Three Raptor Species in One Afternoon…

It is almost impossible to edit the thousands of photos one accumulates over the winter season.  This week, I got back to the Bosque del Apache photos from December.  Then, I drove out to the Santa Clara Ranch hawk blind yesterday.  The photos you will see in this newsletter show a few more of the New Mexico birds plus a surprise from the hawk blind.

Deep south Texas has had quite a few Mexico bird sightings this winter.  Two weeks ago, Alan Williams invited me to his habitat in Pharr where a female crimson-collared grosbeak (a Mexican species) was wintering.  The bird was certainly cooperative, but I do wish these things would travel in pairs.  The males are always tough to see north of the border.

I hear there are lots of ducks in the Laguna Madre and around the Rockport area right now.  If the weather cooperates, I hope to hear for Rockport again next week.

Female crimson-collared grosbeak eating potato tree fruit.
Female crimson-collared grosbeak eating potato tree fruit.
Harris's hawk landing on perch at Santa Clara Ranch.
Harris's hawk landing on perch at Santa Clara Ranch.

This Harris’s hawk landing sequence should have been the highlight of my day yesterday, but there was a big surprise awaiting me and the Harris family.  Both shots were taken with the Canon 1D Mark III, Canon 100-400 IS zoom lens at 400 mm at ISO 800, 1/2000 @ f 5.6, hand-held.  I find that I have more control to keep flying birds in the viewfinder when I am free of the tripod.  Of course, this requires a high shutter speed to eliminate camera shake,  but I keep the speed high anyway to stop the birds in flight.

Harris's hawk landing
Harris's hawk landing

A few minutes after shooting the landing sequence above, a white-tailed hawk swooped in on the perch to get a share of the beef kidney tied at the lower end of the perch branch.  It was my first time to see whitetails eating something they didn’t catch alive.

White-tailed Hawk landing on perch at the Santa Clara Ranch.
White-tailed Hawk landing on perch at the Santa Clara Ranch.
Although larger than the Harris's hawk, this white-tailed hawk was eventually chased away by the smaller, more agressive birds.
Although larger than the Harris's hawk, this white-tailed hawk was eventually chased away by the smaller, more agressive birds.

I cloned away the chunk of beef kidney tied to this limb under the hawk’s talons.

Audubon's oriole waiting for a turn on the beef kidney at the hawk perch on Santa Clara Ranch.
Audubon's oriole waiting for a turn on the beef kidney at the hawk perch on Santa Clara Ranch.
Crested Caracara at sunset on the Santa Clara Ranch.
Crested Caracara at sunset on the Santa Clara Ranch.

As the sun was setting yesterday, this crested caracara came to the hawk perch on Santa Clara Ranch.  The caracaras waited at a distance until the Harris’s hawk and white-tailed hawk were gone for the day.  Then, they moved in to clean up any remaining scraps of food.

I was putting my gear away last evening when the sun popped out from behind the “Mexico” cloud at sunset.  At the same time, this crested caracara landed near the blind.  Without checking my settings, I got the bird in the viewfinder, focused and shot 4 images.  It flushed as I began shooting and, fortunately, there was enough shutter speed to stop its movement in the first two frames.  Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens, ISO 640, 1/500 second @ f 5.
Sandhill crane landing at the roost pond in front of mountain shadows at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.
Sandhill crane landing at the roost pond in front of mountain shadows at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.
Sandhill crane pair landing in roost pond.
Sandhill crane pair landing in roost pond.
Snow geese with landing gear down.
Snow geese with landing gear down.

I like making images with two or more birds doing something together.  Whether some critics might say, “Oh, those birds’ bodies are merged in this photo” means nothing to me.  If I like it, I like it and I love this shot.

Snow goose landing with sandhill cranes in a Bosque cornfield.
Snow goose landing with sandhill cranes in a Bosque cornfield.
Typical sunrise on a New Mexico marsh in December.
Typical sunrise on a New Mexico marsh in December.

There it is.  I hope you enjoy some of these photos. 

Larry

Mostly Flight Shots

On Friday past, I photographed on the Laguna Madre (mother lagoon) at South Padre Island under clear skies and light southerly winds.  From sunrise until 10:00 AM, we had various ducks and other water birds flying past.  It was a blast of a morning and I was doing what I love most in nature photography, photographing birds on the wing.

During the first hour, I used the tripod for support with the camera and lens affixed to a Wimberly gimbal head on a Gitzo cf tripod.  Eventually, I got tired of the restrictive tripod and took the camera and lens off to shoot freehand.  That’s right, most of the shots you will see below were done while hand holding the Canon 7D and Canon IS 500 mm lens.  If you can handle the weight (and there are tricks to that), it is much easier to follow focus and keep the birds in the viewfinder when shooting freehand.

This type shooting is best done in winter on the south Texas coast because that’s when the ducks are here.  Otherwise, there are usually lots of herons, egrets and shorebirds about year-round.

Remember, to enlarge and sharpen the photos, click in the upper righthand portion of a photo.  That will also open the “next” button to continue viewing photos in the newsletter.

American Wigeon pair headed flying past.
American Wigeon pair at eye level.

ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f 11 with Canon 7D, Canon IS 500 lens on Wimberly head and Gitzo cf tripod.

Adult and juvenile American Wigeon flying at eye level to photographer.
Adult and juvenile American Wigeon with wingtips overlapping.
ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f 10 with tripod
 
American Oystercatcher on the wing
American Oystercatcher on the wing
ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f 10 with tripod
 
Like many shots on the wing, it was difficult to get the focus to lock on this bird.  He was almost by me before I got a focus lock.
Common Merganser landing straight at the camera.
Common Merganser landing straight at the camera.
ISO 640, 1/4000 second @ f 8, handheld
 
While not a pretty shot, I really like this unusual capture of a common merganser landing head-on with feet down.
High speed redhead drake on the downstroak with primaries curled.
High speed redhead drake on the downstroke.
ISO 640, 1/3200 second @ f 10, handheld
 
Passing redhead drake with wings up.
Passing redhead drake with wings up.
ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f 10, tripod support
 
Adult and first year Redhead males with wings parallel
Adult and first year Redhead males with wings parallel
ISO 640, 1/3200 second @ f 10, handheld
 
Redhead drake with wing tip in the water.
Redhead drake with wing tip in the water.
ISO 640, 1/2000 second @ f 11
 
The shot above was my favorite of the day because of the unusual proximity of bird to water that presented a reflection and a wing tip touching the water.
Black Skimmer with wings up.
Black Skimmer with wings up.
ISO 640, 1/3200 second @ f 10, handheld
 
Part of the fun of Laguna Madre photography is that you never know what will fly by next.  I wasn’t expecting a black skimmer, especially one with relatively good plumage (for a winter bird).
Young Brown Pelican swallowing a mullet.  This is a "pelican whose bill can hold more than his belly can".
Young Brown Pelican swallowing a mullet. This is a "pelican whose bill can hold more than his belly can".
For me, it is more difficult to focus and compose a still bird than one in flight when I’m holding the big telephoto so, I took a bunch of shots.
Male Mottled Duck showing blue speculum.
Male Mottled Duck showing blue speculum.
ISO 400, 1/2500 second @ f 5.6
 
While processing this mottled duck photo, I opened up the shadows on the raised wing to show the beautiful speculum we seldom notice on this bird in flight.
Redhead drake in flight with nice view of orange eye.
Redhead drake in flight with nice view of orange eye.
ISO 640, 1/2500 second @ f 10, handheld
 
The redhead males have bright, orange eyes that stand out from the surrounding red feathers.
Pintail drakes reflected in the mid-morning blue of the Laguna Madre.
Pintail drakes reflected in the mid-morning blue of the Laguna Madre.
In mid to late winter, no female pintail goes anywhere without an escort.
In mid to late winter, no female pintail goes anywhere without an escort.
ISO 640, 1/4000 second @ f 8
 
Gulls diving for fish left floating by harrassed merganser.
Gulls diving for fish left floating by harrassed merganser.
White-tailed Kite dropping on prey.
White-tailed Kite dropping on prey.
ISO 400, 1/5000 second @ f 5.6, 1.4X teleconverter, handheld
 
As we were driving away from the bay, this white-tailed kite was hovering above us.  I quickly grabbed the camera, added the teleconverter and made this photo.  The only adjustment I did was to add one stop of light off the dark blue sky.  With a moment more to think, I would have preferred to change the settings to 1/2500 second @ f 11.
If you are interested in some flight photography instruction and shooting, drop me an email at lditto@larryditto.com.  Classes for one or two are very reasonable. 
Check out the upcoming workshops on my Photo Tour Schedule on this web site: Hoak Ranch (landscapes and night photography), Caddo Lake (birds) and more.
Larry

3 Days of South Texas Photography

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been right here in south Texas photographing on ranches, at the beach, and up river near Falcon Lake at Salineno.  The photography has been as good as the weather… great shooting!

To view the photos in a larger, sharper format, click on the  upper, righthand area of the first photo.  That will open the  “next” sign and allow you to click through all the photos as a slide show.

Tricolored Heron grabbing a fish in the Laguna Madre shallows.
Tricolored Heron grabbing a fish in the Laguna Madre shallows.
ISO 400, 1/3200 second @ f 5.6; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.
Roseate Spoonbill landing in the Laguna Madre.
Roseate Spoonbill landing in the Laguna Madre.
ISO 400, 1/4000 second @ f 5.6; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.
 
 
Drake redhead landing on a calm Laguna Madre.
Drake redhead landing on a calm Laguna Madre.

ISO 400, 1/4000 second @ f  8; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.

 
Redhead landing gear down with an American Wigeon on the Laguna Madre.
Redhead landing gear down with an American Wigeon on the Laguna Madre.
ISO 400, 1/4000 second @ f 8; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.
 
Gulls robbing fish from common merganser.
Gulls robbing fish from common merganser.

ISO 400, 1/2500 second @ f 7.1, Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.

 
 

 

 

Common Merganser hens fishing in the Laguna Madre shallows.
Common Merganser hens fishing in the Laguna Madre shallows.

ISO 800, 1/6400 second @ f 7.1, Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.

 

 

 

Juvenile Brown Pelican playing with a fish tail.
Juvenile Brown Pelican playing with a fish tail.

ISO 400, 1/2500 second @ f 7.1; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.

Female Northern Harrier grooming head feathers.
Female Northern Harrier grooming head feathers.

 ISO 800, 1/800 second @ f 5.6; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.

Pied-billed Grebe stretching on the surface of alligator pond at South Padre Island Convention Center.
Pied-billed Grebe stretching on the surface of alligator pond at South Padre Island Convention Center.
ISO 800, 1/1000 second @ f 5.6; Canon 7D, Canon 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.
Photographing at Santa Clara Ranch one afternoon, I captured several nice songbird images, similars of which you have seen.  Nevertheless, I liked this female northern cardinal landing so, I’m sharing it with you. 
female Northern Cardinal landing on guayacan.
female Northern Cardinal landing on guayacan.
ISO 400, 1/1600 second @ f 5.6; Canon 1D Mark III, Canon 100-400 mm IS lens @ 340 mm.
 
I like to use the Mark III camera for its 10 frames/second to capture fast action sequences like birds landing at close range.
The following birds were photographed at a Valley Land Fund tract on the Rio Grande about 75 miles up river from McAllen.  The day started with fog and quickly improved to open shade.  This kiskadee shot was taken in late afternoon after the sun finally appeared.  You have to be patient and put in your time to get photos in the best light, right?
Great Kiskadee scolding another for daring to share the same perch.
Great Kiskadee scolding another for daring to share the same perch.
ISO 640, 1/1250 second @ f 4; Canon 1D Mark III, Canon 500 mm IS lens.
 
Altamira Oriole perched on the side of a Texas ebony trunk.
Altamira Oriole perched on the side of a Texas ebony trunk.
ISO 400, 1/200 second @ f 5.6, Canon 7D, 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.
 
The only wild Brown Jay in the U.S.
The only wild Brown Jay in the U.S.
ISO 800, 1/320 second @ f 5.6, Canon 7D, 500 mm IS lens with 1.4X teleconverter.
 
A huge (16+ inches long) brown jay ( the only wild brown jay in the U.S. ) appeared while I was at Salineno.   Hundreds of birders have been coming from all over the country to see the bird which comes to a feeding station about three times each morning.
It landed right in front of me while I had the teleconverter on with the big lens for small songbirds so, I was barely able to cram it into the frame.  There was no way was I going lose time changing out the converter and risk missing the shot.  Moments like this are one of the benefits of photographing on the Rio Grande, 200 yards from Mexico.
Check out my Photo Tour schedule on this web site and join me for some great nature photography this winter and spring.
Larry

Two Days with the Whooping Cranes

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, I took four other photographers to the Rockport-Fulton area of the Texas coast to photograph endangered whooping cranes on their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s been a tough winter for the birds, even though there is a record number (over 300) of them in that area. 

With the severe drought conditions, blue crab (the cranes’ preferred winter diet) production was almost nil this summer and fall.  Consequently, the birds were moving inland to feed in  burned areas where other food was more readily available.   We could see U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire crews conducting prescribed burns while we were photographing  (you will notice smoke in the background of some of the photos that follow).  Food resources in the burns help sustain the birds, but they make it mighty hard for photographers confined to boats in the waterways.  Nevertheless, we  got plenty of photo action and left with some pleasant memories.

Here are some shots from the whooping crane trip:

Adult whooping crane in flight.
Adult whooping crane in flight.

This is a series of flight shots taken under stressful circumstances for yours truly.

Whooper pair circling near out boat at mid-morning.
Whooper pair circling near our boat at mid-morning.

 

Whooping crane pair in flight.
Whooping crane pair in flight.

 

Fourth shot of a whooping crane flight series.
Fourth shot of a whooping crane flight series.

When I am leading a bird photography group, they depend on me to read the birds’ body language to anticipate what will happen next.  In this case, the birds simply walked out of the water and took off…no craning of the necks or bugling.  I had the photographers alerted that something unusual was going to happen, but I didn’t have time to get my own equipment adjusted for this series of flight shots. 

These shots were done at ISO 400,  1/8000 second @ f 4.  Each of the frame filling photos appears to have adequate depth of field, but I would have preferred something more like 1/2000 second @ f 11.   I was using my trusty Canon 7D camera shooting at 8 frames per second, a Canon IS 500 mm lens, Wimberley head and Gitzo 1348 cf tripod from the deck of a large boat.  Suspecting a take-off was eminent, I quickly removed a 1.4X teleconverter and remounted the lens.  There was no time to release all the tightened Wimberley knobs before the birds were in the air.  As a result, I had to lift camera, lens and tripod into the air as I swung and panned with the birds in flight…not an easy task, but I did it.

Pelicans take off with prescribed burn smoking in the background.
Pelicans take off with prescribed burn smoking in the background.
Are these pelicans accustomed to boat traffic?
Are these pelicans accustomed to boat traffic?
Both previous photos were made with the Canon 1D Mark III and Canon IS 100-400 mm lens hand held.  I keep this rig ready while shooting with the big lens because it allows me more versatility for flight shots and large birds/mammals.  I should have grabbed it for the whooping crane flight sequence.
Brown Pelican shaking off water after a bath at Port Aransas.
Brown Pelican shaking off water after a bath at Port Aransas.
Northern Harrier at a Port Aransas marsh.
Northern Harrier at a Port Aransas marsh.
Northern Harrier cruising above the cattails at a Port Aransas marsh.
Northern Harrier cruising above the cattails at a Port Aransas marsh.
Both harrier photos were made with the Canon 7D camera and Canon 500 mm lens, hand held to improve my ability to keep the bird in the view finder.
A juvenile white ibis with small crab at Goose Island State Park, Texas.
A juvenile white ibis with small crab at Goose Island State Park, Texas.
Announcing Change of Location for the April 4-6 Prairie Chicken Interpretive Photo Tour!
 
The April 4-6 Lesser Prairie Chicken Interpretive Photo Tour has been moved to Canadian, Texas.  We will have the most experienced prairie chicken photo guide available for this one, so don’t miss it.  This shoot is limited to four photographers and two of the slots are already spoken for, so sign up quickly if you are serious about this trip.  More details will be available soon on my web site Photo Tour Schedule.
Lesser Prairie Chickens dueling on the lek.
Lesser Prairie Chickens dueling on the lek.
Watch for another Newsletter soon,
Larry

Blue Jays, Whooping Cranes and more…

Since my last newsletter, the whooping crane instructional photo tour has filled and we need two or three more photographers for a second tour on Thursday and Friday, January 12-13.  If you can go, give me a call or email.

Young Whooping Crane feeding in marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
Young Whooping Crane feeding in marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
As you can see by the photo above, we get pretty close to these extremely rare birds during most of our tours.
Adult whooping crane landing in marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
Adult whooping crane landing in marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
There will be other bird and landscape photography opportunities during the whooping crane photo tours. Great blue herons, various warblers, brown pelicans, long-billed curlews, American oystercatchers, osprey and other birds are some of our more common photo subjects when we aren’t photographing whoopers.
Great blue heron at Port Aransas, Texas.
Great blue heron at Port Aransas, Texas.
Pair of whooping cranes at take off, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
Pair of whooping cranes at take off, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
Last week, I spent a few days in Wichita Falls with relatives.  That gave me some time to work on backyard birds like blue jays, cardinals and sparrows.  I simply had to prepare a natural looking set that included a nice stump, a vine, and some oak leaves with autumn color thrown in for good measure.  Within 10 minutes, the birds were arriving and I spent much of two afternoons shooting.
Low, heavy clouds and rain hampered my efforts a little, but the fill flash helped boost the colors and give the birds some “eye shine”.  Here are several samples of what I got.
Blue jay perched on a stump.
Blue jay perched on a stump.
I tried shooting with a blooming rose bush in the background, but the red flower was a bit much, so it was removed for most of the shooting.
Blue Jay scolding sparrows.
Blue Jay scolding sparrows.
Blue Jay eating acorn.
Blue Jay eating acorn.
Two blue jays share a feeding stump.
Two blue jays share a feeding stump.
Blue Jay landing on stump.
Blue Jay landing on stump.
Blue jay landing on a rotting stump.
Blue jay landing on a rotting stump.
Adult white-crowned sparrow landing at feeding stump.
Adult white-crowned sparrow landing at feeding stump.
When I’m hanging around home, I visit some of the area photography ranches.  As most you know, one never gets all the shots one needs, no matter how common the subject.  I continue trying to get great shot of birds like verdin, Harris’s hawk and yellow-rumped warbler.  I got these shots about three weeks ago.
Yellow-rumped warbler bathing at a ranch pond.
Yellow-rumped warbler bathing at a ranch pond.
Verdin perched in a bougainvilla bush.
Verdin perched in a bougainvilla bush.
Landing Harris's Hawk on south Texas ranch.
Landing Harris's Hawk on south Texas ranch.
So, this is what I’ve been up to.  Join me for whooping cranes or south Texas birds after the holidays (lditto@larryditto.com or 956-682-3251).
Merry Christmas,
Larry

Bosque Was A Blast!

Sandhill Crane leaving the corn field.
Sandhill Crane leaving the corn field.

Last week, I traveled with four other photographers to Socorro, New Mexico and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for the annual Bosque Instructional Photo Tour.  With the exception of  the final afternoon when a strong wind kicked up ahead of a cold front, we enjoyed beautiful weather and had a blast photographing a variety of birds, mammals and landscapes. 

The Bosque corn crop for wintering birds was far below normal production, so we anticipated problems getting snow goose photos.  Fortunately,  that was not the case.  The refuge staff opened a few extra miles of farm road for the visiting public and that got us in an area where the geese were feeding.  We were able to photograph many thousands of geese and sandhill cranes on each of our three days.

Next year, I anticipate hosting the usual three days at Bosque plus an additional two days photographing sand dunes and native American petroglyphs.  So mark your calendar for next November.  Meanwhile, here are some of this year’s captures. 

Sandhill Crane leaving the roost.
Sandhill Crane leaving the roost.
Many of the flight photos I took were done at slow shutter speeds in the range of 1/60 to 1/100 second.  By panning with the bird, I was able to blur the wings and background while getting a reasonably sharp focus on the head.
The sandhill cranes to be calling constantly.
The sandhill cranes seemed to be calling constantly.
Shots of landing sandhill cranes can be dramatic.
Shots of landing sandhill cranes can be dramatic.
One of the most difficult tasks in photographing cranes and geese is capturing a moment when a single bird is separated from the flock.  Getting that bird in a pleasing location with dramatic wing action is significantly more difficult, but at Bosque all things are possible to those who shoot, shoot, shoot.
Silhouettes of cranes hang-gliding into the roost are tons of fun.
Silhouettes of cranes hang-gliding into the roost are tons of fun.
Knowing “where to go and when to be there” is the great challenge at Bosque del Apache NWR, especially for first time photographers.  I always try to position my shooters to get sunset action like this sandhill crane landing at the roost.
Spectacular New Mexico sunrise and snow goose blast-off.
Spectacular New Mexico sunrise and snow goose blast-off.
Snow goose with shadow on wing.
Snow goose with shadow on wing.
Wing position is of utmost importance for a pleasing flight shot.  At Bosque, one always hopes for a southerly breeze when the birds are feeding.  We weren’t so lucky with wind direction this year, but by carefully positioning ourselves, we still captured some nice snow goose poses.
Wings outstretched for a landing
Wings outstretched for a landing
Snow goose with the flaps down for a landing.
Snow goose with the flaps down for a landing.
As usual, bald eagles were perched about the larger ponds, ever vigilant for a crippled or dead bird.  Getting a really good photo of these guys requires phenominal luck or a really BIG lens.  The following shot was done with a 500 mm lens and 1.4X telecoverter.  It looks ok in format, but I could have use more glass.
Juvenile bald eagle hovering over an adult.  They tangled momentarily in mid-air.
Juvenile bald eagle hovering over an adult. They tangled momentarily in mid-air.
American Wigeon landing on a pond in Socorro, New Mexico.
American Wigeon landing on a pond in Socorro, New Mexico.
Well camouflaged Common Snipe feeding in the Bosque del Apache Refuge marsh.
Well camouflaged Common Snipe feeding in the Bosque del Apache Refuge marsh.
Photographers at the crane pools have many cranes to photograph against the Chupader Wilderness in the western part of the refuge.
Photographers at the crane pools use the Chupadera Wilderness as a backdrop for flight shots.
We spent a fourth day photographing petroglyphs east of Bosque del Apache Refuge.  Inspite of a spitting snow, we got some nice shots as darkness fell.  Join me next year for a petroglyph excursion after the refuge photo trip.
Light painting on bighorn sheep etched in basalt.
Light painting on bighorn sheep etched in basalt.
Bosque del Apache NWR is my favorite photo trip and it always offers something new.  I hope you enjoyed this little sample from the 7,000 images I made during five days in New Mexico.
Merry Christmas,
Larry

The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…

In early November, I spent a week photographing in the Davis Mountains.  The Montezuma and Gambel’s quail were among my priority subjects, but I wanted to get other wildlife, landscapes, and star trails, too. 

The lack of moisture had taken its toll on the quail and I was only able to locate a single pair of  of Montezumas near Davis Mountains State Park.  Then, a one day side trip to Presidio got me into some good Gambel’s quail habitat.  Just before sunset that day, I was able to make a few images but the birds were extremely wary.  

With some help from the State Park personnel and my campground manager, many of the other species were a little easier to get.

The weather was fantastic, the fall colors were just reaching peak, and the night skies were clear.  I would like to get back there next year and spend more time shooting star trails and light painting landscapes.  Indeed, the stars were big and bright in the Davis Mountains.

  Here are some of the images from that week:

The cottonwoods were just hitting their peak of color during the first week of November.
The cottonwoods were just hitting their peak of color during the first week of November.

The highway follows Limpia Creek for several miles along the north edge of Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Davis.  Large cottonwoods line most of the stream’s banks and make for some wonderful autumn colors.

A passing cold front stirred up enough dust to produce a dramatic sunrise on my last day in the mountains.
A passing cold front stirred up enough dust to produce a dramatic sunrise on my last day in the mountains.

This sunrise shot was taken with a 100-400 mm lens and Canon 1D Mark III on the Gitzo tripod with monoball head.

A few juvenile Anna's hummingbirds were still in the Fort Davis area some well maintained feeders.
A few juvenile Anna's hummingbirds were still in the Fort Davis area.

This young Anna’s hummingbird had a favorite perch.  I was able to get a few captures like this by prefocusing and using a high shutter speed to stop the wings as he landed.

The skeletons of dried cholla cactus made great perches for seed eating birds.
The skeletons of dried cholla cactus made great perches for seed eating birds.

 

Yucca leaves added a bit of color to this shot of a curve-billed thrasher.
Yucca leaves added a bit of color to this shot of a curve-billed thrasher.

 

Fort Davis courthouse at sunrise.
Fort Davis courthouse at sunrise.

 

Gambel's quail at historic Fort Leaton in Presidio, Texas.
Gambel's quail at historic Fort Leaton in Presidio, Texas.

 

A Montezuma quail posed for this uncropped shot from the car window.
A Montezuma quail posed for this uncropped shot from the car window.

 

Desert mule deer bucks at sunset.
Desert mule deer bucks at sunset.

I made this image with a 16-35 mm lens after crawling in close to these bucks just after sunset.

Star trails around a light-painted bluff, one hour before sunrise.
Star trails around a light-painted bluff, one hour before sunrise.

 

Western scrub jay jumping at the sound of a rapid-fire camera.
Western scrub jay jumping at the sound of a rapid-fire camera.

 

Many yuccas at Fort Davis State Park were burned over by summer wildfires.
Many yuccas at Fort Davis State Park were burned by summer wildfires.

 

I wrote this newsletter from my laptop, and that’s no easy feat for me.  My new desktop is operating with Windows 7 and I haven’t figured out how to make the WordPress software work correctly. 

Next week, we will be heading out to Socorro, New Mexico to photograph at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  I have room for another shooter if any of you want to sign on at the last minute.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Larry

Hummingbirds & Backyard Migrants

This is my first newsletter in several weeks.  I’ve been putting some shots on Facebook but I just got lazy with the newsletter.  Now that migrating songbirds are passing through, I thought you might want to see what we’ve been seeing at the birdbath. 

Hummingbirds are more abundant at our house than in recent years, so I’ve been photographing them.  Orioles, chats, goldfinches and more have been here, too.  Last week, of course, I conducted a hummingbird workshop up at the Barnhart Ranch and Nature Retreat near Berclaire.  They had plenty of hummingbirds, but the hot weather almost overcame our enthusiasm.  Anyway, here is a mixture of shots from the ranch and from our back yard.

Sunrise on the front porch at Barnhart Ranch and Nature Retreat.
Sunrise on the front porch at Barnhart Ranch and Nature Retreat.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male feeding at Salvia as the sun rises.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male feeding at Salvia as the sun rises.
Roseate Skimmer resting on a yucca stem near a sunflower patch.
Roseate Skimmer resting on a yucca stem near a sunflower patch.
I grabbed some early morning photos before the other photographers arrived at the Barnhart Ranch and Nature Retreat.  The prospects looked great for a successful workshop.  We had good shooting in the mornings in spite of the fact that the hummers rejected several setups I constructed for getting them with high speed flash.  So, we settled for shooting them  under normal lighting conditions.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding at salvia.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding at salvia.
Hummer hovering below the blooms of a salvia.
Hummer hovering below the blooms of a salvia.
Both of the hummingbirds above were shot at 1/1600 second with an ISO setting of 500.  I was pleasantly surprised that my 100-400 mm Canon lens, hand-held, captured these little guys so nicely.
Rubythroat stretching its wings while perched near a feeder.
Rubythroat stretching its wings while perched near a feeder.
The backside of the same hummingbird as seen stretching above.
The backside of the same hummingbird as seen stretching above.
Hummer landing
Hummer landing
White-eyed Vireo awaiting its turn at the Ditto bird bath.
White-eyed Vireo awaiting its turn at the Ditto bird bath.
Yellow-breasted Chat sitting by the water drip hanging above the bath.
Yellow-breasted Chat sitting by the water drip hanging above the bath.
The yellow-breasted chat has been with us for about a month.  He is the most secretive of the birds in our yard, but he makes several appearances each day.
Male lesser goldfinch after a refreshing bath
Male lesser goldfinch after a refreshing bath
Nashville Warblers have been at the bath for two or three days now.
Nashville Warblers have been at the bath for two or three days now.
Nashville Warbler perched below a dripping water hose.  A passing droplet of water blurs his left leg.
Nashville Warbler perched below a dripping water hose. A passing droplet of water blurs his left leg.
I photographed the warbler, vireo and perched hummingbirds with natural light this morning.  I hope to have more backyard birds for you in the next newsletter.
Larry

Taking Advantage of Tough Lighting Situations

We averaged about 101 degrees in McAllen this week; so we were one of the cooler spots in the state, but it was still too hot to get out much.  Last Saturday, Paul Denman and I went to Corpus Christi to do a seminar for photographers participating in the Coastal Bend Wildlife Photo Contest.  Then on Monday afternoon, I went to the Santa Clara Ranch with Beto Gutierrez, and we saw some beautiful bucks and does plus roadrunners, cardinals, pyrrhuloxias and black-throated sparrows.   During most of this week, I just kept on culling and filing thousands of images from photo trips back in 2009 right up to the present.

In this newsletter, I want to show you a few deer photos from about ten days ago.  Next week, we will consider butterfly photography.  Both occasions presented challenges with difficult lighting…backlighting and mid-day shooting. 

Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge it and get a sharper image.  Go forward or backward with a slide show by clicking in the upper right or left portion of the photo.  That should reveal the “previous” and “forward” buttons.

White-tailed Deer fawn prancing across a Texas meadow.
White-tailed Deer fawn prancing across a Texas meadow.

The photographs above and below were taken in late afernoon as the light warmed enough for some very pleasing colors.  The greatest challenge was that I couldn’t get between the deer and the sun for “over the shoulder” lighting most of us prefer.  I had to shoot into the sun.  Some photographers would have given up and gone home, but I love photographing backlighted subjects.  So, I simply photographed these deer and adjusted my exposures to +1 or 1.5 f stops over the meter reading to open up the shaded side of the animals a little.   

For animals with whiskers, fur, bushy tails or velvety antlers, I try to get positioned so that the sun shines onto fur or velvet to creat a highlight or rim light affect.  Deer and rabbits are great subjects because they have those large, thin ears that turn pink when the light hits them from the back.  With wild horses, it the long mane and tail that look so great when backlighted.

Doe and Fawn watching another photographer.
Doe and Fawn watching another photographer.
Big buck in sunset light.
Big buck in sunset light.
To photograph a big buck like this, it helps to have a dark background like a hill or woodland.  The rim lighting on the fur and antlers will stand out more against a smooth, dark background.  In this case, it was a mesquite thicket.  I was shooting from my car, so it was easy to move forward or in reverse until the subject, background and light were in the best juxtapositions.
Buck feeding at sunset.
Buck feeding at sunset.
The photograph above was extremely difficult to make becasue my lens was pointed almost directly at the setting sun.  The low sun angle created a bright, orange haze around the deer that filled the scene.    I went ahead and made the photograph knowing I could deal with the haze in Photoshop.  With the shot opened in Photoshop, it was a matter of sliding the “black” adjustment slider in Camera RAW to the right until the orange haze began to disappear and the buck’s outline came into view.  After that, I adjusted the temperature and saturation slightly until I was satisfied  that the photo was what I had seen before I looked into the camera viewfinder. 
*** We still have one (1) slot available for the  late September hummingbird photography workshop at the Barnhart Guest Ranch, so let me know if you are interested.
Have a good weekend,
Larry

Dealing with the Summer Heat!

Photographers, the hummingbird photography workshop begins in seven weeks?  Did you know this is going to be a great opportunity for you to get some of the best bird photographs you could ever hope for?  Three slots are open and will be filled on a first come, first served basis.  When I get your deposit, you are officially booked for the workshop.  So, move on over to the photo tour schedule on this web site, read about the workshop, and email or call me to register.  I look forward to showing you how it is done.

The heat wave has driven a lot of us underground for most of the summer.  Although I’ve been chilling in front of the computer during most of June and July, I did get out last week to check on the fawn crop.  You probably know that white-tailed deer breed rather late in south Texas, so a lot of the fawns aren’t born until June and July.  There were a lot of fawns out there on Friday morning, but it was so hot that the mamma deer are taking their babies to the shade about 20 minutes after the sun comes up.  Nevertheless, I got a few keeper shots to show you.  

Last year, I looked for fawns a little later in the summer and found some buck deer with nice, velvety antlers at the same time.  It has taken me a year to get around to working on those photos, so I have two batches of deer photographs to share with you this week.

Click on the right side of each photo to go from one photo to the next.  This also will cause the photos to open into a larger, sharper format.

Doe and fawn white-tailed deer at sunrise.
Doe and fawn white-tailed deer at sunrise.

This doe was on her way to the shade just a few minutes after sunrise.  The photo was taken with a Canon 1D Mark III and Canon 100-400 mm lens from the window of my Durango.  

Being aware that the heat and high humidity could cause condensation on the lenses, I had reduced the amount of air conditioning in the car during my 90 minute drive to deer country.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough.  My 500 mm lens was so fogged up, it was an hour before I got the glass clear enough to shoot.  You can guess where the deer were by then.  So, the lesson for all of us is that during the winter or summer, try to get the car or camera storage area as close to air temperature as possible  an hour or so before you plan to begin photographing.  Otherwise, you will only be able to watch from the sidelines while the glass returns to the ambient temperature.

A fawn's first pose for the camera.
A fawn's first pose for the camera.

The little guy above had a lot of running he wanted to do before his mother took him to the shady woods for a nap.  Luckily, he decided to stop in front of me on a little rise with nice shadows in the background.

Mad scramble for a nipple.
Mad scramble for a nipple.

 The fawns above were so eager to feed that they lifted mom right off the ground.  Any time you are photographing young animals, keep your finger on the shutter release because something interesting what will happen.

Fawn and doe share a touching moment.
Fawn and doe share a "touching" moment.
This fawn rested its chin on mom’s head for a brief moment.  They may have been grooming each other or just fulfilling a need to touch.
Timid fawns at sunset.
Timid fawns at sunset.
Twins learning to feed.
Twins learning to feed.
I hope you can tell by looking at some of the previous shots that they were taken from a low angle.  I was photographing while sitting on the ground to improve the perspective.  When you are doing wildlife photography, most of your photos will be more appealing if taken from a low angle; so wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or wet with morning dew.
Getting away from the insects.
Getting away from the insects.
A shot similar to this one was in a newsletter last year.  I wanted to show you several shots of fawns and this is one of my favorites (shot from the car window).  The photo was cropped to give us a better view of all four deer. 
A few years ago, I watched fawns at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge feeding on aquatic vegetation in two feet of water at an alligator infested pond.  The gators seemed to be cruising for bull frogs that day and the deer finished their feeding unharmed.
Buck scuffle.
Buck scuffle.
Both of these buck photos were taken last year, but I have seen some nice antler development this year, too.
September bucks just beginning to shed their velvet.
September bucks just beginning to shed their velvet.
If it doesn’t cool down in the next few days,  we will look at more photos from the archives in our next report.
Stay cool,
Larry

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