December 30, 2015 Salineno Birding Station, Texas

Threesome
Threesome

Another Week, Another Technique

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Still playing around with different bird setups and camera techniques this week here at the birding station. Blessed with a few days of nice weather, a little cooler with sunshine and clear skies, I put in four days of shooting, changing my focusing method from manually prefocusing on a spot and hoping to catch the bird, in that spot, in the right position, etc., to attempting to use one of the many auto focusing settings available on the Nikon D810.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

I do seem to be getting a better percentage of shots in fairly decent focus with this technique, so now I will have to further explore more auto focusing settings and see if I can continue to up that percentage.

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal

This image of a female Northern Cardinal floating down to the feeder is by far my personal favorite shot of the week. love how I luckily captured some catchlight in her eye and the harsh lighting actually works for this shot. The image is sharp enough to even catch her pink eyebrows, something I had never noticed on this bird before. ( click on the image to see this in the larger version )

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

As I have mentioned before, Red-winged Blackbirds are a source of constant irritation here, so I am a little ashamed to include any photos of them …

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

…. but I suppose there is some natural beauty there, despite how much they disrupt the feeding yard.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

This is my first usable shot of a Golden-fronted woodpecker in flight, a bird I would love to get some good flight shots of. Very difficult to do though, as he does a strange low level entrance to any setup I have used so far and always seems to be in the shadows.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

This new focusing technique has produced a couple of the best Kiskadee flight shots to date. Again taken in the harsh afternoon light, with the background being an area of the yard in deep shade, producing this dramatic lighting that almost looks like I might be using flash ( I’m not ).

Green Jay
Green Jay

Of course, I have to include yet more Green jay shots.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

I have been trying to get a Green Jay shot from behind where he has his wings and tail spread for a landing to show just how colorful this bird is.

Green Jay and Altamira Oriole
Green Jay and Altamira Oriole
Altamira Orioles
Altamira Orioles
Altamira Orioles
Altamira Orioles

And lastly some of the sharper Altamira Oriole shots to date.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Audubon Oriole
Audubon Oriole

And closing with one Audubon Oriole shot.

Sorry if the blog is getting a little boring, same subject matter week after week, but this is all I have to work with down here, and improving my camera technique keeps this pretty interesting for me at least. I am actually kind of amazed that even though I see the same birds day after day, I am still quite entertained by their antics and still look forward to find out what new shots I can get each day.

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December 26, 2015, Salineno Birding Station, Texas

Altamira Oriole and Green Jay
Altamira Oriole and Green Jay

Merry Christmas From Salineno

The weather and the birds here in South Texas certainly don’t remind me of Christmases past. While all of the eastern US sees record high temperatures that are  yielding some weird Holiday weather, here in Salineno, I have experienced my first Christmas where I had to run the AC all day, and as I write this blog entry at 8 AM on the day after Christmas, the AC is already on and the humidity, to this snowbird at least, is oppressive. It is supposed to reach the 90’s again today, but then, thankfully, some cooler weather will be moving in.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Altamira Oriole and Green Jay
Altamira Oriole and Green Jay

While I am prefocused on the back side of my peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mix slathered log, trying to get flight shots of jays, orioles or kiskadees as they approach the bait, I quite often get some rather interesting images of interspecies interactions atop the log.

Great Kiskadee and Green Jay
Great Kiskadee and Green Jay

I showed some of these in the last post and am adding a few more in this one. In a way, these are “accidental” shots, since they weren’t the intended subjects of the setup, but I enjoying discovering these accidents and now may have to find a better setup to capture more of these interactions.

Altamira Oriole and Great Kiskadee
Altamira Oriole and Great Kiskadee
Altamira Oriole andRed-winged Blackbird
Altamira Oriole andRed-winged Blackbird
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal

I haven’t made a lot of progress on my self assigned project of capturing this beautiful female Northern Cardinal in flight as she has only come into my setup just a couple of times in the past few days. This shot , though not as good as I would like, is an improvement over the first image of her. Considered the more drab sex when observed at a feeder or hopping around on the ground, she shows her true colors when viewed in flight from this angle.

Audubon Oriole
Audubon Oriole

This week a second pair of Audubon Orioles showed up at the feeders, so perhaps now I may be able to capture a few more decent flight shots of this bright yellow bird, Salineno being one of the few places in the US that it is seen.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

Still haven’t gotten the perfect Altamira Oriole flight shot, but with up to eight of them here now, my chances to get that shot have increased dramatically.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

A couple more Green Jay flight shots.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

Late in the afternoon, between 3 PM and closing time at four ( and often I will keep shooting after closing up at four ) the setting sun casts some some wonderful, but very difficult light through the limbs of the trees over the yard, making flight photography all but impossible. Yet … I continue shooting away, discarding the vast majority of shots, ruined by the tough shadows and blown out highlights. But every now and then the Kiskadees approach in just the right direction and give me shots like the ones above. The background is in deep shadow and the bright yellow undersides of the bird just glow.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

These light conditions only exist for about an hour each day, and as I said, make shooting difficult, where probably 95 % of the shots are immediately discarded, and of the remaining 5 % that I look at closer on the computer, only a few make the final cut, but I feel the dramatic lighting does produce some nice shots, well worth the effort.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

Shame the wings are not in focus in the image above, but this is one of very few images where the Kiskadee’s bright yellow crest can be seen. Once in a while we hear a couple of these guys in the trees above us just squawking up a racket and will see one or two of them flare this crest up an inch or so, quite the display! Haven’t been able to capture the action though, not yet anyway. Amazing how they can normally keep this bright yellow crest completely concealed atop their black head.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

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December 19, 2015 Salineno Birding Station, Texas

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

Another Week, Another 3000 Shots

My “work” schedule here at the bird feeding station consists of two days on, two days off. My duties are to make sure the feeders are put out and filled each morning ( they have to be taken in and placed in a metal storage bin every night or they are destroyed by the night ” cleanup crew “, mainly raccoons, squirrels, and other night time scavengers ), fill the water features, put out the sign in books and donation jar, set up chairs for our guests, and at 8 AM, go and open the gate. At 4 PM, all that is reversed and I get to go ” home “, to my motorhome, parked about a hundred away. During my eight hours on duty, I get to talk with our guests, answer their questions and monitor the food situation in the yard, refilling feeders and reapplying our peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mix to stumps, limbs, and platforms. Oh, and I also get to take some photos.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

A tough job, but hey, someone’s got to do it. Since, at this time of the year, we may only have a few folks coming in during the day, I have managed to find a way to keep myself entertained, and I imagine you have figured out how I do that. This week I continued to experiment with various physical setups for bringing the birds into an area of optimum light, and played around with different camera settings as I still am not happy with what I am getting for results. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of these shots and they are without doubt some of the best of this type of picture I have taken so far, but I still have not found a way to completely freeze the action and have adequate depth of field. At this point I assume I will ultimately have to go to using flash to achieve my optimum results, but for now, I am going to hold off on that.

The log I slathered with our peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mixture last week worked fairly well laying on the ground but the three foot length of feeding area when in that position, gave me too much room for error in focusing, so this week, I simply stood the log up vertically, reducing the feeding area to just ten inches across. And to help keep the birds coming in somewhere near my plane of focus ( I have to prefocus on a certain spot since autofocus just won’t work on this type of shot ), I only put the mixture of the back edge of the log. This ended up producing some better shots than I managed last week.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

Click on any image for a larger, sharper version. ( All the shots in this and previous posts of the Salineno Birding Station were taken over several days, under varying lighting conditions.)

Green Jay
Green Jay

Green Jay Flight Path

Another new approach I used this week was to place a new, smaller platform feeder under an overhanging limb that the Green Jays like to use to perch on before dropping down to feed. The image above was taken just as the bird hopped off the limb to begin his descent.

Green Jay
Green Jay

A split second later he opens his wings to hold his glide path …

Green Jay
Green Jay

…tilts his body and flairs his tail feathers to begin his landing maneuver …

Green Jay
Green Jay

… spreads his wing feathers and drops the landing gear …

Green Jay
Green Jay

… “parachutes” his wing feathers to slow his descent …

Green Jay
Green Jay

… makes final landing path adjustments …

Green Jay
Green Jay

…readies landing gear…

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

…and coasts in to the feeder.

All this action takes about half a second ! He travels about five feet vertically and just about the same distance horizontally. Since I have to prefocus on a certain point, and hope I guessed right, each of these photos is of a different bird, most likely, so it’s kind of convenient that most green jays are hard to tell apart. With the difficult light conditions in the yard, I seldom can use anything better than an F4, so my depth of field is very limited, probably no more than a 3 or 4 inch deep field, thus it is all but impossible to have all parts of the bird in focus.

To get this series of shots, I have had to take many ( MANY !! ) shots along the five foot distance, refocusing on a slightly different area each time, and then capturing a bird in that area, then move on and do the same thing again… and again. But, fortunately, I have 8 hours to kill every day, and this is part of how I do it.

Green Jay
Green Jay

More Green Jay shots that I liked but didn’t work in the flight path series.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

Altamira Orioles in Flight

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

This was kind of the assignment I gave myself for this week, to get some decent shots of these intensely colorful birds in flight. These were taken on a solid overcast, cloudy day when there was absolutely no sun. The intense orange of this bird pretty much always “burns” out anytime the sun hits the head of these orioles, so the cloudy day was a blessing in that respect, but also a curse, since I had to use a higher ISO and introduce more noise into the shots, and just couldn’t get any higher than a 1500th of a second exposure, which is simply not fast enough to freeze the wing tips.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

Yet, I am still pleased to get some decent shots.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

But I will have to continue working on this birth next week!

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

Interesting Shots I wasn’t Necessarily Looking For

Altamira Oriole and Red winged Blackbird
Uninvited Guest

It is not always just one bird that enters the scene as I am shooting, often there are two, or sometimes more. With my narrow depth of field and prefocus situation, needless to say, 99 percent of the shots with more than one bird, someone is bound to be severely out of focus … but every once in a while, the photography gods are with you, and you get some interesting shots.

Altamira Oriole and Red winged Blackbird
Chased Off

Red-winged Blackbirds are a scourge here, arriving in massive clouds of food devouring birds. We hate to see them coming in, and they do so relentlessly. In the first photo, this Altamira Oriole is showing his displeasure with the new arrival intruding on his food, and in the second image makes his departure, rather than share the stage with this unwanted guest.

Altamira Oriole and Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Altamira Oriole and Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The Altamira is a little more comfortable with this Golden-fronted Woodpecker, most likely because of the distance between them.

Altamira Orioles
Altamira Orioles

He is not all that pleased to share with another of his kind.

Kiskadee and Audubon Oriole
Kiskadee and Audubon Oriole

And this image was really unexpected, A Great Kiskadee descends for a bite just as a rare Audubon Oriole alights to do the same. The Oriole quickly left.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal Male
Northern Cardinal Male

I haven’t had a great deal of luck capturing the Northern Cardinal in flight yet, a smaller, and thus more difficult subject than the Green Jays, Kiskadees, and the Altamira Orioles.

Northern Cardinal Male
Northern Cardinal Male
Northern Cardinal Female
Northern Cardinal Female

And when this rather colorful female Cardinal arrived on the scene …

Northern Cardinal Female
Northern Cardinal Female

… and I got this out of focus shot of her hovering over the log, I knew what my next assignment would be. I now have to get a good shot of her in this type of position. She is considered the drab version of the species, but I had no idea how colorful the underside of her wings and tail were, in fact, I would now have to consider her a more interesting bird than the male.

Stay tuned !

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December 4, 2015 Salineno Birding Station, Texas

A Colorful Assortment of Birds
A Colorful Assortment of Birds

The Numbers Are Increasing at Salineno

As you can see from the image above the number of neat photo opportunities are increasing daily as the number of birds arriving here at Salineno continues to grow. This week we have been blessed with some wonderful winter weather, lots of sun and blue skies with daytime temps around seventy and nice cool nights around fifty, a welcome change from the warm, humid week before.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Tailless Green Jay
Tailless Green Jay

One of the nice things about staying put in one spot as I am doing this winter, is you get to recognize individual birds such as this green jay that has lost all of his tail feathers, most likely in a close encounter with a predator. A couple weeks ago when we first spotted him, he showed no evidence whatsoever of any tail feathers. A couple of weeks later and you can clearly see new growth!

Green Jay's Tail Growing Progress
Green Jay’s Tail Growing Progress

The image below shows a jay with normal tail feathers so this guy still has a little ways to go to get back to normal. Watching him fly in and out of the feeders, it seems the lack of tail feathers does not seem to hamper his ability to maneuver.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay Emerging from Bath
Green Jay Emerging from Bath

I get a kick out of watching the transformation of these sleek birds as they bathe and then emerge and shake themselves to dry.

Green Jay Emerging from Bath
Green Jay Emerging from Bath
Crowded Feeder
Crowded Feeder

We have a bunch of these very entertaining and colorful birds here. Since they are pretty much indistinguishable from one another, there is no way to get a count of their actual total numbers, but we quite often see as many as 25 to 30 in the yard at one time.

Colorful Crowd
Colorful Crowd

This week a second pair of Altamira Orioles showed up. With two pairs here now, there are some territory disputes, and these extremely brightly colored birds are something to see as they chase each other around the yard. One of them has shown an unusual taste for sunflower seeds, often joining the Green Jays at the tray feeder and downing several seeds before returning to the nectar feeders or the peanut butter/lard/cornmeal.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

His taste for the sunflower seeds brings him in very close to observers for some great closeup images.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

You’ll have to forgive the abundance of images of these gorgeous birds but with twice the number now in here, there are just too many opportunities to pass up.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole Takeoff
Altamira Oriole Takeoff
Audubon Oriole
Audubon Oriole

Our pair of Audubon Orioles continues to come in pretty much daily.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

A New Rare Arrival

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow

This little guy hopped out from the edge cover for a few moments yesterday and has been tentatively identified as a Golden-crowned Sparrow, and he doesn’t really belong here, being normally only found along the west coast. So that makes him a long way from home.

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

We have three or four pairs of Northern Cardinals in the yard at any one time.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
White-winged Doves
White-winged Doves

The White-winged Doves continue to crowd the disc feeder. Notice the one oddly colored one on the left, almost a solid brown with a very dark head, really stands out when amongst his lighter colored mates.

White-winged Dove
White-winged Dove
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

A long-billed Thrasher feeds on the ground up very close to the spectators and has even been observed walking right under people’s chairs.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

And of course I can’t let a post go by without a shot of one of my favorite birds here, the Golden-fronted Woodpecker. This is the male, the female lacks the red cap of the male.

One Kiskadee's Thoughts on the Red-winged Blackbird
One Kiskadee’s Thoughts on the Red-winged Blackbird

This shot sums up what this Kiskadee thinks of the unwanted intrusion of the Red-winged Blackbird interrupting his snack of peanut butter mix. The Blackbirds, along with the hordes of invasive House Sparrows, sometimes makes the feeding situation quite frustrating. At times it seems like these unwanted pests are consuming three quarters of the food dispensed here, and in the process possibly discouraging the native birds everyone wants to get to see at Salineno.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

And lastly some Kiskadee shots. More of these colorful, noisy birds, the largest of the flycatchers, have arrived this week, with as many as a dozen in the yard at one time.

Kiskadee with Broken Bill
Kiskadee with Broken Bill
Kiskadee with Broken Bill
Kiskadee with Broken Bill

Amongst them is this guy, who seems to be getting along just fine with his broken beak. Unlike the Green Jay and his missing tail feathers, this guy is going to have to live with this condition, it won’t be growing back.

A list of species seen here so far.

In years past the total number of sightings varies between 70 and 80.

  1.  Green jay
  2. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  3. Northern cardinal
  4. Olive Sparrow
  5. Altamira Oriole
  6. Audubon Oriole
  7. Inca Dove
  8. White-tipped Dove
  9. White-winged Dove
  10. House Sparrow
  11. Great Kiskadee
  12. Common Yellow-throat
  13. Osprey *
  14. Turkey Vulture *
  15. Crested Caracara *
  16. Northern Mockingbird
  17. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  18. Long-billed Thrasher
  19. Plain Chachalaca
  20. Black-crested Titmouse
  21. Hooded Oriole
  22. Red-winged Blackbird
  23. Great-tailed Grackle
  24. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  25. White Pelican *
  26. Bewick’s Wren
  27. Orange-crowned Warbler
  28. Mourning Dove
  29. Lesser Goldfinch
  30. Ringed Kingfisher *
  31. Eastern Phoebe
  32. Verdin House
  33. Wren
  34. Blue-headed Vireo
  35. Pyrrhuloxia
  36. Gray Hawk *
  37. Couch’s Kingbird
  38. Black Phoebe
  39. Lincoln Sparrow
  40. Common Grackle
  41. Bronzed Cowbird
  42. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  43. White-crowned Sparrow
  44. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher *
  45. Snow Geese *
  46. White-fronted Geese *
  47. American Robin
  48. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  49. Eastern Screech Owl
  50. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  51. Northern Bobwhite
  52. Pine Siskin
  53. American Goldfinch
  54. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  • Denotes flyover

 

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