In Roma Again

Two weeks ago, I purchased a new computer monitor to replace the dead Dell UltraBrite which had been in service about 7 years.  After much study, I selected the ASUS 23″ high definition model and I love it.  Wow, are prices going down…the old monitor cost something in the $600 range and this one was $216.

Last week, I was on the Roel Ramirez Ranch north of Roma (about 7 miles from the Rio Grande) conducting a workshop and photographing the bird life.  Roel has been getting things organized at the ranch and he is constructing new blinds.  There is a lot to do and it should be looking great by this coming fall.

About 4 inches rain soaked the area over the last 10 days, so the butterflies are hatching, too.  The headquarters butterfly garden was coming alive with butterflies and blooms when we left.  I may have some of the group’s photos to share with you in coming newsletters, but the following images should give you a good sense of what we captured.

Click 0n an image to enlarge and sharpen it.  Then click in the upper right portion of the photo to advance.


Plain Chachalaca eating the fruit of an Amargosa bush.


Plain Chachalaca displaying tail before take-off.


Painted Bunting sneaking through the black brush.


During the first two days of our workshop, the rain had left everything soaked and water was standing everywhere.  The birds just weren’t coming to the blinds.  By day 3, the area was dry again so, we saw many species including painted bunting.

Male painted bunting flushing.


Green Jay showing his excitement at our arrival.


The first groove-billed ani of the year arriving for a drink.


Common Ground-Dove displaying red under-wing as a warning to other doves... "keep your distance".


White-fronted Dove with egg shell stuck to her feathers.


First year male Hooded Oriole visiting the photo blind pond on a hot morning.
Yellow Warblers bathing at a ranch pond.


On day three of the workshop, we saw many yellow birds (Wilson’s warbler, male and female yellow warblers, male and female hooded orioles).  Most were photographed with the Canon 7D camera, 500 mm lens and 1.4X teleconverter on a Wimberley head and Feisol carbon fiber tripod.

Male yellow warbler on log.


Pair of long-billed thrashers arrive at the blind for water and food.


Drab little olive sparrow after a bath.


A sure sign of spring...northern cardinals bonding through feeding ritual.


Male painted bunting singing.
One more singing painted bunting.


Bird photography will be good all the way through June, so you still have time to grab a couple bottles of water and get down to south Texas where these birds congregate.  Every ranch offers excellent photography… Dos Venadas Ranch, Tacubaya Ranch, Santa Clara Ranch, Laguna Seca Ranch, Martin Refuge and Isaac Garza’s Tepeyac Ranch.  I hope to see you soon.





Block Creek Natural Area Instructional Photo Tour

Seven of us photographed in late April near Fredericksburg, Texas in the hill country at Block Creek Natural Area with hosts Sharron and Larry Jay.  The Jays had installed two new blinds earlier in the year and both had good numbers of birds.  For four days, we worked the blinds, photographed hawks and owls presented by “Last Chance Forever” raptor recovery group, and worked the area’s many hummingbirds with my flash setup.  We had good luck at all these locations, but the breeding birds had not arrived in huge numbers as they usually do by mid-April.  As the week came to a close, two photographers joined me for an afternoon while we refined our Photoshop skills.

The food and lodging at Block Creek Natural area were superb, as always.  That and entertaining conversation around the dinner table kept things lively and fun.

Check the photos that follow to see a variety of what I photographed.  This is just a small sample of what the group captured during the photo tour.

Remember, just click on a photo to open it in a larger, sharper format.  Then move your cursor to the upper right portion of a photo to advance.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher pair getting ready to nest.

These scissortails landed on a fence near Larry Jay and me on the last afternoon of the photo tour.  The capture was with a Canon 1D mark IV, 500 mm lens. 1.4 teleconverter, Feisol tripod and Wimberley head, ISO 500, 1/3200 second @ f5.6.

Female black-chinned hummingbird feeding.


My time at the hummingbird setup was limited to a few minutes to get the flashes adjusted.  After that, the other photographers occupied every minute at the set and captured hundreds of amazing shots.  I’ll get there a day early next year.  There were many opportunities to photograph hummingbirds around the headquarters flower gardens, so that is where I went after being ousted from the setup area.

Male black-chinned hummingbird guarding his territory near some trumpet vines.


Windmill and full moon in front of the Block Creek Natural Area bed and breakfast.


During our first evening at Block Creek NA, some of us captured the rising moon and a flock of purple martins headed to roost.

Purple martins making one last flight before coming back to the nest box for the night.
Black vulture landing on handler's glove.


The Harris's Hawk doesn't always return to the handler's glove.




Harris's hawk landing by yucca.


I cloned the jesses off the legs of this captive hawk.

Great horned owl with rat for dinner.



Canyon wrens were nesting in the Jay's barn.


Carolina wren drawn to photo perch with mealworms.


Red-tailed hawk surveying the grasslands near a Block Creek NA barn.


Male eastern bluebird singing on breeding territory.


Fence lines around the Block Creek NA area are always active with colorful birds like this painted bunting.


Chipping sparrows frequent Block Creek feeding perches.


Pine Siskin perched on blooming buckeye.


The buckeye trees along Block Creek were blooming in late April and afforded beautiful perches.  Most Texans probably don’t know the buckeye is native here, although the hill country trees are a different species from those in the eastern U.S.


House finches were common at each of the photo blinds.


Beautiful male Painted Bunting eating millet seeds.


Vermilion flycatcher looking for insects on the wing.


You can see that we had a great variety of birds in the Texas hill country this year.  Many more arrived after a spring cold front blew through central Texas three days after we departed.   Timing is everything, but we had plenty of good shooting.




Splash of Color on South Padre

Yesterday, (Dr.) Beto Gutierrez and I got up with the dawn and headed to South Padre Island for what we were sure would be a big day of photographing songbirds in migration.  We weren’t disappointed even though a 30 mph wind was blowing out of the north.  Many species went un-photographed but following this paragraph are a few samples of what we captured.  Some of these shots are on a log perch furnished by photographer Stephen Sinclair and some are on natural perches.  As always, the color splash was fantastic as we got birds with red, yellow, blue, orange, black, white, green, etc.  and that was just the warblers and tanagers.  Very few grosbeaks and orioles were in the area after last week’s big fallout.

View these photos by clicking in the upper right portion of the shot to make it larger and sharper.  You will see the advance button, just click it to bring up the next photo.

Male Indigo Bunting in the Convention Center habitat.


Prothonotary Warbler male with meal worm.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird chasing another male.


Juvenile Bay-breasted Warbler perched in Convention Center woods on South Padre Island.


Cape May Warbler male foraging in tepeguaje tree.


Tennessee Warblers feeding on insects and insect eggs in a mesquite tree.


Black-and-White Warbler checking under tree bark for insects and other invertebrates.


Chestnut-sided Warbler grabbing a mealworm and jumping into the air before another bird can snatch it away.


A "still" Chestnut-sided Warbler on the hunt for food.

Western Tanager male


Worm-eating Warbler resting in a small habitat before heading north.


Yellow Warbler male about to snatch a bug from the leaves.


All of these photos were captured with a Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 500 mm lens, 1.4 X tele-extender, extension tube (25 mm), Canon 580 flash, Feisol tripod and Wimberley head.  I always have aching shoulders at the end of a photo day, but it takes all this equipment to get these kinds of photos.  Most of these birds were photographed at 1/800 to 1/1250 second in the shade.  You will recognize the daylight shots.

Thanks to all the volunteers who feed the birds as they rest in the small habitat on the island and special thanks to Will and Jill Carter who started planting these trees almost two decades ago.

I hope you enjoyed the spring migration.