April 27, 2018 Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas

Cormorant with Bullhead
Down the Hatch

A Trip to Quivira NWR

With some very nice weather the last few days I have had to postpone my editing of images from my Prairie Chicken adventure in favor of getting out and exploring this part of Kansas. Quiver NWR is located forty plus miles to the south of where I am presently camped at Cheyenne Bottoms, so I took advantage of the nice weather and made two trips down there this week.

Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe

Quivira has a series of salt water ponds and marshes as well as extensive grasslands and is a major stopover point for migratory birds along the Central Flyway.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Killdeer
Killdeer
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant
Ring-necked Pheasant

The refuge burns off it’s grassland areas with controlled burns to keep invasive plants and brush down …

Ring-necked Pheasant Pair
Ring-necked Pheasant Pair

… as well as to promote vigorous new growth of native grasses.

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson’s Phalaropes were a new bird for me …

Wilson's Phalarope
Wilson’s Phalarope
Wilson's Phalaropes
Wilson’s Phalaropes

… and I got a kick out of watching their feeding behavior.  They continually walk in rapid small circles stirring up small prey from the mud below with their feet. When you see a group of 20 or 30 birds doing this non-stop in close proximity with each other, it’s a rather interesting sight.

Wilson's Phalaropes Mating
Wilson’s Phalaropes Mating

Even when feeding as described above, they are never too occupied to take care of business during mating season.

American Avocet
American Avocet
American Avocets
American Avocets

Lots of American Avocets at Quivira.

White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelican Takeoff
White Pelicans
White Pelicans

I estimated about 250 White Pelicans gathered here, quite a distance from the auto road through the refuge.

White Pelicans
White Pelicans

But it was my good fortune to have them all take flight and head right towards me …

White Pelicans
White Pelicans
White Pelicans
White Pelicans
White Pelican
White Pelican

… eventually flying directly overhead.

Cheyenne Bottoms Campsite
Cheyenne Bottoms Campsite

Cheyenne Bottoms

I am staying at the free primitive camping area on the west side of Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve. There are five rough campsites along a gravel road that leads into the refuge. This is a rather rough camping area, level grass, actually dirt with some grassy areas, but there are picnic tables and a fire ring at each site. No water, electric, dump station, restrooms, or trash receptacles here.

I actually enjoyed my stay here since it was very quiet, there is no lighting of any sort, and only one or two other campers stayed her during my weeklong stay. Fortunately, it didn’t rain here during my stay since it looks like the place would get very muddy when it rains.

Maltese
I’ll Come when I’m Ready

Pearl is now four months old and seems to really enjoy this lifestyle. Still very independent and afraid of nothing … but the dark. When I take her out at night, she is all ears, staring warily at the tall grass and brush just across the road, and hurriedly does her business and races back to the motorhome door to be let back in. During daylight hours I have a job convincing her she needs to go back inside, since she delights in exploring and racing around, running loops around the motorhome.

Maltese
Kinda Windy here in Kansas

Still delights in tormenting poor old Sam, but Sam now does at least a couple of serious play sessions with her every day, careening around the limited confines of the motorhome, bouncing off walls and furniture, hopping up and down out of the dog bed and my recliner. They also now can be found sleeping in close physical proximity almost all the time.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

Cheyenne Bottoms Birds

Since I am staying within the confines of the refuge, I do make a morning and an afternoon trip around the refuge roads every day.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

Lots of Red-winged Blackbirds doing their thing hanging off the reeds and cattails along the roadsides, as well as a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds, of which I have not managed to get a good shot.

Cormorant with Bullhead
Cormorant with Bullhead

A bit of luck encountering this Cormorant just as it surfaced with a bullhead ( or some kind of small catfish ). The bird spent a good deal of time maneuvering the fish just so before gulping it down.

Cormorant with Bullhead
Down the Hatch

Luckily one of the series of shots I took happened to catch the fish being tossed up to ensure that it went down head first.

White Pelicans
White Pelicans

As at Quivira, lots of White Pelicans here also.

White Pelican
White Pelican

The weird, knobby growths on the bill have something to do with breeding season I believe.

American Avocet
American Avocet

All kinds of small wading birds here including Avocets, Plovers, Dowitchers, and more but it is difficult to get any decent shots because of their small size and the ability to get close enough here to get any good shots.

Also all kinds of ducks, lots of Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, and Ruddy Ducks, with a few Mallards, Pintails, and others found throughout the refuge, but I haven’t bothered concentrating on these since I already have an extensive library of duck shots from other refuges where the conditions for flight shots are much better than here.

Snowy Egrets
Snowy Egrets

Late one afternoon I came across a lot of Snowy Egret activity at the outflow of a culvert under one of the refuge roads. Water was being released from an area on one side of the road to a large pond on the other side of the road. The rapidly moving water, tumbling over some large pointed rocks was apparently stunning the small fish caught up in the rushing water, and the Snowies were taking advantage of this bonanza.

Unfortunately, the only vantage point from which to shoot this scene was looking directly into the sun, resulting in just impossible lighting conditions to catch the action. I snapped a few shots anyway and then just sat there watching the action as as many as a dozen of these Snowies bounced around the stream jockeying for position. I vowed to come back in the morning and hoped the water would still be flowing and the birds would still be there ( it was and they were and I did, and wait til you see those shots! ).

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January 30, 2018 Falcon Lake State Park, Texas

 

Red-winged Blackbird and Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird and Northern Cardinal

Three Weeks at Falcon Lake

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

It took two weeks to finally entice the Altamira Orioles to visit my campsite feeding setup, but I was never able to get them to drop down and let me get them feeding on the post, so this shot of one of the pair checking out the scene before dropping down to feed on one of the oranges I had impaled on a lower branch will have to do. When I was hosting at the Salineno Birding Site, these guys would eagerly feed on the peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mix ( as well as on oranges and nectar ), but not here this year for me.

Mockingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird
Mockingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird

This Brown-headed Cowbird ( a new arrival ) wandered in with the pesky Red-winged Blackbirds and was quickly discouraged from returning by the Northern Mockingbird.

Over three weeks, at my campsite, I was able to attract:

  •  House Sparrow
  •  Olive Sparrow
  •  Verdin
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Eurasian-collared Dove
  • Inca Dove
  • Roadrunner
  • Altamira Oriole
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Green Jay
  • Long-billed Thrasher
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Northern Bobwhites
  • Great-tailed Grackles

Not bad for a temporary feeding site!

Photo Setup
The Setup

And this is the final setup used to get my action shots of these colorful birds. The first few days here I set out multiple feeders, hung orange halves on the bushes, and spread cracked corn and sunflower seeds on the ground to let the birds know I was here and that there were easy pickings for them here at my campsite. Once they started coming in numbers I removed all the feeders but the feeder post to concentrate the action on just one spot. I did continue to put out smaller amounts of corn on the ground and left a couple of oranges up to attract the orioles.

The birds had no problem using only the post feeder and I had pretty consistent action any time I wanted to take shots from my covered picnic table patio. The post was located about 30 feet from where I was seated ( just the right distance for my Nikon 200-400mm lens ) and was just far enough away that my presence didn’t frighten the birds.

As I mentioned in a previous post the only way to capture these small birds in motion is by shooting at shutter speeds of 1/2000th of a second or faster. With limited light during most of my stay this meant shooting at an aperture of F4 almost all the time, meaning I only had a very narrow depth of field in which to catch the action. And that would be the reason for the two 2×2 posts you see on either side of my feeder post. I had to position the posts just a very small distance behind the feeder post in order to get the birds’ flight path down to the feeder within that very small area of my depth of field if I was to get them in focus. Autofocus simply does not work fast enough to capture this incredibly fast action so I was forced to manually focus of a specific spot, or area, that I assumed the birds would be in when I took the shot. These 2×2’s provided the birds with a convenient spot to perch while the feeder was occupied and more than 50% of the approaches to the feeder were from these two perches.

Now, why would someone dig a hole to place the feeder post in? Well, it turns out that the height of the feeder and the height of the two perching posts ended up being too close to the same height so that the birds were initially just hopping over to the feeder seldom needing to use their wings to to break their descent, thus yielding only shots with wings tucked to their sides. I didn’t have any other ( taller ) 2×2’s so I had to lower the height of my feeder post so that the birds would have to use their wings to slow their drop to the post, thus giving me the wings spread shots.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

This guy came in regularly to see if he could grab anyone for dinner.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

When I dug a spot for the post feeder, he had to check that out to try and figure out what that crazy photographer was doing to his hunting grounds. I never did see him grab anybody, though he did spend a considerable amount of time semi concealed, laying flat on his stomach just under the edge of the bushes around the feeder. Any time he was around, the action on the feeder was really slowed down, with only the Thrashers and the Green Jays daring to venture in.

I never had any aerial predators show up such as Sharp-shinned Hawks, but one morning all the birds present screamed out of the area as if one had come through and I did think I saw some movement in the bushes to my left, near the campground loop road. About a minute later, a Bobcat sauntered out of the bushes, only 20 feet away, and casually strolled across the road and through the occupied campsite across the road from me. It happened too quickly for me to get a shot since my camera was mounted on a fixed tripod, in manual focus, and aimed at the post feeder. Only would have been a Bobcat butt shot anyhow! Pretty surprising to see a Bobcat amongst all these people in broad daylight, but I guess he must be quite used to a human presence in his territory.

Great Kiskadee and Pyrrhuloxia
Great Kiskadee and Pyrrhuloxia

Over three weeks, I can’t even guess at the number of shots I must have taken … thousands for sure. But even with only a very small ( really tiny ) percentage of them being keepers, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of really nice shots I was able to come away with. Patience, practice, patience.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

I never did get the Great Kiskadees to discover me until my final few days here. They are without doubt the most entertaining of the local birds, diving at the feeder post to grab, or, most often simply dislodging a chunk of food, whereupon they immediately circle back and pluck it out of midair or drop quickly to the ground to retrieve it. All the while screeching at every turn on the wing. Without question, they put on a very interesting aerial show.

Northern Bobwhite
Northern Bobwhite

A small flock of four pairs of Northern Bobwhites came in a few times a day to gobble up whatever was on the ground around the feeder post. I delight in listening to these very wary guys as that waddle around the feeding area clucking and peeping to each other. On my final day here this one female discovered where all that food on the ground was coming from when she hopped up on the feeder post and began gorging herself, with all the rest of her flock below gathered at the base of the post grabbing the seeds she was knocking out of the post as she fed.

Green Jay and Long-billed Thrasher
Green Jay and Long-billed Thrasher
Green Jay and Pyrrhuloxia
Green Jay and Pyrrhuloxia
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Green Jays
Green Jays

As I mentioned in a previous post, all the different species here were very territorial when it came to sharing time on the post, providing me with all the great action shots as they defended their position on the post or were driven off by a more aggressive bird. The only exception to this were the wonderfully colored Green Jays, often finding a way to crowd as many as four of their group on the post at the same time. But as the shot above shows, there were exceptions among them from time to time as to that sharing rule.

Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia

All told, I would have to chalk up my three weeks here at Falcon Lake as  one of the more enjoyable, and successful, stays I have had in my now five years of doing this full-time thing. Now it’s on north up the coast of Texas to Port Aransas.

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January 16, 2018 Falcon Lake State Park, Texas

Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

Same Birds From a Different Perspective

Warning: A long post today, and it is birds again, for those that do not share my interest in the subject.

The Setup
The Setup

With a limited variety of avian subjects available at my site, I thought I might try something new and go for a new perspective to add a little something different to my images. So I borrowed Sam’s quilt and pillow from the back of the Prius, pulled a dinette cushion from the motorhome, and tried to make as comfortable a setup as possible for myself on the concrete pad at my campsite. This to give me a new, lower, and hopefully more interesting perspective on my feathered friends. Note my trusty slingshot on the picnic table bench, more on that later.

The Cleanup Crew ( Javelinas )
The Cleanup Crew ( Javelinas )

What I had failed to consider when I decided to go this route were my neighbors, the parks’ resident javelina population. These guys have been coming in to clean up all the leftover seed on the ground since the first day I set up my feeding station. As soon as I stop shooting for the day, I take in all the feeders, since the javelinas have no problem knocking over the posts that may hold feeders or standing on their hind legs to get at feeders in the bushes or the lower branches of the short trees around the perimeter of the feeding area.

Javelina Mom and Young
Javelina Mom and Young

For the most part, the females and their young have been no real threat and after a few warning shots of pebbles from the slingshot, they have been easily discouraged  from entering the yard while I am photographing.

Javelina
Javelina

However, there are a couple large boars who are a bit more aggressive and tend to take objection to my training methods ( slingshot ). On a couple of occasions , these fellows have not only stood their ground, but have aggressively challenged me after I had attempted to dissuade them from feeding while I was photographing the birds. They have bluff charged me, snapping and popping their gums, only stopping about fifteen feet away from where I was standing ( which, by the way, was with the picnic table between us and I within arms length of my open motorhome door, after all I may not be wise, but I’m not stupid ), so these guys have gotten my heart pumping on a couple of occasions.

Well, one afternoon while laying out prone on my concrete pad, a movement to my immediate right caught my eye and I turned to find a female and her young silently walking past me to check out the opportunity to feed. I could have reached out and touched her … she was that close! When I moved, she was probably as scared as I was, and she bolted out of the yard into the surrounding bush, with her young one right on her tail. At that point it occurred to me that had it been one of the aggressive males rather than this more docile female, the outcome may have been quite different. The encounter made me think it prudent to not put myself in this potentially hazardous position again, so these are most likely the only ground level bird shots I will get here.

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow

The Olive Sparrow is a creature of the edge, almost always staying in the shadows of the underbrush, just every now and then darting out a bit to grab a morsel, then quickly retreating to the safety of cover. Initially, I thought this staying in the shadows would make for some tough shots, but the more I looked for moments where there were some highlights on the shadowed bird, the more I  grew to attempt more of these shots, and ended up quite pleased with the results.

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

As with the Olive Sparrow, the two Thrashers here, the Curve-billed and the Long-billed, also tend to seek the protective cover of the edges of the yard.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

However, unlike the sparrow, these guys do, on occassion, hop up on the surrounding bushes and even venture up on the tray feeders.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

They are pretty much constantly in motion though, not staying out in vulnerable areas long, before retreating to cover.

Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

Got a kick out of the timing of this shot … sometimes you never know what you got until you view it on the computer screen.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

These guys are a true nuisance here as they were in the nearby Salineno birding area where I volunteered two winters ago. Unless deterred ( slingshot ), they descend on the feeding are in droves, their numbers driving out the birds I want to photograph and cleaning out all the food I put out.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Another nice shadow area shot, although the cardinals are not all that shy about venturing out into the light.

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Green Jay
Green Jay

Still one of my favorite birds to watch, these jays pretty much rule the roost in the feeding area. If other birds are on a particular feeder, they have no problem crowding them off. They do not feel a need to wait their turn.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

I really do like this lower perspective angle on these small birds.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Inca Dove
Inca Dove
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

I have no idea how this Mockingbird sustained the damage to his upper bill, but he seems to be doing just fine, though his looks have suffered.

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren

Though certainly not easy to do, getting down to a Wren’s eye level gives a new and interesting perspective on this tiny energetic bird.

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

Each day I look forward to the arrival of the Northern Bobwhites, now venturing in to feed at least two or three times a day.

Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

You can right click on these images to get a much larger version of the photograph, showing some of the fine detail in the feathers of these birds.

Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

Once again, the ground level perspective seems, at least to me, to really add a little something to these shots.

Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite

As long as I am lying relatively still, these guys will walk as close as ten feet from me, making for some nice intimate shots. In fact, quite often they come too close for me to be able to focus on them with the long lens I am using.

Male Northern Bobwhite
Male Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

Well, that about wraps up my attempts here at ground level bird photography. Really hope I get to try this again at a javelina free location.

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January 11, 2018 Falcon Lake State Park, Texas

Pyrhuloxia
Pyrhuloxia

 Back to the Birds Again

After getting settled in at Falcon Lake State Park, I took a short drive over to the Salineno Birding Area where I volunteered a couple winters ago to say hi to Lois and Merle and see what changes may have occurred over the the last couple of years.

Not much changed, still a premier spot to see lots of birds up close in comfort with a couple of knowledgeable hosts to help with identification. A few trees have drooped a bit more and that led to a relocation for the host’s fifth wheel and thus the seating area is now a bit farther away from the action, but the colorful orioles, kiskadees, and green jays are still there in abundance.

Falcon Lake State Park

I chose a campsite with water and electric only rather than one with full hookups since the full hookup section is more open and the sites are a little closer together than I like. My pull through site is surrounded by dense shrubs and trees providing nice privacy, but, more importantly, the same shrubs and trees provide cover and perches for my feathered friends.

I set out a hummingbird feeder, an oriole feeder, a couple of platform feeders, my old reliable fencepost for the lard/peanut butter/cornmeal concoction, then spread a little cracked corn and sunflower seed around the edges of my feeding area, sat back and waited to see who would arrive.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

It didn’t take long for two types of thrashers to come scooting out from the edge cover to grab some corn and scurry back to cover to eat.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

This thrashers seem quite reluctant to spent much time in the open, lurking just on the edge of the feeding area …

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

… then dashing out and grabbing a couple of kernels of corn before retreating to the shadows.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

 

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren

This cute little guy is all but impossible to keep up with, constantly on the move with herky jerky action, hopping from bush to bush, bush to ground, up and down the feeders, just never standing still.

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren

 

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow

The Olive Sparrow is one of the birds folks come here to add to their birding lists.

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow

He’s another bird of the edges like the thrashers, reluctant to leave the cover of the bushes on the edges of the feeding area.

 

Pyrhuloxia
Pyrhuloxia

There are a couple of pairs of Pyrhuloxia coming in regularly and this is the first time I have been able to get some nice close shots of these guys.

Pyrhuloxia
Pyrhuloxia

 

Inca Dove
Inca Dove

So far, these small Inca Doves are the only doves that have shown up here.

Inca Dove
Inca Dove

 

Orange Crowned Warbler
Orange Crowned Warbler

Lots of Orange -crowned Warblers coming in.

 

Northern Bobwhite
Northern Bobwhite

I was pleasantly surprised when this lone male Northern Bobwhite came strolling in right next to my chair and began feeding on cracked corn, seemingly oblivious to my presence.

Northern Bobwhite
Northern Bobwhite

A little unusual to see a lone Bobwhite, but I assume the rest of the flock must be somewhere near by and hope they will eventually all come in.

 

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

So far at least two pair of Northern Cardinals have made an appearance.

Female Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

 

Black Crested Titmouse
Black Crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmice come and grab their single seed and hop off to the bushes to break them open.

Black Crested Titmouse
Black Crested Titmouse

 

Green Jay
Green Jay

One of my all-time favorite birds, the colorful Green Jay, is here in abundance.

Green Jay
Green Jay

As you can see above, they are not shy about helping themselves to plenty of my offerings.

 

Female Great-tailed Grackle
Female Great-tailed Grackle

Great-tailed Grackles arrive in large flocks, along with the ever present scourge of Red-winged Blackbirds. These pests I have to actively discourage to keep the food available for the birds I am looking to photograph. They do get to clean up the area ( along with the javelinas ) in late afternoon when I quit shooting for the day.

An Agility Test

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

I put out an old two liter Coke bottle that I had crudely cut up to make a hanging feeder, more to show my presence than to actually have birds use it since the platform feeders are much, much easier to access.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

But here, a few birds have mastered the ability to land on this feeder and have unfettered access to some sunflower seeds without having to share with other birds.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Watching them land and then try to hang on as the feeder blows around in the stiff breeze is quite interesting.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Pyrhuloxia
Pyrhuloxia

The weather here since my arrival has been absolutely perfect, sunny 70 degree days and clear starlit skies with night time temps in the lower 50’s. Not real sure how long I will stay here before heading up the coast to shoot Whooping Cranes and ducks, as well as check out the hurricane damage around Port Aransas and Lockport.

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