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 11, 2015 Salineno Birding Station, Texas

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

Playing Around, Small Birds in Flight

This week saw some weird weather here with some hot humid days mixed with wonderful, sunny, yet dry and comfortable days, then some showers and high winds thrown in to keep us on our toes. This seems to have discouraged a lot of visitors from showing up, but, of course, did nothing to discourage the birds from still coming in to feed every day regardless of weather conditions. With few human visitors, I decided this was as good a time as any to begin playing around with trying to capture some of these colorful small birds in flight.

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

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

I have had a fair amount of success photographing large birds in flight ( click here to see diving Pelicans, and here to see shots of Bald Eagles in flight, or here to see Sandhill Cranes at Bos del Apache NWR ) but this was my first serious attempt at getting small birds in flight, and as I soon discovered, this is an entirely different game! The degree of difficulty is much higher here and it is going to take some adjustments and a lot of practice before I manage to capture truly good shots, but for my first couple of days of hit and miss techniques, I find some of these images to be at least half way decent.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

As I soon discovered, lighting conditions here in the yard are not terribly friendly for this type of photography. First off, there are large Mesquite tree limbs hovering over the area where these shots are taken and the tree’s limb shadows keep creeping over the shooting area as the sun moves across the sky, making exposure adjustments constantly changing. Trying to find a decent uncluttered background is also challenging.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

I decided to start my first practice session concentrating on the ever entertaining Kiskadees and set a three foot long Mesquite log on the ground about 25 feet in front of me, positioned so the early morning sun was directly behind me, and the log perfectly perpendicular to my line of sight.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

Then I made up some half inch balls of our peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mix ( their favorite food ) and laid a half dozen of them on top of the log, then sat back and waited for the Kiskadees to discover them and start their common feeding technique of diving down to the log and picking off the bait in flight as they would normally do off the ground.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

The trick here is to be able to correctly guess where and when the bird will pick off the bait, and then be sure that it is in focus and properly exposed, no big deal … right?  Wrong!  No focus system that I am aware of can seize onto something so small traveling at such a great speed, so one has to prefocus on where you think the bird will be and then fire off a quick series of shots when you first see the bird start his move for the bait, then hope you guessed right and that one of your series of clicks happens to catch him at the optimum spot.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

Turns out that seldom happens. If only one in ten shots happen to catch the subject right where you wanted it, you then have to factor in the possibility that the wings may well not be in position for what you want to capture, for instance, they may be covering the head, or may be straight out as opposed to vertical.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

The poor, as in limited, light in the yard makes it impossible to get any kind of DOF ( depth of field ) so I am always shooting at F4 or just a little higher if the light is cooperating, so getting all of the bird in focus is pretty much impossible. The rule of thumb for freezing a bird’s wings in flight is that a shutter speed of 1/1500th of a second is about the minimum that will work, and, with big birds I find that to be true. But with these little guys, you really have to be talking about something closer to 1/3000th and even that won’t do the trick sometimes.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

Then there is the noise factor as you move up in speed with what ISO you need to use to be able to get the proper shutter speed to freeze movement. My D810 will produce decent results as high as ISO 800 and sometimes up to ISO 1100, but beyond that, the noise is just too much to be able to produce a decently clean image.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

So, with all these facts to take into consideration, and the degree of difficulty that results, I am reasonably happy to get several images that are almost what I would consider good … but unfortunately, none that I would consider good enough, not yet anyway.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

But it is going to be fun trying to figure this all out!

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

And I am fortunate to have all kinds of cooperative, read hungry, subjects that will show up any time I need them.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee
Kiskadee

In case you were wondering, these Kiskadee images were the result of two sessions over two days totaling about 8 hours of shooting. I erased probably 5 of every six shots I took directly in camera as I took them because the bird was not in the image or was completely out of focus. Even eliminating that many shots before downloading images to the computer, I still downloaded about 500 shots to further check out on the computer screen, so it turns out that I probably took 3000 shots to get 20 half way decent images. I surely hope I can find a way to improve on that.

Green Jay
Green Jay

Next up, Green Jays in Flight

Green Jay
Green Jay

These birds require a different setup to shoot. I placed a tray feeder filled with sunflower seeds on top of a small table in an effort to get it high enough off the ground to give me a decent background of OOF ( out of focus ) bushes.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

I then place the table and tray feeder about two feet in front of and about 4 feet below an overhead branch that the jays can land on before dropping down to the feeder.

Green Jay
Green Jay

I then can prefocus somewhere behind the feeder yet in front of the limb so as to perhaps catch the jay in focus on his flightpath down to the feeder. Needless to say, the odds of one of your shots catching the jay in the exact right spot, and with the proper wing position, are not all that high. Yet, shoot enough shots and eventually some of them do work.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

Again, DOF is an issue with these shots also, as there simply is not enough light here to be able to get the birds in focus from beak to tail, especially in the type of shot shown just above.

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

The shot above, though certainly not in proper focus, is exactly why I would like to be able to perfect my technique. Some of the flight positions randomly captured are simply fascinating to me.

Green Jay
Green Jay

Altamira Orioles, An Unexpected Subject !

Two Altamira Orioles
Two Altamira Orioles

Shown above is the mesquite log slathered with our peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mixture ( bait ), as I had it set up for the second day of Kiskadee shots. And I was very pleasantly surprised when the Altamira Orioles decided that they wanted in on the feast.

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

These brilliantly colored birds are going to be fun to capture once I figure out how to advance my small birds in flight technique. 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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November 27, 2015 Salineno, Texas

More Birds at Salineno

Strutting Tom, South Llano, Texas
Strutting Tom, South Llano State Park, Texas

Hope everyone had a  Happy Thanksgiving  ( but I bet the individual in the image above most likely did not ) as I did here at the Salineno Birding Station. My co-hosts, Lois and Merle cooked up a small turkey with all the fixings and invited myself and another couple, who are hosting the Roma site, over for a great Thanksgiving dinner. For this forty year resident of New England, the 85 degree temperature, along with high humidity, certainly did little to lend a traditional feel to this holiday, but enjoyable nonetheless.

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

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

Northern Bobwhite Quail arrived on the scene this week with an even dozen now coming in to take advantage of the cracked corn, making several appearances every day.

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow

The elusive, and much sought after Olive Sparrow, who normally keeps himself on the edge of the yard, very near some kind of cover, thus always in the shade …

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow

… came out for a bath today and so I got to see him in the sunlight for the first time.

Olive Sparrow After Bath
Olive Sparrow After Bath
Olive Sparrow After Bath
Olive Sparrow After Bath
Green Jay
Green Jay

The always entertaining, as well as colorful, green jays …

Green Jay
Help Yourself!

… have discovered where all that delicious cracked corn and sunflower seeds come from, and now feel free to just help themselves.

Audubon Oriole
Audubon Oriole

The Audubon oriole pair had us a little worried when they didn’t show for a couple of days, disappointing folks that came specifically to see them, but have now shown up again.

Black-crested Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse

Finally had a chance to photograph the Black-crested Titmouse. These guys are constantly on the move and spend 99 per cent of the time in the trees above our heads, so are difficult to capture with the camera.

Kiskadee
Kiskadee

Kiskadee numbers are increasing and we now will have four or five in the yard at the same time.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

And the Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, a couple of males and one female make several appearances daily.

We have a Sharp-shinned Hawk coming in on the fly almost every day now, making as many as a dozen passes through the yard in a day, looking for an easy meal. Unfortunately, I won’t be getting any shots of him as he comes in unannounced and traveling at an incredibly high speed, making a pass across the yard in about half a second. Despite many attempts, we haven’t seen him catch anybody … yet.

A list of species seen here so far ( 53 and we are only a month in! )
In years past the total number of sightings varies between 70 and 80.

Green jay
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Northern cardinal
Olive Sparrow
Altamira Oriole
Audubon Oriole
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
House Sparrow
Great Kiskadee
Common Yellow-throat
Osprey *
Turkey Vulture *
Crested Caracara *
Northern Mockingbird
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Long-billed Thrasher
Plain Chachalaca
Black-crested Titmouse
Hooded Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White Pelican *
Bewick’s Wren
Orange-crowwned Warbler
Mourning Dove
Lesser Goldfinch
Ringed Kingfisher *
Eastern Phoebe
Verdin
House Wren
Blue-headed Vireo
Pyrrhuloxia
Gray Hawk *
Couch’s Kingbird
Black Phoebe
Lincoln Sparrow
Common Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
White-crowned Sparrow
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher *
Snow Geese *
White-fronted Geese *
American Robin
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Eastern Screech Owl
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Bobwhite
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

  • Denotes Flyover

Thank you for shopping Amazon from my site!

When you click through to shop Amazon from here, I get a tiny commission, one that does not in any way impact what you pay, and all those tiny commissions eventually add up and that helps me keep this blog going !