, those peers that I mentioned, that use it with great success. So it doesn’t matter what you use.  It is knowing how to use what you have.

I guess that’s it for today.  Click on any of the images to see some nice enlargements.  Hope you enjoyed the post and the photos.

Birding fun in Uvalde, Texas


Okay, boys and girls, hang on to your hats.  I have a brazilion photos to show you from our two day trip to Uvalde, Texas.  At only about 195 miles south of San Angelo, it has much to offer in the way of birding.

Green Jay

Green Jay

First, I would like to mention that we arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Live Oaks Bed and Breakfast.  Owned and operated by Pat and Gaye Morris, it is a perfect way to spend a few days.  All the amenities that you would expect, plus a great breakfast.  Four rooms inside the main house, and three individual casitas of which we stayed in one called “Treehouse”.  No, silly people, we weren’t in a tree, but a wonderful little comfy cabin.  Click the above link for more information.

We decided to come to Uvalde when a Facebook friend, Bob Shackleford mentioned that his place was nearly overrun with Green Jays.  That really got my attention, as that was one bird that have dreamed of seeing and photographing for years.  I contacted him and invited myself to visit him when we came to Uvalde.  He has this delightful little bird blind, and sure enough there were more than enough Green Jays to satisfy any photographer.

Bob Shackleford's bird blind

Bob Shackleford’s bird blind

We were able to check in early Wednesday afternoon, so I called Bob and we decided to pay him and his wife, Marianne, a visit.  He wanted us to try out the blind immediately, and for a few minutes, I was rewarded with photo opportunities right away.

Green Jay

Green Jay

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

We didn’t stay in the blind very long since it was very hot, and we wanted to visit with Bob and Anne (pronounced Anna) a bit longer, before we had to go check in to our little casita.  Before we left, we made arrangements to return the following day which was my birthday, and spend the day.  Anne, had already baked a cake for my birthday.  How great is that?

Green Jay

Green Jay

The following morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, cooked by Gaye, we headed back to the Shacklefords.  We headed right for Bob’s “Chicken House Bird Blind”.  Of course, I first photographed another Green Jay, then a few others.  Here are a few highlights.

Green Jay

Green Jay

Northern Cardinal, female

Northern Cardinal, female

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Audubon variety

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon variety

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

Later, after going back to our room for a brief nap, we returned to have supper with the Shacklefords.  Wow!  That man knows how to use a barbeque grill.  He grilled some chicken breasts along with a bunch of veggies.  Then to top it off we had some of Anne’s pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting and pecans.  Fantastic!

After that, Bob mentioned that we should drive out along the highway, as we could probably find some various hawks.  So we all piled into our little Ford Escape and headed out.  Here are some of the highlights of that drive.  There are many.  I forgot to mention, click on any of the photos in this post and you will see beautiful enlargements.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Forgive the clipped wings in the above photo, but I thought it was too beautiful to leave out of this post.

Scaled Quail - in late afternoon light.

Scaled Quail – in late afternoon light.

Harris's Hawk

Harris’s Hawk

Two Crested Caracaras share a utility pole crossbar.

Two Crested Caracaras share a utility pole crossbar.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

A drive along a country drive wouldn’t be complete with seeing one of these vultures.

Black Vulture surveys the landscape.

Black Vulture surveys the landscape.

After saying goodbye to the Shacklefords, and promising to return in a few months we headed to our room, feeling great about our birding and photographic adventures.  We had hoped to see a Great Kiskadee, but that will have to wait until the next time.

The next morning after another great breakfast, I began my first day as an eighty-year old, and we headed back to San Angelo.  We were making good time, so we made a brief stop at the South Llano River State Park.  They have wonderful bird blinds there so we had time to check out one of them.

Nashville Warbler photographed at South Llano State Park

Nashville Warbler photographed at South Llano River State Park

For the trip, we saw a total of 40 species of birds.  We added two to my life list: Green Jay and Long-billed Thrasher.  That life list now stands at 275.  Maybe I can get to 300 before I turn 90.

For my 2014 Birding Big Year list, I added those two plus the Crested Caracara and the Harris’s Hawk, bring the total to 189.  Only eleven to go to make my goal of at least 200 species seen this year.

I feel great and I think it is going to be fun being an 80 year-old.  That is as long as I stay away from those senior centers and not let those old people influence me. 🙂

The Surprises Keep Coming……


After getting that amazing photo of the Bobcat, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be so lucky again for awhile.  However, the following day, Ann and I decided to go back for some serious birding.  We were very disappointed with the lack of birds.  Hey, isn’t this migrating time?  Where are the birds?  Hard to say, as I sure can’t predict the behavior of the avian community.

Anyway, on the way to Middle Concho Park, I decided to turn into a smaller area called Hot Water Slough Park.  The first thing I noticed was a large bird on the ground, and as we watched it flew up into a nearby tree.  Well, I’ll be danged if it wasn’t a Swainson’s Hawk.  I hurriedly tried to maneuver my car into a position so I could photograph it from my driver’s side window.  The bird co-operated and remained perched for me.  Had I tried to leave my vehicle, it would for sure have flown.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

We continued into Middle Concho Park, but nary was a bird to be seen.  We left there and decided to return to Spring Creek Park.  Again, there was a distinct lack of birds there, too.  However, we are pretty patient.  We cruised along the river bank and all of a sudden, Ann exclaimed, “There’s an owl”.  Wow!  It was a Great Horned Owl, and almost directly overhead.  As I again tried to maneuver my car for a vantage point, she said, “There’s another one!”  Sure enough, above and slightly left was another adult, but it was partially hidden in the branches.  I was able to get some nice shots of the first one.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

So even though there were few of the regular birds that make up the normal population, it was nice to see these nice surprises.

The very next day, we tried again.  Again, we were rewarded with another great surprise.  As we turned into Spring Creek Park, we came upon a large dead tree next to the river bank.  In past years, we had seen hawks, and other birds perched there, but usually it is empty of any bird life.  This time there was an Osprey sitting there.  One of the first of the winter season.  It was very close, as I again, was able to get my car into perfect shooting position.  The first image is from a spot where he was un-obstructed by branches.

Osprey

Osprey

After getting several shots from that spot, I moved a few yards and took the following photo.  Notice he is on the same branch, but I think this image looks a bit more natural.  I am undecided as to which one I like the best.

Osprey

Osprey

I hope you enjoyed this post and the photos.  There is a lesson to be heard here;  never give up as you never know what surprises may lie in the next tree.

Good day for birding on Friday


I had gotten an e-mail from a friend, saying that he had seen some Mississippi Kites along the Concho River downtown.  So after eating an early breakfast at Stango’s in town, we decided to prowl along the river to see if we could see one of the kites.  We got more than we expected.

First of all, we spotted a Coopers’s Hawk across the river.  I almost missed him as he was partly hidden from branches, but enough of him showed up in the early morning light.  Although a long way across, I tried to get him in my viewfinder and snapped of a few shots.  Fortuntely I was using my new Tamron 150-600mm lens.  I was at the extreme end at 600mm, and this is the result I got.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

We saw a Green Heron fly by us and settle down by the water, so we followed it and stopped along the road.  I got out of the car and walked closer to the shore.  It was across the water about 100 yards away.  Again, the Tamron lens came through for me.

Green Heron

Green Heron

We saw a couple of Great Blue Herons, but I didn’t like the images.  They were too contrasty in the light.  Oh yes, we did see a couple of Mississippi Kites, but they were too far away, even for my long lens.

We then decided to head to Spring Creek Park, where we had previously seen the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  They had decided to fly elsewhere, but we saw another Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Then we came across another bird, that we thought was another phoebe.  I took several photos of it, and only after we got home and I was able to enlarge the image for a closer look, did I discover it was an Eastern Wood Pewee.  You can see the similarities.

Eastern Wood Pewee

Eastern Wood Pewee

After that we drove down near where the river gets wider.  Ann saw this larger heron type bird fly across us and land near the the opposite shore.  At first, I thought it was another Great Blue Heron, when it flew over the car.  An illusion of course, as it turned out to be a smaller juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  Unfortunately, it was right next to a piece of trash, and it wasn’t going to walk around it.  Neither could I figure out how to remove such a large portion of the photo, so I just decided to leave it as.

1st year Yellow-crowned Night Heron

1st year Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Leaving that park, we headed over to Middle Concho Park, actually just on the other side of the river.  There wasn’t much going on there, except this little Black-crested Titmouse in a small tree.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

We will be going out this weekend for more fun and birding so stay tuned for whatever we may come across.  Click on any image to see enlargements.

Raptors, Raptors, Raptors!!!!


Yesterday I posted one of my Red-tailed Hawks to my FaceBook page.  In doing so, I was reminded that it had been a long time since I had blogged about raptors of any kind.  So today, I decided to go back through my archives.  I found a few that I don’t think I have ever posted, some that I hadn’t edited yet, and a few of my favorites.

I will begin with fore-mentioned Red-tailed Hawk.  It was taken a few years ago while on my way to Ballinger, Texas.  He was in the grass on the left side of the highway.  I pulled to the right and stopped and managed to get the photo as he was leaving the ground.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

This next photo of the Zone-tailed Hawk, I got just this morning as I was driving through Spring Creek Park near Lake Nasworthy.  I was lucky indeed as sightings of the Zone-tails are very rare around this area of the state.  I do believe I interrupted his meal of a fresh caught ground squirrel.

Zone-tailed Hawk with fresh catch.

Zone-tailed Hawk with fresh catch.

Next is a Cooper’s Hawk that I captured a few years ago in Big Bend National Park.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are difficult to discern between the two species.  I believe the next image is a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Notice the Cooper’s (above), has a slightly flattish head, where the Sharp-shinned’s head is a bit more rounder.  I may get letters about this, but the sure way to see the difference is you can see the birds next to each other.  The Cooper’s will be the larger.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

People don’t think the Greater Roadrunner as a raptor, but he is definitely a voracious carnivore, as this next photo will show.  This image is pictured on the cover of my book, “Birds, Beasts, and Buttes”.

Great Roadrunner

Great Roadrunner

Another Red-tailed Hawk….

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

More Raptors……

Osprey

Osprey

Young Great-horned Owl.  A raptor to be.

Young Great-horned Owl. A raptor to be.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Another Roadrunner….

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Click on any image to see great enlargements.

 

Red-tailed Hawk and Swainson’s Hawk


More about my favorite subjects, the raptors.  These two species of hawks, the Red-tailed and the Swainson’s, can cause ID difficulties to the unsuspected.  They are similar in shape and sizes.  The adult Red-tailed is easy to identify by checking out the red tail.  But beware, the younger ones have yet to get that color into the tail.  As for the Swainson’s, the adult has that unmistakeable brown bib.

Anyway, here is an adult Red-tailed Hawk that I photographed Thursday afternoon at Middle Concho Park here in San Angelo.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Here is a Red-tailed Hawk in flight that I photographed several months ago.

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Below are a few images of the Swainson’s Hawk.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

The next photo isn’t too great aesthetically, but we happened to come across the adult Swainson’s Hawk protecting her baby from he brutal 110 degree Texas sun that day, about a year ago.

Adult Swainson's Hawk shielding her baby from the hot sun.

Adult Swainson’s Hawk shielding her baby from the hot sun.

Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Here is something new that I have added to my blog.  Click here to see my new website featuring my Fine Art Gallery.  I have just started adding photos to it so you will have to check it periodically, as it is a work in progress.  I hope you like it.  From there you just gaze at my work, and if you get interested in buying, you can also do that.

About those Swainson’s Hawks


So many times I have posted about hawks, but I realized that I had never mentioned the Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). It is slightly smaller than the red-tailed and I guess that is why I sometimes confuse the two, especially if it is a younger hawk and I am unable to see the color of the tail-feathers.  The folowing images were captured out here in west Texas.  In flight, their wings are rather long,  tapered, and more pointed than the red-tailed.  They can also be identified by their white throat and large chocolate bib.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Photo EXIF data:

Swainson’s Hawk on utility pole crossbar :

  • Canon EOS 7D with Canon 100-400mm zoom lens
  • 1/800 sec. @ f10 minus 1/3 EV – ISO 250
  • Partial metering – Aperture priority

Both images Swainson’s Hawk in tree:

  • Canon EOS 20D with Canon 100-400mm zooms lens
  • 1/1600 sec. @ f10 – ISO 400
  • Partial metering – Aperture priority

I didn’t have any photos of a Swainson’s in flight.  That surprised me, as I have so many pictures of various flying hawks.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, and have a great week.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Another Red-tailed Hawk


I can’t help it.  Whenever I see one of these majestic beauties, I just have to photograph it.  This one was at San Angelo State Park, perched atop a mesquite tree.  I was out there alone because Ann was ailing and didn’t want to come.  I was driving around slowly when i spotted him.  As usual, I had my Canon 7D on my lap all prepared with my Canon 100-400mm lens attached.  I was about 100 yards away when I first saw him.  He spotted me, or something else, and started to fly.  I got my focusing point locked on to him and this is one of the ensuing images.  ISO 100, Shutter priority, 1/640 at f11, minus 1/3 EV.  Click image for an enlargement.  Enjoy

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel


Ann and I ate breakfast at Roxie’s Restaurant, next to Days Inn on South Bryant and Jackson this morning.  While sitting next to the windows, we spotted an American Kestrel sitting on some overhead power lines.

They are a cute, beautiful, but very ferocious little hawk.  I photographed

IMG_5215_kestrel

American Kestrel feeding

 these two at San Angelo State Park about a year ago.  One photo shows one eating his prey.  Probably the easiest way to get a photograph, because they are sitting still for a short period while they eat.

The other one pictured below was another story.  He led me on a bit of a chase.  Ann and I were doing some birding from the van one afternoon, when we saw this one in the top of a tree.  I cautiously tried to get the van into a position for a photograph.  He then decided to fly off in another direction.  I could see where he lit in another tree, so I drove near to that location.  Again he re-located.  At last he was atop another tree.  He spread out his feathers in the wind, and just sat and swayed there.  I was nearly 100 yards away, but I was able to hand-hold my 500mm with a 1.4x tele-converter and got this shot.

Perserverance pays off.  Happy Birding!!

IMG_1000_kestrel

American Kestrel showing off