Birding San Angelo News and Photos


I haven’t posted to my blog for a couple of days.  It just got so bone-chilling cold today, that I decided to stay in.  So I haven’t decided on anything special to write about.  I did get my life list up to 220.  I added an American Pippit last week, thanks to Sue Oliver.  We ran into her at O. C. Fisher Lake and she pointed one out.  I haven’t gotten close enough to get a decent photo yet, but now that I know what they look like and where they are, I should be able to come up with a nice image soon.

Blue Grosbeak

The monthly Adult Birding Adventure is coming up this weekend.  I hope to see some more of you out there.  The number of birders that are participating is increasing, but always room for more.  The weather forecast looks good, too.

Bald Eagles - Llano, Texas

The Phainopepla that hung around for about a month has left the building.  He certainly kept to the same area while he was here.  Almost always in the same tree, but alternated with a couple of nearby ones.  He will be missed.

The O. C. Fisher Lake level is drastically decreasing, and therefore the shorebirds are getting harder to see.  But there are plenty to see if you have binoculars or a spotting scope.  A huge number of American White Pelicans have left, but there was still around two dozen yesterday.  We have been seeing at least one Herring Gull

White Ibis

Since plans for a second bird-blind has been put on the back burner, Ann and I have expanded the feeding area at the present one.  On the east side, we have added a couple more feeders so the viewing experience has been enhanced.

Nest week on the 15th, Ann and I, along with Jodie Wolslager are heading to New Mexico to spend a couple of days.  We plan on visiting the Boxque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  I hope to bring back some new photographs, hopefully of some Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and I hope to get lucky and see a Bald Eagle.

Ringed Kingfisher

By the way, these photos have nothing to do with today’s subject.  But I can’t resist not putting photos with my posts. 🙂  Enjoy them, and click on either image to see an enlargement.

Here’s Woody, the Woodpecker


Whenever I see woodpeckers, I am reminded of the Woody, the Woodpecker cartoons that I used to see when I was a child growing up.  As I remember it, though, I believe Woody was a Pileated Woodpecker.  These pictures that I have here today are of a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  The male, I photographed yesterday morning.  Both images of the female I captured earlier today.  All were at San Angelo State Park in San Angelo, Texas.  Enjoy the photos, and as usual, click on any of them to see enlargements.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - male

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - female

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - female spreading her wings

Happy Birding!!

American Kestrel with Happy Meal


Ann and I made a trip out to San Angelo State Park late Saturday morning.  There we met another professional photographer, Bill Plunkett.  He and his wife have been doing some very extensive traveling and stopped off here in San Angelo.  For examples of his work from all over the continent and more, check his website, www.plunkettphoto.com

I got lucky again.  While driving around the park, we didn’t see much bird activity until we came upon this dead tree near O. C. Fisher Lake.  There was this American Kestrel perched, trying to devour a mouse that he had caught.  I was fortunate to capture the action before he flew away.

American Kestrel with mouse

I hope you enjoy the photo.  Click on it to see an enlargement.

Happy Birding!!

Sunshine and Cool Birds


Yesterday morning, Friday, Ann and I woke to a nice clear, sunshiny day.  The temp was still only about 20 degrees.  We waited a bit until it was up to about 28 then we headed to San Angelo State Park.  First we needed to put seed in the feeders.  We do that on a regular basis, not just to feed the birds, but for the main purpose of attracting birds for the numerous birders that frequent the popular bird blind.

Cactus Wren in the snow

I also wanted to take advantage of the snow still on the ground, to get some wintery photographs.  My vision was to catch a Northern Cardinal perched on a snow-covered branch.  But a vision was all it was, as there wasn’t any snow on the tree branches.  All we had was about an inch of it on the ground.  But I did get a couple of nice photos of some birds in the snow.  One was the Cactus Wren.  The other was a White-crowned Sparrow that seemed to be staring at some large cat tracks.  Perhaps a Bobcat??

A cool White-crown Sparrow

At the blind, I scared off a small Opossum as I approched.  The water trough, which is about 2 feet deep was frozen solid.  I tried to break through it, but to no avail.  I would have to wait and let the warming sun do it’s job.  O. C. Fisher lake, which is dwindling by the day, looked like it was frozen all the way across.  Leaving there, we stopped by the Prairie Dog village.  A few of them were sitting on the mounds, pondering if they should venture across the snow.

A young Black-tailed Prairie Dog

But, today the snow will probably leave for the most part.  The sun is shining brightly and the temperature is climbing again.  Will spring be just around the corner??  Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.

Happy Birding!!  🙂

A Cold day for Birding


The outside temperature right now is 16 degrees and the wind chill is about zero.  But does that bother me??  You’re danged right, it does.  🙂  But not to worry as in a few days it will be back to our normal sixties weather.  I just decided that now is a good time to stay inside and get other stuff done.  Like writing another post.

Summer Tanager - male

However, I had a difficulty deciding what to write about, so I opted to just show some more of my older images.  Today those photos are of the Summer Tanager.  I took these pics nearly three years ago with my old Canon 40D.  I think that I had just acquired my Canon 500 f4 IS lens.

Summer Tanager - female

For a brief description of the Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), I will refer to my bird guides.  The Sibley’s Guide to Birds, describes it to have redish or greenish flight feathers.  Found in mixed woods, near water.  Found in the Concho Valley from April to October.  What I like about this species is the diverse color.  The male is mostly red, the female is mostly yellow, and the juvenile is logically a mix of the two.

Summer Tanager - juvenile

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, offers this information on the species. The Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra, is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae).[2] The species’s plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.

Their breeding habitat is open wooded areas, especially with oaks, across the southern United States. These birds migrate to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. This tanager is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe.

Adults have stout pointed bills. Adult males are rose red and similar in appearance to the Hepatic Tanager, although the latter has a dark bill; females are orangish on the underparts and olive on top, with olive-brown wings and tail.

These birds are often out of sight, foraging high in trees, sometimes flying out to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, especially bees and wasps, and berries. Fruit of Cymbopetalum mayanum (Annonaceae) are an especially well-liked food in their winter quarters, and birds will forage in human-altered habitat[3]. Consequently, these trees can be planted to entice them to residential areas, and they may well be attracted to bird feeders. Summer Tanagers build a cup nest on a horizontal tree branch.

The Summer Tanager has an American Robin-like song, similar enough that novices sometimes mistake this bird for that species. The song consists of melodic units, repeated in a constant stream. The Summer Tanager’s song, however, is much more monotonous than that of T. migratorius, often consisting of as few as 3 or 4 distinct units. It is clearer and less nasal than the song of the Scarlet Tanager.

The Summer Tanager also has a sharp, agitated-sounded call pi-tuk or pik-i-tuk-i-tuk.[4]

I hope you enjoy the information and the photos.  Click on any image ot see an enlargement.

No Time to Make Dessert


You ever have one of those days.  So much to do, so little time.  It all started this morning when it took me a little extra time to do the daily crossword.  My original plan was to first go to breakfast at Roxies’.  Yes, that is the name of the diner where we eat our first meal of the day.  In your mind, picture a Roxie, picture a little diner, you will then say that sure looks like a Roxies’ Diner.  🙂

Phoebe (Says or Eastern)

Then after breakfast,  the important stuff;

 1. do the crossword, (a must),

2. go feed the birds at the park, 

3.  fill the van’s gas tank,

4. wash the van,

5. take a new photo of the Santa Elena Canyon over to the Frame-up Gallery to get it framed,

6. check on my exhibit at Crocket National Bank to see if I need to leave some more cards,

7. come home then and try to do a post for my blog.

Well, you know about the best laid plans…….   I just finished number 2.   It is 3:00 PM and I am just getting started on number 7.  I had to skip numbers 3 throught 6.  I didn’t fill the gas tank; I think I can make it to Roxies’ (remember her?) tomorrow morning.  I post-poned washing the van, ‘cuz it gonna rain tonight.   I can wait about going to the Frame-up Gallery.  Ditto to see about my exhibit at the bank.

The reason that it took so long to feed the birds (#2) was it turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day, a perfect day for birding.  So after feeding the birds that’s what we did.  We saw 29 different species.  That includes the pictured  Phoebe.  Can anyone say definitely which it is?  An Eastern Phoebe or a Says Phoebe.  Ann’s list that she sends to E-bird, is below for your information.

So now it is almost 4:00PM and almost finished with this post.  I am pretty warn out and I think it is almost time for a margarita.  It’s a good thing that I don’t cook, because there definitely would  be no time to make dessert. 🙂

Location:     San Angelo State Park
Observation date:     1/24/11
Number of species:     29

Northern Shoveler     30
Northern Bobwhite     8
American White Pelican     30
Great Blue Heron     5
Black Vulture     70
Northern Harrier     1
Red-tailed Hawk     1
American Coot     3
Greater Yellowlegs     2
Least Sandpiper     24
Ring-billed Gull     12
White-winged Dove     6
Mourning Dove     4
Greater Roadrunner     1
Eastern Phoebe     1
Say’s Phoebe     1
Black-crested Titmouse     2
Northern Mockingbird     12
Curve-billed Thrasher     1
Phainopepla     1
Spotted Towhee     1
Chipping Sparrow     3
White-crowned Sparrow     18
Northern Cardinal     6
Pyrrhuloxia     8
Red-winged Blackbird     120
Western Meadowlark     6
House Finch     12
House Sparrow     6

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

Sparrows, Sparrows, Sparrows


Since this blog is basically about birding, and bird photography, I have been sitting here pondering what to put in my next (this) post.  Thinking back, I didn’t know a sparrow from a pigeon before I got into serious birding.  Well, I guess pigeons were bigger, right?   Anyway, now I have come to appreciate just how many species of birds there really are.  In the area where I live, according to the people that know these things, there are thirty different species of sparrows alone.

To be perfectly fair, actually they are not all sparrows.  Four of those species classified in the sparrow family are towhees, three are longspurs, and one is a junco.  That still leaves twenty-two named sparrows, just here in the Concho Valley.  There are more than fifty species including other regions of the country. 

Like any other non-birder, I thought all sparrow looked alike.  Wrong!  Since I now consider myself a birder, albeit a little new at it, I have discovered that there are really many beautiful sparrows to be seen and photographed.  You can see from the following examples.

House Sparrow

Pictured above is the common House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).  Now I ask, isn’t this a pretty little bird.  Nice rich colors of brown, with that little patch of gray on his head, and that black chest, not to be confused with the Black-throated Sparrow.

Black-throated Sparrow

The above is the afore-mentioned Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata).   Another little cutie.

Lark Sparrow

Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)  Another pretty bird with distinctive markings that you can’t miss.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla).  So these are five of my favorites.  Now when you see a sparrow, take a closer look, and you may be surprised at what you see.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

MLK day at San Angelo State Park


In yesterday’s post I said that I hoped that the fog would lift.  Well, lift it did, a couple of hours later.  It turned out to be a wonderful day, with the temps somewhere in the mid-seventies, with plenty of sunshine.  Ann and I decided to spend a few hours at San Angelo State Park.  Where else would we be??  🙂  It is so nice to be retired, and have such a great park only three miles away.

We just had a good time driving around, not only watching birds, but just enjoying watching other people enjoy it, too.  There were hikers, bikers, walkers, and we came across this fisherman that was just bringing his catch in from the shore.  A huge catch that it was.  Look at all the big Yellow Catfish, probably near 100 lbs worth, judging from the effort that it took the young man to lift them.  He even had to use a wheelbarrow to carry them in from the lake.  There is some fine eatin’ somewhere in town this evening. 🙂

Catch of the Day

We had a great day of birding, also.  Check out the list at the end of this post.  In addition to the usual suspects, we were joined by a Rock Wren, A Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and six Northern Bobwhites.  And a nice surprise.  We spotted the Phainopepla again that has been hanging around.  After chasing him through the mesquites, I came up with this photograph.  I think it is quite an improvement over my original image that I captured a few days ago.

Phainopepla

Click on either photo to see an enlargement.  Here is the list of birds that we saw on Monday, January 17, 2011

Number of species:     26

Northern Shoveler     6
Northern Bobwhite     6
American White Pelican     20
Great Blue Heron     2
American Coot     6
Killdeer     2
Greater Yellowlegs     4
Least Sandpiper     20
Long-billed Dowitcher     6
Ring-billed Gull     20
Herring Gull     2
White-winged Dove     4
Mourning Dove     2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker     1
Tufted Titmouse     0
Black-crested Titmouse     2
Rock Wren     1
Northern Mockingbird     10
Curve-billed Thrasher     2
Phainopepla     1
White-crowned Sparrow     12
Northern Cardinal     6
Pyrrhuloxia     5
Red-winged Blackbird     12
House Finch     6
House Sparrow     4

Happy birding!!

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.

Phainopepla

Happy Birding!!

More images of The Big Bend


I’m going to do a little different for today’s post.  Not that I don’t enjoy the avian photos, I also dearly love the Big Bend area of west Texas.  But this blog is also about photography in general.  So looking back through my archives, I pulled the following eight photos out of the files.  I may or may not have shown some of them before, but if I have, have another look and enjoy.

Boquillas Canyon.  Boquillas Canyon is located on the far east side of Big Bend National Park.  There is a little trail at the end of the highway that leads directly to the entrance.  When standing in the entrance, it is a humbling experience, as right in front of you, across the Rio Grande only about 50 yards away, a cliff rises straight up from the water nearly 2,000  feet.  Talk about feeling tiny!!  This photo was taken from a few miles away, from a hill where you have a view across the river.  In the foreground, is the Mexican village of Boquillas.  Note the multi-story buildings that appear as tiny boxes.

Boquillas Canyon and Boquillas Village from across the Rio Grande

Santa Elena Canyon.  This is one of my favorite views of the Santa Elena.  It was taken back around 1985 during one of my first visits to the Big Bend National Park.  We were driving south on the Old Maverick Road.  The Ocotillo plants were in bloom with their fiery blossoms.  As we rounded a curve this sight met our eyes.  We were still about 3 miles from the canyon, but I decided to frame it between the Ocotillos.  I hope you like it.

Santa Elena Canyon and Ocotillo

The Big Hill.  Highway 170 from Lajitas to Presidio, Texas, is one of the most spectacularly, scenic drives in the United States.  As you travel through there you have the Rio Grande River direct on your left.  Across the river on the Mexican side rise towering mountains.  On the right side of your car are the mountains of Big Bend Ranch State Park.  About 12 miles west of Lajitas you climb to one of the highest points on the road, aptly, named the Big Hill.  At nearly 500 feet straight up, above the Rio Grande you have awesome views both to the west and to the east.  These are two of my images from that hill.

Rio Grande River looking west from the Big Hill

Rio Grand River looking east from the Big Hill

Mule Ears Peak.  As you drive along Ross Maxwell drive in Big Bend National Park you will see this landmark that rises south of the Chisos Moutains.  This image was taken late in the afternoon when the setting sun was just hitting the upper parts of the peak/s.

Mule Ears Peak

The Window.  High in the Chisos Mountains is what is called The Basin.  The basin is where the Chisos Mountain Lodge and campgrounds are located.  The elevation of the floor of the basin is 5,000 feet.  I guess it was named the basin, because it is surrounded by mountain peaks that rise further higher to an elevation of around 8,000 feet.  On the western side of the basin is this V-shaped formation, aptly called the Window.  This is a pour-off.  All of the water that is collected in the basin, drains down the slope to the bottom of the V where it drops over the edge several hundred feet to the Chihuahuan Desert below.  It is a one of the most photographed views in the park, especially at sunset.  A trail leads from the lodge parking lot, down to the botom of the window.  A hike of about a mile, the elevation dropes 800 feet.  That makes for a very strenuous return.

Look west from The Window

Casa Grande thru The Window.  This photograph was taken from the Ross Maxwell highway a few miles west of the Chisos Mountains.  In this image you are looking back “into” the Window.  You can see Mount Casa Grande, which is on the far eastern side of the basin.  Mt. Casa Grande is not the largest peak in the Chisos, but the most photographed.

Mount Casa Grande through the Window

Mount Casa Grande.  As stated previously,  Casa Grande peak is the most  photogenic peak in the park.  This image was taken in the late afternoon as the western sun was striking it.

Mount Casa Grande

I hope you have this, another visual tour of the Big Bend area.  Maybe there will be more on another day.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.