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Favorite Places – San Angelo State Park Bird Blind

January 27, 2011

© jmillerphoto.com - Golden-fronted Woodpecker

A quick note…  This will be last entry for a few days.  My thesis draft is returning to me in sections for corrections.  So goes the life of a grad school student getting ready to graduate. I promised to get this entry published, but it may be a few/many more days before I’m back at it.  Priorities…

My series of favorite places will start where I have undoubtedly shot the most images over the last five years.  The bird blind at San Angelo State Park is a bit of a hidden gem.  A small sign on the main road leading from the South Shore entrance identifies a “Wildlife Viewing Area” with a dirt road taking you to the structure.  While it doesn’t look like much on the outside (and honestly, it isn’t much on the inside, either), the shelter and limited concealment that it provides has made it one of my favorites.

What makes this particular blind better than most are the openings  from which we can work.  Unlike other places (South Llano River SP, for example) the windows at San Angelo State Park are no kidding windows.  Plenty of room to maneuver a camera with a long lens on a tripod.  Plenty of room to put that tripod down in the first place.  Before some somewhat hasty repairs were made to the structure, it was possible to get three photographers sitting side-by-side, each occupying one of the three windows.  Unfortunately the middle window is now permanently sealed so only two photographers can work at a time without shooting through glass.

The blind is not without flaws.  Photography was not something contemplated when it was put in (just ask the park rangers who seem to answer this criticism often) and as such there are times of the year (especially the winter) where it is difficult to impossible to get good light regardless of the time of day.  Photographers and birders alike pray for overcast skies as the light becomes neutral, diffused, and somewhat directionless.

© jmillerphoto - Black-chinned Hummingbird

When the conditions are right and the birds are cooperative it is a paradise inside a wooden shed.  My favorite time is from May until September from when the park opens until about 11am or so.  Cloudy conditions help most of the time, but once the trees regain their leaves there is enough diffusion of sunlight to make some really nice images.  All of the key elements for attracting bird life are present:  Water, food, and a degree of safety.  Close to the windows there are perches for birds to land on, providing for a natural look to many images.

On a good day when weather is cooperating, and the hawks are staying away, I can make 300-400 images.  Of that number, usually a couple dozen different scenes are kept for further processing and at least a couple of keepers come out of every session when light, weather, and the randomness of nature is cooperating.

Beyond the productivity of image making, it is just an awesome place to sit and enjoy nature.  Except for the occasional traffic sound coming from the road, it is all nature all the time in the blind.  Lots of different birds with their individual songs making for a great way to spend a morning, even when the light isn’t right.  If I was told I was going to have a lousy job and had to go to work every day, but I could start my work day around noon and could spend the morning making images, I’d never leave my job.

This is, by far, my favorite and most frequently visited place to make images in Texas.

About the images:
Both images were made inside the blind on good light days.  The top image is a male Golden-fronted Woodpecker (
Melanerpes aurifrons) made in April 2008.  I have made probably a few dozen images of this species of woodpecker over the years and this is far from the best one I have–another one is a contest winner and is of course available for sale elsewhere.  But I also like this fellow.  The lower image is a female Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) feeding on a Yucca plant.  Both images are examples of the props and natural vegetation that has been available in the area around the blind and has provided for the backdrop for some incredible images.

Full disclosure:  I am a former member of the advisory board for Friends of San Angelo State Park.  Falling in love with the bird blind prompted my association with the organization rather than the other way around.

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