Category Archives: Newsletter

Annual Bosque del Apache Visit

Just before Thanksgiving, I led a group of photographers on the annual Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge instructional photo tour.  On the first morning, after capturing a few images of mallards and wood ducks in Albuquerque, we headed south 80 miles to Socorro, New Mexico and then on to the refuge for an afternoon session.

It was the first time I’ve shot the area before Thanksgiving and the temperatures were warmer than expected.   The birds were off the roost and heading out in a hurry to feed each morning.   On colder, post-Thanksgiving days, the birds tend to start the day later, after sunrise.  That slight delay gives photographers more opportunity for the great flight shots only Bosque can offer.  Nevertheless, it was a great week and the photographers were thankful they missed those mornings with cold fingers and frosty noses that often come with the early December photo sessions.

Here are samples of the great photo opportunities available in autumn along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico :

Click on an image to make it larger and sharper.  Then click on the right side of the photo to advance through the slide show.

Male wood duck landing in flooded cottonwoods near Albuquerque.
Male wood duck landing in flooded cottonwoods near Albuquerque.

 

Male wood duck takeoff.
Male wood duck takeoff.

 

Sandhill Crane in flight during early morning against a clear sky.
Sandhill Crane in flight during early morning against a clear sky.
Photographers at sunrise as snow geese "blast off" for the refuge farm fields.
Photographers at sunrise as snow geese “blast off” for the refuge farm fields.

***

Lesson #1, don’t shoot with your mouth open.

I carry my 24 – 105  mm wide angle lens and Canon 5D camera slung over one shoulder for those times when big flocks of geese erupt at close range.

Small groups of snow geese can be captured at the roost ponds with larger telephotos.
Small groups of snow geese can be captured at the roost ponds with larger telephotos.

*** It’s all in the wing position; wings pointing to the camera leave the birds looking “wingless” and weird.

The Bosque goose flock is a mix of white birds, blue color morph and Ross's geese (bottom).
The Bosque flock is a mix of white birds (top), blue color morph (middle) and smaller Ross’s goose (bottom).

I blurred parts of this image above to highlight three birds.  Everyone wants to know “what are those dark birds” and “why are some of the geese so small?”

Snow geese going to roost at sunset are set off against distant mountains on the White Sands Missile Range.
Snow goose going to roost at sunset is set off against distant, sunlit cliffs on the White Sands Missile Range.

 

Mallards headed for a shallow wetland to dabble and feed on grass and weed seeds.
Mallards headed for a shallow wetland to on grass and weed seeds.

 

Canada Geese on takeoff.
Canada Geese on takeoff.

Note the size difference of Canada Geese and the lone Green-winged Teal.

American Goldfinch feeding on sunflower seeds along the auto tour drive.
American Goldfinch feeding on sunflower seeds along the auto tour drive.

 

Sandhill Crain pair in flight.
Sandhill Crane pair in flight.

 

Cranes above the desert croplands.
Cranes above the desert croplands.

 

Sandhill Cranes landing at sunset.
Sandhill Cranes landing at sunset.

 

Photographer working the cranes coming to roost at sunset.
Photographer working the cranes coming to roost at sunset.

 

Cranes after sunset.
Silhouetted cranes after sunset.

 

Landing gear down for a soft landing at the roost.
Landing gear down for approach to the roost.

 

Sunset on the last day as cranes descend.
Sunset on the last day as cranes descend.

One happy photographer made 10,000 images during our 3 day shoot.  There must be some great photos in that batch!

Next week, we’ll take a look at some Oklahoma wildlife.

Larry

November in the Mountain Time Zone

Before Thanksgiving, I spent a week photographing mule deer and whitetails in the west.  Along the way, a few prairie dogs, bald eagles and geese got into the mix.  Below are a few of the 5000 thousand images from the trip.

When you click on a photo, it will open in a larger, sharper format.  Just click on the right edge of the shot to get the next image to appear in the slide show.

Mule Deer giant pauses during his early morning pursuit of a doe.
Mule Deer giant pauses during his early morning pursuit of a doe.

 

Mule deer monster just getting up from an afternoon nap.
Mule deer monster just getting up from an afternoon nap.

 

Well insulated for cold weather, a buck and doe mule deer resting near a thicket of scrub trees.
Well insulated for cold weather,  buck and doe mule deer resting near a thicket of scrub trees.

 

The big bucks were constantly on the move in a breeding frenzy.
The big bucks were constantly on the move in a breeding frenzy.

 

Big buck trailing a doe.
Big buck trailing a doe.

 

These big guys were locked in battle for about 3 minutes.
These big guys were locked in battle for about 3 minutes.

 

In spite of many clashing points, both bucks kept their eyes open during this combat.
In spite of the clashing antlers, both bucks kept their eyes open during combat.

 

A third large bucking coming to the fight.  He hopes to steal a doe while the dueling bucks are preoccupied.
A third large buck coming to the fight. He hopes to steal a doe while the dueling bucks are preoccupied.

 

Big mule deer bounding through the grasslands to chase away  another buck before it can make advances toward his doe.
Big mule deer bounding over the grasslands to chase another buck before it can make advances toward his doe.

 

Snow and cold temperatures serve to intensify the breeding urges of rocky mountain mule deer.
Snow and cold temperatures seem to intensify the breeding urges of Rocky Mountain mule deer.

 

Many large bucks move out into the grasslands to find bedding cover.
Many large bucks move out into the grasslands to find bedding cover.

 

As daylight fades on the Rockies, a big buck leaves his bedding area.
As daylight fades on the Rockies, a big buck leaves his bedding area.

 

My last look at this monster: antlers against a pink sky.
My last look at this monster: antlers against a pink sky.

 

Way out west the prairie dogs are feeing on weeds peeking through fresh snow.
Way out west the prairie dogs are feeding on weeds peeking through fresh snow.

 

It was so cold the Canada geese had to "slide" in for a landing on pond ice.
It was so cold in November that the Canada geese had to slide in for a landing.

 

Several bald eagles gather on the ice to partake of the remains of a coot who went skating on the wrong lake.
Several bald eagles gather on the ice to pick at the remains of a coot who went skating on the wrong lake.

 

Young whitetail buck following a doe on fresh snow.
Whitetail buck following a doe on fresh snow.

 

My little Nissan Rogue was less at home on the range than this eager young white-tailed deer.
My little Nissan Rogue  got great gas mileage but was less at home on the range than this frisky white-tailed deer.

 

Doe and fawn white-tailed deer soaking up the warming afternoon sun.
Doe and fawn white-tailed deer soaking up the warming afternoon sun.

 

Except for a quick glance my way, this old buck was totally focused on following a love interest.
Except for a quick glance my way, this old buck was totally focused on following a love interest.

 

Note what seems to be a third antler in this buck’s forehead.  His right antler forked at the hairline and grew laterally before shooting up as a misplaced brow tine.

Palmated antlers on a remarkable old buck whitetail.
Palmated antlers on a remarkable old buck whitetail.

 

Prairie whitetails after early winter snow.
Prairie whitetails after early winter snow.

 

There must be a doe out here somewhere...
There must be a doe out here somewhere…

 

A great piece of luck was encountering a bald eagle in a lonely tree at the end of my road.
A great piece of luck was  my encountering this bald eagle in a lonely tree at the end of a prairie road.

 

There are some big deer in those mountains!
There are some monarchs in those mountains!

These images were captured with Canon 7D and 1D Mark IV cameras with a 500 mm and 70-200 mm lens with 1.4X teleconverter.   Most of the time, I was hand-holding the camera for greater versatility of movement during some fast action.

Next week, I will share some mid-November work from southern Oklahoma.

Larry

Summary of Photo Work

In recent weeks, I’ve been working on so many things, it’s hard to remember specifics.  We were in the Davis Mountains of west Texas for two weeks, then we spent a week in Wichita Falls.  Much of the rest of the time, I’ve been getting ready for this winter’s and spring’s photo tours… obtaining permits, motel reservations, etc.  At last, it’s time to launch the photo season.

This week, I will lead photo tours at South Padre Island and in the North American Butterfly Association butterfly park for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico trips are coming up fast.

If you want to sign up for a trip, just check my Photo Tour schedule on this site.

Here are several images from the late summer and early autumn period:  Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.  If you click on the right side of a photo, you can advance to the next one.

Gray Fox sitting on a hillside in the Davis Mountains, Texas.
Gray Fox sitting on a hillside in the Davis Mountains, Texas.

These gray fox images were captured after sunset with my new Canon 70-200 mm f 2.8 lens with 1.4 teleconverter, hand-held.  I had read about its sharpness and the  quality is more than I’d hoped for.

Gray Fox begins its afternoon hunt in the Davis Mountains, Texas.
Gray Fox begins its afternoon hunt in the Davis Mountains, Texas.
Rufous Hummingbird male landing.
Rufous Hummingbird male landing.

Most of the hummingbird images were done without aid of multiple flashes.  These were done with a single flash used as a fill light.

Large, red flowers attract ruby-throated hummingbirds in the Davis Mountains, Texas.
Large, red flowers attract ruby-throated hummingbirds in the Davis Mountains, Texas.
This male black-chinned hummingbird shared a butterfly garden with several species of hummers during the fall migration in west Texas.
This male black-chinned hummingbird shared a butterfly garden with several species of hummers during the fall migration in west Texas.

By using the on-camera flash, I was able to photograph hummingbirds at relatively slow shutter speeds (1/125 – 1/200 second) to capture great light and wing blur.  Of course,  the blur gives a sense of motion to still image.  The trick is to keep the bird’s eye sharp.  For this capture, I used a Canon 7D camera, 500 mm lens with Really Right Stuff flash bracket and the Canon 580 EX flash.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird from the Ditto's front yard in September.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird from the Ditto’s front yard in September.

Dr. Beto Gutierrez and I had a good afternoon of photography in late September at his Santa Clara Ranch, one of the premier photo ranches in south Texas.  The next four photos were done from a photography blind at a water hole with year-round feeders.

Testing the new 70-200 mm lens on landing mourning doves at Santa Clara Ranch.
Testing the new 70-200 mm lens on landing mourning doves at Santa Clara Ranch.
On a warm, sunny afternoon at Santa Clara Ranch, everything is thirsty.
On a warm, sunny afternoon at Santa Clara Ranch, everything is thirsty.
Many migrating songbirds stop in for a drink at the Santa Clara ponds.
Many migrating songbirds stop in for a drink at the Santa Clara ponds.
Ample summer rains set off some late nesting for quail and doves.
Ample summer rains set off some late nesting for quail and doves.

 

An afternoon at the historic missions of San Antonio was productive.
An afternoon at the historic missions of San Antonio was productive.
Arches at the San Jose Mission convent in San Antonio.
Arches at the Mission San Jose convent in San Antonio.
Photogenic gate at Mission San Jose, San Antonio.
Photogenic gate at Mission San Jose, San Antonio.
Looking through a doorway at historic Mission San Jose, San Antonio.
Looking through a doorway at historic Mission San Jose, San Antonio.

Keep watching for fresh work in the coming weeks.

Larry

Arizona Scouting Trip

I just returned from a photography scouting trip to the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.  Austin photographer, Tom Ellis, and I spent three days searching for the best places to photograph the fabulous hummingbirds and other wildlife in southeast Arizona.

Although we knew we were heading west during their monsoon season, we had hoped for a good hummingbird migration.  The birds really hadn’t started moving south in mid-August, but there were enough species to get us excited about coming back in the spring.  We were searching for birds and found much more…great landscapes, a Gila monster, black-tailed rattlesnake, white-nosed coati, and some impressive  buck Coues deer.

There is room for two more photographers, so signup quickly if you can make the May 7-9 trip.  Accommodations fill quickly since the area is a popular birding hotspot, so we need to get you booked soon.

With the daily rains, we didn’t have much time to shoot last week, but May will be dryer.  Here are some of my images from the Chiricahuas.  Be sure to click on the photos to enlarge and sharpen them for viewing.

Highway into the Chiricahua Mountains at sunrise.
Highway into the Chiricahua Mountains at sunrise.

Yes, this is Arizona.  Temperatures hit the low 50’s at night and never exceeded 82 degrees in the daytime….mid- August monsoon season.

Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains carrying monsoon rainwater to the desert below.
Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains carrying monsoon rainwater to the desert below.
Juvenile male Anna's Hummingbird hovering.
Juvenile male Anna’s Hummingbird hovering.

The hummer above was photographed at 125th second, f4 with an on-camera flash set for Manual mode at 1/8th power.  The slow shutter speed produced this nice, ghost-like wing and tail blur.

Reptiles like this Gila Monster were active after a mid-day shower.
Reptiles like this Gila Monster were active after a mid-day shower.

Gila monsters are endangered and extremely hard to find.  One local naturalist told me she had only seen 4 in her lifetime.  The reptile is poisonous.

Gila Monster "tasting" the air.  Note the beaded skin.
Gila Monster “tasting” the air. Note the beaded skin.

These Gila monster shots were made from about 4 feet with a 70-200 mm lens.

Broad-billed Hummingbird resting on perch near feeder.
Broad-billed Hummingbird resting on perch near feeder.

 

Montezuma Quail resting and drying on a roadside boulder after a rain shower.
Montezuma Quail resting and drying on a roadside boulder after a rain shower.
Blue-throated Hummingbird in flight.
Blue-throated Hummingbird in flight.

Blue-throated and Magnificent hummingbirds were twice the size of most other hummers.

Arizona Woodpecker feeding on insects in the bark of a huge cottonwood tree.
Arizona Woodpecker feeding on insects in the bark of a huge cottonwood tree.

Several species of woodpecker were hanging out near the feeders where we photographed.

Acorn Woodpecker at feeder.
Acorn Woodpecker at feeder.

There were many opportunities to photograph birds and insects in natural habitat at various feeding stations.

White-lined Sphinx Moth feeding at salvia flowers.
White-lined Sphinx Moth feeding at salvia flowers.
This black-tailed rattlesnake was warming on the gravel road when we found him.
This black-tailed rattlesnake was warming on the gravel road when we found him.

The snake is in a natural coil.  We didn’t harass it to try for a “raised head and rattling tail” pose.  I shot this with the 500 mm lens rested on a camera bag near ground level to get the green background.

Adult Anna's Hummingbird in flight.
Adult Anna’s Hummingbird in flight.

These last two hummingbird photos were taken with the 500 mm lens, tripod, and on-camera flash set at 1/8 power in manual flash mode.

Male Rufous Hummingbird at feeder.
Male Rufous Hummingbird at feeder.
Afternoon storm over the Chiricahua Mountains.
Afternoon storm over the Chiricahua Mountains.

Join me in Arizona during the week of May 7-9.  I will emphasize natural light and camera flash photos of various birds, especially hummingbirds, and the multi-flash setup will be available in hope of getting some “wing stopping” shots.

Larry

 

2014-2015 Tour Schedule Set

I just posted the photo tour and workshop schedule for 2014-2015 on this website.  While it will be a few days until the last bit of information is added, the locations and dates are pretty much set, so check it out.

 

*** If you are a Nikon shooter or if you know one, check in with Kandace Heimer at kc@kandfoto.com .  She is selling a large inventory of her photo gear.  I can vouch that she took meticulous care of those cameras, lenses and accessories.  You will find some good buys with Kandace.

In recent days, I’ve been photographing on some of the local photo ranches.  Here are a few of the images from late May and early June.

When you click on an image, it will enlarge and get sharper.  “Previous” and “next” arrows are located on the left and right edges that will help you advance through the show.

Following images were from Laguna Seca Ranch:

Common Ground-Dove pair drinking at ranch pond.
Common Ground-Dove pair drinking at ranch pond.

The doves were late afternoon arrivals at a small pond with photo blind.   I liked the positioning of the two birds and the eye contact with the nearer dove.

I captured the image with a Canon 7D camera, Canon 500 mm IS lens, Gitzo 1348 Carbon-fiber tripod and Wimberley head.  This combination gave me 800 mm of magnification and lots of stability.   A teleconverter wasn’t necessary to bring these little guys in close.  The image stabilizer was off since the tripod offered the necessary support while shooting at ISO 400, 1/1000 second @ f11.  There would have been a moment of vibration as the stabilizer kicked on when the shutter button was pushed.

Great Kiskadee sweeps down for an anaqua berry.
Great Kiskadee swoops down for an anaqua berry.

The kiskadee was captured with the Canon 1D Mark IV, 300 mm Canon IS lens and Feisol carbon-fiber tripod and ball head at ISO 1000, 1/2000 second @ f4.

It was the diagonal position of the bird and the open wings that I liked about the great kiskadee shot.

Northern Mockingbird flapping wings.
Northern Mockingbird flapping wings.

Mockingbirds like to flap their wings, especially when trying to scare up a bug.  Image made with Canon 1D Mark IV, 500 mm Canon IS lens, Gitzo 1348 tripod and Wimberley head at ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f4.

Wet scissor-tailed flycatcher landing.
Wet scissor-tailed flycatcher landing.

From photo blind with Canon 1D Mark IV, 500 mm lens, ISO 1000, 1/3200 second @ f8.

This scissortail was diving into a large pond and flying up to the perch to shake water from its feathers.  On this capture, I liked the wings and tail, but the bird was looking directly at me so the bill shape wasn’t distinct.  On another landing, his head was turned.  I elected to clone the head from the other images and superimposed it here…a perfect fit.  The cowbird didn’t seem to mind.

Male scarlet tanager drinking at photo blind pond at the sun sets.
Male scarlet tanager drinking at photo blind pond at the sun sets.

Canon 1D Mark IV, 500 mm lens, tripod and Wimberley head at ISO 1000, 1/1600 second @ f4.5.

Using “evaluative metering”, I subtracted about 1 1/3 f stop of light to keep the eye and bill properly exposed while darkening the shaded area around it.  The spotlight effect makes the shot.

The following images are from the Santa Clara Ranch:

Texas horned lizard at sunrise.
Texas horned lizard at sunrise.

The warm light on this lizard was a combination of sunrise light and reflected light off the red soil where he was resting.

Canon 1D Mark IV, 300 mm lens, Gitzo 1348 tripod, Wimberley head at ISO 1000, 1/250 second @ f9.

Collared peccaries of all ages feeding in a tight group.
Collared peccaries of all ages feeding in a tight group.

Canon 1D Mark IV, 100-400 mm lens @ 285 mm, from blind using Gitzo window mount with Arca Swiss monoball head, ISO 800, 1/2000 second @ f5.6.

These collared peccaries (javelina) were traveling with young of varying ages.  The babies try to stay behind or under mom for safety from predators.  The dense brush in the background is their preferred habitat.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo drinking at photo blind pond.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo drinking at photo blind pond.

Canon 7D, 100-400 mm lens at 275 mm, window mount and ball head, ISO 400, 1/2000 second @ f5.6.

When the June temperature hits about 104 degrees as it was here, everything needs water.  Under these conditions, the normally reclusive yellow-billed cuckoo ventures cautiously to a photo blind pond for an afternoon drink.  The long-billed thrasher (background)was less wary.

Roseate Skimmer with legs extended for a landing.
Carmine Skimmer with legs extended for a landing.

 

Canon 7D, 500 mm lens, 1.4X teleconverter = 1000 mm of magnification, window mount and ball head, ISO 1000, 1/4000 second @ f5.6.

When shooting gets slow at the blind, we find ourselves photographing wasps and dragonflies.  By pre-focusing on the perch and swinging slightly right and using a high shutter speed, I was able to capture dragonflies in flight.

Aplomado falcon perched in yucca at sunrise.
Aplomado falcon perched in yucca at sunrise.

Canon 1D Mark IV, 500 mm lens, Gitzo tripod, Wimberley head,  ISO 1000, 1/1000 second @ f4

This image of an endangered aplomado falcon was taken from a blind in Cameron Co., Texas at sunrise.

Aplomado Falcon in flight shows long, narrow wings built for speed.
Aplomado Falcon in flight shows long, narrow wings built for speed.

Canon 1D Mark IV, 500 mm lens, Feisol tripod, Wimberley head, ISO 800, 1/5000 second @ f5.6 to freeze wing motion.

Adult aplomado falcon landing on yucca flower stalk.
Adult aplomado falcon landing on yucca flower stalk.

Canon 1D Mark IV, 500 mm lens, Feisol tripod, Wimberley head, ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f8.

Realizing this yucca was the falcon’s favorite perch, I set up to catch a landing by pre-focusing on the stalk and then manually rotating the focus ring slightly to add about 4″ of focus distance.  That let me get the bird with its wings open while landing.  Of course, I had to set the shutter speed to stop the action (about 1/2000 second shutter speed will stop most birds in flight).

Following photo taken at the Ramirez Photo Ranch near Roma, Texas:

Plain Chachalaca spreads tail and wings for balance.
Plain Chachalaca spreads tail and wings for balance.

*** Don’t forget to check out the new photo tour and workshop schedule available on this website by going back to the home page.

Larry

All the Old Haunts

For the last two weeks, I’ve visited several of the my old haunts here in south Texas, including Santa Clara Ranch, Laguna Seca Ranch, and South Padre Island.  It’s May and all the critters are doing two things, looking for water and mating…not necessarily in that order.  So, it was the right time to head for the country and stir up a few photos.

When you are viewing today’s photos, don’t forget to click on the image to enlarge it and make it sharper.  The right and left margins have hidden arrows for advancing and going to the previous photo.

Cottontail rabbits playing.
Cottontail rabbits playing.

 

The photo above was shot at blind #2 just after sunrise.  The two cottontails seemed to be playing tag…one would dash in and the other would leap over it.  In the past, I tried to get these shots with the super telephoto, but switching to the 100-400 mm lens allowed me to widen the view for catching a rabbit 3 feet in the air.

Mexican Ground-Squirrel with a water droplet on his chin.
Mexican Ground-Squirrel with a water droplet on his chin.

 

Pyrrhuloxia male fluttering wings as it approaches a group of feeding birds.
Pyrrhuloxia male fluttering wings as it approaches a group of feeding birds.

 

Brown-headed Cowbirds vying for a spot at the feeding post.
Brown-headed Cowbirds vying for a spot at the feeding post.
Northern mockingbird feed on agarita berries.
Northern mockingbird feed on agarita berries.

When agarita is fruiting, it is very attractive to birds and humans for food.  This limb was brought to south Texas by another photographer to set up a colorful perch for hungry, fruit-eating birds.

Migrating male yellow warbler bathing just before sunset.
Migrating male yellow warbler bathing just before sunset.

Yellow warblers, like this one at Laguna Seca Ranch, are always among the late spring migrant songbirds in south Texas.

Black-throated Green Warbler foraging for caterpillars among the leaves of a tepeguaje tree on South Padre Island during the spring migration.
Black-throated Green Warbler foraging for caterpillars among the leaves of a tepeguaje tree on South Padre Island during the spring migration.

 

Least terns feeding their young on a bar near the Laguna Madre.
Least terns feeding their young on a bar near the Laguna Madre.
Some black-bellied plovers are well into their summer plumage by the time they reach South Padre Island in the spring.
Some black-bellied plovers are well into their summer plumage by the time they reach South Padre Island in the spring.
Least Tern diving for fish in the surf along the Gulf of Mexico at South Padre Island.
Least Tern diving for fish in the surf along the Gulf of Mexico at South Padre Island.
When sargassum is carried ashore by the tides, sanderlings are there to find any sea creatures living in the plant's leafy segments and air bladders.
When sargassum is carried ashore by the tides, sanderlings are there to find any sea creatures living in the plant’s leafy segments and air bladders.
Piping plover leaping out of the surf after a quick bath.
Piping plover leaping out of the surf after a quick bath.

 

This piping plover photo is one of my favorites.  I used the 500 mm lens and 1.4 X teleconverter on a Canon 1D Mark IV to get this capture from the car window.  It was shot at 1/3200 sec. , f 6.3 on ISO 640.

This is just a little of what I’ve seen in my neck of the woods  in May.  It makes me all the more eager for June’s arrival.

Larry

 

Block Creek Birds and More

Last week, I was at the Block Creek Natural Area near Comfort, Texas to lead an instructional photo tour with three other photographers and our hosts Sharron and Larry Jay.  It was a fun four days with good company, great food and lots of wildlife.

During the week, John Karger, Director of “Last Chance Forever” brought several of his hawks and owls to the ranch.  It was educational and gave us an opportunity to photograph the birds at close range.

The following group of images should give you a pretty good idea of the beauty and wildlife diversity we enjoyed.  Be sure to click on the right side of each image to enlarge and sharpen it and to find the “next” arrow to take you through the images.

The Block Creek Natural Area Bed & Breakfast on a cool, clear night with crescent moon.
The Block Creek Natural Area Bed & Breakfast on a cool, clear night with crescent moon.

During the photo tour, we experienced unbelievably great weather with cool days and chilly, clear nights.

Star trails behind the old windmill right outside the front door.
Star trails behind the old windmill right outside the front door.

The painted bunting was number one on everybody’s priority list for this shoot.  No one was disappointed.

Male painted bunting and butterfly milkweed at an evening blind.
Male painted bunting and butterfly milkweed at an evening blind.

Each of us tried to hold our camera settings at 1/2000th second to stop flight action and head motion.  During the sunrise and sunset hours, we had to settle for something slower, but we never stopped looking for behavior and action shots.  The bunting was at 1/640th second and f4; the goldfinch was 1/400th second and f4.  Except for the hawks and owls where I used a wide angle lens or small zoom on the Canon 7D,  my bird captures were made with the 500 mm IS lens and Feisol carbon-fiber tripod with Wimberley head.

Lesser goldfinch launching from perch at an evening blind.
Lesser goldfinch launching from perch at an evening blind.
the reddish phase eastern screech was the first I'd seen or photographed.
The reddish phase eastern screech was the first I’d seen or photographed.

 

Harris's Hawk in a dive.
Harris’s Hawk in a dive.
Harris's Hawk landing.
Harris’s Hawk landing.

This hawk passed within two feet of my head and 24 mm lens while landing.

Male black-chinned hummingbird feeding at lantana blooms near a photo blind.
Male black-chinned hummingbird feeding at lantana blooms near a photo blind.
Black-chinned hummingbirds, male and female, feeding at a thistle flower with grass as a background and natural light.
Black-chinned hummingbirds, male and female, feeding at a thistle flower with grass as a background and natural light.
Fox squirrels and wild turkey visited several photo blinds each day.
Fox squirrels and wild turkey visited several photo blinds each day.
Black-crested titmice were at every blind.
Black-crested titmice were at every blind.
Male house finch is colorful plumage.
Male house finch in colorful, spring plumage.
Chipping sparrows were common around the photography blinds at Block Creek Natural Area.
Chipping sparrows were common around the photography blinds at Block Creek Natural Area.
Male vermilion flycatcher on thistle.
Male vermilion flycatcher on thistle.

Having saved the best for last, we photographed this male vermilion flycatcher on Sunday morning in a meadow in front of the ranch house.

I hope to lead another photo tour at the Block Creek Natural Area next spring during the first week of May.  Plan to join me if you like colorful birds, starry skies and good food.

Larry

A Gem in the Hill Country

Last week I spent two days with Sandy and Leslee Hurwitz at their “Transition Ranch” northwest of Uvalde, Texas.  They are in the process of building the ranch into a nature photography destination, so I was invited to provide advice.  In my opinion, the greatest challenge to starting another photography ranch is having topography and wildlife that offer something different.  The Transition has all of that.

We photographed at a blind that is being constructed but where food and water had been in place for several months.  Many species of birds visited that site.  All that remains to be done there is to get the blind finished and prepare a number of good bird perches.

Some of the birds you will see in this week’s newsletter were located in the oak and juniper (cedar) covered hills within the ranch.  Most notable among the species in this habitat are black-capped vireo, golden-cheeked warbler, and Montezuma quail.  With just a little extra work, I think some mammals like gray fox and white-tailed deer will be available at the blinds.

Here are some of the bird photos from my two days at “Transition”.  Remember, just click on a photo to make it enlarge and sharpen.  By clicking the arrow on the right edge of each photo, you can advance to the next shot.

Endangered black-capped vireo perched in hill country habitat.
Endangered black-capped vireo perched in hill country habitat,

 

Black-capped vireo perched on dead juniper limbs.
Black-capped vireo perched on dead juniper limbs.
Golden-cheeked Warbler in juniper.
Golden-cheeked Warbler in juniper.
Curious endangered golden-cheeked warbler in prime habitat.
Curious endangered golden-cheeked warbler in prime habitat.
Male hooded oriole at the creek blind in late afternoon.
Male hooded oriole at the creek blind in late afternoon.
Western scrub jay visited the photo blind to feed.
Western scrub jay visited the photo blind to feed.

All of these bird photos were made with a Canon 7D camera, 500 mm IS lens, Feisol carbon fiber tripod and Wimberley head.

Cautious male summer tanager coming in for a drink.
Cautious male summer tanager coming in for a drink.
Black-throated sparrows are abundant at Transition Ranch.
Black-throated sparrows are abundant at Transition Ranch.
Cedar Waxwings are winter and spring residents.
Cedar Waxwings are winter and spring residents.
This blue grosbeak was looking for a perch with complimentary colors.  This lichen covered rock was a perfect find.
This blue grosbeak was looking for a perch with complimentary colors. This lichen covered rock was a perfect find.
Lark sparrows were a part of the bird diversity at a Transition Ranch photo blind.
Lark sparrows were a part of the bird diversity at a Transition Ranch photo blind.
Lincoln's sparrow is spot-lighted while taking it evening bath at the bird blind.
Lincoln’s sparrow spot-lighted while taking it evening bath at the bird blind.
Prickly pear cactus covered in blooms.
Prickly pear cactus covered in blooms.

My visit to Transition Ranch was pretty much unscripted.  While roaming the hills, we photographed prickly pear cactus in bloom, endangered birds, a quail nest and many other subjects.  You should plan your April, 2015 to include a photo trip to Transition Ranch.

Accommodations and meals are a part of the nature photography package.  All you have to do is relax and enjoy the scene.

Larry

Way out West – Big Bend National Park

It’s been a long time between posts.  I’ve been to Big Bend National Park with a workshop and then on to Galveston’s Featherfest.  This past week, Sandy Hurwitz and his lovely wife, Leslee, hosted me at their Transition Ranch west of Uvalde where we photographed as many birds as possible in two days.  More about that later.

For four days, Joe Zinn and I lead a group of 8 photographers around the huge west Texas park in pursuit of the perfect landscape photo.  I think they all got it.  Unfortunately, you will have to look at some of my shots instead.

Remember to click on the images to change them to a larger, sharper format and to get the “next” button.

Agave and Chisos Mountains at sunrise.
Agave and Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park at sunrise.

All these images were done with a Canon 5D Mark II camera; 16-35 mm or 24 – 105 mm lenses, Feisol carbon fiber tripod and ball head, and electronic release.  For the shot of cactus (below), I used the super-wide lens focused from about 12″ while I leaned against a small ledge over the river.

Cactus and Rio Grande above the Hot Springs in the eastern part of Big Bend National Park.
Cactus and Rio Grande above the Hot Springs.

 

Rock formation at sunrise with Chisos Mountains in the background.
Rock formation at sunrise with Chisos Mountains in the background.

 

Santa Elena Canyon in black and white.
Santa Elena Canyon in black and white.

This image (above) needed some clouds to make the black and white image pop.  Nevertheless, I decided to do it anyway.

First light on Ocotillo and Santa Elena Canyon.
First light on Ocotillo and Santa Elena Canyon.

 

The Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains from overlook near Rio Grande Campground.
The Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains at sunset from overlook near Rio Grande Campground.

 

Light painting an old church in Terlingua, Texas on a clear night.
Light painting an old church in Terlingua, Texas on a clear night.

After I set up my camera and composed this scene (above), I went inside to light paint while another photographer triggered the 30 second exposure.

Boquillas Rim in the Sierra del Carmen range on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park.
Boquillas Rim in the Sierra del Carmen range on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park.

I waited for this scene to develop by allowing the sun to reach the western horizon.  After the closer mountains were in shadow, the Boquillas Rim turned pink in the warm sunset light.

In the next newsletter, I’ll share some bird photos from area ranches.

Larry

Turkey Time

I have some exciting news to share with you this week.  Kathy Adams Clark, her husband, Gary and I have partnered on a new book from Far Country Press called “Texas – A Photographic Journey”.   You can find it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble, Costco and many of the state’s other book stores and nature centers.  Take a quick look at the promotional ad below and consider adding this one to your library.   Reading it will be like taking a  trip across Texas to see our cities, historic sites, and natural wonders.

PR-Texas_APJ-email-1

 

Several mornings this past week, I visited a nearby south Texas ranch to photograph wild turkeys as their mating season begins.  The weather was fantastic and, as always, the ranch country was beautiful at sunrise.

Now, here are some of the photos from last week’s ranch trips:  Just click on the right side of a photo and it will open in a larger, sharper format.  There are “next” and “previous” arrows on the sides to advance help you advance through the images.

Over 100 turkeys left the roost at first light and headed out to spend the day feeding, courting and such.
Male turkeys are scattered up and down this path used by the hens to reach a favored feeding area.
Male turkeys are scattered up and down this path used by the hens to reach a favored feeding area.

 

Big "Tom" turkeys strutting their stuff for the ladies.
Big “Tom” turkeys strutting their stuff for the ladies.
Each gobbler spreads it tail feathers, ruffles it feathers, drags its wings and filled it wattles and snood with bright red blood to look stronger and more handsome to the opposite sex.
Each gobbler spreads its tail, ruffles it feathers, drags its wings and fills its wattles and snood with bright red blood in the hope of looking stronger and more handsome than the other males.

 

Excited males respond in unison to any loud noise or another turkey's gobble.
Excited males respond in unison to any loud noise or another turkey’s gobble.
This big gobbler was in a hurry to reach the meadow and begin strutting his stuff and the hens arrived.
This big gobbler was in a hurry to reach the meadow and begin strutting his stuff as the hens arrived.

Notice that most of these images were made at ground level either hand-holding the 100-400 mm lens and camera or sitting in the grass with the big 500 mm lens and camera on a shortened tripod.  This low perspective always brings the viewer into a more personal relationship with the image.  It’s almost like being another turkey in the flock.  * I know…some of you are saying “another turkey is right in this case”.

The idea is "never give up the strut".  Sooner or later one of the hens will be ready to mate and this big bird wants to be first in line.
The idea is “never give up the strut”. Sooner or later one of the hens will be ready to mate and this big bird wants to be first in line.
Gobbler and hen, each very much aware of the other's presence.
Gobbler and hen, each very much aware of the other’s presence.

In case you never noticed, male turkeys have black-tipped covert (body) feathers and females have buff-tipped feathers.  This certainly gives the females some advantage of camouflage while nesting .  Of course, they are ground nesters like their cousins the quail, chickens, pheasants and such.

Several excited gobblers are determined to take out their aggression on a buck white-tailed deer.
Several excited gobblers are determined to take out their aggression on a buck white-tailed deer.

The buck deer and the gobblers seemed to enjoy this confrontation.  Mostly, it was posturing, but the turkeys did try hitting their victim with those powerful wings until they realized he wasn’t backing down.

 

A group of fulvous whistling ducks headed up the coast for more suitable habitat.
A group of fulvous whistling ducks headed up the coast for more suitable habitat.

 

Yucca_MG_1294
Spanish Dagger in bloom…another sign that spring has arrived in south Texas.

 

While roaming the ranch last week (right after a cold front passed), I saw a mesquite tree full of male Baltimore orioles.  So, the spring migration has begun for many species.

Hope you enjoyed this time with the flock.

Larry