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).
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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.
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 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.
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.
Last week, north Texas was like a frozen tundra. Thousands of birds were working the woodlots and backyards looking for food and shelter.
The snow made a perfect backdrop for bird photography. The blue areas in the background are tree shadows falling on the snow.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Perching water birds are a disaster for the handrails at the South Padre Island Birding Center. Hand cleaner is always in my equipment bag.
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.
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.
That rusty colored bird in the middle is a young of the year. It will lose most of those reddish brown feathers by spring.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Both of the previous shots were taken with the Canon 1D Mark III and 100-400 mm IS Canon lens, hand held.
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.
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.
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.