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

Busy Spring in South Texas

April has been a busy one.  I just got back from doing several workshops at FeatherFest in Galveston, then I spent three days guiding on the Santa Clara Ranch, and next week I’m off to South Padre Island for a spring migrant birds instructional photo tour.  Immediately after that workshop, I will be leading a workshop on the Hoak Ranch near Ozona, Texas.

The Caddo Lake Instructional Photo Tour had to be cancelled for this spring…just not enough participants.  It has always been the most productive and fun of all the photo trips I lead, so it was especially difficult having to pull the plug.  If you have been wanting to do that one, set aside some vacation time for the first week of May 2012.

For those of you who shoot with Nikon equipment, I know of a couple of great lens buys.  Contact Sherry ( sherhal@aol.com ).  She has a Nikon 300 mm f4 and a Sigma 50-500 mm zoom, both less than a year old (the Sigma is only 2 months old) and like new.  The lenses are excellent but her husband surprised her with a new Nikon 400 mm f2.8 just a few days ago, so she is eager to sell the other telephotos.

Here are some shots captured on recent trips.  The mud dauber photos were lots of fun because I got into the macro world of bees and wasps for a couple of hours (it was a slow day in the bird blind). 

Click in the upper right portion of the photo to enlarge if for a larger, sharper view and to move on to the next photo.

Mud Dauber and escort with a ball of mud
Mud Dauber and escort with a ball of mud
I got this shot with the 300 mm lens, 1.4 X teleconverter and 25 mm extension tube.  To stop the motion, used the following settings: ISO 1250, 1/2000 sec. @ f10 with the Canon 7D camera.  Of course, this is really a high speed, multi-flash type shot that should be done at f 22, but I made do with what I had.
Mourning dove take-off with water flying
Mourning dove take-off with water flying
It usually takes 10-20 trys to get a good take off shot of birds at the water hole, but the reward is great when it all comes together.  I shot this one with the Canon 1D Mark III and Canon 100-400 mm lens at 400 mm setting, 1/3200 sec. @ f 5.6 with the ISO set at 500.
Common Yellowthroat about to bathe.
Common Yellowthroat about to bathe.
This male common yellowthroat was very nervous, but eventually got a bath.  He is one of the early migrant songbirds to reach the Santa Clara Ranch this spring.
Eastern Cottontail keeping those toenails clipped.
Eastern Cottontail keeping those toenails clipped.
Grooming is always tiring, so one should stretch out an relax after such hard work.
Eastern Cottontail resting in the cool dust of the south Texas desert brushlands.
Eastern Cottontail resting in the cool dust of the south Texas desert brushlands.
A handfull of corn just isn't enough to satisfy two javelinas so something has to give.
A handfull of corn isn't enough to satisfy two javelinas, so something has to give.
This Audubon's Oriole perched on one of the few guayacan plants to bloom this spring.
This Audubon's Oriole perched on one of the few guayacan plants to bloom this spring.
I had to hunt long and hard this spring for a guayacan bush with blooms that might make a good perch for bird portraits.  The Audubon’s orioles have temporarily altered their winter routine and begun nest building.
This pair of Long-billed Thrashers regularly visit the photo blind water hole, even while nest building.
This pair of Long-billed Thrashers regularly visited the photo blind water hole, even while nest building.
The Roel Ramirez Ranch at Roma, Texas still boasts large numbers of south Texas birds at the photo blinds.
The Roel Ramirez Ranch at Roma, Texas still boasts large numbers of south Texas birds at the photo blinds.
This colorful verdin looked stiking atop the blooming guayacan bush.  Water and fresh orange slices attract the guys to south Texas photo blinds.
This colorful verdin looked stiking atop the blooming guayacan bush. Water and fresh orange slices attract the guys to south Texas photo blinds.
Golden-fronted Woodpeckers readily land on guayacan bush perches, too.
Golden-fronted Woodpeckers readily land on guayacan bush perches, too.
This coming week, we hope to see lots of Royal terns and songbirds at the South Padre Island Photo Tour.
This coming week, we hope to see lots of Royal terns and songbirds at the South Padre Island Photo Tour.
During the South Padre Island Photo Tour, we plan to get eye-to-eye with the Laguna Madre beach terns, shorebirds, and gulls.  These breeding terns were captured with the Canon 1D Mark III and 500 mm IS lens atop a bean bag cradled in a frisbee.  I got a little damp on the underside, but it was fun.  Nevertheless, an 80″  plastic body-skid for beach photography would be nice.
Thank you, Lord, for your beautiful creation.
Larry

 

NANPA Came and Went

Green Jay landing on feeder beside flowers
Green Jay landing on feeder beside flowers

Last week, McAllen hosted the North American Nature Photography Association’s annual Summit.  It was a great opportunity to learn more about photography and to see the work of some great photographers.  It’s funny though, that those of us who live here think we do a great job of advertising the photo opportunities and birding in south Texas.  To my surprise, many of our visitors said they had never heard of McAllen or its bird resource.  Of course, I wasn’t surprised that those who attended the Summit had a lot of fun; many even allowed a few extra days for photography.  On Monday, I guided two ladies for a one-day trip to the Santa Clara Ranch.  Sandy Richards of Alamo, California said “it was the best day of photography I ever had!”.

The following day, Dave Welling, Allen Dale and I headed up river about 120 miles in search of the elusive white-collared seedeater.  Allen had photographed them about 5 days earlier and got some pretty nice photos.  But for Dave and me, they are still “elusive”.  Enough said!  Allen saved the day by taking us to Falcon State Park where we photographed scaled quail and a pair of roadrunners building a nest.  I can’t wait to visit that location again next month.

Yesterday, I spent a couple hours at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands hoping for photographs of green kingfisher.  Ditto on the “elusive” part, but the duck photography was great.  With the migration under way, I hope to get back there soon.

Here are some of the birds I photographed this week.  You will note that I added a flowery prop to one set to punch up the color.  I simply placed the flowers in a location where I wanted the birds to land, placed a perch twig behind the flowers, and put half of an orange (out of sight) at the bottom of the perch.  Several birds fought over the orange and the activity was intense all morning.

Remember, click on the photo and it will open to a larger, sharper format.  Then you can click the upper righthand area to advance through the photos.

Alert Audubon's Oriole landing in flowers, s. Texas
Alert Audubon's Oriole landing in flowers, s. Texas
The shots with pink flowers are all at the same setup.  The flowers are bouganvillas.  I used the 100-400 mm zoom lens to allow room for capturing landing birds through a rapid fire sequence of shots.  In a wetter spring, there would be enough native flowering plants to color up the background without hauling my wife’s potted plants to the ranch.
The green jays and Audubon's orioles occasionally fought over the fruit hidden below the perch.
Green Jays and Audubon's Orioles occasionally fought over the fruit hidden below the perch.

One could manipulate the green jay’s eye and insert a clear one to create a prettier photo, but the nictitating membrane  shows that birds blink like we do when threatened by the striking beak of another bird.

Audubon's Oriole reaching for food
Audubon's Oriole reaching for food

 

If flowering shrubs are available, they make more colorful, interesting perches than do non-flowering branches.
If flowering shrubs are available, they are more colorful and interesting perches than a stump or bare branch.
Long-billed Thrasher repositioning feet on a perch in south Texas brush
Long-billed Thrasher repositioning feet on a perch in south Texas brush
When a bird lands on my setup, I often keep focused for several seconds in case some interesting action or posturing occurs.  In this case, the wings spread as the thrasher  turned to face me.
Scaled Quail drinking from an over-turned trash can at a brush country camp site.
Scaled Quail drinking from an over-turned trash can at a brush country camp site.
Desert birds, and probably most others, can be trained quickly to take their water from man-made devices.  In this case, a camper at Falcon State Park simply overturned an unused trash can and filled the bottom with water for the birds.  You may know scaled quail as blue quail and cotton-tops.
Greater Roadrunner with a leaf for the nest.
Greater Roadrunner with a leaf for the nest.

This greater roadrunner wasn’t much help with the nest building.  While its mate gathered and installed sticks, this one pecked around at the light stuff but never did much real work.  This is what I look like when there is housework to be done.

Drake blue-winged teal in flight
Drake Blue-winged Teal in flight

Several blue-winged teal are spending a few days at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands.  I got this shot using a 500 mm lens and 1.4X teleconverter with the Canon 7D camera set to ISO 800, 1/2000 second @ f 4 in early morning cross-light.

Blue-winged Teal drakes (males) stretching.
Blue-winged Teal drakes (males) stretching.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at sunrise.
Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at sunrise.

These whistling ducks were easy to approach for a sunrise shot at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands.  The wetlands are an excellent place for waterbird and butterfly photography, especially for local photographers who don’t have the time for a long drive to other habitats.

That’s it for this week.  I hope all of you are enjoying good spring weather.
Larry

Spring is Workshop Season

Spring wasn’t slow arriving in south Texas…one week we were in the 30s and the next week temperatures shot all the way up into the mid-90s.  Green leaves are popping out all over the place.  All this warmth reminds me it is Photo Tour/Workshop season again.  Next week, the North American Nature Photography Association will hold their annual Summit in McAllen and several of us locals will be leading short photo trips.  In April, I will be doing workshops at FeatherFest in Galveston, then I’ll scoot back to south Texas for a Photo Tour on South Padre Island as migrating songbirds are arriving.  Right after that, I will drive out west for the Hoak Ranch near Ozona, Texas.  Then, it’s on to Caddo Lake in east Texas the first week of May. 

Just to remind you of what you are missing, several photos from South Padre Island and Caddo Lake follow this little discussion.  There is still plenty of room for South Padre Island and a spot or two remain open for Caddo Lake.  That one may fill before the weekend is over, so zip me a note if you have been meaning to register.  The FeatherFest workshops are full as is the Hoak Ranch Workshop.  Nevertheless, you should let me know if you want to be on the waiting list.  Someone could drop out at the last minute.

Remember to click on the upper right portion of a photo to open it in a larger, sharper format.  From there, just keep clicking along to see all the photos as a slide show.

Male Baltimore Orioles always draw a crowd of photographers at the woods on South Padre Island.
Male Baltimore Orioles always draw a crowd of photographers at the woods on South Padre Island.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks always make an appearance on the island in mid-late April.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks always make an appearance on the island in mid-late April.
Black-bellied Plovers will be feeding along the beaches on South Padre Island in April.
Black-bellied Plovers will be feeding along the beaches on South Padre Island in April.

Black-bellied Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones will be moulting into their breeding plumage as they prepare to head north from South Padre in April and early May.

It is not unusual to see several male indigo buntings feeding together in the brushy habitats on South Padre Island in April.
It is not unusual to see several male indigo buntings feeding together in the brushy habitats on South Padre Island in April.
During mid-April, various terns and gulls are breeding on beaches and mud-flats of South Padre Island.
During mid-April, various terns and gulls are breeding on beaches and mud-flats of South Padre Island.

We will spend at least one day of the South Padre Island Photo Tour photographing along the shoreline and from the World Birding Center boardwalk.

There is almost a half mile of boardwalk over salt and fresh-water marshes at the SPI World Birding Center.
There is almost a half mile of boardwalk over salt and fresh-water marshes at the SPI World Birding Center.

The Caddo Lake Photo Tour is by pontoon boat which can quitely cover hundreds of acres during each of our 5 outings.  The first bird we photographed last year was the Cedar Waxwing.  The trip is timed to coincide with the arrival of north-bound migrating songbirds and the early part of their breeding activity.

A nice Cedar Waxwing resting along the shoreline at Caddo Lake in early May.
A nice Cedar Waxwing resting along the shoreline at Caddo Lake in early May.
Northern Parulas are abundant at Caddo Lake.  We always get several to pose on Spanish moss for photos
Northern Parulas are abundant in May at Caddo Lake. We always get several to pose on Spanish moss for photos
Northern Parulas are constantly foraging for insects, even when posing for photos.
Northern Parulas are constantly foraging for insects, even when posing for photos.
Elegant Great Egrets seem to be everywhere Caddo Lake in the spring.
Elegant Great Egrets seem to be everywhere on Caddo Lake in the spring.
Red-shouldered Hawks feed and nest in the cypress woodlands on Caddo Lake.  This young bird let us drift within photo range and held his perch for several minutes as we fired away.
Red-shouldered Hawks feed and nest in the cypress woodlands on Caddo Lake. This young bird let us drift within photo range and held his perch for several minutes as we fired away.
A spectacular male Yellow-throated Warbler always greets our photo group at the docks on Caddo Lake.
A spectacular male Yellow-throated Warbler always greets our photo group at the docks on Caddo Lake.
The obsidian-colored eyes of a barred owl are fixed on 5 bird photographers who are thankful for this opportunity.
The obsidian-colored eyes of a barred owl are fixed on 5 bird photographers who are thankful for this opportunity.
This Pileated Woodpecker was the last of the fabulous Caddo Lakes birds we photographed in 2010.
This Pileated Woodpecker was the last of the fabulous Caddo Lakes birds we photographed in 2010.
Sleeping raccoon in a Caddo Lake cypress tree.
Sleeping raccoon in a Caddo Lake cypress tree.
Come on now;  don’t sleep through this opportunity.  Register for one of these workshops today and enjoy some great spring nature photography.
Best wishes to all,
Larry

Shooting the Texas Tundra

My wife and I spent last week trying to stay warm while visiting her mother in Wichita Falls, Texas.  Being the tough guy that I am, I spent all day Wednesday photographing from Dottie’s garage with the door open, no heat, and facing into that cold north wind.  About 2″ of snow fell the night before and the temperature hovered around 20 degrees all day…the wind chill was around 10 degrees.  On the brighter side, a good variety of birds were foraging about her neighborhood for any available food.  I pitched out some sunflower seeds and bread crumbs and the birds responded.  So, here is what you can get after a snow in north Texas (if you can bear the cold).

Click on the photo to make it expand and sharpen for better viewing.  Click in the upper right portion of the photo to advance to the next shot.

Barking black-tailed prairie dog.
Barking black-tailed prairie dog.

 I found these prairie dogs (one is peaking out of the burrow) the day before the snow as they enjoyed the sunshine on a blustery, 30 degree day.  The “dogs” must have sensed that the following day would bring a blanket of snow, so they were quite active.  

Blue Jay with pecan on a snow-covered tree limb.
Blue Jay with pecan on a snow-covered tree limb.
This blue jay photo was my very first shot of the morning.  When I checked the camera’s screen, I knew it would be a good day.
Dark-eyed Junco with snow in the background.
Dark-eyed Junco with snow in the background.
Another dark-eyed junco searching for seeds.
Another dark-eyed junco searching for seeds.
Dark-eyed Juncos seemed to be the most common birds visiting Wichita Falls during the cold spell.  These birds spend their summers in Canada and the northern U.S. and come our way when winter weather drives them south.
Downy Woodpecker on the snow-covered branch of a cedar elm.
Downy Woodpecker on a snow-covered cedar elm branch.
The rough bark on a cedar elm just outside the garage door must have been prime habitat for many forms of invertebrates because several species of birds,  including this Downy Woodpecker and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, spent hours feeding in it.
One of the few times this red-breasted nuthatch wasn't walking the underside of limbs search for food.
One of the few times this red-breasted nuthatch wasn't walking the underside of limbs searching for food.
This white-crowned sparrow kept his feathers puffed out to hold in the body heat...much like wearing a down jacket.
This white-crowned sparrow kept his feathers puffed out to hold in the body heat...much like wearing a down jacket.
Last week, north Texas was like a frozen tundra.  Thousands of birds were working the woodlots and backyards looking for food and shelter.
Blue Jay launching into flight after checking this perch for seeds.
Blue Jay launching into flight after checking this perch for seeds.
The snow made a perfect backdrop for bird photography.  The blue areas in the background are tree shadows falling on the snow.
Two pairs of northern cardinals spent the day scratching for seeds and perching on a nearby fence.
Several Northern Cardinals spent the day scratching for seeds and perching on a nearby fence.
Birds frequently perched on this fence which had some dried vines hanging on it.  It was a perfect set and I didn’t have to do a thing to improve it.  Finding nice perches to do impromptu bird photography in a tidy urban setting isn’t easy, so I was lucky .
European Starlings may be pests but they are beautifully marked and colored.
European Starlings may be pests but they are beautifully marked.

 

How to get hungry birds to perch up? ...scatter some bread crumbs.
How to get hungry birds to perch up? ...scatter some bread crumbs.
Carolina Wren searching for food on my perch stump.
Carolina Wren searching for food on my perch stump.

 Three years ago, my father-in-law dragged this old stump to the back yard fence and left it.   Lucky for me, he never got around to putting it in the alley for removal, so it had weathered nicely and made an excellent feeding station and bird perch.

Fallen oak leaves and a thin snow cover make a great composition with this foraging male Northern Cardinal.
Fallen oak leaves and a thin snow cover make a great composition with this foraging male Northern Cardinal.

 These  photos were taken with the Canon 7D camera and 500 mm IS lens.  A 1.4 X teleconverter was inserted for the small birds, but the prime lens was all I needed for the cardinals, starlings and blue jays.  Most of the shots were taken at ISO 400 or 500, usually at 1/1600 second or better, and +2/3 of an f stop to compensate for the white background.

*** It is time to plan your next photo tour for this spring, so take a minute to a look at the tour schedule on this web site.  The Hoak Ranch Workshop near Ozona still has some openings as do the Caddo Lake and South Padre Island photo tours.  Each is in a scenic location where you can get some beautiful photographs while learning new tricks to improve your nature photography (scenic and wildlife) and Photoshoping.
It was too cold and distrubing for the birds for me to add some greenery around this perch for color.
It was too cold and distrubing to the birds for me to add some greenery around this perch for color.
Wishing you a good week,
Larry

Winter on the Texas Coast

I made 6 trips for whooping cranes this month and had sunlight two mornings.  The birds were always there, but the warm light of sunrise was missing.  Those of you who were with me know what a big difference that made in bird activity and photo quality.

All of our time during the whooping crane trips was dedicated to bird photography.  That was a departure from the norm, as we usually work on landscapes around the harbors and fishing piers in the afternoons.  Frankly, I missed shooting the colorful boats, harbor reflections and fog that can produce wonderful shots, but the weather kept us from getting the landscape opportunities we wanted.

I made a morning trip out to South Padre Island in late January and happily encountered a light morning fog  and very little wind.  The birds were there in good variety although ducks numbers were lower than usual.  I’ve incorporated some of those shots with photos from our last whooping crane trip to give you a summary of my late January outings.

Click on a photo to make it larger and produce a sharper image for better viewing.  There is a hidden “next” button in the upper, right hand area of each photo, too.

Young whooping crane waits in the first rays of morning light at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as a parent bird prepares a blue crab for his dining enjoyment.
Young whooping crane waits in the first rays of morning light at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as a parent bird prepares a blue crab for his dining enjoyment.
Whooping crane landing in salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping crane landing in salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
The whooping crane above was returning to its mate and young after chasing away another pair that had ventured too closely to this bird’s winter feeding territory.
Whooping crane calling, "whooping", before leaving the salt marsh and flying inland to feed on recently burned grasslands at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping crane calling, "whooping", before leaving the salt marsh and flying inland to feed on recently burned grasslands at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
All the whooping cranes photos were taken with a Canon 7D camera, 500 mm IS lens and 1.4X teleconverter mounted on a Gitzo 1358 tripod with Wimberley head.  They were shot from a boat with the engine turned off.  Even though temperatures were relatively cold, heat waves made it impossible to photograph the cranes after 10:00 AM on sunny mornings when the focus distance was more than about 120 feet.
American Oystercatcher stretching before it begins to feed on an oyster bar in Aransas Bay near Rockport, Texas.
American Oystercatcher stretching before it begins to feed on an oyster bar in Aransas Bay near Rockport, Texas.
I can read body language in many birds and I can anticipate when they are going to stretch, fly or just go to sleep.  Nevertheless, it is always hard for me to “pull back” or reduce the telephoto power in order to capture those long wings when a bird stretches.   On this occasion, however, I did manage to alert the workshop group and remove the teleconverter from my lens in time to capture this wonderful pose of an American oystercatcher.  Oystercatchers are almost always located and photographed during the whooping crane trips.
Roseate Spoonbills flying up the intracoastal waterway by Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Roseate Spoonbills flying up the intracoastal waterway by Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
The whooping cranes vocalized more this year than usual, and we had more roseate spoonbills than in any of the six years I’ve been leading these trips.
Only the wildllife are "authorized" to enter these precincts in the habitat of birds so rare as whooping cranes.  I think this vulture wanted us to know.
Only the animals are "authorized" to enter the precincts of birds so rare as whooping cranes. I think this turkey vulture wanted us to know.
Common Goldeneye without special filter effects.
Common Goldeneye without special filter effects.
Male common goldeneye keeping a sharp eye on us near the boat landing at Goose Island State Park.
Male common goldeneye keeping a sharp eye on us near the boat landing at Goose Island State Park.
Since the water around the goldeneye was somewhat flat and uninteresting, I added a filter from Photoshop (I forgot which one).  Whatever it was, I think the shot is better with the special effect.
Blue-winged teal, drake, flushing from the marsh near a boardwalk at the Aransas Pass sewage treatment facility.
Blue-winged teal drake flushing from the marsh near a boardwalk at the Aransas Pass sewage treatment facility.
Golden leaves on a black willow produced this reflection with a passing drake blue-winged teal at Paradise Pond in Aransas Pass.
Golden leaves on a black willow produced this reflection with a passing drake blue-winged teal at Paradise Pond in Aransas Pass.
Juvenile Brown Pelican landing at the fish cleaning station on Goose Island State Park, Texas
Juvenile Brown Pelican landing at the fish cleaning station on Goose Island State Park, Texas
The brown pelican above was photographed with a Canon 1D Mark III camera and 16-35 mm Canon lens, hand held from about 8 feet.
These adult Brown Pelicans were flying at me on the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island in early morning.
These adult Brown Pelicans were flying at me on the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island in early morning.
As the sun came up and began to burn away the fog, this black-neck stilt paused in the shallows of the Laguna Madre to soak up a little warmth.
As the sun came up and began to burn away the fog, this black-neck stilt paused in the shallows of the Laguna Madre to soak up a little warmth.
Drake Northern Pintails sitting in the Laguna Madre shallows just aftern sunrise.
Drake Northern Pintails sitting in the Laguna Madre shallows just after sunrise.
Some birds, like this Little Blue Heron, prefer a dry perch while basking in the morning sunshine.
Some birds, like this Little Blue Heron, prefer a dry perch while basking in the morning sunshine.
Perching water birds are a disaster for the handrails at the South Padre Island Birding Center.  Hand cleaner is always in my equipment bag.
This beautiful tricolored heron gave me two quick photos before turning and walking straight away.
This beautiful tricolored heron gave me two quick photos before turning and walking straight away.
Sunrise at the South Padre Island boardwalk is usually productive.  Many birds roost nearby or perch on the handrails to warm in the morning light.  It takes me 90 minutes to drive there from McAllen, but I am seldom disappointed.
Larry

57 Degrees and Sunny…ha!

Two weeks ago, a photographer, scheduled to attend the Rockport Whooping Crane Photo Tour the following week, emailed to say she thought it would be best to cancel since rain was forecast for those days.  I looked again at the 10 day forecast and was reassured that both days were predicted to be sunny with a high each day of 57 degrees.  With that information in hand, I convinced her to come on down.  The rain wasn’t scheduled to start until after the photo tour.

Well, the forecasters were off just a bit…we had highs of 42 and 39 degrees for the photo tour with hard north winds.  But, hey, it didn’t rain!  The cranes were abundant and active, but those poor photographers suffered every minute they were on deck.  The bitter cold certainly took a lot of the fun out of that trip.  A windy 40 degrees at Rockport is like a dry 15 degrees at Bosque del Apache, N.M..  

After photographing cranes in the mornings, we worked other habitats for ducks, herons and songbirds in the afternoons.  Still, it was mighty tough shooting with the cold wind and heavy clouds blocking most of the light.  Some sample photos are included here, just to let you know it’s a great place to photograph in the winter, even when it’s cold.

Click on the photos to open them in a larger and sharper format.  You can also view them in order by clicking on “next” in the upper right corner.

Many of the endangered whooping crane pairs had young with them on the wintering grounds.
Many of the endangered whooping crane pairs had young with them this winter.

That rusty colored bird in the middle is a young of the year.  It will lose most of those reddish brown feathers by spring. 

Whooping crane pairs with young were easily disturbed when others got too close to feeding territory boundries.  Several times each day, we saw a fussy adult bird fly over to chase away the intruding cranes.
Whooping crane pairs with young were easily disturbed when others got too close to feeding territory boundries. Several times each day, we saw a fussy adult bird fly over to chase away the intruding cranes.

With the wind and heavy cloud cover, we had to shoot with high ISO settings (ISO 800-1200) most of the time.  On a positive note, that gave us a reason to discuss “noise reduction” in Photoshop and how to sharpen after smoothing out the noise in digital photos.

This whooper was not the least bit disturbed by our presence and we enjoyed to close-up photo op.
This whooper was not the least bit disturbed by our presence while we enjoyed this close-up photo op.
It was encouraging to see the salt marshes around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge had a good crop of young blue crabs, the whoopers' primary winter food source.
It was encouraging to see the salt marshes around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge had a good crop of young blue crabs, the whoopers' primary winter food source.
This pair of whooping cranes has provides us with many photography opportunities during 4 recent trips to Aransas Refuge.
This pair of whooping cranes provided us with many photography opportunities during 4 recent trips to Aransas Refuge.
The whooping crane shots were taken with a Canon 7D camera, Canon 500 mm IS lens, 1.4 X teleconverter (except the two close-up shots), Gitzo cf tripod and Wimberley head.  I tried to keep a high shutter speed (1/2,000 second when possible) on all occasions since the wind was strong and the light was limited.
Ruby-crowned kinglets were in a feeding frenzy during the cold weather.  One got so close, I was able to pet it without disturbing its feeding activity.
Ruby-crowned kinglets were in a feeding frenzy during the cold weather. One got so close, I was able to pet it without disturbing its feeding activity.
Yellow-rumped warblers seem to be especially abundant in south Texas this winter.
Yellow-rumped warblers seem to be especially abundant in south Texas this winter.
This female northern shoveler banked at just the right time to give me this shot of the wings colors.
This female northern shoveler banked at just the right time to give me this shot of the wing colors.
Drake green-winged teal napping on the marsh at the Port Aransas boardwalk.
Drake green-winged teal napping on the marsh at the Port Aransas boardwalk.
Great blue heron in a quiet pond.
Great blue heron in a quiet pond.
This great blue heron appeared to be in breeding plumage when I photographed it wading about a hidden pond at Port Aransas.  There was no time to remove the teleconverter when I got this shot, so I missed the full reflection.  That happens when one is working warblers and herons at the same location.
I will be doing a photo talk the first Wednesday night of February at the La Posada Hotel in Laredo for their second annual birding festival.  Then,   I’ll be in Galveston for Featherfest the first week of April to do several workshops and tours.  Read about it and sign up at : http://www.galvestonfeatherfest.com/PhotoFest_Descriptions.php
God bless you all,
Larry

3 Days in Port Aransas

I spent three days in Port Aransas last week photographing whooping cranes, songbirds, waterfowl and water birds.  The  first day dawned a beautiful red to gold to yellow morning and then turned to clouds which persisted for most of the trip.  Nevertheless, it is hard to fail when photographing in the Port Aransas and Rockport area.  Never mind that we bypassed the marinas on foggy mornings (one of my favorites shoots), we still had plenty of subjects.  I will have groups in that area again this week and next, so January promises to be lots of fun.

Here are some of my favorite photos from last week.  Don’t forget to click on the photos to open them in a larger, sharper format for viewing.

On a cool, foggy afternoon, the night-herons came out of the woods to warm in a spot of afternoon sun.
On a cool, foggy afternoon, the night-herons came out of the woods to warm in a spot of sun.
Laughing gull resting on a huge granite boulder at the Port Aransas jetties.
Laughing gull resting on a huge granite boulder at the Port Aransas jetties.
It was hard to find a well marked Northern Shoveler male, but this one showed its speculum while stretching.
It was hard to find a well marked Northern Shoveler male, but this one showed a beautiful speculum while stretching.
Whooping crane enjoying a blue crab in the salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping crane enjoying a blue crab in the salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping cranes headed from the marsh to inland sites where prescribed burns have created large, grassy openings where the birds can feed.
Whooping cranes headed from the marsh to inland sites where prescribed burns have created large, grassy openings where the birds can feed in safety.
Male Wilson's warbler feeding in the woods at Port Aransas.
Male Wilson's warbler in the woods at Port Aransas.
Yellow-rumped warblers are common in south Texas woodlands during most winters.
Yellow-rumped warblers are common in south Texas woodlands during most winters.
All of these photos were done with the Canon 7D camera and 500 mm IS lens on a Gitzo cf tripod with Wimberley head.  For the warbler shots, I added a 1.4X teleconverter and fill flash.  I had to boost the ISO settings to compensate for the cloud cover and dark shade, but the Photoshop noise reduction tool helped smooth out the noise that created.
Have a good week.
Larry

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe 2011 is here already.  The fall and early winter have flown by, and I didn’t get to do nearly as much photography as I’d hoped.    I just spent most of the holidays editing and culling photo files.  Still there are thousands of shots to be edited, labeled and optimized.  The computer stuff never ends, does it? 

In spite of all that computer time last week, I did sneak out one morning to chase white-tailed deer and then I spent an afternoon sitting in a photo blind.  Here are a few of those shots.

Remember to click on the photographs to enlarge them for better viewing.  Then you can click on to the next and view them at your own speed as a slide show. 

Ten pointer following the trail of a doe.
Ten pointer following the trail of a doe.

 

In late December, the big bucks are in constant pursuit of females and have little time to pose for photos.  This big guy allowed me to follow until he topped a little ridge and paused in front of the sunrise.
In late December, the big bucks are in constant pursuit of females and have little time to feed or pose for photos. This big guy allowed me to follow until he topped a little ridge and paused in front of the sunrise.

 Both of the previous shots were taken with the Canon 1D Mark III and 100-400 mm IS Canon lens, hand held.

It took several tries to get this shot of a green jay landing.
It took several tries to capture this green jay landing.

 

Most of my shots of landing birds look like this.  It has good color...
Most of my shots of landing birds look like this. It has good color...

 

I had to crop the tail of this green jay since I shot this photo close in with about 1,000 mm.
I had to crop the tail of this green jay since I shot this photo close in with about 1,000 mm of telephoto power.

 

Another close focus at 1,000 mm.
Another close focus on a green jay.
These last two green jay shots were taken with the Canon 7D, 500 mm IS lens and 1.4X teleconverter at close range.  I was geared for warblers, but couldn’t resist the green jays.
This verdin came to feed on an orange and wouldn't sit still in the open for long.
This verdin came to feed on an orange slice I had placed near a perch. Unfortunately, green jays persisted in chasing it away.

 

The yellow-rumped warbler came in to bathe and feed on a few insects around the pond.
Yellow-rumped warblers fed and bathed near my blind all afternoon.
When I am in a blind photographing birds with the big lens, I always keep a second camera ready with the 100-400 mm lens in case a mammal comes to water.  On this day, a thirsty armadillo spent about 5 minutes drinking at the small pond about 15′ in front of me.
That long tongue and snout look like they are made for drinking, but I suspect they are more useful for rooting in leaf litter and grabbing invertebrates.
That long tongue and snout look like they are made for drinking, but I suspect they are more useful for rooting in leaf litter and grabbing invertebrates.

 

I always try to remember to mix some vertical shots with the horizontals, even when the shot demands a horizontal.
I always try to remember to mix some vertical shots with the horizontals, even when the shot demands a horizontal.

Santa didn’t bring me the new cameras and lenses I was hoping for, so I’ve decided to try being the first photographer to completely wear out a 500 mm lens.  Mine has 11 good years behind it and is still going strong.  I’m going to sprinkle a little salt spray on it this coming week.  You will hear more about that in the next newsletter.

Happy New Year!
Larry

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