Birding Davis Mountains and Jeff Davis County.


Getting started on Monday morning before leaving, I had a doctor’s appointment to get a bi-weekly injection for what ails me.  Nothing serious, just something that has to be done every two weeks.  So after getting that out of the way, we stopped at the Mesquite Bean Grill in the Cactus Hotel for a breakfast of their fantastic Mesquite Bean Tacos and coffee.  We knew that would last us quite awhile.  So we were finally on the road at about 9:30 AM.

Our destination was the west Texas village of Fort Davis, the site of the namesake fort, which is one of best preserved frontier posts in the country.  I hope the citizens aren’t offended that I call Fort Davis a village, rather than a city.  But in my book if there aren’t any traffic lights, it is a village.  And a quaint village Fort Davis is.  I want to live there when I grow up.

So anyway, we headed out US67 west from San Angelo.  We would go through other villages: Mertzon, Barnhart, Big Lake (there is no lake there), Rankin, and McCamey.  Oh, I can’t leave out Gervin, but it is only an intersection, so if you miss the sign, you have missed Gervin.  Then we hit Interstate 10 to go through Fort Stockton, a location of ruins of another defunct frontier fort.  Then we hit the turn-off for Balmorhea, (more about that later in this post) and head for Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains.  That final leg of the trip is our favorite as we are able to watch for birds, hawks, etc.

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Red-tailed Hawk

After about a four and a half hour drive we arrived in Fort Davis.  We had munched on some light snacks on the road so we weren’t in need of a huge lunch, so we stopped at Stone Village Market.  You can get made-to-order deli sandwiches.  We opted for a pastrami on sourdough bread with all the fixin’s.  We took them with us and headed for the Davis Mountains Inn where we were going to stay for four nights.  It turned out that we were the only guests that first night.  We were so tired that after unpacking, we decided that would just rest the balance of the day.

Tuesday dawned bright, and after eating breakfast we decided to travel west on Hwy 166 to the turn-off to Hwy 505.  It had been recommended to us that along that stretch of lonely highway, many raptors could be seen, including Golden Eagles.  Along the way we saw many birds and animals, including this Pronghorned Antelope.

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Pronghorn Antelope

At a roadside park on Hwy 166, where there is usually good birding, we saw this one Summer Tanager, a female I believe.

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Summer Tanager, female

Our target bird for this day was the Golden Eagle that frequents the wide open areas along Hwy 505.  We missed the eagle but saw many Red-tailed Hawks, and some Cassin’s Kingbirds.  We vowed to come back another day to hunt for the eagle.

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Cassin’s Kingbird

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Red-tailed Hawk

On Wednesday morning we headed up to Lake Balmorhea.  We always enjoyed the drive to get there.  Up through the Davis Mountains and over Wild Rose Pass.

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Star Mountain from Wild Rose Pass

At the lake, we discovered that one of our favorite roads around the intake end, was closed, due to vandalism.  However, we were able to drive over the dam and along one side of the lake.  Here are a few of our highlights.

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Osprey, near the dam on Lake Balmorhea

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Scaled Quail

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Red-tailed Hawk

On Thursday morning, which would be our last day before heading home, we decided to look for the Golden Eagle again.  We tried to leave earlier this time, and drove directly to the desired area on Hwy 505.  This time we were in luck.  About two miles from the turnoff from Hwy 166, we came up on the eagle feasting on road-kill.  He was as startled as we were.  He flew up onto a fence post.  After checking my mirrors for traffic, I stopped the car in the middle of the road, and grabbed my camera.  I was able to get about a dozen images has he posed for me.  As I checked my mirrors again for traffic, he flew, but I missed any chance for an in-flight shot.  However, I was thrilled that I got such an opportunity from only about thirty-five yards.

But there is bad news.  I had taken an earlier shot of a dark bird in deep shadows, and had boosted my exposure by a stop and two-thirds. For you non-photographers, that means I over-exposed.  Well, I made a rookie error and forgot to change the setting back, so when I grabbed the camera for the eagle shot,  I had no time to adjust.  Hence the eagle was horribly over-exposed.  I had to try to correct it in my post-processing.  So here is the result.  Not a pretty sight, but acceptable.  You can see that the yellow bill and yellow feet are pretty washed out.

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Golden Eagle

After that we continued along the highway for another few minutes.  I then caught a few more photos.

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Broad-winged Hawk

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White-tailed Kite

It was still early in the day, so we decided to visit a friend’s place up in the mountains.  He has a bird-watching setup, complete with portable blinds and a water drip.  It was a drive of only six miles from the road entrance on Hwy 166.  But it is a pretty rough road and it took us about 30 minutes to get there.  I set up my camera in one of the blinds and got comfortable.  Here are a few highlights.

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Western Wood-Pewee

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White-breasted Nuthatch

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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

On Friday morning we head back to San Angelo, satisfied with a fun, successful birding and photography trip.  I hope you enjoy this post as well as I enjoyed writing it.  Comments are welcome.

Happy Birding!!

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Davis Mountains, here we come…….again.


Here I am again, really late with another post.  I am not lazy, I just procrastinate a lot.  So…… again, time got away from me.  Of course at my age of 83, time really gets flying……a sign that I am going downhill, I guess.   So anyway, what have I been doing the past couple of weeks, you may ask.  Well, I have been out shooting almost every day.  The fall migration is getting started, the weather is beautiful, not as hot, and it is fun to be outside.  It keeps me young.  I need that.

As for the title of this post, Ann and I are leaving Monday, the 11th, for Fort Davis and the Davis Mountains.  We will be doing a lot of photography in the area from an altitude of 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet.  We will be staying at the beautiful Davis Mountains Inn near Fort Davis.  It is a nice comfortable Bed & Breakfast.  We will be returning on Friday the 15th, hopefully with a bunch of photographs for a future post.

I have mustered a good bunch of photos since the last post, of course.  I will present a few of them for you here.  Just scroll down, and if you get to the end, 🙂 , there is a link to my Photo Gallery.  Click on any of these to see enlargements.

Cooper’s Hawk.

Yellow Warbler

Red-tailed Hawk

Bell’s Vireo

Swainson’s Hawk

Curve-billed Thrasher

Ash-throataed Flycatacher

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Northern Cardinal, female

Least Flycatcher

Wilson’s Warbler

Great-crested Flycatcher

Red-tailed Hawk

Bewick’s Wren

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

I hope you have enjoyed this post and the photos.  To see more of my photographs, click this link to my on-line Photo Album.

What?? Shoot birds on an overcast day??


I have been thinking about the subject of this post for quite awhile.  Photographing birds on a heavily clouded, overcast day.  Today was one of them.  It reminded me of a close friend that almost refuses to try any photography if the sun isn’t shining.  The way to be sucessful is to forget about the color of the sky.  Think about the subject, your birds, and focus (pun intended) on photographing them, and not on the color of the sky.  If you want to photograph a blue sky, wait for a clear day.  If you want to photograph birds, be prepared to do just that.  You just do what you usually do.  In my case, I shoot shutter priority, set the shutter on about 1000/sec or higher depending on the lighting. I set auto ISO, and just let that exposure float along.  That is basically how I shoot birds regardless of the weather.

I also am prepared to boost the EV adjustment to the right about 1/3 or 2/3 stops.  Sometimes it may be necessary to go higher.  It may produce higher ISO exposures, but what’s the big deal?  Most popular SLRs have no problem with that.  It’s not going to keep me at home.  Like I said, just shoot what you would do on a normal day; cope with the usual exposure problems.  Focus on the birds and let the exposures fall where they may.  YOu will notice also, that in overcast weather, the color is nicely saturated.

On the subject of high ISOs, I know of a photographer that refuses to shoot if it is a high ISO day.  Hogwash!!  What kind of a photographer thinks that.  Not the kind that is very successful.  I hope my friend that doesn’t like overcast days, will think about what I have said, and go give it a chance.  Other than that quirk, she is a talented photographer.

Okay, now that I am through ranting, I will tell you about today.  I woke up with a forecast for the day, of cloudy with a 20% chance of rain.  The forecast held true.  It was very cloudy, looking like it could rain at any time.  In fact, a few times there was a hint of a few sprinkles on the windshield.  But they disappeared in a minute or two.  As usual, I didn’t want to stay home.  I am shooting with my Canon 7D Mk II and a Gen 2, Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I will post the exposure data along with each image.  Click on any of those images to see enlargements.

We started out at Spring Creek Park at about 8:00 AM.  We were apprehensive about whether we would see any birds at all.  Most of the tiny birds were keeping themselves hidden.  However there were a few other hardy ones.  This yellow-shafted Northern Flicker was in a bush and I was able to get him in focus.

Northern Flicker - 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 6400

Northern Flicker – 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 6400

The resident Great Horned Owl made an appearance again.

Great Horned Owl - 1/1250 sec. @f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

Great Horned Owl – 1/1250 sec. @f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

After seeing that owl, we decided to go to San Angelo State Park, since it was pretty wet in and we were driving through some sloppy areas.  The state park provided some more paved roads.

White-crowned Sparrow - 1250 sec. @ f7.1, +0.7 EV, ISO 1000.

White-crowned Sparrow – 1250 sec. @ f7.1, +0.7 EV, ISO 1000.

Northern Cardinal, female - 1250 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 4000.

Northern Cardinal, female – 1250 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 4000.

As were taking a little drive through one of the picnic areas, we happened to glance towards the lake and saw hundreds of American White Pelicans and what looked like hundreds more of Double-crested Cormorants.  In this photo, I decided to change to aperture priority an set the camera to f8 to provide more depth of field, to capture more of this vast armada of water fowl.  This is just a small portion of the crowd.

Pelicans and Cormorants - 1/800 sec. @ f10, ISO 1000

Pelicans and Cormorants – 1/800 sec. @ f10, ISO 1000

That exposure set-up worked out fine, but I made a rookie error and forgot to set the camera back to my original setting of Shutter priority for the rest of the session.  But no harm, no foul, as the following photos came out very nice.  Buy this time, it was getting near noon, but the weather hadn’t changed except for the temperature, which was a little warmer.  Still very cloudy with occasional mist.

Eastern Meadowlark - 1/800 sec, @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 1250.

Eastern Meadowlark – 1/800 sec, @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 1250.

Curve-billed Thrasher - 1/1000 sec. @ f8, +0.7, ISO 1600.

Curve-billed Thrasher – 1/1000 sec. @ f8, +0.7, ISO 1600.

Lincoln's Sparrow - 1/640 @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

Lincoln’s Sparrow – 1/640 @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 6400.

As you can see, you can get great photos if you dis-regard the cloudy skies and just take what comes at you.  My ISOs varied, of course depending on whether the bird was in the open or in open shade or in the brush completely.  I came home happily with some good results for my efforts.  One additional thing I should mention, I am not foolish enough to shoot if it is raining.  Cameras and water do not mix well.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the images.  As I said, click any of the images to see some very nice enlargements.

Until the next post, Happy Birding!

Red-tails in the Sunset


Okay, so I didn’t photograph these Red-tailed Hawks in the sunset, but I thought it made a catchy title to this post.  Actually, I got them over the past few days of the Labor Day Weekend.  Birding has been a bit slow, but as Ann and I were driving through Middle Concho Park, we spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on the ground, and upon further examination of the photo, it seemed to be contemplating snatching up a worm.  Whether it did snatch it or not I do not know.

Red-tailed Hawk checking out a worm on the ground.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk checking out a worm on the ground.

We heard or saw movement above us, and discovered a mature adult Red-tailed Hawk sitting on a tree branch.  It appeared to be unaware of us, so I was able to get this photo.

Red-tailed Hawk in tree.

Red-tailed Hawk in tree.

We thought that was a neat encounter as we seldom see two of these hawks at the same time.  Our luck stayed with us, as a couple of days later we were near the same location and we spotted the juvenile high up perched on a dead tree.  This time I got several images of him and I picked these two to show you.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on the move.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on the move.

The adult was nowhere to be seen this day, but we did hear him scream a time or two, so he was somewhere nearby.  However, there were a number of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers around.

Young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Young Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Also Eastern Phoebes…..

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

And a few other assorted species……

Inca Dove

Inca Dove

Cassin's Sparrow

Cassin’s Sparrow

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Dickcissell

Dickcissell

Bullock's Oriole.

Bullock’s Oriole.

I am happy to share all of these images with you.  It is the reason that I go out day after day, so I can get new images to post here.  I hope that you understand that, because my copyright is shown boldly at the bottom of each image, that these photos can’t be copied without my permission.  It would be my hope, that if anyone was interested, they would purchase a print from me for a nominal fee.  A friend wanted to print directly from my blog instead of buying.  Hey, with friends like that who needs an enema. 🙂

By the way, the photos you see here are at a very low resolution.  If you were able to use them to print, they wouldn’t be very usable.  I have spent many thousands of dollars on education and equipment in my profession.  The only way I recoup any of that is by selling prints.  On that note, I have my 2017 calendars now.  They are really exquisite, high quality, and beautifully printed.  The selling price is 18.79 plus 1.21 Texas sales tax.  Free delivery in San Angelo, Texas.  Out of town mailing add 6.00.

 

Great Horned Owl update plus


Hi all.  It’s been another week gone by since my last post.  Trying to catch up with our yard chores, so we haven’t got out as much as we would like.  But in between errands we managed to make some short trips through the local parks.  We checked in on the Great Horned Owl nest at Spring Creek Park.  The mother is still sitting on her eggs.

Great Horned Owl - female on nest.

Great Horned Owl – female on nest.

About seventy-five yards away, the father is still keeping a sharp lookout for any threats.  As you can see, though, he does take much-needed siestas.  He really blends in with the surroundings.

Great Horned Owl - alertly keeping an eye out.

Great Horned Owl – alertly keeping an eye out.

Here are a few other images from that area.

I finally got a nice photo of a White-eyed Vireo.  They are another elusive, tiny bird.  This was the first time in many years that I had this opportunity to photography one.  I must give credit to our fellow birder friend, Randy Hesford, for pointing it out to us.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

Also, we spotted this Marsh Wren.  It is the first decent photo I have of one of these species, too.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

In the same reeds that we saw the wren, this Lincoln’s Sparrow made an appearance.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

There is an area near the south entance to Spring Creek Park, where we have observed some Black-crowned Night Herons.  Over the past few years, we have seen adults and juveniles.  This photo shows that one of the young ones is starting to show some maturing.  It is a first-year, I believe.  Notice that he/she is losing some of that baby brown, and developing the black back of an adult.

Black-crowned Night Heron - first year

Black-crowned Night Heron – first year

Driving farther along the wider expanse of the water, I saw this Great Blue Heron about 250 yards away.  I hate to pass up a nice scene with one of my favorites of the herons.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

One windy afternoon, we ventured out to San Angelo State Park, and checked out a few birds in a short drive-around.  This is another photographic first for me.  I had never had to opportunity to capture some Tree Swallows.  There were around 100 sitting on some high lines.

Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows

To finish up the day, we checked the water level at O.C. Fisher Lake and saw a few Least Sandpipers scampering along the end of a boat ramp.

Least Sandpipers

Least Sandpipers

That’s about it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed the images.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.  I’ll be back in a few days.

 

900th Post – Blue Gray Gnatcatcher


This is my 900th post that I have written since I got started on this blog about seven 7 years ago.  It was at the urging of my wife Ann, and my dear friend and fellow photographer, Deb Tappan, in Tennessee that I decided I would give it a try.  Now I have a great following with readers in 161 countries at last count.  It has been great fun, but I am still at a loss about how I ever was able to think of 900 subjects and titles to write about.  But, hopefully I can continue and be able to reach 1000.

It seems be fitting that I feature one photo of a bird that has challenged me all of those years to get a great image.  The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is a very tiny bird. It is fast, quick, never sits still.  Always on the move.  By the time I have the camera focused in the spot where he is or was, he is off to another spot.  And so it went, time after time.  But a couple of days ago, at Spring Creek Park, he may have gotten a little tired and because he stopped for a few more seconds.  I finally got this result.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

But he was not alone.  During the past few days we have been able to see several species, and I was able to get a few more nice photos, such as this Lark Bunting.

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting

We spotted this Osprey later, as we entered the Middle Concho Park.

Osprey

Osprey

Followed quickly by this Golden-fronted Woodpecker.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

After that, the birds got a little scarce, possibly because the wind had come up.  But on the way out of the park, the Osprey apparently had done a little fishing and he was perched on a tree limb enjoying his lunch.

Osprey

Osprey

So there you have it……number 900.  Now, on towards number 1,000.  Perhaps I will make it by another year. 🙂

Click on any photo to see an enlargement.

 

Happy Birding!!

White-throated Sparrow – A Lifer


To a birder, a lifer is a bird that has seen for the very first time.  Hence, we saw a White-throated Sparrow on the 29th of February, for our first time.  It was at Spring Creek Park, scratching in the grass.  It was that it was all alone that got our attention to check it out.  It is a rare bird here, but not unusual to see on on ocassion.  Anyway, it brings my life list total to 286.  The photo isn’t really great.  As you can see, it was right at the edge of shade and bright sunshine.  That makes for difficult exposures.  But what a great start to a fun couple of days birding.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

As we drove through the park we spotted two photographers, both with the requisite camo clothes, tripods, and huge lenses.  Like I used to have.  They had out-of-state plates on their car.  Anyway, they had flushed that female Great Horned Owl off of it’s nest and it was resting high in a tree.  I stopped, got my little ‘ole 150-600mm lens out and nailed a great shot as it thankfully headed back to it’s nest.  I hand-held the camera and I was dressed in plain old clothes.

female Great Horned Owl heading to the nest.

female Great Horned Owl heading to the nest.

I think those two guys were part of a huge bunch that was harassing the owl on Sunday afternoon.  That group was headed up by the Mr. Doe that was instrumental in saying that I harassed wildlife by sharing the info to knowledgeable birders.  Well, ’nuff said about that.

We continued on through Spring Creek Park then headed to the Middle Concho Park that is located just across the water, but since there is no bridge, it is about an eight mile drive around to get to it.

Here are a few more images from around that area.  Click on any image in this post to see some very nice enlargements.

First, is this little Pied-billed Grebe.  They just swim around, occasionally diving under the water for something and usually coming up with nothing.  But what the heck…..they look like they are smiling and happy.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

This Roadrunner was along the road, (where else?), looking for tidbits for lunch.  Since the little ground squirrels are coming out of hibernation, he should be able to start eating better very soon. 🙂

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Can you take another owl?  This is the male that is supposed to guarding the nest where the previous female resides, sitting on the eggs.  He looks bored.  Wonder if he will make it another month or so.

Great Horned Owl - male

Great Horned Owl – male

A lot of these Meadowlarks hanging around now.  There are usually a few European Starlings tagging along.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

There are also a lot of these Yellow-rumped Warblers here, too.  They will be leaving in mid-May, to return in October to spend the winter.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The Sapsuckers can confuse a lot of people.  They look like the average woodpecker.  They used to confuse me, too, until I started to look for that white ‘stripe’ down the side of their feathers.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Let’s finish up with one of favorites.  I love photographing herons.  This is the same juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron from my previous post.  He has found a home across the water from Spring Creek Park. Always about 200 yards away. I imagine that his adult parent is watching from another hidden spot. This time he was more in the open, aiding me in getting a better image.

Black-crowned Night Heron - juvenile

Black-crowned Night Heron – juvenile

Well, that is about it for this post.  I had fun writing it and I hope you had fun reading it.

‘Til then, Happy Birding!!