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2021 Shooting Day #12 – Meadowlark Blind

October 25, 2021
© Jim Miller – Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)

A funny thing happened on the way to getting the Meadowlark Blind up and running. Actually a few funny things happened, but I’m only at liberty to discuss one of them here.

The weekend after the initial weekend at the blind, my shooting companion and I decided to go up to the blind for the weekend. In addition to getting the blind up, we also put up a couple of other creature comforts that made the property suitable for an overnight stay. The plus about staying the night is being there at first light without having to leave the house before first light.

And all of that would have been good, had we not had a set of unwanted visitors of the six-legged, honey-producing kind. While moving some things into the blind, I heard the distinctive sound of a bee swarm headed our direction. We hastily moved into the blind, hearing the bees bounce off of the structure. When it was all said and done, the bees congregated into one of the plants we had put into the blind area and decided that was where their hive was going to be. Given the bee activity, it turned into a far less productive but far more relaxing weekend. We couldn’t shoot. We couldn’t work on the pond. But we could call a local beekeeper, who took the bees off of our hands, gratis (and with the promise of honey at the end of the season…what a bargain). And we could chill and enjoy the countryside. Still a win.

We came back the following weekend with the intent of working on the pond one day, and then shooting the following day. It was a good plan.

Truth be told, the shooting was kind of blah. I made 450 images, but with only three getting my attention through the editing process and ultimately two will end up in the portfolio. Both of those were Lark Buntings. Lovely bird, but variety would have been nice.

About the Image
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/500 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1115
Image Size in Portfolio: 4349×3479

2021 Shooting Day #11 – Meadowlark Blind

September 20, 2021
© Jim Miller – Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)

After a good day at Walden Ponds, where I did an inordinate amount of walking, the following day was set to be the day we christened the Meadowlark Blind for photography.

Truth be told, it was still a work in progress. But as I remember for the day that I shot the Transition Ranch before it was complete, good shots can still be had when everything is not yet perfect.

I was shooting, as I always have now in the Meadowlark Blind, with my traveling and shooting companion. She remembered most everything from our time in Texas, though the tripod head was giving her fits.

In our initial shots we discovered that the background was not perfect because of the tree line far in the distance. It was also this day that we discovered the slope into the pond was too steep and the birds were not able to get their bathing or drinking as easily as they should. There was nothing we could easily do about the line of trees. We chalked that up to something that would have to be resolved through building up the dirt behind the shooting area. But we immediately conspired to get the pond right, which we would do a few weeks later.

For all of the issues with the blind, it was still a wonderful day of discovery. I made a little over 1200 shots that day, with keeper/portfolio shots from two new species for me: Lark Buntings and Horned Larks. I also got a couple usable shots of Red-winged Blackbirds but they are not a new species for me.

We also spotted, but did not get shots worthy of making into the portfolio, of: Common Grackles, Western Meadowlarks, and Vesper Sparrows.

Total Species Count: 7

Not too shabby for a first day in a new blind.

About the Image
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/250 at f/16 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1109
Image Size in Portfolio: 3864×3091

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 4 – Food and Water

September 17, 2021
© Jim Miller – Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

The last part of the equation when it comes to the blind is food and water.

Food, more or less, is easy. A blend of food that matches the dietary needs of the birds present in the area will get the job done. However, food in the form of seed is not highly effective when mobile protein (insects) are present. Most of the birds on our property in Elbert County, all things considered, would rather have grasshoppers and other arthropods than seed. And this summer it became very obvious that there was plenty of six-legged meals available.

Regardless of insect availability, keeping a ready supply of fresh food is very important. Birds are creatures of habit. If they know food is going to be present, they will come when it is the best choice for them. If the feeders go empty for extended period of time, then there’s less of an incentive to come out.

In late Spring, keeping the food filled was a challenge. At best we’d be able to get out to the property once a week. Some weeks that wasn’t often enough and the feeders would go empty.

As summer got rolling, that was less of a problem. That mobile protein was available. With that food supply present the birds weren’t coming for food so the opportunities in the blind were diminished.

That’s where water comes in. A good friend of mine in Texas who has now probably setup blinds on a half dozen properties swears that the sound of dripping water will get birds that won’t come for the seed to come in if only to see what is going on. Of the blinds that I’ve been to that are most successful, only the Rocking R6 does not have a drip setup. However, Butch’s ponds are deep enough and filled all the time so the birds know that a steady drink is only a short flight away. Otherwise dripping water is the norm throughout.

And speaking of ponds, the dripping water has to go somewhere. On a couple of the Texas state park properties, that place to go was nothing more complex than cattle troughs where water from a water feature drained into and there was a pump at the drain that would push the water back to the water feature. Pedernales Falls SP didn’t use a cattle trough, but it did also use a system in which water was recycled back to the top of the feature.

Alternatively, at La Lomita on the private ranch side and Crescent Bend Nature Park on the public side, a slow drip in a shallow pond was used. The flow of water was slow enough so as to not overflow the pond, but fast enough to keep a reasonable amount of water in the pond at all times. And by shallow pond, I mean probably no more than 3-4 inches deep at the deepest with a shallow enough slope into the deep in of the pool that the birds could walk in and drink or bathe, whatever their pleasure.

We chose to go with the shallow pond experience for our initial attempt(s) at bringing water into the environment, but with an understanding that it would go through a couple of iterations before we truly got it right. And our understanding was dead on. The first pond went in, we filled it with water, and we sat back and watched. And what we found was that with the first pond we made the slopes into the pond too steep, making it awkward for the birds to go in and drink or bathe. We learned our lesson and the second time around was nearly perfect.

The biggest stumbling block that we ran into at our ranch was that we don’t have a readily available source of water present. No well has been dug on the property. Getting a water truck into the property at first would have been darn near impossible due to the nature of the entrance onto the property. Nor is there a structure large enough to have enough roof space that would allow for rainwater of any consequence. No ready source of water meant no effective drip. Area of improvement for next year.

For the short term, the answer was haul our own in and go without a drip. Throughout the summer I have transported 25-30 gallons of water each trip out to the property. And by 3-4 days, the little shallow water feature is dry again with just that amount of water. The one time I was able to make two trips during a weekend, the pond had a sliver of water left a week later. Telling me 60 gallons a week will be normal usage. That’s tough to haul on our own without more suitable transportation (i.e. a pickup). And the effort to fill that many water containers and then put them into a truck is far from trivial.

But not having a constant amount of water diminishes the chances that the birds are going to frequent the pond on a regular basis because it is hit or miss as to whether there is water there. Which diminishes the habituation. Which doesn’t make for a productive blind.

Next spring we plan on putting in a large tank (somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 gallons or 3,800 litres), and pay to have a commercial vendor bring in potable water so that we hopefully will have a supply that lasts 2-3 months. The access to the property will be easier as we start the home building process, meaning the water truck can get onto the property.

The Meadowlark blind is, effectively, still graded as Incomplete. But even incomplete can be productive to a degree.

Status check: Planning accomplished. Structure built and fixed (and fixed, and fixed). Food and water present. The shooting could begin.

About the Image
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/250 at f/16 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1070
Image Size in Portfolio: 3579×2863

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 3 – Safety, Light, and Background

September 11, 2021
© Jim Miller – Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

As I’ve put this series of posts together, I realized that some of the pieces are tangled together and I can’t write about one without the other. So here we are with safety, light, and background.

Part of the point of a bird blind is to convince birds either that photographers aren’t there, or the photographers don’t represent a threat to them. A good blind will decrease their circle of fear–that is how close they are willing to get to you as the photographer given all other factors. It allows the birds to act more naturally and decreases the amount of lens you need to get the images you want.

At the same time, the other point of a bird blind is to make it so photographers can easily see what is going on outside of the blind and be able to maneuver their cameras in such a way that they can make good images.

It is a balancing act. The more open space, the more likely the birds are to see the photographers, the wider the circle of fear can get until (or if) the birds get used to the visitors.

At the blinds inside Texas State Parks and other public lands, my experience is that most of them are effectively not much more than sheds modified with larger, often tilted windows. Abilene SP, San Angelo SP’s original blind (since destroyed in a storm), Lost Maples SNA, and South Llano River SP’s 4 blinds all meet this basic description. Pedernales Falls SP blind is a much nicer construction, but the tilted windows do not play well with auto focus. There are blinds in a few other Texas State Parks that I’ve not yet visited (see also my failed attempt to see the blind at Kickapoo Cavern SP on my Texas Photo Swing) that I don’t have any information on.

Most of them are pretty, but it seemed like the prettier they were, the less effective they were.

On private ranches, the blinds tend to be more functional than pretty. Construction varies from ranch to ranch, but they are all highly functional.

Given the topography of the property, the lack of availability of running water, and some other needs, we made the deliberate decision to go with a commercial structure that is effectively a modified shed. This was not without its own set of issues.

The vendor (who shall remain nameless because I’m sure that TuffShed would prefer I not share my experience), charged me a fee to modify the shed to allow the window height to be the level I wanted and then provided me with a shed that had standard window heights. I’d have to go back and look, but I’d say it took a good six weeks from the time it was initially put into place on the property until everything was right with the building.

It is a pretty building. And it does a pretty good job of helping the birds think that they are relatively safe. There are likely more things we will do to help reduce the circle of fear for the birds, but that will likely be a late fall/early winter project on the ranch.

Long before we started the design process, we spent an enormous amount of time making sure that the light was coming from the correct direction. There are typically two types of blinds: Morning blinds and afternoon blinds. In both cases, the light is coming from behind the blind. In a morning blind, the structure will typically face towards the west with the morning sun coming out of the east. In an afternoon blind, the structure will typically face towards the east with the sun setting in the west. As the sun moves in the sky from winter to summer solstices and back, the angle of where the sun is coming from changes ever so slightly. True perfect on a blind is only for a few days.

However, this lighting issue is where most public blinds get it wrong. The original orientation of the blind at San Angelo SP was notoriously bad. The blind was facing due north and the only good light days at the blind were slightly overcast days where the light was diffused and there were no true shadows anywhere.

In pointing this blind, we wanted a morning blind and we spent many days out at the property ensuring that we had our orientation right. The light that we got this summer in the blind pretty much proved that we had hit it square on.

Where we did not get it square on, as illustrated by the image that leads this post, is with background. My goal in a blind setting is to get a creamy, somewhat monochromatic background to allow the main subject pop. Green and yellow streaks dominate my background in the picture above.

All of the work we did relied on birds being fairly close to the ground. There are no trees around, and thus (we thought), no natural perches. Nature always finds a way. In this case, there are small woody perches all over the property that the Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks absolutely adore. We hadn’t planned on them perching there. Nor did we anticipate that a line of trees at the bottom of a natural flood plain, which by the way are probably a good half mile from the blind, would make sure a green presence in the images.

We have some fixes planned for this, but this will be in another blog entry somewhere down the road.

Four of six discussed. Food and water next…

About the Image
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/640 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1069
Image Size in Portfolio: 2395×2994

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 2- The 40,000 ft Plan

June 25, 2021
© Jim Miller – Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)

Greg Reid is said to have opined, “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”

For the Meadowlark Blind, I reordered these steps a bit. I wanted a plan to determine if the dream was even plausible.

In my past life in the Air Force, plans and discussions had a wide range of levels of details.

There was the 40,000 ft plan, plus or minus 10,000 ft (or for my international, non-imperial measurement readers, a 12km plan, plus or minus 1.5km–because if God had intended Americans to use the metric system, he would have given us 10 fingers…). It was a very high-level view with big picture concepts, but very short on details.

And then there was a plan that was “In the weeds.” A high level of detail, but if it was the first plan then some of the big picture concepts were missed.

Most plans started at the 40,000 ft view and eventually descended to a plan that made it into the weeds. And between 40,000 ft and the weeds were plans with progressively more details.

Along with plans came a basic truth about them: No plan ever survived first contact with the enemy.

To make a plan, you have to know the essential elements of what you were trying to do. And over the years, I’ve written about this, as it pertains to bird blinds, at length in other forms. The simple version, and the one that I usually talk about when I’m trying to explain what makes a successful blind, is that there are three key ingredients that make for a successful blind. But in reality, that number is really is six.

The first, which wasn’t previously on the list, is availability of birds. The best setup blind with all of the other key elements is absolutely useless if there aren’t any birds around. And initially this was a worry for me. But after many trips to the property before we started the process, I was convinced that this was not going to be a problem.

The second, and the first on my standard list, is safety. The blind has to be setup in such a way that birds feel comfortable coming up to the area. No safety. No birds.

Third element is food. Proper food for the birds that are in the area is essential to attracting them and keeping them around.

Next is water. Available water, whether in a bird bath, a shallow pond, or sometimes even a cattle trough is a big draw for birds. Dripping water has the ability to attract birds to the blind that normally would not come for food because they can hear the water. Especially in drier climates.

Fifth, which I don’t usually discuss unless it is with fellow photographers, is light direction. Many blinds on public lands suffer from the light coming from angles that are not suitable to photography. The original orientation of the blind at San Angelo State Park suffered from this. Front lighting is the goal. Otherwise the only good time to shoot is when the skies are lightly overcast and the diffused light can make up for the lack of planning. However, it must be noted the as the sun moves in the sky between the winter and summer solstices, and exaggerated by how far away from the equator you are, the more variation you will have away from true east or true west on the directional light. More on that in a future blog post.

And last, and often not contemplated, is background. While getting the subject sharp is important, a distracting background makes for a lousy image. Sometimes nature doesn’t help out here. But you do what you can do with what you have to work with. If nature doesn’t help out right away, you can always introduce more nature in the form of vegetation, or fake nature in the form of artificial backgrounds.

Six basics to contemplate at that 40,000 ft level to then be broken down to the point where the plan can be executed.

Since the initial element (presence of birds) was determined to be true, I needed to move to the next step. Convincing the birds it was safe to come and join me with an appropriate structure was next on the list.

About the Image
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/320 at f/14 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1072
Image Size in Portfolio: 4560×3648 (full frame)

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 1- The Dream

June 19, 2021
© Jim Miller – Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

Long-term readers of this blog know of my love of shooting in photography blinds. I have been shooting in blinds on public and private lands for nearly 15 years. Some may know that there was a time when I helped to maintain the blind at San Angelo State Park as part of my association with the Friends of San Angelo State Park.

I would have loved to get out to places like the Rocking R6 or La Lomita every week, but distance and wallet were insurmountable limitations. Even a regular trip to a blind on public lands like the four blinds at South Llano River State Park or the two blinds at Pedernales Falls State Park were travel hurdles that I could not get over. In Colorado, except for maybe one place in a National Wildlife Refuge, the concept of a photo blind is a foreign one.

The solution to my blind desire: Have enough land to have my own blind or find somebody who was willing to work with me to share some land for a mutual good.

It is one thing to shoot from a blind. Another thing to maintain a blind. But something altogether different to try to establish one from scratch. Tons of engineering decisions that need to be made early in the process that have long-term ramifications to the success of the blind. Many hours of contemplation and planning.

I attempted to do this once before. When living out in South Texas on a 2 acre piece of property that I called the Rock Ridge Retreat, I went through the motions of trying to get a blind established. I picked a location, got approval from the Property Owners Association, made arrangements for a structure, and found equipment for a water feature. All the pieces that would be needed to set up a blind. And then life happened.

Fast forward about five years later. A change in latitude, longitude, and altitude. A much bigger chunk of land–The Ljósmyndir Ranch. And an involved partner to help make it happen.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to talk about the making of my own blind in Colorado. I invite you to share the journey with me.

About the Image
Western Meadowhawk (Sturnella neglecta)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/400 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1071
Image Size in Portfolio: 2985×2388

2021 Shooting Day #10 – Walden Ponds

June 7, 2021
© Jim Miller – American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

The month of May progressed quickly without any significant shooting. And by significant I mean the act of pulling my Canon 7D Mark II out of the bag. I’ve shot my share of images with my phone’s camera, but nothing really nature related. But not wanting to lose another month, I ventured out to Boulder early Saturday morning to visit Walden Ponds areas.

What I call Walden Ponds is really a combination of two nature areas. Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat, which is run by Boulder County. And Sawhill Ponds, which is run by the city of Boulder. To a relative outsider like me, the difference is effectively geography. There are fences that mark boundaries between the two areas. There are signs showing when you transition from one area to the others. But other than who pays the bills, as a hobbyist photographer who is there for the bugs and the birds there is no difference. But it is a favorite spot of mine which I have visited at least once each year that I’ve lived in Colorado.

There were two basic differences between this day out and the previous 9 I had experienced this year. First was it was a photo trip in Colorado that was actually going to yield something worth posting. And second, it was the first time this year that I was on a solo photo trip. My normal photo companion decided that the chance for snakes being out was more than she wanted to deal with. And truth be told, it was going to be hot (by Colorado standards) and hot weather shooting and hiking is not her favorite thing to do.

It was a good day of shooting, but I know I left some meat on the bone in terms of what I could have done photographically.

I started my walk running into another photographer who was doing primarily birds. He provided some great local knowledge about some places where I might find dragons and damsels, but then told me he hadn’t seen any, but he wasn’t really looking for them, either. As I walked a little further up the path and talked to another photographer, the first photographer walked by and said he just seen some damselflies. Always a good start.

As I started my walk up the path, I encountered a Tree Swallow perched on a nesting box. I got some good shots, but the meat I left on the bone was that while 420mm was good, having my 150-600mm would have been much better. Unfortunately, I haven’t invested in a tripod that can handle the gimbal head. And I won’t shoot the 150-600mm without the gimbal head.

Eventually I found a huge cache of damselflies and made quite a few shots. But I also figured out about 150 shots into the day that I had accidentally turned on about two-thirds of an f-stop worth of exposure compensation, effectively overexposing everything I had shot to that point. Not the first time I’ve done it, but I quickly set the compensation right and then locked the wheel that would cause that error. Again.

As I walked towards the south end of the property I found myself perplexed. The winds were light to non-existent. The clouds were fluffy and gorgeous. And the reflections off the ponds were landscape worthy. And the shortest lens I had was the equivalent of 420mm. I made some iPhone shots, but I had promised myself that I was going to buy a good, light, probably mirrorless camera specifically for such occasions but I had put it off because I didn’t want to spend the money. The same camera that would have come in handy last year at Rocky Mountain National Park. The same camera that would have come in handy when I found a great cactus patch in Cook’s Slough Nature Park down in Texas. Purchasing that camera just once again moved up the list.

The highlights of the day…

The Tree Swallow, in spite of not having enough lens, was a highlight. The last time I made a good image of a Tree Swallow was back in Ohio in maybe 2010. If memory serves, it was shot through the passenger side of my Ford Escape heading into one of Dayton’s MetroParks, shot with my Canon 30D and the same lens/extender combo I was shooting with at Walden Ponds.

The damselflies were also very good. Much work to do with them to get them how I want them.

The biggest bird of the day was a Great Blue Heron, perched in the top of a tree. Again, having the longer glass would have made things better. But at that point in the walk, I may not have had the energy to make a good image of him if I’d been carrying the longer lens and the heavier tripod/tripod head setup.

And last, but certainly not least, was the American Bullfrog that leads off this post. I would have missed him, had he not splashed in the water after catching a breakfast snack. I was able to get very close to him in two different poses before he finally tired of me and headed off for other pastures.

Great day of shooting. Followed by heading off to work on another project. And that other project is where my next blog post will (should) take us.

About the Image
American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Boulder County, Colorado
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
ISO 400, 1/160 at f/11 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1067
Image Size in Portfolio: 2691×3363

2021 Shooting Day #9 – William B. Pond Recreation Area

June 6, 2021
© Jim Miller – Vivid Dancer (Argia vivida)

For those who follow this blog regularly, you will notice that I’ve left out Shooting Day #8. That was a shooting day at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. It was more of a scouting trip than a dedicated photo shoot. But since I did make a few images and it did go into my shooting database, it is did count as a shooting day. I should be making a return trip to RMA NWR in the next couple of weeks so hopefully the scouting trip gave me some insight and better images next time.

The end of April found my shooting companion and I out in Northern California. A family get-together, long delayed by Covid considerations, was finally able to happen.

Normally when I go out for a family event I leave my photography gear at home. If the purpose of the trip is family, then I try to keep it concentrated on family.

But on this trip I made an exception. I really wanted to bump my States with a Portfolio Image count up one. And with some really pretty shots of dragonflies and damselflies coming out of the Sacramento area and with us flying into Sacramento, I bent my self-imposed rule a little bit. Plus I wanted another run at traveling with the Think Tank Camera Bag.

My shooting companion and I flew into Sacramento late Thursday night which gave us the chance to be up early Friday morning, somewhat refreshed and ready to go. After a quick conversation over breakfast at the Black Bear Diner, we decided our target for the morning was going to be William B. Pond Recreation Center, technically in Carmichael, as part of Sacramento County’s American River Parkway.

Two hiccups on this particular visit. First was the entry fee to get into the park. The cost was reasonable, but it was self-pay. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying enough cash to cover the $5 fee. So we had to turn around, find an ATM, break the $20, and then return to the park. Failure to plan on my part.

Hiccup number two was nature-related. My shooting companion and I were walking up the trail, scanning the environment for dragonflies and damselflies when I spotted something that lacked both wings and legs but was moving under its own power. About the time I said, “Snake…”, she had spotted it as well. Neither of us brought our snake boots on this particular trip because of the size they take up in the suitcase. I recognized the species and knew it was harmless, but there is no such thing as a “harmless snake” for my shooting companion. Off to the car she went, but still encouraging me to get the shots I wanted.

I walked another 100 yards or so and I found what I was looking for. In a clearing just off of one of the ponds at the recreation center (along with the very strong odor of Cannabis from the folks fishing at that pond… gotta love California), was a small cluster of vegetation and rocks that had quite a few damselflies.

The vegetation was all pretty low, so it was going to require every bit of flexibility I have left to get down onto the ground and manipulate the tripod so I could get the shots I wanted.

Highlight of the morning was the included image of a Vivid Dancer damselfly. Strikingly blue little creature that behaved for me long enough to get the shots that I wanted. Also present were Emma’s Dancer damselflies.

With about 125 shots on the card, and knowing that my shooting companion was waiting on my return, I wandered back to the parking area. As I returned, she was doing some shooting of her own, experimenting with some of the vegetation that was growing on the edge on the American River and enjoying the general atmosphere of the park.

The result of the day was a new damselfly species in the portfolio and state number 12 marked off on the States with a Portfolio Image long-term project–the first of 2021. Glad I bent my rules.

About the Image
Vivid Dancer (Argia vivida)
Sacramento County, California
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
ISO 400, 1/640 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1047
Image Size in Portfolio: 3801×3041

Texas Photo Swing 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)
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

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