Three Birds from South Padre Island

Sunday afternoon I headed to South Padre Island for a few hours of photography.  The high in McAllen, Texas today (Tuesday) was 36 degrees with overcast skies, so I’m feeling pretty good about that decision.

Here are three shots from the outing:

Click on a photo to get a sharper, clearer view.

Reddish Egret chasing American Coot

The coot got hammered but escaped with all his feathers in tact.

Royal Tern with a mullet

This mullet wasn’t so lucky; a royal tern speared him through the head.

Northern Pintail pair resting in coastal salt marsh, s. Texas

This was the last shot of the day.  A pair of pintails basking in the last rays of afternoon light.

Is was a fun afternoon and, I made it to the house in time for that incredible Viking comeback win over the Saints.



South Texas Deer on a Foggy Morning

In the following shots, it’s pretty hard to see any fog, but there was enough to severely reduce the amount of light available for photography.  These were made late last week toward the end of the rut with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100-400 mm IS lens (second generation) and all are hand-held.   At ISO 1000, I was able to work through the morning at shutter speeds from 1/250 to 1/1000 second.

I am losing a lot of images when the image stabilizer is in the “on” position because my photos are usually made quickly or hurriedly and I forget to partially depress the shutter for a split second before making the image.  Hence, the stabilizer and shutter are working at the same time…causing blurring of the first image in each burst.  Unfortunately, the best shot is often the first one, so from here on in, I am shooting the old fashioned way and using a tripod when possible.  Mostly, I’ll try to compensate for vibration with higher shutter speeds.

These images were posted on Facebook a day or two ago, so if we are Facebook friends, you may already have seen them.

When you click on a photo, it should expand and sharpen for better viewing.  Click at the right side of any shot to advance.

White-tailed Deer, buck bedded in tall grass and weeds.
White-tailed Deer, buck whirling to run
White-tailed Deer, buck running
White-tailed Deer, buck polishing antlers.
White-tailed Deer, buck scenting doe in estrus.  Most of us call this a “lip curl” because the behavior (flehmen) in too hard to remember, pronounce or explain.
White-tailed Deer, buck alert and ready to run.  Yes, this is a native Texas buck and a free ranging deer that grew those antlers without aid of protein feeding (as far as I know).
Eager buck in rut and timid doe.

I’m sorry it’s been so long since the last newsletter, but maybe I can get back on track.

Happy New Year!


Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Photo Workshops

Click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for viewing.

Palm and moon from the RGV Birding Festival headquarters parking lot in Harlingen, Texas.”

While waiting for my ride on the first morning of the festival, I grabbed the camera and shot photos of palms, pink clouds and the moon at sunrise.

For two days last week, I lead photography groups to the National Butterfly Center in Mission and to the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  Day #1 was beautiful, but a strong cold front on Day #2 pretty much shut down any hope for any spectacular bird photos at the island.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the opportunity to improve our nature photography skills while getting some nice images.

Here are a few shots from both destinations:

Altamira Oriole searching for some tasty orange slices at the National Butterfly Center.
Clay-colored Thrush lured into view by a very natural looking water drip.
Plain Chachalaca eating Anacua berries, North American Butterfly Center, Mission, Texas.
Plain Chachalaca in flight

Perhaps the toughest test of a bird photographer’s skill is the ability to successfully capture birds in flight.

White Peacock butterflies nectaring.

While our photographers professed a desire to focus the day in pursuit of birds, they quickly gave in to the temptation of capturing images of the Butterfly Center’s showy butterflies. I  certainly enjoyed the opportunity to photograph my first Questionmark batterfly (below).

Questionmark butterfly on a tree branch.
Great Egret with fish.

We thought this great egret was frozen by the winter blast that hit South Padre Island on our second morning.  Then it surprised us with a sudden thrust of his head into the pond below.  Maybe the little fish was shocked as well when that the immobile white object above turned out to be an actively hunting predator.

Mottled Duck hen shaking water from feathers.
White Ibis with shrimp.

Even when it’s cold, everything has to eat.

As we prepared to leave South Padre Island, this lonely Couch’s Kingbird made a parking lot appearance.  It was our last opportunity to photograph one of those beautiful Rio Grande Valley specialty birds.

Couch’s Kingbird on perch.

All images were made with Canon 5D Mark IV camera and 100-400 mm Canon lens.



Remembering Last Spring


While organizing photo files last week, I came across a number of  shots from a morning trip last spring to South Padre Island (SPI), Texas.  They reminded me that being on SPI in late April, rubbing elbows with dozens of other photographers is always a special event.  On this day, every clump of trees was teeming with colorful, migrating songbirds.  Maybe the best part of this trip was that I didn’t have to spend hours crouched in a photo blind or arranging perches and water drips to attract the birds… I just parked the car, grabbed the camera and start shooting.

These photos were taken in one morning on the grounds at SPI’s Convention Center.

Baltimore Oriole, male perched, April.
Baltimore Oriole, male perched, April.

On this day, a large number of Baltimore Orioles had just arrived.  Most were searching for food and water and didn’t pay much attention to the photographers.

Male Baltimore Orioles in spring migration.

Getting into position for a photo that offers a clean background and reasonably good lighting can be a photographer’s greatest challenge.

Male and female Baltimore Orioles fighting.
Indigo Bunting male perched, April.

First time visitors are always shocked at the variety and color of all those warblers, buntings, grosbeaks, tanagers, etc. crammed into a small woodlot.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak male perched, April.
Worm-eating Warbler searching for insects.

Some of the birds like this Worm Eating Warbler are unusual finds and they aren’t much for posing.  Photographers have to spot, focus and shoot quickly or the opportunity will be gone.

A motionless Yellow-billed Cuckoo watching for juicy caterpillars.
Foraging Yellow Warblers are easy to spot and hard to photograph.
White-eyed Vireo perched, April.

So, this is a small sample of what can be seen and photographed on a good morning.  These shots were made with Canon 500 mm and 100-400 mm lenses and Canon 7d Mark II camera.




From the Backyard

 After an August trip to the Davis Mountains in west Texas for hummingbirds, I decided to stay close to home until the weather improved.  That is to say, I stayed in the house and close to the air conditioner for most of September.

Late in the month, the first migrating hummingbirds began arriving.  It was the first autumn in many years when “hummers” came this far inland on their journey south.  Perhaps hurricane “Harvey” steered them slightly off the normal course, but whatever the cause, we were happy to see them.

While there weren’t many, 6-8 birds were enough to convince me I should break out the tripods and flashes to capture as many ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbird photos as possible while they stopped to feed.

Today’s newsletter has a few of those birds and one or two shots of resident wildlife… anoles.

Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge and sharpen it.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird male nectaring at red salvia, s. Texas.
Male rubythroat flying up to salvia blooms.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering in flower garden.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, male feeding at garden flowers.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, male feeding at garden flowers

All the hummingbird photos were done with the aid of four flashes  on the bird and two on the background with each set at 1/32nd power.  The result is a pulse of light lasting about 1/12,000th second.  Such a short duration of light stops a bird’s wing beat and other motion.  The camera settings for each shot were approximately 1/200th second, f 22 and ISO 200 so that only the flashes provided enough light to properly expose the subject.  Each was captured with a Canon 7D Mark II camera and Canon 500 mm f4 lens.

Broad-winged Hawk migration over McAllen in mid-September.
Bark Anole (Anolis distichus) extending dewlap.
Bark Anole trying to attract a female.

I’m sorry so much time elapsed since the last newsletter.  Most people are using Facebook to share photos these days, so I got in the habit of posting images in that forum.  I’ll try to continue doing both.



Another Look at the Lucifer Hummingbird

Only one slot remains for some lucky person who wants to photograph hummingbirds next month in the Christmas and Davis Mountains of Texas.  Take a look at these images from last year’s trip and contact me if you are interested.  This year, we should have a good chance to see Magnificant (Rivoli’s), Rufous, Broad-billed, Calliope, Black-chinned and Lucifer Hummingbirds.

Click on an image to automatically enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.

Lucifer Hummingbird, male on yucca leaf, Christmas Mountains, Texas.
Female Lucifer hummingbird drinking at garden flower, west Texas.
Lucifer hummingbird drinking at garden flower, west Texas.
Lucifer Hummingbird, male perched in cat claw bush, Christmas Mountains, Texas.
Male Lucifer hummingbird feeding at garden flower, west Texas.

This trip will be part of the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Festival.  I’ll be your photography guide.  The multi-flash set up will be available for flight shots like these.  The perch shots were done without flash in a totally natural setting near feeders.


Go to 956-330-2114 or to register.  Get more details at my website (  When the site opens, just click on Photo Tour Schedule.

Davis Mountains at Mid-Summer

In case you are wondering, the Davis Mountains are often much cooler than the rest of Texas this time of year.  My family spent a few days out there last week and it sure was nice.  Unfortunately, the hummingbirds were in mid-molt and looked pretty scruffy.  There were 20 or so of the birds at the feeders where we were staying but they just didn’t offer much for pretty shots.

It wasn’t a photo trip, but I managed to capture a few shots along the way: click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.

Female black-chinned hummingbird flying from her perch on a yucca leaf.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker on his way to a hummingbird feeder for lunch.
View of Davis Mountains from ridge line trail above Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas.
Davis Mountains grassland in late afternoon.
Grandson,Blake Ditto, on trail above Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas.  The lad is only 6’2″ , he knew when to quit.
Aoudad sheep in Davis Mountains, Texas.
Lesser Goldfinch male perched on Agarita stem.
Agave leaves in soft light.
Scaled Quail in Davis Mountains grassland, Texas.

So, there you have it.  It was in the mid 80’s all week at Fort Davis while McAllen was basking in the 105-110 degree zone.


Transition Ranch 2017

Some of you have been asking “why is the ranch called “Transition Ranch”.  Well, it sits in an ecological transition zone between the Texas hill country, west Texas desert area and the south Texas brush country.  Hence, the name.  It’s the ranch’s location that gives it so much diversity of bird life.

Five photographers joined me in late April for the spring photo tour and I have a couple of their photos to share plus a few I was lucky enough to capture.

Raccoon drinking

This very old raccoon actually had only one eye, so he looked pretty bad.  I added a new left eye to make him presentable…no extra charge for the cosmetic surgery.

Fox Squirrel looking for bird seed.

I photographed this fox squirrel in a perch tree added by the ranch owner at a photo blind (the same location as the raccoon and some of the bird images to follow).

Gulf Fritillary watering on hill country stream.

Butterflies were frequent visitors to the water drip site by one of the “morning” blinds.

Spiny Crevice Lizard sunning.

This sunning Spiny Crevice Lizard looked much better on this perch than a bird would.  Occasionally, sites are fitted with “perches” that are too large and sun-bleached to work well for bird photos.

Oklahoma photographer, Mark Cromwell, spotted this MacGillivray’s Warbler as it drank at the new morning blind.

Mark Cromwell sees things the rest of us miss.  After getting the MacGillivray’s Warbler, he got this shot (below) of a hummingbird bathing on the wing at a water drip.

Hummer bathing in flight at a water drip.
Black-headed Grosbeak juvenile drinking

We got our first Black-headed Grosbeak this year at Transition Ranch.

Lazuli Bunting male drinking

Lazuli Buntings made several appearances this year… a thrilling site for those of us who live east of their range.

Lazuli Bunting male in white brush bush.
Painted Bunting female drinking from limestone creek bottom pool.

Painted Buntings visited all the Transition Ranch blinds this spring.

Well marked Painted Bunting male drinking.
Young and adult Black-throated Sparrow on limb.

Transition Ranch has lots of sparrows in the spring.

Clay-colored Sparrows appeared at the photo blinds along with Black-throated, Olive, White-crowned, Lincoln’s and more.
Blurry Nashville Warbler in flight.

There is seldom enough light to allow the capture of sharp images of warblers in flight, but I liked this blurred shot.

Orange-crowned Warbler landing.
Audubon’s Warbler male on stump.

Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon’s in this case) are always beautiful in breeding plumage.

Nashville Warblers were especially abundant this spring at Transition Ranch.
This male Yellow Warbler made my day.
Lesser Goldfinch male eating white brush flowers.
Northern Cardinal flushing from creek bed drink site.
Hen Northern Bobwhite feeding by stump.
Hooded Oriole Male in Texas persimmon tree.
Orchard Oriole, male hopping along a branch.

Orioles are always jumpy and hard to photograph, but we got these plus Scott’s Oriole this year.

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay on log.

I always enjoy capturing a bit of action (like this bird’s foot in the air) to add interest to a photo.

Yellow-breasted Chat perched in thorny habitat.
Immature summer tanager male.
Summer Tanager male in white brush, Transition Ranch.

I hope you get the idea; Transition Ranch has a lot of birds in the spring.


One More Photo Tour This Summer

In mid-August, I’ll be headed back to west Texas for one last instructional photography tour.  Then a new season begins and it will be time to develop a new schedule for 2017-2018.  That west Texas trip will begin in the Christmas Mountains and then we will move a few miles over to the Davis Mountains.  It is all a part of the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration.  This might be a great opportunity to photograph several species of hummers right here in Texas.  Check my website Photo Tour Schedule for details. If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll get you registered and provide the details.  The photo tour will accommodate eight people and only three slots are left.

Here are some photos from the recent trip to the Christmas Mountains Oasis for Lucifer Hummingbirds and other species. Note that some of the images are provided by the participants.

Remember to click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.

Noel Ice’s male Lucifer Hummingbird headed to the camera.
Kimberly Smith’s Christmas Mountains panorama.

Kim captured a Bell’s Vireo eating an insect.
Kimberly’s Blue Grosbeak near the hummingbird feeders at Christmas Mountains Oasis.
Natural light on a male Lucifer Hummingbird by Kimberly Smith.
Gene Forsythe captured an Ash-throated Flycatcher in flight.
Male Lucifer under the lights by Gene Forsythe.
Forsythe captured some interesting lighting on the throat of this Lucifer Hummingbird male.

The following images are mine.  After the fact, I realized I’d missed a lot of good shooting while tending the hummingbird flash setup, but the group got some good diversity in their images.

All of my photos were done with the Canon 1D Mark II, 500 mm Canon Lens, Gitzo 1348 tripod and Wimberly head.

Here are 3 varied bunting images I really liked from my collection:

Male Varied Bunting foraging.
Varied Bunting male in creosote bush
Curious male Varied Bunting.
Rain at sunset, Christmas Mountains, Texas.
Moonrise over Christmas Mountains as vulture passes.
Throat colors on a male Lucifer Hummingbird.
Male Lucifer Hummingbird at Indian Paintbrush.
Lucifer Hummingbird in flight.
Scaled Quail on rocks, Christmas Mountains, Texas.
Why some people call them “blue” quail.
Bell’s Vireo in catclaw bush
Bell’s Vireo singing.
Elf Owl at night near the Terlingua Ranch Lodge.
Elf Owl on perch.

There were many more birds I couldn’t show here, but you should be getting the idea that the Christmas Mountains Oasis is pretty special.  Thanks to all the participating photographers for sharing your images.


More Block Creek Natural Area

Well, you got to see some of the photo tour participants’ photos from out visit to the Block Creek Natural Area.  If you didn’t get enough, here are a few of mine.

Don’t forget to click on an image to enlarge and sharpen it for better viewing.

Eastern Bluebird, male perched
Eastern Bluebird landing
Lesser Goldfinch pair
Late afternoon at a hummingbird feeder, Block Creek NA
Block Creek Photo Tour group focused on owls.
Vermilion Flycatcher male on rail fence.
Sphinyx Moth feeding at thistle bloom.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker, male on mesquite.
Painted Bunting male on mullein stalk.
Big Gobbler too close for the 500 mm, but I like the crop anyway.
Eastern Screech Owl: how about those peepers?
Bewick’s Wren on fence post.
Harris’s Hawk landing, Canon 7d Mark II and 70-200 mm lens


…and last but not least, my favorite shot of this batch is the great horned owl and red barn.

Great Horned Owl and barn.  Canon 7d Mark II and 70-200 mm 2.8 lens, hand held

Soon, I’ll be sharing shots from the Transition Ranch Photo Tour.