Winter on the Texas Coast

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.

Click on a photo to make it larger and produce a sharper image for better viewing.  There is a hidden “next” button in the upper, right hand area of each photo, too.

Young whooping crane waits in the first rays of morning light at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as a parent bird prepares a blue crab for his dining enjoyment.
Young whooping crane waits in the first rays of morning light at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as a parent bird prepares a blue crab for his dining enjoyment.
Whooping crane landing in salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping crane landing in salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
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.
Whooping crane calling, "whooping", before leaving the salt marsh and flying inland to feed on recently burned grasslands at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping crane calling, "whooping", before leaving the salt marsh and flying inland to feed on recently burned grasslands at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
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.
American Oystercatcher stretching before it begins to feed on an oyster bar in Aransas Bay near Rockport, Texas.
American Oystercatcher stretching before it begins to feed on an oyster bar in Aransas Bay near Rockport, Texas.
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.
Roseate Spoonbills flying up the intracoastal waterway by Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Roseate Spoonbills flying up the intracoastal waterway by Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
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.
Only the wildllife are "authorized" to enter these precincts in the habitat of birds so rare as whooping cranes.  I think this vulture wanted us to know.
Only the animals are "authorized" to enter the precincts of birds so rare as whooping cranes. I think this turkey vulture wanted us to know.
Common Goldeneye without special filter effects.
Common Goldeneye without special filter effects.
Male common goldeneye keeping a sharp eye on us near the boat landing at Goose Island State Park.
Male common goldeneye keeping a sharp eye on us near the boat landing at Goose Island State Park.
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.
Blue-winged teal, drake, flushing from the marsh near a boardwalk at the Aransas Pass sewage treatment facility.
Blue-winged teal drake flushing from the marsh near a boardwalk at the Aransas Pass sewage treatment facility.
Golden leaves on a black willow produced this reflection with a passing drake blue-winged teal at Paradise Pond in Aransas Pass.
Golden leaves on a black willow produced this reflection with a passing drake blue-winged teal at Paradise Pond in Aransas Pass.
Juvenile Brown Pelican landing at the fish cleaning station on Goose Island State Park, Texas
Juvenile Brown Pelican landing at the fish cleaning station on Goose Island State Park, Texas
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.
These adult Brown Pelicans were flying at me on the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island in early morning.
These adult Brown Pelicans were flying at me on the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island in early morning.
As the sun came up and began to burn away the fog, this black-neck stilt paused in the shallows of the Laguna Madre to soak up a little warmth.
As the sun came up and began to burn away the fog, this black-neck stilt paused in the shallows of the Laguna Madre to soak up a little warmth.
Drake Northern Pintails sitting in the Laguna Madre shallows just aftern sunrise.
Drake Northern Pintails sitting in the Laguna Madre shallows just after sunrise.
Some birds, like this Little Blue Heron, prefer a dry perch while basking in the morning sunshine.
Some birds, like this Little Blue Heron, prefer a dry perch while basking in the morning sunshine.
Perching water birds are a disaster for the handrails at the South Padre Island Birding Center.  Hand cleaner is always in my equipment bag.
This beautiful tricolored heron gave me two quick photos before turning and walking straight away.
This beautiful tricolored heron gave me two quick photos before turning and walking straight away.
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.
Larry

57 Degrees and Sunny…ha!

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.

Many of the endangered whooping crane pairs had young with them on the wintering grounds.
Many of the endangered whooping crane pairs had young with them this winter.

That rusty colored bird in the middle is a young of the year.  It will lose most of those reddish brown feathers by spring. 

Whooping crane pairs with young were easily disturbed when others got too close to feeding territory boundries.  Several times each day, we saw a fussy adult bird fly over to chase away the intruding cranes.
Whooping crane pairs with young were easily disturbed when others got too close to feeding territory boundries. Several times each day, we saw a fussy adult bird fly over to chase away the intruding cranes.

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.

This whooper was not the least bit disturbed by our presence and we enjoyed to close-up photo op.
This whooper was not the least bit disturbed by our presence while we enjoyed this close-up photo op.
It was encouraging to see the salt marshes around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge had a good crop of young blue crabs, the whoopers' primary winter food source.
It was encouraging to see the salt marshes around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge had a good crop of young blue crabs, the whoopers' primary winter food source.
This pair of whooping cranes has provides us with many photography opportunities during 4 recent trips to Aransas Refuge.
This pair of whooping cranes provided us with many photography opportunities during 4 recent trips to Aransas Refuge.
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.
Ruby-crowned kinglets were in a feeding frenzy during the cold weather.  One got so close, I was able to pet it without disturbing its feeding activity.
Ruby-crowned kinglets were in a feeding frenzy during the cold weather. One got so close, I was able to pet it without disturbing its feeding activity.
Yellow-rumped warblers seem to be especially abundant in south Texas this winter.
Yellow-rumped warblers seem to be especially abundant in south Texas this winter.
This female northern shoveler banked at just the right time to give me this shot of the wings colors.
This female northern shoveler banked at just the right time to give me this shot of the wing colors.
Drake green-winged teal napping on the marsh at the Port Aransas boardwalk.
Drake green-winged teal napping on the marsh at the Port Aransas boardwalk.
Great blue heron in a quiet pond.
Great blue heron in a quiet pond.
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
God bless you all,
Larry

3 Days in Port Aransas

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.

On a cool, foggy afternoon, the night-herons came out of the woods to warm in a spot of afternoon sun.
On a cool, foggy afternoon, the night-herons came out of the woods to warm in a spot of sun.
Laughing gull resting on a huge granite boulder at the Port Aransas jetties.
Laughing gull resting on a huge granite boulder at the Port Aransas jetties.
It was hard to find a well marked Northern Shoveler male, but this one showed its speculum while stretching.
It was hard to find a well marked Northern Shoveler male, but this one showed a beautiful speculum while stretching.
Whooping crane enjoying a blue crab in the salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping crane enjoying a blue crab in the salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Whooping cranes headed from the marsh to inland sites where prescribed burns have created large, grassy openings where the birds can feed.
Whooping cranes headed from the marsh to inland sites where prescribed burns have created large, grassy openings where the birds can feed in safety.
Male Wilson's warbler feeding in the woods at Port Aransas.
Male Wilson's warbler in the woods at Port Aransas.
Yellow-rumped warblers are common in south Texas woodlands during most winters.
Yellow-rumped warblers are common in south Texas woodlands during most winters.
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.
Have a good week.
Larry

Happy New Year!

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. 

Ten pointer following the trail of a doe.
Ten pointer following the trail of a doe.

 

In late December, the big bucks are in constant pursuit of females and have little time to pose for photos.  This big guy allowed me to follow until he topped a little ridge and paused in front of the sunrise.
In late December, the big bucks are in constant pursuit of females and have little time to feed or pose for photos. This big guy allowed me to follow until he topped a little ridge and paused in front of the sunrise.

 Both of the previous shots were taken with the Canon 1D Mark III and 100-400 mm IS Canon lens, hand held.

It took several tries to get this shot of a green jay landing.
It took several tries to capture this green jay landing.

 

Most of my shots of landing birds look like this.  It has good color...
Most of my shots of landing birds look like this. It has good color...

 

I had to crop the tail of this green jay since I shot this photo close in with about 1,000 mm.
I had to crop the tail of this green jay since I shot this photo close in with about 1,000 mm of telephoto power.

 

Another close focus at 1,000 mm.
Another close focus on a green jay.
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.
This verdin came to feed on an orange and wouldn't sit still in the open for long.
This verdin came to feed on an orange slice I had placed near a perch. Unfortunately, green jays persisted in chasing it away.

 

The yellow-rumped warbler came in to bathe and feed on a few insects around the pond.
Yellow-rumped warblers fed and bathed near my blind all afternoon.
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.
That long tongue and snout look like they are made for drinking, but I suspect they are more useful for rooting in leaf litter and grabbing invertebrates.
That long tongue and snout look like they are made for drinking, but I suspect they are more useful for rooting in leaf litter and grabbing invertebrates.

 

I always try to remember to mix some vertical shots with the horizontals, even when the shot demands a horizontal.
I always try to remember to mix some vertical shots with the horizontals, even when the shot demands a horizontal.

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.

Happy New Year!
Larry

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