In South Texas, the most colorful bird on the desert by far is the male Painted Bunting. To me, he is what paints the desert. It looks as if he has rolled across an artist’s palette. The colors are brilliant and some are almost like neon. The blue and red primary colors on his head and breast dominate but a bright yellow-green back provides contrast and adds to the palette. The rest of his feathers are variations and blends of the dominant colors. He is a gorgeous sight to behold. It was always a thrill to see him approach and he was unable to hide well in the trees because of his brilliant coloration so he was relatively easy to spot despite his small size. Mrs. Bunting has bright greenish yellow feathers but she appears drab by comparison to the male. Her visit to the pond always accurately predicted that the male would soon follow. What fun it was to see her bathing, knowing that we would soon see him and we were never disappointed. We photographed the Painted Bunting each day we were in South Texas.
The Greater Roadrunner was thirsty on our last afternoon in the blinds in South Texas. He visited the water several times during the afternoon, beginning and ending our day. It was perhaps more than one that made an appearance for us, so we had lots of opportunities to photograph Roadrunners. A very fast and animated bird, it is easy to see how Warner Bros. created their cartoon facsimiles of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote for its Looney Toons series. This shot made me laugh and it seems almost as cartoonish as the roadrunner cartoon character himself.
Crested Caracara are native to the arid southern tip of Texas in the semi open mesquite brush lands there. They feed on carrion and we observed several with bloody beaks from a carcass that we could not see. This Caracara did not show any signs of having visited the dead creature nearby, yet anyway. We photographed these large raptors from a blind, this one raised above ground so that we could photograph them at eye level in the nearby branches.
Say what??? “Look Mabel! I don’t care what they told you at the beauty shop, the punk look just isn’t you.”
At least that’s what I thought they might be talking about when I saw this image of a pair of Green Jays that I took near the Rio Grande a couple of days ago. I must apologize for this blatant use of anthropomorphism but when I saw this image and the blue “mohawk” on the one Jay, it just screamed to me for a caption and this one seemed to fit.
Meep, meep!! Wile E. Coyote was nowhere in sight when the Roadrunner made a quick visit to our blind in South Texas. Greater Roadrunners are native to the Southwest and we were delighted to see this one run quickly past our lenses, pause to take a quick drink from the pond, then just as quickly disappear into the scrub. It was a great finish to a great morning of shooting near the Rio Grande. At Moose’s suggestion, I had switched from my Nikon D6 to my Nikon Z6II mirrorless camera, still using my Nikkor 500mmPF lens. There was a recent firmware upgrade to both cameras that made significant improvements to their autofocusing systems and I wanted to compare the two. I was, quite frankly, astonished at how quickly the Z6II acquired focus even with the 1.4 teleconverter attached. In previous versions, some auto focus functionality was lost when a teleconverter was attached and the upgrade has returned that capability. It acquired focus almost instantaneously and kept focus. What an improvement to an already spectacular focusing system!
You’d think sitting on uncomfortable chairs in a sweltering blind near a pond on a ranch in arid South Texas photographing birds would be a miserable thing to do but it’s a great way to spend time learning about new bird species, enjoying nature, and being rewarded with opportunities to photograph amazing species like this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I don’t think I’d ever seen one before and that tail is something to see. It claims the longest tail of all songbirds in North America. Of course, photographing this bird was a challenge. That tail is so long, almost double its body length, that keeping it entirely in the photograph was while it swayed in the wind on top of a shrubby perch made it even more difficult. I was lucky it landed in a place the perfect distance for my lens so at least I had a chance to keep in in the frame. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is native to Texas in the summer and rare most other places in the US so we were in the right place at the right time to see it.
Last spring, during the early days of the Pandemic, I found great joy in using my macro lens to photograph flowers. I found many of my subject flowers on my daily walks, usually in the landscaped area along the sidewalk and the occasional dandelion in a neighbor’s lawn. I felt some guilt filching blossoms from these public areas but not enough to keep me from doing it. After all, it was just one or two every once in a while. When I began to travel again wildlife returned as my primary focus and flower photography was put on the back burner. Then, a couple of days ago on my walking route I espied a cluster of white flowers on the edge of the community park that I mistook for dandelion seed pods. They were the same size and shape but as I looked more closely, I realized they were something different. I used my iPhone App called “PictureThis” to identify them and discovered them to be an annual wild flower called a Blow Wives (Achyrachaena). I’d never seen them before and I discovered happily that they are native to California and southern Oregon. I plucked a few blossoms emerging through the weedy grasses in the median strip between the sidewalk and the street. Many were already starting to fall apart and when wind gusts hit them, some of the tiny flowers and seed pods blew off the round pompoms. The very next day, the Park and Recreation Department mowed all of the grasses and wildflowers in the park. Despite the fact that I picked a wildflower, and to do so is illegal in California, apparently mowing them down is not. So, I consider my deed one that allowed me to commemorate these lovely natives that, at least for now, no longer bloom along my route.
The lek is either calm or frenzied. On our last morning on the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek in Nebraska, there was a momentary calm and this grouse seemed to be appreciating that peace and quiet while it lasted.
The Prairie Chicken lek booms in the early morning hours with the sounds of Greater Prairie Chickens vying for the attention of one of the few females that might stop by to watch the face-offs. Even before the sun comes up, the sound reverberates across the “booming ground” and furious wing beats are audible as the birds try to intimidate each other with their talons and shows of bravado. Once the sun is up, the sparring, which began in darkness, increases in intensity across the lek. This is serious business for the Greater Prairie Chickens.
Watching the nesting Mourning Doves on my patio this past week has been such fun. Their nest is visible from my kitchen table so I keep an eye on it. I can open my patio door and take two steps outside and and I get a closeup view through my Nikon D6 and 500mmPF lens. It is nice to be able to photograph these moments. I love this shot, the chick resting its head against Mama Dove’s breast. Once again I’m anthropomorphizing because I see a sweet family moment here and not the actual biology of a chick resting momentarily before returning to gorge voraciously from the parent’s crop.
And all too soon, it’s over. Late Friday afternoon, I looked out the window and one chick was perched on the edge of the basket looking down. Then, suddenly it launched and landed on a patio chair beneath it, its first move toward independence. Now both chicks have fledged. Earlier Friday morning, the Mama Dove and the other chick flew out of the nest when Papa Dove, on the fountain nearby, was startled by me checking feeders. I’m guessing the chick was already out of the nest earlier Friday and his nest-mate took a few hours to follow. How fun to see the entire cycle. Now the two chicks with Mama Dove are resting on the patio underneath one of the chairs. It will be interesting to see how quickly they grow and how soon I won’t be able to distinguish them from their parents. Mourning Doves usually have several broods in a season. I’ll be keeping an eye out for another nest, hopefully in the same spot.