Out in the Field: Rocking R6 Ranch
This past weekend I had the distinct privilege to shoot at the Rocking R6 Ranch in north-central Webb County, about 40 miles north of Laredo, Texas. As long-time readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of doing bird photography from inside blinds. Part of it frankly is because my body can’t take long hikes looking for specific species. And part of it is that blinds significantly reduce the Circle of Fear, allowing for more intimate images without causing the birds undue stress.
Blinds on private lands have an advantage of blinds on public lands because
– The blinds are set up specifically for photography
– No extraneous activity is occuring near the blinds
– Feed is constant, consistent, and appropriate for the species present
I need to stress that this is not a shot against blinds on public lands. I very much enjoy shooting in the blinds at Pedernales Falls SP and South Llano River SP. Both TPWD staff and volunteers at those parks do a spectacular job of providing a great experience to the general public. They have gotten better about accommodating the needs of photographers (as demonstrated by the new window at the blind at Pedernales Falls SP), sometimes going above and beyond what is given to the general public. And once in a while the blinds at Kreutzberg Canyon Natural Area are productive as well. But blinds on private lands provide a better experience, though admittedly at a significantly higher price.
But getting back on topic… In doing some research for my Texas Photography Blind map last winter I had stumbled upon information regarding the Rocking R6 Ranch. After a little bit of searching I was able to contact Butch and find out more about the ranch. Given some of the photography I saw coming out of his Flickr page and his Facebook posts, it was obvious that he was doing some outstanding work and that his blinds were set up with photography in mind. I had planned on going out for a half day last year, but life got in the way.
This year I was determined to make it out for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I have been in a photography slump. Poor weather. Life getting in the way. And so on. So I worked hard to schedule a weekend where I could just get away and put my nose firmly behind the viewfinder. Second, I went south rather than into the Hill Country because I’ve done a lot of shooting in the Hill Country but I’ve barely scratched anything south of San Antonio. And wow, the images coming out of the R6 made me want to give it a try.
Full disclosure: I paid full price for my weekend in the blinds. And it was worth every single penny.
I went out early Saturday morning, arriving at about 6:30AM. Unfortunately the forecast for the morning was going to be somewhat cloudy skies. But at that, it just meant that I wouldn’t do well with shots where the sky dominated the frame. We waited a bit for the clouds to burn off, but eventually we went out anyway and got setup.
The first morning session was outstanding. Plenty of good birds to make images of, though the cloud conditions made the raptors in the tree shots difficult. But lots of wonderful shots and an add to my life list (Harris’s Hawk).
After taking a mid-day break to have some lunch and review images I had shot in the morning, we went back out around 4:30PM to shoot some cactus flowers and then land ourselves in another blind. The afternoon session was also fruitful, adding two birds to the life list (White-tipped Dove and Blue Grosbeak) as well as the cute Mexican Ground Squirrel that graced my Sunday blog post.
I decided to stay overnight and shoot again on Sunday based on past experience with shooting and the fatigue that comes with it. Yes, you may be sitting still for a long period of time so there is not much in the way of physical fatigue. But thinking about every shot you are taking for to up to 8 hours in a day is mentally exhausting. The last time I went to a private blind I was so tired after the day of shooting that I honestly cannot remember the trip back to where I was staying. That scares me and I will never do that again. I add staying somewhere as part of the cost of going to a private blind. Just say “No” to groggy driving.
Sunday morning I was back at it. Skies were clear, temperatures were warming up, and the bird action was outstanding. My best Crested Caracara shots came from the Sunday morning shooting, as well as some non-bird subjects to include some gorgeous Leopard Frogs.
End result of the weekend:
– 2650+ images shot
– 4 life list birds (Audubon Oriole, Harris’s Hawk, Blue Grosbeak, and White-tipped Dove)
– A silly grin I can’t remove from my face
– A desire to get back and shoot birds probably in the fall or earlier next spring
My initial very cursory run through the two days of shooting netted me 50 images I want to work immediately and another 40-50 that may take a little more work to get to where I want them. Four days later I’m still having a tough time wiping the silly grin off my face.
I cannot begin to say enough nice things about the ranch, the shooting opportunities, or the incredible hospitality provided by Butch and Zita. Wonderful way to spend a weekend. Highly recommended.
About the Images:
Three birds and a frog grace the page today. All were shot with the Standard Gear. All were shot off of the “holding on by a thread” tripod (that’ll be a story for later in the week perhaps). No flash was used on any of the shots.
Leading the parade is a Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). Good shot, though not my favorite of the Caracara images last weekend. Still have a few to sift down into before I get to the favorite. ISO 200, 1/320 sec at f/9. Next up is the humble though normally vocal Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). With the assistance of the blind, this one was very quiet…just enjoying the food and the water. ISO 200, 1/250 sec at f/9. The lovable Leopard Frog (sp. Rana) is next up, reflecting on the morning. ISO 200, 1/125 sec at f/18. And closing the book is the not-well-liked Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus). ISO 200, 1/1250 at f/6.3. I used a lot of ISO 200 on day 2 because the light was bright. I might have gone 400 if only to gain some speed, but all in all the images came out great.