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

Hummingbird Workshop and Recent Photos

 

*** I am selling my Canon 500 mm Image Stabilized lens.  The new ones have a recommended retail price of $8,400.  As you know my used one takes a mean photo and you can have it for $4,500,  Contact me if you are looking for a lens.  It comes with the neopreme, camoflage cover plus that incredible Canon case and lens cover.

 Click in the upper right area of a photo to make it open in a larger, sharper format.  Then you can advance through them like a slide show.

 

Black-chinned Hummingbird male at Turk's cap flower.
Black-chinned Hummingbird male at Turk's cap flower.

 

In less than 90 days, I will be hosting a hummingbird photography workshop at the Barnhart Ranch and Nature Retreat between Beeville and Goliad, Texas.  Last fall, hummers were swarming at the ranch in late September, so we are counting on a repeat performance.  If you haven’t done hummingbirds with 5 high-speed flashes, you haven’t really done hummingbirds.  We will be capturing their crazy antics and in-flight hijinx at about 1/16,000 of a second.

 

Black-chinned Hummingbird landing
Black-chinned Hummingbird landing

 

If you want to join me for the hummingbird workshop, just click on my website (www.larryditto.com), then click on “photo tours” and check out the details.  Of course, you can skip that part and email me.  I will send you some details for the September 23-23 workshop.

Altamira Oriole flying from nest.
Altamira Oriole flying from nest.
These oriole photos were shot from atop a scaffold about 10′ off the ground using a Canon 1D Mark III camera, 500 mm IS Canon lens mounted on a Wimberley head atop a Carbon Fiber Gitzo tripod.  On the flight shot, I prefocused a foot in front of the nest and shot at about 1/2000 second to capture the bird in focus as if flew away from the nest.
Altamira Oriole about to enter its sack-like nest in a live oak tree.
Altamira Oriole about to enter its sack-like nest in a live oak tree.
For the oriole perch shot, I used a little fill flash set at -2 2/3 f stops of power on a Canon flash with a “Better Beamer” attached.
Besides orioles, I’ve been shooting at the Santa Clara Ranch photography blinds.  You will note the stark appearance of the backgrounds; until this week, it had only rained .1″ in the last three months.  The brush had shed its leaves to conserve water.  In recent days, the ranch has had a 1″ rain and more is falling today, so the brush will be green and blooming for awhile.  Here are some recent wildlife shots from the Santa Clara:
Greater Roadrunner after dust bath.
Greater Roadrunner after dust bath.
Young Mexican Ground Squirrel at a photography blind pond.
Young Mexican Ground Squirrel at a photography blind pond.
Honey bee buzzing a male Painted Bunting as it prepairs for a bath.
Honey bee buzzing a male Painted Bunting as it prepairs for a bath.
"Don't look back, something may be gaining on you"...Satchel Page
"Don't look back, something may be gaining on you"...Satchel Page
Northern Cardinal male landing on a guayacan bush.
Northern Cardinal male landing on a guayacan bush.
It takes a lot of shots to get birds landing with the wings spread and everything in focus.  This photo was done with a 500 mm lens, but something with less telephoto power works better so that you can have some cropping space around the bird.  I prefocused on the perch and began shooting at 10 frames/second as the bird approached.
Courtship feeding ritual on Northern Cardinals.
Courtship feeding ritual on Northern Cardinals.
This courship feeding ritual is much prettier with the birds on a tree branch with colorful blooms in the background.  I was fortunate to get the shot at all and there are no pretty perches around the ranch this summer.  Instead, birds are doing what they do at the ponds
Buff-bellied Hummingbird drinking at a Turk's cap flower.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird drinking at a Turk's cap flower.
Buff-bellied hummingbirds show up occasionally at the the Barnhart Ranch, so we will be looking for some variety while shooting there in September.  Rufus, black-chinned, ruby-throated and buff-bellied hummingbirds could be in the mix.  The workshop is half full (we are only taking 4 shooters on this one), so sign up soon.
See you next week,
Larry

Shooting Close to Home

I’ve been shooting close to home for the past couple of weeks.  Last week, I was at the National Audubon Society Sabal Palm Sanctuary looking for a rare masked duck…saw it but couldn’t get close.  This week, I have photographed a pair of altamira orioles going to and from their nest.  Some of those shots were ok, but the background was busy.  We raised our scaffold to eye-level, so I expect the next shoot to be very productive.

I am ordering a few cold-weather apparel items for this fall’s Bosque del Apache Photo Tour.  Let me know if you would like to go.  Bosque is a fabulous photo location in  November-December.

Earlier today, I tried ordering a Canon Flash Booster and discovered it is another of the items we can’t get right now because supplies were interrupted by the tsunami.  My old flash booster with the 2 lb. battery gave up the ghost.  It was not a Canon brand item and was way too bulky to suit me.  I hear great things about the Canon booster which just requires 8 AA batteries.

Here are a couple of shots from the south Texas area.  Click in the upper right portion of the photos to enlarge them and to get a sharper, brighter image.

Entrance road to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary in east Brownsville, Texas.
Entrance road to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary in east Brownsville, Texas.
Those palms (above) overhanging the Palm Sanctuary’s entrance road are native Sabal Palms.  That grove is one of the few sites remaining in south Texas where the palms have not been cleared.  Several conservation organizations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are restoring other sites to palms.  There are also resacas (ox bows) of the Rio Grande on the Sanctuary which provide habitat for many birds and other wildlife.
This Great Kiskadee was resting in a black willow near its nest over a resaca at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary.
This Great Kiskadee was resting in a black willow near its nest over a resaca at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary.
Roseate Skimmer resting on grass at the Santa Clara Ranch.
Roseate Skimmer resting on grass at the Santa Clara Ranch.
Altamira Oriole leaving the nest.
Altamira Oriole leaving the nest.
Altamira Oriole exits its sack-like nest in a south Texas liveoak.
Altamira Oriole exiting its sack-like nest in a south Texas liveoak.
If you can take the heat, this is a great time to be at the south Texas photo ranches…
Lots of birds are visiting the waterholes and blinds at Dos Venadas Ranch right now as the summer heat forces everything to stay close to water.
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and other birds are visiting the waterholes and blinds at Dos Venadas Ranch as the summer heat forces everything to stay close to water.
Have a good week in the field!
Larry

Oklahoma Photography Destinations

As many of you know, I consult with ranchers who are considering commercial photography operations, thus I spent this past weekend visiting the Selman Ranch at Woodward, Oklahoma and the Coffman Ranch on Quartz Mountain at Granite, Oklahoma.  Both have tremendous potential! 

The Selman Ranch has lesser prairie chickens and many other species including redheaded woodpecker, belted kingfisher, gray fox, Harris’s sparrow.  While Sue Selman, some neighboring ranchers and I visited a potential photo blind site, a pair of redheaded woodpeckers were active at a nest cavity about 8 feet off the ground in a dead cottonwood.  I can’t tell you how I was wishing for my camera and tripod.  The nest location was ideal.

At the Coffman Ranch, I was introduced to beautiful granite mountains with huge boulders and a population of collared lizards the locals call “mountain boomers”.  In the spring and early summer, the male lizard (about 15″ long) is tourquois colored with an orange head.  They were magnificant, numerous and approachable.  Robert Coffman’s ranch has numerous small ponds and scattered groves of mesquite, post oak, and hackberry.  He is in the process of developing a bird list, but we saw black-chinned hummingbird, Bewick’s wren, yellow-billed cuckoo, wild turkey and painted bunting.  Robert has plans for a blind on one pond where hooded mergansers winter consistently, so I’m hoping to return this winter!

The ranches have ample accommodations for photographers and they will do the cooking.  Sue is quite a chef and Robert makes the same claim, ha.  Actually, we had a great fish fry one evening and a hearty breakfast the next morning, so photographers won’t leave either ranch suffering from weight loss. 

There wasn’t much time for photography during the consultation, but here are some sample photos from these ranches.  Once their blinds are in place, I will put together a trip and invite you to join me.

Click in the upper right portion of any photo to see it in a larger, sharper format and to advance from one photo to the next.

 

Budding cactus on granite mountain.
Budding cactus on granite mountain.
I haven’t determined the species of this cactus, but it was abundant at the Coffman Ranch and grew in large colonies on the granite mountain.  This shot is at sunrise before the cactus blooms opened.  The photo was taken with a Canon 1D Mark III and 16-35 mm lens on Arca Swiss monoball and Gitzo 1348 cf tripod from ground level.  I always wear knee and elbow pads for this type of photography.
Granite outcroppings and lichens on the Coffman Ranch mountain.  A sister mountain at the town of Granite is in the background.
Granite outcroppings and lichens on Quartz Mountain at the Coffman Ranch.
Quartz Mountain on the Coffman Ranch lies at the west end of a range of granite peaks that extend from the Wichita Mountains near Lawton to Granite, Oklahoma, a distance of approximately 60 miles.
Harris's Sparrows winter on both ranches.  This one sits on a water pump jack at the Selman Ranch headquarters.
Harris's Sparrows winter on both ranches. This one sits on a water pump jack at the Selman Ranch headquarters.
Lesser Prairie Chicken males booming on the Selman Ranch lek in early April.
Lesser Prairie Chicken males booming on the Selman Ranch lek in early April.
The Selman Ranch has a lesser prairie chicken lek where photographers sit close enough to capture great action at sunrise from late March to May.  Occasionally, a male ring-necked pheasant (below) will arrive at the lek before daylight to battle the male chickens.  Although confused about his species identity, this bird provided a nice photo opportunity for us as we awaited sunrise in our pop-up blinds at the edge of the lek.
Ring-necked Pheasant who thinks he is a lesser prairie chicken.
Ring-necked Pheasant who thinks he is a lesser prairie chicken.

The pheasant shot was done before sunrise with the 1D Mark III Canon camera and 500 mm IS Canon lens on a Wimberley head and Gitzo 1348 cf tripod from a Cabelas popup blind.

I will be working at some of the south Texas sites this coming week, trying to capture nesting altamira oriole, red-crowned parrots and masked duck.  Wish me luck.

Larry

 

Waiting at the Waterhole

When you live in south Texas, you get used to hot, dry weather.  Well, you don’t get used to it, but you learn to live with it.  This spring has been as hot, dry and windy as most of us can remember…the brush has dropped its leaves to conserve moisture and the animals have all gathered at the waterholes.  So, I wait at the ponds to get in on the action.

Two weeks ago at Steve Bentsen’s “Dos Venadas Ranch”, I had a splendid afternoon of shooting from one of photo blinds.  I totally missed an opportunity to photograph an armadillo bathing (rolling onto his back like a puppy)… I had forgotten to turn on my backup camera with the smaller lens.  By the time I got ready, the ‘dillo was out of the pond and headed for cover.  I did get my act together by the time the birds began arriving.

Last week, I was at Beto Gutierrez’s “Santa Clara Ranch”  with two clients for three days of shooting.  A bit of good luck came our way in the form of a stray thunder shower that deposited about .1″ of rain in that part of the brush country.  It was enough to make the cenizo brush explode into purple blooms.  All I needed to do was place a few blooming branches around the pond for color.

Don’t forget to click on the upper right or left portion of the photos to enlarge them for a sharper, brighter view.

Even rabbits stop to smell the roses...cenizo.
Even rabbits stop to smell the roses...cenizo.
I always try to have a second camera with my 100-400 mm lens attached and ready while I’m sitting in a photography blind.  I am usually photographing birds with the big lens, but when a mammal drops by, the zoom lens is the right choice.
Cottontail Rabbit surrounded by a hint of purple cenizo blooms blurred in the foreground.
Cottontail Rabbit surrounded by a hint of purple cenizo blooms blurred in the foreground.
Cenizo is a common brush species in south Texas.  It has gray, ash-colored leaves and purple flowers.  Hence, it is called “cenizo”, Spanish for ash-colored.
Black-crested Titmouse looking for sunflower seeds placed just below the cenizo blooms.
Black-crested Titmouse looking for sunflower seeds placed just below the cenizo blooms.
Hen Northren Bobwhite scratching for seeds below the cenizo.
Hen Northern Bobwhite scratching for seeds below the cenizo.
A few purple blooms add more color to the scene where a male Painted Bunting comes to drink.
A few purple blooms add more color to the scene where a male Painted Bunting comes to drink.
Western Coachwhip snake at a Santa Clara Ranch water hole.
Western Coachwhip snake at a Santa Clara Ranch water hole.
In my book, snakes are always difficult to photograph, so a sprinkle of purple cenizo blooms around the pond was a big help as this small western coachwhip came to drink.
A Groove-billed Ani in front of the cenizo for a drink.
A Groove-billed Ani in front of the cenizo for a drink.
A young Mourning Dove perched on a fallen tree at Dorothy's Pond on the Santa Clara Ranch.
A young Mourning Dove perched on a fallen tree at Dorothy's Pond on the Santa Clara Ranch.
Painted Bunting male in the shaded woods at Dorothy's Pond.
Painted Bunting male in the shady woods at Dorothy's Pond.
A young Bullock's Oriole male exploding from a pond at the Dos Venadas Ranch.
A young Bullock's Oriole male exploding from a pond at the Dos Venadas Ranch.
Northern Cardinal exploding into flight from a Dos Venadas Ranch pond.
Northern Cardinal exploding into flight from a Dos Venadas Ranch pond.
One of the greatest thrills I get from photographing birds is seeing the flight photos that can be obtained by working close to an active waterhole on a hot day.  I watch the direction most birds are going when they finish drinking and set up the next shot to anticipate the bird heading in that direction.  Then, I just pull back on the telephoto power, read the bird’s body language to anticipate take-off, and try to commence shooting a burst of high-speed shots as the bird leaves the pond.  It certainly worked on the photos you are seeing here.  Several scissor-tailed flycatchers came in to drink on this afternoon.  The strong spring winds made it a little easier than normal to capture the birds on take-off.
A scissor-tailed flycatcher on the wing reveals much more color than is visible when the wings are folded.
A scissor-tailed flycatcher on the wing reveals much more color than is visible when the wings are folded.
I hope to capture painted buntings coming and going over the next few days.  Wish me luck.
Larry

At Last…A Fallout!

April 20 is always close to being the peak of the spring songbird migration through south Texas.  Unfortunately, this spring a constant, southerly wind carried most of the birds right on over us.  It was last week, early May, before a “fallout” finally occurred at South Padre Island.  It was a little late to see great numbers of birds, but three days of brisk north wind forced a nice diversity of birds to seek refuge on the island.  It was a wonderful photography event!

Here are some of the beauties that flew to my lens last week:

Click on the photos to make them open in a larger, sharper format.

American Redstart male twitching about in search of a bug.
American Redstart male twitching about in search of a bug.

I saw more redstarts at South Padre Island last week than in the past ten years combined.

Female Baltimore Oriole feeding at Coral Bean flowers in the South Padre Island Convention Center thicket.
Female Baltimore Oriole feeding at Coral Bean flowers in the South Padre Island Convention Center thicket.
This Chestnut-sided Warbler's urgent need for food brought him within my arm's length on several occasions.
This Chestnut-sided Warbler's urgent need for food brought him within my arm's length on several occasions.
A Buff-bellied Hummingbird taking its turn at the Coral Bean blooms.
A Buff-bellied Hummingbird taking its turn at the Coral Bean blooms.

Most of these photos were taken with the Canon 7D camera (set for high speed shutter action…8 frames/second), a 500 mm IS lens, 1.4X teleconverter, ISO between 400-1,000 depending on the light, while maintaining something close to 1/2,000 second shutter speed @ f 5.6 – f 11.  Most of the time, I was using fill flash with a Better Beamer attached.  I almost always shoot with flash power reduced – 2 2/3 f stops from full power.   For shooting songbirds, I recommend using a 25 mm extension tube between the lens and camera to allow extra close focusing.  Mine was on the blink last week, but a good cleaning revived it.  *One of the pins was sticking and couldn’t spring into normal alignment as the extension tube was attached to the lens.  Remember that when yours decides to fail.

Bay-breasted Warblers are always to come by at South Padre.  This one gave me several shots, but it never looked at the camera.
Bay-breasted Warblers are always scarce at South Padre. This one gave me several shots, but it never looked at the camera.

 

This bird was one of a flock of tired Dickcissels arriving at the Convention Center as we were unpacking our photo gear.
One of a flock of tired Dickcissels arriving at the South Padre Island Convention Center as we unpacked our photo gear.
I saw a flock of Dickcissels arrive as I was getting my gear unpacked for an afternoon shoot.  They were so tired I was able to move in for a close-up before they whirled away.
A male Orchard Oriole ready to launch.
A male Orchard Oriole ready to launch.
Magnolia Warbler male searching a thistle plant for invertebrates.
Magnolia Warbler male searching a thistle plant for insects.
Magnolia Warblers in spring plumage have always been my favorite.  Their contrasting yellow and black plumage and black necklace are striking.  This bird returned to the thistle plant on several occasions and even hovered long enough for this photo.
Magnolia Warbler hoveing at a thistle bloom while picking off insects.
Magnolia Warbler hovering at a thistle bloom while picking off insects.
A Grey Catbird in search of ripe Berlandier Fiddlewood fruit.
A Grey Catbird in search of ripe Berlandier Fiddlewood fruit.

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male feeding at sunset.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male feeding at sunset.

Each time this male ruby-throated hummingbird came in, I blazed away, trying to capture that incredible throat at a good sun angle to bring out the irridescent red.  Just before the sun set, I got the shot.

Two days later, Steve Bentsen and I spent a morning on his ranch trying to call birds with another friend, Richard Moore.  A little after sunrise, we got this Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  The rest of our trip was a dry run, so assumed that the extremely dry weather is causing many species to delay breeding.

It is critical to position the camera to capture a bird in front of a smooth, clean background.  This bird wouldn't land on "my" perch, but he did land at a spot with a nice background.
It is critical to position the camera to capture a bird in front of a smooth, clean background. This gnatcatcher wouldn't land on "my" perch, but he did land in front of a nice background.
I am thankful for that one “fallout” this spring and for having the chance to photograph it.  It is a thrill to share the experience with others who appreciate nature’s beauty. 
Larry

Busy April

April was a busy month for me.  First, I helped conduct some workshops at FeatherFest/PhotoFest in Galveston.  Then, I guided other photographers on one of the south Texas photo ranches.  After that, I went to South Padre Island and the Ozona, Texas area to lead photo tours and workshops.  Then the month ended with a media event at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  The Cincinnati Zoo education team brought an ocelot by the refuge for a few minutes and allowed us to photograph it.  So, the hectic month ended on a high note.

April was unlike those of most other years.  While the rest of the country was getting blasted with powerful weather systems, Texas was toasty and extremely dry.  One of our favorite bird events, a migration “fallout” of songbirds at South Padre Island didn’t happen because the cool fronts just weren’t reaching us.  The weather man promises a good cold front next week, so you know where I will be Monday morning (if the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise)… South Padre Island!

Next week, I hope to get busy preparing a photo tour schedule for the coming fall, winter and spring, so keep watching this web site.

Here is a good sampling of the photos I got from all those April trips:

Remember to click on the photo to see an enlarged and sharper version.  You can advance through the photos by clicking in the upper right portion of each photo.

Black Skimmer pair in a courting chase at Galveston Island.
Black Skimmer pair in a courting chase at Galveston Island.
Black Skimmers landing in formation on wet beach at South Padre Island.
Black Skimmers landing in formation on wet beach at South Padre Island.
Black-necked Stilt feeding along the edge of the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island.
Black-necked Stilt feeding along the edge of the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island.

I captured the stilt photo while lying in wet sand and shooting from a bean bag on a frisbee.  In the spring, I always try to have my wading shoes, bathing suit and an old t-shirt for low-crawling in the sand to get these eye-level views.

These dunlins held a tight formation while whirling about the tidal flats on South Padre Island.
These dunlins held a tight formation while whirling about the tidal flats on South Padre Island.
Great Blue Heron chasing mullet in the shallows of the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island.
Great Blue Heron chasing mullet in the shallows of the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island.
Unlucky mullet speared by a great blue heron.
Unlucky mullet speared by a great blue heron.

In the photo above, the bird is angling away from the photographer, but it best shows what a great blue heron can do with that sharp, powerful beak.

A more photogenic pose of a great blue heron hunting in the freshwater marsh at South Padre Island's Birding Center boardwalk.
A more photogenic pose of a great blue heron hunting in the freshwater marsh at South Padre Island's Birding Center boardwalk.
Laughing gull bathing in the Laguna Madre at sunrise.
Laughing gull bathing in the Laguna Madre at sunrise.
Who says Laughing Gulls can't read.  This sign is on the South Padre Island Birding Center boardwalk.
Who says Laughing Gulls can't read. This sign is on the South Padre Island Birding Center boardwalk.

I cloned away some screws along the top of the sign.  They were connected with monofilament line to discourage perching birds, but they weren’t working.

Laughing gulls and black skimmers skim freshwater ponds near the lower Texas coast to drink.
Laughing gulls and black skimmers skim freshwater ponds near the lower Texas coast to drink.
This displaying great-tailed grackle was the first bird I saw at South Padre Island.  He's not exactly what I was after, but I couldn't resist the display.
This displaying great-tailed grackle was the first bird I saw at South Padre Island. He's not exactly what I was after, but I couldn't resist the display.
Baltimore Orioles were arriving at South Padre about the same time we drove in (April 19).  I was able to lure this male onto a good perch by using an orange slice placed just below the perch.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get the birds to feed actively until well after the warm morning light had passed.
Baltimore Orioles were arriving at South Padre about the same time we did (April 19). I was able to lure this male onto a good perch by using an orange slice placed just below the perch. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the birds to feed actively until well after the warm morning light had passed.
This nice blackpoll male arrived at my South Padre Island perch well ahead of the other birds and while the light was rich.
This nice blackpoll male arrived at my South Padre Island perch well ahead of the other birds and while the light was rich.
Male ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at bottle brush blooms by the South Padre Island Convention Center.
Male ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at bottle brush blooms by the South Padre Island Convention Center.
Small birds like this Tennessee Warbler feed on insects among the fiddlewood leave at South Padre Island Convention Center.  Larger fruit eaters like rose-breasted grosbeaks and orioles feast on the ripe fruit.
Small birds like this Tennessee Warbler feed on insects among the fiddlewood leave at South Padre Island Convention Center. Larger fruit eaters like rose-breasted grosbeaks and orioles feast on the ripe fruit.
This warbling vireo spent the morning of April 20 foraging among the leaves of huisache and tepeguaje trees at the convention center.
This warbling vireo spent the morning of April 20 foraging among the leaves of huisache and tepeguaje trees at the convention center.
Western Tanagers normally are rare visitors to SPI during the spring migration.  This year we saw several cooperative males.
Western Tanagers normally are rare visitors to SPI during the spring migration. This year we saw several cooperative males.
An excited male mottled duck in the shoreline foliage of South Padre Island's Birding Center marsh.
An excited male mottled duck in the shoreline foliage of South Padre Island's Birding Center marsh.
My trip to the Hoak Ranch near Ozona, Texas included taking the photo group to historic Fort Landcaster.  Even in ruins, the fort is a majestic locale for late evening photography.
My trip to the Hoak Ranch near Ozona, Texas included taking the photo group to historic Fort Landcaster. Even in ruins, the fort is a majestic locale for late evening photography.
A little "star burst" effect as the setting sun slides past a chimney in the Fort Lancaster soldiers' quarters.
A little "star burst" effect as the setting sun slides past a chimney in the Fort Lancaster soldiers' quarters.
One of the sharp-eyed photography students at the Hoak Ranch Workshop spotted a mating pair of western coachwhip snakes.  In parts of west Texas, coachwhips take on a reddish color.
A sharp-eyed photography student at the Hoak Ranch Workshop spotted a wary pair of mating western coachwhip snakes. In parts of west Texas, coachwhips take on a reddish color.

 

Zone-tailed Hawks often fly with vultures and blend in with the flock.
Zone-tailed Hawks often fly with vultures and blend in with the flock.
This zone-tailed hawk glided past the Hoak Ranch patio in late afternoon.  After springing to the car for a camera, I managed to get a few, shaky shots of this bird riding the air currents before sunset.
This zone-tailed hawk glided past the Hoak Ranch patio in late afternoon. After sprinting to the car for a camera, I managed a few, shaky shots as the zone-tail drifted into the sunset.

My last photos in April were of this female ocelot (below) posing on a mesquite branch at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. 

Captive ocelot furnished by the Cincinnati Zoo for an educational tour of south Texas where fewer that 50 of the endangered cats still survive in the wild.
Captive ocelot furnished by the Cincinnati Zoo for an educational tour of south Texas where fewer than 50 of the endangered cats still survive in the wild.
I hope you enjoyed this little look into my busy spring.  It was a lot of fun.  Thanks to all of you who were a part of it.
Larry

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