A Happy Cloudy Day…..What??


I awoke Sunday morning, and to my pleasant surprise the skies were cloudy.  Now, you may say what’s the big deal with that.  Well, I will tell you.  With the overcast skies, the light will be great for photography.  With cloudy skies, you avoid harsh shadows or bright hot spots that you get on bright sunny days.  Having said that, most of my photography is done on those bright sunny days.  Here in west Texas, if I had to wait for those cloudy days, my cameras would lay collecting dust.  Like the song says, “…and the skies are not cloudy all day……”

The reason for my happiness.  I had decided that since I haven’t been feeling too well, I would just go sit in the blind at San Angelo State Park for an hour or two.  Now that blind; the way it is situated, has terrible light in the morning sun.  Trees break up the light into either bright sun or dark shadows.  Not many areas of open shade.  To get any photos of birds, they usually are bright on one side and dark on the other.  In other words, it is difficult to get a nice photo with well-balanced light.

But even away from the blind, I would prefer cloudy days over sunny days.  Nice even light on all subjects and saturated color.  Now I am speaking as a bird photographer.  I am not looking for nice blue skies, as that is not a necessity for bird photos.  For landscapes and scenics, well that is a different subject altogether.

All of the photos that you see here in this post were photographed on that cloudy Sunday morning.

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Yellow Warbler

This Yellow Warbler surprised us when it made an appearance in a nearby tree.  It is migrating from the south of Mexico and heading for it’s summer residence in middle United States.

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Northern Bobwhite

This Northern Bobwhite just wandered in from some nearby brush area.  Notice no harsh light from the rocky background.

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Northern Cardinal

Normally it would be difficult to get nice even light on this Northern Cardinal.  The reds really glare in open bright sunshine.

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Mourning Dove

For some reason or other, I usually pass up photos of doves as they are so plentiful, but the overcast light brought out the nice colors.

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House Sparrow

The same goes for this bird.  I have never seen a House Sparrow look so beautiful.

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Curve-billed Thrasher

I love this mean-looking bird.  There’s a new sheriff in town

These photos were all shot at an ISO of 1600.  Shutter speed was about 1/1000 sec. with the aperture wide open.  Canon 7D Mk II with a Tamron 150-600mm Gen 2 zoom lens.  Cropping and post editing with Photoshop CS5.

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Birding advice for San Angelo State Park


I live only three miles from San Angelo State Park, and most of you know from my posts, that I frequent the place four to five times a week.  I get a large percentage of my bird photographs there, but not where you would suspect.

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Red-tailed Hawk

Occasionally, I stop at the bird blind to see what species might have stopped by.  During those visits I often see birders from out of town, that are camping there. I have found that most of them go only to the blind to see birds.  They don’t know what they are missing.

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Golden-fronted Woodpecker

I don’t know exact numbers, but I would suspect that there are 200-300 species that can be seen in the park, depending on the time of year.  As you know, they come and go with the migration and changing seasons.  But just a handful visit the blind.  That area mostly draws seed-eaters.  Remember, I said MOSTLY.  Others will stop by on occasion, because of the water feature.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

On a regular basis, you won’t see hawks, owls, egrets, flycatchers and other non-seed eating species.  Oh, yes, as I said, on a rare occasion one of these will stop by, if only for a drink of water, or to snatch an innocent sparrow.

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Great Horned Owl

I would recommend to leave your campsite, get in your car and just drive slowly over the twenty something miles of roads.  Watch the trees and brush for movement and you can get some pleasant surprises.  It is always fun to come upon some warblers, kinglets or gnatcatchers darting around.

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American White Pelicans

O.C. Fisher Lake is another great spot.  Pelicans, egrets, herons, grebes and other water birds can be seen at or from the shorelines.

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American Avocet

So my advice is to spend a couple of hours just cruising the park.  You will be surprised how many bird you can see.  After that, go to the bird blind and pad your lists. 🙂

For prints of these and some of my other work click HERE.

Until my next post, HAPPY BIRDING!!!

 

Strictly Sparrows


This is not meant to be an extension of my recent post on photographing tiny birds.  It just happened that way.  Ann and I recently spent a couple of days birding at both Spring Creek Park and San Angelo State Park. What I came away with in the photograph department were several of the sparrow species.  One was a lifer, number 300 on my life list.  I never thought that I would ever reach that number.  That bird happened to be a Swamp Sparrow, that is an uncommon visitor to the Concho Valley.

We were watching over a small, wet area, bordered by reeds, etc.  After observing othere small birds, sparrows, wrens, etc., the Swamp Sparrow suddenly made an appearance, but only for about 25 seconds.  I was able to get a few shots, then it was gone.

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Swamp Sparrow

Another specie is the Fox Sparrow.  It, too, is on that uncommon list.  We saw this bird at San Angelo State Park.  We have several favorite brushy areas that we favor for watching for birds.  At one of these areas, this bird also made a quick appearance.  I was quite surprised and delighted.  The Fox Sparrow is one of my favorite sparrows that I get to see only rarely.

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Fox Sparrow

The following are a few of the more common sparrows seen in this area.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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White-crowned Sparrow

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Field Sparrow

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Song Sparrow

But we also saw a few more tiny birds that I was able to photograph………

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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Dark-eyed Junco

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White-breasted Nuthatch

………a few birds that are not so tiny.

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American Pipit

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Pyrrhuloxia

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Spotted Towhee.

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Red-winged Blackbird, female

That is all for this post, and I hope you enjoyed these photographs.  Please comment if you like.  It’s always nice to hear from my readers.

 

Photographing the tiny birds


I love getting out in the field and photographing raptors when I can find them, but there is something to be said about shooting the tiny birds, too.  It is such a challenge.  Most of them can only be found in dense brush or small trees.  I have found that I get the best results if I just use only a single focus point when using my Canon &D Mk II.  If I use more like the five-point or nine-point, there is too much clutter in the branches to get the bird in focus.  Of course, with the single-point, the trick is to get that fleeting little bird in the viewfinder.  Also for your information, I use my Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens.  For my settings I shoot Shutter Priority at usually 1/1600 or 1/2000 sec.  I set the ISO at Auto, at a maximum of 1600, and the aperture just floats pretty much wide open.  I keep my thumb on the big dial on the back of the camera, so I can adjust the Exposure Value quickly if needed.

My post-processing is quite simple.  It is a secret recipe handed down.  I just crop for composition, then adjust the lighting and/or the contrast, and perhaps tweak the color saturation.  I then adjust the sharpening to compensate for any loss when I crop close.

I have been able to come upon a couple of areas where I have been successful in spotting several species of those tiny variety.  Here are a few of those, plus a few of my other images that I captured the past ten days.  I hope you enjoy.

The Pine Warbler is somewhat rare for the San Angelo area, although they are spotted occasionally.  This one surprised me when I was observing an area of cat-tails near Lake Nasworthy.  It is the first one of this species that I have seen this season.

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Pine Warbler

Nearby in the same area, this House Wren popped into view.  Wrens sometime give me a hard time in trying to identify them.  This was early morning, and at first I thought it was a Marsh Wren, but after perusing my Stokes’ guide I was able to discern the correct ID.

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House Wren

I got real lucky with the light when photographing this Bewick’s Wren.  Again, we were early getting to San Angelo State Park, and the morning sun was at a perfect angle.

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Bewick’s Wren

The goldfinches are starting to arrive.

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American Goldfinch

The Lincoln’s Sparrow is one of my favorites of that species.  Easily identified with that beige coloring in the breast.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

Another easily identified sparrow, the White-crowned.

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White-crowned Sparrow

We were in an area favored by the Spotted Towhee when this Green-tailed Towhee showed.  I was quite thrilled as it is another rarity here in the Concho Valley.  The wind was blowing a bit, and it fluffed up it’s crown.

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Green-tailed Towhee

As I said, we were in the area so this Spotted Towhee decided it needed to show off a little bit, too.  He appeared on an upper branch so I was able to get a nice background of the nice blue sky.

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Spotted Towhee

Before we left to come home, I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk making a fly-by.  I couldn’t resist getting this last shot.

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Red-tailed Hawk

That is all for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my narrative and the photographs.  I appreciate any and all comments you might have.

Enjoy the snowfall. 🙂

Happy Birding!!

Bob and Ann’s Great Adventure at San Angelo State Park


Ann and I are retired, as you all know.  Ann, after 38 years as office manager for the local Coca-cola Bottling Company;  me after two tours with the U.S. Air Force and several years as a self-employed business man.  Once, an owner of a lawn and landscape company and twelve years as a contractor for the San Angelo Standard-Times.  Now, even though I am retired, I am still a successful wildlife photographer, being published in several national publications.  But you can read more about my other shenanagans by clicking on many of the buttons at the top of this blog.

Now you may be wondering what we do with all of this time on our hands.  Ann is 78 years of age and I have just turned 83.  As you know we both have a love of wildlife, specifically birds at the present time.  So, since we live only three miles from San Angelo State Park, that is where we spend much of our time.

Our daily routine goes something like this.  I am usually the first to awake, around 6:00AM.  I get the coffee pot going, turn on the news to Fox and Friends, and check my iPad to see who is beating me at Words with Friends.  By 7:00, I have usually disturbed Ann enough that she awakens and joins me for another cup of coffee.

We discuss our plans for the day.  That usually includes discussing a birding trip, usually to the state park. So we decide to put off any chores that should be done around the house.  It can always be done the next day.  We get dressed, load up my cameras and assorted equipment.  She gets snacks and her bird listing note-book.  We head to Rosa’s Mexican Cafe for a breakfast burrito and taco to go.

We have an annual pass so it is economical to spend time at the state park, and we also have access to the gate combination in case we get there early.  After going through the gate, we head for one of the two boat ramps that are accessible to O. C. Fisher Lake.  There are about a dozen more ramps to the lake, but because of the extreme low level of the lake, they are about 500 yards or more from the water.  We like to park and watch for waterfowl while eating our breakfast.  We can usually get to see Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, American Coots, Great Egrets and assorted sandpipers and small sparrows.  One particular day, we were out of the car as I was trying to photograph some American White Pelicans.  Ann was a couple of feet behind me.  A Bobcat rushed through, chasing a rabbit, and almost knocked Ann off of her feet.

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Great Egret

When we have finished eating, we start our drive through the park, driving slowly at about 5 MPH.  This particular morning we decide to head for the Isabel Harte mulit-use area.  Trails, picnic tables, etc.   Taking some back roads to get there we can sometime see hawks, owls and other small birds.  One particular area we slow almost to a stop and look carefully for Verdins or Yellow-breasted Chats that have been seen.  We are always looking for that next surprise.

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Great Horned Owl

Once at the Isabel Harte area, we head for a favorite spot for warblers and other tiny birds.  It is basically just a large shrubby area.  We park so we have a good view.  With patience we can see and photographer, Orange-crowned Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatchers, etc.  It is always great fun to try to photography these flighty tiny birds.

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Orange-crowned Warbler

After spending some time there, we reverse ourselves and head back for the other side of that area of the park.  On the way we may see Bobwhites and Greater Roadrunners.

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Greater Roadrunner

Numerous Loggerhead Shrikes.

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Loggerhead Shrike

Eventually we reach the other usuable boat ramp that I mentioned earlier.  From there we can sight American Pelicans far out on the lake.  Also there are  more coots, Ring-billed Gulls and Red-winged Blackbirds.  On occasion we have seen Peregrine Falcons streaking across the lake.  About ten years ago when there was more water in the lake, three Roseate Spoonbills arrived and spent a week.  A  rarity, as they are usually found near the gulf coast.  But that is the fun of birding.  You just never know when you might get a nice surprise show up in front of you.

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Belted Kingfisher

Our drives through the park usually take about three hours, depending on how much time I spend getting (or not getting) photographs.  We stop at the blind sometimes if there we are not too tired, but we actually have much more fun and and success just on our drives.  We then head for the house, where I download the morning’s images for editing and Ann brings her monthly listings up to date.  Then, how about a little nap. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this little narrative about a day in our lives.  Feel free to comment.  Please. 🙂  We like to hear from you.

Some Miscellaneous Stuff.


My wife just reminded me that I hadn’t posted for quite awhile.  After doing some extensive research, I found that she is correct.  It has been nearly a month.  I guess the dog days of summer got ahold of me.  One thing, though, and I think it is a plausible excuse.  I have some cancerous spots on the left side of my face that I am treating.  That involves smearing that Efudex chemical on my face for three weeks.  It is painful, itchy and downright distracting.  I quit that part of the treatment a couple of days ago, now I am using a soothing ointment to help with the healing.  Hopefully it should be cleared completely in another two to three weeks.

Because I am suppose do avoid the sun during the duration of the treatment, I haven’t been out too much.  But using a wide-brim hat, I did make a few short trips.

Some news items concerning San Angelo State Park.  It has pretty much recovered from the drastic storm that hit it about a month ago.  They are still trimming broken tree branches and doing general cleanup, but overall it looks pretty good.  A few days ago they replaced the busted fence around the bird blind, and repaired some other  damage to the building itself.

Here are a few images that I have gotten during those brief outings to the park.  Click on any one of them to see some nice enlargements.

Greater Roadrunner

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Loggerhead Shrike

Common Nighthawk

Green Heron

Western Kingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Loggerhead Shrike

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – juvenile

The birds are returning to the blind, now that it is back to normal operation again.  The fall and winter birds should be returning very soon.

Summer Birding at San Angelo State Park


I have been birding at San Angelo State Park for about ten years.  I have seen highs and lows.  The highs were in the years of 2007-2008.  Then O. C. Fisher lake started drying up.  Gone were a lot of the water loving birds, herons, ducks, etc.  You could literally walk across the lake and not get your feet wet.  Then there was a program where spraying was done to kill the mesquite.  Those trees and shrubs started dying and losing foliage, which was cover for some birds.  About that time, we had some welcome storms that brought water back into the lake.  The water reached the levels of 2007.  That was welcome as the water fowl started to return.  But now with withering temperatures we had recently, the lake is slowly dropping again.

I am not saying that birding is bad, but the birds that once were plentiful have had their numbers decreasing.   There was a time when we would always see large numbers of hawks, osprey, and other birds of prey.  Now we rarely see a raptor.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.  It is just to show that they are scarce.  In our searches we have discovered one Swainson’s Hawk, two Red-tailed Hawks, and until yesterday we knew of only one Great Horned Owl that was hangout near the Isabell Harte picnic area.  That increased by one yesterday when I tell you of a nice experience we had.

Great Horned Owl

Yesterday morning, Ann and I decided to got to the park early, to check out the bird blind.  It had been recently damaged in a storm, but it was now open again to the public.  We drove down the lane to the structure and turned into the little parking area.  Lo and behold, sitting on the fence next to the blind and about ten feet from the door, was the Great Horned Owl, pictured above.  We sat in the car, or what I call our mobile blind.  I was able to get that shot and several others from there.  I was only about 35 feet from the bird, and to get out of the car would probably spook it.  We observed it for about 10 minutes, not wanting to disturb it.  However, after a few minutes, a volunteer that puts birdseed in the feeders drove up.  That spooked the owl and off he flew.  but it was an amazing experience, to be that close.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

We were at the blind for about an hour and we saw Painted Buntings, Northern Bobwhite,  Northern Cardinals, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Bell’s Vireo, Bewick’s Wren, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, (pictured above) and the usual doves, sparrows, etc.

After leaving the blind, we took a drive all through the park, seeking birds that don’t frequent the blind.  Here are a few photos from those drives during the past couple of weeks.

Blue Grosbeak

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Of course, I have so others that I haven’t processed yet, and some others that are just throw-aways.  But we saw around 40-45 species in the past couple of weeks.  Others that deserve mentions are Common Nighthawks, Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatachers, Black-throated Sparrows, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Greater Roadrunner, Wild Turkey, Pyrrhuloxia, Canyon Towhee, Bullock’s Oriole, plus the various doves and sparrows.

Looking back at what I have written, I suppose that I may have painted a bleak picture of the birding.  But then I realized that most of the birds are here, just not in large numbers, such as the raptors.  You just have to look a bit harder to see them.  But, isn’t that the fun of the hunt????

So, I believe the birding at San Angelo State Park, is alive and well.

For information on purchasing prints click on the Bob’s Gallery button at the top of this page, or this link:https://bobzeller.wordpress.com/photo-album-guide/

Happy Birding!!!