Category Archives: Newsletter

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

Panhandle Prairie Chickens

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.

Lesser Prairie Chicken male booming on lek,
Lesser Prairie Chicken male booming on lek as the sun rises.
Prairie chicken perched on a cedar stump in the middle of the lek.  The birds seek high perches like cow paddies, yucca clumps and stumps scattered about the booming ground.
Prairie chicken perched on a cedar stump in the middle of the lek. The birds seek high perches like cow paddies, yucca clumps and stumps scattered about the booming ground.
Chicken landing on a yucca.
Chicken landing on a yucca.
Lesser Prairie Chicken male landing
Lesser Prairie Chicken male landing
Western Meadowlark attracted to all the action at a lek.
Western Meadowlark attracted to all the action at a lek.
Horned larks visited the lek each morning.
Horned larks visited the lek each morning.
Greater Roadrunner at Adobe Walls west of Canadian.
Greater Roadrunner at Adobe Walls west of Canadian.
House Cats living on porch of old building in the village of Lipscomb.
House Cats living on porch of old building in the village of Lipscomb.

Since prairie chickens seldom visit the lek during the afternoon, we spent that time looking for other wildlife and scenics.

Lesser Prairie Chicken landing.
Lesser Prairie Chicken landing.

Male prairie chickens constantly run and fly about the lek challenging other males.

Male challenging another bird.
Male challenging another bird.
Prairie Chicken threat posture.
Prairie Chicken threat posture.

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.

Landing lesser prairie chicken.
Landing lesser prairie chicken.

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.

Larry

Spring Arrives in Texas Hill Country

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.

White stones along the bank of Block Creek.
White stones along the bank of Block Creek.

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.

Carolina Wren on post
Carolina Wren on post.
Cedar Waxwing in sycamore tree, Texas, spring
Cedar Waxwing in sycamore tree, Texas, spring
Chipping Sparrow in blooming Redbud tree.
Chipping Sparrow in blooming Redbud tree.

 

Juvenile Harris's Hawk
Juvenile Harris’s Hawk
Eastern Bluebird feeding young
Eastern Bluebird feeding young
Northern Cardinal male hiding among the redbud blooms.
Northern Cardinal male hiding among the redbud blooms.
Spotted Towhee male foraging
Spotted Towhee male foraging
Spotted Towhee, female
Spotted Towhee, female

** 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

Clay jar by log cabin window.
Clay jar by log cabin window.
Rock Fence and cabin with dog run
Rock Fence and cabin with dog run
Bay horse at the red barn
Bay horse at the red barn
Hummingbirds and ball moss at sunrise
Hummingbirds and ball moss at sunrise
Red-tailed Hawk take off from tree stump.
Red-tailed Hawk take off from tree stump.

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.

Larry

 

FeatherFest 2016 – Rookery Photography

THERE IS NO TIME TO WASTE!  SIGN UP NOW!

Click on photos to enlarge and sharpen for better viewing.

Great Egret showing plume feathers, Texas coast
Great Egret showing plume feathers, Texas coast

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.

Roseate Spoonbill flight
Roseate Spoonbill flight
Reddish Egret landing
Reddish Egret landing

Hoping to see you there!

Larry

To Santa Fe and Back

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.

A Santa Fe hotel with luminaria along the walls.
A Santa Fe hotel with luminaria along the walls.

Most of these images were done with the Canon 5D Mark II and 24-105 lens with polarizing filter, hand-held.

Window and flower box with reflection of Santa Fe building.
Window and flower box with reflection of Santa Fe building.

This blue window photo was a little difficult to compose since it was covered by a canopy of ugly fabric.

Apricot in bloom, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe
Apricot in bloom, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

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.

Pink apricot blooms and shadows on an adobe wall.
Pink apricot blooms and shadows on an adobe wall.
Historic Santa Fe Church at night.
Historic Santa Fe Church at night.
Petroglyph from the Three Rivers site in central New Mexico.
Petroglyph from the Three Rivers site in central New Mexico.

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.

Rainbow and windmill west of Del Rio, Texas on the return from New Mexico.
Rainbow and windmill west of Del Rio, Texas on the return from New Mexico.
Windmill and cloud reflection at sunset.
Windmill and cloud reflection at sunset.

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.

*** For sale, both in great shape:

Nikon 80-200mm, f2.8, looks new            $700

Canon 300 mm, f4, excellent condition $700

 

Enjoy spring break, everybody.

Larry

 

Quiet Spot in the Marsh

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.

Roseate Spoonbill chasing black-necked stilts
Roseate Spoonbill chasing black-necked stilts
Stretching roseate spoonbill with black-necked stilts in the foreground.
Stretching roseate spoonbill with black-necked stilts in the foreground.
Roseate Spoonbill stretching by cattails
Roseate Spoonbill stretching by cattails
Resting roseate spoonbills by cattails.
Resting roseate spoonbills by cattails.

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.

Tricolored Heron feeding past as sleeping white ibis.
Tricolored Heron wading past a relaxed white ibis.

The raised foot gives this shot a sense of action that would have been missing in a typical “standing bird” pose.

White Ibis sleeping in the shallows at the sun sets.
White Ibis sleeping in the shallows at sunset.

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.

Larry

Another Fun Whooper Trip in the Books

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.

Blue crab numbers were up for the first time in several years.
Blue crab numbers were up for the first time in several years.

 

Whooping Crane family feeding on abundant blue crabs.  the orange-headed bird is a young of the year.
Whooping Crane family feeding on abundant blue crabs. The orange-headed bird is a young of the year.
Whooping Crane family feeding while on adult maintains almost constant vigil.
Whooping Crane family feeding while on adult maintains almost constant vigil.
Whooping Crane pair feeding at sunrise
Whooping Crane pair feeding at sunrise

 

whooper takeoff as a willet watches from the background.
whooper takeoff as a willet watches from the background.
Whooping Crane family in flight
Whooping Crane family in flight.

Sometimes you just can’t get the bird wings in sync.

American Avocets on the sunny side of the boat.
American Avocets on the sunny side of the boat.

Always be aware that good things can happen when you photograph wildlife while shooting into the sun.

Peregrine Falcon on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge boundary sign.
Peregrine Falcon on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge boundary sign.

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.

Brown Pelican landing on perch.
Brown Pelican landing on perch.

Each afternoon, we worked away from the boat to photograph wildlife at some of the many nice parks and habitats in the Rockport area.

Flushing green-winged teal.
Flushing green-winged teal.

Lots of ducks and wading birds winter in the Rockport area.

Male ruddy duck loafing.
Male ruddy duck loafing.

It had been awhile since I’d seen a male ruddy duck going into breeding plumage.

White Pelican taking fish from cormorant
White Pelican taking fish from cormorant

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.

Green Heron stalking fish
Green Heron stalking fish

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.

Green Heron feeding in the last rays of daylight.
Green Heron feeding in the last rays of daylight.
Oystering boats in Fulton Harbor, Texas
Oystering boats in Fulton Harbor, Texas

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.

Fulton Harbor at sunset
Fulton Harbor at sunset

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.

Join me next winter for a week with the cranes.

Larry

Santa Clara Dream Morning

Tuesday morning was a dream photo shoot for me at Santa Clara Photo Ranch west of Edinburg.  It was one of the few times I’ve photographed alone this year and the absence of human sounds was deafening.  It was obvious the critters appreciated the quiet time;  birds were everywhere.

The big EVENT of the morning began with a scream, then screams and more screams…the kind cats make when mating.  Around 8:00 AM, the chilling vocalizations started just 20 yards from my blind.  Knowing what it was, I quickly prepared the Canon 7d II and NEW 100-400 mm lens for action.  The first cat to appear was a large female that came within 20 feet of the blind before crouching for a long drink.

The cat was great; the new lens was great; the light overcast sky was great!  She paid no attention to the zip, zip, zip of the camera.  When she finally strolled away, a second kitty came in.  It was one of the prettiest bobcats I’ve even seen.  In the space of 5 minutes, both cats came and went.  It was a “hum-drum” morning after that.  Yep, there wasn’t much to do but photograph birds, green birds, red birds, orange birds, yellow birds, etc. , but somehow I muddled through.

Here are a few images from my big day at Santa Clara Photo Ranch:  Remember to click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.

bobcat drinking
bobcat drinking

 

Bobcat, female with "ocelot" markings on side.  Experts say  one cat in twelve, on average, will have these reticulations in their fur.
Bobcat, female with “ocelot” markings on the side. Experts say one cat in twelve, on average, will have these reticulate patterns in their fur.

 

Bobcat # 2 at photo blind pond.
Bobcat # 2 at photo blind pond.

 

Bobcat pausing in front of photography blind.
Bobcat pausing in front of photography blind.

 

Audubon's Oriole landing
Audubon’s Oriole landing.

This oriole was missing a toe on its right foot.

Northern Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia scolding
Northern Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia sharing a perch.

This is “the year of the northern cardinal in south Texas”.  Significant numbers have moved into McAllen for the winter and that’s a rarity.

It has taken me years to get sharp flight shots of a golden-fronted woodpecker.
It has taken me years to get sharp flight shots of a golden-fronted woodpecker.  I got several this day.

 

Photo demonstrating who rules the feeding post.
Photo demonstrating who rules the feeding post.

 

Male golden-fronted woodpecker posing in mid-air.
Male golden-fronted woodpecker posing in mid-air.

 

Green jay can't decide who eats first.
Green jays can’t decide who eats first.

 

Pre-focusing just behind the perch can insure a sharp image with full wing spread...provided the shutter speed is high enough to stop those wings.
Pre-focusing just behind the perch can insure a sharp image provided the shutter speed is high enough to stop those fantastic yellow wings.

 

House sparrow has lowest  rank at the feeding post.
Nobody told this house sparrow she has lowest rank at the feeding post.

 

Eight northern bobwhites lined up for their first drink of the day.
Eight northern bobwhites lined up for their first drink of the day.

The nature photography life is a sweet one on days like this.

Larry

Slow Morning on the Laguna Madre

I spent three hours yesterday morning photographing birds and a kayaker on the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island.  The weather was beautiful with a gentle north wind blowing down the bay and the sun at my back.  Hoping for some good flight photography, I patiently wasted 2/3 of my time waiting for ducks and pelicans that just didn’t come …at least not by air.     Fortunately, there were some birds about so, I took advantage of their feeding and loafing activity.

Using a Canon 7d II camera and 500 mm lens on the Gitzo tripod and Wimberley head, I had enough telephoto reach to make some reasonable captures.  Here are a few images from a slow morning on the Laguna Madre:  Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.

This male American wigeon was one of the few airborne birds of the morning.
This male American wigeon was one of the few airborne birds of the morning.

I prefer for birds in flight to be a little closer to my eye-level, but this bird was acceptable.  Wing position and light angle are important, of course.

An unusual sight, this cinnamon teal male swam by looking for a freshwater inflow where he could drink and bathe.
An unusual sight, this cinnamon teal male swam by looking for a freshwater inflow where he could drink and bathe.

 

One of the drake redheads that eventually drifted by.
One of the drake redheads that drifted by.

 

Mottled Duck drake (yellow bill) loafing in the shallows in good cover.
Mottled duck drake (yellow bill) loafing in the shallows with good cover.

 

*** When the wind is out of the northwest, photographers are mostly seeing the rear end of birds as they face into the wind.  It is important to capture the subject look back over its shoulder.

Red-breasted Merganser drake shaking water.  Mergansers are fish eaters.
Red-breasted merganser drake shaking water.

 

This red-breasted merganser was faster than his unlucky prey.
This red-breasted merganser was faster than his unlucky prey.

 

A beautiful morning to kayak the shallow Laguna Madre.
A beautiful morning to kayak the shallow Laguna Madre.

 

Clapper rail stalking along the shoreline.
Clapper rail on the hunt for invertebrates along the shoreline.

 

Common Gallinule at first light.
Common gallinule at first light.

 

Great Blue Heron cleaning his beak.
Great blue heron cleaning his bill.

 

Tricolored Heron preening on a black mangrove perch.
Tricolored heron preening on a black mangrove perch.

 

Reddish Egret herding a school of silvery fish in the shallows.
Reddish egret herding a school of silvery fish in the shallows.

…and so the morning ended.  There are many birds about the Laguna Madre this time of year, but success is always regulated by wind speed and direction and by the tides.  It takes some planning and good luck to catch a “fast” morning on the bay.  I’ll hit it right before winter ends.

Larry

January Whitetails

When December rolls around, I always try to dedicate about three days to photographing white-tailed deer at the peak of the breeding season.  But, this year the time just got away from me and I missed the chase.

Here are a few deer images from January 9, just in time to capture the end of the main rut.

Don’t forget to click on an image to increase its size and sharpness for better viewing.

Big buck emerging from weedy cover.
“How did that vine get on my antler?”

 

Young buck trailing a doe at sunrise.
Young buck trailing a doe at sunrise.

Most of these photos were taken from ground level with a Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 70-200 mm lens, hand held.  My elbows were on the ground and the stabilizer was on setting # 2.

Dominant buck testing the air for the scent of a doe.
Dominant buck testing the air for scent of a doe.

Getting this shot requires photographer vigilance and having the necessary camera/lens settings “dialed in” before that magic moment occurs.

Hot pursuit!
Hot pursuit!

 

This is my space!
“This is my space!”

 

What spike bucks do while the big boys are chasing does.
What spike bucks do while the big boys are chasing does.

These spikes played at “being bucks” for about 5 minutes and without paying any attention to me.

I hope you enjoyed this brief trip to deer country.

Larry