An exciting weekend……

Ann and I woke up early this morning.  The weather look great, so we had this great idea, to get out to Spring Creek Park early enough to get a look at a Gray Catbird the has been seen regularly.  We got to that designated spot about 7:15.  Alas!  Just as we drove near we spotted a grayish bird fly across the water.  We don’t know if that was the catbird or not, but after 30 minutes of waiting and watching, we decided to get back home for breakfast.  We missed him, but we will try again tomorrow morning.  So stay tuned.  But all was not lost.  During the time it took to get there and watch, we observed a Song Sparrow, Osprey, Ringed-bill Gull, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, Wild Turkey, and several White-tailed Deer.

Over the weekend, we got out a couple of times and although the birding was not great, I got some nice looking photos if I do say so myself.  Here’s a re-cap.

On Friday we got out for a little while but not much was stirring.  However, I got lucky and came up with this nice photo of a Dark-eyed Junco.  This is a slate-colored variety.  He was back-lit and in the shade, but with a little finagling in my digital darkroom I was able to correct the lighting.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

On Sunday, things were a little better but not as good as usual.  However we decided to hit Spring Creek Park and Middle Concho Park.

First up was this Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This Great Blue Heron was standing a log and not doing much of anything, but just staring.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Before leaving the lake area we drove by the little beach area at Mary Lee Park.  I tried my luck at photographing gulls in flight.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

That was it for the Lake Nasworthy area.  We had plenty of time, so off to the San Angelo State Park we went.  We drove around through the area where they had burned off the unwanted Mesquite trees and brush.  Not much stirring, I imagine because of the loss of so much habitat.

We headed in the direction of the Burkett multi-use area.  Along the way it finally got real exciting.  Off to the right of the road was an American Kestrel clinging to the top of stem from a bush.  I was hesitant because these birds are known to not hang around very long.

But since he appeared to be just enjoying himself, I decided to take a chance.  I turned right and drove into this rough area, carefully avoiding driving over any prickly pear.  I swung around enough so I could photograph from my driver’s side window.  One thing I have learned, folks, is to never get out of the car.  The birds will fly for sure.

So, I was in position, about thirty yards away.  Believe it or not, he continued to sit and sway in the wind, at times staring at me.  I managed to get off about forty shots of varying poses.  Here are two of them.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

I love this one………

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

After those forty shots, I was getting brave and decided to do what I tell people not to do.  I got out of the car. Hey, I wanted creep closer.  Instantly, the kestrel took flight.  Of course, I knew it would.  Will I ever learn??

But that ended our day on an exciting note.  It was definitely the highlight of the day.

I hope you enjoyed the story and the photos.  Click on any of them to see nice enlargements.

Happy Birding!!

Footnote:  I always try to live by the rule that you should never disturb the wildlife.  I violated that principal by trying to get out of the car.  I didn’t need to get closer.  I had all of the shots I wanted.  My long lens gets me as close I need to be.  I should have stayed in the car and drove away.  So, in recflection, I am sorry for my actions.


The day the ice was gone…..

Saturday morning we woke with the sun shining.  The ice was nearly all gone, and a-birding we must go.  We were accompanied by some lady friends/birders/photographers, Christie McCorts-Chambers and Julia Stewart.  Full of enthusiasm, we set a goal of 40 species for the day.

We made a quick stop at the bird blind at San Angelo State Park first.  We saw just the usual resident birds, doves, sparrows, etc., but we had heard that there was a Spotted Towhee nearby.  It didn’t show, so we headed to the north portion of the park, about nine miles away.  With such a nice day, we hoped have a better sighting of the rare Lewis’s Woodpecker that has been hanging around past few weeks.  Fortunately, it was still there, and I was finally able to get acceptable images.

Lewis's Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis's Woodpecker in flight.

Lewis’s Woodpecker in flight.

You know, when you get right down to it, the Lewis’s is not the prettiest of the woodpeckers.  But we can’t all be great looking. 🙂

After checking out the area there, we headed to the local parks in the Lake Nasworthy area.  Here are a few highlights from there.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

For birding, the day was great as we saw a total of 41 species total.  We added 17 to our 2015 list bringing it to a total of 44.  A nice start to the year.  As for the photography, with 20-30 mile winds, we didn’t really get that many opportunities, or I should say that, in honesty, I didn’t get very many keepers.  I am picky about the pictures that I show you.

But it was nice to have such a beautiful day, even though the high winds were cool.  The company was great and it was great fun.  And I will never complain about seeing 41 species in one day.  Click on the photos to see enlargements.

It doesn’t get any better than this……..

This morning Ann and I decided to again take a little drive out to Spring Creek Park, near Lake Nasworthy.  As we were driving through, I was reminded very much of a post that a fellow blogger wrote recently.  Shannon, who lives in the Houston area has an ideal place to go when she is feeling down and unable to cope.  She gets out and strolls through the large trees and by the creek that is on her land.  Check out her poignant post and her photos (click) here.  I can relate very much with her as many times I have felt that I just wanted to get away.

Today was an example.  The weather promised to be another hot day, and Ann and I decided to try and beat the heat and took a short drive to some local parks near Lake Nasworthy.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Sometimes we just drive slowly through the trees, and part of the time we leave the car and stroll.  I always have my camera in hand.  We saw a beautiful Vermilion Flycatcher, one of my favorite birds.  An equally pretty bird that arrived recently to spend the summer is the Western Kingbird.  Nearby was a Great Blue Heron strolling, watching for a quick lunch.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

For us it doesn’t get any better.  I think my overall health is much better when I can get out as often as I can.  Ann is much happier when she can accompany me, so that is an added bonus.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

All three of the photos were taken this morning on our driving slash stroll.  I just doesn’t get any better than this.  In all, I think we saw about twenty-seven different species in a short two hours. Click on any image to see an enlargement.

A new week, a new day……

I am sitting here at my computer pondering the day, and wondering what I am going to write about.  I sometimes never decide until I am actually here with my fingers on the keyboard.  Ann and I had a pretty nice weekend, but now it’s time to get after it.  “It” being doing something constructive.

On Friday we decided to make a birding run through our local parks in the Lake Nasworthy area.  We actually came away with seeing 43 species in about three hours time.  I didn’t get any photos that were in an award-winning fashion, but here are a few images from the morning.

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

The Eared Grebe was the first we had seen this year, and we were fortunate to do so, as they usually have all left by this date except for a few hangers-on.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

The Blue-winged Teal was feeding pretty near the grebe, as was the Great Egret pictured below.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Sparrows are difficult to photograph, because of the small size and also because it is hard to catch them still enough when they are in the grass.  I got lucky with this Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

So photographically the day wasn’t a complete waste.  I have to admit, though,  that sometimes I get caught up with the birding aspect, and sub-conciously forget the cameras.  Then I have a ‘V-eight’ moment, slam myself in the forehead about possibly missing a great shot.

Speaking of great birding here is a list of our sightings, which included our first Bullock’s Oriole of the year.

  1. Blue Jay   1
  2. White-winged Dove   7
  3. House Finch   9
  4. Great-tailed Grackle   11
  5. House Sparrow   5
  6. Mourning Dove   3
  7. Neotropic Cormorant   15
  8. American Coot   25
  9. Gadwall   5
  10. Pied-billed Grebe   3
  11. European Starling
  12. Killdeer   1
  13. Turkey Vulture   5
  14. Eastern Bluebird   3
  15. Red-winged Blackbird   7
  16. Northern Shoveler   1
  17. Golden-fronted Woodpecker   4
  18. Bewick’s Wren    1
  19. Northern Cardinal   5
  20. Ash-throated Flycatcher   2
  21. Eared Grebe   1
  22. Blue-winged Teal
  23. Common Grackle   7
  24. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  25. Brown-headed Cowbird   1
  26. Chipping Sparrow   7
  27. Vermilion Flycatcher   2
  28. Lark Sparrow   7
  29. Black-bellied Whistling Duck   25
  30. Barn Swallow   5
  31. Great Blue Heron   4
  32. Savannah Sparrow   3
  33. Great Egret   1
  34. Black-crested Titmouse
  35. Yellow-rumped Warbler   3
  36. Ladder-backed Woodpecker   1
  37. Bullock’s Oriole   2
  38. White-crowned Sparrow   3
  39. Wild Turkey   1
  40. Belted Kingfisher
  41. Cinnamon Teal   1
  42. Rock Pigeon   1
  43. Northern Mockingbird   7

I hope you enjoyed the images.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Amazing After Easter Birding Images

Tuesday dawned as a beautiful day.  Winds calm, temperature balmy.  A perfect day to get out and do some early birding.  A friend of mine wanted to go birding for the first time, to see what this hobby/pastime was all about.  I will simply call him John Smith as that is his real name.  I picked him up at his house about 8:45AM and away we went.  I took him on the usual tour that Ann and always make.  Ann, by the way, had to stay home and catch up on wifely chores, laundry, ironing, cleaning and the like.

Osprey in tree.

Osprey in tree.

We headed for Middle Concho Park and before we got there we had already seen about 7 species, including the Osprey pictured above, sitting on a tree branch overlooking a pond near Lake Nasworthy.  I think it was the same Osprey that I had photographed a few days ago, as it was on or near the same branch, but positioned slightly different for a better exposure.  (Click on any picture to see an enlargement.)

Ped-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Inside the park, we were surprised that the parks department had already had the place cleaned up from the hordes of people that cluttered the place over the Easter weekend.  We immediately saw plenty of birds, woodpeckers, grackles and even a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting in a small Live Oak.  Along the shoreline we saw the above pictured Pied-billed Grebe.  I love those little guys.  They seem to be smiling and having a good time.  A little farther along we saw the first of the season, for me, some Blue-winged Teals.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

"The water sure is cold.""And deep, too."

“The water sure is cold.”
“And deep, too.”

We then proceed to leave Middle Concho Park and head over to Spring Creek Park.  It is actually just across the river, but with no bridge, you have to drive an approximate 7 mile trip around the lake.

Vermilion Flycatcher in tree.

Vermilion Flycatcher in mesquite tree.

Will driving in that park, we saw a Vermilion Flycatcher in front of us.  I didn’t have room, or the time, to maneuver the car so this photo was taken through the car.  I now am driving a brand new Ford Escape, and for some reason or other I had an easier time of getting a good focus through the glass.

Wilson;'s Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

We proceeded to get a little closer to the shoreline, and as I drove, I told John that it would be nice to see a Wilson’s Snipe, since the habitat in that area was shallow and muddy.  Sure enough, I had hardly spoken when we spotted two of them.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

As if seeing the snipes was surprising enough, just a few minutes later, we saw thes Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  So we had a really fun day.  John said he was hooked on birding and is chomping at the bit to do it again.  We ended up seeing a total of 36 species.  If you are interested, here are all of them listed.

  1. Pied-billed Grebe
  2. Ring-necked Duck
  3. European Starling
  4. Great Blue Heron
  5. Killdeer
  6. American Coot
  7. Blue-winged Teal
  8. Double-crested Cormorant
  9. House Finch
  10. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  11. White-winged Dove
  12. Mourning Dove
  13. Osprey
  14. Red-winged Blackbird
  15. Curve-billed Thrasher
  16. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  17. Chipping Sparrow
  18. Black Vulture
  19. Neotropic Cormorant
  20. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  21. Wilson’s Snipe
  22. Wild Turkey
  23. Mallard
  24. Northern Shoveler
  25. Cinnamon Teal
  26. Gadwall
  27. Belted Kingfisher
  28. Northern Mockingbird
  29. Northern Cardinal
  30. Vermilion Flycatcher
  31. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  32. Red-tailed Hawk
  33. Barn Swallow
  34. Rock Wren
  35. Swainson’s Hawk
  36. Great-tailed Grackle

Roadrunner and Green Heron

Right now, as a wildlife photographer, I am having a hard time finding subject material for my posts.  At well over 100 degrees each day, not only the birds and animals are staying hidden, I myself, don’t exactly have a dying urge to get to get out either.  Well, I do have the urge, but I am having a hard time satisfying it.

But after a hearty meal of a sausage McMuffin this morning at the Golden Arches, I decided to do something about.  I have this great fear of losing readers.  After all, it took me a couple of years to get the ones that I have, and they are very loyal to me.

Ann decided to join me and we took of for the parks around here.  It was early for us, around 7:30, to avoid the heat.  But already, it had reached well into the 80s.  As far as numbers we did manage to see about 21 species in the space of two and a half hours, and a bottle of Gatoraid. 🙂

With water in the parks around Lake Nasworthy down about two feet, there was a lot of ‘mud’ showing in places.  We saw in one those areas, a couple of Green Herons.  I liked the pose of this one.  Using my Canon EOS 7D, I attached my 500mm lens and 1.4 converter.  Exposure, if you’re interested was 1/3200 sec. @ f5.6.  ISO was 500 and I adjusted the AV minus 1/3.

Green Heron

I forgot to mention, even thought we saw twenty-one species most of them were nearly invisible, no chance of any decent photos through the branches of the trees.  They, too, try to avoid the hot sun.

After leaving the Lake Nasworthy area, we decided to make a quick stop at San Angelo State Park.  It was time to renew our annual pass, so we thought we’d check out a new pond while we were there.  Nothing at the pond to speak of, just a lot of swallows, some unidentified sparrows.  However, upon leaving we did spot this Greater Roadrunner in a tree about 10 feet off the ground.  He was just sitting, cooling off and preening his feathers.  I managed to work around the branches and got these shots.

Great Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

The Roadrunner was in the shade, so I had some difficulty with the exposure.  But I was able to get it at 1/500 sec. @ f10.  I wanted a bit more depth of field.  ISO was 800.  I hand-held my 100-400mm lens for this one.  Click on any image to see glorious enlargements.

By the way, if you look at the right side of the page, under “Books by Bob Zeller”, you will see a link to preview my book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”.  Also there is a link to preview my brand new 2013 Calendar.  Check them out.  I am getting good reviews.

So Many Birds, So Little Time

As you know, if you have been paying attention, I am an avid birder.  Not only that, but an avid bird photographer as well.  However, I didn’t really get into birding or make my first usable bird photo until just four years ago.  At that time, I was at a friend’s house in Knoxville, Tennessee.  I noticed some colorful birds outside of her window.  She generously removed the window screen and opened the window so I could have unobstructed views.  I got some very nice images of a Northern Cardinal and a House Finch.  It was then that I realized what I had been missing, and then I was hooked.  But, I was seventy-three years of age at that time.

So if I am going to photograph every bird that I see, I better get a move on.  There are around 750 birds in the US of A and I have only seen 245 of them to date.  Of those, I have probably photographed 175.  I will have to go through my records to clarify that.  At any rate, I have a long way to go and only 23 years to go if I intend to get finished by my centennial year.

So here are four more to add to the collection.  I have actually photographed them before, but some of these are improvements over the previous photos.  These were taken this past Friday, all near Lake Nasworthy.  All were photographed with my Canon EOS 7D, 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4 tele-converter attached.

Great Egret

Great Egret.  Photographed at Spring Creek Park.  Bird was across the river about 200 feet away.  1/2500 sec. @ f5.6, -0.3EV, ISO 2500.  Tripod mounted.

White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis.  Three of these were feeding in Mary Lee Park near Lake Nasworthy.  They are migratory, and probably won’t hang around long.  Exposure was 1/1250 sec. @ f5.6, +0.7EV, ISO 400.  Distance was about 95 feet.  Photographed from the window of my car.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron.  Again, this bird was across the river about 125 feet away.  1/1000 sec. @ f6.3, -0.3EV, ISO 400.  Photographed from car window.

Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole.  This is probably the best photo I have ever taken of this specie.  They are quick, and move around a lot, not staying in one place but for a few seconds.  Exposure 1/1250 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 400.  Shot from car window about 45 feet away.

I hope you enjoy the photos.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

It has been a pretty week and week-end.  Now I can relax for a few days.  Over the past three days there was the annual Stribling Art Extravaganza, an art show and sale.  I had entered two framed images, as I do every year.  On Sunday I made my usual trip down at 4:00PM to pick up my un-sold work.  Voila!  I discovered that both pieces had been sold.  What a nice surprise.  In previous shows, I had sold only one, or none at all.

The local parks were very busy with campers, hikers, etc.  Spring breaks are finishing up, I guess.  We did take a short drive, though, and I got a few images but most weren’t anything to write home about.  I got this shot of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) on Friday.  It beats by far, one that I had gotten a week or so earlier.  They are so difficult to photograph.  First of all, they are tiny and hard to see.  After you locate one, then it is hard to focus on it because they are constantly on the move, hopping from one branch to another.

On Saturday morning, Gene and Ethel Berger, who are dear friends of ours, asked us to stop by their lake house out at Lake Nasworthy.  They wanted to show us their beds of Texas Bluebonnets.  They were spectacular as this

Texas Bluebonnets

photograph shows.  Maybe I can get out this week and get more photos of some before they bloom out.  It is the state wildflower and they are blooming profusely now around the area.  This photograph, by the way, was taken on Sunday morning.  I had taken a few on Saturday, but wasn’t satisfied with the results and so I decided to sneak back there for another attempt.

This week promises to be another busy one.  I have been putting off some errands and chores, so I must get caught up.  The car needs washing since the rains are all over for awhile, and I need to do some trimming around the bird blind at San Angelo State Park.  I am going to lead a birding trip for the Abilene Audubon Society on Saturday morning.  They are going to be traveling 90 miles to get here so I feel I better give them a good show.  It should be fun, although I think that all of them are a much better birder than I am.  I am hoping to learn from them.

So have a great week, everyone.  Click on any of the photos to see an enlargement of each.

80 Degrees – Gotta Get Out

We just had to do it.  We had to take advantage of 80 degree high temps and get out and commune with nature.  Our little journey took us to the little parks out at Lake Nasworthy, here in San Angelo.  Among the highlights was a rarity and another lifer for me, a Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus).  However, I couldn’t add it to my list because, it seemes that somewhere I had already added it.  I don’t know how it happened because I knew I had never laid my eyes on it before.  It is a rare sight in San Angelo.  So now it is official and my life-list total still stands at 239.

Common Yellowthroat

Image via Wikipedia

We also saw another bird that really isn’t a rarity but is difficult to find and see, let alone try to photograph.  It was a Common Yellowthroat, (Geothlypis trichas).  It is a tiny bird that hides itself along creek banks or reeds, just peeking out momentarily before scooting back into the foliage.  Since you asked, no, I didn’t get the photograph, but I will perservere someday.  This pictures is courtesy of Wikipedia.  (He takes pretty good pictures, too.) 🙂

Photographs of the Red-headed Woodpecker and a Green-winged Teal, both gave me problems.  They were both terribly back-lit.  Too far away for a flash.  I boosted the EV but it wasn’t enough, so I had to resort to trying to correct them in Photoshop.  I think they are both acceptable, or I wouldn’t be publishing them here.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Green-winged Teal

Farther along our little tour I spotted this Great Blue Heron across the river.  I have this weakness for those herons and love to photograph them.  The lighting was much better so if it doesn’t look good, I have no excuse.

Great Blue Heron

We spent three hours driving through Spring Lake Park and Middle Concho Park.  We ended up seeing a total of 33 species during that time.

  1. American Coot   35
  2. Bufflehead   1
  3. Northern Mockingbird   4
  4. Blue Jay   1
  5. Pied-billed Grebe   7
  6. Double-crested Cormorants  20
  7. Northern Shovelers   24
  8. Cinnamon Teal   1
  9. European Starling   6
  10. Common Grackle   2
  11. Great-tailed Grackle   3
  12. Black-crested Titmouse   2
  13. Great Blue Heron   3
  14. Green-winged Teal   2
  15. Common Yellowthroat   1
  16. White-crowned Sparrow    4
  17. Yellow-rumped Warbler   6
  18. Northern Cardinal   1
  19. Ladder-backed Woodpecker   1
  20. Golden-fronted Woodpecker   3
  21. Red-headed Woodpecker   1
  22. Black Vulture   2
  23. Eastern Phoebe   3
  24. Western Meadowlark   10
  25. Red-winged Blackbird   6
  26. Eastern Bluebird   13
  27. House Finch   6
  28. Red-tailed Hawk   1
  29. Ring-billed Gull   101
  30. American Robin   18
  31. Cedar Waxwing   13
  32. Gadwall   10
  33. Osprey   1

Click on any image to see an enlargement.  Hope you enjoy. 🙂

Birding at Lake Nasworthy

Our two favorite spots at Lake Nasworthy to bird and to photograph birds, are at two of the parks there, Spring Creek and Middle Concho.  This past Sunday morning Ann and I decided to take in the nice weather and visit both places.  It was enroute home from those places that we encountered the Black Vultures that I featured in yesterday’s post.

We entered Spring Creek Park first, and we didn’t see many birds early on.  However, we saw about seventy Wild Turkeys further down the road.  They were drinking from the creek, then heading back into the nearby woods.  We didn’t see any of the herons or water birds that we usually come upon, but because of the beautiful weather, there were numerous fisherman in their boats, trawling along the water.  That probably spooked the wildlife somewhat.  But that is okay, as the park is for everybody.

But we persisted, continued driving slowly through both parks.  We finally came upon an area in Middle Concho Park, where amongst the trees there was more bird activity.  I stopped the car, got my camera out and set up a tripod in a small clearing where I would have a good view of nearby trees.  I was using my Canon EOS 7D with 500mm lens with a 1.4 tele-converter giving me a working focal length of 700mm.

The trees were still pretty dense, so I could hear many birds, and see them flying between the trees, but I wasn’t very lucky at getting many photo ops.  I did finally get these two “keepers”.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker with pecan

This female Golden-fronted Woodpecker was making herself heard, then she flew up onto this dead limb, with a pecan in her mouth. Exposure 1/2500 sec. @f8 with ISO 400 and aperture priority.

Eastern Bluebird

Swinging my camera around on my Wimberley gimbal tripod head about 45 degrees, there was a flurry of activity and I spotted about a half dozen Eastern Bluebirds.  They were in a shaded area, and one of them settled on a visible branch.  Exposure was 1/1000 sec. @f8 plus 1/3 EV – ISO 400.  If I would have had the time, I probably would have opened up the lens a bit more, but with a little help in post processing I managed to get it lightened enough.

From the birding aspect, during the 2 – 3 hours we spent there we managed to see these 24 species:

So, all in all, we had a fun morning.  The weather was gorgeous, and it was wonderful just to get out and enjoy nature.  Click on either image to see an enlargement.