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.

 

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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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Catch me live, in living color…..


To begin this post, I would like to let you know that yesterday, Thursday June 29, I was honored to be featured and interviewed on a local TV program, Concho Vally Live on KLST.  I spoke about photography, and showed several of my photographs.  Here is a link to see that interview if you want to finally meet and see me up close.  You will see that I am not the handsome hunk that you thought I was.  http://www.conchovalleyhomepage.com/concho-valley-live/photography-talk-with-bob-zeller-concho-valley-live-june-29-2017/754138109

It went pretty well except the person in charge, loaded the photos so they would loop rather than show individually, so each photo showed for only 5 seconds.  You will see that I had a difficult task to try to describe  of them.  Ashley Cunha did a great job doing the interview, though.   But I must say, she had the advantage of reading from the teleprompter, whereas I had to wing it.  I hope you enjoy seeing the show.

In other news, many of you have probably heard about the storm that hit San Angelo a week ago.  It was really devastating, millions of dollars damage through out the city.  We were one of the lucky ones.  Our flag pole got snapped in half, a portion of our fence blew down, and our roof lost a couple of shingles.  Other parts of town lost building, roofs, signage, etc.

San Angelo State Park, where we do most of our birding, and where I get many of my photographs, sustained major damage.  Trees uprooted, RVs destroyed or damaged.  The trails are impassable for the present, and of course closed until cleanup can be completed.  The park itself, was closed for about three days, then it opened yesterday, but only to travel paved roads.  Most of the RV sites have been cleaned up.  Here are a few photos that showed the damage.  The bird blind took a “direct hit’ I was told.  The roof was partially blown off and the fence was down.  I wasn’t permitted to take the trail back there to get a photo.

San Angelo SP storm damage

San Angelo SP  storm damage.

San Angelo SP storm damage

San Angelo SP

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.  One lady obtained a cut on her head, when she got slammed around when her RV trailer got tipped over.  For me, this was one of the worst storms I had seen in years, in terms of the widespread damage.

This morning Ann and I finally made a serious attempt to see some birds and for me to get a couple of photographs.  Birding was slow but a couple of shots made it worthwhile.  Here are those results.

Swainson’s Hawk

Common Nighthawk

That is all for this post.  To see more photos, or make purchases, click the “Bob’s Gallery” button at the top of the page.  Enjoy!

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.