Featherfest Pre-festival Photo trip vacancies

If you always wanted to take the Galveston FeatherFest Pre-festival boat trip at Rockport, Texas, you are in luck. Three registrants just dropped out for health reasons, so there is still time for you to get on board. Contact the Festival headquarters in Galveston and get registered; just like registering for any other field trip at the festival.

Great Egret ruffling breeding plumage.

When you register, they will give you the basic information on where to go, where to stay and our daily schedule. We will try to meet for dinner the night before our first trip and discuss everything.

Roseate Spoonbill in flight
American Oystercatcher landing in Aransas Bay, Texas.

We will photograph on two mornings from a very stable platform aboard Captain Kevin Sims’s boat. Photographing will be a short distance from an active wading bird nesting island…not too close to bother the birds but close enough for you to get fantastic flight and perch shots of a good variety of birds like Roseate Spoonbill, Great Egret, Snow Egret, Reddish Egret, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron and other species in breeding plumage.

on the Lower Rio Grande, November

I crossed the river levee near Brownsville and drove through the Border Wall gate Tuesday morning without seeing a Border Patrol vehicle (trust me, they were watching from somewhere). The crisp autumn air was invigorating as I walked to the photo blind with a load of heavy gear… without sweating. As the sun climbed, I could hear migrating sandhill cranes high above, winging their way southward to Mexico for the winter. It was a perfect morning for wildlife photography.

After getting up at 5:00 AM, I photographed from daylight until 11:00 AM before heading home to edit images at the computer. Here are a few of the captures from the outing:

Great Egret and White Ibis next to black willow on Sabal Palm Sanctuary.
Great Kiskadees with a dragonfly breakfast.
Green Kingfisher searching for an unsuspecting minnow.
Green Kingfisher avoiding detection by a passing peregrine falcon.
With the falcon circling, the green kingfisher adopts a more agressive posture and the falcon leaves.
Cautious Least Grebes collecting some of the morning’s warmth under their feathers.
A drake Mottled Duck spent a half hour in front of my blind, drinking and preening.
My favorite shot of the day, a Ringed Kingfisher diving for small fish.

I’m hoping to get a few nice butterfly shots before Thanksgiving, so the next trip will be out to the National Butterfly Center south of Mission, Texas. Recently, butterfly watchers have identified a half dozen rare butterfly species along with hundreds of more common lepidopterans. It’s worth the trip if you can get there while the days are warm.


The week before Autumn Begins

Last week, I visited some of my favorite habitats in the lower Rio Grande area of Texas to search for wildlife photography opportunities. I hope you like the variety of subjects and life stages depicted.

Blue Spiny Lizards on mesquite bark, s. Texas.

Dr. Beto Gutierrez spotted these guys on a huge mesquite as we traversed his ranch in Starr Co.

Beto and I spent about a half hour beside Dorothy’s Pond on the Santa Clara Photo Ranch that day. The birds weren’t there so we captured a few dragonfly images before heading out. That’s a Thornbush Dasher hovering a Roseate Skimmer.

Screech Owls in nest box at the Gutierrez property.
Lark Sparrow landing at Santa Clara Photo Ranch in late summer.
Ground Squirrel inspecting a dead and bloated mouse.
Big white-tail buck headed to the woods at sunrise.

A week ago, many whitetail bucks were still wearing velvet-covered antlers while some had begun to shed the bloody, furlike skin.

White-tail buck shedding strands of velvet from antlers in late summer.
Big bucks enjoying the early morning sun. * Note the reddish appearance of the hardened antlers on two of these bucks that had just shed their velvet.
White-winged Dove flushing from a water hole.

Autumn starts today and I’m at home working on this report and trying to capture a few hummingbird and flower photos around the house. Let’s save those for next week.

Stay well,


Early Fall Deer & Wild Turkey in south Texas

I began photographing a few white-tailed deer and wild turkey in late August. Fawns were dropping in July and getting pretty active by August. Meanwhile, the big bucks finished growing new antlers. Late summer is always a magic time when I can capture images of fawns and large bucks at the same time and location. It’s also that time of year when some turkey hens still have young poults.

Here are some photographs from recent weeks:

White-tailed Deer, buck eating huisache leaves, s. Texas.
White-tailed Deer, buck in velvet running through meadow
White-tailed Deer, doe and fawn feeding at sunrise, s. Texas.
Cottontail Rabbit playing with fawn White-tailed Deer.

In the image above, a cottontail rabbit jumps from the grass next to fawn. The rabbits seemed to play tag for a half hour or more with the little deer. On several occasions, they ran between its legs but the grass was too high for me to get a good shot

White-tailed Deer, fawn out for her morning run.
White-tailed Deer, fawn watching large buck in velvet.
White-tailed Deer, large bucks in velvet
Wild Turkey, hen and poult feeding in meadow, s. Texas.
Wild Turkey, poult snapping at mosquitos.

Bucks will be shedding velvet from their antlers for the next two-three weeks and I hope to capture nice shots of that. Maybe I can find some fresh fall migrant birds and autumn wildflowers, too.


autumn migrants Arriving

In recent weeks, we had migrating birds arriving with the hurricane and with the latest weather fronts. I wasn’t getting out of the house to photograph until I saw a good concentration of hummingbirds Monday on the Fire Bush plants at my son’s house. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings I was there for the action.

The following images were made without artificial lighting or any special setup. The bushes were covered in red blooms which made it difficult to isolate birds in flight. Instead, I focused a cluster of blooms with a clean background and pushed the shutter button as birds came to feed.

Here is a small collection of hummers from September 8 and 9:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird female feeding at Fire Bush in s. Texas garden.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male at Fire Bush flowers.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird male feeding at Fire Bush, s. Texas gardern.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, subadult female, autumn, s. Texas.
Subadult Rufous Hummingbird, s. Texas.

If my identification is correct, this is the first Rufous Hummingbird I’ve been able to photograph in the lower Rio Grande area.

I plan to post again in the next day or two with a few deer and turkey shots.


South Padre Island Marsh

The marshes at South Padre Island offer some fine bird photography almost anytime of the year, but mid-May is one of my favorite. Here is a sample of what was happening in the marsh earlier this week.

Great Blue Heron landing in marsh
Red-winged Blackbird male singing from the boardwalk handrail.

This courting male Red-winged Blackbird was all over the place.

Red-winged Blackbird doing the splits between cattails.
Muddy feet are of no concern when it’s mating time.
Mating Killdeer dismount..
Black-necked Stilts dancing by the Salt Grass.
Black-necked Stilt, female on nest
Black-necked Stilt male preparing to incubate eggs.
Black-necked Stilt, female feeding

A late afternoon fog bank gave the stilts enough shade to keep the eggs from baking while the pair poked about for supper. Their eggs should hatch during the Memorial Day weekend, but 4 days of bumper to bumper vehicle traffic will prevent all but the most intrepid wildlife photographers from recording it.


Two Afternoons at a Blind Near South Padre Island, Texas

I didn’t get much time for photography this spring, but I did make two quick trips by myself to an isolated photo blind near South Padre Island. On a third half day trip to the island, a few migrant songbirds appeared, but things just weren’t the same with Covid 19 travel restrictions in place.

Here are a few images from those trips:

Scarlet Tanager, male foraging for insects in shrubry, s. Texas.
Scarlet Tanager, female on perch.
Black-chinned Hummingbird feeding at Bottle Brush blooms at South Padre Island.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker by pond
Yellow Warbler, male
Wood Thrush foraging by small pond, s. Texas, migration
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, male headed to water
Female Orchard Oriole perched in Tepeguaje tree, South Padre Island, Texas.
Hooded Oriole female foraging for fruits and insects at South Padre Island habitat.
Common Yellowthroat bathing
Black-throated Green Warbler on perch.
Eastern Cottontail sneaking in for an afternoon drink, s. Texas.
Hooded Oriole male on perch.

These were pretty much the only individuals I saw on those limited outings, so I’m thankful for those few hours in the brush. Let’s hope next spring brings more birds and free time for photographers to enjoy.


Recent Captures

As a facilities planner and photo guide at the Santa Clara Photo Ranch in south Texas, I was able to access some of the blinds one day in early May. By then, most of the spring songbird migration was done, but bird activity was good that day.

Greater Roadrunners mating. Male is holding a Texas Horned Lizard, his bonding gift to the female, Santa Clara Ranch, Starr Co., Texas.
Golden-winged Warbler lost in the thorny woodlands on Santa Clara Ranch in Starr Co., Texas.

The little Golden-winged Warbler above was the first of that species we’d ever seen at Santa Clara Photo Ranch. He was visible for only a few seconds, but we got a few captures.

Northern Bobwhite male under Manzanita bush, s. Texas.
Long-billed Thrasher fluffing feathers as rain begins to fall.
Eastern Cottontail sampling Manzanita fruits.
Green Jay adult, head and shoulder portrait.
Courtship ritual, Northern Cardinals, male feeding female.
Painted Bunting male flushing while drinking.
Painted Bunting male diving in for a bath.
White-tipped Dove eyeing a Manzanita fruit, s. Texas.
White-tipped Dove landing by Manzanita bush.

Manzanita is somewhat rare in south Texas, but grows naturally in the Rio Grande delta near Brownsville. Since many birds and mammals are attracted to its drupes, I often carry fruiting branches from my garden to the ranch to use as perches.

When leisure travel is permitted again, the ranch will be open year round so check their web site (SantaClaraPhotoRanch.com) for schedules and other information.

Block Creek Natural Area

for photography including hummingbirds, flycatchers, woodpeckers and more…

Join me at the Block Creek Natural Area from April 22-25 to enjoy some fine bird photography, excellent food and camaraderie with fellow photographers. As of this posting, there are four slots available on a first come, first served basis. See the Instructional Photo Tours schedule at my website for more details and then contact me at lditto@larryditto.com to register.

Black-chinned hummingbirds at Salvia blooms and other flowers can be captured with my high speed flashes and your camera & lens.

Block Creek B&B Barn

There are several nice landscape opportunities including this little red barn near the Block Creek Bed & Breakfast where you will stay.

House at Block Creek Natural Area and some of the common wildflowers present during much of March and April.
Vermilion Flycatcher landing
Red-tailed Hawk take off from tree stump (captive bird) under the care of Last Chance Forever.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Painted Bunting resting under leaves.
This Gray Fox lives in the area and may be available for photos from a blind near the house.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher pair in flight, Texas hill country

Block Creek owner, Larry Jay, and I photographed these pairing Scissor-tailed Flycatchers as they hunted and bonded near the Block Creek B&B.

Most years, my photographers get some spectacular “birds in flight” opportunities.
Wild Turkey strutting

OK, you get the picture. Let’s meet at Block Creek Natural Area for two “1/2″ days and 2 full days” of photography in April.


The Rut Begins in S. Texas

White-tailed Deer, buck at sunrise on a foggy south Texas morning.

With the cooler days of mid-December comes the rut in south Texas.  Smaller bucks have been engaged in mock battles since late November, but the big boys seem to magically appear from the dense, thorny cover a few days before Christmas.

The following images were made on December 13 when several exceptional bucks were locked down on does, but I saw no battles that morning.  The brush country was shrouded in fog but the sun started to sparkle of the wet grass and spider webs shortly after sunrise. 

Foggy sunrise in deer country.
White-tailed Deer, big 12 point buck making a scrape.
White-tailed Deer, bucks in the fog, s. Texas.
White-tailed Deer, bucks in the fog just after sunrise.
White-tailed Deer, buck trotting across opening, s. Texas.  This young deer isn’t ready to challenge the big boys, so he will be hanging around the edges of the breeding action this year.
White-tailed Deer; button buck watching mature buck make a scrape.
White-tailed Deer, bucks looking for does.
White-tailed Deer, two large bucks trailing a doe in estrus, s. Texas.
White-tailed Deer, bucks trailing doe in estrus, s. Texas.
White-tailed Deer buck, like a fine cutting horse, guides this doe away from other bucks.
White-tailed Deer, buck running after a doe, s. Texas.
White-tailed Deer, buck chasing doe, s. Texas

I’m hoping Santa will bring us some heavy-antlered bucks and cold weather next week.  A nice bit of jousting and flying dust would be good, too.  I’ll let you know.