Great Texas Balloon Race

On Saturday, July 25th, Karen and I got up before daylight to be present for the morning flights of the Great Texas Balloon Race 2015. Considering the hot Texas summer days we have been having, the nice cool morning was a pleasant change and well worth the extra effort.

We started the day at the East Texas Regional Airport for the morning competition. This was to be a test of accuracy for the pilots with three targets. There were two streamers that had to be dropped/thrown from the balloon into two separate targets. And then each balloon had a small hoop that the pilot attempted to get around a tall pole in the middle of the field. There was a $5000 prize which was to be split between the pilots who were able to accomplish this feat. The fewer pilots that could get the ring on the pole, the larger each individual prize.

As the first balloons started to arrive, we were welcomed with a parade of color as they soon filled the sky. I have never seen so many balloons at one time in my life.

We had picked out great seats. Thanks to the direction of the wind, the balloons traveled a path that brought them directly over our heads. Further, thanks to the rather slow speed of the wind, it made for some great shots. The 100-400mm lens came in handy for some personal shots of the pilots, showing their faces as they tried for each target.

There were so many colors and designs that one could almost become dizzy looking at all of them. Stars, wavy patterns, lines, circles, diamonds, plaid. The plethora of geometric patterns gave each balloon its own unique style.


Here is a shot where you can see the determination on the face of the pilot as he wound up for his toss towards the target. Being my first balloon race, I was unfamiliar with the pilots and rules, but it was fun watching and learning as we went. As an aside note, this particular balloon was sponsored by my wife’s employer, Martin LP Gas out of Kilgore, TX.

As the morning continued, it seemed that the steady flow of balloons would never stop. They just kept appearing over the horizon. Each one showing different colors and designs. While some were plain, others were completely unique, yet none were boring.

This one had a design of a great dragon. No doubt this was intended to cast fear into the hearts of all competitors. I don’t know if it worked, but it was a truly impressive design. In fact, as the balloon got close, the pilot was good enough to spin the balloon so we were able to see the entire beast.

Dragon Balloon

A couple of times, the balloons got pretty close to each other. No doubt the slowness of the wind helped alleviate danger of any collisions as the balloons seems to just push each other out of the way when they did get into close proximity of each other.

Some pilots appeared to have a very laid back style throwing towards the targets. This guy seemed very relaxed and confident as he aimed and let his device fly.

Going for the Target

Others seemed unaffected by the height as they leaned out of their basket to engage the target. I guess it takes a certain amount of the “no fear” attitude to pilot an air ship which has such a small amount of directional control.

Careful Aim

Having just recently moved to the country, I really enjoyed the farm theme of this balloon. Complete with a barn, pond, and a person reading a book under a tree, this serene scene was one of my favorites.

Farm Balloon

Another amazing thing was the use of open flames, even when in such close proximity of another balloon. I’m sure the cooler morning air made for a more comfortable experience for the pilots than would have been found later in the day as the temperature reached the high 90s.

Close Quarters

Remember the ring and pole challenge? This pilot did and he was the only one who hit the target on this day!  You can see the excitement in his face after realizing that he had hit the target!



As the morning event came to a close and we headed back to our car, you could still see the balloons fill the sky as they continued on to the opposite horizon. Where they landed I have no idea, but they were back for the evening festivities later in the day.

Sky Full of Balloons

When we came back for the evening activities, the sun began to make its way lower in the sky. Karen was able to capture this shot of one of the balloons being back-lit by the diving sun.

Into the Sunset

Meanwhile, the special shape balloons were beginning to take shape for display. The evening events were much like a fair, with some rides for the kids and of course all sorts of food and other booths. This evening was also attended by a performance of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Sheriff Willy

I noticed the Wells Fargo Wagon balloon team as they were unloading their balloon and decided to spend some time with them to find out more about what they do. It was quite interesting and I learned a few things. For instance, the green sleeves they are wearing in this picture is to protect their arms from the flames. Even with those on however, I’m still sure I could smell melting hair as they were adding the hot air to the balloon!

Fire it Up

While I was with that team, Karen was getting some other shots, such as this shot of the astronaut balloon with the moon in the background. Very cool!

Spaceman and Moon

The highlight of the night was the balloon glow. That’s when the balloons are all anchored to the ground and at the countdown, they all fire their thrusters (is that even the right term?) and illuminate their balloon. It made quite a site with this field full of these giant light bulbs! Once again you can see all the different patterns and graphic designs of the balloons. I can only imagine that the uniqueness of each balloon is mirrored by the uniqueness of the pilots.Night Glow

So, that was my first balloon festival. What can I say other than I look forward to my next.

See you at the Great Texas Balloon Race in 2016!

Later Y’all!

Red-shouldered Hawk Flyby

While looking at my blog the other day I realized that it has been a while since I last updated or posted anything. My bad. I guess I can’t expect people to come here and view my photography or read what I have to say if I don’t actually post anything. Funny how that works.

So I was out back yesterday, waiting for something to come along when i looked up and saw a rather large bird flying over the field. At first I thought it was a vulture, but as it turned and started toward me, I realized it was a hawk. I had to look it up, and ask some friends on FaceBook’s Birds of Texas group, and it was identified as an immature red-shouldered hawk. While not a spectacular shot, I do like the sharpness of the eye as it watched me watching it as it flew over.

Red-shouldered hawk as it few overhead.

Red-shouldered hawk as it few overhead.

This was shot with the new Canon 5DS-R 52mp camera. I’ve been very happy with the camera thus far, even for wildlife shots. One thing it gives is the ability to crop to insane levels, which works well if your main audience is the web. Here is a 100% crop of the area around the eye.

100% crop of the hawks eye

100% crop of the hawks eye

The lens used was the Canon 100-400L (old version) and as you can see, even with older glass, the results are pretty impressive.

So, my goal is to keep this blog updated more. I’ll post, you read and enjoy. Is that a deal?


Texas Winter Week

Ask pretty much anyone who lives in Texas and they will tell you that generally speaking, we don’t get much of a winter here. That said, this week appears to be our week for Winter here in East Texas and today we had what will probably be our only significant snowfall. Whenever this happens, the feeders are a frenzy of activity as, I’m just guessing here, the birds start to think that the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end.

So, with my back door open and camera pointed to the back porch around the feeder (yes, my wife was yelling at me that she was freezing), I saw some interesting visitors that I thought I would share with you. It did seem that the large falling flakes of snow was playing havoc with my autofocus. Something that I was not counting on.

Here is a Dark-eyed Junco. They are a cute little bird to mostly feeds on the ground. My outside cats, Earl and Dakota, usually keep them on their toes but with the cold weather, I’ve been keeping them warm in the barn.

And this cute little thing is a Tufted Titmouse. They are regular visitors to the feeder and make a terrible racket if you are disturbing them.


After a bit of taking their pictures, I noticed that all of the birds just disappeared. I thought maybe I had made too much noise or something. Then I spotted this Red-shouldered Hawk in the tree near the back porch. Although mostly hidden, the snow was not helping with its usual method of camouflage. Apparently it was hungry too and was looking for an easy lunch. The little birds hid and it finally flew away. No more than 5 seconds later, the smaller birds began to reappear.


And what would winter bird pictures be without the colorful Mister and Misses of the bird kingdom, the Northern Cardinal. The white background really makes their red colors pop out of the frame.



Another regular visitor this time of year is the American Goldfinch. These little ones pass through each year as they come down south to get away from the cold. We are, of course, happy to have them visit.


But this little guy, this is the first time I’ve seen him around. If I’m reading my guide correctly, this is a Purple Finch. Apparently I am right on the eastern border of their winter range so when I saw two of them, I considered myself blessed.


That’s it for today. As the day is drawing to a close, the snow is already beginning to melt away. So, from the house on the snow-covered hill, until next time, enjoy God’s beautiful creation.