Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, OK

Things have really been busy around here lately with some travel to Oklahoma to see my brother and his family, plus we spent a couple of days at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge photographing landscapes, lizards, buffalo, elk, deer and birds.  Be sure and sign up for my Spring in the Wichita Mountains Photography Workshop (May 9-12, 2015) where we will focus on wildlife and landscape photography.  My heart considers this place my home in many ways because this is where I first started photographing with a Canon AE-1 with a broken meter and the Sunny f/16 rule at my disposal.  A few rolls of Kodak Ektachrome 64 and a nice bull buffalo was my beginning.  While equipment and technology may have changed, the knowledge and skills required to get some outstanding shots have not.

This is one of the oldest refuges established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.  Buffalo, elk, prairie dogs, and turkey were reintroduced and this refuge is a photographer’s dream.  Beautiful granite outcrops, lichen covered granite mountains, spectacular sunsets and many lakes all provide tons of landscape photography opportunities.  If you can’t find something special to photograph here, you aren’t looking!

Here are a few of my favorites from the past few days:

 

Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake

Eastern Collared Lizard

Eastern Collared Lizard

Elk in Velvet

Elk in Velvet

Granite Outcrop

Granite Outcrop

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

Quanah Parker Lake

Quanah Parker Lake

Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

I am very excited about this workshop as I have spent many years visiting this place due to the variety of wildlife and scenic landscapes.

Black-throated Sparrow

Plain and simple, does it get any prettier than a nice adult Black-throated Sparrow?  I first saw this species in Big Bend National Park back in August 1989 and I was instantly drawn to its bold plumage.  Nothing like seeing this bird perched on blooming ocotillo singing its heart out.  This adult was photographed at the windmill blind on Transition Ranch near Uvalde, Texas.

Black-throated Sparrow Adult

It is that Time of Year – Juvenile Birds

I was in Uvalde these past few days checking out the Transition Ranch and I met the wonderful owners, Dr. Sandy & Leslee Kay Hurwitz.  My purpose in traveling to the ranch was to investigate the possibility of hosting workshops at the location and possibly serving as a ranch guide.  In reality, there is so much more that I hope to see evolve from this awesome experience and I hope to share more in the next few months.  The Hurwitz’s are incredibly hospitable and just a real pleasure to get to know.

Many people might think July is not the best time to go to a blind, but one of the things I love about late summer are the many juvenile plumages that often confuse birders and photographers alike.  I am one of those rare photographers who loves sparrows and I have even taught sparrow identification workshops for the Texas Ornithological Society.

At the ranch, we saw Black-throated, Rufous-crowned and Lark Sparrow juveniles.  Enjoy the photos:

Please feel free to share where you like photographing juvenile birds!

Central Texas NANPA Group at Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin

Yesterday I led 12 photographers from the Central Texas NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) meetup group to the Zilker Botanical Gardens on Barton Springs Road.  The focus of the trip was macro:  flowers, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and whatever else we could turn up.  I have found that when attempting macro photography, I am much better off finding a spot and then giving it time for the odonates (dragonflies & damselflies) and butterflies time to fly to me.  In addition to being patient, I have found that manual focusing and flash is also critical for super sharp macro shots.

I had two setups with me.  The primary setup for dragonflies, large damselflies and other subjects is my Canon 7D with the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L lens with 50mm of Canon Extension Tubes which helps reduce my minimum focusing distance thus allowing me plenty of working space to keep from scaring the bugs off but still lets me fill the frame with their image.  This setup also relies on a tripod and Canon 580 EX II flash.  On a Rapid Strap (sport model) I have the Canon 1D Mark III attached to my Sigma 180 f/3.5 lens which I LOVE!  This older lens has amazing image quality, focusing speed/accuracy, and is tough to find but hard to beat at around $450 to $500 used!

I was the last to leave around 11:00 am and here are some of my favorite shots from the day.  Being able to photograph the ovipositing (depositing eggs in the water) Blue Dasher was the highlight of the day for me!  Watch for a “How to Photograph Dragonflies/Damselflies Workshop” in the near future.

 

 

Birding Location Review – Van Horn, Texas Cemetery

While in west Texas this past weekend to run (2) Breeding Bird Survey Routes, we spent the night at Van Horn on Saturday, May 17th.  Van Horn is located on IH 10 west between El Paso and Fort Stockton.  This small town is primarily a way station for travelers on IH 10 but it does have some history and one of the neatest hotels in the state, the Hotel El Capitan.

Birder Gil Eckrich told me about Gambel’s Quail at the Van Horn Cemetery (click on name for Google Map) on the west side of town so after checking into our room we headed for the cemetery.  I was very surprised at both the size and layout of the cemetery which is large and very well done.  There are two entrances and one is closed (Bell St) and one is open (9th st).  We found this out because, of course, we tried the Bell St. entrance first. We did find a Black-tailed Jackrabbit grazing near the entrance.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit Van Horn Cemetery

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Van Horn Cemetery

The cemetery has a berm around the outer fence and Gil said the birds would be found on this berm.  It was a Saturday evening so a few people were at the cemetery tending to plots and many plots had plantings that held birds.  We drove to the northwest corner of the cemetery where we were immediately greeted by a pair of Scaled Quail.  I always enjoy Scaled Quail but we had come specifically looking for Gambel’s Quail which would be a new species for Mel and one I had not seen in Texas.  While watching the Scaled Quail, I heard a pair of Gambel’s Quail on the berm just as Gil had said we would find them.  Eventually, we saw several pair all feeding in the cemetery and provided quite a few photographic opportunities.

Gambel's Quail (Male) Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel’s Quail (Male)
Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel's Quail (Female) Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel’s Quail (Female)
Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel's Quail (Male) Van Horn Cemetery

Gambel’s Quail (Male)
Van Horn Cemetery

While photographing the quail, I was very surprised to find a nice male Northern Parula and Common Yellowthroat in rose bushes.  Another nice surprise was an albeit very scraggly looking American Robin feeding on a grassy plot.

American Robin Van Horn Cemetery

American Robin
Van Horn Cemetery

And this Eurasian Collared-Dove posed in nice light.

Eurasian Collared-Dove Van Horn Cemetery

Eurasian Collared-Dove
Van Horn Cemetery

If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend birding the Van Horn Cemetery and then driving out along FM 2185 as we saw more quail of both species, Lesser Nighthawks, Blue Grosbeaks, Black-throated Sparrow, and many other birds.  However, we ran out of time as we had to be up very early for the 60 mile drive to the starting point of our BBS route.  But, we still managed to eat at Chuy’s Restaurant which was made famous by John Madden who always stopped at the restaurant when his bus drove down IH 10 on his way to call NFL games.  John had a fear of flying and road in a bus instead.  The restaurant is filled with sports memorabilia and even has “John’s” chair.

If you are heading west out IH 10, you might want to swing through the cemetery for a chance to see some neat birds!