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Epilogue #2

May 16, 2021
tags: ,
© Jim Miller – Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

So now a little more than two months later, I’m still feeling the glow of this particular trip. This will be a bit of a scattered blog post. Think of this almost as a stream of consciousness.

My thanks again to Butch & Zita Ramirez and Pliny Mier for hosting us at the Rocking R6 Ranch and La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch, respectively.

As of this writing I have only 15 images fully processed and put into the portfolio, though I have selected the ones I do want to process. Only the first day of the trip at Crescent Bend Nature Park has been fully processed, though I am quickly making my way through the day at the Rocking R6. The images that I like the most I have in a specific trip photo album at Flickr.

The best food on the entire trip was Ziggy’s Roadside Barbecue in Brackettville. The best complete dining experience when it came to food and atmosphere and whatnot was Doc’s Seafood in Corpus Christi (just beyond the JFK Bridge). The Crab-stuffed Flounder and the Yellow Tuna Fish Tacos were absolutely marvelous and eating with the harbor providing the backdrop pushed Doc’s over the top as the best stop. Honorable mentions go to the Surfing Crab in Corpus Christi and Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ (Nakoma location) in San Antonio. But all in all there was not a bad meal the entire trip.

Lodging throughout the trip was very good. We stayed at a variety of brands, from La Quinta to Hampton Inn to SpringHill Suites. None were exceptional. None were horrible. SpringHill Suites in San Antonio was very accommodating in allowing us to stay longer when Mother Nature put our travel plans into disarray.

We had every intention of making it to Warbler Woods, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, and Rockport. Those will have to be stops for next time.

Speaking of stops for next time, as we’re getting ready to leave Corpus Christi I was contacted by a friend, fellow photographer, and fellow retired Airman about another set of photo blinds on a private ranch. Unfortunately the rest of our trip was planned out by then so we weren’t able to pivot to get out to that ranch. But he said the next time we’re out we’re welcome and we certainly make that happen. At a bare minimum, it was good to talk photography and “retired” life for a while with my friend.

My Think Tank Photo Airport Security v3.0 bag performed flawlessly. Everything I had hoped for and more. My only complaint: It just barely fits in the overhead compartments on Southwest planes if there is anything more than a laptop in the front pocket. And when I am “loaded for bear” the effort to lift it up. But that is an issue of genetics and not enough upper body workouts. I am very glad I made the purchase.

Other than how badly the vegetation and the early emerging insects had been hurt by the big Texas freeze, the only other disappointment was the rental car. Enterprise Rent-A-Car failed repeatedly. What we reserved wasn’t available when we got to the airport. We lost about an hour that night while they delayed, deferred, tried to get us into a more expensive car, and then gave us something to get us to the hotel that night. We lost a couple hours having to go back to the airport to retrieve something resembling what we had reserved. And then we had some nervous moments on the road to Corpus Christi when the vehicle was handling poorly and we diagnosed it as the tire pressures were too high (nominal cold pressure was 33 PSI, TPMS and the manual tire gauge read all four tires about 50 PSI). Enterprise will be our absolute last choice in the future for renting a car.

And two months after we’re contemplating when next year’s trip will be, what it will entail, and how long it will be. It’ll be a fun planning process.

About the Image
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
We
bb County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/320 at f/10 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1059
Image Size in Portfolio: 4231×3385

2021 Shooting Day #7 – Crescent Bend Nature Park

May 15, 2021
© Jim Miller – White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

My shooting companion and I got off to a very slow start on Monday. Really in the big picture we were enjoying the found time and the lack of a timeline to go do something.

Eventually we got off our backsides and decided not to completely waste the day. And Crescent Bend seemed like the best choice.

Even though I got more shots fired off on Monday, honestly the light wasn’t nearly as good and the bird variety was meh.

Still, a bad day shooting is better than a good day doing most anything else. And it was far from being a bad day shooting.

By the time the day was out, I was convinced that my shooting companion was somewhat hopelessly hooked on bird blinds. Over dinner at 54th Street Grill near the hotel, the two of us were already talking about what we wanted to do the next time we came down to Texas.

By early the next morning we would be turning in the car, heading to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter at San Antonio International, and then sitting at the gate area. Which is where I wrote the epilogue that started this arc of blog posts.

Still some loose ends to tie up, but that will wait for another blog post.

About the Image
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Bexar County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/320 at f/10 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1060
Image Size in Portfolio: 4151×3321

2021 Shooting Day #6 – Crescent Bend Nature Park

May 12, 2021
© Jim Miller – Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

*DING*

The phone’s screen read, “Your flight from SAT to DEN has been cancelled.”

Shooting Day #6 should not have happened in Texas. By the time we drove up to the blind on Sunday afternoon we should have been back in Denver.

Should have been.

Instead, Mother Nature decided that my shooting companion and I needed a couple of extra days in the Lone Star state. Mother Nature dumped around 2 feet of snow on the greater Denver area, paralyzing the city’s transportation grid. That included Denver International Airport which almost never, ever closes because of weather.

Almost never.

If there was any consolation, at least Southwest Airlines cancelled our Sunday flight on Friday afternoon, giving us some time to figure out what was next without the anxiety of wandering around Saturday wondering if we would fly on Sunday. With the new flight scheduled for Tuesday, we plotted what was next.

That next was Sunday afternoon, and it turned out to be back at Crescent Bend Nature Park. A couple of the places I would have liked to have gone were closed, either because of the results of the freeze or the inability to achieve social distancing. Another would have worked well, but I didn’t feel like I had it in me for the long walks that would have been required to go from place to place.

Sunday morning was dreary, but by early afternoon things brightened up enough to try to get back into the blind.

Crescent Bend was a good choice.

Plenty of good birds to be found and pleasantly filtered/diffused light made for some good shots. For me, the highlight of the day was catching a Carolina Wren. I have plenty of pictures of Bewick’s Wrens, but Carolinas always seem to elude me.

Not on this day.

Of the bursts of shots I made, I have three I’m happy with. That includes two of a particular bird drying itself after a good bath. I’ve processed two of the three shots. The third will be there soon. I still can’t keep up with processing.

About the image:
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Bexar County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/160 at f/11 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1053
Image Size in Portfolio: 3664×2931

2021 Shooting Day #5 – Corpus Christi and Port Aransas

May 10, 2021
© Jim Miller – Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

After a decidedly long trip from the previous day’s misadventures, we headed down to Corpus Christi and Port Aransas. This really hadn’t been planned as a shooting day. My traveling companion had never been down to the Gulf Coast, so this was an opportunity to enjoy what the coast had to offer.

Photography was not the first order of business. But photographic opportunities presented themselves. Lunch on the water turned into a nice chance for pelicans that were patiently grabbing the scraps from fish being cleaned by the shore. Walking on the beach presented an opportunity for a few sea birds. Eventually by the end of the day we ended up at Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, but all in all we made very few images over there as the light was not good at that time of day.

It wasn’t going to set any records for just about anything, but it was still a shooting day. And it certainly was a far better shooting day than the visit to Cook’s Slough.

We would travel back into San Antonio the next day. Weather forecast was not favorable for shots on the way back into town and our agenda were full for mid day and early evening. No photography possible. The following day was going to be doing touristy things in San Antonio, which pretty meant that unless I was going to add to my collection of River Walk images that it would not be a shooting day. The following day would be getting onto a plane and headed back to Colorado. But 5 days of photography was a good break from the normal. I was satisfied.

But the story of this trip wouldn’t end that way.

About the image:
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Nueces County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/640 at f/14 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1051
Image Size in Portfolio: 3568×4580

The Shooting Day That Wasn’t

May 9, 2021
tags: ,

After an enormously successful day at La Lomita, our plans for the following day was to go up to Kickapoo Cavern State Park, about 20 miles north of Brackettville and then head towards the coast to do some beach time the following day.

It was a good plan. It would have been a better plan had I paid attention to TPWD’s website which was fairly specific in saying that the park is only open from Friday mornings until Monday afternoons. Which, of course, I did not pay full attention to until we arrived at the gate of park and found it locked. I was bummed because I wanted to check out the bird blind there, but life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. Another day. Another trip. Better planning.

For what it is worth, we very much enjoyed the drive up there. Also for what it is worth, the photography likely would not have been all that great because we were dodging light rain and pretty overcast skies the entire way up to the park.

In this rain cloud there was a silver lining. We stopped for lunch at Ziggy’s Roadside BBQ as we wandered back through Brackettville. Without a doubt it was the best barbecue that we had during our entire trip. I had the smoked turkey. My shooting companion had the brisket. Both were incredible. It is certainly out of the way, but it is well worth the trip.

With our nutritional needs more than met, we wandered back down the road for the coast. Shooting day #5 would have to wait for another day.

2021 Shooting Day #4 – La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch

April 18, 2021
© Jim Miller – Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas)

The day after our unsuccessful day at Cook’s Slough Nature Park, my shooting companion and I headed to spend the day with my good friend Pliny Mier at the blinds at La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch on the east end of Uvalde.

Going to La Lomita is another nearly annual treat for me. I think the only year that I missed was my first year in Colorado, but I had three or four visits the year before so things all balanced out. I was supposed to be out for the grand opening weekend, but life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.

As usual, a day at the ranch did not disappoint. The diffused morning light was very pleasant and the birds were very active. After a quick break at mid-day and our usual visit to Oasis Outback BBQ & Grill for lunch, we headed back out for a very productive afternoon session.

It was a narrower species spread than I had experienced last year–only 10 species over the course of the day. But what was there was outstanding.

The Green Jays put on quite a show in the morning and the afternoon. The Cardinals were exceptional and numerous. And it was mighty fun to see the Olive Sparrows again in the afternoon.

As usual, it was an outstanding day of photography and a great chance to catch up with Pliny. Can’t wait until next year so we can do it again.

About the image:
Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas)
Uvalde County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/320 at f/8 – No Flash

Portfolio Image #1046
Image Size in Portfolio: 4012×3209

2021 Shooting Day #3 – Cook’s Slough Nature Park

April 14, 2021

As the sun rose the morning after our trip to the Rocking R6, neither my shooting companion nor I were rising very quickly. Our day was amazing and we were still very tired. We put off checking out about as long as we could without getting charged for another day and drove up to Uvalde.

Over sips of coffee we made the 75 minute trip up to our next destination, going over the great shots we had from the day before. My shooting companion was absolutely thrilled with the entire day and in the back of my mind I was already planning our return trip for 2022.

We got going too slowly to make it to our destination for the day, Cook’s Slough Nature Park for morning light. So we found some lunch, checked into the hotel a little early, snoozed a bit, and then headed out to the park in early afternoon.

It was here that we really got our first taste of how bad the Texas Freeze of 2021 had hurt the vegetation and those things that fed on the vegetation. In short: It was ugly.

We saw very few butterflies and only a couple of Rambur’s Forktail damselflies. Not a single dragonfly to be seen. A few birds here and there. But the landscape was severely hit by the freeze. Only a handful of recently emerged flowers. Lots of trees that looked like they had recently fallen. It was a mess.

Normally this time of year there would have been much to shoot at. I have a shoot from the same time in 2013 with a about 200 shots and about a dozen keepers. But it is tough to call this one a shooting day. 26 images. About half of them were of a specific cactus that my shooting companion wanted a shot of, but had the wrong lens for. Nothing really worth posting here, so I won’t.

Nature being nature. We kind of expected this, but I at least had some hopes. A bad day shooting is still better than a good day doing just about anything else. And my shooting companion really loved the large groves of cactus that are the norm for this park. They looked to have survived reasonably well.

I will look forward to the next trip out here. Maybe a little later in the year and maybe without a major ice storm in the couple of weeks before the visit.

2021 Shooting Day #2 – Rocking R6 Ranch

April 13, 2021
© Jim Miller – Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)

Crescent Bend was a wonderful appetizer. But the main course was coming the following morning.

My shooting companion and I were up before sunrise, headed down to the Rocking R6 Ranch in northern Webb County. This was my 8th consecutive year to make it down to the ranch. This was my shooting companion’s first opportunity to shoot in a blind on a private ranch.

Visiting the Rocking R6 is always an amazing experience. This visit did not break the mold.

My good friend, Butch Ramirez, greeted us at the gate and not too long after we arrived we were in the Morning Blind. Great variety of birds with good light. While we did not know it at the time, one of those birds was a Song Sparrow, which all three of us got images of. The Song Sparrow was the 100th bird species for which an image had been made on the ranch.

From the morning blind we moved onto the updated Cactus Blind. Tons of good birds in that blind as well, though my favorite without a doubt was the Curve-billed Thrasher. So much character.

Towards mid-day we adjourned from the blind, came in for lunch and the requisite mid-day nap before heading back out to the blinds.

When we returned outside, clouds had rolled in and the light quality changed significantly. Still workable light, but rather than going to the standard sunken afternoon blind we stayed at the Cactus Blind. Another great set of images out of the afternoon shoot.

As the light faded at sunset we called it a night. It was a 30 species day by the time it was all said and done. By far the most number of bird species we saw in a single day for the entire trip. Can’t wait to come back next year to make it 9 years in a row.

My shooting companion had faded like the setting sun, too. I was also really tired. Our plans to find someplace for a sit-down dinner turned into running through a drive-thru and finding our way back to the hotel room. A day of shooting is very taxing. Every shot or burst of shots is another moment of finding a subject, making split-second decisions, pressing the shutter, and then getting ready for the next shot or burst. It’s exhilarating. It’s tiring. And it feels amazing.

About the image:
Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)
Webb County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/400 at f/11 – No Flash

Portfolio Image #1041
Image Size in Portfolio: 4020×3216

2021 Shooting Day #1 – Crescent Bend Nature Park

March 22, 2021
© Jim Miller – Hybrid Titmouse (Tufted/Black-crested)

This day of shooting was hoped for but not counted on. We arrived in San Antonio late on Friday night with the understanding that we had three things we had to get done before leaving town. In spite of the best efforts of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we managed to get all of those done by mid-day when I expected it would take until late afternoon.

With some “found time,” we wandered out to Crescent Bend Nature Park.

And by we, I should specify, was a new traveling companion. She had not shot in a blind before of any kind, though she has proven herself to be very handy with a camera. This was a good chance to talk about tripods, technique in the blind, and a good dry run before we headed to our scheduled visit to the Rocking R6 Ranch the following morning.

Honestly I had no idea what I was going to find out there. I did not go to Crescent Bend last year when I was out in late January. I had visited in early 2019 before moving up to Colorado and it was not very good at the time.

At worst, I thought to myself, it would be an opportunity to focus on some empty perches and make sure that all of the equipment was working right.

It was much better than that.

The early afternoon sun was diffused very well, making for mostly soft light. Bird quantities were very good. Species spread was pretty good, too. Mostly the usual suspects, but the highlight for me in terms of not being a usual suspect was a hybrid Tufted/Black-Crested Titmouse. I’d never seen one before, but I managed to fire off about a dozen shots and be able to identify it on the spot. Not too bad considering I hadn’t made a bird image since June.

As I’ve looked back at the images now, I can see the mistakes that I made that would have made for better images. The Tamron 150-600 is notoriously soft at 600mm and f6.3. I shot about the first two hundred shots on that setting. Reminder to Jim: Pay attention to your aperture.

Haven’t made it through the entire series of images yet, but I see at least a half-dozen keepers from the set. Not bad for a first chance to get out and shoot for the year.

More adventures to come. One day down.

About the image:
Hybrid Tufted/Black-crested Titmouse
Bexar County, Texas – March 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head

ISO 400, 1/800 at f/6.3 – No Flash

Portfolio Image #1039
Image Size in Portfolio: 3168×2535

Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

March 21, 2021

I will get back to my Texas Photo Swing series after a brief pause to talk about Iceland. As I anticipated, this week was a little bit crazy after the travel delay caused by the weather. I need to process a couple of images for the first installment before I can publish it.

As long time readers of this blog know, I have a special place in my heart for Iceland. I lived in Iceland for nearly 7 years over two stints of being stationed at the now closed Naval Air Station, Keflavík (also known to the Icelanders as Keflavíkurflugvöllur or the NATO Agreed Area and is co-located with Iceland’s international airport). I’m fiercely loyal to the U.S., but Iceland is awful nice place to visit.

I started my obsession with photography in Iceland. Truth be told, my reason for volunteering to return to Iceland was because I was hopelessly addicted to all that the Icelandic landscape had to offer my film and later my digital sensors. I needed a second helping. Iceland is an amazing place to do photography.

When big news events occur in Iceland, it gets my attention. A volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula meets that criteria.

The Reykjanes Peninsula sits at the southwest corner of the island. If Reykjavík and suburbs are included as part of the peninsula, the vast and growing majority of Icelanders live on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

In the past few weeks there had been a swarm of seismic activity on the peninsula, with earthquakes well over a 5 on the Richter scale. Other signs had pointed a potential eruption, some showing up as much as 15 months ago according to Iceland Review.

Early in the evening on Friday (March 19th), and eruption began at Geldingadalur, close to Fagradalsfjall on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Point to point, that is about 13 miles from the airport, meaning it hits very close to my old stomping grounds. Reports are that it created a fissure about a half mile long and as I write this Sunday morning it is still spewing lava.

Due to its proximity to the Agreed Area, it is an area that I am familiar with. The nearest town to the eruption is Grindavík, and my family and I made many trips to the little town. Running due south of the eruption is Road 427 (also known as Suðurstrandarvegur, which one website named the volcano), a starkly beautiful road that runs along the coast. There’s a small utility-style lighthouse just to the east of Grindavík which I have some digital images of somewhere. There used to be a wooden church at the intersection of Roads 42 and 427 which sadly burned down a couple of years after I left Iceland for the 2nd time.

All through that area are definite signs that this part of the island was once very volcanically active, though that was many centuries ago. Some media reports state that this specific volcano had not been active for over six thousand years, though others put the last volcanic activity closer to 1200 AD.

The good news is that with the current eruption that it is so far away from all population centers that there is no immediate danger to life or settled property. But there are some who believe this could be the start of a far more active chapter of seismic and volcano activity in this part of the country.

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