Category Archives: Newsletter

Last Week at Santa Clara

Last week, I hit the Santa Clara Photo Ranch twice and came away with a few pleasing images.  This time of year, the birds are pretty “ratty”, but there was a lot of action with deer, rabbits and birds around the water holes.  White-winged doves swarmed to the ponds every afternoon and my seeing them by the hundreds was pretty special.

Click on any of these photos and they will enlarge and sharpen for better viewing.

Cottontail Rabbit in the shade.
Cottontail Rabbit in the shade.
Groove-billed Anis drinking.
Groove-billed Anis drinking.
White-winged Doves staging at the pond before coming to drink.
White-winged Doves staging at the pond before coming to drink.
White-winged Doves are jumpy when drinking 15' from the photo blind and cameras are clicking.
White-winged Doves are jumpy when drinking 15′ from the photo blind and cameras are clicking.

I’m really enjoying the 70-200 mm lens for groups of birds and mammals at the photo blind waterhole.  It insures that I have plenty of shutter speed, sharpness and wide angle for flapping wings during the last hour of daylight.

White-winged Dove flying in for a drink.
White-winged Dove flying in for a drink.

Canon 7D Mark II, 70-200 mm lens hand held, 1/4000 sec. @ f5.6, ISO 640, hand held.

Ground Squirrel slipping out of the shadows to grab a drink.
Ground Squirrel slipping out of the shadows to grab a drink.
Thirsty greater roadrunner.
Thirsty greater roadrunner.
Nervous white-winged doves gathering for their last drink of the day.
Nervous white-winged doves gathering for their last drink of the day.

It’s been fun shooting at the ranch ponds but I’m sure glad fall is around the corner.  My rattling around in the cooler for a cold drink always disturbs the wildlife.

Larry

 

July in the Davis Mountains

For the last three years, my wife and I have gone to the Davis Mountains of west Texas for a week-long summer retreat.  While the temperatures hovered close to 100-degrees in south Texas, the mountain air was refreshingly cool throughout the July trip.  Of course, I had my camera gear along and used it every day to capture hummingbirds, foxes, mountains scenes and wildlife.

Here are several images I hope you will enjoy.  Don’t forget to click on an image to make it enlarge and sharpen for better viewing.

Aoudad Sheep, ewe on hillside near Fort Davis, Texas
Aoudad Sheep, ewe on hillside near Fort Davis, Texas

While eating breakfast one morning and watching for wildlife on the hills out the back window, I spotted a herd of approximately 13 aoudad sheep ewes and lambs grazing on the mountainside.

Aoudad Sheep, ewe on Davis Mountain hillside near Fort Davis, Texas
Aoudad Sheep grazing near several sotol plants.

By adding a 1.4 X tele-extender behind my 500 mm IS lens, the magnification was improved significantly for the sheep photos.

Black-chinned Hummingbird, male feeding at salvia flowers, Davis Mountains, Texas
Black-chinned Hummingbird, male feeding at salvia flowers, Davis Mountains, Texas
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird male with purple gorget.

Although there were only about 8 hummingbirds around the house, most were males and I had a lot of fun working them at the multi-flash setup.  All the birds were black-chinned hummingbirds.

Black-chinned Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird male in flight.
Full moon and agave
Full moon and agave

Century plants (agaves) were in full bloom at mid-July.

Agaves in bloom, Davis Mountains, Tx
Agaves in bloom, Davis Mountains, Tx.

Just after sunrise, I captured this scene with clouds and century plants (agaves) along the roadside near McDonald Observatory.

Davis Mountains and agave in bloom, Texas, July
Davis Mountains and agave in bloom, Texas, July

I used HDR toning while processing the photo above.

Scott's Oriole, male in agave flowers, Davis Mountains, Texas
Scott’s Oriole, male in agave flowers, Davis Mountains, Texas

This Scott’s Oriole fed among the agave blooms for several days at our residence near Fort Davis.

Scott's Oriole, male on agave bloom.
Scott’s Oriole, male on agave bloom.

Alerted by this bird’s distinctive call (the windows were always open so we could enjoy the cool breeze), I simply sneaked out of the house and photographed him from under the edge of the porch roof.

Gray Fox strolling across the hillside behind the house where we stayed.
Gray Fox strolling across the hillside behind the house where we stayed.

A long-time resident pair of gray foxes came by the house each afternoon at sunset, looking for a handout (usually weenies).

Gray Fox, Davis Mountains
Gray Fox, Davis Mountains

The 70-200 Canon lens with 1.4 tele-extender on the Canon 1D Mark IV body, hand held.

Gray Fox in grassland, Davis Mts, Texas
Gray Fox in grassland, Davis Mts, Texas
Gray Fox in side oats gramma grassland, Davis Mountains, Texas
Gray Fox appears from behind the sideoats grama, Davis Mountains, Texas.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the chance to do this again next year.

Larry

 

Bird with a Swinging Nest

I spent a couple of mornings in April photographing Altamira orioles at the nest.  As you may know, this species constructs an incredible hanging nest which sometimes reaches 2′ in length.  Coupled with the birds’ incredible gold and black colors and melodious song, they are a joy to watch, hear or photograph.

The following photos were made with the tripod standing on the ground and/or the back of a pickup.  As usual, my equipment included a Wimberley tripod head, Canon 7D Mark II camera and 500 mm IS lens.  I mostly tried to capture behavior and flight shots… fun but not easy.

Just click on a photo and it will enlarge and sharpen for viewing.  Click on the right border of a photo to advance to the next image.

Altamira Oriole leaving nest, s. Texas; tepeguaje tree.
Altamira Oriole leaving nest, s. Texas; tepeguaje tree.

 

 

 

Altamira Oriole singing from the nest entrance; tepeguaje tree.
Altamira Oriole singing from the nest entrance.
Altamira Oriole adult in flight, s. Texas
Altamira Oriole adult in flight, s. Texas

 

Altamira Oriole leaving nest, s. Texas; tepeguaje tree.
Altamira Oriole leaving nest.

 

Altamira Oriole adult in flight, s. Texas
Altamira Oriole adult in flight, s. Texas

It was almost impossible to anticipate the birds’ flight path as they returned to the nest with invertebrates for the young.  Hence, I got no flight shots of birds carrying colorful caterpillars and bugs, but I hope to get ‘er done next spring.

Have a good week,

Larry

Hot Wildlife Photography at Santa Clara Ranch

Santa Clara Ranch owner, Dr. Alberto “Beto” Gutierrez, called me at lunch yesterday to see if I was interested in heading out to the ranch for an afternoon of photography.  At the time, I was comfortably engrossed in a good book and didn’t want to leave the air conditioning.   Besides, the outside temperature was already hovering at 100 degrees.

Of course, I threw the book aside, jumped into my field clothes and headed for Beto’s place.  We arrived at the ranch around 3:00 PM and crawled into the blind to enjoy the 103 degree afternoon.  Birds were everywhere and everybody needed water.  In five minutes, we were “blazing” away at various birds, rabbits, ground squirrels and other critters.  The photography just got better as the day rocked along and things peaked about 6:45 PM when a young bobcat came in for a drink.    By that time, we’d already photographed deer, rabbits, and over a dozen species of birds.

Here are some of the images we captured on that toasty Texas afternoon:  click on the photos to make them larger and sharper.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo landing in granjeno bush, s. Texas
Yellow-billed Cuckoo landing in granjeno bush, s. Texas

These are the best yellow-billed cuckoo shots I’ve made.  These were done with the Canon 7D Mk II, 70-200 mm lens and 1.4X teleconverter, hand held.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo drinking at ranch pond, s. Texas
Yellow-billed Cuckoo drinking at ranch pond, s. Texas
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flushing from ranch pond, s. Texas.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flushing from ranch pond, s. Texas.

Once we photographed the cuckoo and this scissor-tailed flycatcher, we knew for sure it would be a hot afternoon.

Female Bullock's oriole bathing while a young golden-fronted woodpecker waits its turn in the pond.
Female Bullock’s oriole bathing while a young golden-fronted woodpecker waits its turn in the pond.
Molting golden-fronted woodpecker and cardinal sitting in shade on a 102 degree afternoon by the ranch pond.
Molting golden-fronted woodpecker and a young cardinal sitting in shade on a 102 degree afternoon by the ranch pond.
Greater Roadrunner taking dust bath
Greater Roadrunner taking dust bath

Although this roadrunner drank often, it chose a dust bath instead of the wet type.

Groove-billed Ani drinking
Groove-billed Ani drinking

Eight anis were among the last birds to arrive at the pond on this afternoon.  The group of young and molting adults were more fun to watch than to photograph.

Groove-billed Anis grooming, s. Texas
Groove-billed Anis grooming, s. Texas
White-tailed Deer, does drinking at s. Texas photography ranch (Santa Clara).
White-tail does drinking at s. Texas photography ranch (Santa Clara).

These cautious white-tailed deer were all ears as we clicked away while they drank.

Bobcat drinking at pond in summer
Bobcat drinking at pond just before sunset.
Bobcat headed into brushy cover
Bobcat headed into brushy cover

This young cat almost walked into the blind after drinking from the nearby pond.  We were so excited by this cat that we pretty much forgot about photographing birds for the last half hour of the day.

As we left the ranch at sunset, the resident pair of Harris’s hawks showed up at the ranch house raptor blind, assuming Beto would leave a beef kinney supper on their favorite perch.   He did.

Larry

Bird Diversity of SE Arizona

In April, I guided a group of photographers on a three day instructional photo tour into southeast Arizona.  I’d always heard about how great the birding and bird diversity are in that place, but seeing is believing.

With the heavy rains throughout last summer, autumn and winter, the vegetation was lush and the birds were scattered.  Water was abundant so the bird concentrations were not as good as usual.

The weather was great.  Our cabins were at about 5,000 feet so the temperatures were really nice.  If I’d known how hot it was going to get in south Texas this year, I might have stayed on in Arizona.

The group did a lot of photography at my high-speed flash setup for hummingbirds.  Because the birds were scattered, we only got three species of hummers…blue-throated, broad-billed and black-chinned.  Everybody got tons of good images at the setup, however.

Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.  Click on the right edge of each photo to bring up the next image.

Acorn Woodpecker on agave.
Acorn Woodpecker on agave.
Arizona Woodpecker, female
Arizona Woodpecker, female on alligator juniper.
Western Tanager male on agave.
Western Tanager male on agave.
Black-chinned Hummingbird male feeding.
Black-chinned Hummingbird male feeding.

This male black-chinned hummingbird was photographed with natural light at 1/400 second, f4 @ ISO 640 with the new Canon 7D II.

Blue-throated Hummingbird in flight, Az.
Blue-throated Hummingbird in flight, Az.
Blue-throated Hummingbird in flight
Blue-throated Hummingbird in flight
Blue-throated Hummingbird in Arizona
Blue-throated Hummingbird in Arizona
Broad-billed Hummingbird, male in flight, Az.
Broad-billed Hummingbird, male in flight, Az.
Gambel's Quail male perched in dead willow
Gambel’s Quail male perched in dead willow
Gambel's Quail stand in shaded brush with evening sunlight streaming through.
Gambel’s Quail stand in shaded brush with evening sunlight streaming through.
Young male Lazuli Bunting, Arizona
Young male Lazuli Bunting, Arizona
Hepatic Tanager on century plant, Arizona
Hepatic Tanager on century plant, Arizona

My first hepatic tanager (above) was shy but posed for a few images.

Band-tailed Pigeon in juniper
Band-tailed Pigeon in juniper
Painted Redstart with spiders, Arizona
Painted Redstart with spiders, Arizona
Painted Redstart with spider, Arizona
Painted Redstart with spider, Arizona
Painted Redstart
Painted Redstart

These painted redstart photos were my first, too.  This hyper little bird was feeding young, but allowed our entire group to stand on the walking trail and photograph.  Talking about a difficult exposure…a black and white bird with a red breast.

I left that magnificent hummingbird dream photo out in Arizona, but just seeing it was a big reward for the effort.

Larry

South Texas Summer Residents

I just wanted to post a few images I got last week on a resaca (oxbow) near Brownsville.  It seems there is always something good to photograph, even in the hottest part of the summer.  I was surprised that none of these birds showed serious signs of molting.

Remember, you can click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.  Clicking on the right edge of a photo will show you how to advance to the next image.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck in flight
Black-bellied Whistling Duck in flight
Black-bellied Whistling Duck perched in tree
Black-bellied Whistling Duck perched in tree

Ducks like to perch and remain motionless for long periods but photographer patience will pay off.  The ducks have to stretch or fly every little while.

Green Kingfisher watching for avian predators.
Green Kingfisher watching for avian predators.

I waited two hours for a green kingfisher to fly on to this perch.  The nice head tilt came while she was looking upward for avian predators.

Pied-billed Grebe with minnow
Pied-billed Grebe with minnow
Pied-billed Grebe stretching
Pied-billed Grebe stretching

Grebes have to stretch, shake off excess water, and move around.  They don’t seem to have the patience for sitting and resting.  That great background color is sunset light bouncing off the resaca.

Stay cool,

Larry

Big Bend In Bloom

My annual Instructional Photo Tour to the Big Bend National Park during late March and early April this year was the best ever.  Because of exceptional rainfall winter rains, the park was abloom and flush with color.  Many who have visited or worked in the park agree that this spring bloom was a once-in-10-years event.

Take a look at the photos which follow and note the color explosion which we haven’t seen in past trips.   Don’t forget to click on the right edge of a photograph to increase the size and sharpness for better viewing.

Claret Cup Cactus above the Pecos River, Texas
Claret Cup Cactus above the Pecos River, Texas

The scene above greeted us as we prepared to cross the Pecos River at the upper end of Amistad Reservoir.  After stopping at the overlook for a leg stretch, I spotted red cactus blooms along the cliff below.  One hour later, after thoroughly photographing the landscape, we were back in the car and headed west.

Big Bend National Park in bloom; bluebonnets and prickly pear cactus
Big Bend National Park in bloom; bluebonnets and prickly pear cactus

I decided to add a touch of “canvas” to the background on this image.  The Photoshop filters offer some exciting options to get the most from a print.  This image was a little north of Castolon Store in Big Bend Natl. Park.

 

Prickly pear cactus in bloom with "mule ears" formation in the background at Big Bend National Park, Texas
Prickly pear cactus in bloom with “mule ears” formation in the background at Big Bend National Park, Texas

 

I think I was sitting in some dead dog cactus while shooting this photo at nearly ground level.  Sometimes I get caught up in the moment and forget to inspect the ground closely before getting in close to the subject.

Wildflowers on Dog Canyon Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Wildflowers on Dog Canyon Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It’s a 5 mile round trip from the highway to Dog Canyon in the northern part of the park.  The photography group loved the hike, the wildflowers and the cliffs.

Tourist watching the sun set through "the window" in the Chisos Mts. in Big Bend National Park
Tourist watching the sun set through “the window” in the Chisos Mts. in Big Bend National Park

The Chisos Basin “window” is always our first planned photo stop in the park.  When clouds are present, the window is always exceptional during sunset.

Big Bend Wildflowers_MG_6940Bluebonnets added a lot of nice color this view of ruins near Cottonwood Campground looking north to the Chisos Mountains.

Rio Grande near Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas
Rio Grande near Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of my favorite views of the Rio Grande as it turns toward the Boquillas rim at sunset.

Hot Springs by the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park, Texas
Stars and light painting on the hot springs bath house by the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Big  Bend National Park at sunrise in Santa Elena Canyon.
Big Bend National Park at sunrise in Santa Elena Canyon.
Historic Terlingua Cemetery, Terlingua, Texas
Historic Terlingua Cemetery, Terlingua, Texas
Grave marker in the Terlingua Cemetery
Grave marker in the Terlingua Cemetery

 

One of the big favorites on every Big Bend photo trip is trying to capture a "starburst" at sunrise or sunset.
One of the big favorites on every Big Bend photo trip is trying to capture a “starburst” at sunrise or sunset.
Wildflowers and Chisos Mountains at Big Bend National Park.
Wildflowers and Chisos Mountains at Big Bend National Park.

We just had to stop for one (or was it 50) more wildflower photo  before exiting the park after 4 fantastic days.  The sun was just coming up as we unlimbered the tripods near Panther Junction and the Chisos Mountains.

Larry

Block Creek Bonanza

Finally, I got time to sit down and look through this season’s images from the Block Creek Natural Area during late April.  They had a lot of rain this year, so the timing of bird nesting and things like that were a little off.  Nevertheless, we had a great week with two groups of photographers, back to back.  I’ve got a bunch of images to show you a sample of what the group got, so let’s get to it.

Don’t forget, clicking on an image will give you the enlarged and sharpened view.

Red barn at Block Creek Bed and Breakfast
Red barn at Block Creek Bed and Breakfast

The first things I noticed when I arrived the day before our photographers was that the barn had been painted and the entrance road had a new surface.  The big oaks in the back yard provided the perfect frame for the barn.

Orange clouds at sunset with windmill and freshly surfaced road to the house.
Orange clouds at sunset with windmill and freshly surfaced road to the house.
Block Creek Natural Area green house.
Block Creek Natural Area green house.

Larry and Sharron Jay had lots of fresh flowers in the greenhouse and throughout the grounds.

Parking and flowers at Block Creek B&B
Parking and flowers at Block Creek B&B
Eastern Screech Owl; both color morphs.
Eastern Screech Owl; both color morphs.

The Last Chance Forever folks brought a variety of owls and hawks to the Block Creek Natural Area to educate our photographers and to use as subjects for a morning photography session.

Great Horned Owl eyes
Great Horned Owl eyes
serious face of the red-tailed hawk
serious face of the red-tailed hawk
Harris's Hawk in flight
Harris’s Hawk in flight

 

 

Luckenbach Store jazzed up with a little HDR toning.  I like it!
Luckenbach Store jazzed up with a little HDR toning. I like it!

I was experimenting with the HDR Toning component of Photoshop and discovered that it can help make some photos much more fun to see than when they are processed “normally”.  The rooster below was one of the most colorful birds I’d ever seen so I couldn’t help but boost the colors into another level.

Rooster on stage at Luckenbach, Texas post office and store
Rooster on stage at Luckenbach, Texas post office and store

 

Tiger Swallowtail on thistle bloom
Tiger Swallowtail on thistle bloom
Black Swallowtai femalel on thistle bloom.
Black Swallowtail female on thistle bloom.
Wild turkey gobbler strutting in front of our small bird photography blind.
Wild turkey gobbler strutting in front of our small bird photography blind.
wild turkey gobbler enjoying the seeds and insects available in a Block Creek Natural Area meadow.
wild turkey gobbler enjoying the seeds and insects available in a Block Creek Natural Area meadow.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker hammering on oak limb
Ladder-backed Woodpecker hammering on oak limb

This woodpecker was hanging upside down while working on this dead oak branch.  I thought the shot would make more sense if rotated to a vertical pose.

male Eastern Bluebird perched on lichen-covered branch.
male Eastern Bluebird perched on lichen-covered branch.

Almost everyone in our group got shots of this beautiful male eastern bluebird.

male Painted Bunting on weed
male Painted Bunting on weed
male black-chinned hummingbird feeding at yucca flowers.
male black-chinned hummingbird feeding at yucca flowers.

So, we saw a lot and photographed most of it.  I did leave out some historic buildings we worked with just down the highway from Block Creek NA.  The area has a lot to offer outdoor photographers.

Larry

Wet Week at Transition Ranch

A few months back, some of you may recall that I was chattering more than usual about the photography opportunities at Transition Ranch near Uvalde, Texas.  During the dry spring of 2014, I helped the owners select photo blind locations and I showed them where to find golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos.  After a few days at the ranch, I was really excited about the possibilities.  Then, when April arrived this year, the ranch was drenched with record amounts of rainfall.

Here are a few of the images I captured at Transition Ranch while guiding two groups of photographers at mid-month.   For best viewing, click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it.  Click on the right center of each image to advance through the images.

House Finch_79A6750

House Finches were abundant in spite of heavy rains.

House Finches provided lots of action when shooting was slow with other birds.
House Finches provided lots of action when shooting was slow with other birds.

 

Male Hooded Oriole calling from a Texas persimmon tree.
Male Hooded Oriole calling from a Texas persimmon tree.

 

A shy orchard oriole at the morning blind.
A shy orchard oriole at the morning blind.

 

White-winged doves have established some large nesting colonies on the Transition Ranch.
White-winged doves have established some large nesting colonies on the Transition Ranch.

 

Lark sparrows were actively courting during mid-April.
Lark sparrow in courtship display  with feathers fluffed and tail spread.

 

Flushing Yellow-headed Blackbird photographed at 1/30 second during an afternoon rain.
Flushing Yellow-headed Blackbird photographed at 1/30 second during an afternoon rain.

Frequent rains through the winter and spring made it impossible to complete photo blinds for golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos.  Although shy, they should come to water in this dry country during a normal spring and summer.

By next spring, the ranch owner anticipates having additional blinds in place where golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos may come to drink.
Male golden-cheeked warbler singing from atop a hill country juniper.

 

Transition Ranch has a sizable population of breeding black-capped vireos.  The species is among Texas' most beautiful spring/summer residents.
Transition Ranch has a sizable population of breeding black-capped vireos. The species is among Texas’ most beautiful spring/summer residents.

 

Blue Grosbeaks were just arriving as our time at Transition Ranch ended.
Blue Grosbeaks were just arriving as our time at Transition Ranch ended.

With abundant moisture, came abundant wildflowers and blooming prickly pear cactus.

The hills were covered in prickly pear cactus abloom with yellow and peach colored flowers.
The hills were covered in prickly pear cactus abloom with yellow and peach colored flowers.

 

Birds like Nashville Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers and Painted Buntings arrived late because of the cool weather and constant rain.
Birds like Nashville Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers and Painted Buntings arrived late because of the cool weather and constant rain.

Some of our photographers got excellent photos of painted buntings and Montezuma quail.  I can’t wait for next year…may it be just a little drier.

*** I’ve got a Canon 7D camera with battery grip and a 100-400 mm Canon IS lens (not the new model) for sale.  Both are in great shape.  If you are interested, let me know and/or make me an offer.  I’ve still got the boxes, papers, straps, etc. for them.

Larry

Perfect Winter Morning

I photographed this feeding American Oystercatcher and landing willet last winter in the Laguna Madre shortly after sunrise.  Of course,  water dripping from the bill or having the wings spread is really cool, but it’s the reflection that makes the image.

Click on the image to enlarge and sharpen for viewing.

American Oystercatcher feeding in the Laguna Madre at sunrise

Canon 7D camera and 500 mm IS lens, ISO 400, 1/1600 second @ f 4  from the World Birding Center board walk on South Padre Island.

Willet landing in the Laguna Madre
Willet landing in the Laguna Madre

Canon 7D camera and 500 mm IS Canon lens, Feisol cf tripod with Wimberly Head, ISO 400, 1/4000 second @ f 5.6

I am working my way through thousands of images collected through the winter and spring.  Keep watching for fresh newsletters with photos from Big Bend National Park, Block Creek Ranch, Transition Ranch and more.

Larry