Here are some photos from last week at the Santa Clara Photo Ranch west of Edinburg, Texas. The image with mourning doves and Super Moon was made the week before, but I just had to include it.
Most of these photos were made in the rain or when fog and mist covered the land. Thanks to the improvements in Canon’s 7D Mark II and 5D Mark IV cameras, I was able to keep the ISO high enough to get some keepers.
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You will have to try Santa Clara Photo Ranch…but book a year in advance for spring and summer shooting. There is a huge variety of birds, reptiles and mammals coming to water and food at the blinds during the warmer months and business is brisk.
Sunday afternoon I headed to South Padre Island for a few hours of photography. The high in McAllen, Texas today (Tuesday) was 36 degrees with overcast skies, so I’m feeling pretty good about that decision.
Here are three shots from the outing:
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The coot got hammered but escaped with all his feathers in tact.
This mullet wasn’t so lucky; a royal tern speared him through the head.
This was the last shot of the day. A pair of pintails basking in the last rays of afternoon light.
Is was a fun afternoon and, I made it to the house in time for that incredible Viking comeback win over the Saints.
In the following shots, it’s pretty hard to see any fog, but there was enough to severely reduce the amount of light available for photography. These were made late last week toward the end of the rut with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100-400 mm IS lens (second generation) and all are hand-held. At ISO 1000, I was able to work through the morning at shutter speeds from 1/250 to 1/1000 second.
I am losing a lot of images when the image stabilizer is in the “on” position because my photos are usually made quickly or hurriedly and I forget to partially depress the shutter for a split second before making the image. Hence, the stabilizer and shutter are working at the same time…causing blurring of the first image in each burst. Unfortunately, the best shot is often the first one, so from here on in, I am shooting the old fashioned way and using a tripod when possible. Mostly, I’ll try to compensate for vibration with higher shutter speeds.
These images were posted on Facebook a day or two ago, so if we are Facebook friends, you may already have seen them.
When you click on a photo, it should expand and sharpen for better viewing. Click at the right side of any shot to advance.
I’m sorry it’s been so long since the last newsletter, but maybe I can get back on track.
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“Palm and moon from the RGV Birding Festival headquarters parking lot in Harlingen, Texas.”
While waiting for my ride on the first morning of the festival, I grabbed the camera and shot photos of palms, pink clouds and the moon at sunrise.
For two days last week, I lead photography groups to the National Butterfly Center in Mission and to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Day #1 was beautiful, but a strong cold front on Day #2 pretty much shut down any hope for any spectacular bird photos at the island. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the opportunity to improve our nature photography skills while getting some nice images.
Here are a few shots from both destinations:
Perhaps the toughest test of a bird photographer’s skill is the ability to successfully capture birds in flight.
White Peacock butterflies nectaring.
While our photographers professed a desire to focus the day in pursuit of birds, they quickly gave in to the temptation of capturing images of the Butterfly Center’s showy butterflies. I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to photograph my first Questionmark batterfly (below).
We thought this great egret was frozen by the winter blast that hit South Padre Island on our second morning. Then it surprised us with a sudden thrust of his head into the pond below. Maybe the little fish was shocked as well when that the immobile white object above turned out to be an actively hunting predator.
Even when it’s cold, everything has to eat.
As we prepared to leave South Padre Island, this lonely Couch’s Kingbird made a parking lot appearance. It was our last opportunity to photograph one of those beautiful Rio Grande Valley specialty birds.
All images were made with Canon 5D Mark IV camera and 100-400 mm Canon lens.
While organizing photo files last week, I came across a number of shots from a morning trip last spring to South Padre Island (SPI), Texas. They reminded me that being on SPI in late April, rubbing elbows with dozens of other photographers is always a special event. On this day, every clump of trees was teeming with colorful, migrating songbirds. Maybe the best part of this trip was that I didn’t have to spend hours crouched in a photo blind or arranging perches and water drips to attract the birds… I just parked the car, grabbed the camera and start shooting.
These photos were taken in one morning on the grounds at SPI’s Convention Center.
On this day, a large number of Baltimore Orioles had just arrived. Most were searching for food and water and didn’t pay much attention to the photographers.
Getting into position for a photo that offers a clean background and reasonably good lighting can be a photographer’s greatest challenge.
First time visitors are always shocked at the variety and color of all those warblers, buntings, grosbeaks, tanagers, etc. crammed into a small woodlot.
Some of the birds like this Worm Eating Warbler are unusual finds and they aren’t much for posing. Photographers have to spot, focus and shoot quickly or the opportunity will be gone.
So, this is a small sample of what can be seen and photographed on a good morning. These shots were made with Canon 500 mm and 100-400 mm lenses and Canon 7d Mark II camera.
After an August trip to the Davis Mountains in west Texas for hummingbirds, I decided to stay close to home until the weather improved. That is to say, I stayed in the house and close to the air conditioner for most of September.
Late in the month, the first migrating hummingbirds began arriving. It was the first autumn in many years when “hummers” came this far inland on their journey south. Perhaps hurricane “Harvey” steered them slightly off the normal course, but whatever the cause, we were happy to see them.
While there weren’t many, 6-8 birds were enough to convince me I should break out the tripods and flashes to capture as many ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbird photos as possible while they stopped to feed.
Today’s newsletter has a few of those birds and one or two shots of resident wildlife… anoles.
Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it.
All the hummingbird photos were done with the aid of four flashes on the bird and two on the background with each set at 1/32nd power. The result is a pulse of light lasting about 1/12,000th second. Such a short duration of light stops a bird’s wing beat and other motion. The camera settings for each shot were approximately 1/200th second, f 22 and ISO 200 so that only the flashes provided enough light to properly expose the subject. Each was captured with a Canon 7D Mark II camera and Canon 500 mm f4 lens.
I’m sorry so much time elapsed since the last newsletter. Most people are using Facebook to share photos these days, so I got in the habit of posting images in that forum. I’ll try to continue doing both.
Only one slot remains for some lucky person who wants to photograph hummingbirds next month in the Christmas and Davis Mountains of Texas. Take a look at these images from last year’s trip and contact me if you are interested. This year, we should have a good chance to see Magnificant (Rivoli’s), Rufous, Broad-billed, Calliope, Black-chinned and Lucifer Hummingbirds.
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This trip will be part of the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival. I’ll be your photography guide. The multi-flash set up will be available for flight shots like these. The perch shots were done without flash in a totally natural setting near feeders.
Go to 956-330-2114 or email@example.com to register. Get more details at my website (www.larryditto.com). When the site opens, just click on Photo Tour Schedule.
In case you are wondering, the Davis Mountains are often much cooler than the rest of Texas this time of year. My family spent a few days out there last week and it sure was nice. Unfortunately, the hummingbirds were in mid-molt and looked pretty scruffy. There were 20 or so of the birds at the feeders where we were staying but they just didn’t offer much for pretty shots.
It wasn’t a photo trip, but I managed to capture a few shots along the way: click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.
So, there you have it. It was in the mid 80’s all week at Fort Davis while McAllen was basking in the 105-110 degree zone.
Some of you have been asking “why is the ranch called “Transition Ranch”. Well, it sits in an ecological transition zone between the Texas hill country, west Texas desert area and the south Texas brush country. Hence, the name. It’s the ranch’s location that gives it so much diversity of bird life.
Five photographers joined me in late April for the spring photo tour and I have a couple of their photos to share plus a few I was lucky enough to capture.
This very old raccoon actually had only one eye, so he looked pretty bad. I added a new left eye to make him presentable…no extra charge for the cosmetic surgery.
I photographed this fox squirrel in a perch tree added by the ranch owner at a photo blind (the same location as the raccoon and some of the bird images to follow).
Butterflies were frequent visitors to the water drip site by one of the “morning” blinds.
This sunning Spiny Crevice Lizard looked much better on this perch than a bird would. Occasionally, sites are fitted with “perches” that are too large and sun-bleached to work well for bird photos.
Mark Cromwell sees things the rest of us miss. After getting the MacGillivray’s Warbler, he got this shot (below) of a hummingbird bathing on the wing at a water drip.
We got our first Black-headed Grosbeak this year at Transition Ranch.
Lazuli Buntings made several appearances this year… a thrilling site for those of us who live east of their range.
Painted Buntings visited all the Transition Ranch blinds this spring.
Transition Ranch has lots of sparrows in the spring.
There is seldom enough light to allow the capture of sharp images of warblers in flight, but I liked this blurred shot.
Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon’s in this case) are always beautiful in breeding plumage.
Orioles are always jumpy and hard to photograph, but we got these plus Scott’s Oriole this year.
I always enjoy capturing a bit of action (like this bird’s foot in the air) to add interest to a photo.
I hope you get the idea; Transition Ranch has a lot of birds in the spring.
In mid-August, I’ll be headed back to west Texas for one last instructional photography tour. Then a new season begins and it will be time to develop a new schedule for 2017-2018. That west Texas trip will begin in the Christmas Mountains and then we will move a few miles over to the Davis Mountains. It is all a part of the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration. This might be a great opportunity to photograph several species of hummers right here in Texas. Check my website Photo Tour Schedule for details. If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll get you registered and provide the details. The photo tour will accommodate eight people and only three slots are left.
Here are some photos from the recent trip to the Christmas Mountains Oasis for Lucifer Hummingbirds and other species. Note that some of the images are provided by the participants.
Remember to click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.
The following images are mine. After the fact, I realized I’d missed a lot of good shooting while tending the hummingbird flash setup, but the group got some good diversity in their images.
All of my photos were done with the Canon 1D Mark II, 500 mm Canon Lens, Gitzo 1348 tripod and Wimberly head.
Here are 3 varied bunting images I really liked from my collection:
There were many more birds I couldn’t show here, but you should be getting the idea that the Christmas Mountains Oasis is pretty special. Thanks to all the participating photographers for sharing your images.