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Planning 2022

January 12, 2022
© Jim Miller – Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

It has been said, and a mental health professional that I know agrees with the sentiments, that neurotic people build castles in the sky. Psychotic people live in them. And mental health professionals manage the property and collect the rent.

As long term readers of this blog know, I’m a planner. I’m not always a good doer, but I’m a hell of a planner. There are times it resembles building castles in the sky. I don’t think that I’m neurotic, but denial is often the first sign.

As things start to slow down a bit in the early fall, I start looking to the following year to figure out what I want to do photographically the following year. Much as my father often told me that when it came to dinner helpings that my eyes were bigger than my stomach, my desires of places I’d like to go and things that I’d like to do are almost always bigger than the amount of vacation days I have or how much my wallet can accommodate those desires.

There are certain things that I have planned that I’ve nearly always managed to pull off. A trip to the Rocking R6 Ranch has been an every year occurrence for nearly 8 years. La Lomita Ranch has happened every year that it has been open. I expect to make both of those happen again this year, too. It is planned and somewhat paid for and coincides with another reason that I have to be in Texas this year.

I have in the last five years always managed to knock at least one state off of my “Portfolio Image in Every State” bucket list. Last year it was in California. In 2020 I managed to knock off Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wyoming (and maybe South Dakota…longer story). I have a couple of trips possibly planned for 2022 that will make that happen, but we’ll see how things go.

I contemplate local locations as well. Places I’ve been to that I want to return to. Places I’ve scouted, but never shot at. Places I’ve identified on the map but time has gotten in the way. And places so damned close to my home that there’s no reason why I haven’t spent more time there shooting. That goes into the plan as well.

I also look at what I didn’t shoot the previous year that I’ve said I wanted to shoot. That goes into the planning as well, depending on why it was I didn’t shoot there the previous year.

The plans are always grand. The execution… Meh.

I’m hoping to do better this year. I have put an additional reminder into my calendar to prompt me to go back and figure out what I still haven’t done yet and what I can do to make it happen. And I have a wide swath of places I’d like to go.

This is what I’m doing. I’d love to hear what you do, if anything, to prepare for the upcoming year.

About the Image
My bucket list add for the state of Nebraska on the 2019 road trip.
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Cherry County, Nebraska – June 2020
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 300mm f4 L w/1.4x teleconverter

ISO 400, 1/400 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1045
Image Size in Portfolio: 2768×3460

Without a Leg to Stand On

January 8, 2022

I love my Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod. It has been a long-term relationship.

It was a Christmas gift in 2009. I still don’t know how we afforded purchasing it. I was in grad school, maintaining two households (one in Ohio, one in Texas). It was everything I thought I wanted or needed for the field because my monopod was not working as I had hoped in terms of stability, but carrying my heavy but dependable metal tripod was not a workable option for hiking. For what it is worth, that older tripod is still in use today, though a permanent resident in the blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch.

While I got it when I was still living in Ohio, I really started to use the thing when I landed in San Antonio about 18 months later. It took some time to wean myself off of the monopod, but as I did, I found that my dragonfly, damselfly, and butterfly images had become noticeably sharper.

It however, has not been without its share of issues. I detailed in my June 2014 blog post (gawd I’ve been doing this for a while) that I had a problem where I lost a tripod foot which led to me losing a tripod shim. It took some time, but I got replacements for both and away I went.

So during my weekend where I wanted to shoot Big Boy, I had another tripod misadventure. I was shooting at Doug Kissel Fishing Ponds in Limon, Colorado. First time there. Didn’t really have great situational awareness. I was walking around the two primary ponds, not really paying attention, when I heard an very unsettling sound of structural failure. I looked down, and I noticed that the lowest segment of one of my tripod legs had found its way into a gap the metal fence posts around one of the ponds. Brief examination showed that there was a small, but noticeable and functionally significant crack in the strong, but light, carbon fiber.

There were probably a few, foul words uttered softly under my breath.

A brief examination of the damage seemed to show that it was not immediately terminal, but it certainly wasn’t fully functional. It hopefully would make it through the weekend. But it was not going to survive very long.

Granted, it isn’t in really good shape to begin with. One of the legs has lost a good deal of its tension. All of the identifying information has rubbed off by now. It has seen far better days.

But this has been my shooting companion in at least 15 states. It has helped me make some marvelous images. It has been more supportive of me than my last two relationships. The thought of losing it hurt.

What hurt nearly as much was the next time I went to use the tripod at Walden Ponds in Boulder County. I took out the tripod, tried to adjust it, and when I touched the cracked portion of the tripod I got a sliver in my index finger. Thankfully my shooting companion had a pair of tweezers with her and the day was not a loss. But I knew that the “take it easy” approach to continuing to use this tripod was not going to work. Either find a spare part or replace the tripod.

Manfrotto to the rescue again.

A visit to their website quickly revealed the illustrated part breakdown for this somewhat ancient tripod. I made a quick phone call to their tech support folks. They didn’t have the leg segment in stock, but they pointed me to a website that did. About $50 later and a number of weeks in transit (it was in England), and the spare part was in my hands.

It took a few weeks more to find the time to go and do the needed surgery on the tripod. Work/life balance. But when time made itself available, the repair was simple. One Torx screw removed from the tension lever. Pull the leg out, being careful not to let the shims hit the ground. Remove the tension lever. Pull the new part out of the packaging. Put the tension lever on the new leg. Put the shims on the new leg. Carefully slide the leg back into the middle leg segment, making to sure to align the shims so it will go in smoothly. Replace the Torx screw and tighten up the tension lever. Fifteen minutes. Easy as can be.

Will I replace the tripod? Probably. It has lived a good life. But I’m hoping to have it for at least one more shooting season.

2021 Shoots 13-24: The Abridged Version

January 4, 2022

Life got in the way of writing. With some holiday down time in place, here’s a quick recap of the rest of my year.

© Jim Miller – Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – Portfolio #1119

Shooting Day 13: Ljósmyndir Ranch: This shoot was still a “work in progress” shoot for the blind while we were getting the pond right, and specifically getting enough river rock in place. Thus, most of the good pictures came from places other than the pond.

© Jim Miller – Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) – Portfolio #1100

Shooting Day 14: Ljósmyndir Ranch: Yet another “work in progress” shoot. The best images I have around the pond seemingly all could see the exposed vinyl liner of the pond. A few keepers in the bunch.

Shooting Day 15: Ljósmyndir Ranch: Finally got the pond lined properly. But by then the summer was making keeping water in the pond nearly impossible and there was a lot of moving protein (insects) feeding the birds. 450 shots from the day. Not a single one in the portfolio.

© Jim Miller – Tule Bluet (Enallagma carunculatum) – Portfolio #1074

Shooting Day 16: Marjorie Perry Nature Preserve, Arapahoe County, Colorado: This was a new shooting area for me this year which yielded a county record for damselflies. Disappointed that I only made it out there once, but it is on my list of places to go in 2022.

Shooting Day 17: Hay Bales, Elbert County, Colorado: Very limited shooting day, designed specifically to try to capture some landscapes to use as Zoom conference backgrounds. No images actually made it into the portfolio.

© Jim Miller – Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme) – Portfolio #1096

Shooting Day 18: Cherry Creek SP, Arapahoe County, Colorado: This trip was meant to be more odonata-centric, but instead I got this wonderful image of an Orange Sulphur. This is an odd shooting day in that it is only one of five shooting days all year that I have fully processed.

Shooting Day 19: Cherry Creek SP, Arapahoe County, Colorado: Interesting day for shooting to include adding a new county record for a Powdered Dancer. But no images in the portfolio yet.

Shooting Day 20: Lincoln County, Colorado: Another new set of locales for me. Three different shooting spots: Doug Kissel Fishing Ponds, Limon Wetlands, and Hugo State Wildlife Area. I’ve identified 5 images for processing and inclusion into the portfolio, but to this point haven’t done a single one. This also will be a repeat trip that will probably extend over a summer weekend. This trip was also the trip where I injured my Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod, perhaps to the point of finally rendering it unusable. That story will be saved for another blog entry.

© Jim Miller – Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 Steam Locomotive – Portfolio #1108

Shooting Days 21 & 22: Big Boy 4014: Two shooting days in eastern and northern Colorado, chasing this wonderfully huge piece of engineering across the plains. So big, so heavy, and so powerful that I had to shoot handheld because the vibration from the train rendered the tripod useless. It has inspired me to try again to get into train photography and my shooting companion and I have identified a number of running steam locomotives to go and see and get pictures of, with one trip planned out to February 2023.

© Jim Miller – Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis) – Portfolio #1105

Shooting Day 23: Walden Ponds, Boulder County, Colorado: Walden Ponds is a regular haunt for me, but I’d never been out there in September. Odd light day with light rain interspersed with very bright sunlight. The Great Spreadwing was a life list add for me.

Shooting Day 24: Cherry Creek SP, Arapahoe County, Colorado: Admittedly I went out shooting looking specifically for so-called Late Fly dates. Arapahoe County has a remarkably small number of odonate records and most of them ended in August. I got some images, but I have not processed any of them for the portfolio.

Effectively my outdoor shooting season ended September 18th. Colorado’s weather got cold. Work got busy. I did shoot some outdoor portrait work in October and November and it may influence my landscape shooting for next year–the fall colors were gorgeous.

So here’s to more shooting (and more timely writing) in 2022…

About the Images:
All images were shot with the Canon 7D Mark II.
Bird images were made with the Tamron 150-600mm on tripod w/gimbal head
Insect images were made with the Canon 300mm f/4 IS on tripod

Train image made with Canon 17-40 f/4 L handheld
Various shutter, ISO, and f-stop settings.

The Obligatory 2021 Recap

January 2, 2022
tags: ,

I have been away from the blog for a couple of months now, but I did want to at least keep this streak of end of year recaps going.

The theme this year: The Year I Lost My Work/Life Balance.

As last year ended, I was in a new town with a new job. As this year ends I’m in the same town, but with a more lucrative but busier job. This new job started in June. Truth be told, my last job was starting to increase in intensity and silliness, too. I think one way or another, regardless of the job, my work/life balance was going to be shot.

Covid-19 still sucks. It continues to wreak havoc on our world. I really hoped that going into the new year and with a vaccine in the wings that the end was near. I was wrong. It touched my family with one of my adult children being hospitalized. Thankfully his stay was a short one and he is back at full strength, but it certainly brought the pandemic home. As the year ends, the Omicron variant is ripping through society. Hoping that 2022 will see increased vaccination rates, decreased infection rates, and a shared understanding that we’re going to have to learn how to live with this virus because it is not going to go away any time soon.

It has been a good year for photography. I managed 24 days in the field this year. Many more than last year. Twice a month on average, which isn’t bad. Especially considering the winter months in Colorado, at least for the photography I do, is not conducive to being out in the field. We’ll see what the new year presents. I don’t count in that number the two days of portraits I did for high school seniors for yearbook images. I will probably do a recap for the remaining 12 days of shooting as the new year starts and I find some extra time on my hands. Work/life balance. Again.

Getting images put into the portfolio was a different story. Last year I did really well. This year I only managed to add about 75 images to the portfolio. And the backlog got longer. Of 24 days of shooting, maybe three have been closed out. Work/life balance. Again. A bit of a broken record.

I’m hoping the work/life balance will be better next year. But aside from work, I know that there are a number of big projects coming. A house to be built. Maybe more responsibility at work. A planned trip to Texas in the spring that will only partially be photography related. A significant social event in October. It is going to be a busy year, and I only know about the things that I know about. Murphy has a wicked sense of humor.

But on the photographic side of things, there is the planned trip in the spring to Texas. The second year of the photo blind on the property with full-time water available. A few additional trips planned to add states to the “Lower 48 Portfolio” bucket list. Great big plans. And I’m hoping to execute them.

So good riddance 2021 and welcome 2022. Thank you for sticking with me. Lots of fun things planned for the new year.

2021 Shooting Day #12 – Meadowlark Blind

October 25, 2021
© Jim Miller – Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)

A funny thing happened on the way to getting the Meadowlark Blind up and running. Actually a few funny things happened, but I’m only at liberty to discuss one of them here.

The weekend after the initial weekend at the blind, my shooting companion and I decided to go up to the blind for the weekend. In addition to getting the blind up, we also put up a couple of other creature comforts that made the property suitable for an overnight stay. The plus about staying the night is being there at first light without having to leave the house before first light.

And all of that would have been good, had we not had a set of unwanted visitors of the six-legged, honey-producing kind. While moving some things into the blind, I heard the distinctive sound of a bee swarm headed our direction. We hastily moved into the blind, hearing the bees bounce off of the structure. When it was all said and done, the bees congregated into one of the plants we had put into the blind area and decided that was where their hive was going to be. Given the bee activity, it turned into a far less productive but far more relaxing weekend. We couldn’t shoot. We couldn’t work on the pond. But we could call a local beekeeper, who took the bees off of our hands, gratis (and with the promise of honey at the end of the season…what a bargain). And we could chill and enjoy the countryside. Still a win.

We came back the following weekend with the intent of working on the pond one day, and then shooting the following day. It was a good plan.

Truth be told, the shooting was kind of blah. I made 450 images, but with only three getting my attention through the editing process and ultimately two will end up in the portfolio. Both of those were Lark Buntings. Lovely bird, but variety would have been nice.

About the Image
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/500 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1115
Image Size in Portfolio: 4349×3479

2021 Shooting Day #11 – Meadowlark Blind

September 20, 2021
© Jim Miller – Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)

After a good day at Walden Ponds, where I did an inordinate amount of walking, the following day was set to be the day we christened the Meadowlark Blind for photography.

Truth be told, it was still a work in progress. But as I remember for the day that I shot the Transition Ranch before it was complete, good shots can still be had when everything is not yet perfect.

I was shooting, as I always have now in the Meadowlark Blind, with my traveling and shooting companion. She remembered most everything from our time in Texas, though the tripod head was giving her fits.

In our initial shots we discovered that the background was not perfect because of the tree line far in the distance. It was also this day that we discovered the slope into the pond was too steep and the birds were not able to get their bathing or drinking as easily as they should. There was nothing we could easily do about the line of trees. We chalked that up to something that would have to be resolved through building up the dirt behind the shooting area. But we immediately conspired to get the pond right, which we would do a few weeks later.

For all of the issues with the blind, it was still a wonderful day of discovery. I made a little over 1200 shots that day, with keeper/portfolio shots from two new species for me: Lark Buntings and Horned Larks. I also got a couple usable shots of Red-winged Blackbirds but they are not a new species for me.

We also spotted, but did not get shots worthy of making into the portfolio, of: Common Grackles, Western Meadowlarks, and Vesper Sparrows.

Total Species Count: 7

Not too shabby for a first day in a new blind.

About the Image
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/250 at f/16 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1109
Image Size in Portfolio: 3864×3091

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 4 – Food and Water

September 17, 2021
© Jim Miller – Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

The last part of the equation when it comes to the blind is food and water.

Food, more or less, is easy. A blend of food that matches the dietary needs of the birds present in the area will get the job done. However, food in the form of seed is not highly effective when mobile protein (insects) are present. Most of the birds on our property in Elbert County, all things considered, would rather have grasshoppers and other arthropods than seed. And this summer it became very obvious that there was plenty of six-legged meals available.

Regardless of insect availability, keeping a ready supply of fresh food is very important. Birds are creatures of habit. If they know food is going to be present, they will come when it is the best choice for them. If the feeders go empty for extended period of time, then there’s less of an incentive to come out.

In late Spring, keeping the food filled was a challenge. At best we’d be able to get out to the property once a week. Some weeks that wasn’t often enough and the feeders would go empty.

As summer got rolling, that was less of a problem. That mobile protein was available. With that food supply present the birds weren’t coming for food so the opportunities in the blind were diminished.

That’s where water comes in. A good friend of mine in Texas who has now probably setup blinds on a half dozen properties swears that the sound of dripping water will get birds that won’t come for the seed to come in if only to see what is going on. Of the blinds that I’ve been to that are most successful, only the Rocking R6 does not have a drip setup. However, Butch’s ponds are deep enough and filled all the time so the birds know that a steady drink is only a short flight away. Otherwise dripping water is the norm throughout.

And speaking of ponds, the dripping water has to go somewhere. On a couple of the Texas state park properties, that place to go was nothing more complex than cattle troughs where water from a water feature drained into and there was a pump at the drain that would push the water back to the water feature. Pedernales Falls SP didn’t use a cattle trough, but it did also use a system in which water was recycled back to the top of the feature.

Alternatively, at La Lomita on the private ranch side and Crescent Bend Nature Park on the public side, a slow drip in a shallow pond was used. The flow of water was slow enough so as to not overflow the pond, but fast enough to keep a reasonable amount of water in the pond at all times. And by shallow pond, I mean probably no more than 3-4 inches deep at the deepest with a shallow enough slope into the deep in of the pool that the birds could walk in and drink or bathe, whatever their pleasure.

We chose to go with the shallow pond experience for our initial attempt(s) at bringing water into the environment, but with an understanding that it would go through a couple of iterations before we truly got it right. And our understanding was dead on. The first pond went in, we filled it with water, and we sat back and watched. And what we found was that with the first pond we made the slopes into the pond too steep, making it awkward for the birds to go in and drink or bathe. We learned our lesson and the second time around was nearly perfect.

The biggest stumbling block that we ran into at our ranch was that we don’t have a readily available source of water present. No well has been dug on the property. Getting a water truck into the property at first would have been darn near impossible due to the nature of the entrance onto the property. Nor is there a structure large enough to have enough roof space that would allow for rainwater of any consequence. No ready source of water meant no effective drip. Area of improvement for next year.

For the short term, the answer was haul our own in and go without a drip. Throughout the summer I have transported 25-30 gallons of water each trip out to the property. And by 3-4 days, the little shallow water feature is dry again with just that amount of water. The one time I was able to make two trips during a weekend, the pond had a sliver of water left a week later. Telling me 60 gallons a week will be normal usage. That’s tough to haul on our own without more suitable transportation (i.e. a pickup). And the effort to fill that many water containers and then put them into a truck is far from trivial.

But not having a constant amount of water diminishes the chances that the birds are going to frequent the pond on a regular basis because it is hit or miss as to whether there is water there. Which diminishes the habituation. Which doesn’t make for a productive blind.

Next spring we plan on putting in a large tank (somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 gallons or 3,800 litres), and pay to have a commercial vendor bring in potable water so that we hopefully will have a supply that lasts 2-3 months. The access to the property will be easier as we start the home building process, meaning the water truck can get onto the property.

The Meadowlark blind is, effectively, still graded as Incomplete. But even incomplete can be productive to a degree.

Status check: Planning accomplished. Structure built and fixed (and fixed, and fixed). Food and water present. The shooting could begin.

About the Image
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/250 at f/16 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1070
Image Size in Portfolio: 3579×2863

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 3 – Safety, Light, and Background

September 11, 2021
© Jim Miller – Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

As I’ve put this series of posts together, I realized that some of the pieces are tangled together and I can’t write about one without the other. So here we are with safety, light, and background.

Part of the point of a bird blind is to convince birds either that photographers aren’t there, or the photographers don’t represent a threat to them. A good blind will decrease their circle of fear–that is how close they are willing to get to you as the photographer given all other factors. It allows the birds to act more naturally and decreases the amount of lens you need to get the images you want.

At the same time, the other point of a bird blind is to make it so photographers can easily see what is going on outside of the blind and be able to maneuver their cameras in such a way that they can make good images.

It is a balancing act. The more open space, the more likely the birds are to see the photographers, the wider the circle of fear can get until (or if) the birds get used to the visitors.

At the blinds inside Texas State Parks and other public lands, my experience is that most of them are effectively not much more than sheds modified with larger, often tilted windows. Abilene SP, San Angelo SP’s original blind (since destroyed in a storm), Lost Maples SNA, and South Llano River SP’s 4 blinds all meet this basic description. Pedernales Falls SP blind is a much nicer construction, but the tilted windows do not play well with auto focus. There are blinds in a few other Texas State Parks that I’ve not yet visited (see also my failed attempt to see the blind at Kickapoo Cavern SP on my Texas Photo Swing) that I don’t have any information on.

Most of them are pretty, but it seemed like the prettier they were, the less effective they were.

On private ranches, the blinds tend to be more functional than pretty. Construction varies from ranch to ranch, but they are all highly functional.

Given the topography of the property, the lack of availability of running water, and some other needs, we made the deliberate decision to go with a commercial structure that is effectively a modified shed. This was not without its own set of issues.

The vendor (who shall remain nameless because I’m sure that TuffShed would prefer I not share my experience), charged me a fee to modify the shed to allow the window height to be the level I wanted and then provided me with a shed that had standard window heights. I’d have to go back and look, but I’d say it took a good six weeks from the time it was initially put into place on the property until everything was right with the building.

It is a pretty building. And it does a pretty good job of helping the birds think that they are relatively safe. There are likely more things we will do to help reduce the circle of fear for the birds, but that will likely be a late fall/early winter project on the ranch.

Long before we started the design process, we spent an enormous amount of time making sure that the light was coming from the correct direction. There are typically two types of blinds: Morning blinds and afternoon blinds. In both cases, the light is coming from behind the blind. In a morning blind, the structure will typically face towards the west with the morning sun coming out of the east. In an afternoon blind, the structure will typically face towards the east with the sun setting in the west. As the sun moves in the sky from winter to summer solstices and back, the angle of where the sun is coming from changes ever so slightly. True perfect on a blind is only for a few days.

However, this lighting issue is where most public blinds get it wrong. The original orientation of the blind at San Angelo SP was notoriously bad. The blind was facing due north and the only good light days at the blind were slightly overcast days where the light was diffused and there were no true shadows anywhere.

In pointing this blind, we wanted a morning blind and we spent many days out at the property ensuring that we had our orientation right. The light that we got this summer in the blind pretty much proved that we had hit it square on.

Where we did not get it square on, as illustrated by the image that leads this post, is with background. My goal in a blind setting is to get a creamy, somewhat monochromatic background to allow the main subject pop. Green and yellow streaks dominate my background in the picture above.

All of the work we did relied on birds being fairly close to the ground. There are no trees around, and thus (we thought), no natural perches. Nature always finds a way. In this case, there are small woody perches all over the property that the Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks absolutely adore. We hadn’t planned on them perching there. Nor did we anticipate that a line of trees at the bottom of a natural flood plain, which by the way are probably a good half mile from the blind, would make sure a green presence in the images.

We have some fixes planned for this, but this will be in another blog entry somewhere down the road.

Four of six discussed. Food and water next…

About the Image
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/640 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1069
Image Size in Portfolio: 2395×2994

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 2- The 40,000 ft Plan

June 25, 2021
© Jim Miller – Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)

Greg Reid is said to have opined, “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”

For the Meadowlark Blind, I reordered these steps a bit. I wanted a plan to determine if the dream was even plausible.

In my past life in the Air Force, plans and discussions had a wide range of levels of details.

There was the 40,000 ft plan, plus or minus 10,000 ft (or for my international, non-imperial measurement readers, a 12km plan, plus or minus 1.5km–because if God had intended Americans to use the metric system, he would have given us 10 fingers…). It was a very high-level view with big picture concepts, but very short on details.

And then there was a plan that was “In the weeds.” A high level of detail, but if it was the first plan then some of the big picture concepts were missed.

Most plans started at the 40,000 ft view and eventually descended to a plan that made it into the weeds. And between 40,000 ft and the weeds were plans with progressively more details.

Along with plans came a basic truth about them: No plan ever survived first contact with the enemy.

To make a plan, you have to know the essential elements of what you were trying to do. And over the years, I’ve written about this, as it pertains to bird blinds, at length in other forms. The simple version, and the one that I usually talk about when I’m trying to explain what makes a successful blind, is that there are three key ingredients that make for a successful blind. But in reality, that number is really is six.

The first, which wasn’t previously on the list, is availability of birds. The best setup blind with all of the other key elements is absolutely useless if there aren’t any birds around. And initially this was a worry for me. But after many trips to the property before we started the process, I was convinced that this was not going to be a problem.

The second, and the first on my standard list, is safety. The blind has to be setup in such a way that birds feel comfortable coming up to the area. No safety. No birds.

Third element is food. Proper food for the birds that are in the area is essential to attracting them and keeping them around.

Next is water. Available water, whether in a bird bath, a shallow pond, or sometimes even a cattle trough is a big draw for birds. Dripping water has the ability to attract birds to the blind that normally would not come for food because they can hear the water. Especially in drier climates.

Fifth, which I don’t usually discuss unless it is with fellow photographers, is light direction. Many blinds on public lands suffer from the light coming from angles that are not suitable to photography. The original orientation of the blind at San Angelo State Park suffered from this. Front lighting is the goal. Otherwise the only good time to shoot is when the skies are lightly overcast and the diffused light can make up for the lack of planning. However, it must be noted the as the sun moves in the sky between the winter and summer solstices, and exaggerated by how far away from the equator you are, the more variation you will have away from true east or true west on the directional light. More on that in a future blog post.

And last, and often not contemplated, is background. While getting the subject sharp is important, a distracting background makes for a lousy image. Sometimes nature doesn’t help out here. But you do what you can do with what you have to work with. If nature doesn’t help out right away, you can always introduce more nature in the form of vegetation, or fake nature in the form of artificial backgrounds.

Six basics to contemplate at that 40,000 ft level to then be broken down to the point where the plan can be executed.

Since the initial element (presence of birds) was determined to be true, I needed to move to the next step. Convincing the birds it was safe to come and join me with an appropriate structure was next on the list.

About the Image
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/320 at f/14 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1072
Image Size in Portfolio: 4560×3648 (full frame)

The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 1- The Dream

June 19, 2021
© Jim Miller – Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

Long-term readers of this blog know of my love of shooting in photography blinds. I have been shooting in blinds on public and private lands for nearly 15 years. Some may know that there was a time when I helped to maintain the blind at San Angelo State Park as part of my association with the Friends of San Angelo State Park.

I would have loved to get out to places like the Rocking R6 or La Lomita every week, but distance and wallet were insurmountable limitations. Even a regular trip to a blind on public lands like the four blinds at South Llano River State Park or the two blinds at Pedernales Falls State Park were travel hurdles that I could not get over. In Colorado, except for maybe one place in a National Wildlife Refuge, the concept of a photo blind is a foreign one.

The solution to my blind desire: Have enough land to have my own blind or find somebody who was willing to work with me to share some land for a mutual good.

It is one thing to shoot from a blind. Another thing to maintain a blind. But something altogether different to try to establish one from scratch. Tons of engineering decisions that need to be made early in the process that have long-term ramifications to the success of the blind. Many hours of contemplation and planning.

I attempted to do this once before. When living out in South Texas on a 2 acre piece of property that I called the Rock Ridge Retreat, I went through the motions of trying to get a blind established. I picked a location, got approval from the Property Owners Association, made arrangements for a structure, and found equipment for a water feature. All the pieces that would be needed to set up a blind. And then life happened.

Fast forward about five years later. A change in latitude, longitude, and altitude. A much bigger chunk of land–The Ljósmyndir Ranch. And an involved partner to help make it happen.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to talk about the making of my own blind in Colorado. I invite you to share the journey with me.

About the Image
Western Meadowhawk (Sturnella neglecta)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/400 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1071
Image Size in Portfolio: 2985×2388

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