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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March 20, 2016 Salineno Birding Area, Texas

Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals

End of the Season, Time to Move On

Worked the final shift today and closed the gates at 4 PM for the last time this season.

This week I am heading a little north to the Texas Hill Country to hopefully catch the spring wildflower bloom. Anyone out there with any suggestions for where to go and where to stay? I would love to hear from you!

Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals

Male Cardinals continue their mating season animosities. There are as many as a dozen males in the yard at a time all winter and there are very few squabbles, but, with spring in the air, in the last week that has all changed.

Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals

And so, now, the last of the Salineno small bird shots … I promise.

Altamira Oriole and Green Jay
Altamira Oriole and Green Jay
Altamira Oriole and Northern Cardinal
Altamira Oriole and Northern Cardinal
Altamira Oriole and Northern Cardinal
Altamira Oriole and Northern Cardinal
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Female Northern Cardinals
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Female Northern Cardinals
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal

FemalePostLookDown

Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Green Jay
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Green Jay
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Red-winged Blackbird
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Red-winged Blackbird

GoldenFrontGrJayAndBlkBirdPost

Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Green Jay
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Green Jay
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Great Kiskadee
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Great Kiskadee
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Great Kiskadee
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Great Kiskadee
Green Jay
Green Jay

GJiLandingPostDark

A Gathering of Green Jays
A Gathering of Green Jays
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Great Kiskadee
Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Great Kiskadee
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinal and Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Cardinal and Long-billed Thrasher
Female Northern Cardinals
Female Northern Cardinals

All my small bird images have been processed and most of the decent ones have been posted, so now (finally) on to new subject matter! Thanks for bearing with me.

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March 19, 2016 Salineno Birding Area, Texas

Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove

Tomorrow it all Ends

Hard to believe that five months here have passed so quickly, but with the recent heat, I would have to say, I am ready to head for cooler climes.

Salineno Birding Area
Salineno Birding Area

It dawned on me that I had never shown you the bird feeding yard here at Salineno, the scene of all these small birds in flight shots. So the image above shows you where all the action takes place and where 80 % of all the shots shown on this blog were taken.

Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove

The other 20% were taken next to where my motorhome is parked, just a hundred feet or so from the the feeding yard shown above.

Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove

On many of my two days off, I haul my portable post (feeding) prop over to my site and set up a small feeding area of my own.

Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove

Here I have no overhanging branches and shadows to contend with, as I do in the main yard. Also have a completely different type of background where I can get some nice soft pastel colors to show as a backdrop for the birds.

Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove

You can probably tell I kind of liked the interaction of this White-tipped Dove and the Great Kiskadee, set against that wonderful watercolor wash background.

Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Great Kiskadee and White-tipped Dove
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee

The Dove was not the only other bird to contest the Kiskadee for the peanutbutter/lard/cornmeal mix concealed in the top of the post.

Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee and Green jay
Great Kiskadee and Green jay
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Green Jay
Long-billed Thrasher and Green Jay
Great Kiskadee and Green jay
Great Kiskadee and Green jay
Great Kiskadee and Green jays
Great Kiskadee and Green jays
Great Kiskadee and Green Jay
Great Kiskadee and Green Jay
Great Kiskadee and Green Jay
Great Kiskadee and Green Jay
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals

It’s that time of year and the males are fighting.

Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Altamira Oriole and Green Jay
Altamira Oriole and Green Jay
Audubon Oriole and Green Jay
Audubon Oriole and Green Jay

” What you doing down there, Shorty !”

Northern Cardinals and Green Jay
Northern Cardinals and Green Jay
Northern Cardinals and Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Northern Cardinals and Golden-fronted Woodpecker

A Couple New Closeups

Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite

We have two coveys of Northern Bobwhites that come in several times a day so I thought I ought to make some effort to get a couple nice ground level shots of these neat little birds. Above a female and below the male.

Male Northern Bobwhite
Male Northern Bobwhite
Ladder-backed Woodpeck
Ladder-backed Woodpecker

A male Ladder-backed Woodpecker with a nice soft green background. The background, up until this last week, would have been bare branches with bright sky holes, but now the mesquite trees are displaying their spring green finery.

Female Black-headed Grosbeak
Female Black-headed Grosbeak

And finally, a rare South Texas visitor, one female Black-headed Grosbeak, visiting us regularly over the past three weeks.

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March 12, 2016 Salineno Birding Area, Texas

Audubon Oriole and Northern Cardinal
Audubon Oriole and Northern Cardinal

Eight Days to Go !

Northern Cardinal and Long-billed Thrasher
Northern Cardinal and Long-billed Thrasher

We have had our first serious rainfall over the past two days, the first in four plus months to be exact. So that allowed me to catch up with some image processing, thus, yes, still more bird shots from Salineno.

Northern Cardinals
Northern Cardinals
Altamira Oriole and Female Cardinal
Altamira Oriole and Female Cardinal
Audubon Oriole and Green Jay
Audubon Oriole and Green Jay
Audubon Oriole and Great Kiskadee
Audubon Oriole and Great Kiskadee
Green jays
Green jays
Green jays
Green jays
Green jay and Great Kiskadee
Green jay and Great Kiskadee
Long-billed Thrasher and Female Northern Cardinal
Long-billed Thrasher and Female Northern Cardinal
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

Red-winged Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbird Harassing Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird Harassing Northern Cardinal

Red-winged Blackbirds are a very real problem here as elsewhere that birds are being fed, they want their share of the handouts, and obviously feel that their share is about 99% of the food put out.

Red-winged Blackbird Harassing Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Red-winged Blackbird Harassing Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Their constant, relentless attempts to mob the feeding area have admittedly gotten to me over the four months of attempting to keep them at bay. Their shrill trilling from the treetops around the yard and from their hidden perches in the bushes within the yard are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Red-winged Blackbird and Green jay
Red-winged Blackbird and Green jay
Red-winged Blackbird and Green jays
Red-winged Blackbird and Green jays

My absolute disgust with these birds has made me reluctant to include images of them on this blog, or anywhere else for that matter. But they most certainly are part of the “action” shots I have been taking, for they are the central characters in most of the conflicts over food here.

Red-winged Blackbirds and Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds and Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole

They arrive in numbers the second I turn my back or whenever I have my eyes locked to the back of my camera, driving off the birds we are trying to attract through sheer force of numbers.

Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole
Red-winged Blackbirds Harass Altamira Oriole

The Altamira Oriole is normally the yards dominant bird, not really backing down to any other bird when challenged, but even they are eventually forced to yield when the Blackbirds descend in numbers.

An Unusual Red-winged Blackbird
An Unusual Red-winged Blackbird

Lastly, this rather different Red-winged Blackbird showed up a couple of weeks ago and I have no explanation for the odd coloring. Anybody seen anything like this or know the reason for it?

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