Saturday, January 30, 2021

Back to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, January 26, 2021


Once you get a new camera lens you just have to use it a lot, and so we made another trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for another day of birding. Before we arrived at the park Renita took over the driving and I attached the 150-600 mm telephoto lens to the camera.

I cradled it in my lap and almost as soon as we entered the refuge, we spotted an American Kestrel. Renita stopped the car in the middle of the road, and I jumped out with the camera, (well I did not really jump). The Kestrel landed on top of a large brush and I shot away hoping for a good image. The image is one of the best bird images I have ever taken as both the resolution and color are spot on.

                                                kestral photo before being cropped, see above
As we neared the Heron Flats Trail a red shouldered hawk landed in a tree and I took quite a few images. From there we drove on till we reached Jones Lake. The lake had filled since the last time we were there, and other than a snowy egret, a sandpiper, and several far away ducks was pretty much a disappointment.

Our next stop was at the Towers and the Big Tree Trail. There another kestrel was hunting above an open field and I did manage to get a shot of it in the air. We walked into the trees on the Big Tree Trail but decided to return to the Towers, hoping to find a clapper rail, (no luck there).

The lower tower was devoid of anything, so we trudged up the high tower. Along the way a greenish warbler made a few tantalizing appearances, but it did not stop in one place long enough for me to take an image. All I ended up photographing was oak tree leaves.

The view from the top of the tower is nice but the whooping crane pair that claims the territory below is usually really far away. This time we spotted two wade fisherman and a boat next to the open field and marsh and it took awhile before Renita spotted the pair of whoopers in a place; we had never seen them before. I took a couple of images and then decided to take some images of the turkey vultures in the area.

Renita brought my attention back to the whoopers and they were moving to the edge of the bay. As we watched they leapt into the air and flew low across the bay.

They reached the shore, and they flew near the boat and one of the wading fishermen. Landing they were as close as we have ever seen them from the tall tower.

Our next goal was to check out the eagle’s nest along the eleven-mile road. If you do not know where it is, you can easily drive by it as it is a way off the road. It is about 5.6 miles from the start of the road and parking, we walked to a spot where we could see the aerie. It was still empty, and we wondered if the eagles had abandoned it or even returned to the area.

Finishing the one-way road, we returned to Herons Flat, parked the car and walked down the trail. The red shouldered hawk had taken a place in a large brush and I had to take the camera off autofocus.

Switching to manual I was able to refocus on the bird and not the branches and got a great shot of the hawk.

Walking further along the trail allowed us to see the two whooping cranes in the distance but they were along ways away.

There were some rosettes, a reddish egret, a great blue heron, a great egret, and a pair of pied billed grebes but the sun was wrong, and I could not get a good image. We did not see any alligators, unusual for the trail, as the trail is crisscrossed with alligator drags.

It was time to drive back home but before leaving the refuge we stopped in front of the refuge build to see if the resident alligator was at its usual spot. It was an appeared o be sleeping but it occasional opened its eye to see if we were close enough for it to get a birder.

Just as we drove out of the park, Renita spotted a flash of red and stopped the car. There we realized the small bird on top of the tree was a vermillion flycatcher. It was a great way to end the day and we hurried back home to upload the images into our photo program. It was a good day, and the results are the images used in this blog. 

Clear skies

Monday, January 25, 2021

A New Camera Lens, A Sigma 150 to 600 mm telephoto

                    (Whooper and sandhill zoomed in on the computer from the image below)

 I decided that I would purchase a larger lens for our Canon T5i camera. After all we spend so much time using it to take images of birds and bears but they often lacked the resolution when they were far away. Saving up my “Mad money”,

I went mad and bought a Sigma 150-600 mm telephoto lens, (there are better lens out there but I don't have eleven thousand dollars).

                                                    (whooper crane and sandhill crane)

Lenses have changed a lot.

                                                   (ever seen a whooping crane do yoga)

This one required me to also purchase a docking station, which hooked up to the computer, allowing me to update the latest software in the lens. Yup, the lens has writable software.

                                                                    (sandhill cranes)

When the lens arrived, I was surprised at its size and weight.

                                                               (vermillion flycatcher)

                                                           (juvenile eastern meadowlark)

It still allows me to take images/pictures off hand, as long as I have a fence post or something, I can rest it on. I got lucky and found, thanks Betty, a heavy-duty tripod so I will use the tripod when the situation allows.

Of course, the weather the next day was foggy and so I had to wait for the sun to peek through before I would expose the camera lens to the elements.

                                                  (rosette spoonbills displaying for a female)

Renita agreed to be my spotter and drove over to the Big Tree area on a quest to take images of birds.

I decided to use the auto focus settings, something I do not often do anymore, and let the camera decided the iso, shutter speed, etc., etc., etc.


                                          (whooping cranes landing, note tag on left bird's leg)

There are so many possible settings that that you can change manually, and you can even rewrite the software, (Not for a while yet).

Luckily, the sun stayed out and the birds cooperated. I am extremely pleased with the first day’s images! I am already looking forward to seeing bears and I must remember to stay at least 10 feet away, lol. Clear skies

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Dave’s eightieth Birthday Party, another day of birding in Lamar, and enduring the pandemic

It is not every day that a dear friend turns eighty and so that called for a birthday party. Of course, with the pandemic we had to social distance and hold the party outside. A cold front passed though, and the high temperature was just in the upper fifties, and with strong winds it was quite cold. Still the party went on.

Dan and I bought a half sack of about one hundred oysters, they cost just thirty-five dollars, and with another friend Dennis, we shucked and prepared them for the party. Of course, we had to have them on the half shell, but we also wanted to grill some, and bake some making Oyster Rockefeller.

While I love Oyster Rockefeller, I had never made them, but they turned out to be quite easy. It was simply a mixture of caramelized onions, wilted spinach, butter, and grated Romano cheese. Making the mixture before the party, our friend Barb put them in her oven and baked them just as the party started!

Dave and Jane were so pleased that we helped to celebrate Dave’s birthday and it was especially nice as he did not have to cook. We did not have any problem eating all the oysters and neither Dave nor I had gout the next day!

A few days later, after the wind died down Renita and I drove to Lamar for another day of birding. We go over there quite often, after all where else can you see endangered whooping cranes, feeding, fighting, and flying.

That day we also hoped to see eastern bluebirds and we were lucky enough to see them land nearby on a wire! We also saw cardinals,

(plentiful here), cara caras,

rosettes, black belied whistling ducks, a red-tailed hawk, 

a belted kingfisher and of course flying whoopers!

Birding is also an activity which allows for social distancing, besides being outside.

We try to keep a positive note about all the troubles going on. Our kids have all had their shots as our daughter and her husband work with covid patients and our son is a first responder. Our sister park had a covid spike a few days ago as they held an indoor dance with live music, (at least three have been taken to the hospital by ambulance, what were they thinking?).

Renita and I do not know if we can ever get our shots here in Texas or if we will have to wait until we get back home to Wyoming. We hope there will be a national policy that all states follow. At least in five days the craziness will end. When the weather gets bad, we make jewelry, besides binge watching on Netflix and Prime. Having avoided the covid for ten months we will keep our guard up by wearing masks, not going to restaurants to eat, and not going inside of our clubhouse for the weekly buffets. We also say daily prayers for those that are sick and those that have passed, (we know of two).

Clear skies and stay safe



Saturday, January 9, 2021

A New Years paddle in St Charles Bay, 2021

We are always filled with anticipation as we push off in our kayaks. Today was no exception as we were going to paddle to one of our favorite bays. It is a spot that in past years, has held fish after the passage of cold fronts and we have certainly had those!

It is a combination of fishing and birding as we sometimes see whooping cranes feeding in the shallow waters. Along the way a reddish egret posed along the shore and we passed several kayaks fishing close to shore. There were also several boats and all of them were casting lures into the shallow.

As we headed to our first place, one of the other kayaks saw us and reached the spot first.  Kayaking has changed a lot as many of the yaks are either powered by special electric motors, pedals, or even small gas engines, (we were the only ones using kayak paddles).

Still, it did not matter as there were plenty of places to fish and while we stopped for a break, it is a two-mile one-way paddle, we enjoyed the scenery and the exercise. At one point I spooked several large reds and made a note of the place to fish on the way back.

The area we were heading to had undergone several surges from last years hurricanes and the question was, had the structure changed? The answer was unfortunately yes as the channel that usual held fish had filled in with sand and weeds and we drew blanks as we cast to the area.

There were several large open areas of sand and sometimes reds will hold on these pockets. Moving and stopping we fished them but did not have any bites in the shallow water. We did not spot the usual alligators sitting on the shoreline, it was a bit cold. Usually, I use a stringer for any keepers realizing that if we do not carefully watch any fish on a stringer could attract an unwanted toothy thief!

Decid1ng to fish our way back we first stopped at one of the places we had seen fish and anchored. As we fished another boat came in with a tolling motor to the next point. They cast and cast, and we watched as they caught several reds. I kicked myself for not bring any lures, but next time, I will know better!

Paddling further we reached an oyster reef and decided it was a good place for lunch. While we ate Renitas, pole doubled over and was almost pulled out of the pole holder before she could drop her sandwich and set the hook.

The fish pulled the hook, it was not meant to be, and so she cast back out. It was not long before another fish hit her pole and this time, she landed a red fish that was almost twenty inches long. I had to measure the fish several times to make sure it was short, barely, and I safely released it. Renita mentioned that if we had brought along Botox, we could have made its lip big enough to be legal, (we always laugh when we see the stars with their grotesque Botox injected faces and lips).

Another cast and this time she hooked and landed a legal black drum, our dinner was assured. It was the last bite we had, (I never had any all day). It had been a perfect day for a paddle, with almost no wind or waves, and we were both sore after paddling over four miles.

Next time we will try another cold-water spot, where we have had some great days, in past years. At least we have learned that there is no point in returning to one of our old favorite spots. Clear skies