2019 Has Been a Blur

Connie and I have had a very busy year.  This was to be the year of three weddings, a nursing school reunion, a high school reunion, a reunion with many friends in many areas of the country, and a good bit of birdwatching along the way.

I will not bore you with all the weddings.  Although they were all exciting to us, as they were all grand-nieces and our now grand-nephews-in-law, I am certain anyone outside the extended family would care to read about weddings. Having said that, there were some pretty fun parties associated with each of the weddings.

Instead of concentrating on weddings and reunions, I want to focus on the photography opportunities that we tried to take advantage of. So, with that in mind, our year of photography started with a lunar eclipse on January 20, 2019, and for the purposes of this blog post, it will necessarily end with a visit to Landa Park in New Braunfels, TX on November 1, 2019.  In between, we will visit Galveston, Texas for the winter meeting of the Texas Ornithological Society, Charro Ranch Park in Dripping Springs, Texas, a few stops in New Hampshire, Ohio, West Virginia, Delaware, and Wyoming.

There should not be a lot of words on this tour, mostly photographs which range from acceptable for public consumption to possible prize winners.  So, fill your coffee cup, sit back and enjoy a meandering trip around the country told in photographs.

Lunar Eclipse

The Lunar Eclipse of January 20, 2019, was to be pretty spectacular.  I have been trying to improve my night sky photography and felt this might be a good exercise.  There were some issues as a result of where we live.  The eclipse would not start until after 9:30 PM on a Sunday.  We returned from dining out with only minutes left to get set up and start making images. Problem number two was the fact that the moon was still pretty low in the sky as the eclipse started.  That meant I had to shoot through trees in order to include the moon in the image. Finally, the late hour and chilly temperatures caused me to end my endeavor early in the eclipse.

This is what the moon looked like before the eclipse started. I was impressed with the surface detail I was able to capture. The clear, cold air contributed to the details captured for sure.  Nikon D610, Sigma 150-600mm f 5.0-6.3. 600mm, f 6.3 ISO 1600 1/2500 sec.
As the eclipse started, the shadow of the earth started to blur out the bottom of the moon.  Nikon D610, Sigma 150-600mm f 5.0-6.3. 600mm, f 6.3 ISO 1600 1/2500 sec.
Sadly, this was the last image I made. The eclipse had progressed only about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. Of course, that means we were only about 1/6 of the time from start time to completely off the top. This image was captured at 9:55 PM Nikon D610, Sigma 150-600mm f 5.0-6.3. 600mm, f 6.3 ISO 1600 1/2500 sec.

There is a lot of work yet to be done before I will be happy with my night sky photography.  Specifically, I need to do more pre-project planning.  I need to find either an open area where there are no distracting objects such as close trees and houses and ambient light. I need to approach the project with the same commitment I have made in past attempts to capture wildlife and natural scenes.  Hopefully, my next attempt to look into the sky through the viewfinder of my camera will produce more awe-inspiring images.

Texas Ornithological Society Winter Meeting 2019

Connie and I spent the last weekend in January in Galveston, Texas where we participated in the Texas Ornithological Society Winter Meeting.  The society has two meetings each year and varies the locations to allow different areas of the state to show off the local birding hotspots.  We have always enjoyed these get-togethers as they have helped us learn where to go in Texas to find and watch several species of birds we may otherwise not get great opportunities to see.  The lecture periods for the meetings are always very educational as well.  We have learned a great deal about changing migration patterns population declines due to global climate change and other environmental hazards for which human development has influenced.

When we first started attending these meetings here in Texas and others in other parts of the country we have lived, there was little to no emphasis on photography.  Although on the surface it would seem that bird watching and bird photography should go together, that really is not the case.  When one goes out to watch, make records of sightings, and count individual birds of all species seen, there is a certain expectation that each observer in the group will be working to maximize the count.  When one goes out to photograph birds in such a manner as to make images that help describe an individual bird or species of bird and the behaviors and habits there is an expectation that many minutes if not hours could be spent in one location waiting and watching for a single bird to do something worthy of a photograph.

For these reasons, photographers are not always welcome on a group bird walk.  Sometimes we are tolerated, but usually with some not so subtle suggestions that we should be moving along.  Therefore, in my opinion, the two activities should really be separated and like all such social activities, it should be made clear whether the point of the outing is birding or bird photography.  Connie and I have done well when it is just the two of us to make the distinction prior to loading the car.

The point of all the above discussion was to be a prelude to what was introduced to the Texas Ornithological Society meeting agendas some few years ago.  The society has added more and more photography centered events on the schedule of field trips available for attendees.  This year there were a couple of field trips to the beach led by local professional bird/wildlife photographer, Kathy Adams Clark.  She made the assumption that her attendees were fair to experienced birders and had a desire to become better bird photographers.  Kathy spent just the right amount of time assessing each person’s photographic expertise providing more or less technical training depending on each’s abilities to operate the camera.

The majority of our time together was then dedicated to the dos and don’ts of bird photography on the beach.  Her emphasis was on how to get the shot while causing the minimum amount of disturbance to the birds.  I was delighted to listen to her subtle pleads that the birds should be left to do what they need to do to survive.  In other words, we should be there to capture them doing what they would do were we not there.  We should not be there making them do what we want them to do for our needs as photographers.  This has been my approach to all wildlife photography since I first picked up a camera. If my activity causes any animal to alter its activity, I am in the wrong and need to alter my activity.  By the way, this is also how I feel about pishing and using recorded bird calls to get birds to pop up.

We spent an entire morning on or near the beach getting tips and encouragement from Kathy.  I made over 1000 images that morning.  To this date, I have only found the time to delete the truly ugly images.  I have yet to decide which ones should go up on my website, but I have made a few selections for inclusion here.  I hope you enjoy them.

I have been working on my birds in flight photography. For me, this has been a challenge because there are so many moving parts. However, with Brown Pelicans you get a bit of a break because they generally fly fairly slowly, close to the ground and they are big. Nikon D610, Sigma 150 -600 f 5.0-6.3, 550mm, f 11, ISO 500, 1/2000 sec
This individual gave me plenty of opportunities to get it right as it passed by heading for the surf. Nikon D610, Sigma 150 -600 f 5.0-6.3, 550 mm, f 11, ISO 500, 1/2000 sec
It also gave me some different profiles while circling trying to make a decision on where to plop down. Nikon D610, Sigma 150 -600 f 5.0-6.3, 550 mm, f 11, ISO 500, 1/2500 sec
Just before what can only be described as a crash landing into the ocean, the bird modified its profile and seemingly walked out of the sky heading for the water. Nikon D610, Sigma 150 -600 f 5.0-6.3, 370 mm, f 11, ISO 500, 1/2500 sec

Not all the birds we viewed and photographed that morning were as easy as the Brown Pelican.  Here is one more sample from that wonderful morning on the beach.

This is a Franklin’s Gull. While this bird or one of its friends tried to give me an in-flight opportunity, I blew it. So, you get the much sharper look at a bird not on the move. Nikon D610, Sigma 150 -600 f 5.0-6.3, 550 mm, f 11, ISO 500, 1/2500 sec

The second field trip took us to some different areas, but most of the birds we encountered were sea or shorebirds.  I got lucky, in that the leader for the second trip was eager to give me as many photographic opportunities as I could handle.  Making the offer more inviting was the fact that the other members of the group were happy to accommodate my photography desires.  I even got to ride shotgun in the van.  I was happy to have the opportunity to practice what I had learned the previous day.

We got a predawn start to the day in order to arrive at our first stop just as the sun was making its appearance.  That first stop should have been a great place to see birds.  For reasons our leader could not explain, there just was not much activity this morning.  On a positive note, the location was not conducive to great photography, so I was not disappointed with moving along in relatively short order.

We eventually got to the Texas City Dyke where there were birds galore.

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