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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December 21, 2017 Imperial Dam LTVA, California

Costa's Hummingbird
Costa’s Hummingbird

Just Birds

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird

I’ve had the hummingbird feeder out since I arrived here and it has attracted a few hummers, but not many. Today I finally managed a couple of shots of them as I waited around for the quail to show up.

Photo Setup
Photo Setup

All that gold/brown vegetation out there has made for some nice backgrounds for my setup here at the campsite.

Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch

Two new arrivals here today, this Lesser Goldfinch who flew in, took a look around and decided he didn’t see anything he liked …

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

… and this Roadrunner, who showed up as I was downloading images to the computer. The two shots of him were taken through my dinette window.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

It really didn’t seem that cold to me at the time this shot was taken, around noon, but here he is in the classic “radiator” position.

Gamblel's Quail
Gamblel’s Quail
Gamblel's Quail
Gamblel’s Quail

The quail numbers continue to increase as does their frequency of showing up.

House Finch Lineup
House Finch Lineup

As always, lots of House Finches.

House Finch
House Finch
White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

And the same old assortment of LLB’s.

White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Sagebrush Sparrow
Sagebrush Sparrow
Chipping Sparrows
Chipping Sparrows

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February 15, 2016 Salineno Birding Area, Texas

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

Beep! Beep!

For the last couple of months, we have had an occassional roadrunner come through patrolling the yard for any easy pickings. Since everyone seems to get a kick out of seeing one of these guys up close, I decided to see if he would be interested in finding some easy fast food  here and thus come through on a more regular basis.

It turns out we have a very local source of fresh, fast food for him right here, under our very noses … mice. Both myself, and the other cohosts here have a bit of a problem with mice wanting to invade our RV’s, most likely the result of so much birdseed being stored and scattered around them. As a result, we both have mouse traps set in our basement storage areas and quite often find them successfully doing what they are intended to do.

So, I started putting little dead rodent bodies along the side of the feeding area, and sure enough, the roadrunner came in and found them to be quite the treat.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

Next, I put one out in the center of the yard, in plain view of our visitors, and the roadrunner accommodated us by coming right out in the open and snatching up his prize.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner
Roadrunner
Roadrunner
Roadrunner
Roadrunner
Takeout Food
Takeout Food

Then amusing us his version of fast food takeout.

So I figured, why not take this one step farther and perhaps make him work a little harder for this free and easy meal.

Tormented Roadrunner
Tormented Roadrunner

I figured if I tied a mouse by the tail a few feet off the ground, in the same area I normally placed the bait, perhaps he would give us a little show by jumping up and snatching it.

Tormented Roadrunner
Tormented Roadrunner

A loose little slip knot around the tail and the mouse would easily slip out of the knot and the roadrunner could zip off with his lunch.

Tormented Roadrunner
Tormented Roadrunner

Well, the roadrunner certainly did his part in a very entertaining fashion, leaping up and grabbing mouse time and again, but perhaps i should have consulted my old Boy Scout Handbook on knot tying, because no matter how many times he tried, the knot didn’t let go as intended.

Tormented Roadrunner
Tormented Roadrunner

And try, and try again he did … to no avail.

Tormented Roadrunner
Tormented Roadrunner

After perhaps a dozen attempts, he finally gave up and walked away. Feeling guilty, and a little embarrassed, I walked out and untied the knot and placed the mouse on the ground, and, on his next trip in, the roadrunner did finally get his snack.

Yet More Birds in Flight

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Audubon Oriole
Audubon Oriole
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Prryhuloxia
Prryhuloxia
Green Jays
Green Jays
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

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March 16, 2015 Sierra Vista, Arizona

View from Carr Canyon Road
View from Carr Canyon Road

A Climb Up the Carr Canyon Road

Carr Canyon Road
Carr Canyon Road

I drove part way up the Carr Canyon Road last weekend, past a dozen cars parked along the side of the road, all but blocking passage, just before reaching this ominous warning sign ” NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PASSENGER CARS “. I proceeded just a little farther, then chickened out and returned home thinking perhaps I would dare return on a weekday with fewer folks around and see how much farther up the road I might be able to venture in the Prius.

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

View from the beginning of Carr Canyon Road
View from the beginning of Carr Canyon Road

Well, today being a beautiful blue sky day, I headed out at 7 AM to see how far I could make it up this road.

Foothills pasture
Foothills pasture

The first few miles are on a paved road past scattered houses and pretty foothills,

Along Carr Canyon Road
Along Carr Canyon Road
The Border Patrol's " Eye in the Sky "
The Border Patrol’s ” Eye in the Sky “

past the Border Patrol’s ” Eye in the Sky “. a tethered blimp filled with all kinds of cameras, no doubt.

Carr Canyon Road
Carr Canyon Road

It turns out the gravel portion of this road is quite well maintained and I was able to drive the entire length of the road with no problem in my no clearance, two wheel drive Prius.

Carr Canyon Road
Carr Canyon Road
Carr Canyon Road, a looong way down
Carr Canyon Road, a looong way down

That being said, if one were a bit squeamish about heights, I would think twice about driving this road. Most of it is a fairly narrow single lane road with many sharp switchbacks and several places where it is straight down more than a few hundred feet if you were to slip over the edge of the road. But the views are spectacular !

View from Carr Canyon Road
View from Carr Canyon Road

THe dark areas in the distance in the above image are burned areas of the Fort Huachuca Army Base along the Garden Canyon Road, another road I would explore later in the day.

Carr Canyon Road
Carr Canyon Road
Looking up at some colorful cliffs
Looking up at some colorful cliffs

As I was heading up the road, I was fascinated by these colorful cliffs up in the distance, little did I know that ….

Looking down on the same colorful cliffs
Looking down on the same colorful cliffs

…. farther up the road I would be looking down on the same colorful cliffs.

View from Carr Canyon Road
View from Carr Canyon Road
View from Carr Canyon Road
View from Carr Canyon Road

The road just kept climbing and climbing, through multiple sharp switchbacks, and, of course I  had to keep stopping and shooting pictures of the remarkable views. In places the road was just wide enough for one vehicle, making my decision to do this trip early on a weekday morning seem rather wise. Though there are many places all along the road where two cars could pass, if there were a lot off traffic on the road, there would have to be some disconcerting backing up one would have to do if meeting oncoming traffic in the wrong spots.

View from the top, Carr Canyon Road
View from the top, Carr Canyon Road

Eventually you ascend into another world that is covered in tall trees and what I am guessing may be mountain laurel, just now thinking about blooming, quite a remarkable change in plant life from the beginning of the road. Quite a change in temperature also, about 20 degrees cooler than at the bottom, a brisk 40 degrees this morning.

Mountaintop campsite and the end of Carr Canyon Road
Mountaintop campsite and the end of Carr Canyon Road

The road ends in a turnaround through a very nice small campground among the towering pines.

The road, at least at this time of year, is very passable for any passenger car and I would say it should be a must do drive for anyone that appreciates spectacular views. Now, I would recommend checking on conditions following heavy rains since it did appear that there were a couple of spots that perhaps could be problematic following storms.

Garden Canyon Road, Fort Huachuca

After a slow descent of the Carr Canyon Road I headed back through Sierra Vista and onto the Fort Huachuca Army Base and headed out along the Garden Canyon Road. There is not a lot to see as you drive through the base’s shooting ranges as you make your way towards Garden Canyon. At about the four mile mark, you come to an information kiosk and picnic area and I stopped here to read up on the various points of interest on the road ahead. Only a little ways past the kiosk, to my dismay, I found the road gated, I believe, due to flood damage to the road. I will have to put this on my to do list on a future visit to the area.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

As I backtracked through the shooting ranges, a pair of roadrunners appeared on the edge of some woods along the road, and raced me as I passed. Perhaps they wanted to cross the road and were attempting to get out in front of me to do so.

Beep ! Beep ! Roadrunner on the run
Beep ! Beep ! Roadrunner on the run

I have gotten several shots of these birds in the past, but have never been able to catch them doing what they do best … running !

Beep ! Beep ! Roadrunner on the run
Beep ! Beep ! Roadrunner on the run
Beep ! Beep ! Roadrunner on the run
Beep ! Beep ! Roadrunner on the run

So my trip on into the gated Garden Canyon Road turned out to worth doing after all, now I have some roadrunner action shots.

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