Buffy the Nectar Slayer

If a +3 three weekend is worth celebrating, then surely adding another +1 for the week is worthy of a Snoopy happy dance. I would do just that, but Linda is home and knowing her she’d sneak a picture of it and then post it on Facebook to all her friends. Then Facebook would probably mine it and start sending dance lesson opportunities. It’s amazing when you pre-think through your actions how boring your life becomes. Maybe this is the key difference between childhood and adulthood – The Embarrassment Factor. If had actually considered some of my actions when I was a kid, me thinks I would not have had nearly as much as fun as I did. Granted, I would have had far less stitches and Tetanus shots ha! This all brings me full circle to today’s post. Linda is forever embarrassing me by retelling my reaction to learning that a Painted Bunting was hanging out at place we visited in Georgia (wait, hmmm, that post may not be out yet – ignore that if it isn’t). It is this ribbing I take that has caused me to pre-think my actions when I learned this Hummer was hanging out at the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission, Texas.

Buff-Bellied Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park January 2018

In a much more controlled manner, I calmly walked out of the visitor center and forced a restrained walk over to the specified spot – a feeder we actually passed on our way in. Successfully prevented another embarrassing Facebook post, although my inner being was doing one hell of a Happy Feet rendition. This was one of the new birds I was hoping to get in the tin on our birding trip last January 2017. Here in the Midwest (link here), we are treated to only one kind of Hummer unless one gets mistakenly lost during migration. I did pick a new one at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve – the Black-Chinned variety (link here). Other than that, the list is pretty bare when it comes to these incredibly fast creatures.

Buff-Bellied Hummingbird found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park January 2018

Hit the jump to find out more about this bird.

Continue reading Buffy the Nectar Slayer

Uhhh What?

Not to labor this point too much, but if you read my last post on the Hooded Merganser, you should be keenly aware of how cold it is here in St. Louis.  My hopes of it getting warmer today were quickly dashed when I opened the door of the RV only to be blown nearly all the way to the arena where Raven is running agility.  A quick check of the phone reveals it is 31 with a windchill of .. wait for it … feels like 20.  WTH, last year at this even I was wearing shorts and wandering around comfortably looking for whatever feathered creatures Purina Farms had to offer.  This year I am bundled up like the little kid from A Christmas Story.  To top it off, after fighting the winds to get to the arena, Raven decided that the agility course was improperly arranged and chose to remedy the situation mid run – when the course is setup the way he wants it, Linda and Raven rock.  When it isn’t  then to quote a famous movie “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some [poodles] you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here [this morning] which is the way he wants it”  No worries, Raven has more runs to work things out – more importantly, I am spending the huge gaps between runs on a quest for a birding check tri-fecta.  If the wireless stays up, Mr. White below will give me just that.

Gull-Billed Tern Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas December 2016

Hit the jump to see a few more shots.

Continue reading Uhhh What?

‘Cause the Boys in the Hood are Always Hard

I just want to say for the record that I am currently camping at Purina Farms down in St. Louis and freezing my butt off.  Last time I stepped outside it was dipping below 30 and there were little white flecks hurling down on us from above.  Linda is in complete denial and not exactly pleased we are being treated with this weather during the Poodle Club of America Nationals we are entered in.  Raven will be competing with the big boys and girls in the agility ring (wish him luck!).  With that cold whine out of the way, let’s get on to this weekend’s theme.  Wait – make that themes.  Carrying over from last post, bringing you another bird post, another plus one on the bird list, shoots from this very month (a miracle) and yes, another set of soft pictures.  I purposely went with the Woodcock shots first in hopes those shots would make these look better than they really are.

Hooded Merganser located at Widewaters near Joliet, IL April 2018

I mentioned in a previous post I was heading up to the Joliet IL area to do some birding with my brother Ron (link here).  The goal of that trip was to finally get that Ross’ Goose in the tin.  It had been hanging out with a bunch of Domestic Geese that had taken up residence in the area.  More specifically in Wilmington IL  Ron was threatening to drive there, scoop it up in the car and drive down to my house to get the picture if I waited any longer.  Note, that was only threatened, he didn’t actually do that … this time ha.   Turns out, our little white Goose was nowhere to be found.  We did locate the resident Geese behind Nelly’s Restaurant, but their little friend was either staying inside thanks to another cold weekend or it figured out it was hanging with the wrong crowd.  The day was still young, so Ron offered to show me some of other birding spots in the area.

Hooded Merganser located at Widewaters near Joliet, IL April 2018

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this distinctive duck.

Continue reading ‘Cause the Boys in the Hood are Always Hard

I’ve Hand Doodled Better Birds

Greetings everyone.  Been a little bit lax on my posting as of late, but things keep popping up that have to be whack-o-moled down before they get out of control.  Ironically one of those is dealing with a mole that has decided the abundant acreage of woods around our house isn’t as inviting as the 1 to 2 acres I carved out for our lawn.  Crazy demon-spawn continually break our pact – no harm shall come to thee as long as they stay off my lawn.  Yet they continually test my resolve and launch their torpedoes toward my house to test my authori-TEH!  I mainly bring this up because those pink clawed creatures usually start their insurgency at the same time today’s featured bird starts their annual courtship rituals.


Hit the jump to see even crappier pictures.

Continue reading I’ve Hand Doodled Better Birds

We Might Be Lost

So there are times when I’m out in the wild and something out of the ordinary happens. Maybe an unexpected bird decides to come out and pose for me or the light will hit a subject just right to reveal an awesome shot otherwise hidden in an overcast day. There are times when I’ve come face to face with a creature higher on the predator list than I was adequately prepared to deal with and wandered into areas where the daylight’s false sense of security relented to uncomfortable darkness. With all those experiences, I had really never experienced a “what the hell is that” followed quickly by the unsettling thought “where the hell am I !?!” .. that is until last December while on our birding trip down the Texas Gulf Coast. Linda had given me a Texas birding book that we were using to find places we had missed on our previous trips. One of the recommended places was at the end of Smith Point Road near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Since that was a planned stop anyway, we detoured slightly to check it out.

Plains Zebra found in Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge at end of Smith Point Road\

When we arrived, the road that followed shoreline was closed. That literally left us at the end of road right at the waterline. Linda turned the RV around and parked it off the road. I jumped out to see what I could fill the tin with. Not sure if it was the unseasonably cold weather they were having or the generally drab day, but there was very little moving about. Snapped a few shots of a Tern hunting quite a ways off the shore. Three Brown Pelicans then came flying by warranting some attention even though Brown Pelicans in Texas might as well be shooting Bison in Yellowstone – sure it’s exciting for the first 50 encounters, but soon after the thrill subsides. Eventually found myself trying to track a Sparrow through a nearby thicket. It is there I looked up and uttered those alarming words. There in front of me was a Zebra staring right at me. Somewhere Linda had apparently made a very wrong turn – last I checked those black and white beasts preferred the Serengeti, not a field on the Gulf of Texas. Even went over to tell Linda so she could check my sanity.. One thing for sure, this was a lot more interesting to shoot than a Sparrow.

Hit the jump to see a couple more shots of our mysterious friend.

Continue reading We Might Be Lost

They Must be Brilliant

Ian Plant Seminar Peoria Camera Club March 24th 2018Howdy everyone! It’s been a rough couple of days for me due to a medical procedure that I had to have today. Definitely not one of those experiences I want to go through again anytime soon. The good news is it over now and everything came out good. The doctors want me to take it easy until the effects completely wear off which is good news for my readers – nothing better for a night of relaxation than typing a few paragraphs out on the keyboard for another post. Oh, by the way, the doctors did recommend I avoid going to places like Amazon until my head clears all the way – might end up buying a year’s worth of jams from around the world hehehe. So I Thought I’d feature a topic that didn’t required a lot of prep work and thus going with a recollection from a recent photography seminar Linda and I went to a couple of weeks back. Since it covered both landscape and wildlife topics, went ahead and put it on my wildlife blog as well.

Last year we went to see Bryan Peterson’s photography seminar on “The Art of Seeing”. I was very familiar with Bryan’s published worked and have always considered his Understanding Exposure book to be the best reference for those wanting to turn their camera mode dial to ‘M’ (if you are still using the Automatic or ‘P’ modes, pick up that book and start getting the value out of all that money you spent on your gear). Unlike last year, this year the Peoria Camera Club invited a speaker neither Linda nor I were familiar with. We ended up going to his site (link here) and needless to say was impressed with his work. Based on his portfolio it looked like it covered both my wife’s preferred genre as well as my own wildlife preferences. Only tough part was investing $75/person and uncertain whether we were going to get something for that large investment – you can buy a lot of books or a short trip out into the field for $150. After some debating we opted to do it – if nothing else, this is something we enjoy spending time together doing each year. Turns out the day of the seminar the Heartland got pounded with a white out blizzard that eventually accumulated over 9 inches. We live in the country so trekking out in the deep stuff didn’t bother us much although seeing all the vehicles in the ditches on our way was a bit concerning. The aggressive off-roading tires on my new truck ate that white stuff up for breakfast. Old Man Winter did manage to defeat about half the attendees that were planned to attend. We did get the opportunity to meet some of the members of the Camera Club and spend some time with Julie who I met for the first time during my Audubon speech last month (link here) – an amazing wildlife photographer in her own right.

Ian Plant’s seminar took the exact opposite theme from Bryan’s talk the previous year. While that speech was on the Art of Seeing, Ian’s seminar was entitled Unseeing: Taking Photos with Attitude. Note, it was a bit refreshing that Ian didn’t continually talk about his ex wives or his pension for recreational drugs like Bryan did. From a summary perspective, we both thought we received value from our investment. Ian was very personable to the attendees and kept us all entertained until the end. It also helps that his photography portfolio contains some absolute stunners. For the same reason we go to local photography competitions, seeing captured images that are better than yours is the best inspiration there is. Every interesting angle or interpretation of a scene broadens our boundaries and puts another idea in the toolbox. If I had to pick the two most informative elements of Ian’s presentation, I’d have to go with shooting wide vertical and shooting into the sun. Probably an hour into the talk, someone commented he must be cropping a lot out of his pictures based on the fact he was using a wide angle lens. Ever have one of those moments when your entire understanding of something you’ve been looking at for a while suddenly gets turned on its head? Ian’s response to the question did that – “I didn’t crop anything – I shoot vertical”. Whoa! Now, that was a new concept for both my wife and I. In fact he followed it up with “amateurs shoot wide horizontal”. It all became crystal clear how he was getting such huge depth in his shots from the sky almost directly above him down to a few feet out from his shoes. You can then control the perspective of the background objects (like mountains) by simply tilting the camera up or down. He also shoots wildlife wide and those familiar with that glass know how close you have to get pictures with that gear. He mentioned several times he put himself in harm’s way by moving with his eye through the glass and not realizing he had put himself in dangerous proximity to animals that could kill him. Learned that lesson a long time ago – move in the field with both your eyes open or away from the camera – this photographer will NEVER forget almost bringing his foot down on the head of an Alligator in the Georgia swamps.

On the shooting into the sun aspect, his wildlife silhouettes are absolutely breathtaking and something I would have no problems proudly displaying on my walls. The simplicity of the outline cast by the sun is captivating and such a stark contrast from his landscape photography which is packed full from foreground to background. This is something I am plan to try this year while out in the field. Guessing it is a lot easier said than done, but who isn’t up for a good challenge. Guessing Linda is going to try out some wide vertical shots the next time she is out with the waterfalls (especially since Ian just called her out as an amateur hehehe). Couple of closing points. Ian is also big into drone photography. Apparently he has crashed a few and has since opted for the cheaper versions – my personal concern is where are those crashed drones ending up. Ever since some idiot dropped one in the Yellowstone Grand Prismatic my opinions of drones have been seriously tainted (link here). Ian also doesn’t like photographing the circle of life in action – his story about Lioness’ taking out a male Wildebeest had a traumatic impact on him – much like when he found out how some photographers get those great action shots of predator birds coming toward the camera. A dark little fact that non wildlife photographers probably don’t realize and a technique I am very much opposed to.

In summary, we definitely enjoyed Ian’s talk and worth our investment. Can’t wait to try out some of the things we learned in the field. Be sure and check out Ian’s work if you haven’t already done that. I’ll leave you with his comment that gave me the biggest chuckle of the day “If others don’t like you photographs it is probably brilliant because you can see what others can’t”. Definitely going to be my go to response whenever Linda rolls her eyes at some of my shots hehehe.

Be sure and hit the jump to see more of my takeaways from Ian ‘s talk – the shocking thing is how much I can remember from two weeks ago when I’ve appeared to completely forgotten what I did or said for about 1.5 hours after my procedure today. Linda keeps asking me if I remember doing this and that and I have zero recollection. If jams in Amazon boxes start showing up at the door we will all know why.

Continue reading They Must be Brilliant

Less Bitter

First off, Happy Easter to everyone! If all goes well today, I’ll be adding a check on my birding list thanks to a quick trip up north. Ron has alerted me to a bird hanging out around Joliet that I still need to get in the tin. Apparently this particular specimen has decided to get chummy with a local flock. The current plan is to catch some birding at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The wind is supposed to die down, but the mercury dropped as well. Hmm, guessing the younger generation doesn’t know what that means anymore – I remember as a kid having mercury races on the school bus – put a drop in each of the channels of the rubber mat that ran the length of the bus between the seats and see which one made it to the back of the bus by the end of the trip – then again, somewhat amazed it didn’t cause serious health damage. In honor of going after a new bird, decided to feature another new check on my list.

Least Bittern discovered at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in December 2016

That there is a Least Bittern discovered at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in December 2016. By now you should be very familiar with that birding sight on the South Texas Gulf Coast. Someday I should count up all the +1’s my two trips to that location have netted. Guessing it rivals the impressive counts obtained at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve in Nevada. That isn’t even considering the improved pictures I was able to get in the tin for birds already on the list. This particular find almost went unnoticed in the digital darkroom.

Least Bittern discovered at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in December 2016

Hit the jump to see another version of this picture and learn a bit (ha) more about this Bittern.

Continue reading Less Bitter