‘Twas the days after Christmas……

I hope all of my readers around the world had a very happy Christmas.  Ann and I did.  We did what we love to do.  We went birding.  We are alone.  No children and nearest relatives over 1,000 miles away.  Our best friends live a bit farther.  But we have no complaints, as we enjoy each other’s company.

So anyway, the weather Christmas was absolutely beautiful  We first ventured to two local parks near Lake Nasworthy.  When I say local, I don’t mean that they are in the middle of town.  More likely they are at the edge of town, out towards our airport.  But since our home is near that edge of town, these parks are just minutes away.  They abound with wildlife; birds, water fowl, wild turkey, and bobcats, etc.

Today, Sunday, I will post here a few of the images that I have gotten the past few days, including Christmas Day and the days after.

This Song Sparrow was in the reeds along the lake.  It looked pretty tiny in my viewfinder.  But I was using my Canon 7D Mark II and a Tamron 150-600mm lens.  I shoot using spot focusing and if I can get that tiny dot on a bird, I can get some good results, images sharp enough that I can crop close for photos like this.  By the way, you can click on any image to see nice enlargements.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

There were plenty of meadowlarks around.  Again, they prefer showing me  their backside instead of their beautiful yellow breasts.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

The Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are rare around here this time of year, but they do sometimes make appearances.  This one was with a group of three, and I had a challenge to get photos.  They were flitting all over the place.  I finally got out of the car and was trying to get shots over the hood.  After a about twenty-five, or more, efforts this was the best of the bunch.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

At the southern end of Spring Creek Park is a small narrow cove.  It was there that Ann and I spotted three Black-crowned Night Herons, one adult and two juveniles.  They were across the water, about 200 yards away.  This juvenile was the only one that I could get a clear open shot.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron – juvenile

Co-incidentally, at the northern end of Middle Concho Park, there is another little cove.  This one much smaller and narrower.  As we were driving along the nearer edge, this Wilson’s Snipe startled me, flew up and across to the far side.  I was able to see where it landed and was able to get some photos, from about 50 yards.  They are little cuties, and I love to photograph them.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Back to driving along the brush line in Spring Creek Park, we came across some more Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  It seems that I have seen more kinglets this year than in the past.  They, like the gnatcatchers, are quick and flighty, never sitting still.  I got lucky again and got this capture.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A Northern Flicker in one of it’s favorite perches.  High above on a dead tree.


Northern Flicker - red-shafted variety.

Northern Flicker – red-shafted variety.

I will end this post with this delightful photo of one of my favorite little birds.  The Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

I do hope you enjoyed these photos from our Christmas weekend.  The weather here in San Angelo is going to have big changes the next couple of days, so I don’t know when I will get out again.  But if the sun shines, and there is no winds to speak of, it can be beautiful even if the temperatures get down real low.  I will be watching for opportunities.

My 2015 list didn’t make the goal of 210 that I had hoped for.  We are still a 185, with the prospects of adding more pretty small.  Too many medical issues kept me in for part of the year.  But in about a week, 2016 will begin with new hopes for a longer list.

I hope to publish another post before the end of the year.

Til then, Happy Birding!

‘T’was the day after New Year’s Day

Today, January 2, was gloomy, freezing, icy, wet, and all that goes with it.  We woke up – again- with everything covered with a coat of ice.  Another day of staying in.  Right??  Wrong.  Hey, we’re birders and we always find a way.  We were anxious to get started on our Big Year 2015 list.

After sitting around all morning trying to stay warm, we decided that we could stay warm in the car.  The streets and roads were not in bad shape as long as we stayed off the high-speed loop and avoided icy bridges.

Osprey - note ice-covered branches.

Osprey – note ice-covered branches.

We waited until about 1:15 and decided to wend our way to the local parks around Lake Nasworthy to see what we could from the car.  We didn’t figure that we would see much.  A very light freezing drizzle accompanied us throughout.  The temperature was steady at 34 degrees F.  I kept the windshield wipers on very slow and we drove slowly through the ice-covered environment.

Surprisingly, we did see a good variety of birds, including the Osprey pictured above.  We avoided driving through the soft mushy ground along the fence lines so we didn’t see any of the small kinglets or wrens that may have been there.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark

There were several grackles, starlings and meadowlarks on the ground.  In the water there was an abundance of Double-crested and a few Neotropic Cormorants.  Frankly, I was surprised to see the Neotropics here this time of year.

We spooked a Red-tailed Hawk from a tree just above the car.  I failed to see him in time to get a photo.  A few Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets made their way through the gloom.  The lighting was definitely the best for photography, not to mention the mist that I tried to stay from the camera.

We drove through the dampness for about three hours and netted 27 species for the day.  It was actually quite fun.  We were cozy in the car, only opening the windows for closer looks, the closing them again.

So we are off and running for the year.  Now to finish up this post, get some sleep and go again tomorrow morning……after an hour of so to get thing thawed again.

Again, you will be able to follow our Big Year progress by clicking on my Big Year 2015 page above.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker and more

Since we had better weather for a couple of days we have been to our local parks a couple of times.  Today, Saturday, of course, the weather has changed, getting cooler then downright cold for the next six days or so.  Anyway, I managed to get a few photos of some of the smaller birds, plus a pretty nice shot of a Great Blue Heron.  I will show them here starting with three images of a Golden-fronted Woodpecker, which I think is one the most photogenic of that species.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

This Savannah Sparrow flew from a tree into the edge of the water.  It is one of my better shots of one of these.  It usually is difficult to get such close-ups of them.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

The same goes for the American Goldfinches such as the one pictured below.  I was lucky with this image.  The bird was in dense brush, inside a fence line.  I think I took 30 shots, before I got one that showed nearly the whole bird in focus.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

There was still a lot of water standing in the roadways and this Western Meadowlark decided that it wasn’t too cold for a bath.

Western Meadowlark - taking a bath

Western Meadowlark – taking a bath

I have always had difficulty getting decent photos of swans.  Usually the ones around here are on open water, making getting good compositions hard to come by.  Also there is the problem of getting the exposure good because of the whiteness of the feathers.  I believe this image of the two Mute Swans is a bit more interesting with the rocks in the background.

Mute Swans

Mute Swans

What can I say about the Great Blue Herons.  I always enjoy trying to get interesting images of them.  We ate at the ‘Golden Arches’ for breakfast early Thursday morning.  It was cold, drizzly, and a bit dark.  When we left the restaurant, Ann noticed the heron in the little arroyo adjacent to the parking lot.  Of course, I just happened to have my camera in the car, so I got it out and managed to get several images in the very low light.  I like the photo especially the way the wet weather saturated the colors.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Click on any of these images to see enlargements.

By the way, I still have copies of my highly acclaimed book, “Birds, Beasts and Buttes”, available.  To order autographed copies, contact me at bobzeller1@aol.com.

American Kestrel and Western Meadowlark

I got this photo of an elusive American Kestrel near the entrance to Spring Creek Park here in San Angelo, Texas.  As I drove up, it was high on a wire off to the right side of my car.  I stopped and contemplated how I would get the shot.  I couldn’t shoot out the passenger side from where I was sitting in the driver’s seat.  I was worried that it would fly off any second.  I decided to take a chance.  I drove slowly forward a couple hundred feet and made a U-turn and came back.  Miraculously, it was still there.  I was shaking as I slowly aimed my Canon EOS 7D with 500mm lens and 1.4 tele-converter out the window, supporting it with my Noodle.  I was able to fire off a half dozen exposures before he flew.  I failed to get the take-off, but I did get this handsome image.5413_web-kestrel-bob-zeller

There were many birds around that morning and I also came up with another shot of a Western Meadowlark.5425_web-meadowlark-bob-zeller

The meadowlark was beneath a tree along with several of it’s friends, and the lighting was tricky.

Both images are cropped heavily.  The kestrel was about 35 feet off the ground and probably a total of about 150 feet away.  The meadowlark was perhaps about 60 feet away on the ground.  Feel free to click on either image to see an enlargement.

Weathered In, Waiting for change…..

We’re still a little weathered in, drizzly, wet cold.  I don’t mind the cold, but for photography, moisture and cameras are not good bedfellows.  But we got out Friday when the sun broke through for an hour or so and I got these pictures to share.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker - female

Golden-fronted Woodpecker photographed from distance of about 40 feet.  Canon 7D, 500mm lens with 1.4 tele-converter.  1/1250 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark, was about 65 feet away.  Almost hidden in the brown grass.  Canon 7D, 500mm lens with 1.4 tele-converter.  1/1600 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.  Hand-held.

Neither photo is gallery quality, but at least, I was able to get outside for awhile and enjoy the nature, albeit from my car.

Bosque Del Apache Trip – Part II

The Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge consists of open fields, copses of trees, and several large lagoons or ponds.  Also included is a board-walk over one watery acre where there are reeds and water birds.  But the main part is the 12-mile driving tour that goes through and around these areas.  You may take your time and do it at your own pace.  You may stop anywhere you desire.  All you have to do is pull to the side of the road.  There are also many permanent viewing areas placed along the drive.  At the visitors center you can use the blinds and cactus gardens to see quail and other birds and small wildlife.  Rather than bore you with a lot of narrative. I will show some more images that I captured there.

But before I do that, I want to relate one our most thrilling experiences.  As we were doing the driving tour, we came upon this large lagoon that was filled with several species of ducks.  I spotted with my naked eye what I at first thought was a rather large white breasted duck.  Then through my binoculars, I realized that it was a hawk trying to sink it’s claws into a Northern Shoveler.  I figured that I might have as much as a minute to grab my 500mm and the tripod.  But just I reached for them, a beautiful Bald Eagle swooped down, snatched the duck from the hawk, and flew away.  An awesome image that I regretted that I wasn’t able to capture.

Gambel's Quail in tree

Cactus Wren

Black-throated Sparrow perched on Cholla

A young Western Meadowlark

Merlin in the brush

Sandhill Cranes in afternoon sun

So those were some of the highlights of the trip photographically, that is.  While in Las Cruces we enjoyed the fine Mexican food that can be found there.  However, a trip by Bob Zeller must have a dramatic ending, shouldn’t it.  After dining at La Posta restaurant in Old Mesilla, I stepped off the curb.  Then after seeing an automobile approaching, I stepped back up on the curb, slipped, fell and badly abraised my arm and hand.  So a trip to Walgreen’s drug store, for bandages, etc. ensued, followed by going back to our room to get cleaned up.  No broken bones, fortunately, but it will be several days before my arm and hand will be without bandages.

Organ Mountains, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Happy Birding!!

Red-naped Sapsucker and Meadowlark

The weather is starting to warm up again.  However, it got down to 16 degrees again this morning.  We checked out the San Angelo State Park, though, as the sun is starting to heat up.  No wind, very nice.  However we didn’t see much bird activity, but we didn’t stay long.  I have to get photo equipment sorted out and then wash the van for our trip to Bosque Del Apache NWR, in New Mexico.   We saw several Western Meadowlarks.  They were just about the only thing stirring, except for some cardinals, sparrows, etc.

Western Meadowlark

Tomorow is our monthly Adult Birding Adventure at the park.  It is lead by yours truly, and we usually have a good turnout of participants.  It consists of spending a little time at the bird blind, then the balance just driving slowly through the park, to see what we can see.  The reason for this is that several species don’t ever frequent the bird blind, and vice versa.  So we never know what we will come across.  Last year one time, we were surprised by a Burrowing Owl sitting on an old Prairie Dog mound.  More recently we saw what we at first thought was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  I managed to get a photograph (below) and that was when we discovered that it was a Red-naped Sapsucker.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Click on either photograph to see an enlargement. 

Happy Birding!!