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

East Texas Adventure: Part 1

Taking some time from my “real” job, I took a few days off to explore my local area here in East Texas. After driving several hundred miles over a four day period, I discovered a few things. 1) East Texas is a pretty diverse place; swamps, hills, forests, prairies, birds, snakes, gators! 2) East Texas has a lot of friendly people; many times I was approached by people, just to chat. And 3) even in East Texas, mid-June is not the time to be going out and hiking in the woods. Between the heat and the humidity, my clothes were soaked with sweat before 9am each day. Live and learn. Next year I must remember to do this in March, April, or even May rather than wait until the temperature begins to rise.

The first morning my plan was to visit the Caddo Lake State Park near Karnack, Texas. I woke up and arrived before the attendants were at work, so I filled out my admittance card and entered the park. I proceeded down to the boat dock area where I was able to see the peacefulness of the Big Cypress Bayou as the sun arose in the distance.

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After scouting for any signs of wildlife and arriving at the conclusion that I was the only one here at this time, I was just about to move to another location when a helpful park official arrived and pointed me to the trails behind the boat ramp. I thanked him for the information and headed into the woods with two cameras in hand (one telephoto and one wide-angle).

The first thing I noticed was, “gee, it sure is dark in here.” The second thing I noticed was the amount of trees which have fallen from the recent rains and floods. Part of the trail was actually closed because a large tree had fallen and smashed a footbridge making that portion of the trail impassable.

Sure enough, once I got deeper into the trails it was far to dark for any decent wildlife/bird shots even if anything appeared, but I figured I needed the exercise anyway, and since my clothes were already wet with sweat from the high humidity I soldiered on, and I’m glad I did.

Deep in the woods, I came across some old work of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s which seem to be for the most part abandoned. While still a “feature” of the park, it does not appear that the camp sites and pavilion deep in the woods are being used at this date as they have been overgrown with moss and vines.

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After walking about a mile or so, I made it back to my car and I headed to the park entrance. Now that the office was open I wanted to talk to the rangers and get some insight into the park. While there, I ran into the official who directed me to the forest trail and he asked how it was. When I mentioned that it was pretty dark he said, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” But again, no loss. There was still some interesting history to be found in that area.

The rangers pointed me to the fishing pier as a location for birds and other wildlife, although they said gators are rarely seen during the daylight. So, I headed there to see what I could see.

After getting my cameras out of the car I noticed… Squirrel!

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Back to the search for birds. While not a plethora of birds, I did manage to see a few birds which I had never photographed, or even seen in person before. The first was just a flash of blue which I noticed in the cypress trees, hiding among the Spanish moss.

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Not entirely sure what species of bird this was, I texted a photo to my friend John Tucker (also a photographer) who identified the bird to me as a Northern Parula. Not only had I never photographed one before, I had never even heard of this particular bird before. Score! That deserves another view.

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About this time I was approached by a woman who noticed my cameras who informed me that her husband had recently bought her a new camera and she was trying to figure it out. She mentioned trying to find a class to take but I suggested that she could find a lot of information on sites like youtube to at least get her started. She thanked me as they boarded their canoe and headed into the bayou, never to be seen by me again! (cue spooky movie music) Okay, probably nothing bad happened, but I left before they got back. Still, sounds like a line from a horror movie though.  LOL

Focusing my attention back to the cypress trees on the shore, I noticed some movement and happened to catch a touching scene where a male yellow-billed cuckoo was presenting his mate with a bug for lunch, among other things. She accepted his gift and he flew away, but not before I got my very first shot of this species!

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Sure, there were some branches in the way, but I couldn’t let my first shot of this pretty bird remain hidden on my hard drive. And when I turned around… Squirrel!

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About this time another couple came by in a boat. As they approached, the man shut off the motor and they floated up to where I was on the pier. We had a nice chat about the area, and how much nicer it was than living in a place like the Dallas metroplex. I even learned that he was from close to where I live now in Overton, Texas–small world.

While we were talking, a bird began circling overhead and we could not make out what it was. We knew it wasn’t a vulture and we thought we saw a white head. I didn’t think that bald eagles were in this area in the heat of Summer, so I zoomed in and took a shot. As I zoomed in on the LCD on the back of the camera, I realized that what we were seeing was actually a Mississippi kite (yes, I had to sing the song as I spelled that). It was another nice catch to this fine morning.

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As we finished our conversation the couple pulled away into the bayou, never to be seen by me again, (okay, last time I do that). Soon another couple came by to put a canoe into the water. As they paddled into the bayou, (nope, not going to do it), I noticed the calm of the scene playing out before me as they glided effortlessly through the black water. What a nice day.

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Suddenly, I heard laughing behind me and I said to myself, I recognize that laugh! I turned and saw a belted kingfisher on the next pier over. I love the sound they make, even if it does sound like they are laughing at me every time I miss a shot of them. This one was kind enough to sit still long enough for several shots before continuing on his fishing expedition.

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By this time I was getting hungry and decided to head to my next  destination, which was the Atlanta State Park near Atlanta Texas. Little did I know that that particular park was closed due to recent floods. Next time I should read the “alerts” section of their web page. On my way there however, I did pass a couple of scenes that made me pull over and make a photo. The first one was near Antioch Texas where I noticed this fire-station water tank which I felt was rather photogenic.

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After that, I made my way through Linden Texas, which apparently is also known as “Music City Texas”. At this point I had never heard of this fact, but now, if I’m ever on Jeopardy and the question is asked, I’ll know. I learned this fact from a mural painted on the side of a building there, so I pulled into a church parking lot across the street and made another picture.

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As I was getting back in my car a couple pulled up to ask me if the church office was open. I had to tell them that I wasn’t from there and had no idea, so they went to the door and I never saw them again! Okay, sorry, I said I wasn’t going to do that.

After this full morning, I grabbed lunch and headed to my next stop of Daingerfield State Park, near Daingerfield Texas, just as the rain started to fall.

Tune in next time to find out what I saw and photographed at that location!

Michael

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

Yellowstone: Day Six – The Last Day

Day six… our last day here before leaving.

The day started out by resting.  Yesterday wore us (as my daughter would say) “smooth out”.  We took our time getting up and then roamed Gardiner to do the requisite t-shirt shopping!  Gotta get the kids and grandkids all taken care of.  I wasn’t going to get one, but then I saw one that said “The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir” and had to have it.  It expressed my feelings very well.

So, once we got that all taken care of, and then shipped the box of t-shirts home because our bags were already full, we headed back into the park for one final day.  We decided to give the Lamar Valley one final shot before calling it a day.

As usual, we entered the park and went to Mammoth, where the elk were lounging around being the center of attention.  I love how this one was lying right next to the sign saying “Danger! Do not approach ELK” as if to say, “I dare you.”  The people were being good though and kept the distance.  No “tourons” (tourist/moron) out today.

Turning east from Mammoth, it didn’t take long for us to find yet another bison herd.  They decided they needed to cross the street in front of us, and since in the national park the wildlife has the right of way, we stopped and waited for them to pass.  Besides, they really are beautiful creatures even if they are abundant here.

Further down the road, we caught a view of a couple of them who weren’t really getting along all that well at the moment.  They were kicking up dust and pushing each other around with their heads.  We watched for a while, but then they grew tired and just walked off together.  Maybe it was just an exhibition match for our enjoyment!

As we made it to the Lamar Valley, it became very overcast and rainy.  We stopped at the footbridge pullout to watch for wildlife, and I promptly fell asleep.  It was so peaceful, and with the sound of the light rain on the hood of the car, the next thing I knew I woke myself up snoring.  I turned to Karen and ask how long I had been out.  She said, “about 20 minutes.”  That was a very peaceful 20 minutes, let me tell you.

So not seeing any wildlife, we started up the car and began to make our way back.  We saw a few wolf-watchers sitting up on the hill near the confluence, but when we looked out over the valley we couldn’t see anything.  I later read that the pack was way out in the distance feeding on a recent kill, but they were way out beyond the reach of cameras.

Continuing back, I spotted this scene off in the distance and decided to pull over.  It reminded me of an old western painting of a frontier landscape with the bison crossing the river and the others up above the cliff.  Again, a very peaceful scene to add to the day.

If nothing else, this was certainly bison day.  As I approached a blind curve, a small gathering of bison decided they needed to go around the curve in my lane.  So, I let them.  They moved very slowly with me, and now 5 other vehicles behind, followed.  Once around the curve, they turned off on another road and allowed the rest of us to continue on.

I wanted to take one more pass over the Blacktail Plateau trail, hoping for one last glimpse of something exciting.  While there were no big mammals to be seen, I did catch a glimpse of this mountain bluebird.  He caught me by surprise so much that I didn’t really get a chance to focus on him before he flew off.  But one more bird to add to my list that I have seen.

Making it back to Mammoth, the elk are still the stars of the show.  You can expect to find them pretty much any time, and they are always happy to pose for your photographs.  Nothing like shooting wildlife “in town.”

And then, the saddest shot of all.  Our last sight of the “Leaving Yellowstone” sign.  It has been a wonderful trip and one we won’t soon forget.  Especially with the abundance of photos that we took.

God created some wonderful things for us to enjoy in this world and I can’t wait to see what He shows us next!   Until then, keep the batteries in those cameras charged.  You never know when a photographic opportunity will present itself to you!

Backyard Morning

Today I took the day off work to attend a conference, but since it doesn’t start until noonish, I decided to take the chance to spend the morning in my backyard and discover what critters frequent the feeders in the AM.

I’ve noticed the squirrel a few times now.  He seems to live in the neighbor’s yard, but occasionally comes over to sneak some of the peanuts and such that I leave out for the blue jay.  Here, he is on the neighbors fence and seems to be cursing the dove that is standing watch on my fence, baring his way to my yard.  Truth is, when he comes over, the doves scatter, so they really aren’t much of a defence.

The blue jay showed up for a brief second.  I’m getting closer to getting a very good shot of him, but in this one, I just cut to tip of his tail off.  And yes, there are two peanuts in his mouth.  How long before he realizes that there is no threat to him here and takes him time.  Then I’ll be able to aim and shoot much better shots of him.  I look forward to that t day.

Next, the male cardinal showed up but spent most of the time up in the tree above the feeder.  I don’t know, maybe I have the only birds around here that just aren’t hungry in the morning.  In any case, I got a shot of the bird in its natural habitat: a tree.

And finally, seems that I can get all the shots of doves that I want, and then some.  They guys just hang around all the time.  They were even hanging around my yard long before I ever put up the feeders.  In any case, I realized that normally shoot them from the side, but when this one looked at me straight on, he seemed to be saying to me, “What are you looking at?”  To which I replied, “Snap!”

That was it for the morning shoot.  It was very windy and cloudy, so maybe that kept the birds away.  I’ll have to try again.

Shots taken with Canon 7D, EF600Lf/4IS