2021—Say, What?

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.

2021—Meep, Meep

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!

2021—What a Tail!

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.

2021—Commemorating a Native

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.

2021—Booming Ground is Booming!

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.

2021—And All Too Soon, It’s Over

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.

2021—Growing Up Fast!

The baby Mourning Doves are growing up fast. Just four days ago they had pin feathers and skin showing. Now they’re little fluff balls. As the chicks grow, Mama Dove sits up higher and higher on the nest, her charges barely fitting under her. I had a scare this morning. I noticed Mama Dove was not on the nest so I took the opportunity to peek in. Only one little chick was in the nest. Or so I thought. The nest is pretty cramped quarters on the edge of a hanging basket that has lots of scraggly vegetation left over from last year’s flowers that takes up most of the space. I assumed the worst and checked all around the nest to see if the one chick had fallen out. No luck. Then both parents landed atop the pergola from which the basket/nest hangs. They kept looking down toward the nest. Being inappropriately anthropomorphic, I assumed it was because they knew one was missing. Then Mama Dove flew to an iron bracket next to the basket and stared at the one chick in the nest for what seemed to me an eternity, finally hopping into the nest where the one chick eagerly began to feed. I went out with my Nikon D6 and Nikkor 500mmPF lens with an extension tube attached so I could be a little closer than the normal minimum focusing distance for the lens. And a second chick’s head emerged behind Mama Dove! What a relief. How that little bird could have been so hidden from view is a mystery. After feeding, the adult Doves both flew off and gave me an opportunity to photograph both chicks.


Greater Prairie Chickens and their close counterparts, the Sharp-tailed Grouse, both expend a lot of energy on little skirmishes with rival males in hopes of impressing a female of their species. The Greater Prairie Chickens seem to have fiercer and more prolonged battles than the grouse. This male has launched into the air, flying at his adversary who is almost invisible underneath him in the dense prairie grasses.

2021—Perfect Beacons

The reverberating dances on the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek are almost non-stop for the two hours just at and after sunrise. The dances of the Sharp-tailed Grouse seem more purposeful and choreographed than the dances of their neighbors, the Greater Prairie Chickens. Watching them makes me feel that some Native American dances must have been derived from watching these intricate dances on the prairie. At first, two rivals will face each other in a stare-down and then, with no perceived trigger, both males will suddenly stand and begin the dance, whirling left then right then left again, their sharp tails back to back like beacons. In fact, despite the terrain and the thick grasses, those beacons helped us find them. Even in dim early morning light before it was possible to take photographs, the first thing we could see were those white tail feathers.

There was almost non-stop dancing during our last morning on the lek. The rat-tat-tat of their feet drumming on the prairie echoed across the fields. Sometimes it was almost impossible to tell where they were drumming because the acoustics were such that the jack-hammer sounds surrounded us in our plywood blinds feeling as if they were just inches from us but the birds were really yards away, scattered around the lumpy terrain and partially hidden in the dried grasses. Their pointed white tails made spotting them, wherever they were, easy, the perfect beacons.