Saturday, December 27, 2008

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson Arboretum exists to instill an appreciation of plants in people. It is also a very good spot to find desert birds. It is located in the very scenic area about an hour east of Phoenix and close to Superior Arizona.



Curve-billed Thrasher

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Black-throated Sparrow

Alberts Towhee

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Southeast Arizona Trip

Last week I took a trip down to Southeast Arizona. I visited Sweetwater Wetlands, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Madera Canyon and Lost Dutchman State Park. The next few posts will cover this trip.

Elegant Trogon - Madera Canyon
f5.6, 1/60 iso 1600, Exposure Compensation -1, Canon 40D 400mm

I photographed this Trogon early in the morning on a foggy overcast day. The poor lighting forced me to use an extremely high iso setting which resulted in a very grainy image. A noise filtering utility called Noiseware Professional was recently brought to my attention by Bill Schmoker ( Using this utility I was able to extract a decent photo.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Eleven Mile Canyon

I headed up to Eleven Mile Canyon today hoping to see Crossbills and Albert's Squirrels. It was a quiet day but I did spot this American Dipper on my way out. At this point Eleven Mile Canyon accounts for 100% of my American Dipper finds. I find that American Dippers love to be photographed. I setup my tripod and camera as close as I could due to the steep bank of the river. The Dipper seemed to think that I could get better shots if he flew over to the rock right in front of me, so that is what he did. Due to the limited lighting I was forced to use an iso of 800.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A great day at Antero Reservoir

Today at Antero Reservoir I was lucky enough to see 3 and photograph 2 lifers.  All 3 species are listed on the Colorado Rare Bird Alert list. They are: White-winged Scoter, Yellow-billed Loon and Snow Bunting. Thanks to Gary and Linda for sharing their scope with me so that I could see the Scoter.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Warblers at Ramah SWA

Today I took the day off so that I could head over to Ramah SWA to see if I could find any of the warblers that had been reported.  I only found Wilson's and Yellow Warblers. 

Some other birds found:
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Least Flycatcher
Rock Wren
Leucistic? or Hybrid? Mallard???
Franklin's Gulls

Wilson's Warbler

Leucistic? or Hybrid? Mallard?

Rock Wren

Least Flycatcher

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Juniper Titmouse

This morning at Aiken Canyon Preserve, located about 25 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, I saw my first Juniper Titmouse. This was a difficult bird to photograph as you can probably tell by the poor quality of the photo. However, it was far more cooperative than the Mourning Warbler that I also saw there. 

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Barn Swallows at Fountain Nature Center

A couple of weeks ago I saw this immature Barn Swallow sitting on a rock waiting for one of its parents to feed it. I setup the camera and waited for the parent to return. As I waited I had time to take a couple of shots to check the histogram to make sure the exposure was correct. Ideally you want to have the curve as far to the right as possible without touching the right y axis. If the curve overflows the right y axis you will have blown highlights. A curve too far to the left indicates an under exposed image.

Because the baby swallow was not moving around I was able to focus using autofocus and then switch to manual focus. By doing this I could then stand comfortably without looking through the viewfinder as I waited for the parent to return. When I saw the parent approach I then just held down the shutter button and took a sequence of photos of the feeding.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Canon 50mm f1.8 II

Recently I have been researching inexpensive macro photography options for my Dad. I guess i'm the only one in the family that likes to spend lots of money on camera equipment. I have Canon's excellent 100mm f2.8 lens so I know that macro lenses are expensive. Still, I thought that there would be an inexpensive option from Sigma etc. that would give decent results. As it turns out there are some quality offerings from Sigma but they are still surprisingly expensive. My next thought was to go with a 50mm lens coupled with an extension tube. Canon offers a really inexpensive 50mm lens for around $90. The 50mm f1.8 II lens is known to be very fast, sharp and cheaply built. After looking at several reviews I decided to buy the lens and try it out. Yesterday I purchased the lens and had it in my car on the 40D. I was heading back from the
store when I noticed some strange clouds over Pikes Peak.

Storm Clouds
1/400, f5.3, iso 200, +2/3 exposure compensation, 50mm, handheld

I decided I would do a quick loop through the Garden of the Gods park to see if I could get some good storm photos. Off of the main loop there is a short road that goes to a parking lot for a trailhead. I pulled into the parking lot but all the parking spaces were full so I head back to the main loop. On the way out I saw a Mule deer nursing two fawns. I took a couple pictures from the car when a group of noisy tourists came walking down the road causing the meal to be cut short. Even with the crowd of tourist standing around yelling at each other the fawns lingered in the area for a couple minutes and I was able to get a few more shots. Considering the bad lighting the fast 50mm lens performed well. A few of the shots were taken wide open at f1.8. With my wildlife lens (f5.6) I would have had to go to a much higher ISO setting.

Mule Deer Fawns
1/500, f1.8, iso 200, +1/3 exposure compensation, 50mm, handheld

Mule Deer Fawn
1/500, f2.2, iso 400, 50mm, handheld

From earlier in the day at Ramah SWA.

Immature Yellow-headed Blackbird
1/500, f6.3, iso 200, +1/3 exposure compensation, 400mm, tripod with gimbal type head

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rocky Mountain National Park

This week I took a day off from my real job and took a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) to try to photograph White-tailed Ptarmigan. On my last trip to RMNP I was able to photograph moose, elk, big-horned sheep, coyote, marmot, red squirrel etc. On this trip there wasn't much to see including White-tailed Ptarmigan.

The one bonus of the trip was the American Pika. American Pika are still fairly common above timberline at RMNP. In the past my experience has been that they are very skittish and tend to hide as soon as they see you. On this occasion they seemed to be so occupied with filling their larders with grass that they were oblivious to observers.

American Pika
Enthusiastically collecting food for winter

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Texas Trip - Sabal Palms Grove Audubon Center

I originally had Sabal Palms on my list of optional places to visit while in the Lower Rio-Grande Valley. I decided to go after a couple elderly ladies that I talked to at the Valley Nature center strongly recomended it. They said it would probably be my last chance to go, they seemed to be on the verge of tears.

Sabal Palms is a 527 acre preserve located southeast of Brownsville Texas. It contains 32 acres of old-growth sabal palm and is considered the best example of this type (The 500 Most Important Bird Areas book).

It doesn't take long to realize that this is a very special place. It is irreplaceable. Sadly it appears that Sabal Palms will be the victim of the border wall. I highly recomend that visit Sabal Palms before it is too late.

Green Kingfisher
1/500 sec, f5.6, iso 250, -1/3 exposure compensation, 400mm
(negative exposure compensation is used to reduce over-exposure of kingfisher's white neck)

Least Grebe
1/500 sec, f5.6, iso 250, -2/3 exposure compensation, 400mm
(negative exposure compensation is used here also to reduce over-exposure of the grebe's white rump)

Red-eared Slider Turtle
1/400 sec, f5.6, iso 200, +2/3 exposure compensation, 400mm

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Search for Black Swifts

I recently headed down to the San Luis Valley to visit my parents and try to locate and photograph Black Swifts at Zapata Falls. Zapata Falls is located on the road heading into the Great Sand Dunes National Park. To get to Zapata falls you need to drive up a very rough dirt road that leads to a parking area and campground. From the parking lot there is a steep 1/2 mile trail that ends at a fast moving mountain stream. At this point you must wade through the stream for about 100 ft. to get to the falls that are located in a kind of slot canyon formation. So as I was standing in the rushing, ice cold, water I got out my camera, turned it on and nothing, completely dead. This is understandable because the battery was still charging at my parents house. Lucky for me I didn't see any Black Swifts or I might have been upset. I did notice that a couple days later someone reported seeing 30+ Black Swifts at Zapata Falls on the Colorado Birding Society website. Maybe I was too early in the day (6:00 pm) or maybe i'm blind to Black Swifts. Hopefully next time i'll see some and bring my battery.

In spite of the Black Swift fiasco all was not lost. While visiting the Alamosa NWR we were lucky enough to spot this cooperative American bittern. Unfortunatly, you do not always have control over the lighting quality and this bird was back-lit with rather harsh mid-morning sunlight. You have to get up very early in the morning in Colorado to get quality lighting for bird photography.

Click on the photo to see the large version and check out this birds foot. Scary!

American Bittern
1/400 sec, f7.1, +2/3 exposure compensation, iso 250, from car using bean bag

American Bittern
1/400 sec, f7.1, +2/3 exposure compensation, iso 250, from car using bean bag

While leaving the Sand Dunes we came upon this Burrowing Owl. Again the angle of the sun was not optimal. I have been to the Sand Dunes many times and this is the first Burrowing Owl that I have seen in the area.

Burrowing Owl
1/640 sec, f6.3, +1 exposure compensation, iso 250, from car using bean bag

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Texas Trip - South Padre Island part 2

When I first planned my trip I didn't have South Padre Island on the itinerary. When I left Laguna Atascosa I realized how close I was and decided to go. This turned out to be the right decision. I saw more species of birds here than all the other locations combined.

Canada Warbler
1/250 sec, f6.3, iso640, exposure compensation -1/3, 400mm

Black Bellied Whistling Duck
1/250 sec, f5.6, iso 640, 400mm

Roseate Spoonbill
1/800 sec, f10, exposure compensation -2/3, iso 200, 400mm

Least Bittern
1/320 sec, f10, iso 200. 400mm

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Texas Trip - South Padre Island

On the grounds of the South Padre Island Convention Center is a nature area that consists of a boardwalk through a cattail marsh and a water feature that works like a small re-circulating stream. The water feature, along with the trees that surround the convention center, are a popular place with migrating warblers. The marsh had just about everything you would expect including Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Least Bittern, Clapper Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Great Blue Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Alligator etc. etc.. A mudflat adjacent to the marsh contained various gulls, terns and black skimmers. A helpful birder from Dallas pointed out a pair of Magnificant Frigatebirds flying above the area.

The boardwalk has its pros and cons as far as photography is concerned. I gives you the ability to enter the marsh and most of the wildlife appears to not notice that you are there. However, because the boardwalk is elevated you end up shooting down on most of your subjects. It is almost always better to shoot as close to eye level as possible.

Tricolored Heron
1/200, f6.3, +1/3 exposure compensation, iso 200, 400mm

Clapper Rail
1/640, f5.6, + 1/3 exposure compensation, iso 400, 400mm

1/640, f7.1, + 2/3 exposure compensation, iso 200, 400mm

Magnolia Warbler
1/400, f5.6, + 1/3 exposure compensation, iso 500, 400mm

1/400, f6.3, iso 200, 400mm

Monday, May 26, 2008

Texas Trip - Laguna Atascosa

Laguna Atascosa NWR is located on the Gulf of Mexico about 15 miles north of where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf. This 45,000 acre refuge has the greatest number of recorded bird species of any National Wildlife Refuge. It also provides habitat for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.

I arrived just as the sun was coming up and due to cloud cover it was virtually dark. Before I could finish attaching my camera to the tripod a Wild Turkey and a Chachalaca ran across the parking lot and green jays were flying around in the trees. I knew it was going to be a good day.

Plain Chachalaca
1/200 sec, f5.6, 400mm

The refuge has two driving loops, a lake loop and a gulf loop. I started with the lake loop and soon saw a sign for a alligator pond. I hiked out to see the alligators but was disappointed to find out that the pond was completly dry. It would be nice if they posted a sign.

I then took the longer gulf loop. This route takes you along the gulf through some very interesting landscape. I was able to see Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, and Redish Egret. At one point I had to stop and wait for a Tortise (Texas Tortise?). I pulled over and got out to watch the Tortise when I noticed a huge shiny black snake crossing the road. I estimated that it was around 7-8 feet long. Maybe a Texas Indigo snake.

Reddish Egret
1/400 sec, f8.0, +1 Exposure Compensation, 400mm

After finishing the gulf loop I headed back to the visitors center where they have some feeders set up. In a short period of time several bird species visited including; Chachalacas, Green Jay, White-tipped Dove and Magnolia Warbler.

Green Jay
1/200 sec, f5.6, -2/3 Exposure Compensation, ISO 1250

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Texas Trip - Hazel Bazemore County Park

After driving for about 4 hours I was looking for a place to pull over and have lunch. I checked my copy of "The 500 Most Important Bird Areas" and discovered that Hazel Bazemore County Park was only a few miles away so I decided to check it out. The book states that this may be the premier hawk watching site in the country from mid-August to mid-November. Hazel Bazemore is a rather dumpy looking park that consists of a road with some pull-offs with picnic tables. It also contains a nice observation deck for observing hawks. I didn't see any hawks but I did get my first photographs of the American Redstart, Inca Dove and Northern Mockingbird.

Inca Dove
1/1000, f5.6, iso 200

Northern Mockingbird
1/125, f5.6, +2/3 exposure compensation, iso 200

Up Next -> Laguna Atascosa NWR

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Texas Trip - Balcones Canyonlands NWR

On my way from Colorado Springs to Texas I passed through the north-east corner of New Mexico and took my first photos of a Great-tailed Grackle at a rest area. Other people looked at me like I was crazy taking pictures of this bird. After I made it down to southern Texas I could see why. If you are outside and look in any direction you will see one.

Great-tailed Grackle
1/320, f6.3, iso 320

My first Texas location was Balcones Canyonlands NWR near Marble Falls Texas. Balcones is a nesting area for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. I was hoping to see one of these species but I wasn't so lucky. I did get a good look at my first Yellow-breasted Chat.

Yellow-breasted Chat
1/400, f5.6, iso 400

Up next -> a quick stop near Corpus Christi...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Texas Trip - Lower Rio Grande Valley

Last week I took a trip down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In the next series of posts I will show what I saw at each place.
Here is the list the birds and other wildlife that I saw and photographed.
(P=photo list, L=life list)


Great-tailed Grackle (P)
Yellow-breasted Chat (P,L)
Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Northern Mockingbird (P,L)
Inca Dove (P,L)
American Redstart (P,L)
Black-bellied Whistling Duck (P,L)
Green Jay (P,L)
Chachalaca (P,L)
Road Runner (P)
White Ibis (P,L)
Little blue Heron
White-tipped Dove (P,L)
Olive Sparrow (P,L)
Dunlin (P,L)
Ruddy Turnstone (P,L)
Roseate Spoonbill (P,L)
Tri-colored Heron (P,L)
Least Tern (P,L)
Magnolia Warbler (P,L)
Yellow Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Black-necked Stilt (P,L)
Cattle Egret (P,L)
Clapper Rail (P,L)
Common Moorhen (P,L)
Yellow-crowned Night-heron (P,L)
Veery (P,L)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (P,L)
Black Skimmer (P,L)
Gray Catbird (P,L)
Canada Warbler (P,L)
White-winged Dove (P,L)
Great Kiskadee (P,L)
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (P,L)
Least Grebe (P,L)
Green Kingfisher (P,L)
Canyon Towhee (P,L)
Rufous-crowned Sparrow (P,L)
Texas Indigo Snake (L)
Texas Tortoise (L)
Anole (P,L)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ramah SWA - Part 3

You might think that this is a blog about Ramah SWA. It isn't, but i'm having a hard time staying away from Ramah. Two years ago the place was completely dried up. Last year there was water but not much wildlife. This year it is thriving.

Here is a Marbled Godwit. I was kneeling down photographing this bird with my tripod at its shortest height when it decided to fly to the other end of the puddle that it was working. With the Bogen gimbal head (see posts below) I was easily able to snap off a few shots. I wasn't expecting much, because the camera wasn't set for flight photography, but I was pleasantly surprised by this shot.

Another Marbled Godwit.

A pair of Willets.

And a Long-billed Dowitcher displaying his wingpit.