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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.

2021 Texas Photo Swing – The Epilogue

March 16, 2021

I feel like I’m working off of a Tarantino movie script as I am writing (and publishing) my epilogue prior to any of the pieces of the story.  I guess I’m entitled to that level of editorial discretion as the author.

I’m sitting this morning at San Antonio International Airport, two days after I had expected to be sleeping in my own bed after my 2021 Texas Photo Swing.  Mother Nature, as she is prone to doing, has won again and has set my schedule for me.  Denver is still mostly digging out from two feet of snow as I write this.  Our flight Sunday afternoon was cancelled, so my traveling companion and I chose to stay an extra couple of days in San Antonio.  Our flight today has been delayed twice, giving me a chance to write this and proofread it.

This trip has been a good one.  A little more spaced out photographically than previous photographic adventures.  The weather has been good, but not great.  I shot a ton at Crescent Bend Nature Park for a couple of reasons, biggest of which was the way the Texas landscape was crushed by the freeze a few weeks back.  By the end of the trip, the landscape was getting green and the butterflies were coming out. In retrospect moving the trip out a couple of weeks might have given a little more variety in terms of photo locations.  But I really can’t complain.  Nor will I.

The trip was unique for me as this is the first time that I’ve shot with my traveling companion.  With previous traveling companions, photography was simply a “me” thing rather than an “us” thing. This experience has been far more satisfying.

My companion had also never shot in bird blinds before, so there was some mentoring and guiding along the way to make sure she was getting the most out of the experience.

She also had never been to Texas, other than for a short and not very happy time in her life when a medical emergency had her flying in under the cover of darkness and the extent of her travels were from the hospital to where she was lodged and very little else.  She said it would take a very special person to ever get her to come back to San Antonio.  I seem to have met that requirement.

As a preview of coming attractions, our shooting took us to the Rocking R6 Ranch near Laredo, La Lomita Wildlife Photography Ranch near Uvalde, the beaches and the Leona Turnbull Birding Center of Port Aransas, and multiple trips to Crescent Bend Nature Park in Schertz.  At least 50 bird species were seen throughout the trip.  Effectively there will be some life list adds, but that will take a review of the photos once I get home.

And speaking of the photos, I have a ton of them.  Shooting in RAW mode, I filled three 64 Gb memory cards, a 32 Gb memory card, and part of another 32 Gb memory card.  My shooting companion, shooting JPG, filled a 32 Gb card and most of a 64 Gb card.  As we head back to Colorado, there is but two 32 Gb cards left in the card wallet that don’t have any images on it.  If measured in quantity only, this was an awful successful trip.

But how was the quality?  Not a clue.  As I did with last year’s trip through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, I only brought a Chromebook with me.  Enough to catch email, transfer images to an external hard drive, and figure out where I should go next.  It is a new Chromebook (the previous one I had purchased in 2013), but definitely not enough to do any serious photo processing.  That will wait until I return home.

As will the blog posts about the individual shooting days. That will take some time. No, a lot of time. Missing two days of work this week will mean my next eight days at work will be long days in order to minimize the impact of my time off. Hopefully these posts can trickle through over the next few weeks.

About the Image:
Random Texas highway sign in Zavala County, Texas. iPhone.
Shot as a piece of a scavenger hunt for a friend in San Antonio (that he didn’t realize he was on)

Gearing Up for Shooting Season

February 28, 2021

As the first couple of pages fall off this year’s calendar, I can feel it in my bones. Shooting season is on its way.

My first trip of the year will get me out of the cold of Colorado to a much warmer clime (and I will share that with y’all when it happens). But to get from here to there I’m going back to some of my lessons learned from last year.

One of those lessons: Trying to travel with my legacy camera bag was a nightmare.

The camera bag I was carrying was the same one that I’ve been carrying since I was stationed in Turkey. It has been a long term relationship of 20 years with a LowePro backpack that I bought to carry my Canon AE-1 and assorted second-hand and third-hand lenses. It has seen four countries (and nearly got lost in Germany), a dozen U.S. states, about a half dozen camera bodies, hundreds of rolls of film, and countless lenses. It has been with me for most of the photographic journey.

But last year, both in my January trip down to South Texas and my June trip out through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, I found that the old bag just wasn’t working for me any more. Really more so on my trip to Texas because I was flying and the backpack was awkward, yet I didn’t have all the tools I wanted to have. And I was limited to my small Chromebook for computing power because it was the only computer that would fit in the small front pocket of the bag.

So after two decades I’ve supplemented that backpack with a Think Tank Photo Airport Security V3.0.

Go big or go home.

To the outside world it looks like a run-of-the-mill rolling carry-on bag. But inside it carries both of my long lenses, my camera body, and the rest of my accessories. And the front of the bag can handle up to a 17″ laptop.

Granted, carrying this much gear is going to be a pain in the neck when I go through airport security–I will once again be a human rain delay for everybody who is behind me as I remove all the equipment from the bag, transfer it to bins, and then put all the equipment back. But it will be nice to have all of my toys with me.

The old LowePro bag isn’t going anywhere. For short day trips I will continue to use it. However, it is going to cause me to duplicate some of the supplies that I have in the accessory areas. Extra memory cards, lens cloths, and so on, because I don’t want to have to be continually transferring items from one bag to the other. That, I think, is the best way not to have something when you really need it.

So the journey with the new camera bag starts in just a couple of weeks. Expect an update soon.

Two Lost Voices – Rush & The King

February 19, 2021

In what feels like a lifetime ago, nearly thirty years ago, I worked at KPRL Radio in Paso Robles, California. I thought radio was going to be the way I made a living. After all, I was told more than once I had a face made for radio. As it turned out, I had a voice made for newspapers. But I digress…

KPRL Radio was a mixed format radio station at the time. News early in the morning. Talk from mid-morning to lunchtime. An hour of news. Another hour of talk, followed by a few hours of music. Evening drive-time news, a couple of hours of music, and then talk from early evening until the point when I would play the legal notices, the Star Spangled Banner, and then turn off the transmitter. California Angels baseball during the summer. High school football in the fall. Los Angeles Lakers basketball during the winter. It was a potpourri of programming designed to be a public service to the community.

During the course of the broadcast day (via the magic of satellite and syndication) four giants of the radio world contributed to the programming. Two of them have been gone for a long time: Paul Harvey, who was famous for his News & Comment and the Rest of the Story. And Chick Hearn, the long-time announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers who’s idioms are now common place in the vernacular.

But two of them have just recently left us. Larry King and Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh was on in the morning so I rarely got to listen. And for the most part, that was okay. I didn’t agree with his politics. I didn’t agree with his intolerance. But he was a massively talented broadcaster. And like him or hate him, he forced you to have an opinion. He changed radio and may have been responsible for saving AM radio as a going concern.

Larry King was on during the evening when I was running the board. His talent as an interviewer has been trumpeted loudly since his passing. And he was incredibly talented. But what nobody talks about is the hour of open phones he had every night where he engaged with Americans from sea to shining sea. Every night was interesting. And I was getting paid to listen to four hours of it every night. Absolutely amazing.

Neither of these men were perfect. I’ve shared my opinion of Rush. Larry stretched the truth a bit. But their mark on radio was undeniable. To lose both of them less than 4 weeks apart is amazingly sad.

Rest in peace, Gentlemen.

We will return to our regularly scheduled blog posts after a brief message from our sponsor.

What a Tangled Web… The 2021 Edition

January 16, 2021

I try to do this post every couple of years, and now is as good a time as any.

A friendly reminder from your friendly neighborhood information security guy who is also a photographer…

When was the last time you backed up your photos? That includes your cell phones.

My standard phrase is (with apologies to Bill Shakespeare): What a tangled web we weave, when in backups we do not believe.

For the 2021 edition… a lesson learned.

Last spring I discovered that the image archive on my main machine was missing three days worth of shooting. As were my backup drives. How did I know they were missing? Mostly because I had the images in Lightroom (or snapshots of them), but I didn’t have the images on my primary hard drive. Nor on any of my backup drives.

Three shooting days gone.

I cursed a bit. No, I cursed a lot.

I always considered myself to be very disciplined when it came to doing backups, but obviously I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Truth be told, I often have instances when I figure out I’m not as good as I thought I was.

While I was irritated, I had to let it go. Nothing I could do about it then and I had other things to do.

And then in early November I found them again. Short version of the story: They were on my last computer that I had used for image processing. Somehow during the copying process from old machine to new, something went awry.

Which leads me to this year. I have every intention of replacing my current image processing computer with a new one. The current rig turns 5 years old in the spring and just in terms of reliability and operating system age, it is time for a new one. And this year, I will be much more careful about backing up everything.

So I’ll say again…

When was the last time you backed up your images?

When was the last time you made a backup of those images and put them somewhere safe outside of your house? Somewhere far enough away that if a major disaster hit your house that it would not also be affected.

And when was the last time you checked to make sure you really have what you thought you had?

The Obligatory 2020 Recap

December 18, 2020
tags: ,
© Jim Miller – American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

This has been one hell of a year.

I could probably end the blog entry just with that, you would nod your head in the affirmative, and I could save both of us a lot of time.

This year’s recap has been tough to write. This is my third attempt at writing this because I don’t know that I can truly do this year justice.

COVID-19 sucks. Too many deaths. Too many economic lives destroyed. Too many 2nd and 3rd order effects caused to people’s mental health and their relationships with others that will never be well-documented. Too much sadness. As this year comes to a close, two vaccines with great promise seem to be here or on in the wings. I pray that it helps return some degree of normalcy to our world and healing can begin in earnest.

This has been a rough year for me. I struggled with a new medical issue that I was diagnosed with in late 2019, yet was expected to somewhat maintain a stoic “Only a flesh wound” type façade. COVID-19, and the restrictions imposed from it, has not helped. Much collateral damage as I started to get better.

I have avoided COVID-19 (as best as I can tell), but people I’ve worked around have not. They have all recovered. Their exposure also gave me an opportunity to spend quality time at home, waiting out the potential that I might have gotten it. Thankfully I could work from home. Thankfully I have been able stay fully-employed.

I broke somebody’s heart this year. My heart was broken. Neither of us intended to. Neither heart has mended nine months later.

Photographically this year has been both very productive, yet very disappointing. I was really great at image processing up until about June. I got a good photo binge in this year, traveling in a socially distanced way through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming (with brief brushes with Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota). I also got a trip into South Texas before COVID-19 started to rear its ugly head. But life got in the way in July and my opportunities to make and process images slowed to a glacial crawl. Life is just now starting to return to normal now.

As the year ends, I’m somewhat starting over in a new city with a new job and a new perspective in terms of starting points for photography trips. I hope that as the snow melts that the grip of COVID-19 will be melting as well and that 2021 can be a year of recovery for us all.

To you and yours, a very happy holiday season in whatever manner you celebrate it. Come on back for 2021.

About the image:
American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
Stafford County, Kansas – June 2020
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
Tripod
ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/10 – No Flash
Portfolio Addition Pending

1030

September 24, 2020
© Jim Miller – Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)
Boulder County, Colorado – June 2020
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter
Tripod
ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/18 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1030
Image Size in Portfolio: 3986×3189

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