Padre Island Fallout

Two good cold fronts have hit South Padre Island in April; the first had little affect on the numbers of spring migrant birds stopping to refuel and rest until the wind returned to the south.  Then, a blast of cold air hit us last Thursday just as peak numbers of birds were crossing the gulf and we saw a pretty good fallout on the island.  Friday’s winds were above 30 miles per hour most of the day so I waited until Saturday for calmer weather.  Wow, it was wonderful?  Lots of Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grossbeaks were there along with a few warblers, dickcissels, western tanagers, summer tanagers and yellow-billed cuckoos.

Eager to make an extra buck off their spring visitors, the city of South Padre Island had scheduled a motor cycle rally right next to the best bird habitat in town.  That’s right, several hundred Harley’s were rocking and rolling and rumbling as the birds tried to settle in for a day of rest.  Lest we forget or seem biased, I must say there were several hundred birders and photographers there to do there part.  In spite of all the noise, the birds were focused on eating and seemed to ignore us.

I’ve photographed these fallouts for several years, so my camera wasn’t smoking, but my friend, Allen Dale, captured over 2,000 images on Saturday.  At the end of the day he was satisfied that most of the species were well represented on his flash cards and I had enjoyed a good visit with many other old friends who venture out each April to share the migration experience.

Here are a few of the image captures from my cameras on Saturday.   Just click on a photo to make it larger and sharper for viewing.  In the upper right corner  of each, you will see a “next” button that allows you to click through the slide show.

Male Western Tanager in flight.

My favorite photo of the day was this tack sharp Western Tanager male who flew right at me as I was ripping off a blast of digital captures from my Canon 1D Mark IV.  The camera is amazing in its ability to focus quickly and anticipate the advance of birds in flight.  The shot was done at 1/4000 second at ISO 800 with the Canon 500 mm lens, 1.4X teleconverter, Feisol carbon fiber tripod and Wimberley head.

Cerulean Warbler feeding at the South Padre Island Convention Center.

Cerulean Warblers are one of the rarest birds to make a spring visit to South Padre Island.  The photo above was a lucky shot at the Convention Center where some of the walls are painted funky colors like pink, yellow and ocean blue.  You have to admit, the wild color gives this photo an artistic look.  I really like the pose.

Male American Redstart foraging for insects.

It is almost impossible to get an American Redstart to hold still, even for a second.  When I can get one in the viewfinder, I just lock focus and shoot a blast or 4-5 captures, hoping one will include a good pose.

Painted Bunting male perched near the shadows.

Painted Buntings  seem to be a favorite among the birders and photographers.  This one held still for several photos.

* If you want to photograph painted buntings, call or email me soon.  They are fairly common in south Texas during the summer.  I’ll put you on one or two or three at one of the local photo-ranches.

Western Tanager feeding on insects in a mesquite tree.


Saturday, April 20 was a good day for Baltimore Orioles.


Scarlet Tanager on the fence at Valley Land Funds habitat on Sheepshead street.


Dickcissel looking for seeds on Sheepshead street.


Tennessee Warbler, the plainest bird in town.
Tennessee Warbler, the plainest bird in town.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak male, one of my favorites.
Indigo Bunting resting a moment during its search for seeds.

Many thanks to all the great volunteers who put out bird seed and oranges to help sustain the thousands of hungry birds during their South Padre Island layover.

By Sunday, the wind had shifted back to the southeast and most of the migrants were on their way again.  If we get one more front before May 10, I hope to be back at the island for the final fallout of the season.

Let me know if you enjoyed this little trip the island.  It was incredible!







Spring Photography on Galveston Island

Most of last week, I was in the Galveston, Texas area to lead several nature photography workshops and field trips.  All were part of FeatherFest, an annual event that attracts birders and photographers from around the country and the world.  My outings included San Luis Pass, Galveston Island State Park, and High Island (done on my own).  Surprisingly, we saw only a few of the various neo-tropical migrant birds (warblers, buntings, tanagers, vireos, etc.) which should have been “falling out” in the area in mid-April.  It was the resident birds that made our visit so successful.

Weather for FeatherFest was exceptional and included some great sunsets and sunrises.  The photographers at this year’s festival exhibited exceptional interest and focus when we were working on the beaches and dunes.  When we (tour group leaders) suggested a ground level position for photographing shorebirds, the photographers went to the sand like veterans.  If we spotted a bird in the marsh, everyone waded right it.  It is always fun to work with photographers who will go the extra mile to get exceptional photos.

Here are some of last week’s photos:  Click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it.  Advance by clicking in the upper right portion of the photo.

Great Egrets were nesting in abundance at the Audubon Society's High Island rookery.


The High Island rookery photos were captured with the Canon 1D Mark IV camera, Canon 500 mm IS lens, Wimberly tripod head, and Feisol tripod.  Contrary to what we’d heard, we were permitted to use tripods while photographing at the rookery.

Roseate Spoonbills and a neotropic cormorant balancing on tree branches between flights to gather nest material.


Great Egret landing near nest.


At Galveston Island State Park the weather and bird diversity were exceptional.  On the first morning out, we were greeted by a variety of shorebirds, ducks, night herons, roseate spoonbills and other wading birds.


Yellow-crowned Night-Heron wading the shallows near Galveston Bay in the Galveston Island State Park.


Lesser Yellowlegs and Laughing Gulls were part of the array of birds we photographed at Galveston Island State Park.


Mottled and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were waiting for us at Galveston Island State Park.


Our photographers had to share the gulf-side beach with more casual visitors, but most got some great bird pics.


Dozens of Sanderlings scurried about the wet beach at Galveston Island State Park.


Black-necked Stilt landing in the salt marsh on the bay side of the island.


Forster's Tern hovering over Galveston Bay at sunset


Fishermen shared the beach with our photographers at San Luis Pass but the birds seemed to be used to all the human activity.


Beach Evening Primrose on the dunes at San Luis Pass


Herring Gull and Sanderling sharing breakfast on the beach.


Willet in the morning sun.


Laughing Gull take off.

Chasing gulls in flight was the best way for the class to learn the basics of action photography.  I sat on the beach while hand holding the camera and 500 mm lens to get this take-off shot of a laughing gull.

My next workshop at the Block Creek Natural Area near Fredericksburg is full, but I hope you will consider it for next year.  Eastern bluebirds, painted buntings, summer tanagers, hawks, owls and more await our arrival.

Images for Conservation’s Pro-Am photo shoot at Tacubaya Ranch ( near Edinburg, Texas will be here soon (May 9-11) so get signed up at their site or with me or at ICF’s web site (  I’ll be the coach for that one and we still have room for 4 photographers.

Then, May 16-18 I will be at the Ramirez Ranch in Roma, Texas for butterflies, south Texas songbirds and hawks.  If you are interested, check my web site for details.

I hope you enjoyed this trip to Galveston Island.



Back From Big Bend

After a week in Big Bend National Park, I can’t help but feel humility having been in the presence of so much natural beauty.  The desert was incredible and the weather, the landscapes, the wildlife and the camaradrie couldn’t have been better.  Joe Zinn and I lead a 4 day instructional photo tour to west Texas that was spectacular.

We were stopped dead in our tracks (tire tracks) by a sow black bear with four cubs crossing the highway as we drove into the park’s Chisos Mountains.  On our second night out, we almost collided with a white-nosed coati and a gray fox.  Obviously, it wasn’t just the landscapes that left us inspired.  One of the park campgrounds had at least 4 pairs of vermilion flycatchers.

All of the following landscapes were photographed with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon 16-35 and 24-105 mm lenses, polarizing filter, two stop neutral  intensity filter, cable release, Feisol ball head and Gitzo 1348 carbon fiber tripod.  For the bear and birds, I was using the Canon 1D Mark IV camera and Canon 500 mm lens.

So, take a photo tour with me and enjoy this small selection of photos that I think pretty much tell the story of our trip.

Our photography journey began with a walk to “The Window” in the Chisos Basin at Big Bend National Park for an incredible sunset.

Click on the upper right portion of a photo to make it larger and sharper for viewing.  From there, you can advance through the Big Bend photography.


Sunset through "the window" in the Chisos Basin.


Photographers preparing to capture the grandeur of a sunrise on the Rio Grande.
Rio Grande at sunrise.
Sunset at Terlingua Cemetery
Riffle in the Rio Grande, sunrise in Santa Elena Canyon.

Everybody waded in to capture this shot below a small check-dam of rocks below Santa Elena Canyon at sunrise.   A shutter speed of less than one second give the  current a soft, foamy look.

While returning to the road from capturing the boulder shot above, I watched an incredible sunset over Santa Elena Canyon and a large prickly pear cactus.

Boulder and ocotillo at Cerro Castalon.
Prickly pear and ocotillo, sunset near Santa Elena Canyon.
Shadow highlighting ocotillo at Keyhole rock.

This rock looks more like a lion’s head or the Sphinx than a keyhole, don’t you think?

Michigan photographer, Tom McLinden, looking for a fresh angle near the Keyhole.
Ocotillo on canyon rim at sunrise.


Near the park’s west entrance, ocotillos guard the rim of a canyon that reminded me a lot of the painted desert with it’s yellow and gray clay strata.

Prickly Pear in bloom as a storm brews at Boquillas Canyon.

Never leave a workshop early if you don’t want to miss something special.  All our students headed home a few hours too soon during the last afternoon of the workshop.  Joe and I captured these images as a storm approached Boquillas Canyon.

Lightning striking the Boquillas Canyon rim at sunset.
Spirits of ancient Native Americans come alive at sunset where they once ground mesquite beans, fruits and roots on the rocks above the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park.


Black bear mother with reluctant cubs where their trail crosses a Big Bend Park highway.


Some of our photographers, including the trip leader, couldn't resist a bird-photography break from the landscape shooting.


I hope you enjoyed this trip to the Big Bend.  Look for us to try it again next spring.