Raptors ‘R’ Us – Part II

Okay, getting back to my chatter about raptors……..  I believe I left off with discussing the Red-tailed Hawks.  I might as well add this photo that I captured a couple days ago, after I published part I.


Red-tailed Hawk

Another hawk that is similar to the Red-tailed, is the Swainson’s Hawk.  In fact, when I got into birding and was new, I often confused the two.  They are a stately bird.  That dark bib is one of my favorite markers for this specie.


Swainson’s Hawk


Swainson’t Hawk

I love watching the Northern Harrier.  Some people refer to him as the Grey Ghost. It hunts by flying low over the grasslands.  It’s eyes seemingly never leave the ground.  I have found them very difficult to photograph, but in truth, I have had few opportunites to do so.  When I do see one, it usually takes me by surprise, as it flies by.  However, I am proud of this photo that I captured on a trip to the Davis Mountains.  I spotted it from my car as it was streaking across the land.  I stopped the car, and caught it as it turned around and made a return flyby.  Not one of my best technically, but I do like the composition.  It is readily identified by that large white spot on it’s rear.


Northern Harrier on the hunt.

One raptor that is rarely seen here in the Concho Valley is the Crested Caracara.  Sometimes known locally as a Mexican Eagle.  It is more familiar in south and central Texas.  It is a peculiar looking bird, and it sometimes can be seen hanging out with the vultures, eating road-kill along the highways.  I did get a few photos while visiting our friends at Uvalde, Texas.  He is not wearing a toupee.


Crested Caracara

Another hawk that favors the southern part of the state, is the Harris’s Hawk.  I was able to capture several images of this bird when visiting Uvalde.  It seemed that it was everywhere.  Of course, as usual, I was hunting them from the car.


Harris’s Hawk


Harris’s Hawk

There are two hawks that confuse birders and cause great debates about identification of the two.  I am talking about the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  They are very similar.  I will offer a photo of each here.  The Cooper’s has the black-cap on a flattish shaped head.  Also the eyes are set forward more.  The Sharp-shinned lacks the black cap and has a more round head shape.  Even then, I imagine that I will get letters disputing my IDs.  I am definitely no expert, but this is my story and I am sticking to it. 🙂


Cooper’s Hawk.


Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Red-shouldered is a slightly larger bird.  It is easily identified with that red area on the shoulder.  This one was photographed at the Hummer House Bird Sanctuary in Christoval, Texas.


Red-shouldered Hawk

The White-tailed Hawk is one that I know very little about.  It usually lives in far southeast Texas.  However, I photographed this one near Uvalde.  A friend helped me with the identification.


White-tailed Hawk

Before I forget, I must include the Osprey, a fish-eating raptor.



Getting into some of the smaller hawks, I have seen and photographed a Merlin several times at San Angelo State Park.  At only ten inches tall, they still look formidable.  You can see that look of innocence, though.  Here are two of my favorite photos of one.





Ah, my definite favorite of the tiny hawks is the American Kestrel.  Beautiful marking.  A very feisty raptor that can sometimes act benign and easy to photograph, or often as not, give me a merry chase through the countryside.  It depends on his mood.  This particular image is one of the latter.  I was in a mini-van at the time several years ago, driving through San Angelo State Park.  Ann was with me, and this little bird moved from tree to tree, finally stopping and giving me nice views of his tail feathers.


American Kestrel

Finally, I am going to end this raptor series with one of the fastest falcons on the planet.  We were at San Angelo State Park, watching the brush for some warblers, when something flashing by caught my eye.  It zipped past some trees and out of sight with great speed.  I told Ann, I just have to go see if I can see if and where that bird might have  landed.  She started to protest, but I had the keys and was driving.  The effort paid off, as we didn’t go far.  It had landed atop a picnic table shelter.   I was able to get shots from afar, but since it didn’t move, I was able to maneuver in closer with the car.  It continued to sit as I took several photos.  I discovered then that it was a young bird.


Peregrine Falcon

Here is an adult that I photographed a few years back.


Peregrine Falcon

This concluded my 2-part series about the raptors of the Texas bird world.  There are a few more species, but as of this date, I have yet to see or photograph.  When I do, you will be the first to know. 🙂

So on this date, December 31, 2017, I want to wish everybody a fantastic Happy New Year and best wishes for a great 2018.

Happy Birding!!!

Raptors ‘R’ Us – Part I

A cold Tuesday morning here in San Angelo as I begin writing this post.  We had below freezing temps and freezing rain overnight.  A hot drink type of day.  So, I am sitting here,  cussing and discussing in my mind what to write about.  I believe that since I recently wrote a post about the tiny, cute birds, I will focus on the big guys this time.  The raptors that are found in Texas. I think I will do this in two parts, as I found going through my images, that there are quite a few of these species.

In my mind, the word raptor conjures up images of large flying creatures with fiery eyes, giant claws and smoke coming out of their noses.  Of course, in reality, that is not so.  Many of them are very small birds and quite cute.  I may be questioned about this, but my definition of raptors is any bird that is aggressive in it’s hunt for live prey.  Take the innocent looking Loggerhead Shrike.  He may have that Lone Ranger mask, but trust me, he is not looking to save the pretty girl and ride off into the sunset.  He has the heart of a killer.  He catches his prey and impales them on sharp cactus spines or the barbs of a barbed wire.


Loggerhead Shrike

But let’s begin with the largest birds.  The eagles, i.e. the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle.

Out here in west Texas, eagles are scarce so I don’t get many opportunities to photograph them.  But I did get lucky, getting my very first Golden Eagle.  We were on a recent trip to the Davis Mountains.  We were given a tip that if we drove the highway 505 from the Davis Mountains south towards Valentine, Texas, there might be some of those eagles along there.  Sure enough, we had gone only a couple of miles along that road and we came upon a Golden Eagle munching on some roadkill.  It took me by surprise and the eagle was equally surprised.  It took off and headed for a fence post, only about a hundred feet from me.  I immediately stopped the car.  I was shaking and in a sweat, and I scrambled to get my camera lens on him.  I couldn’t believe my luck, as I sat there clicking away and getting several exposures before he took off.  I had never been this close to one of these gorgeous birds.  But alas, in my excitement, I forgot to check my camera settings and I came away with some over-exposed images.  I could only try to salvage what I could out of them.  Here is what I got.


Golden Eagle

Here is a photo of a juvenile Golden Eagle that I photographed back in about 2008 when I was visiting relatives in Michigan.  It was about 40 feet up in an evergreen tree.  I had to set up my tripod about a half block away to get an angle from where I could shoot and capture the image with my Canon 500mm f4 lens.  He was a young bird, and was scrambling around the nest, just getting ready to fledge.


Golden Eagle, juvenile

There was a pair of Bald Eagles that nested along the highway near Llano, Texas.  We decided to take a drive down there to check them out several years ago.  It was a very cold morning, but there were several other photographers there toughing it out.  We were impressing each other with our big lens set-ups.  The eagles were quite far away, but I manage to get a few shots, including this image of one of the pair leaving the nest.


Bald Eagle leeving the nest.

The only other time I had a chance to photograph a Bald Eagle was on a trip to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.  What a wonderful place that is.  All types of birds, waterfowl, raptors, etc.  Anyway, I liked this photo of a Bald Eagle that I captured.  He was far off and had his back to me.


Bald Eagle

At one point, we were observing some Northern Shovelers swing along in some wetlands of the Bosque, when a Red-tailed Hawk tried to pounce on one of them.  From out of nowhere, a Bald Eagle swooped down and grabbed the duck away from the much surprised hawk.

Moving right along here, let’s talk about the Common Black-Hawk.  It is also a large hawk that summers in some isolated spots of west Texas.  I found this one in Big Bend National Park.  Apparently, there is a pair that returns annually and nests near the Rio Grand Village RV park.  The National Park Service knows of the nest, and has the area marked off to keep people from getting too close.  With my long lens, of course, I had no problem.


Common Black-Hawk

How about this Zone-tailed Hawk.  It is very similar to the Common Black-Hawk.  The Zone-tailed Hawk, however, likes to hang with the vultures.  The way it perches, flies, and feeds, it does look like he is emulating them.


Zone-tailed Hawk

The predominant hawk in this area of west Texas is the Red-tailed Hawk.  It has many variations but one thing remains.  The tail is red on all of the adults.  It is the largest of the hawks here.  I have hundreds of photos of them as they are my favorite to photograph when I get the opportunity.  Here are a three of my favorite images.

I caught this one as he was in a screaming dive to catch either a rabbit or a smaller rodent.  I couldn’t tell for sure.  But he was intent on making the capture.


Red-tailed Hawk

As you can see in the photo below of a juvenile, they are a very beautiful bird.


Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

This photo of an adult in flight shows you how intimidating they can be.

Red Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

I think I will end this Part I of my raptor series right here.  Next post, Part II, will be about the Swainson’s, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned hawks, and many more.  Watch for it soon.  I hope you have enjoyed these so far.

Happy Birding!!

Friday the 13th Birding

Friday the 13th fell on a Friday this month.  Does this scare me.  Of course not.  I am not suspicious of stuff like that.  I ain’t afraid of the dark, either, nor am I afraid of the creatures that lurk under my bed.  However, I keep my feet under the covers just in case.  I also don’t walk under ladders since I once fell off of one once.  Luckily, I was standing on the bottom rung at the time.

So with that in mind, Ann and I decided to throw caution to the wind and go birding.  We thought we would get lucky.  Well it depends on what you could call lucky.  On the unlucky side, there weren’t many birds.  It was a beautiful day and I can’t understand that.  We did see 32 species, but most were flyovers, or on the move in the trees, or too far to consider even trying to photograph.  Most of what I did try to shoot were, save for a few exceptions, very far away, up to 250 yards, and that doesn’t make for good closeups.

On the lucky side, I was able to make lemonade out of the lemons.  Thanks to my 150-600mm Tamron zoom lens, I was able to get some cropable (is that at word?) images.  Here is an example.  This Red-tailed Hawk was of those distant ones.  Here is the original image, and keep in mind, this is through my long lens.  Imagine what it looked like at with the naked eye.

Uncropped image of a Red-tailed Hawk

Uncropped image of a Red-tailed Hawk

Cropped imge:

cropped Red-tailed Hawk

cropped Red-tailed Hawk

We continued driving and saw these at Spring Creek Park.  This female Northern Cardinal gave me problems with the lighting in the shadows.  It was mid-morning and the sun was bright.  I was able to correct it in my post processing.

female Northern Cardinal

female Northern Cardinal

A few minutes later we spotted this Great Horned Owl.  Same shadow problems.  But heck, I was happy to get the photos any way I can.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Below the trees a male Northern Cardinal was scratching in the grass and leaves.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Then cruising along the water, looking across about 200 yards away again this Great Blue Heron was standing and just gazing.  Heavily cropped like the hawk photo above.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

High above, about another 250 yards away, a Black Vulture was enjoying the light, warm breeze.  Again heavily cropped.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

On the way home we stopped again at the beach at Mary Lee Park to check on the Ring-billed Gulls.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Well that’s it for tonight.  Going to bed, with my feet under the covers, because you never know………. (cue Friday the 13th music.)

New Photos, plus some from the past.

We went birding on Sunday and decided to visit San Angelo State Park first.  While we were at the blind a Cooper’s Hawk swooped in on a raid to try to snatch one of the smaller birds.  As far as I know he was successful, but he decided to hang around for awhile.  He never showed himself in an open pose, but I could see him peeking out from branches about one hundred feet away.  I was able to get this shot.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

We then drove through the North section of the park, intent on seeing the Lewis’s Woodpecker again.  Again, he was still in the area, but not high in some trees where he has been hanging around since early November.  So we drove around looking for him, then when we were in another area. about 500 yards away from the original spot, we saw him in the distance.  Too far for a photograph.  Other than that, Sunday was mostly a bust as far as getting any good pictures.

On Tuesday, Ann and I drove out to the parks around Lake Nasworthy.  Birds were again a little scarce but there were many Great Blue Herons.  I had received my Tamron 150-600m lens back from the factory, where they had upgraded the firmware in it, and I was anxious to try it out.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Also we stopped by the the beach at Mary Lee Park to see if there were any gulls besides the resident Ring-bills.  Occasionally a Herring Gull or a Boneparte’s Gull will make an appearance, so I always check.  No other gull species but we did see a Forster’s Tern in the distance, sitting on a buoy.  This Ring-billed Gull was practicing his hand-stand.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Since I didn’t get many new bird photos for you, I decided to add some more from my archives.  Here are a few that may be new to you.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Pine Sisken

Pine Sisken

I nearly identified this Hermit Thrush as a Swainson’s, as I thought the eye-ring was more ‘buffy’ in appearance and the spots were more triangular, consistent of a Swainson’s.  But the coloring of the feathers really favor a Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush


Raptors, Raptors, Raptors!!!!

Yesterday I posted one of my Red-tailed Hawks to my FaceBook page.  In doing so, I was reminded that it had been a long time since I had blogged about raptors of any kind.  So today, I decided to go back through my archives.  I found a few that I don’t think I have ever posted, some that I hadn’t edited yet, and a few of my favorites.

I will begin with fore-mentioned Red-tailed Hawk.  It was taken a few years ago while on my way to Ballinger, Texas.  He was in the grass on the left side of the highway.  I pulled to the right and stopped and managed to get the photo as he was leaving the ground.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

This next photo of the Zone-tailed Hawk, I got just this morning as I was driving through Spring Creek Park near Lake Nasworthy.  I was lucky indeed as sightings of the Zone-tails are very rare around this area of the state.  I do believe I interrupted his meal of a fresh caught ground squirrel.

Zone-tailed Hawk with fresh catch.

Zone-tailed Hawk with fresh catch.

Next is a Cooper’s Hawk that I captured a few years ago in Big Bend National Park.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are difficult to discern between the two species.  I believe the next image is a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Notice the Cooper’s (above), has a slightly flattish head, where the Sharp-shinned’s head is a bit more rounder.  I may get letters about this, but the sure way to see the difference is you can see the birds next to each other.  The Cooper’s will be the larger.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

People don’t think the Greater Roadrunner as a raptor, but he is definitely a voracious carnivore, as this next photo will show.  This image is pictured on the cover of my book, “Birds, Beasts, and Buttes”.

Great Roadrunner

Great Roadrunner

Another Red-tailed Hawk….

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

More Raptors……



Young Great-horned Owl.  A raptor to be.

Young Great-horned Owl. A raptor to be.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Another Roadrunner….

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Click on any image to see great enlargements.


Osprey Bringing Dinner Home

I wrote recently about photographing birds in flight.  I also had read several posts on other people’s blogs on the subject.  I thought you may be interested in seeing these photographs that I pulled from my archives.

It is a series of images that I took of an Osprey coming in to snatch his meal from the water.  I first published these photos about three years ago. I was using my 100-400mm lens.  I acquired the osprey in my auto-focus just before he started his dive.  I had only to press the shutter that was set for hi-speed burst, then pan the camera as I followed him to the water.  He was faster than I expected and my first image had him already with the fish in his talons.  Except for the first and final photo these images are right from the camera.

Osprey on the hunt.

Osprey on the hunt.

Osprey - making contact

Osprey – making contact


After he was in the air with the fish securely in his talons, he then circled around to make this victory pass.  I was lucky to catch him as he passed in front of me.  This image is the final cropped and edited photo.

Get the fry pan ready, Mama.

Get the fry pan ready, Mama.

I hope you enjoyed this series of a creature of the wild, doing what comes naturally.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Banding the Hummingbirds

As most of you know, Ann and I spent the weekend down at the Casitas of Far Flung Outdoor Center in Study Butte, Texas.  We arrived there Thursday afternoon and found out that Kelly Bryan of Fort Davis, was going to be banding hummingbirds there the following morning.  We had planned on going birding in the Big Bend National Park, but this sounded exciting and made up our minds that we were going to attend the event.

At 8:00 Friday morning, Kelly pulled up with his equipment.  Along with his friend, Carolyn Ohl, from Alpine, they proceeded to put covers on all of the existing hummingbird feeders.  They then took another one to the center of the courtyard area, and set it in a cage with a large opening.  The idea was that all the hummers in the area, upon finding the other feeders useless, would eventually locate the cage with the feeder inside.  It worked handsomely and several birds were caught.

Kelly and Carolyn carefully retrieved each bird and put it in a little cloth sack, which they took over to the bench where Bryan would do the banding.  He then carefully takes the bird from the bag and proceeds to examine it to check the overall condition of the hummer and take measurements.  All such information is recorded in his log book.  After that, he puts a very tiny metallic band on the leg with the date, location, etc.  These bands are very light, with it taking 5,000 of them to weigh an ounce.

On completion of this operation, the hummingbird is then ready for release.  Kelly simply puts it in his palm, (or yours) for a brief few seconds of rest, then the bird flies off.  It is quite a thrill to watch.  In one photo below, an Anna’s Hummingbird is resting on Ann’s palm seconds before taking flight.  Click on all photos to see enlargements.

After getting her new band, this Anna's Hummingbird gets a drink with the help of Bryan before taking flight.

After getting his new band, this Anna’s Hummingbird gets a drink with the help of Kelly before taking flight.

Anna's Hummingbird rest briefly in the palm of Ann's hand before taking flight.

Anna’s Hummingbird rest briefly in the palm of Ann’s hand before taking flight.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

After watching these proceedings, Kelly and Carolyn suggested that we go down to Lajitas and check on the hummingbirds that hang around the restaurant area there.  There we were very fortunate to see three new hummingbirds that we had never seen before.  Not only the Anna’s, which was new to us, but both a Broad-billed and a Blue-throated Hummingbird.  All three of them lifers for me and Ann, bringing our life-list total to 267.  (but who counts?)  Plus we spotted a Black-chinned and a Rufous Hummingbird.  In all, there were five different hummingbird species in that one area.  A real bonanza.

Since we were there just for the weekend, we didn’t do too much birding per se, except for a quick trip to the Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend NP to do check out a few.

But for the weekend, I think we saw a total of around 40 birds, and added the ones below to our 2014 list.  Our goal is 210.

#44  American Kestrel

#45  Eastern Meadowlark

#46  Common Raven

#47  Loggerhead Shrike

#48  Mountain Bluebird

#49  Sage Thrasher

#50  Scaled Quail

#51  Black-chinned Hummingbird

#52  Anna’s Hummingbird  (lifer)

#53  Eurasian Collared Dove

#54  Blue-throated Hummingbird  (lifer)

#55  Rufous Hummingbird

#56  Broad-billed Hummingbird  (lifer)

#57  Northern Flicker

#58  Pyrrhuloxia

#59  Townsend Warbler

#60  Chihuahuan Raven

#61  Great Roadrunner

#62  Ruby-crowned Kinglet

#63  Cactus Wren