When you live in south Texas, you get used to hot, dry weather. Well, you don’t get used to it, but you learn to live with it. This spring has been as hot, dry and windy as most of us can remember…the brush has dropped its leaves to conserve moisture and the animals have all gathered at the waterholes. So, I wait at the ponds to get in on the action.
Two weeks ago at Steve Bentsen’s “Dos Venadas Ranch”, I had a splendid afternoon of shooting from one of photo blinds. I totally missed an opportunity to photograph an armadillo bathing (rolling onto his back like a puppy)… I had forgotten to turn on my backup camera with the smaller lens. By the time I got ready, the ‘dillo was out of the pond and headed for cover. I did get my act together by the time the birds began arriving.
Last week, I was at Beto Gutierrez’s “Santa Clara Ranch” with two clients for three days of shooting. A bit of good luck came our way in the form of a stray thunder shower that deposited about .1″ of rain in that part of the brush country. It was enough to make the cenizo brush explode into purple blooms. All I needed to do was place a few blooming branches around the pond for color.
Don’t forget to click on the upper right or left portion of the photos to enlarge them for a sharper, brighter view.
I always try to have a second camera with my 100-400 mm lens attached and ready while I’m sitting in a photography blind. I am usually photographing birds with the big lens, but when a mammal drops by, the zoom lens is the right choice.
Cenizo is a common brush species in south Texas. It has gray, ash-colored leaves and purple flowers. Hence, it is called “cenizo”, Spanish for ash-colored.
In my book, snakes are always difficult to photograph, so a sprinkle of purple cenizo blooms around the pond was a big help as this small western coachwhip came to drink.
One of the greatest thrills I get from photographing birds is seeing the flight photos that can be obtained by working close to an active waterhole on a hot day. I watch the direction most birds are going when they finish drinking and set up the next shot to anticipate the bird heading in that direction. Then, I just pull back on the telephoto power, read the bird’s body language to anticipate take-off, and try to commence shooting a burst of high-speed shots as the bird leaves the pond. It certainly worked on the photos you are seeing here. Several scissor-tailed flycatchers came in to drink on this afternoon. The strong spring winds made it a little easier than normal to capture the birds on take-off.
I hope to capture painted buntings coming and going over the next few days. Wish me luck.
April 20 is always close to being the peak of the spring songbird migration through south Texas. Unfortunately, this spring a constant, southerly wind carried most of the birds right on over us. It was last week, early May, before a “fallout” finally occurred at South Padre Island. It was a little late to see great numbers of birds, but three days of brisk north wind forced a nice diversity of birds to seek refuge on the island. It was a wonderful photography event!
Here are some of the beauties that flew to my lens last week:
Click on the photos to make them open in a larger, sharper format.
I saw more redstarts at South Padre Island last week than in the past ten years combined.
Most of these photos were taken with the Canon 7D camera (set for high speed shutter action…8 frames/second), a 500 mm IS lens, 1.4X teleconverter, ISO between 400-1,000 depending on the light, while maintaining something close to 1/2,000 second shutter speed @ f 5.6 – f 11. Most of the time, I was using fill flash with a Better Beamer attached. I almost always shoot with flash power reduced – 2 2/3 f stops from full power. For shooting songbirds, I recommend using a 25 mm extension tube between the lens and camera to allow extra close focusing. Mine was on the blink last week, but a good cleaning revived it. *One of the pins was sticking and couldn’t spring into normal alignment as the extension tube was attached to the lens. Remember that when yours decides to fail.
I saw a flock of Dickcissels arrive as I was getting my gear unpacked for an afternoon shoot. They were so tired I was able to move in for a close-up before they whirled away.
Magnolia Warblers in spring plumage have always been my favorite. Their contrasting yellow and black plumage and black necklace are striking. This bird returned to the thistle plant on several occasions and even hovered long enough for this photo.
Each time this male ruby-throated hummingbird came in, I blazed away, trying to capture that incredible throat at a good sun angle to bring out the irridescent red. Just before the sun set, I got the shot.
Two days later, Steve Bentsen and I spent a morning on his ranch trying to call birds with another friend, Richard Moore. A little after sunrise, we got this Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. The rest of our trip was a dry run, so assumed that the extremely dry weather is causing many species to delay breeding.
I am thankful for that one “fallout” this spring and for having the chance to photograph it. It is a thrill to share the experience with others who appreciate nature’s beauty.