…morning light is magic…

Posts tagged “Skimmer ground pod

Drop in a Splash – Expensive Outing

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


Galveston FeatherFest 2021

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.


One With the Flock

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.


Great Blue Sunrise

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


White Morph Reddish Egret

Spent some quality time last week at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. Found several reddish egrets at sunrise with this white morph really standing out from the rest. Right place at the right time for some great action and beautiful light.

This was about 1/2 hour after sunrise. Had to cranked up the exposure compensation to get the proper exposure. Having 16 frames/sec from my new 1DX III comes in real handy in these situations with being able to capture the action as it happens. The focusing ability of this camera is just off of the charts.

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

All photos at: 1/2000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod, minor cropping


Incoming Pelicans

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


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


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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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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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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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

0359_Bolivar_Flats_07042019-2


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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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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Black Skimmer Blast-off

While taking photos from my ground pod at Bolivar Flats, several hundred black skimmers were hanging out near the jetty.  It was difficult to see what kind of birds were there until you hear them “barking”.  They eventually lifted off and formed a cloud of skimmers, which is always cool to see.

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

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

3220_Bolivar_Flats11162018-2


Back to the Gulf

Sometimes the stars align (no wind, no waves, low tide) along the Gulf of Mexico and the waters are very calm at Bolivar Flats, which makes for some amazing conditions for shore bird photography. This happened on Friday when I took some vacation time to get back to Bolivar for the first time in 4 months.

Got very excited when driving onto the beach while seeing the calm water. This happens maybe once a year if you are lucky, from my experience. Pulled up to the parking area on the beach with nobody else in site and quickly geared up before the sun came up. It was 41 deg F and my neoprene waders felt nice and toasty.

Found a small group of American Avocets along the shoreline and laid down with my ground pod for some silhouette shots. Also had some photo op’s further out in the water with pelicans and black skimmers flying by. The sun popped up which led to some interesting photo op’s with the changing light.

Got up from my initial position and turned to my right just in time to see a peregrine falcon taking off from the beach. Wish that I had seen him earlier but he was very skittish and getting close to him would have been very challenging. Was able to get some flight shots as he flew by, which is always fun with hand holding a 500mm lens attached to a ground pod with a Wimberley gimbal head.

Moved offshore onto some sandbars to take photos of willets, long billed curlews, more avocets and hundreds of black skimmers that would periodically blast off and fill the sky. On the way back to my car, a reddish egret landed right behind me so got back down on the sand for some very close-up shots which was a great wrap up to a wonderful morning.

Needless to say, it was great to be back at Bolivar in perfect conditions.

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

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

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Marbled Godwit

This Marbled Godwit walked very close to us at Bolivar Flats on the same day as we found the white morph reddish egret.  He kept probing the sand for food.

I like this shot as he is facing in my direction, the position of his feet, got some interesting lighting on his bill and the raised tail feathers, which isn’t typical from my experience.

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 @ F8, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation

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

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Reddish Egret Pose

Finally made it back to Bolivar Flats yesterday after a long hiatus (since April).  Got invited to head to the flats by Lea, who contacted me back in May for some advice.  It was a good time and I needed the motivation to get back out there in this heat.  Feels-like temp when we arrived just before sunrise was 95 deg F.  Decided to not wear my waders or jacket and just get all wet/sandy, which happened as predicted.

There were lots of birds around including reddish egrets, pelicans, willets, long-billed curlews, marbled godwits.  Did not see any avocets.  We spotted 2 reddish egrets and 3 white morph reddish egrets in the area and took some time to photograph them and get closer to this one.  They weren’t very active but we had the opportunity to get some decent shots of them posing and preening.

Reddish egrets will puff out their feathers when they are trying to intimidate other birds.  Not sure what got this one excited but it made for nice looking hairdo.

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

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Caught it!

Reddish egret are quite the fishing experts.  This white morph put on a great display of fishing prowess and ended up catching this fish and looked in my direction.

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 @ F9, ISO 1600, +1 exposure compensation

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