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Life Still Gets In The Way…

July 24, 2016
Male Blue Dasher perched on dead vegetation in South Texas

© – Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

So I had every intention to write a quick blurb on Wednesday to keep the streak of one post going, but of course life is what happens when we’re making other plans.

That being said, it is hot… really hot… in South Texas right now.  I did go out last weekend and made some shots out at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center (MLAC) in Bexar County, Texas.  But that was a mighty quick trip outside as the the combination of heat and wind made for a miserable dragonfly experience.

The upside of the trip was that I added a species to my “I’ve seen it here” list for MLAC.  That would be a Neon Skimmer (Libellula croceipennis).  When you’ve made as many trips out to MLAC as I have in the last few years (easily 3 dozen by my estimation), to add a new dragonfly species to that list is unique and welcome.  Of course it was too far away to get a good shot of it, but what the heck… Maybe I’ll get luckier next time I’m out.

I was luckier with more common dragonflies, with Blue Dashers, Eastern Pondhawks, Four-spotted Pennants, and Red-tailed Pennants being the most likely targets.  I did come away with a species count of 11, which all in all is still not a bad day.

So this weekend has been spent trying to catch up on household tasks.  Most were your the usual suspects of keeping a house up and running.  But a little out of the ordinary was that I needed to recalibrate the monitors.  It had been months because my last one (Spyder4 Pro) started to act weird during the calibration process when I picked up my third monitor.  But I’ve had that one for a number of years so I figured it was time to replace it with a Spyder5 Pro.  Wonderfully easy process and now all three of the monitors look outstanding.  The only problem I had with the entire process was I had to move my monitors closer to the computer because the cable for the Spyder5Pro was too short to get to the monitor that was furthest away.  Definitely a First World problem.

Back to the grind tomorrow, but by all accounts it should be a slower week.  Of course, now that I just said that…

About the Image:
This Blue Dasher was one of the better shots from my trip last weekend.  It was shot off of my Standard Gear for insect work.  ISO 400, 1/320 sec at f/13 were the camera settings.



And the busier weeks…

July 13, 2016
Robber Fly (Efferia snowi)

© – Robber Fly (Efferia snowi)

Friends, I have been one busy, busy person.  I recently described my life to a co-worker as being a plate spinner trying to do his craft while the floor has been covered in olive oil.

As you can tell by the lack of entries for the last few months, blogging has suffered.  I’m hoping to get back onto the wagon blogging again, making at least one evening a week to catch up on writing to share my images and where I’ve been shooting.  Not many secrets here…

It isn’t like I haven’t been shooting.  Shooting is what keeps the blood pressure and stress levels in check.  I just haven’t been taking the time to write about it.  With my shoot this past weekend I’ve marked 24 days in the field so far this year–just nine fewer than all of last year.

Speaking of this past weekend, I spent a very hot morning up in Austin making images at Southeast Metro Park, a Travis County park that is due east of Austin/Bergstrom International Airport.  I made some great images of a number of dragonflies, but the highlight of the day were a pair of very cooperative robber flies.

Robber flies don’t get a lot of love.  They’re all pretty darn ugly.  They’re flies.  And none of them have “common” names, meaning that if you’re Latin adverse you’re not going to have a lot of fun keeping track of them.  And there aren’t really any good paper guides like dragonflies and butterflies have acquired over the last few years.

But they are sure fun insects to work with.  The Efferia snowi that leads off the post was a robber fly I had never seen before.  Someone on Facebook said it looked like he had sprained his tail and somebody wrapped him with athletic tape.  Wonderful species and I got some great shots.

Perched male Eastern Ringtail dragonfly in Central Texas

© – Eastern Ringtail (Erpetogomphus designatus)

I also ended up seeing 10 species of dragonflies, with good pictures of 7 of them.  My favorite was this image of an Eastern Ringtail.

Overall I added 14 images to the portfolio from this trip, bringing the running total up to 478 “keepers” in the library.  This is also the first trip where I’ve managed to finish up harvesting all of the keepers out of it since a shoot I did in February.  Did I mention I’ve been busy?

About the Images:
Both of the images were made off of the Insect Standard Gear.  The camera settings on the Robber Fly was ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/13.  I wish I had maybe closed down the f-stop one more stop, but the wind was pretty wicked and I was hoping for sharpness.  The Eastern Ringtail was made at ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/11.  Wind was a bigger issue on that shot, but everything worked out okay.

And the Busier Week…

March 19, 2016
Double-stipred Bluet (Enallagma basidens)

© – Double-stipred Bluet (Enallagma basidens)

The week sure got away from me.  Par for the course, I’m afraid.  Rather than try to do a couple of posts about last week, I’m going to try to condense this into one.

Last Saturday morning was spent at Southeast Metropolitan Park on the outskirts of Austin.  In keeping an eye on some of the Facebook posts and the Flickr page from Eric Isley, I noticed that the dragonflies were coming out in unique numbers up in Austin.  A few distinct factors came into play:  I hadn’t been out on an Ode hike yet this year, there were unique bugs up in Austin, and the weather looked more favorable on Saturday than Sunday for dragonflies.  With that in mind, I made the trip up to the our state’s capital city.

When I arrived we eventually had a gaggle of outstanding odonata photographers.  On my way when I contacted Eric I found out that we’d have two more photogs with us:  Our mutual friend, Desha, and Carolyn from the Christmas Mountain Oasis near Alpine, Texas.  Eventually we also had Greg Lasley join us.  Greg’s website is my go-to resource when I can’t find an identification in any of my paper guides.

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had picked up some life list dragonflies and butterflies.  On the butterfly side they were the Juniper Hairstreak, the Great Purple Hairstreak, and the Common Streaky-Skipper.  On the dragonfly side my first report was wrong:  There were 4 life list adds.  They were the Mantled Baskettail, the Blue Corporal, the Swamp Darner, and the Springtime Darner.  I have maybe one more butterfly to identify, but all in all it was an outstanding day of shooting.

Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)

© – Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)

Sunday morning was admittedly all about the pursuit of another life list bird.  The keepers of the Crescent Bend Nature Park blind had posted images of a Harris’s Sparrow that had ventured into the blind.  As I never saw one, I figured no time like the present.

Truth be told, it wasn’t that great of a shoot.  Bad lighting conditions made worse by my forgetting the proper technique to use with the gimbal head after having shot off the older tripod and ball head the day before.  I have a few shots where the focus is very good.  But the rest show the tell tale signs of the guy behind the camera just not getting it right.  It happens.  There were maybe three or four keepers in the crowd, but the rest were just average at best.

All in all it was a great weekend of shooting.  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to truly harvest any of the shots.  Some of them can be found on Flickr, but none of them have been worked to drop into the portfolio.

I had hoped to get some time today to harvest some, but no such luck.  Spring chores have shown up in abundance so I spent most of what was supposed to be a processing day instead taking care of the homestead.  I’m hoping to get out again tomorrow, though I haven’t decided where I’m going to go yet.  Stay tuned.

About the Images:
Both images were shot off of the Standard Gear, though starting with this post the Standard Gear means different things whether I’m shooting birds or dragonflies.  I have revised what that page to explain the difference.  On the Double-striped Bluet, the settings were ISO 400, 1/200 sec at f/18.  On the Harris’s Sparrow the settings were ISO 400, 1/60 sec at f/8.


The Busy Weekend

March 14, 2016
Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

© – Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)

What an outstanding weekend.  So outstanding that I didn’t have time Sunday to try to wrap it up into a nice little package.  I don’t have enough time this evening to do it justice, so I’ll just give you the highlights and I’ll try to go more in-depth as the week goes along.

Saturday morning’s adventure was to Southeast Metropolitan Park near Austin, Texas.  It is one of two places in Austin that I travel to where I can be reliably certain I’m going to have an outstanding day of shooting.  This trip did not disappoint.  Three life list butterflies and three life list dragonflies were among the haul of five hundred-something images.  Great day of shooting.

Sunday had me back at Crescent Bend Nature Park in eastern Bexar County, Texas.  It was a good trip, but just so-so images.  Probably the fault of the guy behind the camera.  But I also added a life list bird–a Harris’s Sparrow.

If I can tear myself away from life and processing I’ll post a few more and write much more about what the weekend gave me.  Now just get me through another week…

About the Image:
This Juniper Hairstreak on a what I believe to be a pink evening primrose plant was one of three butterfly life list adds on my trip to Austin.  Shot with the standard dragonfly gear (Canon 7D Mk II, 300mm IS USM L f/4 + 1.4 extender, flash, and tripod) with settings of ISO 400,  1/160 sec at f/10.

Letting the Shutter Cool

March 6, 2016
Male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

© – Male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Last week was mighty busy.  I had a ton of distractions that, for the most part, kept me out of the digital darkroom.  Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.  Saturday was filled with obligations gladly accepted but kept me away from the camera.  The weather was horrible today so the camera sat on the shelf, getting a well-deserved break from last weekend’s marathon at the Rocking R-6 Ranch.

That’s not to say that I stayed completely away from working images.  I did at least make it through all 2200+ frames from that marathon and I picked the ones I think are the best of the group.  That number is currently at 58, though the actual number of “keepers” will probably be less after I do my final cuts and eliminate duplicates.

I have my fingers crossed that this week I can process some of the images before I head out to make more images next weekend.   I can hope at least, right.

About the Image:
The reasonably common House Finch still makes a very nice image when surrounded by cacti in the background, providing a reasonably softened out fabric of green and yellow to work with.  Made with the Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600mm lens, shot off a tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head, with settings of ISO 400, 1/400 sec at f/10.


In the Field: Rocking R-6 Ranch

February 28, 2016
Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)

© – Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)

Saturday morning was spent in the land of pure bliss–the blinds at Butch Ramirez’s Rocking R-6 Ranch north of Laredo, Texas.  This was my third trip to Butch’s ranch and it only gets better every time I go.  This time I was using my Tamron 150-600 lens and I’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks.

This visit repeated my most recent visit.  An early morning shoot at the morning blind, a late morning shoot at what I’m calling the cactus blind, and a late afternoon visit to the afternoon blind.

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)

© – Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)

The highlight of the morning blind is always the variety of raptors that come in for a visit.  This time it was pure Crested Caracara as far as birds that perched.  A couple of Black Vultures came in for a look, but the Caracara were showing their competitors who was in charge.  Other great birds in that blind included Northern Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds, Audubon Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Western Meadowlarks.  After the first set of images I had to swap out memory cards as I had almost filled a 32Gb card.

Audubon's Oriole (Icterus graduacauda)

© – Audubon’s Oriole (Icterus graduacauda)

We moved over to the mid-morning blind and were treated by a wide variety of birds.  The Audubon’s Oriole was here as well, plus Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Savannah Sparrow, Green Jays, Curve-billed Thrashers, Black-throated Sparrows, and a wayward rat that was trying to steal a meal.  After that shoot I had only 8% left on my battery.  I guess we were making a lot of images.

Long-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma longirostre)

© – Long-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma longirostre)

The afternoon blind has a special place in my heart.  It is where I got my shot of the year last year of a Greater Roadrunner. On yesterday’s shoot it was a day or life list adds.  The Long-billed Thrasher was the life list add I actually got to see.  We heard Scaled Quail (confirmed by listening to their call and a recorded call) and I caught just a glimpse of one, but they were being shy and I wasn’t able to make an image of one.  I also got to see my first Javelina in the wild which was really cool.  I burned through the rest of my battery in about the first 30 minutes of shooting and decided it would be prudent to put in a 3rd fresh card for the day before I started.
(Edit: 2/28/2016  8:19PM CST:  Add Lark Bunting to the lifer list.  It was way off in the distance at the morning blind and I have an image that is just barely good enough to use for identification purposes.  Life list is now at 163.)

Final body counts for the day:  I made 2234 images, I used 3 memory cards, depleted one battery and but a serious dent into a second.  Now that was a day of shooting.

As always, Butch and Zita went above and beyond to make me feel at home.  An incredibly awesome day at the Rocking R-6 and I can’t wait to do it again soon.

Full Disclosure:  The cost for a day of shooting at the Rocking R-6 is $125.  As I have done in the past, I paid the advertised price for the day.

About the Images:
All four shots were made with the Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600mm lens, shot off a tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head.  The camera settings for the images were:
Pyrrhuloxia:  ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/10
Crested Caracara: ISO 400, 1/320 sec at f/14
Audubon’s Oriole: ISO 400, 1/320 sec at f/9
Long-billed Thrasher: ISO 400, 1/200 sec at f/9

In the Field: Crescent Bend Nature Park

February 21, 2016
Perched female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in South Texas (inverted)

© – Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

After a good weekend of shooting the previous week, I pushed my luck again with a third trip out into the field for the month of February.  This time I went back to what is becoming my favorite birding spot: Crescent Bend Nature Park in eastern Bexar County, Texas.

It was considerably milder in temperature as compared to both the last time I was out to Crescent Bend and as compared to my trip the previous Sunday to South Llano River SP.  Much more conducive to sitting around and making images, not that I usually let cold weather keep me away from shooting.  But the lighting was more difficult to work with due to a layer of low clouds.  Those mostly burned off soon enough, but played into some of my image making decisions.

This was really an outstanding morning of shooting.  The highlights of the morning were decidedly woodpecker-oriented.  The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made her return.  To my delight, her behavior had changed and now she was seemingly more likely to go after the more natural perches in the blind.  I also had a pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, one male and one female, make the trip into the blind a number of times.  Also present that morning were Northern Cardinals, female Red-winged Blackbirds, Carolina Chickadees, and Cedar Waxwings (to name just a few).

Perched female Golden-fronted Woodpecker in South Texas

© – Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)

Photographically I tried a couple of new things, to include experimenting with shooting at ISO 800 and ISO 500 when the light was not ideal.  The results were mixed–exposure was generally good but I was not getting sharp focus in the early go of thing.  I think this is a complication to the new lens, but it just tells me that I have to be more particular about focusing points, patience, and keeping the gimbal head a little better tightened down.

By the time I left I had exactly 800 images on the card.  Because it has taken me over a week to get this post out, I can tell you that of the 800, 16 have all ready made it into the portfolio with another 5 or 6 yet to be evaluated for inclusion.  Of those 16, many of them were instances where I was picking the best of a particular series of images to decide which one was going to go in.  I’d say it was a pretty darned good day of shooting.

About the Images:
Both images were shot with the Canon 7D Mark II and Tamron 150-600 lens.  The settings on the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were ISO 500, 1/100 sec at f/14.  The settings on the Goden-fronted Woodpecker were ISO 500, 1/400 at f/6.3 (or effectively wide open on this lens).  Neither image presented much of a problem in terms of processing goes.  Both required a bit more noise reduction than normal due to the higher ISO.  Both otherwise these were easy to get into shape.


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