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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A Pre-Valentine’s Day Post


I am getting back into my routine since returning from the Big Bend.  The weather is moving up and down like a Disney roller-coaster.  93° last Saturday.  Maybe 45° today.  No matter, I try to get out for an hour or two, or three nearly every day.  The birding is improving, but having said that, it will probably be another wait for the spring birds to arrive.  But let me show you the photos I have gotten since my last post.  As usual, click on any image to see some nice enlargements.

Here in San Angelo we do have American Robins pretty regularly, but this year it seems there many, many more than in the past.  I see them almost everywhere I go.

American Robin - 1/640 sec. @ f6.3, +0,7 EV, ISO 3200, 450mm

American Robin – 1/640 sec. @ f6.3, +0,7 EV, ISO 3200, 450mm

This House Finch and the above robin were photographed early in the morning at the same darkish location, which accounted for the high ISO of 3200.  As you can see, they are sitting on the same branch.

House Finch, female - 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, +0,7 EV, ISO 3200, 550mm.

House Finch, female – 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, +0,7 EV, ISO 3200, 550mm.

I love to photograph the Northern Cardinals.  They are so photogenic, it is hard to get a bad image.

Northern Cardinal - 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 3200, 450mm

Northern Cardinal – 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 3200, 450mm

Loggerhead Shrike, AKA ‘the butcherbird’.  They love to impale their prey on a thorn or barbed wire before consuming them.

Loggerhead Shrike - 1/640 sec. @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 200, 600mm.

Loggerhead Shrike – 1/640 sec. @ f8, +0.7 EV, ISO 200, 600mm.

The Belted Kingfishers are not innocent either.  They dive and hit the water at about 100MPH, stabbing their fish, and giving themselves a nasty headache.

Belted Kingfisher, female. 1/640 sec. @ f7.1, +0.7 EV, ISO 400, 600mm.

Belted Kingfisher, female. 1/640 sec. @ f7.1, +0.7 EV, ISO 400, 600mm.

This Carolina Wren gave me a nice pose early one morning.

Carolina Wren - 1/1000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 640, 600mm.

Carolina Wren – 1/1000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 640, 600mm.

Last week one day, we ventured out to about a dozen miles west of Eldorado, where this Burrowing Owl was making it’s home in a culvert.  When we arrived, we saw from about 100 yards down the road.  He was standing looking our way, like he was waiting for us to show up.  As we neared he jumped into the culvert, and turned and peeked out to look our way.  Of about 100 images this was one of my personal favorites.  My camera and lens gave me an excellent quality file to work with, and I was able to crop close and give you this portrait.

Burrowing Owl - 1/1600 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 400, 600mm.

Burrowing Owl – 1/1600 sec. @ f7.1, ISO 400, 600mm.

One day at San Angelo State Park ann spotted this Merlin off to the right of the car.  I only had time to shoot across Ann’s lap through her window.  The early morning gave me some good light.

Merlin - 1/2000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 1000, 600mm.

Merlin – 1/2000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 1000, 600mm.

Before we left the state park, we spotted this Red-tailed Hawk perched.  As I was starting to shoot, from about80 yards away, it decided to take flight.  I was ready, and I filled the frame with my lens.

Red-tailed Hawk - 1/2000 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 320, 600mm.

Red-tailed Hawk – 1/2000 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 320, 600mm.

I hope you enjoyed this post and all of the photographs.  I am working on adding images to my FineArtamerica store where you can buy prints and other items with my photography.

You may want to start a collection of my coffee mugs with birds or some of my landscape images.  They make fine gifts.  To browse and/or purchase, Click HERE.

One year ends, another begins……


Well, here it is the 29th of December and another year of blogging is about to come to a close.  I had threatened to stop with my final post of the year, but because of much encouragement from friend and readers, I will continue on.  This will be my 940th post, so maybe I can make it to 1,000 in 2017, and I will re-evaluate again when that time comes.

I must boast a bit about my success with this blog which is now in it’s 7th year.  Of the top 1,000 birding blogs on the web, I am number 190 as of this date.  I have had 209,856 hits by 46,707 viewers.  Of those, 2,318 have actually subscribed, where they will get an e-mail notification when I publish a post.  You can be a subscriber by clicking on ‘sign me up’.

But enough about me.  Let’s mention you, my loyal readers, that keep me encouraged by your likes and comments.  I love comments.  Feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts and feelings.

I can’t write a post with including a few photographs, which, I believe have improved greatly over history of this blog.  Of course that probably comes from practice, improved equipment and techniques.  Her are a few that I captured since Christmas day.

My favorite of this bunch is this Common Yellowthroat.  A very tiny, shy and elusive bird.  In my previous post, I had mentioned that Ann and I were getting up early to search for birds.  I can admit now that looking for the yellowthroat was our real reason.  Our persistence and patience paid off.  We parked every morning near a wet, reedy area, and watched and waited.  On the day after Christmas, he decided to gift us with a two minute viewing, early, right after sun-up.  Click on this and the following photos to see beautiful enlargements.

Common Yellowthroat - 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 5000.

Common Yellowthroat – 1/800 sec. @ f6.3, +0.7 EV, ISO 5000.

In the same area, this marsh wren was scurrying around.  I captured him a bit earlier than the yellowthroat, so the light was a bit darker.  That resulted in a high ISO number of 6400.  I used some software to decrease the color noise so the image is not great quality.  But I like the composition so here it is for your critique.

Marsh Wren - 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 6400.

Marsh Wren – 1/500 sec. @ f6.3, ISO 6400.

Across the water, this Black-crowned Night Heron looks like he is watching for a bus to come along.

Black-crowned Night Heron - 1/1000 sec. @f6.3, +0.3, ISO 2500.

Black-crowned Night Heron – 1/1000 sec. @f6.3, +0.3, ISO 2500.

I can’t resist trying to get photos of any Ruby-crowned Kinglet that I come across.  This one at Spring Creek Park.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 1/500 sec. @ f6.3. +0.3 EV, ISO 3200.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1/500 sec. @ f6.3. +0.3 EV, ISO 3200.

Near the entrance to Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo, we spotted this Belted Kingfisher in a tree overlooking the water.  There were several twigs, etc, blocking him, but the spot focusing on my Canon 7D Mark II came through.

Belted Kingfisher - 1/1000 sec. @ f11, +0.3 EV, ISO 2500.

Belted Kingfisher – 1/1000 sec. @ f11, +0.3 EV, ISO 2500.

Another image of the always popular Northern Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal. 1/500 sec. @f f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 3200.

Northern Cardinal. 1/500 sec. @f f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 3200.

As you have probably noticed, I love trying to photograph the tiny birds.  This one an Orange-crowned Warbler, scratching in the grass and weeds.

Orange-crowned Warbler - 1/1000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 2500.

Orange-crowned Warbler – 1/1000 sec. @ f6.3, +0.3 EV, ISO 2500.

Out at San Angelo State Park, we got lucky and saw two raptors.  The first is a beautiful Red-tailed Hawk, that co-operated and posed for this nice image.

Red-tailed Hawk - 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3 EV, ISO 160.

Red-tailed Hawk – 1/1000 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3 EV, ISO 160.

My last photo before heading home, turned out to be one of my best images of a Merlin.  It wasn’t easy, and I almost deleted it when I saw the original in the computer.  Have a look:

Original merlin photo

Original merlin photo

He was about 300 yards away, and he looked tiny in the viewfinder.  With the naked eye it looked impossible to get a photo.  Fortunately, with my camera sitting solidly on my window sill, I was able to get that lone single focus dot on the breast of the bird.  I got home and loaded it into my computer.  First, I lightened it up.  I was surprised that the image was very usable.  This is what I came up with after really tight cropping, sharpening it up a bit, and adding some contrast.  Not bad, if I do say so myself. 🙂

 

Merlin - 1/1250 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3 EV, ISO 250.

Merlin – 1/1250 sec. @ f7.1, +0.3 EV, ISO 250.

Okay, that’s it for this, my final post of 2016.  I want to wish each and every one of you a fantastic Happy New Year of birding and shooting.

 

Pre-Super Bowl Images


I don’t know if I will go out birding tomorrow, so I will show you some photos from yesterday and this morning.  Of course, there is the possibility that I may get out Sunday morning, but if I do, I will show them in my Post-Super Bowl post. 🙂

These photos were all captured at Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo.  In no particular order, as we were just taking our time driving around.  Click on any image to see enlargements.

This is one of the bluest Western Bluebird that I have ever seen.  It was probably due to the early morning light.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

We saw this Red-tailed Hawk across the water about 200 yards away.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

He didn’t hang around long.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Also across the water about the same distance, this Great Horned Owl sat on a bunch mistletoe in a mesquite tree.  We had been following him around all morning.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Last but not least, was the cute little Orange-crowned Warbler perched in the early morning sun.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

That is probably it for the weekend.  Hope you enjoyed the photos.

Happy Birding!!

Red-tailed Hawk – My favorite raptor


One of my favorite targets when I go hunting with my camera, is the Red-tailed Hawk.  I love all the raptors, but this one always makes me excited when I see one.  Then, I am all over myself, trying to get that special image.

Yesterday, I got another opportunity.  Cruising by the water at Spring Creek Park we spotted this Red-tailed Hawk across the water, about 150 yards away.  I wheeled the car around so my driver’s side would be directly across from his perch in a tree.

I put my SafariSack, a large bean-bag window rest, on the sill and rested my Canon 7D Mk II and Tamron 150-600mm lens on it.  As I focused in and started to press the shutter, he flew off the my left.  I continued to press the shutter as I did a quick pan.  I got off about ten shots in the space of two seconds.  This image is the only one of him that was completely within the frame, and even then he was in the upper left of the image.  I had to crop roughly 40 percent to get this composition.

The remarkable thing about it, my shutter speed was only 1/640 sec. At an aperture of f8 and the ISO at 250, it turned out to be an amazingly sharp photo.  I believe it to be one of my best of a Red-tailed Hawk.  This is pretty much how it came out of the camera.  No adjustments needed except for a minor touch-up with FocusMagic.  Did I ever tell you how much I love my Canon 7D Mark II?

Red-tailed Hawk in flight.

Red-tailed Hawk

This morning Ann and I took a quick trip out there again.  Really cold, about 32° when we got there.  No raptors, save for a Cooper’s Hawk that did a flyover.

I did get a few small bird photos.  This juvenile White-crown Sparrow decided to show me his back-side.

White-crown Sparrow - juvenile

White-crown Sparrow – juvenile

An American Goldfinch perched on a tree branch a few feet away from the car.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

The Gray Catbird is still hanging around, too.  This image as he was spotted deep in the brush.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Visiting the Big Bend – Part Two


In this part two or our visit to the Big Bend area,(click for Part one) I am going to show you more of the scenic grandeur of the place.  I know that this blog is mainly about birds, but sometime I just have to get out of that mode for awhile.  Not that I didn’t watch for birds during our visit.  We saw a total of 35 species, but I was also overwhelmed with all of the beauty.  You will understand when you see this scene to welcome you in the morning.

Big Bend Sunrise

Big Bend Sunrise

What a way to start the day.  For breakfast we headed to La Posada Milagro in the Terlingua ghost town for their fantastic burritos and steaming hot coffee.

Energized and ready to go, we piled in the car and headed out.  We entered the Big Bend National Park and headed for Ross Maxwell Highway.  It is a route that will take us past some high scenic views and on down to Santa Elena Canyon.  Again, I will mostly let the photos do all of the talking, as to be perfectly honest, I am not an expert on the geologic materials of the land.  A lot of lava created formations dot the area.

This highway skirts the western side of the Chisos Mountains and there are some great scenic pull-offs.  Such as the Sotol Vista pull-off where this photo was taken.  From an altitude of what I surmise to be about 6500 feet, you can see Santa Elena Canyon, about 20 miles distant.

View from Sotol Vista

View from Sotol Vista

This is Tuff Canyon, so named for the white material that is beneath most of the topsoil in the region.  There is a hiking path to the bottom of the canyon, but we were content to just roam the rim.

Tuff Canyon

Tuff Canyon

Tuff and volcanic rock formation.

Tuff and volcanic rock formation.

This next photograph, I have named “Texas Moonscape”.  One of my favorite photos of the trip.

"Texas Moonscape"

“Texas Moonscape”

A lone Loggerhead Shrike surveys the desert for maybe a snack.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Old ruins are scattered all over the big bend area, many of them are in this national park.

Old ruins and Cerro Castelan in the background.

Old ruins and Cerro Castellan in the background.

Farther along the way, we passed the Cottonwood Campground.  It is a popular RV campsite, but one of best birding areas in the park.  We decided to spend some time checking it out.  We saw many species there including this Vermilion Flycatcher.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

Arriving at Santa Elena Canyon is an awesome sight to behold.  This image shows the Rio Grande exiting from it’s nine mile run through the canyon and heading downstream to cut more canyons on it’s journey to the Gulf of Mexico.  These walls reach a height of 1,500 feet.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

After spending some time at the canyon, we decided to return by the Old Maverick Road.  It is a thirty mile rough, washboard road that will eventually return us to the park entrance, but not before showing some amazing scenery and this old Mexican Jacal.  A man by the name of Gilberto Luna built it when he was first married.  He lived there all of his life, had five marriages and many children, finally dying in 1947 at the ripe old age of 108.  So if you do the math, this jacal is roughly 150 years old.  The National Park Service manages to keep in close to original condition.

Gilberto's Jacal

Gilberto’s Jacal

That pretty much concludes our visit.  Of course, this is condensed as I had taken several hundred images.  But I believe I covered the main points.  I hope you enjoyed the journey,

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

and on the way out of the park, I managed to capture this amazing beauty.  What a great way to end the trip.  I can never get enough photographs of the beautiful Red-tailed Hawk.

Click any image to see beautiful enlargements.

Happy Birding!

 

Visiting the Big Bend – Part One


We just returned from a glorious trip to the Big Bend area of Texas.  That is the place where the Rio Grande makes that bend from flowing southeast to flowing northeasterly.  In that Vee shaped area is the Big Bend National Park, and adjacently, Big Bend Ranch State Park.  It is a harsh, isolated, but beautiful environment.  There you will find the wild Rio Grande cutting through narrow canyons with cliffs up to 2,ooo feet high.  The Chisos Mountain range is the center piece of the national park, with high peaks laced with hiking trails and home to black bear, mountain lions, and other wildlife.

This is where Ann and I, along with our dear friends from Tennesse, spent five wonderful days.  In this post, and part 2, I am going to show you some of the scenic land, along with some of the avian activity.  I will, for the most part, let my photos do the talking. They are random highlights from our adventure, and in no particular order.  Also, click on any image to see enlargements.

This is a view of the Chisos Mountains from about twenty miles.

Road to the Chisos

Road to the Chisos

A Cactus Wren looking for meal in the bark of a desert plant.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Greater Roadrunners abound in the area.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Along the Rio Grande is a trail that leads to a natural hot springs bath, built back in the early 1900’s by J. O. Langford.  He was seeking relief for his own ailing health.  The original rock walls are still in place, and tourists can sit and dip their feet or slip on a bathing suit and go all the way.

Indian Pictographs

Indian Pictographs

Hwy 170, of which a portion is in Big Bend Ranch State Park, is known as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country.  The following two images are from that highway.  Across the river, of course, is Mexico.

Along the Rio Grande

Along the Rio Grande

Colorado Canyon

Colorado Canyon

A Say’s Phoebe perches on an ocotillo branch.

Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

When driving through the Big Bend stay alert.  You may see a scene like this sneak up on you.  A Red-tailed Hawk, having lunch in some high rock croppings.

Red-tailed Hawk at lunch.

Red-tailed Hawk at lunch.

I hope you are enjoying our journey, so far.  I am working at processing more of my photos from the trip and will be publishing Part Two in a few days.  Watch for it!!