Category Archives: Newsletter

Experienced Photographers Make Excellent Photos

About a month ago, Tom and Barbara Pickthall from the Houston area spent the weekend photographing with me at the Santa Clara Ranch northwest of McAllen.  Their time was well spent as they captured some really nice images of a variety of wildlife.  They were kind enough to share some shots for the newsletter.  I hope you will enjoy these as much as I.

Northern Mockingbird at lift off from a ranch pond.
Northern Mockingbird at lift off from a ranch pond.

The Pickthalls have been doing wildlife and outdoor photography for many years, so it’s no surprise that their timing is amazing when it comes to capturing the “moment” as Barbara did with the mockingbird above.

Roadrunner with some sort of plant part.
Roadrunner with some sort of plant part.

Barbara caught this northern roadrunner playing with the remains of a plant seed or pod.

Bobcat at Dorothy's Pond for a late afternoon drink.
Bobcat at Dorothy’s Pond for a late afternoon drink.

These bobcat photos represent Tom Pickthall’s reward for being focused enough to continue the pursuit until the animal he is after makes an appearance.

Bobcat getting its evening drink.
Bobcat getting its evening drink.
Green Jay landing.
Green Jay landing.

A fast shutter speed and well placed focus point helped Tom get this landing green jay with wings spread.

One of the rewards from guiding photographers on these little safaris is getting to see and share their images of various landscapes and critters.  For those of you who have photographed, please accept this invitation to share some of your favorite shots.

For now, I’m just waiting to head north for a few fall colors.  It was 98 degrees in McAllen two days ago.  Surely, it’s autumn somewhere.

Larry

Ten Days Ago at Santa Clara Ranch

Ten days ago at Santa Clara Ranch, the temperature soared to over 100 degrees so most wild critters were coming to water several times a day.  Surprisingly, most of the birds were well feathered and  colorful, so all we had to do was remain cool and quiet in the photo blind and enjoy the photography.

Here are a few shots from that weekend:

Remember to click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.

Crested Caracaras on perch.
Crested Caracaras on perch.

On Saturday morning, we had 6 crested caracaras, two Harris’s hawks and several black and turkey vultures attracted to the food we had placed at the hawk blind.

The Canon 100-400 mm lenses were perfect for flight and landing sequences.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker male drinking.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker male drinking.
Greater Roadrunner carrying a pecan shell???
Greater Roadrunner carrying a pecan shell???

I have no idea where this “nut” came from, but a greater roadrunner enjoyed several minutes of play with it.

Green Jay landing.
Green Jay landing.

On Sunday morning, the green jays were extremely active and ready to pose.  This shot was at 1/4000 second, f6.3 and ISO 800.

Hooded Oriole female drinking with northern cardinal and cottontail rabbit
Hooded Oriole female drinking with northern cardinal and cottontail rabbit.

At times, there was a big crowd gathered around the pond at our blind.

Young gobbler Rio Grande Turkey wading.
Young gobbler Rio Grande Turkey wading.

A small flock of 8 wild turkey (mostly this year’s young) came looking for grain at mid-morning.

Groove-billed Ani at pond.
Groove-billed Ani at pond.

We saw Groove-billed Anis looking for a drink at two of the blinds.

Trio of Northern Bobwhite quail drinking.
Trio of Northern Bobwhite quail drinking.

Many Northern bobwhite quail came by our blind to eat and drink.  It has been a good hatch year.

Northern Bobwhite, male displaying.
Northern Bobwhite, male displaying.

Several quail enjoyed having others of their kind to chase.  This little guy was impressive with his feathers ruffled.

Buck deer drinking.
Buck deer drinking.

The white-tailed deer waited until sundown before appearing at the water hole.  Our patience paid off as we got some nice images of two young bucks drinking.

Hope you enjoyed these shots,

Larry

Bird Photos Plus Equipment for Sale

I’ve got some bird shots to share with you in this newsletter, but first let me give you a couple of tips on excellent cameras and lenses that friends are selling at good prices.  Paul Denman at pddenman@att.net has a Canon 1 D Mark IV  with extra batteries for sale.  Sylvia Garcia at sylvia@sylviagarcia-smith.com has a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 500 mm lens plus a Canon 7D and a teleconverter for sale.  She says it’s all listed on her Facebook page (Sylvia Garcia).  Let me know if you have any difficulty reaching these folks.

Now, here are some captures from recent days near Edinburg, Texas.  Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.

Snowy Egret eating fish
Snowy Egret eating fish
Snowy Egret plucking minnow from water on the fly.
Snowy Egret plucking minnow from water on the fly.
Snowy Egret launching into flight.
Snowy Egret launching into flight.
Snowy Egrets resting on floating log.
Snowy Egrets resting on floating log.

A turtle takes over when the sun comes up.

Red-eared Slider sunning
Red-eared Slider sunning
Wood Stork landing
Wood Stork landing

Wood stork images have been tough for me to come by, so I jumped at the chance to try for these guys as they passed through south Texas on their fall migration.

Wood Stork in flight at sunrise
Wood Stork in flight at sunrise
Cormorant and sunrise.
Cormorant and sunrise.

All of these photos were made with the Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 500 mm lens on a Feisol  tripod with Wimberley head.  I had to use ISOs of up to 1600 as the sun was coming up and then reduced it as quickly as possible to 500.  All this was to sustain sufficient shutter speed to capture the flight action (1/2000 second or faster).

Larry

More of the Christmas Mountains

 

This is going to be a newsletter short on words and long on photos.  Please enjoy some images by the photographers who accompanied me on the recent photo tour in the Christmas Mountains of west Texas.  Remember to click on the photos to make them expand and sharpen for better viewing.

Fog and rain hanging on the Chisos Mountains next door to the Christmas Mountains.
Fog and rain hanging on the Chisos Mountains next door to the Christmas Mountains.

These first three shots are by Margaret Tulley.

A beautiful Varied Bunting male in post nuptial molt.
A beautiful Varied Bunting male in post nuptial molt.

Tulley lucifer2-0583

Margaret’s male Lucifer Hummingbird is perched in natural light with a nice profile pose.

Dr. Josie Williams capture the following images.  Note that we had a good variety of birds to distract us during the hummingbird photography sessions.

Male Lucifer Hummingbird hovering.
Male Lucifer Hummingbird hovering.

 

Scaled Quail scurrying through the brush at Organ Mountains Oasis.
Scaled Quail scurrying through the brush at Christmas Mountains Oasis.

 

Black-chinned Hummingbirds were abundant at the Oasis.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds were abundant at the Oasis.
Several nice male Lucifer Hummingbirds came to our multi-flash setup.
Several nice male Lucifer Hummingbirds came to our multi-flash setup.

Thanks to our photographers for sharing their images of that incredible adventure to west Texas.  Josie and Margaret have traveled to many photo with me in the past and each time they come away with awesome shots.

Larry

 

Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival and More

On August 17-18, I guided a group of photographers into a remote part of west Texas known as the Christmas Mountains.  The trip was a pre-festival event for the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival and we were after Lucifer Hummingbirds.  I hope  to  lead more trips in the coming year in May and August.  This one filled up the first day it was advertised, so let me know early if you are interested.

August is also the west Texas monsoon season and many species of hummingbirds begin heading south into Texas from the Rockies further north.  So, the festival is scheduled to take advantage of the many hummers moving into the Fort Davis area.  After my workshop, I stayed around to check out some of the festival events  and presented the keynote talk on the closing evening of the festival.

*** Important news on used cameras.  McAllen, Texas photographer Paul Denman (pmdenman@att.net) would like to make you  a great deal on his Canon 5D Mark III camera with grip and extra batteries as well as a Canon 1D Mark IV with extra batteries.  Go ahead and contact him directly to get more information and discuss prices.

Here are a few images from the west Texas trip:

Don’t forget to click on an image to make it larger and sharper for viewing.

Christmas Mountains, west Texas at sunset.

 At the base of this butte in the Christmas Mountains west of Big Bend National Park, Lucifer Hummingbirds nest in cholla cactus each spring and summer.  It’s doesn’t look like hummingbird nesting habit, but there they are.  We photographed them at feeders within a quarter mile of this mountain.

Christmas Mountains, west Texas at sunset
Christmas Mountains, west Texas at sunset.

Sunset light on the Christmas Mountains can produce some excellent scenic views.

Male Lucifer perched in black brush, Christmas Mountains, May.
Male Lucifer perched in black brush, Christmas Mountains, May.
Lucifer Hummingbird in breeding plumage.
Lucifer Hummingbird in breeding plumage.

Both of the above Lucifer shots were with Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 500 mm lens mounted on Wimberley head and Gitzo 1348 tripod.

Lucifer Hummingbird male at feeder
Lucifer Hummingbird male at feeder

Lucifer males have elongated, wrap-around gorgets that glow an iridescent purple from almost any angle.  Also, note the characteristic curved beak.

Lucifer Hummingbird male in flight
Lucifer Hummingbird male in flight.

This male is moulting but still sports a striking plumage.  Four flashes were used for this photo to light the bird and background.

Lucifer Hummingbird male banking in flight.
Lucifer Hummingbird male banking in flight.

Keep watching for a few more images from the Davis Mountains.

Larry

A Few Shots From This Spring and Summer

Hello, everybody.  It has been so hot for so long, that I just haven’t been outside much.  The last few times out, I tried shooting some short videos which was a lot of fun.  The editing of said videos isn’t such a big thrill, however.

Below are some photos from Transition Ranch, Laguna Seca Ranch and a stretch of highway between Sabinal and Utopia, Texas.  One of my favorite photo ranches, Santa Clara Ranch, has been booked all summer so I’m waiting for October to get back.

Don’t forget to click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.

Cactus Wren with colorful background at Transition Ranch.
Cactus Wren with colorful background at Transition Ranch.

I really liked this wren shot, but should have been shooting at f8 or f11 to bring the tail into focus.  On the other hand, that would have brought more detail into the background and I didn’t want that.  Unfortunately, this type of pose lasts about 2 seconds, so there is no time to think about “where to focus at f11″ and still keep the background blurred.  The correct focus point for this shot would probably have been about mid-way up the tail.

Crevise Spiny Lizard and lichen covered limestone outcropping.
Crevice Spiny Lizard on lichen covered limestone outcropping.
Finding room for a trio on this perch.
Finding room for a trio on this perch.
Northern Bobwhite male shaking and re-organizing his feathers.
Northern Bobwhite male shaking and re-organizing his feathers.

Interest can be added to your photos by placing flowers in the background at strategic locations before photography begins.

Northern Cardinal flying from Crepe Myrtle branch..
Northern Cardinal flying from Crepe Myrtle branch..
Northern Cardinal male drinking
Northern Bobwhite male drinking.

The challenge on this bobwhite quail photo was to capture water running from its beak.  Water streaming out of his mouth added interest to the shot.

Curve-billed and Long-billed Thrashers chasing after prey.
Curve-billed and Long-billed Thrashers chasing prey.

This is a second look at the location with blooming flowers in the background.

Painted Bunting just out of the bath
Painted Bunting just out of the bath.

Don’t give up if your bird subject comes in to bathe and is frightened away before you get the shot.  It will almost always come back two or three times (as this painted bunting did) to finish the job.

Wine Cups and Indian Blankets on the Utopia highway.
Wine Cups and Indian Blankets on the Utopia highway.
Wildflowers north of Sabinal, Texas.
Wildflowers north of Sabinal, Texas.

I hope to keep digging up photos from recent trips that haven’t been shared.  That way, we can pass the summer days with a reminder of more pleasant weather.  I think it’s time to head east for beach shots.

See you later,

Larry

 

Yellow Birds

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.

Ever try photographing a redstart in low light...a constant twitch, twitch, twitch.
Ever try photographing a redstart in low light…twitch, twitch, twitch.

Most of these photos were shot at 1/160th to 1/80th of a second; pretty slow but you work with what you find.

Magnolia warbler looking for water.
Magnolia warbler looking for water.

 

Nice bird (Magnolia Warbler), bad perch.
Nice bird (Magnolia Warbler), bad perch.

 

Beautiful but shy Mourning Warbler.
Beautiful but shy Mourning Warbler.

 

Mourning Warbler, same perch, different head position.
Mourning Warbler, same perch, different head position.

 

Yellow Warblers bathing
Yellow Warblers bathing

 

Bath before the long flight home.
Bath before the long flight home.

 

Male Yellow Warbler bathing.
Male Yellow Warbler bathing.

 

Not bad for a "bird on a stick".
Not bad for a “bird on a stick”.

 

Yellow Warbler male among the limbs.
Yellow Warbler male among the limbs.

 

Yellow Warbler with a hint of orange in it feathers.
Yellow Warbler with a hint of orange in it feathers.

It was a tough afternoon, shooting into thick, shaded cover, but those yellow birds made my day.

Larry

Hummingbirds in the Desert

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.

Lucifer Hummingbird male landing at feeder, west Texas, USA
Lucifer Hummingbird male landing at feeder, west Texas, USA
Lucifer Hummingbird, female hovering in flight
Lucifer Hummingbird female hovering in flight.

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.

Christmas Mountains Oasis bird habitat after sunset, s. of Alpine, Texas
Christmas Mountains Oasis bird habitat after sunset, s. of Alpine, Texas
Christmas Mountians, west Texas.
Christmas Mountains, west Texas.

Lucifer hummingbirds nest in cholla cactus near the top of this mountain.  Amazing!!

Lucifer Hummingbird male hovering in flight, west Texas, USA
Lucifer Hummingbird male hovering in flight, west Texas, USA.
Lucifer Hummingbird male displaying gorget, w. Texas
Lucifer Hummingbird male displaying gorget, w. Texas
Lucifer Hummingbird male perched.
Lucifer Hummingbird male perched.
Lucifer Hummingbird male feeding, w. Texas
Lucifer Hummingbird male feeding, w. Texas.

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 (info@fortdavis.com) or contact me by email at lditto@larryditto.com and I’ll get you hooked up.

Larry

 

 

 

Transition Ranch and April Bird Diversity

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.

Spring wildflowers on Transition Ranch.
Spring wildflowers in the orange glow of sunset.

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.

White-winged dove in black brush at sunset.
White-winged dove in black brush at sunset.
Northern bobwhite quail calling from a short perch in wildflowers.
Northern bobwhite quail calling from a short perch in wildflowers.
Mexican ground-squirrel on log.
Mexican ground-squirrel searching an old for bird seed.
Lesser goldfinches were at the photo blinds each day.
Lesser goldfinches visited the photo blind waterhole just before sunset.
House Finch bonding
House Finch bonding behavior.  The male fed the female.
Black-throated Sparrow on cactus.
Black-throated Sparrow with a firm grasp of the only landing spot on a prickly pear cactus.

 

Ash-throated Flycatcher_79A4608

This ash-throated flycatcher was at the blind for only a moment.

Gray Vireo on Transition Ranch west of Uvalde, Texas.
Gray Vireo on Transition Ranch west of Uvalde, Texas.

The gray vireo above is pretty rare in the hill country but they can thrive in the diverse habitats of the Transition Ranch.

Summer Tanager, female perched in black brush. Transition Ranch
Summer Tanager, female perched in black brush. Transition Ranch
Summer Tanager, male at photo blind.
Summer Tanager, male at photo blind.
Hooded Oriole, male perched in black brush at photo blind.
Hooded Oriole, male perched in black brush at photo blind.

Various orioles have already begun to nest.

Scott's Oriole, male in Texas persimmon bush.
Scott’s Oriole, male in Texas persimmon bush.
This bird was probably one of the last we'll see this season.
This cedar waxwing was probably one of the last we’ll see this season.
Singing blue-gray gnatcatcher at the afternoon blind.
Singing blue-gray gnatcatcher at the afternoon blind.
Blue Grosbeak, male in black brush after rain.
Blue Grosbeak, male in black brush after rain.

Blue grosbeaks were popping up everywhere during the last half of the week (around May 1).

This male lazuli bunting was the first of it's species photographed on the ranch.
This male lazuli bunting was the first of it’s species photographed on the ranch.
Male painted buntings were singing throughout the ranch.
Male painted buntings were singing throughout the ranch.
Vermillion Flycatcher male perched.
Vermilion Flycatcher male perched.

Vermilion flycatchers are among the early nesters at Transition Ranch and one pair fledged their young while we were there in late April.

Western scrub jay perched at Transition Ranch.
Western scrub jay perched at Transition Ranch.

This pose of western scrub jay was one of my favorite shots of the week.  Slight head-turn makes the photo.

Yellow-breasted chat "chatting".
Yellow-breasted chat “chatting”.

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 vireo on Transition Ranch
Black-capped vireo on Transition Ranch.

Black-capped vireos are found throughout the ranch in abundant mixed thickets of scrubby oak, Texas persimmon and sumac.

Golden-cheeked warbler on juniper, Transition Ranch, Texas
Golden-cheeked warbler on juniper, Transition Ranch, Texas.

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.

Larry

 

 

Last Week Around the Texas Coast

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. 

Roseate Spoonbill spreading its wings for a soft landing.
Roseate Spoonbill spreading its wings for a soft landing.

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.

Reddish Egrets in breeding plumage
Reddish Egrets in breeding plumage
Great Egrets pair displaying at nest with young.
Great Egrets pair displaying at nest with young.

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.

Roseate Spoonbill with nest building material.
Roseate Spoonbill with nest building material.
Laughing Gulls mating amid wildflowers in a Rockport city park.
Laughing Gulls mating amid wildflowers in a Rockport city park.
Caracara searching for gull nests among the wildflowers in Rockport.
Caracara searching for gull nests among the wildflowers in Rockport.

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.

Great Blue Heron in flight over Aransas Bay.
Great Blue Heron in flight over Aransas Bay.

Our  photo group captured many species and thousands of images from a boat at Aransas and Galveston Bays.

Great Egret landing
Great Egret landing
Great Egret displaying its plume feathers.
Great Egret displaying its plume feathers.
Forster's Terns bonding
Forster’s Terns bonding on the boardwalk at the Port Aransas Birding Center.

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.

Black-throated Green Warbler male feeding on insects
Black-throated Green Warbler male feeding on insects.
Scarlet Tanager male in a mulberry tree.
Scarlet Tanager male in a mulberry tree.
Least Bittern with fish in the cattails at Port Aransas Birding Center.
Least Bittern with fish in the cattails at Port Aransas Birding Center.
Purple Gallinule eating grass seeds at the High Island Sanctuary.
Purple Gallinule eating grass seeds at the High Island Sanctuary.
Sunlight on seagull wings and tails in Galveston Bay.
Sunlight on seagull wings and tails in Galveston Bay.
Brown Pelicans in flight over Galveston Bay.
Brown Pelicans in flight over Galveston Bay.

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.

Brown Pelicans and laughing gulls at sunset on Galveston Bay
Brown Pelicans and laughing gulls at sunset on Galveston Bay.

If you are a photographer, think hard about joining some of the photography sessions at FeatherFest next April.

LARRY