East Texas Adventure: Part 3

Another day, another chance to see something new! I got up early. And by early, I mean 6am-ish. Early enough to be on the road by 6:30ish or so. For today’s adventure I wanted to head over to the very east side of Texas and check out some wilderness on the Sabine river that separates Texas from Louisiana. First stop on the trip was North Toledo Bend Wildlife Management Area just outside of Joaquin Texas.  I found this by googling  “Texas Birding Trails” and picked the North Toledo Bend Loop. Texas has set aside these areas all over the state, so if you’re in Texas and want to find a place to go birding, this is a great resource to start.

As I started down the trail, I saw a flash of yellow and wondered if it might be the fabled Prothonotary Warbler that many of my photography friends have been catching lately. While it remained in the shadows, I was able to catch this glimpse that was my first confirmed sighting of this beautiful bird.

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Interesting note about this bird: according to WikipediaThis bird is named after prelates in the Roman Catholic Church known as protonatarii, who wore golden robes.

Continuing on down the trail, I noticed that it was quickly shaping up to be yet another hot and sweaty day. I had one camera on a neck strap and my other camera on a hand strap. It did not take long for that hand strap to become soaked from the sweat running down my arm. Luckily my cameras are weather sealed fairly well so I didn’t have that to worry about but they’ll be due for a good cleaning after this vacation.

Walking on, I came across this red-eared slider turtle making its way down the trail. I gave it a wide berth so as not to scare it into the woods for the purely selfish reason of getting ahead of it to make a photograph. It didn’t seem to mind too much as it turned its head to give me its best side.

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And yet a little farther down the trail I met up with this nine-banded armadillo. Kind of an unofficial symbol of Texas (although usually on its back beside the road), these things are nearly completely blind. If you are quiet and up wind, you can almost walk right up to one before it knows you are there. I heard this one rustling in the brush beside the trail and simply stopped and stood my ground while it made its way across the trail right in front of me. I stooped down quietly to take its photo.

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Moving along down the trail, I saw yet another flash of yellow. Thinking it might be a second sighting of the earlier prothonotary, I quieted down and moved slowly toward the yellow bird. Once I was close enough, I realized that this was a completely different bird. yet another new one that I had not seen before. After asking my friends and looking on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that this is a yellow-breasted chat. Chalk up yet another new one for my list of birds photographed. Of course, as always with new birds, I am willing to be corrected,

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As I continued down the trail, the temperature continued to rise, as did the humidity, to the point that the “feels-like” temperature felt like about 130°! Okay, that was my personal observation, not anything official from NOAA. However the sweat pouring from my body due to the rising humidity as I got closer and closer to the Sabine river was enough for my internal thermometer to register that I needed more water. Luckily I had brought a bottle with me in my back pocket. As I pulled it from my back pocket, I realized that I had already consumed the bulk of it and began to wonder if maybe I should have brought a second bottle along on this hike. It was then that I looked up and confirmed my suspicion…

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As this turkey vulture circled overhead like some harbinger of doom, I decided to find a shade and sit down to observe the river for a while. I’m also thinking that a Camelbak might not be a bad idea for future Summer hikes.

After a Spring full of record setting rain all over East Texas, the river is still close to the top of its banks. You can also notice the nice puffy clouds as a testament to the high humidity, but they sure are pretty!

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With the heat at this level, a lot of the wildlife has headed for shade or otherwise cooler areas, but there was the occasional egret or heron flying up and down the river looking for a cool spot or a meal of opportunity. This great blue heron flew by, probably looking for a nice shady place on the banks of the river to hunt for its lunch.

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Speaking of lunch, it was that time so as the heat continued to rise, I headed back to the car to go find someplace to refuel my body, or that vulture just might be satisfied in a way that would not please me too well. Arriving back to the car I headed to Center, Texas, which is not in the center of Texas by any means, but it is close enough and they have a Whataburger which is a staple food here in Texas.

As a side note the town’s name goes back to around 1866 when an East Texas State Representative, Al Johnson, introduced a bill to have all county seats be as close to the center of the county as possible. The County Clerk, taking this measure literally, had the county surveyed to find the center of Shelby country and thus Center Texas was born. (Wikipedia) Hey, you never know when that information will come in handy. You’re welcome.

After eating lunch, I circled back to the WMA and spent a little more time there sitting in the shade and just observing the river flowing by. Not much else was happening, other than a grandfather trying to teach his grandson how to back a trailer down the boat-dock which was somewhat amusing to watch. So after making sure they got the boat loaded properly on their trailer, I turned the car towards home with plans to stop at the Martin Creek Lake State Park, near Tatum TX. There is an island in the park that has almost always provided something interesting whenever I visit.

Arriving at the park, I made my way to said island and the first thing I noticed was a rabbit. This was new. I don’t normally see those here, but this was my first visit this time of year. The interesting thing was that it just sat there. At first it was almost flat against the ground in the shade, possibly trying to stay cool. Maybe it was trying to be stealthy thinking I would not see it, but it was too late. I moved cautiously and lowered myself to be a better shot. With those ears though, there was no way I was not seeing it. It sat there while I captured several frames and then slowly hopped its way toward the trees.

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Seemingly laughing at the rabbit thinking it could hide from me, I noticed this squirrel peeking over the top of a tree stump, being clandestine in its own way. But no, I saw it. The squirrel eventually climbed on top of the stump and spread out to relax in the shade. It didn’t seem very threatened by my presence.

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Taking the trail that circles the island, I came across yet another rabbit. Looking around and seeing no knights or land littered with bones, I figured it was safe to proceed. This rabbit did not have “huge, sharp, pointy, teeth” as far as I could tell. This was a good thing since I was not carrying a holy hand grenade. All total, I must have seen about 10 rabbits on the island this visit. But would I get to see my favorite critter of the island this trip? I continue on walking stealthily through the woods and along the banks.

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Three of the last four visit to this island I have seen a white-tailed doe. I’m not sure if this deer swam to the island or if it simply walked across the foot bridge while no one was looking, but I’ve ran across it almost every time I visit this island. I usually walk up on it before I even know it is there and end up startling the both of us.

Sure enough, as I round a corner and pop out of the woods into a clearing, I look across and the doe is there, staring at me while I’m staring at her staring at me. We lock eyes and freeze. I slowly raise my camera and began to take a few shots and then she gives me a chance at a doe action shot as she begins leaping through the high grass headed for the cover of the woods. What a beautiful animal! Not wanting to cause it any further anxiety, I headed in a different direction to let her be in peace. She provided me which a nice action shot and that’s all I could ask for.

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As I head toward the foot bridge to leave the island, I came across yet another rabbit. This one was huge! If any of them were going to attack, this is the one. It just sat there as I slowly approached, watching me watching it, until it finally blinked first and hopped back into the brier bushes. That was a big rabbit!

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Once back to my car, I loaded up and headed for home. Yet another nice day in East Texas and one more day of adventure left. It was about this time though that I noticed that my ankles were really starting to itch. Must have gotten into some chiggers that were immune to my Off. Oh well, not too bad (at least I thought at the time). I later discovered that these chiggers had really tore me up from by belly-button down to my feet. I don’t know if it was the fact that I didn’t have the Off with the higher deet content or the fact that the can had been in my car over a year and had lost its potency, but as the days wore on, my legs got more and more spots. At one point I counted over 50 unique chigger bites. Yeah, it was miserable, but still worth it. I do however now have a new can of Deep Woods Off with a higher deet level in the car and ready for the next adventure.

So that wraps up day three. Day four will be available shortly to stay tuned! More birds, and yes, gators!

Michael

All photos copyright of Michael Hampton 2016 and taken with the Canon 5DS-R or Canon 7D Mark II

Back to LLELA

Continuing on my quest to find and photograph a Painted Bunting, I returned to my local wildlife center, the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area.  I knew these guys were there because I could hear them singing in the tree tops most of the time I was there hiking around the woods.  They were very stealthy though and I never actually got to see one.

So I arrive early, close to 7am and begin the hunt.  Again, I can hear them, but I see nothing.  Hiking down the Cottonwood Trail, I catch a glimpse of a hummingbird, but it is gone before I can get my lens on it.  Then I come across something a bit slower that I can warm up with.

This “garden spider” was about the size of my hand, but it was just hanging out on the side of the trail waiting for some insect to come along.  It didn’t bother me so I just made a photograph and continued on, hunting the elusive bunting.

Continuing on, I came to the beaver pond where I saw several herons and egrets.  I’ve got lots of pictures of them, but I did notice this young Great Blue Heron flying by and took the opportunity to practice my bird-in-flight photography.  Pretty happy with how this one turned out.

I completed the trail with nary a Painted Bunting to be seen.  I heard them, but they remained out of my sight.  Then, as I was checking out some scissor-tailed flycatchers on the power lines, a LLELA worker stopped and talked with me.  I told her what I was looking for and she suggested I try the Bittern Marsh trail.  I thanked her and headed that way.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, perhaps you remember that this is the trail where I ran into (almost stepped on) Mr Cottonmouth.  This is someone I do NOT wish to run into again.  But the call of the Painted Bunting is strong so I push my fears aside and head down the trail.

I get no farther than a couple hundred yards down the trail when I see a “stick” across the path up ahead of me, except this stick is pretty smoothly curved.  I stop!  Then I look through my telephoto lens and see this.

Okay, I know enough now to realize this is not a cottonmouth, but a “harmless” variety of snake.  Still I wait, then approach very slowly.  Finally, it notices me and slithers back into the grass.  Sorry I disturbed its sunbathing, but not sorry it’s now off the path.  I continue.

I come to the beginning of the marsh area and see a Great Egret “fishing” in the water.  Thanks to some local Eagle Scouts, there are now benches on the boardwalk, so I sit and observe for a while.  It’s now over 100 degrees, but in the shade and near the water, it actually isn’t that bad.  Still, I’m glad I packed water with me.  I watch the egret and make several photographs.  I enjoy the white bird and its reflection against the green water.

I’m not saying that I was scared or anything, but I just wasn’t ready to go to the part of the trail where the “incident” occurred.  I head back on the trail the way I came.

Then, about a hundred yards from the trail-head, I hear the song of the Painted Bunting.  Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a bright red flash!  I stop and stand very still.  I scan the trees, and then, just to my right, I see a Painted Bunting sitting on a branch, just watching me!  Of course, before I can turn the camera, it is back into the trees.  I have just made my first personal sighting of this bird and I’m not ready to give up.

I wait.  I even use my Android to play the bird’s song in hopes to lure it out of the trees.  I’m waiting.  I have my camera ready and aimed to where I think it will come down.  Nothing.  I wait some more.  Nothing.  Now it’s starting to get hot.  I turn around to check my surroundings (I’m not far from where I spotted the snake earlier).  Then, I see it.  BEHIND ME!  It’s just sitting there on a low branch, watching me.  Slowly, I turn the tripod around, aim, and FIRE!  I was able to get about 6 shots before it flew away back into the trees.  Then I notice that my flash had somehow gotten bumped to a higher power than it should have been.  Luckily, with the help of Lightroom and the fact that I shoot the RAW format, all was not lost and I was able to recover most of the photo to a decent degree.  So, after about five months and hunting and watching for a Painted Bunting, and five hours of this day in the heat, I present to you, my first!

Not a perfect shot, but for now, I’ll take it!

Now for the next challenge: the Bobcat!

Photos created with the Canon 7D and Canon 600mm f/4IS lens

Trying Out the CR-V Photo Edition

Okay, it’s not an official Honda model specification, but after several years of driving my ‘94 Corvette, and having a growing stable of camera equipment that was crowding the old two-seater, I finally decided it was time to get something bigger.  So, for the sake of economy and other options, I opted for a 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L AWD w/NAV.

And while I’m on the subject, a quick shout out to Curtis Kidwell at Jim McNatt Honda in Denton Texas.  He went far above and beyond the call of duty.  When I told him exactly what I wanted, he said he would do whatever  it took to get it for me.  When the model I wanted in the specific color I wanted (opal sage metallic) showed up in the inventory of a dealer in Lubbock, Curtis drove out there (over 600 miles round trip) and brought the vehicle back for me on a trailer so as not to run up the mileage on my very first new car!  This guy deserves every single penny of his commission on this sale and then some.  If you are in the market for a new car, go see Curtis!  He’ll make it happen for you.  And here’s my new Photomobile in the wild!!

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So Finally, on my way home tonight from work, I got the chance to take her out to some of the local spots.  I stopped at a new park here in Flower Mound called “Twin Coves”.  It officially opens in July, but its gates are open now so the people can check it out for free.  One of the first things I saw was something I have never seen around these parts before; a Greater Roadrunner!  I couldn’t believe it!  It ran into some brush before I could get a really good shot of it, and then flew away when I tried to get closer, but now I know where it hangs out!  I will be back!

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Next I saw a heron down at the shoreline and it actually let me get pretty close to it before it flew away.  I thought I had packed my 100-400 but I actually only had my 70-200 so I was surprised I was able to get as close as I did.  It did fly away before I could get a totally clear show away from the bushes.

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Other than these two birds, I saw a squirrel that ran into the woods, but that was about it for the wildlife, unless you count the boatload of youngsters that were offloading at the dock.  Winking smile

After that, I drove around some more but didn’t really see anything else.  So today didn’t really reward me with a lot of great shots, but it was fun to get out and stalk/shoot none the less. It’s been a couple of weeks and it was time. And now that I have my photomobile, I expect to be taking more after work excursions!

This weekend I have a photo shoot with a friend and her son at “Teddy-bear Park”!  I can’t wait!

All shots made with the Canon 5dmII and the Canon 70-200isL

Birds @ Village Creek Drying Beds

After beginning the day studying for a biology test (yech) and then taking the test and getting an A, I decided it was time for Karen and I to spend a little “us” time out and about with our cameras.

We headed south to Arlington to a place called the “Village Creek Drying Beds”.  Yes, it is a water treatment facility, but there are usually all kinds of birds there.  I’m told that it is a migratory stop so almost every time you go you may see different birds.

We were there last weekend, but shooting from the car with the big lens didn’t work out so well, so I got an Apex Low Profile™ bean bag to mount my camera on while driving through the beds.  The difference was huge!  Instead of just a few keepers from the week before by just balancing the camera on the window, I ended up with more like 80% keepers!

Since I spent the morning on school work, we didn’t get there until mid-afternoon.  Not sure what it was like earlier in the day, but it was not as happening a place as I had hoped today.  But I was able to capture one of my favorite birds, the Red-tailed Hawk.  I saw it sitting on a tree stump, and while watching it, I began to get the feeling it was about to take off, and sure enough it did.  I thought this was a great shot, but it would have been an even greater shot had I not clipped the end of its wing.  I really wasn’t expecting it to reach that far up!

After it took off I was able to capture a few BIF (bird in flight) shots that turned out pretty decent.  Having the ability to mount my Wimberely gimbal head to the beanbag is a real plus!

I did see one kestrel but before I could get aimed and focused, it flew off.  I’m still waiting to get a really good shot of that one.

After driving around the beds for a while, I promised Karen that we would get out and walk some (she’s always trying to get me to exercise), so we parked and walked down one of the berms at the south side of the beds.  To the south, there are several heron nests up in the trees.  It is an amazing sight to see all of those really big birds up in the tops of the trees.  Because of the branches in between us, I couldn’t get a clear shot, but I did catch this one Great-blue Heron wading in the murky water in the shade of all the trees.  It was really amazing that as I was preparing to take the shot, it moved into a place where a beam of light illuminated its face.  I found this shot very striking!

It was shortly after this that one of the “officials” came and started running everyone out so they could lock the gates for the night.  I had hoped to see the bobcat that has been spotted around here around dusk, but I guess today wasn’t the day.

If you are interested in checking out the drying beds, here is a link to google maps.

Maybe I’ll see you out there some time!

All photographs made with the Canon 7D and Canon 600/F4 IS lens

 

Ft Worth Nature Center

Today, Karen and I woke up early and headed over to the Ft Worth Nature Center to be there when they opened the gates at 8am.  I had been told that a bald eagle had been spotted down around the river area and I thought we’d try our luck at finding it.

When we got to the gates, there were a few other vehicles waiting for them to open, and a few guys in camo standing around talking.  The sky was completely overcast and it was still in the 40s, but I got out and tried to strike up a conversation.  I could tell by the beanbag mounts on their doors that these guys were photographers, and the way they were dressed, they appeared to be looking for wildlife.  I tried to ask them about the best locations to shoot here, but they didn’t appear willing to share any of their “secret” places with me.  That was a first for me.  Ever other time I have met photographers out and about, they were more than willing to share whatever they knew.  These guys must be a different breed of photographer.  When I asked if they were with a specific group of anything one of them looked at me and said, “a photography group” as if to say “well duh!”  I got the hint.

About that time the lady came to open the gate and we entered the area.  We drove along the river and our first stop was the boardwalk at the marsh area.  As we were approaching the bird blind on the boardwalk, I looked over to notice a deer crossing the river.  I hurriedly set up my tripod and was able to capture a few frames before it was all the way across!

While still at the marsh boardwalk, I spotted a red-shouldered hawk on a tree near the bank of the river.  His feathers were being blown by the wind and even he looked a little chilled.  He stuck around for quite a while before finally flying away.  Gave us plenty of opportunities to capture his image.

As we began to leave the boardwalk, Karen pointed out a large white bird that was flying right at us.  I looked through the 600 and wasn’t really sure, but it looked like a pelican.  I wasn’t sure because I’ve never captured one before, but as it got closer, (and as I found later when I looked it up), it is indeed an American Pelican.  These guys can get large with a wing span of up to 9 feet!  This one flew right at me and at one point was so large in the viewfinder he no longer fit!

But it wasn’t enough for just this one pelican.  There was a whole flock of them.  At one point they flew right over our heads, at which point I was glad they weren’t mad at us for any reason.  I did capture this shot of a few of them flying in formation.

One last bird as we were leaving the marsh area.  This little song sparrow was sitting on the high grass just a singing away.  The cold and gray sky didn’t seem to darken his spirits any.

From here, we drove around a bit and found “Prarie Dog Town”.  I knew I was going to be in trouble here.  I have this thing for small, cute, critters, and sure enough, I shot quite a few frames at this location.  I just couldn’t get enough of these little guys.  Every time I would get a shot that I really liked, they would turn around and do something else cute.  So, here are a few of the many shots that I took.

 

And what could be cuter than the husband prarie dog kissing his wife good-bye as he leaves for work.

Okay, enough silliness.  Our next stop was Greer Island.  Yes, there is a sign as you cross over to the island that alligators have in fact been seen in the area, but we didn’t see any today.  I’m guessing that the cold water has those cold-blooded creatures looking for warmer climates right about now.

Hoping to see some more bird life, we were quietly waking through the woods on the island, when all the sudden, we hear a loud voice and then the sound of little girls screaming (playing).  Yep, all the birds flew away.  Luckily, once things calmed down again, I did happen to catch the sound of a downy woodpecker doing his business on the side of a tree.

And finally, as we were leaving the island to conclude our visit I spotted a great blue heron on the shore of the island.  He was just hanging out at the edge of the water as ducks swam by.  One last picture before we left.

All in all, not a bad day.  Got to explore some new places, and even through it was cold and the sun refused to shine, I was still able to find some photo-worthy opportunities.  If nothing else, the Prarie  dogs alone were worth the trip! And speaking of prarie dogs, one more before we go…

These guys are just too cute.  I could stay there and shoot these guys all day long.

All photos taken with the Canon 7D and the Canon 600mmL f/4 IS usm lens