Have camera, will travel

Everybody knows how much fun it is to see and photograph new or unusual birds.  I am no different.  I will, at the drop of a hat, jump in the car and head for some reported sighting of a rare bird or a nest of hatchlings.  Within limitations, of course.  I won’t suddenly book plane reservations to go see a miniscule, rare bird that was seen in the far off jungles somewhere.  But if I am within driving distance here in west Texas, count me in.

Such was the case a few days ago.  I got word from friends that a rare Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer) was visiting a feeder at a private residence down in Junction, Texas.  The property owner was posting the info on TexBirds.com and inviting everybody that was interested to drop by.  Because of other commitments, we weren’t able to go right away.  But Saturday evening, the Johnsons from Eldorado called us and wanted to go early Sunday morning.  We agreed to get up early, get breakfast at the Golden Arches and head down to pick them up.  We then headed to Junction, by way of Menard, doing a little birding on the way.

We finally arrived at the people’s home in Junction about 10:00AM, a distance of about 120 miles from San Angelo.  The Lucifer had been reported to be still in the area earlier in the morning.  We parked and observed the feeders for over an hour, but alas, apparently the Lucifer had left the building to head elsewhere.  So, with much disappointment, we returned to San Angelo

But that’s not always the case.  Most of the time we can be very successful in spotting our quarry, albeit sometimes with a little help.  A few years ago, Don Burt reported a very rare Ruddy Ground Dove (Columbina talpacoti) on his place over at Dove Creek.  I called and asked if I could come out and see if I could photograph it.  He answered to the affirmative and we headed out.  (Story continues below.)

Ruddy Ground Dove

  • Canon EOS 40D
  • Canon 500mm lens with 1.4 tele-converter – tripod mounted
  • 1/1600 sec. @ f5.6
  • ISO 400
  • Lens focal length 700mm
  • Aperture priority
  • Metering – center weighted average

Now I must admit, at this time, I was very, very new to birding, but very avid.  I was getting excited about photographing new birds, but I wasn’t always very smart about it.  In this case when we headed that way, I had now idea what the bird we were going to see looked like.  Duh…  I could have looked at a bird guide, but at that time I am not even sure I owned such a book.

But, good luck shined upon this naive, amateur birder.  Upon arrival to Don’s house, half of the members of the Abilene, Texas, Audubon Bird Society were already there.  I knew a couple of them and they graciously showed us what we were looking for.  We went around with them, and we eventually spotted the bird.  It was being a bit evasive, flying amongst the trees.

The property owner, Don Burt, called me aside.  He said, “Bob, around four o’clock that dove is going to show up along with a bunch of Inca Doves.  Why don’t you set up that big lens of yours about right here, and focus on that fence gate down there”.   So I did.  Right at the scheduled time the Incas flew in and right there along with them was the Ruddy Ground Dove.  I was able to get some very usable images of it.  Probably, the best of anyone there, as no one else had the long lens that I had.  So, even though I was a bit ignorant to begin with, I came out with what I wanted.

We are fortunate to have good friends, Sid and Suzanne Johnson, who live in Eldorado, Texas.  They are very avid birders, and they keep us up to date on the happenings down there.  It seems that Eldorado is a bit of a hot spot when it comes to having unusual birds appear.  We have driven down there to see Brown Pelicans, which normally reside near the Gulf of Mexico.   Other non-resident arrivals there that I have photographed have been, Horned Grebes and Tri-colored Herons.

I am not limited to rare sightings for travels.  A nest of new-borns will always pique my interests.  Usually word gets to me if  something is seen by friends, that they feel I would like to see.  A nest of young Red-tailed Hawks at Dove Creek got me going a few weeks ago.  The recent nest of Great Blue Herons near the Concho River was definitely of interest to me and I got some great photographs that you probably saw on my blog.

Last year Suzanne Johnson, our eagle-eyed friend, spotted a rare Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) at San Angelo State Park.  I and Ann promptly headed there, only three miles from our home.  It was in the area that Suzanne had described, but it was moving from the top of one tree to another.  It took us quite a bit of hopping around with the tripod in hand, but eventually I got a fine photograph of it.


  • Canon EOS 7D
  • Canon 500mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter – tripod mounted
  • 11000 sec @ f5.6
  • ISO 125
  • Lens focal distance 700mm
  • Aperture priority
  • Metering – unrecorded

Right now I am on a quest to photograph some Crested Caracaras that are near, (you guessed it), Eldorado.  We have been there and have managed to see them from a great distance, but not in range for a good photograph.  But I am persistent and we know where they are nesting, and we will be back.

Well, I must go!  Red phone ringing!! 🙂

BEEP! BEEP! More on Greater Roadrunners

I can’t resist it.  I must write about these Greater Runners again.  It was a gloriously gorgeous day here in San Angelo.  You don’t think that I am going to stay home and get things done, do you??  We toured San Angelo State Park, as we are want to do on days like this.  We saw the usual contigent of birds, including the Phainopepla that is starting to enjoy this west Texas weather.  Then we saw this Greater Roadrunner. and was able to catch these photos.   Click on the images to see an enlargement.

Greater Roadrunner

The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) is a long-legged bird in the cuckoo family, Cuculidae. It is one of the two roadrunner species in the genus Geococcyx; the other is the Lesser Roadrunner. This roadrunner is also known as the chaparral cock, ground cuckoo, and snake killer.[2]

The roadrunner is about 56 centimetres (22 in) long and weighs about 300 grams (10.5 oz), and is the largest North American cuckoo. The adult has a bushy crest and long thick dark bill. It has a long dark tail, a dark head and back, and is blue on the front of the neck and on the belly. Roadrunners have four toes on each zygodactyl foot; two face forward, and two face backward. The name roadrunner comes from the bird’s habit of racing down roads in front of moving vehicles and then darting into the weeds.

Portrait of a Roadrunner

The breeding habitat is desert and shrubby country in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, but some other western states as well. The Greater Roadrunner nests on a platform of sticks low in a cactus or a bush and lays 3–6 eggs, which hatch in 20 days. The chicks fledge in another 18 days. Pairs may occasionally rear a second brood.

Greater Roadrunners measure 61 cm (2 feet) in length, about half of which is tail. They have long, sturdy legs and a slender, pointed bill. The upper body is mostly brown with black streaks and white spots. The neck and upper breast are white or pale brown with dark brown streaks, and the belly is white. A crest of brown feathers sticks up on the head, and a bare patch of orange and blue skin lies behind each eye;[4] the blue is replaced by white in adult males (except the blue adjacent to the eye), and the orange (to the rear) is often hidden by feathers.[2]This bird walks around rapidly, running down prey or occasionally jumping up to catch insects or birds. It mainly feeds on insects, with the addition of small reptiles (including rattlesnakes up to 60 cm long), rodents and other small mammals, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, small birds (particularly from feeders and birdhouses) and eggs, and carrion. It kills larger prey with a blow from the beak—hitting the base of the neck of small mammals—or by holding it in the beak and beating it against a rock. Two roadrunners sometimes attack a relatively big snake cooperatively. Fruit and seeds typically constitute about 10% of the diet.[2]

Although capable of flight, it spends most of its time on the ground, and can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour (32 km/h).[4]

Some Pueblo Indian tribes, such as the Hopi, believed that the roadrunner provided protection against evil spirits. In Mexico, some said it brought babies, as the White Stork was said to in Europe. Some Anglo frontier people believed roadrunners led lost people to trails.[2] It is the state bird of New Mexico.

Beep! Beep!

Happy Bidrding!!

Phainopepla – a new lifer

Suzanne and Sid Johnson reported that they had seen a Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) on January 8, 2011 at San Angelo State Park.  I have been watching for it since, but had believed that it had left the building.    But this evening, Ann and I got lucky.  We had been out at the park, doing a little TLC at the bird blind and were leaving the park.  Just a little south of the gatehouse, there it was atop a mesquite tree, about 75 yards away.

I was wondering if I could be lucky enough to get a shot of it before it flew.  First, I took a few exposures from the window of the van with my Canon 7d and 100-400mm lens.  Then I grabbed my other 7d with a 500mm set-up and got out of the van, trying to get just a little closer.  I managed to get a few shots hand-holding the 500mm.  Well, I thought I am doing all right so Ann volunteered to run back to the van and get my 1.4 converter and tripod.  I couldn’t believe my luck that the bird stayed in place for so long.  In all, I shot 130 images, before finally a Northern Mockingbird decided to give chase, and drove off ths Phainopepla.

I have attached one of the better images.  Lifer number 219 for me.  If you click on it and enlarge it, you can make out the red eye.


Happy Birding!!