January 17, 2018 Falcon Lake State Park, Texas

Female Cardinal and Prryhuloxia
Female Cardinal and Prryhuloxia

The Cold Catches Up with Me

Temperatures last night dropped into the mid twenties and daytime temps only climbed into the thirties, it even spit a tiny bit of snow for a few minutes. So I mostly stayed inside and worked on the computer and took a trip to Rio Grand City to have my monthly bloodwork done and pick up some birdseed at Tractor Supply.

Pyrrhuloxia Pair
Pyrrhuloxia Pair

I had no real desire to venture outside and do any bird photography, but I did feel sorry for the birds in this extreme cold ( for South Texas, not the rest of you suffering from REAL cold a little farther up north ), and so went out occasionally and filled two feeders. Looking out the window, I did observe a lot of activity around those two feeders, with much more concentrated action on my post feeder than I was getting in previous days when the birds had more choices of where to land and feed.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

So, around three in the afternoon, I finally bundled up and grabbed the tripod and camera and set up to take advantage of the flurry of activity, hoping to be able to get some nice action shots.

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

Plenty of action, but unfortunately, because of the leaden gray skies, there was very limited light to shoot by and I was forced to use an extremely high ISO to be able to freeze any action at all resulting in very noisy images not suitable for enlargement or publication.

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

But the great interactions caught in this poor light might make for some good photo references for possible future paintings and I thought I might share them on the blog as well.

Green Jay and Red-winged Blackbird
Green Jay and Red-winged Blackbird

As I wasn’t outside fending off the blackbirds most of the day, they now felt entitled to come in even though I was out there. I absolutely despise these birds, that always arrive in huge numbers, because of all the food they consume and how they manage to drive off all the birds I am usually trying to shoot. But I will have to grudgingly admit that they did make a contribution to some of the better captures I managed today.

Female Northern Cardinals
Female Northern Cardinals

It is supposed to remain frigid tomorrow and then start to return to normal temps by the weekend, so there may be some decent, much sharper action shots  yet to be had.

Female Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Female Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia

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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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June 3, 2016 Questa, New Mexico

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Columbine Canyon Campground, Carson National Forest

After reluctantly packing up and leaving the Soda Pocket Campground at Sugarite Canyon State Park, I headed south on Route 25 and picked up Route 64 west to Eagle Nest, then Route 38 west, struggling up and over Bobcat Pass, at an elevation of 9820′, and down to Red River, then on towards Questa stopping at the Columbine Canyon National Forest Campground, just a few miles short of Questa.

Chevron's Closed Molybdenum Mine, Questa, NM
Chevron’s Closed Molybdenum Mine, Questa, NM

Arrived at the campground, that is located just past Chevron’s now closed molybdenum mine, between thunderstorms and hesitantly got myself set up in Site #10, that I had reserved online when planning the summer’s stops a couple months ago. I say hesitantly, because the site is severely sloped and has another site all but attached to it, as in, the fire pit for that site would be within 10 feet of my bedroom window, way too close for comfort when the site is occupied, and the reservation ticket on that site’s post says that it is reserved for a couple nights during my stay here.

After unhooking the tow dolly and backing it in by hand, then backing the motorhome in to the site, I blocked the wheels and put down the hydraulic jacks until the rear wheels were just about lifted off the ground, something I feel very uncomfortable doing. But when I checked with a level, I still wasn’t even close to being level. About that time, I noticed the campground host come driving in, so I went down and asked if it would be possible to move from my reserved site. The campground being all but empty, he told me to feel free to move down to Site #5, just down the hill from where I was now set up. So, even with rain falling and thunder in the distance, I decide to make the move and not risk losing my frig or being burned down by my neighbor on Site #11.

Columbine Canyon NF Campground
Columbine Canyon NF Campground

There are 9 sites laid out like the spokes of a wheel on a flat area by the highway right at the beginning of the campground loop road. This is where the campiest is stationed as well as two handicapped sites. All the sites here are level, paved bacon sites , but do not have any hookups. These sites are apparently newer additions to the campground and most will hold an RV of my length with a little room for a toad as well. The sites are fairly open and have decent spacing, though certainly not private. These are also the only spaces in this campground, or in the three other National Forest Campgrounds close by, that would accomodate a larger rig. Though in a woodland setting, surrounded by heavily forested mountainsides, there was enough sun here to allow my solar system to function fairly well, as well as no problem getting my DirecTv satellite dish aligned. Surprisingly, There is enough of a Verizon signal here that I could even do this blog post.

Río Grande Del Norte National Monument

Drove over to the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area just north and west of Questa to see what was there. A very isolated and quiet spot with several hiking trails that descend to the river valley below the park. To me, not the most interesting place I have seen, but a quiet out of the way spot to get away from it all. Most of the campgrounds were all but empty the day I drove through, and I think I only saw two other vehicles on the roads here while i made my way around the monument. The Montoso and Little Arsenic Campgrounds are the only two that may have a couple sites large enough to handle an Rv like mine, though even they would be a little tight. Each site has a shelter with picnic table and fire ring. The sites were definitely designed for tents and small RV’s.

Drive Around “The Enchanted Circle”

Abandoned Settler's Cabin
Abandoned Settler’s Cabin

Wanting to visit Taos for grocery shopping if nothing else, I backtracked on Route 38 east, again going over Bobcat Pass, a little easier in the Prius than the motorhome, and descend to the village of Eagle Nest where I stopped to check out Eagle Nest State Park. Certainly nothing fancy about the campground there, but it is one that will easily take any size RV on flat gravel sites, half backin and half pull through, with sheltered picnic tables but no hookups. All wide open with no trees and all have a view of the lake.

Prairie Dog Sentinel
Prairie Dog Sentinel

More prairie dogs here at Eagle Nest State Park than I have seen anywhere else on this trip through New Mexico.

Dog
Prairie Dog
Abandoned Settler's Cabin
Abandoned Settler’s Cabin

A neat roadside abandoned building not too much longer for this world, judging from the serious leaning of the log walls.

Abandoned Settler's Cabin

Then on to Taos and probably the worst Walmart I have ever encountered, walked out without buying anything and headed down the road to a nice Smith’s Grocery Store. There also is a large Albertson’s nearby. Taos seemed a little more run down and ragged than the last time I was here and the local newspaper was lamenting it’s fiscal problems and the loss of tourists’ dollars.

A Search for Wild Horses

New Mexico Wild Horses
New Mexico Wild Horses

Headed north out of Questa on Route 522 towards Fort Garland, Colorado, hoping to encounter some of Northern New Mexico’s wild mustang population.

New Mexico Wild Horse
New Mexico Wild Horse

Despite covering many miles in both northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, I was only able to locate one small band of four horses.

New Mexico Wild Horse
New Mexico Wild Horse

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

Ruddy Duck Drake
Ruddy Duck Drake

I hadn’t planned a visit here, and it really isn’t the best time of year for this sort of place, but since my search for wild horses brought me right by here, I drove into the refuge and took the short drive around the refuge road.

Cinnamon Teal Pair
Cinnamon Teal Pair

There were several duck species present, though not in any kind of numbers. Seen were some Cinnamon Teal, some Blue-wing Teal, Mallards, Redheads, and some Ruddy Ducks with the male’s impossibly blue bill.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird

Numerous unidentified LBJ’s flew by and a single Yellow-headed Blackbird was caught singing for a mate while hanging onto it’s favorite perch, a cattail.

There were many of the Yellow-headed’s cousins, the Red-winged Blackbird, present, but after my winter of fighting these repulsive birds, I certainly was not about to take any shots of them.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Again, since I was in the area, I decide to also drive the 16 miles into Great Sand Dunes National Park, a place I have visited before, though never during the summer season. There was a long double line of cars backed up at the entrance, but it didn’t take long to get through. I absolutely avoid the popular National Parks during the summer since I just can’t stand the crowds, but I thought this might still be considered a little early for peak numbers.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Guess I was wrong, since when I drove down to the main Dunes access parking lot, it was completely full. with folks driving round in the loop desperately hoping to find someone leaving so they could secure a parking space … and this was at 9 AM!

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Despite the crowds, this is a unique spot and I get a kick out of the folks on the dunes looking like swarms of ants when viewed from the park road.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Also drove through the two loops of the completely booked campground, what a mob scene! I could never imagine camping in a place this cramped and crowded, but won’t have to worry about it anyhow since there are no spaces that could handle a rig of my size, let alone a seriously large RV, yet another National Park campground designed exclusively for tenters and very small RV’s. There is a private campground that can accomodate any size rig just a few miles outside the park.

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