Caution- Birding can be addictive……


A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on the hazards of getting addicted to birding.  You will enjoy this post more if you click here to read it first.  I think you will enjoy both.

Since then, I still have not kicked the habit.  In fact, it may have gotten worse.  I bore my friends with information when I spot a new bird.  I carry three bird guides in the car and Ann keeps her daily journal there, too.  My cameras are always at the ready, carefully stowed in the back seat, because I am also a fanatic about photographing every bird I can.

Lewis' Woodpecker Very rare here.  Got a phone call, hurried to find the bird.  It was gone the next day.

Lewis’ Woodpecker
Very rare here. Got a phone call, hurried to find the bird. Found it in local park.  It was gone the next day.

We drive through local parks, down isolated highways, crawl through weeds, with my camera on my back, always looking at trees, power lines, and utility poles.  We spot a stray leaf on a dead tree, and exclaim, “There’s a bird!”, then take a closer look with our binoculars, only to be disappointed.

Acorn Woodpecker 320 miles away for this shot.

Acorn Woodpecker
320 miles away for this shot.

I think my phone number must be on some peoples’ speed dial, because I get calls informing me that there is an unusual bird somewhere.  We jump in the car and head off, with our hearts pounding, wondering what will we get to see.  Will it be a rare bird, or just an ordinary sparrow.  The fun is in the hunt.

Ruddy Ground Dove Very rare here, drove only 20 miles after getting a phone call about it.

Ruddy Ground Dove
Very rare here, drove only 20 miles after getting a phone call about it.

For the shot of the Ruddy Ground Dove, I got a call from a friend of mine.  It had been seen at nearby Dove Creek.  For some reason, it had joined a bunch of Inca Doves and running with them.

Hermit Thrush This is the first one I ever saw at Eldorado, Texas.

Hermit Thrush
This is the first one I ever saw at Eldorado, Texas.

We were invited to my dear friend Shannon’s place near Houston.  It was a bonanza of birds there.  I saw my first Pileated Woodpecker and White-tailed Hawk there.  Also photographed some birds that I could never see around here in San Angelo, Texas, such as the White Ibis.

White-faced Ibises - 400 miles away near Houston, Texas

White Ibises – 400 miles away near Houston, Texas.  Nearly fell in the creek there.

Our friends, the Johnsons, called us a couple of years ago about a Brown Pelican at the water treatment ponds down at Eldorado, Texas, about 40 miles south of here..  It is normally indigenous to the Texas gulf coast, but got off course and ended up there.  We were on the way to eat dinner, if I remember correctly, but we turned the car around and headed south.

Brown Pelican rare to local area.

Brown Pelican
rare to local area.

As I said, birding can be hazardous to your health.  I am looking for a bumper sticker that says, “I Brake for Birds”.   I also stop in the middle of highways, make U-turns, and drive across open pastures.

For all of that, my life list is climbing.  Not very fast, as I have only been addicted for four years, but it is up to 261, if you are interested.

As for a cure for my addiction?  My doctor said to “take two pictures and call me in the morning”.

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.

Phainopepla

  • 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!! 🙂

Tale of The Take – Ruddy Ground Dove


I have had a lot of people ask me all along about how I got some of my photos.  I got to thinking that there is a story behind almost all of my images, so what better than to relate to you, my readers, these tales.  So today I start the series, “The Tale of the Take”.   Catchy name, don’t ya think? 🙂

First up will be my exciting narration of how I was able to obtain this image of a very rare Ruddy Ground Dove.  As with a lot of my photos, a lot of luck was involved.

Ruddy Ground Dove

On Sunday afternoon, February 10, 2009, I got an e-mail forwarded from a local birder.  It was from Don and Linda Burt who live on property at Dove Creek, near here.  They gave a phone number and invited anyone to call or come see a rare Ruddy Ground Dove on their place.

Of course, since I am the consumate “have camera, will travel” guy, I gave them a call.  Sure, they said, c’mon out.  I loaded my equipment into our Mercury mini-van, and Ann and I headed out.

Now, at that time, I was pretty new at this past-time of birding.  I absolutely had no idea what a Ruddy Ground Dove looked like.  I didn’t even have the sense to look for pictures of one.  Fortunately, upon arrival, we found half of the Abilene chapter of the Audubon Society already there looking for it.  They thought they saw it in some trees, but couldn’t say for sure.

This was about 2:30PM or so.  Don Burt called me aside and told me to be patient.  He pointed to a fence gate about 30 yards away.  Just wait, he said, because at about 4:00 a flock of Inca Doves would gather near that fence, and the Ruddy Ground Dove would be among them.

I went ahead and got my Canon 40D, my current camera then, out of the car.  I attached my Canon 500mm super-tele with a 1.4 teleconverter.  I mounted the rig onto my Bogen-Manfrotto tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head.  I got it into position for a possible shot, then sat in the shade and waited.  So did the group from Abilene.

Sure enough, right on time, a bunch of Inca Doves flew in and started feeding near that fence.  The Audubon people pointed out to me the Ruddy Ground Dove.  I sure was happy that I wasn’t alone or I probably wouldn’t have recognized it.  I found it in my viewfinder and was able to get several shots.   Pertinent photo data:  Canon 40D SLR.  Shot at f5.6 for 1/1600 second.  ISO 400 in Aperture Priority.

The Ruddy Ground Dove is very rare in the United States, but sightings are on the increase, as they move up from Mexico.  As you can see, except for the markings, it could have been easily mistaken for a Mourning Dove by a novice like me.

Watch for my next thrilling, exciting, Tale of the Take.