This Photo, #5

This Photo, #5

Building the Nest
Great Egrets, High Island Sanctuaries
April 2007

For many years, we traveled to the Upper Gulf Coast of Texas in the spring. We would visit Brazos Bend State Park, Galveston Island, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Bolivar Island, and High Island. Spring is breeding season for birds, alligators, and many other creatures. In 2007, we timed our visit quite well, and were able to photograph several animal species in prime breeding plumage and nest building, including alligators’

Displaying alligator
Alligator during breeding season, Brazos Bend State Par

mating displays.

 

East of Galveston is the small community called High Island.  It is not an island, but sits on a “salt dome”, 38 feet above sea level.  (This is the highest point above sea level on the Gulf Coast from Mobile, Alabama, to the Yucatan.)  The Houston Audubon Society operates a bird sanctuary within the community, and is a popular destination for birders and birdwatchers from all over the world.

Cormorants at the Nest

Cormorants at the Nest, High Island Audubon Sanctuary

Within the Smith Oaks Sanctuary, is Claybottom Pond – home to a bird rookery. Species nesting there include Cormorants,  Night Herons, Tri-colored herons, Roseate spoonbills, and more. The rookery is on a small island at a perfect distance for photographing and watching the birds. If you want to know more about the rookery, and all of the High Island Sanctuary, here is a link to Houston Audubon’s site.

Today’s photograph was made late in the afternoon, with the sun behind us. This pair was early in the nest building stage, as most of the other birds were well into the season, with eggs laid already. The male came flying in with nesting material (tree branches and sticks) to add to the structure, and as he landed and gave the stick to his mate, his wing  spread in a gesture that appeared to be protective, supportive, warm, and nurturing.

Great Egret Pair Building the Nest

Great Egret Pair Building the Nest, High Island Audubon Sanctuary

 

I was using a Sony Alpha 100 DSLR Camera, with a Tamron 300mm f/2.8 lens and a matching 2x teleconverter, making the lens 600 mm. Shutter speed was 1/800, ISO 200, and aperture of f/8. Today, I would not hesitate to shoot at an ISO of 800, maybe higher, resulting in a much faster shutter speed. The photo would be sharper… but, the point of the image, its mood, and the story, still is clear, and speaks of companionship, teamwork, family, and love.

This photo, #5 in this series, is about capturing a moment, and sharing a story, regardless of technical perfection.  The original image suffers from camera movement blur.  Today, we can edit the photo in Photoshop, and apply shake reduction sharpening, and at the least, improve the sharpness of the image.  And, that was done with this photo.  But, was it necessary?  Does it now tell a better story?  I believe photography is about capturing a moment, about telling a story, and sharing that moment and the story.  If the story is clear, and if you see the moment, and if you feel the passion of the photographer, does that not make it a good photograph?  Would like to hear your opinion!


“Capturing a beautiful moment in a photo is something I’m very passionate about.”                                             ~Nigel Barker


Until next time …  wishing you good light!

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This Photo

This Photo

great_blue_heron_10039

Great Blue Heron Flying Across the Arkansas River, Slide file 10039, date 1989

Location:  Citadel Bluff Park, near Cecil, Arkansas

Of all the photos I have made, this one fills a special place in my memory.  The moment, the location, and the image all added up to make it one of the best photos I had made at that time…

In the 1980’s and 90’s, I often visited Citadel Bluff Park and Campground on the Arkansas River, just outside the small community of Cecil, hoping to see bald eagles – and frequently I did.  A trail led from the end of the campground, through the woods, and along the river.  However, no matter how quietly I approached, wildlife knew when I was there…

On this cool but pleasant winter morning, the Great Blue Heron flew when I got too close, sounding its blood-curdling alarm call.  A grove of cane blocked my view, but I pushed through and saw the heron flying away.  I had learned the hard way to preset the camera, but I still only had time for two photographs: the one you see here, and a second one with its wings in the downbeat.

Is it a good photo?  I like it; but, for me, there is more: the image includes the sounds of the breeze in the trees and the river lapping on the bank, the smell of the forest, and the breathtaking flight of the heron.  There’s nothing else there but the Arkansas River, with its own reflected image of the heron, and small ripples in the current…

Some tech stuff, as I remember it:  Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera, a Sigma 400mm f/5.6 lens, and Kodachrome 64 film.  (Yes, film.)  Settings were probably f/5.6, at 1/500 sec shutter speed.  I frequently set the camera ISO to 80, so as to underexpose the film and add saturation to the colors.

Oh – we have since incorporated the heron’s image into our logo:heron_logo

 

 

In closing… this is the first post in a series.  Would love to hear your thoughts about my little story, and if you have a photo that means something similar to you, we would love to hear about that, too!  🙂

 

High Island, Texas

About 30 miles east of Galveston is the small town of High Island. Although it is a small community, birders the world over know the name. The Houston Audubon Society has converted a large portion of the town into a sanctuary, with wooded areas, and a heron rookery, and each spring, the area fills with migrating songbirds. The High Island Sanctuaries are a definite visit when we travel to the area.

Southeast Texas map

Southeast Texas map

In April, the rookery fills with Great Egrets, along with cormorants, eye-catching roseate spoonbills, and tri-colored and night herons, mating and building nests. For birders and especially photographers, the good news is the rookery is on an island about 20 yards from the pond banks. The pond, called “Claybottom Pond” is filled with alligators, making the island safe from predators such as raccoons; but of course, if any birds get too close, they make a meal for a hungry alligator!

For an unknown reason, this Great Egret pair was nesting a bit later than most of the others; the male would fly away and come back with nesting material, then present it to his mate, who would add it to the nest.  In this photo, his raised wing seems protective and caring.  I think I was fortunate to capture this moment; it’s one of our favorite photos…

Great Egrets build their nest

A Great Egret pair works together to build their nest at The Rookery, High Island, Texas

 

Sony Alpha 100, Tamron 300 f/2.8 with Tamron 2x teleconverter, Manfrotto tripod

 

Red-winged Blackbird

Taking flight? Or, flashing his epaulets?

It’s just a moment in his life, but I was there, and photographed that moment. When I look at this photo, I remember the joy I felt in sharing that moment. It was my first trip to the “Upper Texas Gulf Coast”, and there was much to see and photograph. This bird landed just for a moment on a cat tail stalk at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. The day was overcast, and my film camera was loaded with Kodak Ektachrome 100 speed film – as was often the case in those days.

So, technically speaking, this is not a great photograph; the background is too bright, there is too much empty space, the light was all wrong, the bird is not sharp, and he’s looking out of the frame. But for me, it’s all about remembering a moment in time. Isn’t that what photography is about? Isn’t that why we take pictures?

Red-winged Blackbird, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Minolta Maxxum 9xi, Tamron 300 mm lens, Tamron 2x teleconverter, Bogen tripod, shot from the window of a Chevy S-10 truck. Shot on slide film, the slide was later scanned using a “Kodak Photo CD” scanner, hence the small border – which I have intentionally left showing.

Angry Bird

Angry Bird

In one of our favorite destinations, Texas’ Brazos Bend State Park, spring is when a number of bird species nest, brood, and raise their chicks.  One of our favorite birds is the handsome Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, with striking colors and intriguing behavior.  (By the way, their feet are not green.) 🙂

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

However, the chicks are less handsome, and this one looks like the original “Angry Bird.”

A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

We used the Sony Alpha 700 camera, with a Tamron 300mm f/2.8 and Tamron 2x teleconverter, on a Manfrotto tripod.

Of Alligators, Ducks, and a Sunset

Brazos Bend State Park is roughly an hour southwest of Houston, Texas. In this park are many alligators, which is surprising to many people. After all, this is Texas, home of cowboys and The Alamo…

Actually, there are alligators all along the Texas coast, from Louisiana to Corpus Christi, but this State Park may have the largest population per acre in the state. They’re in the lakes and swamps, and they love to lie in the warm sun on the trails.

Gayle looks forward more to photographing the alligators than the birds in the park – and this is one of the best places I’ve seen for birds!

On this trip, we had just arrived, and as soon as we were settled, we headed out to the trail around Elm Lake. Gray clouds filled the sky, and although not dark, they weren’t the kind you wanted to have behind your subject. As we walked the trail, I saw several Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a dead tree not too far away. I stopped and took some photos, trying to silhouette the ducks against the gray clouds.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a dead tree, silhouetted against gray clouds, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Gayle had kept going down the trail, but she was within my sight. After I took a few photos, I headed her way. When I was close enough, I could see she was set up near an alligator…

Gayle, photographing an alligator, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

She got some pretty good images, including this one.

Brazos Bend Alligator

Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, by Gayle Millican

After photographing the gator for a while, I saw that the clouds were beginning to break up. I dragged Gayle away from the alligator, telling her that we were about to be blessed with a great sunset. We headed back to the spot where I had photographed the ducks earlier.

Sure enough, after we had barely set up our tripods, the sun began to make its appearance.

Gayle’s first photo of the sunset, her zoom lens set to about 200 mm

We each took about 20 photographs, then it was over…

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at sunset, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Lessons learned: Keep your eye on the sky, and always be ready, for anything!

Cameras used were Sony Alpha, with Tamron lenses.

A Morning at the Nature Center

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, actually.  That’s a mouthful; so those of us in the area simply say “The Nature Center.”  Regardless, it is a marvelous nature resource for the Western Arkansas region.

Recently, Jim Nieting and I spent a few morning hours walking some of the trails at the Nature Center, with cameras in hand.  Once again, I was amazed at the resource this is for us.  We saw or heard a number of bird species, numerous butterflies, a cottontail rabbit, and more…

At the Visitor Center, the staff has installed housing for Purple Martins, and it is very active.  Here are a couple of nestlings looking for their parents.

Purple Martin Chicks

Looking for their next meal on the wing

Also, near the Visitor Center, are a number of Canada Geese.  Most of us have more photos than we’ll ever need of this species, but I usually cannot resist taking another.

Canad Goose at the Nature Center

Canada Goose at the Nature Center

From the Visitor Center, we headed out on the Beaver Creek Trail, where we heard and eventually found probably the highlight of the morning:  a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos.  Here’s one of them.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, with snack

Lots of butterflies, including this Pipevine Swallowtail:

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail, enjoying the sun

On the Wells Lake Trail, we found this Cottontail Rabbit, very near Wells Lake.  He posed for us for quite some time.

Cottontail Rabbit

Cottontail Rabbit, near Wells Lake

Among the butterflies, we saw Hummingbird Moths.  Hard to photograph, because they never stop moving – and they move fast!  🙂

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Moth at the Nature Center

Finally, as I was heading home, I saw this Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher on a high-line wire.  Technically, not at the Nature Center, but close enough to count as part of my morning adventures…

Scissortailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, near the Nature Center

The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center is one of 4 the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission has built across the state of Arkansas.  In Western Arkansas, we are appreciative of and thankful for the facility.  As you can see, there is a large variety of fauna as well as flora to be seen here; I’ve only touched on a small portion of it.

All photos were taken with a Sony Alpha 77, and a Tamron 200-500 lens.  Yes, I used a tripod, built by Manfrotto.

Also, a big thank you to my fellow photographer, Jim Nieting. Definitely a better birder than I; several he saw and identified before I knew they were around. 🙂