…morning light is magic…

Birds

Magnificent Frigatebird

Paying attention to bird behavior really paid off on Friday morning.  Was taking photos of a reddish egret when he started looking up in the air.  Reddish egrets don’t usually pay attention to other birds in the sky unless it’s another reddish egret.  This one kept glancing to the sky which peaked my couriosity so I decided to look up from my prone position and got a fantastic surprise when this magnificent frigatebird was right above me. 

Decided to quickly take my camera off of the ground pod and rolled onto my back and started shooting straight up in the air.  The wet sand in my hair was a new experience but well worth it.  She was almost too close as I was clipping wings off of the frame.  Got a few shots from that position but it was too difficult to control my 500mm lens so rolled over and sat up to shoot.  Didn’t want to stand up and potentially spook her.  She kept circling me and I wondered if she was checking me out, which I confirmed was the case after looking at the photos on the computer.

Magnificent frigatebirds are huge with a 7 ft wingspan and a forked tail.  Have seen them at the east end of Galveston Island and while in my car on the ferry several years ago but never at the flats.  Getting that close was a major bucket list event for me.  Was thinking about frigatebirds a few weeks ago while on the ferry and envisioned having a close-up encounter.  I need to start dreaming about birds more often…


Bathing Willet

I always get excited when seeing shorebirds take a bath as they almost always jump up and flap their wings to dry off. Usually a good chance for a great photo op.

Took these shots a couple of weeks ago at Bolivar Flats Audubon shorebird sanctuary along the Texas gulf coast. Cranked the ISO up to 3200 to get a decent shutter speed to freeze the action.

Taken with Canon 1DX III and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/2500 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

1/2000 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation


Reddish Egret in Flight

Hope that everyone out there is well and staying safe. It’s a very strange/surreal world that we are currently living in. I have been working from home for awhile now so nothing new there, just less travel these days. My day job work has actually picked up lately with more projects so that’s a good thing. Have been spending my off-hours backing up my photos and entering some photo contests. I’ll post more later about my updated back-up strategy that I’ve just completed implementing.

Since almost all of my favorite areas for wildlife photography around Houston are shut down, I’ll dig up some of my photos from my newly archived storage unit.

Here is a reddish egret in flight from last year’s July 4.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head – handheld


Blowing in the Wind

Got very excited when planning for my first trip this year to the High Island TX rookery a couple of weeks ago with a weather forecast including high winds. High winds + great egret breeding plumage = some great photo op’s. This photo is close to what I previsualized before getting to the rookery based on past experience.

No real clean shots without branches so had to make the best of a challenging situation. Usually pick out a couple of specific birds and keep my focus on them waiting for some good action. Took a bunch of photos of this lovely lady with several bursts when the wind picked up to get various feather positions.

For white birds, always expose for the highlights,  which helps to darken the rest of the scene.  Instead of bringing up the shadows in Photoshop, decided to keep the exposure as captured in the camera.  Increased color saturation a little and sharpened.  Helped to keep the photo a little dark and moody to relay the sense of it being cold and windy, which it was that morning.

1/2500 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from tripod

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Bald Eagle vs. Norther Harrier

On Saturday morning at Anahuac NWR, was talking photos of black-necked stilts on the back side of Shoveler Pond when a large bird flew overhead with other birds chasing it. Looked like an eagle but couldn’t tell for sure until his white head came into view. He went along the tall grass and grabbed a coot and flew back to the middle of the pond. Not a good time to be a coot at Anahuac these days as they are prime targets for raptors.

Had just backed off from ISO 3200 to 1600 with the stilts and didn’t have time to crank it back up with the eagle so had to work with a slow shutter speed of 1/250 for this flight shot.

1/250 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation, 700mm, handheld out my car window

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When the eagle first caught the coot, a northern harrier followed him and kept circling to try to steal a bite. After the eagle was finished eating, the harrier made his move and landed just behind the eagle and stole a piece. Gutsy move.

Spent most of my time tracking the harrier while the eagle fed. Thought that it would be a more interesting photo with the two birds in one shot than just the eagle eating. Paid off in my opinion.

1/2500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, + 1 1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, handheld out my car window

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Great Blue Heron Golden Silhouette

My first trip to Bolivar Flats along the Texas gulf coast in 2020 was magical.  One of the rare times when the Gulf of Mexico was very calm and the pre-dawn light was amazing.  Caught this great blue heron coming in for a landing and was able to get some decent shots with very slow shutter speeds @ 1/100 & 1/80 sec.  Had to crank my ISO up to 6400 and use 1 2/3 exposure compensation as it was before the sun came up.  Wish that I would have used ISO 10,000.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wilberley II gimbal head

1/100 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, from ground pod

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1/80 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, from ground pod

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My Favorites from 2019

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on 2019 and what’s to come in 2020. My photography goals for 2019 were to get out and shoot more than in 2018 and try to improve the quality of my photos.  Made some progress on both of those goals.

Yellowstone in winter was the highlight again this year, along with several local trips to the gulf coast/surrounding area. Looking forward to seeing what 2020 will bring. It’s going to be an interesting year for sure.

Here are some of my favorite photos from 2019.

Great egrets from High Island rookery that made the top 100 in Audubon’s photo contest.

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Yellowstone Bison with some frozen fog @ -22 deg F.

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Yellowstone coyote jumping up the hill towards us. Off the charts experience.

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Black-necked stilt posing for me at Bolivar Flats

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Thousands of American Avocets on the shoreline at Bolivar Flats with my group from Galveston’s FeatherFest.

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Reddish Egret in silhouette at Bolivar Flats.

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White morph reddish egret at Bolivar Flats along the Texas gulf coast.

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Reddish Egret from Bolivar Flats.

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American Avocet taking off at Bolivar Flats.

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Willet landing at sunrise at Bolivar Flats.

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American Avocet at Bolivar Flats.

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Raptor Sunrise

Caught this juvi red tailed hawk yesterday at Anahuac NWR east of Houston just after sunrise.  He flew from a tree in front of me and landed on this fence post.  Stayed in position just long enough for me to get a few vertical photos.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter, handheld out my car window.

1/640 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, + 1 exposure compensation, 700mm

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Bolivar Flats Trip

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Hope that you have a great day and get plenty of food to eat.

Had a great couple of days taking shorebird photos this week at Bolivar Flats on the Texas gulf coast.  Went with Lisa and Catherine on Sunday and by myself on Monday with sunshine and low winds.

On Sunday,  we found a good spot to lay down with our ground pods and a huge flock of avocets made their way in our direction.  Was able to turn to my left to get some back-lit shots, which if always my goal with bird photography.

1/2500 sec @ F8, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation

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We moved locations and the avocets were walking right in front of us.  They were so close that I couldn’t get some of them in the frame.  A very good problem to have.  This is one of the main advantages of using a ground pod as the birds don’t recognize you as a person when you are laying down.  They will walk right up to you.

1/2500 sec @ F10, ISO 800, evaluative metering, no exposure compensation

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Also got this shot that I really like of a dowitcher as he fed in front of us.  It pays to watch all of the birds as the small ones can provide some great photo op’s.

1/1600 sec @ F6.3, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 1/3 exposure compensation

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A highlight on this trip was this lone black-necked stilt that was walking amongst the hundred of avocets.  It was a challenge to get him isolated from the rest of the birds but was able to get a few shots.  Love their long legs, tux looking feathers and red eyes.

1/2000 sec @ F10, ISO 800, evaluative metering, no exposure compensation

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Caracara in Flight

Got buzzed by this Caracara while walking back to my car along the shoreline at Bolivar Flats on the Texas Gulf Coast last weekend.  Picked up my camera with the ground pod/gimbal head still attached and started shooting away.  Had to eventually take the camera off so that it was lighter to handhold.

It’s fun to see the migrating raptors back in SE Texas.  Lots of photo op’s this time of year.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500MM F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.

1/4000 sec @ F 5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation

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Burrowing Owl Sleeping

Sleeping burring owl and it’s all about the eye lashes.

This burrowing owl kept winking at me and I was wondering what was going on.  When getting the photos on my computer realized that he was falling asleep.  Haven’t seen a sleeping burrowing owl before so this was a treat, especially after seeing those eye lashes.  Adorable.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter, handheld out my car window.

1/2000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm

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Reddish Egret Scores!

This reddish egret scored after going after this fish.  This is why I’m always telling my classes at FeatherFest to start shooting when their head starts to go down towards the water as you never know what they may come up with and it happens very fast.  Had to crank up the ISO to get a decent shutter speed on this one.

1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation

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My Photo on BBC News Video

My Audubon top 100 photo showed up on a video on BBC News yesterday.  Found two e-mails this morning from the UK asking about buying my photo.  Another very good day.

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-49187301/audubon-photography-awards-is-this-the-perfect-wildlife-picture


Made Audubon Top 100

A good day….

My day was made yesterday when receiving an e-mail from the Audubon Director of Photography that confirmed that I made it into the top 100 for the 2019 Audubon photo contest.  Love those e-mails!

Audubon contacted me back in mid-May requesting a raw file to confirm the photo wasn’t manipulated beyond the contest rules.  Hoped that I made the top 100 but you never know.  Had a similar experience last year with a request for my raw file but did not make it to the top 100.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II mounted on tripod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/1600 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation

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White Morph with Wings Up

The reddish egrets have been out in full force lately at Bolivar Flats on the Texas Gulf Coast.  This beauty was chasing fish around with his wings extended, as reddish egrets are known for.  Always a good time to watch these birds dance around while fishing.  They are very fast and a high shutter speed is highly recommended.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/3200 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1/3 exposure compensation0941_Bolivar_Flats_06292019-2

1/3200 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1/3 exposure compensation0946_Bolivar_Flats_06292019-2


White Morph Reddish Egret

Spent some quality time on July 4th at Bolivar Flats along the Gulf Coast taking photos of reddish egrets at high tide.  They weren’t as active as my previous trip but they finally came out to play as we were ending our morning trip.  I’m not a major fan of taking photos at the beach with cloudy skies but it was still fun.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/1600 sec @ F7.1, ISO 1600, +2 exposure compensation

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Reddish Egret – Wings Up

Reddish Egret raising his wings while fishing. They are the best egret at catching fish in my opinion. Always fun to watch them dance around.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter, mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head

1/640 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation

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Back to Bolivar Flats

Made my first trip to Bolivar Flats along the Gulf Coast since April and it was epic.  Saw on Jim Strough’s post that there were lots of reddish egrets in the area and that was enough to convince me to get back out there.

With high tide, there weren’t any exposed sandbars off shore, which concentrated the birds along the shoreline.  Luckily for me, they were accessible and not out of reach around the corner or just near the jetty, which can also happen.

When driving on the beach to get to the parking area, it become very evident that I was going to be sharing the beach with several wade fisherman.  Total of 10 trucks plus my car.  Most of the fisherman were already out in the water with a few still getting ready.  Knew from experience that bird photography and wade fishing don’t exactly mix so I decided to hang back and let the fisherman walk past me.  On cue, one of them walked right through the flock of birds that were in my sights and scattered them in all directions.  This gave me an opening to get to the spot that I wanted to lay down while the birds returned.

Had 16 reddish egrets to choose from including 9 red and 7 white morph’s.  The highlight was when the tide started to come in.  I was shooting away and saw the water getting closer so had to keep pushing myself backwards up the beach.  Looked up and saw 12 reddish egrets moving in with the tide and they were all converging on my location.  Wish that I would have had a wide-angle lens or my iPhone as it would have made a great video.

Ended up leaving early when thunder started rumbling in the distance.  Didn’t want to leave but decided that it wasn’t a good idea to be walking on the beach in a thunderstorm while carrying a hunk of metal.  A great morning that will need to be recreated, very soon.

1/640 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation

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Snowy Egret Portrait

Found this Snowy Egret on the Texas City dike a few weeks ago.  Was too close to get a full body shot so went vertical and got this portrait photo.  Had to go negative on the exposure compensation to keep from blowing out the whites.  Flashing highlight alerts, aka “blinkies”, works very well to show when the photos are over exposed.  Just remember on your histogram, expose to the right side but don’t climb the wall.

Was using my back-up camera, Canon 7D Mark II as my 1DX was back at Canon getting a new shutter installed.  Started to get a bright line at the top of my photos which led to some research on the web that indicated my shutter was likely starting to fail.  Canon confirmed it and got it replaced.  Had over 423,000 shutter actuations and it was rated for 400,000.  I’ve worn out several shutters on my other cameras so not surprising that this one would go one of these days.  Glad that it didn’t happen during my last Yellowstone trip.

Took about 7 days after they received it for the repair so it was time to break-out the back-up camera.  My 7D II worked well but it’s not the same as the pro body.  It felt like a toy in comparison without a grip attached, but it took good photos.

Taken with Canon 7D II with Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens with 1.4X III teleconverter, 700mm, hand held out the car window.

1/1600 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, – 1/3 exposure compensation

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Blurred Avocet

When the light doesn’t cooperate, there are always blurred shots to be taken.  American avocet in a blur from Bolivar Flats during one of my Galveston FeatherFest workshops that I led this year.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4x III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.

1/125 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, + 2 2/3 exposure compensation, aperture priority, 700mm

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American Avocets

Mentioned to my FeatherFest group before we hit the beach on Saturday morning that one of my target birds for this field trip was avocets. Score!

Low tide turned into high tide with the winds from the south due to the storm system. The high tide drove all of the birds near the shoreline and luckily most of them were along the beach facing south before you go around the bend. We started with a small group of avocets and worked our way down the beach until we hit the jackpot with thousands of them that just kept flying into the same area.

The legs have it in this full frame shot from my ground pod with only cropping to pano format. If you look close, had some light rain going on at this time. Also a photo bomber flying in.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4XIII teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.

1/200 sec @ F 5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, aperture priority, 700mm

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Galveston FeatherFest 2019

Just finished up leading workshops and field trips for Galveston’s FeatherFest.  Had a great time as always.  Thanks to everyone that showed up and participated.

Here are some of the group photos.

Shorebird Photography from East Beach, Friday April 12, 2019

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Ground Pod Photography from Bolivar Flats, Saturday April 13, 2019

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Ground Pod Photography from Bolivar Flats, Saturday April 13, 2019

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Brown Pelican in Golden Light

Caught this brown pelican doing a fly-by while in the prone position with my ground pod.  Got a nice series of shots with this one being one of my favorites with the wing position just off of the water.  The calm water and reflection helped as well.

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II and 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on a skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.

1/500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, aperture priority

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Great Egret in Flight

Headed back to High Island yesterday to get some more photos from the rookery for an upcoming presentation that I’m doing for Houston Audubon on April 7.

https://houstonaudubon.org/programs/adults/flight-in-focus.html

Had the platform all to myself, which was great and worth taking 1/2 day off of work.  Challenging to get flight shots from that location so moved down to the second platform and the flight opportunities were amazing.  Great egrets and spoonbills were flying back and forth from the rookery island to the trees on the south side of the pond.  They would occasionally bank right towards me like this great egret.

1/1600 sec @ F5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, aperture priority

Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II mounted on tripod with Wimberley II gimbal head

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