Return to the Mud Hole

This is a follow-up on my previous post, “Birding at the Mud Hole”.  Ann and I returned to the scene of the crime a couple of days later.  Again there was about the same birds and activity as before.  The water is beginning to recede so it will probably be dry within the week unless we get fresh rains to fill it again.  Fortunately, I was able to get some more images for your enjoyment.

All photos were again taken from the shelter of my mobile bird blind, AKA 2016 Ford Escape.  I have been using my Canon 7D Mark II and a Tamron 150-600mm lens, hand-held or resting on my SafariPak beanbag.  For convenience, and not to have to change settings often because of fast action, I was at shooting at Shutter Priority at about 1/2000 sec and Auto-ISO.  It works well for me and I only need to adjust my EV setting ocassionaly with my thumb on the big wheel.  Then I let the good times roll. 🙂  The Auto-ISO on that 7D Mark II, by the way, is excellent.  It is very much worth the price of admission.  As with all images in my posts, click on any image to see enlargements, especially if you are viewing this on a computer.

I must confess, although we did see the Yellow-breasted Chat again, this image was one that I captured during our first visit.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

Identifying birds can sometimes be difficult.  At first, I thought that this was a female Painted Bunting.  But after checking my guides I came to the conclusion that it is, indeed, a first year male.  But, don’t despair, it will soon shed that bland clothing for the beautiful colors that we all know and love in the male.  Oh, for any critics out there, actually he won’t shed the clothes, but his colors will turn.  I still think he is a cutie.

Painted Buntind - first year male

Painted Bunting – first year male

Of course, there always has to be the pre-requisite Northern Mockingbird hanging around.  But he is the Texas state bird, so we are honored to have his presence.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

The White-crown Sparrows are here in abundance right now.  They have a beauty all of their own.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

This Yellow Warbler presented a challenge.  He was about 30 yards away and was very tiny and amid some foliage.  He was singing his heart out.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

An even bigger challenge was this Pyrrhuloxia.  He was about 80 yards away and atop a tall tree.  He also was warming up his voice.  I steadied the camera on my bean bag and held my breath, much like shooting a rifle.  In my viewfinder, he wasn’t much larger than my focus point.  But thanks to my great Canon equipment and a little darkroom work, I came away with this acceptable image.



Just before we left, this Baird’s Sandpiper came gliding in, to do a little feeding along the mud hole.

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper

I hope you enjoyed our little visit to the Mud Hole.  I will be returning soon, with more photos from around the area.


Happy Birding!!


Birding at the Mud Hole

Near the Twin Buttes Reservoir, there is a low depression where water stands after we have had some rains.  Mudders, defined as immature adults that love to play in the mud with their pickup trucks, are always driving their vehicles through it and keeping it pretty well churned up.  The water will usually take three or four days to either soak in or evaporate.  The area is surrounded by five large mesquite trees.  The combination of the trees and convenient water makes it a very nice little birding oasis.   All one has to do is to park close by and watch.  That is, providing you do it on a week day, when the mudders are absent.

So, that is what Ann and I did the past two days.  First we stopped by early in the morning at a local Jack and Jill’s for take-out coffee, a roll and a burrito.  We took them with us to this mud hole, parked and set in for a few hours of birding and photography.  We spent two to three hours each morning.  We saw a total of 28 individual species for the two outings.  I will give you that list at the bottom of this post.  Here is a sampling of the birds that we saw.  Click on any image to see enlargements.

The Yellow Warbler is one of favorite of the warbler species.  It is always a joy to see this one in the trees.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

I missed a shot of a beautiful mature male Blue Grosbeak.  But this young one perched on a branch nearby.  Just as I got him in the view-finder and focused he decided to fly.  I punched the shutter just in time to catch him as he took off.

Blue Grosbeak - first year

Blue Grosbeak – first year

Another favorite summer bird is the Painted Bunting.  This is the first one that we saw this year as they are just starting to arrive.  Thae harsh early morning sunlight did me know favors but I got this acceptable image.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

The Orchard Orioles are also new arrivals. The adult male stayed deep in the trees and I didn’t get an acceptable shot of him, but this first year male gave me an opportunity.

Bullock's Oriole - female

Orchard Oriole – first year male

I always admire the Canyon Towhees.  They are rather quiet and somewhat bland in color, but I still think they have a cerain beauty about them.

Canyon Towhee

Canyon Towhee

There were plenty of Lark Buntings around.  This is a female.  I had posted a photo of a beautiful male in my previous post.

Lark Bunting - female

Lark Bunting – female

I believe this one was named by a Mr. Richard Cissell.  Kidding!!  This weirdly named Dickcissell is another difficult bird to find.  I love the coloring.



Ann spotted this flash of yellow in the trees.  I was trying to spot it, too, and it finally lit on this branch only about ten feet away.  Only then, did I realize what it was.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  A Yellow-breasted Chat, although not rare, is usually pretty shy and most of the time, very difficult to find.  This is only the second time I have ever seen one and had the opportunity to photograph it.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

This Cactus Wren was still around, working on it’s nest.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Here is the complete list of the birds we observed during those two days:

  1. White-winged Dove
  2. Great-tailed Grackle
  3. Northern Mockingbird
  4. Killdeer
  5. Lark Sparrow
  6. Cactus Wren
  7. Blue Grosbeak
  8. White-crowned Sparrow
  9. Vesper Sparrow
  10. Barn Swallow
  11. Brown-headed Cowbird
  12. Lark Bunting
  13. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  14. Pyrrhuloxia
  15. Painted Bunting
  16. Bullock’s Oriole
  17. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  18. Northern Bobwhite
  19. Bronzed Cowbird
  20. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  21. Yellow Warbler
  22. Western Kingbird
  23. Yellow-breasted Chat
  24. Dickcissell
  25. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  26. Canyon Towhee
  27. Curve-billed Thrasher
  28. Orchard Oriole

Catch Me If You Can – Photographing the Tiny Birds

A lot of the images that I got last week were of those tiny, hard to find little birds that flit around in the dense shrubs and bushes.  I think you know what I am talking about.  You watch some dense foliage, see a branch or twig move unnaturally, then try to see what is in there.  I can usually, eventually see the hidden bird.  Photographing it is another challenge.

Wilson’s Warbler

I am usually photographing from my vehicle.  I have my Canon 7D and 500mm lens resting on the window.  I use it after I have had an inital location with the binocular.   I set the camera to use only the center focus point.  When I can locate the bird, I try to get that focus point on the bird and then take the shot.  If the foliage is extra dense, I sometimes have to use a bit of manual ‘help’ to keep the focus.

These images illustrate how hard some of these little birds can be to see.

Bell’s Vireo

Townsend’s Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat

All of the images have been drastically cropped.  In a few, I didn’t know what I had until I got them into the computer and magnified them enough to ID them.  It is always nice to be able to get shots of birds that are more exposed in the open, like the two below.

Acorn Woodpecker

Clay-colored Sparrow.

So I hope you enjoy this little narrative, and the images.  Click on any of them to see enlargements.

American Avocets and other news

It has been a busy past few days.  The annual Water Lily Fest was held at the Water Lily Collection in downtown San Angelo, per my post a day or two ago.  Through that, we met a real nice couple from Lake City, Florida.  Don Bryne is a hybrid breeder of water lilies.  In 1991 he bred a beautiful species and he named it for his wife, Shirley.  He donated it to the water lily collection here in San Angelo.  We met them at the Fest and they invited us to dinner, Texas style.  They were staying in their motorhome at San Angelo State Park, so we went out there for a nice outdoor fried chicken meal.  In the course of dining, we managed to polish off a nice bottle of St. Genevieve Light Zinfedel from a Texas winery near Ft. Stockton.

Shirley Bryne Water Lily

 In other news, many shore birds are starting to make there fall appearance.  Among them were several American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana).  Who thinks up these Latin names anyway?  I have to squint in my Sibley’s bird guide to read the danged things. 🙂  Anyway, they are beautiful slender-legged waders.  They feed in shallow water by walking along and sweeping their long-upturned bill from side to side.  Here are a couple of photos that I shot yesterday, or was it yesterday?  Click on all photos to see and enlargement.

American Avocet

American Avocets

 Ann has all the luck.  We were sitting in the bird blind a few mornings ago when I needed to go answer nature’s call.  I jumped in the van and while Ann stayed in the blind, I raced to the nearest facility.  When I returned Ann was all excited.  While I was absent, a Cooper’s Hawk flew in and lit in a tree at the viewing area.  Hawks are rarely seen at the bird blind so it was a thrill for her.  I, however, was disappointed that I missed a photo opportunity.

A day before that a Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens).made an appearance.  (I should have studied Latin in school).  I did get a photo, but the bird was at an awkward distance and direction from the blind.  I was just barely able to get it in the view-vinder.  This bird, according to Sibley’s, “skulks” in dense and sunny brush.  This photo shows the spectacle eye markings, but the photo isn’t one of my best.  Aha!  And you guys thought I was perfect. 🙂

Yellow-breasted Chat

Happy Birding!

Bob Zeller  (boboronacea zellerictus)