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

A Trip to Mississippi

Finally, after a long time of saying we were going to do it, we finally make a trip to Gautier, MS to visit our friends William and Claudette Owens.  We were so glad that we went.  They not only showed us a great time while we were there, but they also showed us a few new things.

For instance, they took us to the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point MS, where we not only got to see gators up close and personal in their facility, we also took an airboat ride and were able to see them in the wild as well.

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

Of course, its little mouth was banded to keep from customers losing any fingers, but something tells me that the little guy wouldn’t have hurt a flea.  Just rub its neck and it just purred.   Smile

Yes, they have bigger gators there, but you wouldn’t want to pet them!

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

After looking around there, William thought it would be a great idea to take the airboat ride through the local swamp. 

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

I guess William forgot that he has a tendency to get a little motion sick, or perhaps he had never seen the videos that show just how much of a “ride” an airboat can be! But he was a trooper and stayed strong for the entire ride. No extra “feed” for the gators this trip!

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

Yes, there were gators out in the wild as well as the ones at the “farm”.  This is just one reason why they said to “keep your hands and arms inside the boat at all times during the ride!

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

The swamp was very cool with all the overhanging trees.  Other than the gators we saw, I didn’t see any snakes, so I was good with that!  For an example of just how “wild” the ride was, here is just a three minute clip of the ride!  Check out the 360 towards the end!

After the gator ranch, we had lunch and then headed for the beach in Ocean Springs, MS.  Karen wanted to at least stick her feet in the water while we were here, and I just wanted to see what I could take pictures of.

Mississippi 2012

And no, I didn’t wade in the water.  Not really sure why, just didn’t.  But here are Karen, Claudette, and William while I shoot from the dry sand.

Mississippi 2012

If course there were birds…

Mississippi 2012

I was almost able to walk all the way up to this Heron that was perched on the pier.  Good thing too since all I had with me was my 24-105mm lens!

Mississippi 2012

And shells, with someone at home…

Mississippi 2012

And the requisite couples shots on the pier…

Mississippi 2012

Mississippi 2012

But Karen caught the best sunset picture when we drove over to Gulfport for dinner to the Back Bay Seafood Restaurant.  The food was as good as the sunset!

Mississippi 2012

It was a great trip and one I’m glad we made.  Thanks again to our friends William and Claudette for making it an enjoyable trip that we will remember for a long time to come!

Big Cats

Recently, Karen and I made our way up to a Big Cat rescue/zoo in Oklahoma.  <disclaimer> I won’t mention the name because there are mixed reviews about their actions and I would rather not have my blog taken down by people with only half the story.  I will say that from what I saw, the cats were well cared for and none of them were lacking attention or food.  They had plenty of room to run and play and the ones that had special needs had their own cages for protection.  It is the people who think they can keep these big beasts as pets that end up creating the need for places like this.  But that’s another topic…

Anyway, we went there because we both love big cats, and it was a nice treat for my dad as it was also his birthday.  We got there pretty much as soon as they opened and were warned that the cats would be “spraying” so watch out if they turn their back to you.

We walked through the park, admiring the cats, and watching out for the spray, but it didn’t take long to realize that the smell was going to be with us for a while because even if they didn’t spray you directly, it was lingering in the air like an aerosol spary, and we were walking right through it.  Nothing a good shower and laundry can’t fix.

Some of the cats, it was clear that they were there because someone had kept them as a pet and they had outgrown their owners.  Some of them bore the scars of ignorant people who thought they would be the next big Vegas act or just thought it would be cool to own one without realizing the cost and responsibility involved.  While sad to see them in this condition, it was good to see that they were now in a place where they would live out the rest of their days in peace and relative comfort.

Some of the cats, like this little bob-cat, just broke my heart.  They had a few of them there but the look on its face clearly said it would rather be out running wild.  Problem is that in Oklahoma, people kill them just for sport.  I know that hunting is a reality and is needed in some cases, but I also know people who hunt just because they like to kill things.  I’d rather hunt with my camera personally.

They also had a number of mixed breed cats.  They had successfully mixed a lion and a tiger to get the liger.  But they have also taken the liger and bred it back with a tiger to get a tiliger.  Not sure how I feel about their breeding program, but it is what it is.  They are also an educational facility and like a zoo, they provide information for many different outlets.

All in all, it was an enjoyable visit.  We certainly had the smell.  Later, we were sitting around the house and realized that we were all still smelling the same thing.  It was then that we realized what I mentioned before, the smell was still stuck to us.  Everyone off to the shower.

Another reason for going was that we are both suckers for kitty-cats, and the chance to actually interact with a couple of young ones was hard to resist.  There is actually only a short period of time in their life that they are allowed to let people interact with them, and we were lucky enough to be there with these cubs.

 Clearly, wildlife prefers Canon photographic equipment.  This one was more interested in my cameras than in me.  I thought it was going to try to take my picture a couple of times.

But the time came that we had to say good-bye to the kittens.  I wish they could grow up and be released, but since they are hunted to almost extinction in the wild, they would not have much of a chance there.

Here’s hoping that the watchdog groups will keep enough pressure on these places that the cats will remain healthy and live out a good life.

Be Prepared!

As the Boy Scouts are fond of saying, “Be prepared!”

When I got home today I was going through my usual routine.  Come in the house, give Zorro his kitty treats, and then check the back yard for birds.  When I checked the back yard, I was shocked at what I saw.  Instead of a yard full of birds under the feeders, or the stray kitty that has been hanging around lately, I found this!

Not only was the first time I have seen a Cooper’s Hawk around here, it looks like it was feeding on one of my birds to boot!

First, I’m in shock, but then I think, at least get the binoculars and get a closer look.  So I run to the bedroom, get the binoculars, and then run back to the kitchen door.  Still there!  Great.  Now I’m thinking, “what are you doing?  Where’s the camera??”

So, back to the bedroom, no time to pull out the 600 and tripod, but my 5d has the 100-400 still attached from my previous outing so I grab it and head to the back door.  I’m in luck, it’s still there, munching away.

As I look closer through the camera, I believe that the bird it is eating is the red-winged blackbird that has been hanging around lately, acting like it was hurt or sick.  Wouldn’t fly off unless you walked right up to it.  Well, I guess it doesn’t have to worry about that anymore!

 Ah yes, the circle of life right in my back yard!  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Unless of course, you’re the blackbird.  🙂
Photos taken with the Canon 5dMii and the Canon 100-400L IS lens

Cedar Waxwing

This weekend I was treated to a beautiful bird, the Cedar Waxwing.  This is the first time I have photographed these birds in my local area, but certainly not the first time they have been here.  The truth is that until I became more interested in wildlife photography, there were a lot of critters in my area which I just never noticed.

Saturday, Karen and I returned to LLELA once again for some hiking and photo practice.  I can’t allow myself to get out of the habit of lugging that 600 around or when the time comes, I could end up face-down in the mud on a paid vacation (ouch).  Instead, I’ll take every opportunity to go out and hike and practice.

On this day, the wildlife (birds) were pretty scarce.  We saw a few robins and cardinals that were simply too quick, and I saw some form of a woodpecker, but it was too far away for me to capture adequately so I’ll save it for another day.  But after finishing one trail and about to begin a second, I noticed a bunch of “flitty” birds doing what they do, flitting, around a couple of trees near the pavilion.  As I focused my lens on them, I realized they were cedar waxwings!  As they flitted around  here, I managed to capture a few decent frames of them.  They were really going after those berries on the trees.

Not bad, but photographically, very cluttered, and a bit too far away from the subject.  All those twiggy branches distract from the beauty that is the cedar waxwing.

After spending some time there clicking away, trying to get a better shot, we headed down the next trail.  This trail was shaded and therefore has a little less harsh light, and we were greeted with more waxwings.  What luck.  A second chance with better light.  After chasing a couple of them around the branches for a while, I finally got some shots that I was happy with.  This shot was my favorite of the day.

The darker background, along with some fill flash, helps bring out the bird more clearly in this photo.  And while I liked how it is looking at me over its shoulder, I really wanted a more front-facing shot.  That however, was not to be.  They kept their back to me, no matter which direction I came at them from.

Could this shot have been better?  Sure.  I could have done without the twigs coming out of the bird’s head and the berries could have been more in focus, but the beauty of the bird makes up for some of that.  Some days, you take what you can get.  For all the faults of this shot, it is still one of my favorites.