Breakfast in a Sorghum Field

For the past three days, I was hiding in a sorghum field at sunrise and trying to capture images of doves on the wing.  Smack in the middle of McAllen, a five acre patch of grain was attracting white-winged doves, Eurasian collared-doves, mourning doves, rock doves and whistling ducks.  It wasn’t  like being in Mexico where thousands of doves would have been swarming, but the action was good and I had lots of fun.

Each shoot was done with the Canon 500 mm IS lens and the Canon 1D Mark III and Canon 7D cameras.  Of course, I love the “multi-frames per second” capability of both cameras, but the Mark III, at 10 fps, is hard to beat.  Its autofocus is faster than that of the 7D, but either was very capable of delivering what I needed with this type shooting.  The tripod stayed in the car.  I was photographing passing and landing birds, so everything had be done in the “hand-held” mode.  Most of the time, I was seated on a low folding stool with the sun behind me.  The lens came up only when birds were closing in.  Within minutes after sunrise, the shutter speed was at 1/2500 second with ISO 640.  Auto-focusing worked best with all focusing points activated for both cameras because I had clear sky for most backgrounds.

Shooting in the city meant the backgrounds weren’t always great… cars, signs, etc..  I did some cloning on a few photos, but most were clean from the start.  Here are some of the shots I liked best:

Click in the upper right corner of a photo to get a sharper, clearer image.  You can also advance or see the previous shot from there.


Adult white-winged dove landing.
Adult white-winged dove landing.
White-winged Dove starting a second pass before landing.
Why they are called "white-winged" doves.
Dropping in for breakfast.


Black-bellied whistling ducks can land on sorghum heads and feed just like doves.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are common in south Texas and share the grain fields with several other dove species.
Rock Dove looking for white-wings. They preferred feeding with the other doves.


Many white-wings fed on the heads of grain rather than landing in the rows to feed on the ground.
White-wings even use their "thumbs" for braking. I'd never noticed that before.
It was difficult to hide well enough to get the wary doves to land within photo range.
Adult white-winged dove perched on sorghum seed-head.
White-winged dove circling the field.
White-winged dove dropping into grain field.


“Hot” Photo Action at the Laguna Seca Ranch

Two weeks since I shot with two clients at the Laguna Seca (Photography) Ranch, part of the historic Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas.  As expected for late May and early June, the weather was hot…. I mean really hot!  These photographers wanted very much to capture images of painted buntings and other south Texas birds in good plumage and, they got what they came for.  The action was fantastic!  We were visited by blue grosbeak, lesser goldfinch, Bullock’s oriole, painted bunting, scissor-tailed flycatcher, great kiskadee, summer tanager, green jay, pyrrhuloxia, northern cardinal, bronzed cowbird and more.

As is often the case with bird photography, it took patience and endurance to get what they came for, but these clients were up for the challenge.  Each day, we loaded the cooler with ice, drinks and snacks and dressed as coolly as possible.  By sunset, we were panting for some air conditioning and dry clothes, but all those beautiful birds made the sacrifice worth while.

Here are some sample shot from the outing:

Click on the upper right portion of any photo to move forward or backward with the slide show.  The photos will open in a larger, sharper format for improved viewing.


Male Bronzed Cowbird displaying for a female.


Great Kiskadee calling from a perch atop some sedges near our photo blind.


Great Kiskadee landing by the pond.


Northern Cardinal male enjoying a "tail" wind.


Damselflies mating at the photography pond.


When the photography gets slow during mid-morning, I like to put a teleconverter and extension tube on the 500 mm lens and shoot dragonflies/damselflies.  If they perch close enough, I prefer the 300 mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter.  The above and below shots were taken from a beanbag at near ground level.


Damselflies will perch on almost anything.


Painted buntings were coming to water in a never-ending stream during the warm south Texas afternoons.


Bullock's Oriole female in the background joins a female painted bunting for a cool bath.


Once a bird gets into the pond, others gain confidence and join them.


Bathing birds like this male painted bunting keep a sharp lookout for predators.


Summer tanager female ready to try the water when this painted bunting finishes.


Even on hot days, wild birds approach the water with caution.


Male scissor-tailed flycatcher landing on perch near photo pond.


Wild turkey hen with two poults coming to a ranch pond for water at mid-afternoon.


Male summer tanager splashing in the photo blind pond.


Painted Bunting male catches a spot of sunlight while feeding in a granjeno bush.


These photographs were made with the Canon 7d Camera and 500 mm IS Canon lens mounted on Wimberley head and Gitzo cf tripod.  Most were shot with minimum depth of field.  Where wings were moving or flight and bathing was involved, I tried to hold for 1/2000 second shutter speed.  Most of the action shots were done at ISO 400.

Next week, I will show you a few more shots from the Block Creek Natural Area shoot in late May.  I hope to do a workshop there in late April of 2013.


Caddo Lake and Prowling Ocelots

It’s time to catch you up on what happened at Caddo Lake in early May.  As most of you know, Texas had a blistering hot spring which certainly affected the bird photography.  Early May at Caddo Lake is usually mild and quite enjoyable, but this year it felt like August.  The birds responded to the unusually high temperatures by moving on or breeding earlier than usual.  Nevertheless, we had a great shoot.  Check out the photos below to get a better idea of the great potential this lake has for photographers.

Remember, click on the upper right portion of a photograph to make it larger and sharper for better viewing.  You may also advance through the slide show by clicking on the upper right portion of a photo.

Sunrise through the Spanish Moss and Cypress.

Each morning and evening presented many opportunities for landscape photography amid the thousands of bald cypress hung with Spanish moss.  This shot was made from the landing of a boat dock just across the road from our cottage.

Water lilies cover hundreds of acres in part of Caddo Lake near the town of Uncertain, Texas.

This photo was done from the boat deck, but I made several lily shots by holding the camera over the side near the water surface while watching the “live view” screen to level the shot.  The depth of field and other settings were determined in advance so that all I had to do was get the composition set and trip the shutter.  A 45 degree viewfinder would have been nice.

Yellow-throated Warbler extracting a spider from Spanish moss.

Three species of warbler (prothonotary, yell0w-throated and northern parula) nest at Caddo Lake and we got all three during this workshop.

Northern Parula searching for invertebrates hidden in the Spanish moss.


Most of my warbler shots were made with the Canon 7D camera, Canon 500 mm IS lens and 1.4 X teleconverter mounted on a Wimberley head and Gitzo 1348 tripod.


Male prothonotary warbler perched in new bald cypress leaves.

Some photographers elected to pursue some of the more uncommon birds and passed up opportunities to photograph herons and egrets at Caddo Lake.  These birds are numerous, but working to get good images of the elegant birds is always fun.

Great egret landing in water lotus at sunrise.
Barred Owl preparing for flight from a perfect perch where he was framed in Spanish moss.


Over the years, I’ve been able to get my photographers lined up for some great barred owl shots.  This spring, the birds were especially cooperative and everyone had many excellent opportunities to capture images of this splendid predator.


Barred Owl flying past our boat in late evening light.


In late May, I had an opportunity to photograph some ocelots in “controlled” conditions.  Working with another photographer, we were able to establish a “set” with south Texas plants that occur in good ocelot habitat.

Ocelot emerging from dense thorn-forest cover.
Endangered ocelot crouching behind a log in south Texas thorn-forest habitat.
Ocelots are about the size of a bobcat and their markings provide superb camouflage.
Ocelots are seldom active in daylight hours.

I would love to tell you this mammal can be photographed in south Texas where 30-80 of them still survive, but that isn’t likely.  A  few lucky persons have seen them in the wild.  So far, the mostly nocturnal felines have refused to pose for photos.

Check out next week’s newsletter when I will take you to a south Texas ranch with two photographers who were amazed at the numbers of painted buntings and other colorful birds just waiting to be photographed.

*** Used photo equipment for sale:

Paul Denman  ( has the following used items for sale – Canon 1D Mark III body; Canon 5D Mark II body and battery grip; Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens.

Hal Mayfield ( has these used items for sale – Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED film scanne; tiffen step-up rings (72-77, 62-77, 58 – 62, 55 – 62, 52 – 62); tiffen 3X4″ graduated ND filters (#6 and #9); a variety of other filters, holders, filter pouches; a flash modifier, Bogen super clamp; Nikon MC-36 multi-function remote cable.  Contact Hal for more details and prices.