Flashes from My Past


As I mentioned in my last post, it is getting into the summer doldrums.  The summer birds are here but they feel like I do.  Just a bit lazy about getting out in the warm afternoons.  So, to break up my routine a bit, I think I will veer away from birds only, in this post.  After all, this blog is also about photography, not only birding.

As a longtime professional outdoor and nature photographer, I have encountered some very interesting and exciting photo opportunities.  In the past fifteen years or so, I have amassed thousands of images, some great, some not so good.  But I have been published in over a dozen publications or books, including many covers.  My work has appeared on a billboard, murals and various websites, and in homes and offices across the country.  Like any photographer, I have several favorites that that I have secreted back in my files.  I thought it would be nice to share a few with you.  If you like them, I may publish a few more in a later post.

Let’s start with this photograph that I took earlier this year down in Big Bend National Park.  That area was created millions of years ago by exploding geological formations.  Canyons were created.  Mountains were created.  Wow!  It must have been something to see!  This photograph shows some of the geodes that were tossed around by some kind of volcanic upheaval.  In the back ground are hills of volcanic ash, called tuff.  Those boulders are really just a bit larger than bowling balls, but with my 10x16mm wide angle lens they appear bigger.  I actually got down on the ground to capture this.  Fortunately, my dear friend and fellow professional photographer, Deb, was nearby and she and her husband helped me up.  It’s hell to get old.  Anyway,it turned out to be one of many favorite photos from my travels to Big Bend National Park.

Big Bend Moonscape

Big Bend Moonscape

This bobcat was in the woods out near Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo a couple of years ago.  Ann was with me, and we were creeping along a boundary fence next to a wooded area.  Ann spoke up and said she saw a shadowy figure moving up ahead.  We both then saw it as we got closer, and realized it was a bobcat.  It was starting to get deeper into the woods.  As we got parallel to it I hesitated. thinking that it was too far away to get a usable photo.  But then, it stopped and turned facing us.  I grabbed my Canon 70D and Tamron 150-600mm lens and settled it on the window sill of our car.  By then there was a lot of brush between me and the animal, but I was using only my center focusing spot of the camera, and I was able to “thread” it through the twigs and branches to focus on the animal’s eyes, at a distance of about 75 yards.

Bobcat

Bobcat

This next photo of a Vermilion Flycatcher was created during another trip to Big Bend National Park.  There are many great birding areas there, and we always try to visit each one.  One of our favorite places to see a good variety is the Rio Grande Village campground.  We were there late in the spring of one year and the snowbirds, i.e. visitors from the north that come south for the winter, had mostly vacated the area to return home.  By driving thru the area, we see a good collection of birds and an occasional bobcat.  Anyway, this photo is one of my favories of the flycatacher species.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Oh, yes, I must tell you about my photo life before birds.  I was really into photographing flowers and landscapes.  In San Angelo we have one of world’s largest and best water lily collections.  For photographing flowers this is a must place to visit.  For this photo I was down there late in the afternoon.  Skies were partly cloudy with those nice puffy white clouds floating around.  I browsed around the five pools of lilies, looking for the right shot.  I came upon this particular lily, and I liked the way the lily was juxtaposed near the lily pads.  The white clouds reflecting in the water look gold, because of a treatment in the water.  I had and old film camera, I believe it was a Canon EOS3, and a Tamron 200-400mm lens on a tripod.  I worked for around 30 minutes getting set up, as the cloud movement and light changed every few minutes.  I finally was satisfied.  I clicked three bracked exposures.  Ann looked through the viewfinder while it was still on the tripod and remarked, “Bob, you have a real winner here.”   This was the one of the three that I picked.

"Prima Donna Magnifico" (Magnificent Ballerina"

“La Prima Donna Magnifico” (Magnificent Ballerina”

Later, I was showing it at an art show, and an art professor from Angelo State University saw it and proclaimed it to be “La Prima Donna Magnifico”, meaning Magnificent Ballerina.  I liked that name and went with it.  The photo won me first place in three local art shows, and in an international competion sponsored by Photographers Forum Magazine it took 4th place out of about 18,000 color entries.  It went on to be my most profitable image for several years.

I also love photographing golf courses.  We have some beautiful courses here in San Angelo.  I have done work for Quicksand Golf Course, and framed photos of all of their holes hang on the walls there.  At least they were there the last time I played there several years ago.  But one of my favorite golf images is one of the first hole at San Angelo Country Club.  When I was photographing the course, I was trying to pick out a feature of the hole that was memorable.  In this photo, I positioned myself behind a water pond short and to the right of the green and took the shot through the trees.  You can see the flag there if you look close.

Hole #1 - San Angelo Country Club

Hole #1 – San Angelo Country Club

Several years ago, a new Visitor’s Center for the San Angelo Chamber of commerce was constructed along the Concho River.  Hailed as one of the most beautiful such visitors’ centers in the state, I decided to try and get a nice photo of it.  To do so, I picked a morning when the water was dead calm and I could get a nice reflection.  I chose a position directly across from the building so I could get the entire structure in the image.  The exact spot that I needed was precisely where a tree was growing.  I sat down on the ground with my back to the tree and composed the picture.  Here is the result.  For a short period it was on a billboard, north of the city, welcoming visitors to the area.

San Angelo Visitors Center

San Angelo Visitors Center

San Angelo Billboard

San Angelo Billboard

One spring Ann and I took a little tour in the hill country of Texas to see the Texas Bluebonnets in bloom.  One image I particularly liked.  We had come across this little knoll, and right before us was some bluebonnets in the foreground.  Then right across a low water crossing there was a meadow with whitefaces, (Hereford cattle), grazing.  I crouched low so as to get the bluebonnets in the photo.

Later, the people that owned the local McDonald’s Franchise contacted me to buy the rights to one of my images for a mural in one of their restaurants.  I showed them my portfolio and they decided on that particular photo, as they liked the bluebonnets.  They in turn had another compny make the mural, which turned out to be in a wall covering form.  They installed it on a large wall.  But, would you know, they positioned furniture in place that covers the bluebonnets.  It still looks very nice.

McDonald's Mural

McDonald’s Mural

Well, I think I will end this post here.  I don’t want to bore you with to many of these memories.  But I promise I will be back with some more soon.  Please click on any image to see some very nice enlargements.  I also feel obliged to mention, prints of any of my photographs are available for sale.  If interested, contact me at bobzeller@pobox.com.

The Dog Days of Summer


Okay, it is starting to get hot down here in San Angelo.  I should have seen it coming.  After all, I have lived here for about 55 years.  But, to be truthful, I wouldn’t live anywhere else.  This is a city of over 100,000 that has everything a person would need.  A beautiful river runs through the town and we have three nearby lakes.  Great parks where I tend to do most of my birding and photography.  Sure it gets warm in the summer, but with our low humidity it is bearable.  I will say this, today is June 14, and we haven’t recorded our first 100° day yet.  But the day isn’ t over so today might be the day.

But as for the birding, this is the time of the year that if you don’t get out in the morning, you are missing the best part of the day.  In the afternoon, windless and warm, the birds like to lay around the house, too.  That is not to say that I don’t try.  But most of the time we are back home by noon.  Then I sit down at the computer and edit the morning’s catch.  And that includes throwing out hundreds of baddies, blurred or I some I just really don’t like.  If I shoot 200 images and get five keepers, I am a happy man.

On that note, here are a few images that I have gotten the past few days.

This White-eyed Vireo was one that almost got tossed.  He was in the dark brush and I had to up the ISO on the camera and that produced quite a bit of noise (grain).  But I liked the pose with that bit of an insect in the beak.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

There are a lot of the Western Kingbirds around here now.  They don’t seem to mind the heat.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Driving through San Angelo State Park, it seemed that we were always hearing the Northern Bobwhites, no matter what our location in the park.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

We were driving around Twin Buttes reservoir the next day, and low and behold we saw the same two species again.  You guessed it, another Western Kingbird and a Northern Bobwhite.

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Northern Bobwhie

Northern Bobwhte

However, in addition, after hearing a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the trees and after some searching, I got this photo.  The bird has a delicious katydid in it’s beak.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I will finish this post with this photograph of an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  Not the greatest image as he was pretty far away.  I got my long lens on him and snapped anyway.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

So that’s it for this time.  I hope you enjoyed the photos.  Click on any of them to see some nice enlargements, especially if you are viewing them on a computer.  I don’t know how that works on an iPhone.

 

Why it Pays to Edit


Ann and I were out near Middle Concho Park yesterday.  It was getting late in the morning, the light was harsh and contrasty, and the birds were laying in for the afternoon.  However, as we were driving along, Ann was startled to see a Great Horned Owl fly from a branch near the car.  We followed along to where we thought it had landed, and eventually spotted it far back in the woods.

I turned the car around so I could get a shot through the trees from my driver’s side window.  I was using my Canon 7D Mark II and a Tamron  150-600mm lens.  Shutter priority, 1/2500 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 3200.  This is original image.

orig - Great Horned Owl

orig – Great Horned Owl

Now, this image, in itself is really not a bad photograph.  Most people would be happy to have it.  However, with a bit of cropping for composition, some color and lighting adjustments for the bright conditions, I was able to come up with this final photograph.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

So as you can see, the camera really does lie.  It cannot always cope with difficult lighting conditions.  In this case, bright sun high in the sky, making harsh shadows.  I would prefer softer lighting, i.e. clouds covering the sun, or even overcast.  But, when trying to capture wildlife, you deal with what you have to work with.  I edited this image in Photoshop, but the minor adjustments I made could be done with any inexpensive software.  Click on either image to see enlargements.

So, enough about editing.  Monday afternoon, Ann and I were sitting in front of our house watching the neighborhood birds.  This juvenile Curve-billed Thrasher landed in our ocotillo, and minutes later an adult arrived and began feeding it with an insect of some type.  I cursed myself for leaving my camera inside.  I ran to get it, but by the time I got back the adult was gone.  However, I got some images of the young bird.  Interesting, though, that if I hadn’t seen the adult, I may not have recognized the bird for what it was.  I realized that with the juvenile, the bill is shorter and they eye has not yet achieved that fierce orange color.

Curve-billed Thrasher - juvenile

Curve-billed Thrasher – juvenile

Driving near O.C. Fisher Lake at San Angelo State Park on Sunday afternoon netted me a couple of other photos.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Common Nighthawk on mesquite branch.

Common Nighthawk on mesquite branch.

Well, that’s it for this post.  Catch ya in a few days.

Happy Birding!!

 

Still Alive and Kicking


After three weeks I am finally back to blogging again.  I spent a week in the hospital, then another week treating myself at home with anti-biotics.  After that several days of rest and recuperating.  Needless to say, we had to cancel our trip to the Big Bend area.  That will have to wait until sometime in the fall.

Ann and I finally got out over the weekend and managed to get some birding and photography in.  On Memorial Day, we spent several hours at San Angelo State Park.  During that visit, we met some very nice folks from Missouri.  Joe and Sara St. Clair were in town visiting their son, Greg, who is a student at nearby Goodfellow AFB.  I think we have found a couple of new friends there.  Heck, they like my photography so that clinches it.:-)

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On Tuesday, May 31, two friends from Dallas, Kellye Mixon Bussey and Robin Buchanon arrived and wanted Ann and I to show them the local birding hot spots.  That was a busy long day, but much fun, and Kellye and Robin treated Ann and I to lunch at Olive Garden.

During the past few days, I did get several new photos to show you.  The image of the Blue Jay above, was taken on June 1, a couple of hours before my follow-up appointment with my doctor.  Since we had to go downtown for that, we went a bit early so we could drive along the Concho River.  That is where we saw several Blue Jays on the ground.  In all of my years of birding, up until now, I had never gotten a nice photo of one of these beautiful birds.  I am much satisfied with this one.  By the way, click on any image, especially if you are viewing this on a computer.  You will see beautiful enlargements.

The Bullock’s Orioles have arrived in great numbers now and can be found almost anywhere in the area.

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

We found this lone Scaled Quail wandering near the Twin Buttes Reservoir.

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail

I don’t think the branch is too much of a distraction in this photo of a Northern Cardinal, although he seems to think he is hiding behind it.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

We ventured out where there had been an owl’s nest.  The nest was empty, but we located this young Great Horned Owl in a nearby tree.

you Great Horned Owl

young Great Horned Owl

This Bronzed Cowbird was strutting nearby.

Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbird

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is another bird that is in great abundance now.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

I love the ferocious look of the Curve-billed Thrasher.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

These images were probably the best of the bunch from the past few days.  I am still a bit slow getting around, but hope to get out more in days to come, and hopefuly I will be posting more often now.  Thanks to all of you readers for being patient with me.  If you are a new reader, click on “Sign Me Up”, on the right side of this page.  You will receive and e-mail whenever I publish a new post.

Mid-week Bird Images


In between storm alerts, showers, and chores, I have been able to get out among the birds a little bit.  We have been to the ‘mud hole’, the local parks at Lake Nasworthy, and out to the San Angelo State Park.  Some of the birds have been very nice to get in position for some nice photos.

But first, I’d like to mention that my photo of an American Robin, pictured here, is on the front cover of the May issue of “The Messenger”, a local min-news magazine of Woodstock, Nebraska.  I have been published several times, but it never fails to thrill to see my photos in the print media.

American Robin

American Robin

Now back to my photos for this post.  Click on any image to see some eye-popping enlargements, especially if you are viewing this on a computer.

There had been reports of this Summer Tanager existing in Spring Creek Park.  I had failed on previous attempts to find him.  But, finally, we were able to spot him in the trees.  He was moving around rapidly so I only had a few seconds to capture him.  He disappeared only seconds after I got this shot.  The winds messed his usual smooth hair-do a little bit, but not bad enough to make him un-recognizable.

A wind-blown male Summer Tanager.

A wind-blown male Summer Tanager.

A Curve-billed Thrasher is always fun to come across.  I love that fierce look.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher

This Spotted Sandpiper was strolling along the ‘mud hole’, just bobbing along.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

A Bronzed Cowbird was all by himself at Spring Creek Park.

Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbird

This is my firsst photo of the year of an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

The Lark Sparrows seem to be everywhere.  No problem locating one for a photo op.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Doves are another species that I tend to ignore.  I came across this one and immediatly realized that I might have been missing something.  A beautiful bird.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Last but certainly not least, is this Great Horned Owl.  Always a crowd pleaser, we came across this one by surprise when driving through Spring Creek Park.  We just happened to glance up in the trees and there he was, just staring at us.  I quickly maneuvered the car into position where I could get a shot from a distance, so as not to disturb him.  If I got a mesquite thorn in my tires, I still think it was worth it.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I hope you enjoyed these photos.  I don’t know if I will get time to publish a post this weekend.  We are leaving early Monday morning to spend a week of birding and photography in and around Big Bend National Park.  We have lodging reservations at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center in Study Butte.  If any of you birders will be in the area, look us up.  If I don’t post in the next few days, watch for me in about a week and a half.

 

Happy Birding!!!

Return to the Mud Hole


This is a follow-up on my previous post, “Birding at the Mud Hole”.  Ann and I returned to the scene of the crime a couple of days later.  Again there was about the same birds and activity as before.  The water is beginning to recede so it will probably be dry within the week unless we get fresh rains to fill it again.  Fortunately, I was able to get some more images for your enjoyment.

All photos were again taken from the shelter of my mobile bird blind, AKA 2016 Ford Escape.  I have been using my Canon 7D Mark II and a Tamron 150-600mm lens, hand-held or resting on my SafariPak beanbag.  For convenience, and not to have to change settings often because of fast action, I was at shooting at Shutter Priority at about 1/2000 sec and Auto-ISO.  It works well for me and I only need to adjust my EV setting ocassionaly with my thumb on the big wheel.  Then I let the good times roll. :-)  The Auto-ISO on that 7D Mark II, by the way, is excellent.  It is very much worth the price of admission.  As with all images in my posts, click on any image to see enlargements, especially if you are viewing this on a computer.

I must confess, although we did see the Yellow-breasted Chat again, this image was one that I captured during our first visit.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

Identifying birds can sometimes be difficult.  At first, I thought that this was a female Painted Bunting.  But after checking my guides I came to the conclusion that it is, indeed, a first year male.  But, don’t despair, it will soon shed that bland clothing for the beautiful colors that we all know and love in the male.  Oh, for any critics out there, actually he won’t shed the clothes, but his colors will turn.  I still think he is a cutie.

Painted Buntind - first year male

Painted Bunting – first year male

Of course, there always has to be the pre-requisite Northern Mockingbird hanging around.  But he is the Texas state bird, so we are honored to have his presence.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

The White-crown Sparrows are here in abundance right now.  They have a beauty all of their own.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

This Yellow Warbler presented a challenge.  He was about 30 yards away and was very tiny and amid some foliage.  He was singing his heart out.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

An even bigger challenge was this Pyrrhuloxia.  He was about 80 yards away and atop a tall tree.  He also was warming up his voice.  I steadied the camera on my bean bag and held my breath, much like shooting a rifle.  In my viewfinder, he wasn’t much larger than my focus point.  But thanks to my great Canon equipment and a little darkroom work, I came away with this acceptable image.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Just before we left, this Baird’s Sandpiper came gliding in, to do a little feeding along the mud hole.

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper

I hope you enjoyed our little visit to the Mud Hole.  I will be returning soon, with more photos from around the area.

 

Happy Birding!!

 

Birding at the Mud Hole


Near the Twin Buttes Reservoir, there is a low depression where water stands after we have had some rains.  Mudders, defined as immature adults that love to play in the mud with their pickup trucks, are always driving their vehicles through it and keeping it pretty well churned up.  The water will usually take three or four days to either soak in or evaporate.  The area is surrounded by five large mesquite trees.  The combination of the trees and convenient water makes it a very nice little birding oasis.   All one has to do is to park close by and watch.  That is, providing you do it on a week day, when the mudders are absent.

So, that is what Ann and I did the past two days.  First we stopped by early in the morning at a local Jack and Jill’s for take-out coffee, a roll and a burrito.  We took them with us to this mud hole, parked and set in for a few hours of birding and photography.  We spent two to three hours each morning.  We saw a total of 28 individual species for the two outings.  I will give you that list at the bottom of this post.  Here is a sampling of the birds that we saw.  Click on any image to see enlargements.

The Yellow Warbler is one of favorite of the warbler species.  It is always a joy to see this one in the trees.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

I missed a shot of a beautiful mature male Blue Grosbeak.  But this young one perched on a branch nearby.  Just as I got him in the view-finder and focused he decided to fly.  I punched the shutter just in time to catch him as he took off.

Blue Grosbeak - first year

Blue Grosbeak – first year

Another favorite summer bird is the Painted Bunting.  This is the first one that we saw this year as they are just starting to arrive.  Thae harsh early morning sunlight did me know favors but I got this acceptable image.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

The Orchard Orioles are also new arrivals. The adult male stayed deep in the trees and I didn’t get an acceptable shot of him, but this first year male gave me an opportunity.

Bullock's Oriole - female

Orchard Oriole – first year male

I always admire the Canyon Towhees.  They are rather quiet and somewhat bland in color, but I still think they have a cerain beauty about them.

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

There were plenty of Lark Buntings around.  This is a female.  I had posted a photo of a beautiful male in my previous post.

Lark Bunting - female

Lark Bunting – female

I believe this one was named by a Mr. Richard Cissell.  Kidding!!  This weirdly named Dickcissell is another difficult bird to find.  I love the coloring.

Dickcissell

Dickcissell

Ann spotted this flash of yellow in the trees.  I was trying to spot it, too, and it finally lit on this branch only about ten feet away.  Only then, did I realize what it was.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A Yellow-breasted Chat, although not rare, is usually pretty shy and most of the time, very difficult to find.  This is only the second time I have ever seen one and had the opportunity to photograph it.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

This Cactus Wren was still around, working on it’s nest.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Here is the complete list of the birds we observed during those two days:

  1. White-winged Dove
  2. Great-tailed Grackle
  3. Northern Mockingbird
  4. Killdeer
  5. Lark Sparrow
  6. Cactus Wren
  7. Blue Grosbeak
  8. White-crowned Sparrow
  9. Vesper Sparrow
  10. Barn Swallow
  11. Brown-headed Cowbird
  12. Lark Bunting
  13. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  14. Pyrrhuloxia
  15. Painted Bunting
  16. Bullock’s Oriole
  17. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  18. Northern Bobwhite
  19. Bronzed Cowbird
  20. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  21. Yellow Warbler
  22. Western Kingbird
  23. Yellow-breasted Chat
  24. Dickcissell
  25. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  26. Canyon Towhee
  27. Curve-billed Thrasher
  28. Orchard Oriole