Last week in the texas hill country

I spent much of last week with 5 photographers at my annual Block Creek Natural Area Instructional Photo Tour near Comfort, Texas.  After arriving two days early, owner Larry Jay and I made a search for good wildflowers and wildlife in much of the ranch land to the north of Fredericksburg.  Even though it was rainy when we started the early part of our shoot was successful.  I even got some nice gray fox images to go with many bluebonnet shots.

The photography group arrived Wednesday and we spent three days working on hummingbirds, foxes, vermilion flycatchers, hawks, owls, painted buntings and more.  Everyone got the fox and most of the other critters.  As always, the accommodations, food and hospitality were wonderful and the wildlife was plentiful. 

I do this trip every spring, so save the April 22-25 for a trip with me next spring if this sounds appealing.  Contact me quickly as this one fills quickly.

Here are some photos from this spring’s trip:

Axis Deer on a central Texas ranch.
Scimitar-horned Oryx in spring pasture
Longhorn steer trotting across his pasture.

Hill Country Bluebonnets near Mason, Texas.

Wine Cups near Mason, Texas.
Texas Hill Country ranch road with bluebonnets
Spring cold front blowing in at Block Creek Natural Area.
Gray Fox climbing log
Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding at thistle flower.
House Finch perched in sunlight
Painted Bunting male in Texas persimmon tree, Texas Hill Country.
Painted Bunting perched in Greenbriar.
Young wild turkey gobbler foraging in meadow.
Vermilion Flycatcher male landing
Wild Turkey gobbler peeks over a fanned tail while strutting.


Butterflies at Home

For the first time in several years, the butterfly population has exploded at our small butterfly/hummingbird garden.  Actually, I’ve been impressed with the species diversity, too.  So, during the past two afternoons, I grabbed the Canon 5D Mark IV camera with Canon 100-400 mm lens to capture as many species images as possible.  A few were missed, but you can see from the shots below that subject matter was abundant in the little 25′ x 25′ habitat.

All the shots were taken “hand held” with an ISO of 640-800 and f stop of 8-18.  Seldom did I let the shutter speed dip below 350th of a second.

Flowering plants in the garden include mist flower, Turk’s cap, heliotrope and shrimp plant.

Common Mestra on mist flower.

Fiery Skipper nectaring on mist flower.

Unusual top-side view of Gray Hairstreak with wings open.

Gulf Fritillary isolated on Turk’s cap flower.

Large Orange Sulphur nectaring at Turk’s cap flower.

Lyside Sulphur feeding at mist flower blooms.

One of several Monarchs enjoying the mist flowers.

Mournful Duskywing working the mist flowers.

Red Admiral with a brick wall background.

Queen feeding while afternoon light fades.

Sleepy Orange Sulphur shared the flowers with a Queen (left).

Southern Dogface feeding.

Tailed Orange has more “bump” than “tail”.

Theona-Checkerspot has to feed quickly before a much larger Queen moves in.

My favorite shot of the bunch…Tropical Checkered-Skipper.

Varigated Fritillary showed up the second day.

White Peacock sunning on the ground before moving up to feed.

An unidentified moth feeding on mist flowers. The species is much smaller than most butterflies.

There are more butterflies to come when next I share a trip to the National Butterfly Center and Falcon State Park Butterfly gardens.


In Search of a Booby

On Friday, Steve Sinclair and I drove out to South Padre Island in search of a Masked Booby that had been reported hanging out around the ship channel jetties.  After a short walk of maybe 150 feet, we almost stumbled over our seabird as he waited along the walking path for a fresh-fish handout from passing fishermen.  We seldom enjoy that kind of “instant” success when searching for unusual birds, but the booby was right there and waiting to be photographed.

Although in the middle of a molt, our bird was a good find.  It sort of blended in with the laughing gulls, so none of the fishermen had the slightest idea they were in the presence of an unusual  bird.  Normally, one would have to go to a more tropical ocean habitat like the south Atlantic or Caribbean Ocean to find this guy.

So, here are some South Padre critters: Masked Booby, a green sea turtle and a marine creature called a Sea Hare.  It surfaced while I photographed turtles near the jetty.

When you click on a photo, it will enlarge and sharpen for better viewing.

Masked Booby on jetty at South Padre Island, 8.3.208

Sea Hare feeding on algae in the Brownsville Ship Channel.

Green Sea Turtle surfacing for air.

These images were made with the Canon 7D Mark II camera and Canon 100-400 mm lens, handheld.  It was so hot and steamy on this day, I decided to wait for cooler weather before returning for better photos.


Fawns, Fishing and Eating Water Lilies

As the sun popped from the Gulf of Mexico today, I was photographing a wading fisherman in the Laguna Madre, south Texas.  Good fortune was with me as two fishing boats passed beyond him and I got them all in one shot.  Then I headed out to try finding fawn white-tailed deer since early July is the peak fawning  time in this part of the state.  Again, I was lucky and located several newborns, some as their mothers were tucking them away in tall cover for the day.  BUT, my search continues for that best of all baby deer photos…nursing time with a fawn on either side of a doe.  I just have to keep trying.

Click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it.  Then click on the arrows at either side to advance or back up.

Fishermen on a sunrise mission in boats and waders, Laguna Madre, Texas.


White-tailed Deer, doe keeping her baby scent-free.

White-tailed Deer, fawns standing in young mesquite. shrubs, s. Texas.

White-tailed Deer fawn hiding in tall grass, s. Texas.

White-tailed Deer, summer buck putting on good antlers.


Horses eating water lilies.

These horses were escaping mosquitos and munching water lilies in an ephemeral pond.

For most of these images, I used a tripod, Canon 5D Mark IV camera and 100-400 mm lens.  The big buck was done with a 7D Mark II and 500 mm lens, hand-held.


Last Week at Laguna Seca Photo Ranch

Barbara and Tom Pickthall joined me for two days of photography last week at Laguna Seca Photography Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas.  The summer temperatures had arrived and were climbing each day, so the wildlife needed lots of water.  While waiting patiently in photo blinds at various waterholes, we were able to capture some nice images.

Here are a few of my shots.  Most were made with the Canon 500 mm lens and Canon 5D Mark IV camera from a Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod.

Blue Grosbeak male in spike rush.

Blue Grosbeak male taking flight.

Pair bonding Northern Cardinals.

Green Jay nuptial meal.

Northern Bobwhite eating manzanita fruit, s. Texas.

Northern Bobwhite hen watching young as she feeds.

Northern Bobwhite drinking behind grassy cover.

Northern Bobwhite hen at the waterhole

Common Ground Dove kicking up sand at it reacts to some quick movement in the weeds.

Great Kiskadee eating manzanita fruit, s. Texas.

Pyrrhuloxia male with tall crest.

Painted Bunting, male with Cedar Waxwing haircut.

Painted Bunting male on lichen-covered twig, s. Texas.

As we finished the first afternoon’s shoot and the shadows were growing long, an old male bobcat strolled passed.  I made several  squeaking sounds (by sucking on the web of skin between my index finger and thumb) and got a response.  We all got great shots of his reaction.

Bobcat male pauses to listen for prey.

I hope to begin getting these newsletters posted more frequently.  Thanks for dropping by.



Last Week at Santa Clara Photo Ranch

Here are some photos from last week at the Santa Clara Photo Ranch west of Edinburg, Texas.  The image with mourning doves and Super Moon was made the week before, but I just had to include it.

Most of these photos were made in the rain or when fog and mist covered the land.  Thanks to the improvements in Canon’s 7D Mark II and 5D Mark IV cameras, I was able to keep the ISO high enough to get some keepers.

Click on an image and it will enlarge and sharpen for better viewing.

Mourning Doves and Super Moon about a half hour after sunset.

Pyrrhuloxia and Northern Cardinal fighting for a perch.

Northern Cardinal female landing on common ground-dove.

Black-crested Titmouse searching for food.

Greater Roadrunner fluffing feathers to retain heat.

Northern Cardinal in flight.

Rainy day Audubon ‘s Oriole.

Pyrrhuloxia (male) and landing Northern Cardinal (female).

Common Ground Dove landing on stump.

A White-tipped Dove got there first.

Black-crested Titmouse pair feeding.

Crested Caracara landing.

You will have to try Santa Clara Photo Ranch…but book a year in advance for spring and summer shooting.  There is a huge variety of birds, reptiles and mammals coming to water and food at the blinds during the warmer months and business is brisk.


Three Birds from South Padre Island

Sunday afternoon I headed to South Padre Island for a few hours of photography.  The high in McAllen, Texas today (Tuesday) was 36 degrees with overcast skies, so I’m feeling pretty good about that decision.

Here are three shots from the outing:

Click on a photo to get a sharper, clearer view.

Reddish Egret chasing American Coot

The coot got hammered but escaped with all his feathers in tact.

Royal Tern with a mullet

This mullet wasn’t so lucky; a royal tern speared him through the head.

Northern Pintail pair resting in coastal salt marsh, s. Texas

This was the last shot of the day.  A pair of pintails basking in the last rays of afternoon light.

Is was a fun afternoon and, I made it to the house in time for that incredible Viking comeback win over the Saints.



South Texas Deer on a Foggy Morning

In the following shots, it’s pretty hard to see any fog, but there was enough to severely reduce the amount of light available for photography.  These were made late last week toward the end of the rut with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100-400 mm IS lens (second generation) and all are hand-held.   At ISO 1000, I was able to work through the morning at shutter speeds from 1/250 to 1/1000 second.

I am losing a lot of images when the image stabilizer is in the “on” position because my photos are usually made quickly or hurriedly and I forget to partially depress the shutter for a split second before making the image.  Hence, the stabilizer and shutter are working at the same time…causing blurring of the first image in each burst.  Unfortunately, the best shot is often the first one, so from here on in, I am shooting the old fashioned way and using a tripod when possible.  Mostly, I’ll try to compensate for vibration with higher shutter speeds.

These images were posted on Facebook a day or two ago, so if we are Facebook friends, you may already have seen them.

When you click on a photo, it should expand and sharpen for better viewing.  Click at the right side of any shot to advance.

White-tailed Deer, buck bedded in tall grass and weeds.

White-tailed Deer, buck whirling to run

White-tailed Deer, buck running

White-tailed Deer, buck polishing antlers.

White-tailed Deer, buck scenting doe in estrus.  Most of us call this a “lip curl” because the behavior (flehmen) in too hard to remember, pronounce or explain.

White-tailed Deer, buck alert and ready to run.  Yes, this is a native Texas buck and a free ranging deer that grew those antlers without aid of protein feeding (as far as I know).

Eager buck in rut and timid doe.

I’m sorry it’s been so long since the last newsletter, but maybe I can get back on track.

Happy New Year!


Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Photo Workshops

Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.

Palm and moon from the RGV Birding Festival headquarters parking lot in Harlingen, Texas.”

While waiting for my ride on the first morning of the festival, I grabbed the camera and shot photos of palms, pink clouds and the moon at sunrise.

For two days last week, I lead photography groups to the National Butterfly Center in Mission and to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  Day #1 was beautiful, but a strong cold front on Day #2 pretty much shut down any hope for any spectacular bird photos at the island.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the opportunity to improve our nature photography skills while getting some nice images.

Here are a few shots from both destinations:

Altamira Oriole searching for some tasty orange slices at the National Butterfly Center.

Clay-colored Thrush lured into view by a very natural looking water drip.

Plain Chachalaca eating Anacua berries, North American Butterfly Center, Mission, Texas.

Plain Chachalaca in flight

Perhaps the toughest test of a bird photographer’s skill is the ability to successfully capture birds in flight.

White Peacock butterflies nectaring.

While our photographers professed a desire to focus the day in pursuit of birds, they quickly gave in to the temptation of capturing images of the Butterfly Center’s showy butterflies. I  certainly enjoyed the opportunity to photograph my first Questionmark batterfly (below).

Questionmark butterfly on a tree branch.

Great Egret with fish.

We thought this great egret was frozen by the winter blast that hit South Padre Island on our second morning.  Then it surprised us with a sudden thrust of his head into the pond below.  Maybe the little fish was shocked as well when that the immobile white object above turned out to be an actively hunting predator.

Mottled Duck hen shaking water from feathers.

White Ibis with shrimp.

Even when it’s cold, everything has to eat.

As we prepared to leave South Padre Island, this lonely Couch’s Kingbird made a parking lot appearance.  It was our last opportunity to photograph one of those beautiful Rio Grande Valley specialty birds.

Couch’s Kingbird on perch.

All images were made with Canon 5D Mark IV camera and 100-400 mm Canon lens.



Remembering Last Spring


While organizing photo files last week, I came across a number of  shots from a morning trip last spring to South Padre Island (SPI), Texas.  They reminded me that being on SPI in late April, rubbing elbows with dozens of other photographers is always a special event.  On this day, every clump of trees was teeming with colorful, migrating songbirds.  Maybe the best part of this trip was that I didn’t have to spend hours crouched in a photo blind or arranging perches and water drips to attract the birds… I just parked the car, grabbed the camera and start shooting.

These photos were taken in one morning on the grounds at SPI’s Convention Center.

Baltimore Oriole, male perched, April.

Baltimore Oriole, male perched, April.

On this day, a large number of Baltimore Orioles had just arrived.  Most were searching for food and water and didn’t pay much attention to the photographers.

Male Baltimore Orioles in spring migration.

Getting into position for a photo that offers a clean background and reasonably good lighting can be a photographer’s greatest challenge.

Male and female Baltimore Orioles fighting.

Indigo Bunting male perched, April.

First time visitors are always shocked at the variety and color of all those warblers, buntings, grosbeaks, tanagers, etc. crammed into a small woodlot.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male perched, April.

Worm-eating Warbler searching for insects.

Some of the birds like this Worm Eating Warbler are unusual finds and they aren’t much for posing.  Photographers have to spot, focus and shoot quickly or the opportunity will be gone.

A motionless Yellow-billed Cuckoo watching for juicy caterpillars.

Foraging Yellow Warblers are easy to spot and hard to photograph.

White-eyed Vireo perched, April.

So, this is a small sample of what can be seen and photographed on a good morning.  These shots were made with Canon 500 mm and 100-400 mm lenses and Canon 7d Mark II camera.