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Old Stomping Grounds Revisited

August 12, 2012
Black and White Warbler

© jmillerphoto.com – Black & White Warbler

So then there was Monday.  Odd to get three days of shooting in a row, but I will hardly complain about such a thing.

Business was going to take me to San Angelo for the day.  But to get to San Angelo meant I needed to travel through San Antonio.  And experience has told me that if you want to get where you’re going with all of your wits about you, you either try to get through San Antonio before 6:30AM or wait until 10AM.  Since 10AM wasn’t going to cut it and still be able to meet my appointment in Tom Green County, I instead opted for trying to transit the city at 6AM.  Getting out that early made it possible to stop at South Llano River State Park near Junction, Texas.

Except for San Angelo State Park, which was maybe a 10 minute drive from my house when we lived in Tom Green County, South Llano River SP is probably the park that I have visited the most over the years.  The primary reason has been for the bird blinds.  There are four bird blinds in the park, two of which are outstanding for photography.  A third is not too horribly bad.  And the fourth requires much longer glass than I can ever hope to own without fear of there being a death in the family (i.e. my bride would kill me if I were to bring such a lens home).

We arrived in the park around 8:20 AM, flashed my Texas State Park Pass, got my sticker for the window, and proceeded to the Acorn blind.  The Acorn blind is the blind that in the past I’ve referred to as Blind #4.  As you are coming into the park it is the last one you would hit if you just drove into the park, made the loop in the campgrounds, and then drove out.  It is my favorite blind for photography and the one that I’ve made the vast majority of my keepers at over the years.

Bird variety was good.  Large numbers of Northern Cardinals, to include a number of juveniles that were molting their baby feathers and starting to look like adults.  The male Painted Buntings look like they have left for the summer but some of the females and first year birds appear to still be in the area.  The two bird highlights were an Indigo Bunting and a Black & White Warbler.  My only previous encounter with the Indigo Bunting had been in this blind earlier in the summer so it was nice to see it again.  The only other time I’d seen a Black & White Warbler was at a bird banding event in Christoval, Texas so it was cool to finally see the bird free and in the wild.

After an hour or so of sitting in the blind we proceeded down to Buck’s Lake.  I had been here back in May and the pond was relatively active with dragonflies and damselflies.  This time, almost nothing.  A couple of Roseate Skimmers, a couple of Swift Setwings, but almost nothing else in an hour of walking around the lake.  My guess is that the stocking of the lake for fishing has taken a pretty solid effect on the dragon and damsel numbers–the fish have to survive somehow and that likely is through both eating the nymphs in the water and the unfortunate adults who get too close to the water.  Such is nature.

Dragonfly Exuvia

© jmillerphoto.com – Dragonfly Exuvia

Having used up most of the time we had gained through leaving early, we packed up and headed towards San Angelo.  Once the early appointment was knocked out I realized that there was quite a bit of time to play with before our next appointment.  Knowing that it was summer in San Angelo, the logical next visit was to the International Water Lily Collection.

I’ve spent probably 100 hours at the International Water Lily Collection over the years.  My last image to be published as a cover shot was taken one morning in the gardens.  I had never been there at 4pm in the middle of summer.  Note to Jim:  It is really hot at 4pm in the middle of summer and the lighting is harsh and dreadful.  I don’t think I got a single usable dragonfly image from the shooting out there.  I did notice a difference in the species that are there.  Normally it is only Blue Dashers, Rambur’s Forktails, and the occasional Eastern Amberwings.  This time I saw a much wider set of dragons to include Black Saddlebags, Eastern Pondhawks, and Common Whitetails.

What I did manage an okay image of were dragonfly exuviae.  These are the larval skins that they emerge from when they are literally ready to spread their wings.  Seeing the numbers and varying shapes of exuviae in the pond areas tell me that the water quality is exceptionally good this year and the ponds the water lilies are contained in are making for an outstanding set of breeding grounds.

After a short time I was drenched in sweat so I figured it was time to cool off, dry off, and get ready for my late meeting before driving back to where I call home again.  It was a nice three days of shooting.  I’m glad I had the opportunity.

About the Images:
The Black & White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) didn’t stick around long.  The bird hit the water feature for a while and then scampered off.  The standard gear was used on the tripod.  ISO 400, 1/125 at f/7.1.  Nope…not a lot of light at all.

There was too much light available for the exuviae.  In this case it was ISO 400, 1/200 at f/18.  Flash might have helped if I used it, but I didn’t.

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