Last Friday the 19th was Good Friday so I decided to take a trip out to Smith Oaks Rookery to see the Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills. Depending on the year the mating season can be from March through May. According to some Houston Audobon Society (HAS) volunteers this year has been a late season. I did see some egret chicks, but not as many as I usually do this time of year, and there weren't any Spoonbill chicks yet, which was kind of surprising.
There was actually a lot of people at Smith Oaks this trip and I was lucky to find a parking spot in their main lot. Smith Oaks has always been kind of an open secret for seeing Spoonbills and Egrets, but I've noticed more and more people have been coming over the years. On one hand it's a good thing for the rookery itself because the HAS has been cleaning it up a bit and installing new platforms, and even dredging the pond and creating new island in the ponds in the off season. On the other hand now it's no longer a place where you can go to take photos or just enjoy nature by yourself, and with the extra crowds and the HAS's initiative to renovate it the past they've started charging admission. I understand the need for funding in order to do these renovations, but I liked going there and hardly seeing anyone. You would also think being a HAS member would get you a pass into the park, but the volunteers said if they want to go to the rookery proper they would have to pay the entry fee, which I thought was kind of odd.
Anyway like with any changes you just have to roll with them and I was able to help out a few other photographers that weren't familiar with their settings (even though I'll be the first to admit I still get my settings wrong a good chunk of the time) and when I wasn't actively shooting I'd call out when certain birds were flying in from different areas.
Even with all of the changes, it's still a great location to go to see Roseates and egtrest en masse and I was able to get some good photos on this trip despite it being a little crowded.
There were a lot of brown water snakes out and about on this trip, I think the group of people on my platform counted eight. Because the platform was over the water I had a good vantage point for some unique photos. There were some dragonflies and onlyone alligator today so I got a few posterity photos of them too.
After a long hiatus I'm getting back to the blog. This post won't be too in-depth, but I wanted to get back into the swing of writing them so here I am.
Since the weather starter getting warmer again I decided to take a trip down to Brazos Bend to see if I could find some good subjects. As usual I found some alligators and various birds. I was walking the trail between Elm Lake and 40-Acre Lake and saw a group of photographers off to one side. When I got closer I saw they were all taking photos of a Double-crested Cormorant perched in a downed tree. I brought up my camera and started shooting, but after a few minutes the group of photographers moved on. I decided to stay to see if he would start preening or if I could catching him about to take off and sat on the grass to wait. He did eventually start preening so I have some shots of that, but after about 30mins I said goodbye and left to find something else to photograph for the day.
The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, but not bad. I saw the usual species that live in the park. Most of the photos in the slideshow below are fairly common. The American Bitterns are a little more rare to find and I almost didn't catch this one. The only reason I got the photos is because he was making noise while moving through the grass so I stopped to see what was going to come out. It peeked out and once it saw me it froze for a few minutes, but then carried on through the marsh.
It was a little early for the alligators, but they were still out. It'll be mating season soon and they'll be out in full force with the males making their mating displays. For now, they're still pretty quiet though.
So this post is later than I'd like it to be, but what else is new?
This year's trip to Utah was a little different seeing as my friend Ryan decided to go with me so we ended up traveling around more than I usually do. We ended up at some new spots and a few old ones I haven't been to in a few years. Of course we hit one of my favorite spots in the Salt Lake area and the main reason I go back every year, Antelope Island.
I made it out to the island twice this trip. The first visit was on Friday 3-23-18, and the other one was by myself on Monday 3-26-18 since Ryan left on Sunday. Both trips were pretty good, with an up-close encounter with some bison on top of one of the mountains the first trip and the scond trip with some snow cover on the island, which I've never experienced on the island.
This up-close bison encounter was a little different than my usual ones. I usually end up working with bison down in the fields in the lower altitudes on the island, but this one was the first time I've seen any on a summit of a mountain. Ryan and I stopped at one of the parking lots in the center of the island about halfway up a mountain where they have an observation deck set up and decided to hike up to the top. We didn't see anything on the way up, but once we reached the top and walked around a bit, I saw a pair of bison about halfway down the opposite slope of the mountain from where we hiked up. I took some photos for posterity since I've never had this kind of angle on bison or seen them in this part of the island. They started making their way up the slope slowly and eventually started getting a little too close for comfort so we backed away slowly and had to do it a few times as they made their way closer. Eventually we were forced to backtrack down the trail a little ways because they kept following us. A few groups of people made their way up the trail so we had to stop them from going up since the bison were just at the top of the trail, moving back and forth out of sight. After about five minutes of waiting and watching the bison go back and forth between a few different hiking paths they decided to come down, and a little bit faster than I thought they would as you can see in a few of the photos.
This next set is an assortment of different photos from the same day. The first few are of a bird I wasn't able to identify, a Raven, some Western Meadowlarks, and then some Pronghorn Antelope.
The last day Ryan was in Utah it snowed so in the morning we made a trip back up into the mountains, then I dropped him off at the airport Sunday night night. I was leaving around noon on Monday so I decided to get up early and make another trip out to the island. It wasn't snowing in SLC in the morning, but it began again when I was driving north and actually had some pretty decent snowfall in North Salt Lake and Syracuse, which is the town just east of the island. I was hoping to get some snow shots on the island, but most of the island was clear except for the higher altitudes. I still managed to get some landscape shots with a little snow in them and I managed to find some coyotes for the first time so that was a nice surprise.
I also ended up meeting Martin Swenson, another photgrapher on the island, that was looking for coyotes. He just missed the first coyote and we ended up talking for a while and after mentioning that I was trying to make it to Africa next year he gave me a contact for one of his friends that runs Grand Ruaha Safari Lodge. It goes to show that you never know who you're going to meet and that talking to a lot of random people is one of the best ways to network. After talking for a while we started to drive away and as he did another coyote came out into an open field so I yelled to him to let him know. He came back and we ended up watching the other coyote in the field for a while while getting some photos here and there.
This next set is from the second trip to Antelope Island on 3-26-18.
It's that time of year again. That's right, it was prime Bluebonnet season again a few weeks ago here in Texas and if you drove out into the country in the past few weeks you probably saw different types of wildflowers out in farmers' fields or even just on the side of the road. Before they go out of season I went up to the Brenham area, about an hour NW of Houston, to try to get some shots.
Of course I wasn't the only one with the same idea that weekend, and on the north side of 290 right when you get to Chappel Hill there's a ranch that had some decent fields of Bluebonnets. Cars were parked on the side of the road and people we getting out to take photos of the fields, individual flowers, or the classic shot of themselves sitting in the flower beds. The ranch gate was closed, but that didn't stop pretty much everyone who stopped off from climbing his mostly decorative fence onto his property. I stopped on the side of the road and got a few shots from outside the fence, but I always try to find fields with no one around so I left to see what else I could dig up.
My ideal flower fields are just that, an entire field of flowers filling the whole frame with no people in them. A few years ago I found my ideal spots, and I check those fields every time I want Bluebonnet shots, but every time I go back to those locations they don't have any flowers so I guess I was lucky on that one trip.
After I left the ranch on the side of 290 I went into Chappel Hill proper and there was some sort of festival going on hat weekend so I couldn't check one of my usual fields that's just north of the town. Since that location was a no-go I went northeast onto some of the country roads and found a Bald Eagle, Vultures, a ton of hawks that I couldn't positively ID, a Crested Caracara, and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I camped out on the side of the road aimed at a field where a wild hog carcass was and got some ok shots, but the Eagle and Caracara were too skittish and every time I brought my camera back up they got spooked and flew away. Since I was burning daylight I went back to the main objective of the day and started driving around for more wildflower fields.
I drove up to Brenham and after exploring the town a bit I found some fields on the south side of 290 in some industrial parks. These fields weren't exactly what I was looking for, being relatively small and patchy, but I had to make due with what I could find and ended up with some decent shots.
March is usually the beginning of the mating season for a lot of North American wading birds and one of the best locations in the area to photograph nesting sites is Smith Oaks Rookery, just north of Bolivar Peninsula. Smith Oaks is known mostly for the population of Roseate Spoonbills and various types of egrets that nest on the islands in the lake. This year was another late year for nesting and most birds were still constructing their nests and only a few of the spoonbills and cormorants had chicks already. There is one island right now which servers as the main nesting sight, but the Houston Audobon Society is working to create more islands in the lake. They have already dredged out the area between the shore and the island and began bringing in soil to build up new ones. Apparently raccoons and opossums were swimming across the water to eat the eggs and harassing the birds. The wider and deeper water is supposed to deter them from swimming across and so far according to the Audobon Society it seems to be working (I blame the alligators).
I'm going to end this post with a gallery of some miscellaneous animals. I'm going to list out the species below:
So the end of August marks the end of Hurricane Harvey's reign of terror in Texas and especially the Houston metro area. While my apartment complex was flooded with 4ft of water from the nearby Braeswood Bayou, which resulted in a loss of power for around 4 days, I was safe with some friends and their families up in Tomball about a hour Northwest of my complex. Luckily my apartment is on the 3rd floor so I didn't have any damage when I got back to my apartment on Wednesday the 30th. By the time I got back power was already restored and people on the 1st floor were starting to empty their damaged belongings onto the curb and salvaging what they could. At the time of writing this post the 1st floor of the entire complex is vacant and repairs have already started. Houston is a tough city and things are starting to get back to normal, but there's still a lot of work to be done and the help from all the first responders from all over the US is simply amazing! Anyway I just wanted to mention the storm since it did impact my trip a bit, but only by half a day so it wasn't too bad.
My original flight was supposed to leave from Houston IAH at 10:15a on Saturday Sept 2nd, but my flight was delayed due to the first responders from out of state using IAH as the main rallying point. My flight ended up leaving around 7p so I didn't get into Tucson until around 8:30p. The flight is 2-ish hours, but due to the timezone change and the fact that most of Arizona doesn't recognize daylight savings time. Once I got my rental car I drove down 40 minutes South to my hotel in Green Valley.
The next morning (Sunday Sept 3rd) I woke up around 5a in order to get out to Madera Canyon before dawn. Madera Canyon is a great park that has a lot picnic areas, hiking trails, and fire pits and outdoor grills for just getting out and enjoying nature. The canyon is just a short 20min drive Southeast of my hotel so I didn't have any problems getting there before sunrise. I stopped at a few trail entrances and hiked a bit before sunrise, taking my camera with me, but branches were too low on those trails and I couldn't really get any clear shots through the foliage. I turned back and made my way up to Santa Rita Lodge.
Madera Canyon is a great birding area and if you want hummingbirds Sant Rita Lodge is the best hotspot in the canyon. The lodge has its own gift shop where the staff has various feeders set up, 10 of them for hummers. I parked down the hill a bit and walked up to the gift shop with my camera and 70-300mm lens and settled in. All of the feeders were empty when I got there and the staff hadn't opened up the shop yet. The hummers were already there en masse buzzing around trying out the feeders to see if any had anything left.
I started shooting and after a while I retired my 70-300 and brough out the big guns, meaning my 200-500mm lens. I decided to give my SB-500 flash and reflector a try too. After failing to adjust my settings correctly for the flash I eventually gave up on it and decided to just use the natural sunlight and see how that went. I got about 450 shots the first day, 400 the second and third days, but I managed to troubleshoot the flash issue and was able to use it effectively Monday and Tuesday. After 7-8 hours I decided to call it a day on Sunday and packed up my equipment and headed up the drive to do some more hiking. Further up into the canyon the drive terminates into a loop surrounded by more picnic areas with trail entrances that lead up into the mountains.
I parked, got out, and decided to take the trail up to Josephine Saddle, the first a lower saddle of Mount Wrightson. I took my camera with me, keeping the big lens on it and putting my smallest lens in my pocket for landscapes. I figured I could get some good shots up top. About halfway up the 6mi round tril trail I turned back. I strained my back too much and I didn't think about it til I turned around, but it was probably the weight of the camera sling on one shouler that caused it. O well, lesson learned for next time I guess.
I got back down the mountain just fine and went back to my hotel around mid-afternoon to call it a day. I ended up getting dehydrated and stopped for more water and gatorade on the way back, but still got a pretty bad headache that didn't go away until the next morning. Being in Houston I know heat, but that's usually with high humidity. Arizona heat is very different! Sweat in Houston sticks to you enough for you to wipe it away or let it roll off. Arizona is so dry sweat evaporates immediatly to where it doesn't even bead up. It makes you think you aren't even sweating that much. Another lesson learned for sure. Don't underestimate high heat, with zero humidity!
Anyway Monday and Tuesday were pretty unvenetful compared to Sunday. I took it easy on the hiking and stuck to Santa Rita Lodge so I could make the most of the time I head left, but I still packed it in around mid-afternoon each day. Now that I've written a short little essay about the trip onto the photos! I decided to break them up by species again so enjoy!
Anna's Hummingbird (large gallery)
Anna's Hummingbirds at feeders
Borad-billed Hummingbird (large gallery)
Every other year or so I like to make a trip out to Salt Lake City for two very different reasons. The first reason is the Holi Festival, or Hindu Festival of Colors, and the other is Antelope Island. I'll have a post about Holi later, but to give a basic understanding of the festival it's a celebration of all things positive in your life throughout the past year. The point of this blog post though, is all Antelope Island.
Now I have posted photos from here before, but since I recently got my new Nikon 200-500mm lens I needed something to field test it on. I got into Salt Lake City on Thursday night (March 23rd) and left the Monday morning (27th). I left Thursday night so I could get more camera time on the Island and I was hoping to have two days there and one day at the festival, but I got rained out on Saturday so I only got one day on the Island. I got out there around dawn on Friday, which was about 7am, and didn't leave until around 3:30pm so I got a decent amount of time there regardless.
The island has a few main roads that you can drive on and this morning I took a left as I got on the island to head toward the Southeast part of the island and I drove right past a herd of pronghorn antelope. The name "antelope" is actually a misnomer as they aren't a true species of antelope, but part of the family Giraffoidea, which makes them more closely frelated to Giraffes and Okapi than other species of antelope.
The herd consisted of one male and eleven females, which is common for the Spring season. In the Winter Pronghorns have lareger, mixed sex herds, but in the Spring the females detach from the larger herds and form smaller groups. The males will defend their own territory and let the females come and go, or they will choose a harem of females and keep for themselves and defned them.
I worked with this herd for a most of the morning. I parked my rental car on the shoulder and got out to photograph them from the bottom of a hill and they were a bit wary of my presence at first. They were slowly grazing and movinging from right to left and away from me up the hill. I doubled back on and went up the other road that went to the top of the hill and found them there in a field on the left side. I worked with them more there and within half an hour or so they weren't threatened by me anymore. Some of the females and the male were walking around me roughly fifteen to twenty feet away from me at times which let me get some good shots of them with different backgrounds.
They eventually crossed the road and started heading down into the valley and that's when I got back in the car to try and find some Bison.
I found the first herd of Bison that day on the Southern tip of the island in a protected section of the park that doesn't allow non-park personnel to travel through it. That was a little disheartening because this heard had eight members, which would make this one of the larger herds on the island. I've only ever seen two bigger herds like this and the rest of the Bison form smaller groups or roam around by themselves. The one-on-ones can be really good because you can just post up and let them wander towards you and as long as you don't make sudden movements they'll just go about their grazing like you aren't even there. Not all Bison are like that though and they can spook easily, which is why working with a herd can be more difficult since their are a lot of different personalities present.
After deciding there was no real way to get any good shots of that herd I went back North and made a left on a side road that goes partway up a mountain to a parking area where you can hike up to the different mountain peaks. The first and lower peak is called Dooly Knob (5278ft) and that's the one I usually climb. The other two are Stringham Peak (6374ft) and the trail ends at Frary Peak (6596ft). At the split in the trail (Dooly Knob to the right and the other two to the left) the climb to Frary is another 2.5miles laterally so I don't make that additional climb too often, especially this time when it was 40 degrees Farenheit at Dooly and the other two peaks were snow-covered still.
After coming back down from Dolly Knob I got back on the road and went back to where I was working with the herd of Pronghorn later in the morning on top of the hill. I saw them again there, but I still didn't have any bison shots from the day so I went up to another mountain on the island and on the way I found a few small groups of bison grazing on either side of the road. I stopped off and got out a few different times to work with different groups and got some good shots.
The tough thing about working with bison in a high light environment is that the bison are genereally very dark subjects and the long grasses, mountains, and the sky are very light in comparison. The problem with that is you can expose for the surroundings and get an extrememly dark bison, where you lose a lot of the bison's features, or you can expose for the bison and have your backgrounds completely blown out and extremely bright. There's no real way to account for this unless you can take multpile shots at different exposure and stitch them together, but with living and moving subjects and backgrounds it's next to impossible.
My editing skills aren't on par to correct for such a difference either, which is why I decided to make some of the more difficult shots to fix black and white instead. It's a simple fix and can lend the photo a nice artistic quality. I don't do a lot of black and white photos because I like to capture the images as I see them, but sometimes it's nice to break out of my comfort zone and try something different. I left the last photo in the slideshow still in color and you can see what I mean by exposing for either light or dark. The bison's head is a little darker than I'd like, but if I went any lighter the grass would look even more unnaturally bright.
There was one bison in particular that I was working with that decided to wander a lot closer than I've ever been. It might be hard to tell from some of the photos, but at one point he wandered pretty close to me and the car while I was outside it by the passenger side headlight. I decided not to move to see how close he would get, which was about 10-15ft away. At one point he was just on the other side of a free-standing bush and if he decided he didn't like me there I wouldn't have stood a chance of getting back in the car. I'm not saying I know completely what I'm doing at all times, or how any individual animal might react to what I do or how I do it, but I've learned to pick up on body language cues, postures, and sounds enough to feel relatively comfortable around wildlife. That being said that was too close for even me, so I just stayed put until he walked by because I didn't want to alarm him in any way. All in all it worked out fine and he didn't care I was there at all, which is the best case scenario so it turned out to be a positive experience!
Well, that's all I really had for this trip because of the one day I got rained out so I'll end this post with a few Western Meadowlark photos.
Back in August I went on a 3 week trip to various parts of Australia and New Zealand. The first week of the trip was spent in the Gold Coast Hinterlands participating in a workshop put on by Moose Peterson, a professional photographer and Nikon Ambassador. I've been following Moose's work for a few years and I actually bought my current camera, my Nikon D7000 from his wife Sharon.
This camera was my frist big step towards taking my photography more seriously and really working on improving my skills and the quality of my images. This is my first workshop with them, but I guarantee it won't be the last.
The focus of this workshop was improving techniques for photographing birds in low-light situations. The rainforest surrounding O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat was a prime location for this. O'Reilly's and the surrounding rainforest is a haven for different species of not just birds, but all manner of wildlife. Now August is at the end of the Southern Hemisphere's Winter so most reptiles and amphibians weren't out and about. In fact I didn't see any snakes or frogs, but I did see a few lizards around the area. Again the focus of this workshop, and my excuse for making this trip were the birds so that's what this post is all about.
Moose Peterson's website:
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat website:
Below I have some different galleries posted listed in alphabetical order by species, enjoy!
Eastern Yellow Robin
Grey Shrike Thrush
King Parrot - female
King Parrot - male
Regent Bowerbird - female
Regent Bowerbird - male
Satin Bowerbird - male
Superb Fairy Wren
White-Browed Scrub Wren
Yellow-Breasted Scrub Wren
Hey there, this will be a storter post than normal. I got my new lens last Saturday in the mail and I didn't really get a chance to go out and test it until today. The lens is a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3, and the main lens I've been shooting withs is a Nikon 75-300mm, so basically my zoom has doubled.
I have noticed a few differences based on my short time shooting with this new Tamron, but definitely nothing dealbreaking. There are a few differences I'll have to keep in mind while shooting with this lens though.
1. The lens is very stable, but because of the increased focal length I'll need to have an even steadier hand while free-hand shooting or stick to a tripod or monopod when I can.
2. The lens can only get down to f/6.3 in shade or f/5 in the most light I could find today. Now it might be able to get down to f/5 on better days, but since today was overcast (in fact it's storming as I'm writing this now) that was the best the lens could do.
3. The weight. With this len on my Nikon D7000 it feels like the weight has doubled from when I have the 75-300mm on it. It's not a huge deal, but I can tell for extended shooting it could cause some stress on the neck and arms.
4. The autofocus is a tad slow, but only slightly slower than my other main wildlife lens (the 75-300mm). Since the focal length is longer that's to be expected, so again no major issue there.
5. The lens mount for the tripod gets in the way of focusing, but since I don't shoot manual most of the time it's really not an issue. The lens mount also obstucts the zoom ring a bit too, but not by a whole lot and the mount can be removed so I'm not too worried about it right now. If I end up using the tripod more, which I expect I will due to the above reasons, then this small complaint will go away.
Other than those few things there's nothing I immediately noticed. It handled well for the short amount of time I used it today. I wish I could have hiked around Brazos Bend, but it's still closed due to flooding of the Brazos River and isn't expected to be back open until the 21st at the earliest.
Anyway enjoy the photos.
Last Saturday I made another trip out to Smith Oaks to see how much the babies had grown since my last visit. A month ago most of the egret eggs had hatched, but they still weren't very old (maybe a week or two) while the spoonbills were still unhatched. The spoonbills have now hatched, but haven't left the nests to roam around yet. It will be a few more weeks before they're running around on the island by themselves and a few more weeks after that before they'll be able to fly.
Now you might be asking "why aren't the parents there?" and that's because they were out getting food. The island rookery is very safe as long as the babies stick to the nest while the parents are gone. Even if they do fall out there's a slim chance that something can get to them. Remember the alligator from the last post, well that's the only real threat for them right now. I guess there's the threat of gars if they go into the water too, but that's an even slimmer chance than the alligator. In case you don't know what a gar is they are a type of fish that's pretty aggressive and fun to catch. There were plenty around in the water and you could tell because they would actually come to the surface every now and then for whatever reason. I managed to get a few photos of their backs as they came to the surface, but I'm only going to post one because they all look the same.
I was able to get a few good shots of some Greater and Lesser Egrets, one Roseate Spoonbill, and a good one of a Double Crested Cormorant in flight.
Anahuac Wildlife Preserve
The Anahuac Wildlife Preserve is right down the road from Smith Oaks, in fact it's a little closer to Houston than the rookery. It's pretty nice, quiet, and pretty large preserve actually. It's mostly a salt marsh and salt prarie environment so there's more variety of species here than Smith Oaks.
Right out front of the main visitors center there's a Gazebo where about a dozen or more pairs of Cave and Cliff Swallows make their nests. They're almost identical as far as looks go, but their nests are different and that's the easiest way to tell them apart. Cave Swallows build their nests open at the top, while Cliff Swallows fully enclose their nests with mud to protect them from the elements.
The last bird in this slideshows is a Tree Swallow. I saw him perched out on the main driving trail where the first stop-off point is so I decided to get a quick photo while he was there.
Below are some photos from the driving trail. There's a fair amount of different species for this slideshow so I ID'd them in the captions instead of typing up a summary of them all in order.
Two things I'll point out in this slideshow is that if you look closely at the Red-winged Blackbird he's actually eating spiders from their webs in the marsh grasses. The other is the Tri-colored Heron. Right after I took that photo he flew away with that reed, I'm guessing to use it for nesting material.
Like the last post I have another star, the Purple Gallinule. I found a few at one of the stopping points still in the marsh part of the driving trail. Both male and female Purple Gallinules have this bright coloration which is different from most species of birds where the females are a more drab color and the males are more brightly colored to help attract the females. Purple Gallinues aren't very good fliers, but they are extremely good waders. Their longer legs and toes help spread out their weight to the point where they can easily walk across lilypads and other floating foliage.
The first photo in this slideshow is of one I found walking around with it's mate. I took this photo while walking on an elevated walking platform in the marsh. The others are all of a mother and her chicks.
The chicks are solid black which doesn't make them as noticable to predators, but their colors come in once they reach adulthood. This mother was walking around with six chicks, two were following closely while the rest just wandered around within sight of their mother while she was feeding them. I was actually only about ten feet or so away from the family while taking most of these photos so they must not see humans as much of a threat, which makes for some good opportunities.
Anyway I thought I'd end this post with them since they're one of the most interesting looking birds in South East Texas in my opinion. I just got my new 600mm Tamron lens in the mail yesterday, so look forward to even better photos coming up soon.