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

An Eventful Trip to LLELA!

Saturday was a beautiful day!  Temperature in the low 80s, no rain, no clouds.  So with schoolwork for the week done, I decided to head over for a hike and see what birds were around.  With all the rain lately, surely there would be plenty out and about, especially in the mark area.  I was really looking forward to this.

The first thing I see as I’m getting my equipment together is a 4-wheeler carrying my new friends Owen and Lynn Richards.  Owen was nice enough to pose for me, but by the time I got the camera pointed in the right direction, he was seated back down.  Smile

As I begin my trek toward the Bittern Marsh area, I hit my first obstacle.  With lots of rain, comes lots of water.  The lake is full and they are letting out a lot of water into the river.  Consequently, the west side of the trial heading to the marsh was flooded.  No problem, I’ll just take the high ground and take the east side of the loop.  Perhaps I can find another way past the flood on the way back on the west side.

As I enter the wooded area, I realize that I’m not seeing a lot of wildlife today.  I also notice that in the woods, the breeze is not blowing and the humidity is pretty high.  No problem, I brought along three bottles of water.

Finally, I spot a Hairy Woodpecker up in the trees, just on the north side of the marsh.  The trail doesn’t go near the tree it is in, but I still manage to get a few semi-obscured shots with the 600.

I continue on, around the east side of the marsh, and then realize the trail on the south side is flooded as well.  No problem though as there is an alternate path on a higher piece of ground, so I take it.  In the mean time, I’m realizing that I’m really glad I wore my water-resistant hiking boots because by now, my tennis shoes would be soaked!

Finally make it around the south side and up to the marsh, when I realize that with the exception of about 4 or 5 American Coots and another couple who were headed out to the boardwalk over the marsh, the marsh is empty today.

Drats!  Okay, I’ll admit it.  By now, the tripod, 7d with the 600 attached, and the 5d2 with the 24-105 attached were starting to get a little heavy.  But hey, that’s one reason I’m out here, for exercise and staying in enough shape to lug all my equipment around.  So, time to head up the west side of the trail back to the parking lot.

Hmm, where’s all that water come from?  Yep, the western path to and from the marsh is flooded all the way down to here.  Can’t even make it to the boardwalk without some serious wading.  I’m scouring the trees, but still no sign of egrets or herons, or much of anything for that matter.

Resigned to the fact that the path is blocked, I head back the way I came.  Of course, this hike just got about 1.6 time longer than I had expected, but hey, like I said, that’s one reason I’m out here.

On the way back, I decide to take a few environmental shots.  May as well use the time I’m having in nature to enjoy the scenery.  I stop at a footbridge and notice this very peaceful scene, and down a half a bottle of water.

A little farther up the path, and I see this barbed wire, looped and hanging on a tree branch.  Reminds me of something out of an old western, so I take a photo.

Back the way I came.  By now, I’m through two bottles of water and my shoulders are really feeling the weight of the equipment.  As I approach the area where I had seen the woodpecker earlier, I’m searching the trees to see if it is still around, and if it has any friends.  I stop and set the tripod down to scan the trees and reset my shoulder.  It sure is peaceful… and quiet… except for a strange rustling noise.  That’s strange.  I wonder what that could be.  I listen again.  Surely that’s not a rattle snake.  I start looking out in the woods beside the trail, searching for anything that might be slithering along the leaves.  Then I look straight down… and my heart stops… if only for a brief second.  I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I was suddenly about 10 feet away looking at this, right where my foot was just seconds before!

Well, it took a bit, but I slowly calmed down enough to gather my thoughts, even though I was still shaking a bit.  But then I noticed that it wasn’t moving.  Had I stepped on it without knowing?  It’s head was all thrown back and it’s mouth was side open, so I slowly approached.  As I got closer, nope, it was still alive.  It’s mouth opened even farther and it tail began to vibrate.  I didn’t see any rattles, and I’m admittedly not real familiar with snakes so I’m thinking maybe this was a young rattle snake that just hadn’t grown its rattle yet.  So I get my shot, and realize just how close my foot was to this thing.  I spend about 10 minutes there wondering if I should do anything or not when I hear voices approaching.  The couple from the boardwalk.

As they approach, I holler and let them know that there is a snake on the trail.  To my surprise (and relief actually), the gentleman tells me that he is the ex-president of the North Texas Herpetological Society (they study reptiles) and he slowly approaches the snake.  I told him I thought it was a rattle snake because it was shaking its tail, but he informs me that it is “just a water moccasin.”  I’m thinking to myself, “and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”  But knowing that there was someone present that knew about snake was a great relief.  (It is funny how God can orchestrate things so that needs are met at just the right time.)

Long story short (I know, too late), we talk a bit and then I follow my new friend and his girlfriend out of the woods like scared school-boy hiding from a bully behind the teacher.  As we are walking, I find out that his name is Jeff Justice and he is the staff photographer at a local hospital!  So not only did he know about he snake, he could have given me first aid if needed!

We finally make it out (alive) and exchange information.  While I didn’t get the shots I went in looking for, I came out with a new friend and a shot I never thought I would take.  You just never know how your day is going to turn out, so be prepared for anything.

Keep shooting (and be careful)

All shots made with the Canon 7D & Canon 600 f/4 IS + 1.4x and the Canon 5d2 & Canon 24-105 f/4

New Years Day: Northern Harrier

I began the year with a drive over to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA).  Karen planned on some hiking, but I planned on shooting something while I walked, so I brought my big gun with me!

For the most part, the walk was void of any photographable wildlife.  We walked the Redbud trail, hoping to catch a look at some hawks hunting in the open field area, but all we saw were some vultures flying high and far away from us.  So, we diverted over to the Cicada trail which is more wooded.

On the Cicada trail, there were plenty of birds, mostly Cardinals, but they were very flighty and just were not sitting still long enough for me to focus on them.  By the time I spotted them, they were flying into the woods.  At one point we heard a woodpecker but it remained hidden from our view.  But from the sounds of the hammering, I’m betting it was the last of the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers!  At least that’s my story until I actually see it.  That $10,000 reward will buy some nice new photo equipment someday!  Smile

After shooting a few sparrows and a robin, we continued hiking and finished the trail.  We were considering aborting the rest of the day and heading home.  I was beginning to regret bringing the heavy lens when we we saw what appeared to be a raptor making lazy circles over the grass of the Lewisville Lake dam.  As we waited in the parking lot, it got closer, and I exit the vehicle and the 600mm lens comes back out as this beautiful Northern Harrier  begins hunting in the grass right in front of us.

As we watch, this beautiful creature goes up and down the dam getting close and going far.  I take the opportunity to practice using the big lens, firing away trying to hone in on the proper technique for capturing birds in flight.  Normally it doesn’t seem that hard, but when you are shooting with a lens then big, and the bird is actually this close to you, following the action is harder than it looks.  Finally, when all was said and done, I did end up with a few keepers.

So, never think the day is over until the day is over.  Had we just gotten in the vehicle and drove off, we would have missed this beautiful sight.  You just never know what God is going to place right in front of your eyes.  Don’t blink and miss it.

All photographs taken with the Canon 7D and Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS USM, and Canon Extender 1.4X II, mounted on a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod and Jobu BWG-HD gimbal head with Really Right Stuff long-lens support package.

Red-shouldered Hawk

So, if you can’t catch the hawk as if flies through your yard, go to his yard.

This evening, Karen and I spent some time at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) to do a little practicing with our cameras before heading to Yellowstone in two weeks.  This is only the second time I’ve been our there, and as I said the first time, I’ve got to get out there more often.  There is wildlife all over the place.  Too many times we yearn for the exotic wildlife we see on television while ignoring the exotic wildlife in our own back yards.

Today, along with meeting a couple of new friends, I got a few good shots of a Red-shouldered Hawk as it sat on an old tree looking for dinner.  A very magnificent bird.  I don’t know if this is the same fellow that flies through my yard scaring the little birds or not, but if I were a little bird, I would run too.  Check out the talons on this guy!

Another new bird to add to my list now is the American Coot!  Can’t say I have ever noticed these guys before, but they are pretty cool looking water fowl.  Black and shiny with the red eyes, white bill, and the black ring on the bill.  They were diving for dinner and didn’t seem to mind the hawk watching over their territory.

It was a good day for wildlife, photos, and making new friends.  I look forward to returning again in the near future and possibly maybe even helping out in the area.

Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area

Today I finally make it to the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area (LLELA).  I’ve been meaning to get over there for a couple of years now but just never seemed to make it.

While preparing the night before, I couldn’t decide which parts of my camera equipment to take and which to leave behind, so silly me, I decided to just take it all, which would be my undoing later as the heat started getting ramped up earlier than I expected!  Next time I go, I will definitely be packing much lighter.

LLELA has four main nature trails ranging from .3 miles to 2.1 miles long.  The one I decided to start with was the longest, the “Bittern Marsh Trail.”  According to LLELA’s handout: “The Bittern Marsh Wetlands Boardwalk Trail: takes hikers through a bottomland hardwood forest to Bittern Marsh.  Two viewing blinds at the marsh give birders, photographers, and hikers great views of waterfowl and other wildlife.”  Of course, since it specifically mentioned “photographers”, I had to make that my first stop.

It is a very well maintained trail, with several sections which are boardwalks going over the marsh area.  At one point, my Canon 7D with the 100-400L lens came loose from my tripod and bounced precariously close to the edge of the boardwalk, almost going into the marsh.  As I scrambled to grab it before it went over the edge, I knocked the sun guard off of my 5D lens and sent it into the marsh.  I guess losing a $30 lens shade is much better than losing $3000+ worth of camera and lens.  You can bet that next time I will be more observant when attaching the camera to the tripod to make sure that does not happen again.

The main purpose of this trip was practice.  I have been reading Moose Peterson’s book “Captured” and was ready to try out some new shooting techniques.  I was also eager to practice shooting with my Canon 100-400L and utilizing the 2x Teleconverter.  In this configuration, auto-focus does not work, so it is up to me and my almost 50 year old eyes to focus.  There were quite a few misses, but I was actually surprised that when I did nail it, the camera/lens combination worked very well together.  I had several birds to choose from to practice, many of which were pretty stationary, but a few I got to test while flying.  I’ll certainly be back to this location for more practice.

The second trail that I walked was the Redbud Trail which “meanders through open grasslands and scattered woods to beautiful views of the Elm Fork.”  Unfortunately for me, by the time I started this trail, the weight of all the extra camera equipment and the raising heat level was starting to wear on me (did I mention I’m not in the best of shape right now?).”  It was still an enjoyable walk and provided for several more photographic opportunities, but I was stopping and resting more than I would have otherwise liked to.  Good thing I took plenty of water with me.  This 1.4 mile trail seemed more like 3 miles by the time I was finished.

After making it back to the parking area, I decided to call it a day.  The other two trails will have to wait for another day as I was just too whooped to do any more.  Of course, my goal is to walk these trails to both get myself in better shape, as well as sharpen my wildlife photography skills to prepare for my next big adventure, which, while really hasn’t been decided on yet, is now in the planning stages!  I can’t wait until Karen and I decide on a destination!

All in all it was a good experience and I look forward to my next trip over.  I definitely have to do morning trail walks though as here in Texas the temperature is already starting to creap up sooner and sooner in the day.  Why didn’t I start this back in February!  I guess there is always next year.