Last Wednesday, I headed for South Padre Island hoping to photograph some of the last of 2016’s spring migrant warblers. It was just about the end of the migration but a handful of warblers, hummingbirds and catbirds were still resting and foraging in the Convention Center thicket.
These shots were made in the shadows at a water feature without the aid of photogenic perches. Fortunately, the yellow birds exposed well, even on dead limbs.
Click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.
Most of these photos were shot at 1/160th to 1/80th of a second; pretty slow but you work with what you find.
It was a tough afternoon, shooting into thick, shaded cover, but those yellow birds made my day.
Last week I had the pleasure of photographing for a few hours at the Christmas Mountains Oasis south of Alpine, Texas. It’s a long way from “Nowhere”, but it is heaven for the birds. Rare and beautiful Lucifer hummingbirds nest on the property and spend much of their time at the Oasis feeders.
A visit to the Oasis is by invitation only, so if you want to have a chance at Lucifer hummingbirds and many other species, sign up for my August 17-18 hummingbird photography workshop. I’ll be posting the particulars on my website under the Photo Tours heading in the next day or two. Eight slots were available and two are already taken.
Here are some images of the oasis and Lucifer hummingbirds:
Click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.
These birds have long, curved beaks and, of course, the males have that incredible purple/pink/lavender…throat. The above shots are in natural light and photographed with the Canon 7D mark II and 500 mm lens with Wimberly head and Feisol tripod.
Lucifer hummingbirds nest in cholla cactus near the top of this mountain. Amazing!!
The last shot was done with the aid of multiple flashes and artificial background. If you like stop-action hummingbird shots, you can appreciate this image made at about 1/12,000 of a second. I’ll have the setup available at the Christmas Mountains Oasis Hummingbird Photography Workshop in August. To register, contact the folks in charge of the Fort Davis Hummingbird Celebration at Fort Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact me by email at email@example.com and I’ll get you hooked up.
Like last spring, the Texas hill country caught a lot of rain in April and the bird photography instructional photo tours endured a few overcast, cool and even drizzly days. Nevertheless, we saw a lot of nice birds at Block Creek Natural Area (Turkey Hollow B&B) and at Transition Ranch near Uvalde. I was at Transition all of last week with two groups of photographers where we worked from photo blinds and by walking some of the roads bordered by wildflowers.
A dry spring will bring more birds to the waterholes and food at the blinds, but I think you will see some indications of the ranch’s potential in the following photos.
Remember to click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.
Except for the image above, I used my 500 mm lens for virtually every shot. This image was made with Canon 5D Mark II and 24-105 mm lens at f22 and tripod mounted.
This ash-throated flycatcher was at the blind for only a moment.
The gray vireo above is pretty rare in the hill country but they can thrive in the diverse habitats of the Transition Ranch.
Various orioles have already begun to nest.
Blue grosbeaks were popping up everywhere during the last half of the week (around May 1).
Vermilion flycatchers are among the early nesters at Transition Ranch and one pair fledged their young while we were there in late April.
This pose of western scrub jay was one of my favorite shots of the week. Slight head-turn makes the photo.
In a chattering contest between cactus wrens and yellow-breasted chats, it was a close call to name the winner. They never let up.
Black-capped vireos are found throughout the ranch in abundant mixed thickets of scrubby oak, Texas persimmon and sumac.
These little guys love the juniper thickets of Transition Ranch.
As the days grow warmer and dryer, even more birds will find their way to the fresh water and food at the ranch’s photo blinds. Like most south Texas ranches, the bird diversity is wonderful and the photo ops are abundant.
Last week at Galveston’s nature festival, FeatherFest, I helped lead several wildlife photography field trips and seminars. It was my fifth festival and each year I share in the fun of photographing birds and landscapes along the coast from Rockport to High Island at the upper end of Bolivar Peninsula. The following collection of images is offered to give you a glimpse at the diversity of Texas coastal birdlife during spring migration and nesting:
Be sure to click on the first photo to enlarge and sharpen for viewing.
The weather on most mornings during FeatherFest was gloomy, but colorful birds and intense bird breeding activity livened the scene. Most of these images were made with a Canon 7D Mark II and 100-400 mm lens, handheld. For the spoonbill, the camera settings were 1/1600 sec @ f5.6 and ISO 800.
The highlight of our photography sessions was a trip to High Island and the Audubon Sanctuary there where thousands of herons, egrets, ibis and spoonbills nest.
I first saw this crested caracara walking amid hundreds of laughing gulls resting on the ground in a beautiful landscape of Rockport wildflowers. Eventually, it gave up on finding an easy meal and flew directly at me. The Canon AI Servo worked perfectly in predicting the bird’s approach and holding focus for several frames.
Our photo group captured many species and thousands of images from a boat at Aransas and Galveston Bays.
At Port Aransas we encountered a mini-fallout of migrating birds forced to ground by an approaching coastal cold front during their northward flight across the U.S.
On my last evening in Galveston, our group got to see thousands of gulls and brown pelicans swarming over their nesting islands as the sun sank.
If you are a photographer, think hard about joining some of the photography sessions at FeatherFest next April.
Last weekend, I was in Canadian, Texas with several other photographers to try for lesser prairie chickens on the lek (booming ground). The weather was fantastic and the birds were active. Two years ago, three of us spent three days in a Canadian rain, so we were primed for sunshine and birds.
One of my problems has been (and continues to be) realizing that when I’m photographing wildlife in action, I need to pull back and leave a lot of room for wings, legs, etc. This time around, I had the Canon 7d Mark II fixed with the new Canon 100-400 mm lens. It seemed the ideal combination for this session, but maintaining space was still a challenge.
As usual, the birds were on the lek well before dawn each day and the wait for shooting light was stressful. I wanted to capture as many “cock fighting” sequences as possible, but it was an extreme challenge. Here are some of the images from the two-day shoot:
Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.
Since prairie chickens seldom visit the lek during the afternoon, we spent that time looking for other wildlife and scenics.
Male prairie chickens constantly run and fly about the lek challenging other males.
Male lesser prairie chickens jump into the air, kicking and pecking each other. At the end of the brief encounters, one or both males often had a mouth full of feathers.
Next year, I would like to take a group north for lesser and greater prairie chickens. It could be a great early April trip.
*** I’m going to lead a Lucifer Hummingbird photography workshop on a habitat west of Big Bend National Park on August 15-17. The birds WILL be there This is a pre-festival photo session with the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival in Fort Davis. Only 6 slots are available, so let me know soon if you want to sign up.
I still have those two lenses for sale: Nikon 80-200 mm and Canon 300 mm, f4.
The Block Creek Natural and Turkey Hollow Bed & Breakfast hosted my first March workshop last week. Some of the photographers wanted to try for “strutting” wild turkeys and March is usually the peak of turkey mating season.
Five photographers worked from all of the 5 photo blinds, the B&B’s spacious porch (for hummingbirds) and along Block Creek which flows through the property. Most of the trees were just getting new leaves and the red bud trees were in bloom; blue birds were feeding young, turkeys were strutting, and hummingbirds were arriving daily. Some of our images were captured at a nearby historic farm house; we even photographed the neighbor’s horse.
Here are some of my photos from the week of March 21-24: click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.
This shot was made from ground level with a Canon 5D mark II, 24-104 mm lens with polarizing lens, Feisol CF tripod and CF ball head, .8 sec. at f22, ISO 100.
** For Sale: Nikkor 80-200 mm lens, great condition, Not VR…make an offer.
** For Sale: Canon 300 mm lens, f4, IS, excellent condition: make an offer
Photo taken with Canon 7D mark II, Canon 70-200 mm lens, hand held, 1/1600 sec. @ f8, ISO 400.
There are lots of subjects at Block Creek Natural Area, so I can’t wait to return in mid-April.
Click on photos to enlarge and sharpen for better viewing.
Share the excitement and fulfillment of fabulous wading bird photography on a two day, pre-festival (Galveston FeatherFest) photo tour with me at a rookery island near Rockport, Texas on Tuesday-Wednesday (April 12-13). The $700 fee covers your share of the boat and captain for two mornings at the rockery island, professional instruction and assistance by me, and more fun than you thought possible. Sign up immediately at www.GalvestonFeatherFest.com, or email: FeatherFest@gintc.org ,or simply call 832-459-5533.
During a short trip to Santa Fe, I grabbed a few photos of landscapes to share with you. The weather was great with clear, crisp (38 degrees in Santa Fe on March 10) days. While it was raining across Texas, New Mexico was enjoying beautiful spring weather.
Almost everyone seems to appreciate the history and pueblo style architecture of New Mexico. With some of these images, I tried to capture a sense of those qualities.
Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.
Most of these images were done with the Canon 5D Mark II and 24-105 lens with polarizing filter, hand-held.
This blue window photo was a little difficult to compose since it was covered by a canopy of ugly fabric.
This apricot tree was blooming in the patio of the Georgia O’Keefe Museum at Santa Fe. I decided to try it in black and white and color. The shadows on those adobe walls were irresistible.
This petroglyph photo is my favorite of the trip. By waiting until sunset on Sierra Blanca and painting the rock face with light during a slow exposure, I wanted to bring the face to life while capturing some color on the peak.
*** If your monitor isn’t properly calibrated, this image may be too dark or too bright to properly render the intended effect. I strongly recommend that all photographers purchase and use a monitor calibrator and use it often. I use Spyder3 Express software but several others are available.
As we reached Sanderson and Del Rio, Texas on the return trip, pools of water left by recent heavy rains were everywhere. Thank you, Lord, for this sunset and reflection after the rain.
On Wednesday, I captured several images of roseate spoonbills resting and preening by the boardwalk at South Padre Island. During that last hour of sunlight, the birds were reluctant to move, so I was able to work (if you can call it work) without moving. What a perfect way to end the day!
Note how details of the birds tend to blend into the busy, cattail background. While the location offers a good view of spoonbill habitat, I think a clean, water background would have improved these shots. This is by no means a complaint; I was blessed to be there.
Take a look at a few of the photos:
Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.
Several white ibis, black-necked stilts and heron mixed with the spoonbills occasionally, so I had to photograph them. The reflections of all the birds really helped these images.
The raised foot gives this shot a sense of action that would have been missing in a typical “standing bird” pose.
By the time this “sweet light” came, the hundreds of talking, boardwalk vibrating tourists had gone to dinner, leaving three photographers and the birds to finish a beautiful day.
Three days in Rockport/Fulton, Texas last week was time well spent as five people joined me to photograph whooping cranes and several other species, mostly from Kevin Sims’s boat the Jumping Jack Flash. Sunny skies and warm temperatures kept everybody comfortable, but the weather was a little too bright for ideal photo conditions. Nevertheless, the group had great success, so who am I to complain.
Here are a few of my images from the trip. Don’t forget to click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.
Sometimes you just can’t get the bird wings in sync.
Always be aware that good things can happen when you photograph wildlife while shooting into the sun.
This very cooperative young peregrine falcon held his position while everyone captured many frames of this once-in-a-lifetime pose as we boated along in choppy waves on the last morning of our shoot.
Each afternoon, we worked away from the boat to photograph wildlife at some of the many nice parks and habitats in the Rockport area.
Lots of ducks and wading birds winter in the Rockport area.
It had been awhile since I’d seen a male ruddy duck going into breeding plumage.
I had a little too much lens power for this shot, but I wasn’t expecting a pelican to go after a cormorant. Actually, the cormorant surfaced near the pelican and was carrying a fish in its bill. The pelican was trying to take it but there was no time to downsize lenses even though I had the 100-400 mm around my neck.
Instead of making this image from the tripod, I laid down on the boardwalk to improve the perspective between me and the bird. The lower angle worked much better.
No whooping crane trip is complete until we’ve photographed around the harbors at sunset. We got the boats coming into harbor, unloading and docking for the night.
This was a tricky shot in soft light after sunset with a one foot chop on the water. To smooth the water surface, I selected a long exposure to blur the waves into a smooth, pleasing foreground surface. It wouldn’t have worked if the boats had been rocking on the waves. All but one were securely moored.