Broke one of my golden rules yesterday at Bolivar Flats on the Texas gulf coast: have your camera ready at all times when driving off the beach. Saw this male northern harrier sitting on a fence post along the road and my camera was in the trunk. There was a good reason for that as I couldn’t get the lens off of my fluid head. Went past the harrier, stopped, took my camera off my 500F4 and put it on my 100-500, and headed back to the gray ghost.
He was very cooperative and let me get several photos before he flew away. Luckily for me, he landed on the other side of the road, which allowed for more photos and some video in better light. He was finally spooked when another car came down the road.
The not so fun part of this encounter was that I was getting eaten alive by mosquitos. Didn’t have bug spray on as there were no mosquitos on the beach, but they were very intense along the grassy area leaving the beach. Had taken my jacket off so plenty of exposed skin for the feeding frenzy that took place in my car. As they say, everything is bigger in Texas, including the mosquitos. One of those times that you just grin and bear it as it’s always worth a little blood letting for a good photo op.
1/1600 sec @ F7.1, ISO 1000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm (R3 + 100-500), minor cropping off left side.
Honored again this year to make the Top 100 in Audubon’s photo contest with these two photos. Must have been slacking off since I had 4 in the top 100 last year. Congratulations to everyone that won and made the top 100.
First photo is a black skimmer coming in for a landing at Bolivar Flats. I love the unique wing position on this photo as it was one that I’ve never seen before.
This photo is an American avocet riding the surf at Bolivar Flats. Love the water swirling around her neck, which looks like she is getting ready to turn into a Disney princess.
Took this photo during my first Galveston FeatherFest field trip to Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. I led four trips to Bolivar Flats again this year in April with this one being challenging with the weather that morning. The wind was blowing at 25 – 30 mph with heavy surf for this area. If it wasn’t for FeatherFest, I typically would have stayed home in those conditions, which makes me wonder how many great photo ops that I’ve missed over the years by not going in adverse conditions. This outing was unique as only one participant, Peggy, showed up for this trip.
In this photo, a group of dunlins and one ruddy turnstone were hanging out on a batch of seaweed that was bobbing up and down with the waves. A small wave came in that made the first dunlin launch up into the air. This group would then feed off of the material that washed up on the mound of seaweed.
I finally made the dive into mirrorless cameras with a Canon R3, which I’ll provide some more information on in a future post.
Taken with Canon R3 with 500mm F4 IS II lens, 1.4X teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/1000 @ F11, ISO 4000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
American avocet gliding along after sunrise on Texas gulf coast this morning. Sunrise was amazing with the cloud formations and red light. The sun eventually popped out of the clouds providing some good light. Ended up leaving when the sun went behind the clouds as I’m not a fan of flat light.
1/2000 sec @ F9, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm from Skimmer ground pod, minor cropping
Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
Reddish egret diving for fish in a tidal pond at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary. While heading back to my car after a successful early morning taking shorebird photos, found this reddish egret that was catching some small fish in a separate small tidal pool. Got some very cool splash shots but didn’t like the background so converted this one to B&W and cropped in on the splash.
1/1250 @ F10, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod
Four of my photos made the top 100 this year in Audubon’s 2021 photo contest. Although 2020 was a very challenging year from a pandemic perspective, it challenged me to get out an shoot more with over 60 local field trips, which paid off in the Audubon contest.
Great egret in silhouette through her breeding plumage from High Island TX rookery
White moph reddish egret spreading its wings just after landing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary last summer.
Two lesser yellowlegs running in unison at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.
American avocets at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.
American Avocet at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary
When using a high shutter speed, sometimes the splash is more interesting than the shorebird. I always start shooting when their head starts going towards the water as you never know what you may capture. In this case, the frozen splash also shows a cool water drop.
As mentioned in my previous post about becoming “one with the flock”, my 1DXIII camera got wet from the salt water lapping at the bottom of my camera after the tide came in while I way laying on my stomach with shooting from my ground pod. After that outing, had some issues with my fully charged camera batteries being fully discharged before I took one shot with them. Would put another battery in and it worked fine.
Sent my camera to Canon to have them check it out. My salt water encounter ended up costing me a $1,200 repair bill. Canon described the issue as: “The bottom multi-controller on the back cover is stuck and will not move. At this time the PCB ASS’Y, MAIN W/LI BATT and COVER ASS’Y, BACK will be replaced.” Apparently, it got dunked a little more than I thought in the salt water.
Will it make me think twice about doing it again next time? Nope.
1/2000 @ F11, ISO 2000, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm (500+1.4X) from ground pod, minor cropping
Had a great time again this year leading field trips for Galveston’s FeatherFest. Very glad that we could have the field trips this year as last year had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. We reduced the size of the groups this year for social distancing but it turned out great. Actually like the smaller groups better from an interaction perspective at Bolivar.
The weather did not cooperate with day 1 trip to Bolivar Flats being cancelled with high surf. Had everyone cancel ahead of time except one participant that was driving from Winnie. She called me as I was waiting at the Galveston side of the ferry and the highway along the Bolivar peninsula was getting flooded and had debris on the road. Safety first so I cancelled that trip. Had another day with very high winds that turned out very well. I’ll post some of my bird photos later.
Here are some cell phone group shots from 2021 FeatherFest at Bolivar Flats and the east end of Galveston Island.
Have to share some details and photos about my unique adventure on Sunday (3/7/21) at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast in search of American Avocets. Needless to say, I found just a few.
While walking along the beach as the sun came up, there were a couple of flocks of avocets off shore but they wouldn’t have been worth the effort to photograph so decided to keep going to see what was around the corner. Found a group of white pelicans with some avocets feeding around them. Took the first photo with handholding my rig with ground pod/Wimberley head attached while deciding where to lay down.
The avocets were working their way to my right but couldn’t get upstream without spooking them so decided to lay down in the opposite direction in anticipation that they would eventually move that way. Laid down at the water’s edge of a sandbar and focused on flight shots as more and more avocets were coming in to join what soon became a feeding frenzy.
The enlarging flock eventually reversed course and headed in my direction. During that time, the tide was starting to come in and my sandbar ended up under water and I felt water getting into my waders. At 53 deg F air temp, 15 to 20 mph winds and 59 deg water temperature, it got really cold really fast. Tried to back up a few feet to find dry ground but looked behind me and there was no sandbar in site for over 50 ft.
With a flock of several hundred avocets heading my way, had to make the decision to get up to save my frozen body parts or grin and bare it. As my ground pod filled with water, figured that it couldn’t get much worse so stayed put as the flock was nearly upon me. When avocets feed, they put their head in the water and use their long bills to rake across the sand to find invertebrates. They just kept feeding and getting closer and closer.
Eventually they were within 20 ft of me and just moved around me and kept feeding. Was very cool to be surrounded 360 deg. by one of my favorite birds. Don’t know if it helped but I was in full camo with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled over my head. One of the major advantages of photography using a ground pod is that the birds don’t recognize you as a person.
At this point, I became “one with the flock”, which was an amazing experience. I’ve had avocets all around me before but it was a handful, not a full flock. Got a couple of photos that may be photo contest worthy but would have loved this experience if I didn’t get any photos.
It was challenging to photograph them that close as I couldn’t shift my position without moving too much in fear of spooking them. Eventually switched to F16 for more depth of field but it didn’t help much at that distance. The white pelicans also joined the fray and flew about 10 ft over me with one landing very close. Slowly rotated my ground pod around to get a couple of shots of him.
Was so focused and in the zone that I didn’t realize my ground pod was floating in the water and had shifted so that the back end was down into the sand under the water with the front end up resting on the bottom of my 500mm lens. With my gimbal head adjustments being loose for shooting, it just floated up in the water. Pulled it back down and locked it into place for a few seconds to stabilize it when I realized that the salt water was lapping at the bottom of my camera. Shifted the camera up slightly to get it out of the water and then my lens raincoat was in the water.
Didn’t take a rocket scientist to say it was time to get up quickly, which was easier said than done with my waders/clothing full of water and my desire to not dunk my gear. Usually grab the base of my ground pod to help get up but in this case, didn’t want to move/splash my camera/lens so got up next to my gear as water poured out of my jacket. Slowly made my way back to my car while water was squishing in my wader boots. Water just poured out of my waders when taking them off. Removed my camera raincoat and put my camera in the passenger seat for the drive back to the ferry.
After getting on the ferry, noticed that there was water dripping out of my lens hood. Removed the hood and saw that the bottom part had been in the water. Took off the Lenscoat neoprene covers on my lens to dry it off. Took a couple of hours to clean up myself and my gear but was well worth it.
All photos were taken with Canon 1DXIII, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III, Skimmer ground pod (now a designated floaty) with Wimberley II gimbal head.
Had one of those great mornings along the Texas Gulf Coast recently when the stars aligned. One big star and a great blue heron.
Visualized this shot when spotting this great blue heron while walking on the beach when it was still dark out. Had to guess where to lay down based on the light peeking through on the horizon. Only had to shift my position slightly when seeing the sun start to pop to keep him in the sunrise. He stayed in one spot while I got off several shots.
While wishing that the skimmers weren’t in front of him, they blasted off and left me with a challenge – do I keep my focus on the GBH or do I try to take photos of the skimmers. I stuck with the heron and eventually all of the skimmers were gone. He then looked up into the sky and I’ll save that photo for a photo contest.
Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III and 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on skimmer ground pod with a Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/640 sec @ F11, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm
Took a couple of vacation days this past week and headed to the Gulf coast for some quality social distancing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary. Was well worth the time and effort.
Saw these 3 brown pelicans flying close to each other at a distance and started tracking them with my camera. Got about 80 shots of them just waiting for this photo when they were side by side, coming right at me with their wings outstretched.
Pre-visualized this shot as I’ve gotten some similar pelican photos probably 10 years ago and have been waiting to recreate it ever since. Was very pleased on how this one turned out.
Taken with Canon 1DX mark III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II and 1.4X III telconverter, mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/800 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, aperture priority, + 2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod
Honored to make the top 100 in Audubon’s 2020 photo contest again this year. Entered several photos but only got one to make it. Always appreciate Audubon’s support with my bird photography. Can’t wait until next year.
White morph reddish egret from Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. This shot was taken last July and was a great time. He was almost too close, which is always a good problem to have.
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.
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…
One of my pelican photos made the inside cover of the 2019 Audubon Annual Report recently. The Photography Director from Audubon contacted me in Feb about using this photo that they found on my website. Was very pleased that they reached out to me but also someone concerned that I did not recognize this photo. Had to dig through my website to find it. Next problem was to find the RAW file to reprocess a high resolution photo as it was taken back in 2011. Started digging through my current attached hard drives with no luck. Had to search the house for all of my external hard drives and finally found it on nearly the last hard drive.
This experience led me to revamp my storage and back-up method for all of my photos. Now have all of my photos on a centralized device and backed up in multiple ways/locations. More on that later.
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
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
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
1/80 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, from ground pod
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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