Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Initial Blind Report: Bird Blind at Fredericksburg Nature Center

I visited The Fredericksburg Nature Center on July 5th. I had read about the bird blind and went with high expectations. I left disappointed with the blind, but found many things in the Nature Center that were very positive and worthwhile of a visit. All who I encountered who were part of the Nature Center, to include a lengthy e-mail, were very positive and friendly.

Location: The Nature Center is located in Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in the southern part of Fredericksburg, theoretically about a mile from the airport and the fairgrounds but really the end of the runway is not far from the visitor center.

Fee: There is no fee to go into the park nor is there one to visit the nature center.

Setup: The blind is set up in about a 3/8th's octagon. It is covered and there are openings at three different levels. These openings are big enough to get my 300mm lens w/77mm filter size through with no difficulties. However, directly outside of the blind there is a steep drop-off so most if not all of your shots will be on a weird focal plane. Trees surround the back sides of the blind and have a thick, light-robbing canopy.

Perches/Attractants: There are plenty of places for birds to find food of very many varieties. Water is available to the birds as well. Beyond the wires that hold up various food dispensers, there are no perches besides the trees inside the blind. There are few branches that are close to the feeders.

AM/PM: Based on an e-mail with the folks at the Nature Center, during the summer there really isn't a good time, morning or afternoon. The canopy of trees does not allow in photographically pleasing light. When winter comes and the leaves thin out, then morning will likely be the best time to try out the blind. I plan on making a return trip to see what winter brings to the park.

Species: The Nature Center publishes a list of species that can be found in the park. The species spread I found in the blind was pretty thin--White-Winged Doves, a male Northern Cardinal, a couple of hummingbirds (likely Black-Chinned), a House Sparrow, a Carolina Chickadee, a Black Crested Titmouse, and probably a Bewick's Wren.

Lens Requirements:
300mm w/1.4x teleconverter was not enough to get anything resembling intimate shots of the birds. Having to shoot at f5.6 and often in the 1/60th range did not do much for sharpness.

Other Photo Ops: While the blind was not all it had hoped to be, there were plenty of other photo ops inside of the Nature Center. They boast of over a mile of nature trails and I found the butterfly and colorful/non-biting insect population to be very good photo subjects. There were some other birds along the trail, but my choice of time of day did not lend itself to great images. I did well in the butterfly garden, getting my first usuable Giant Swallowtail image and a couple of nice Queen butterfly images. I found these butterflies both in the butterfly garden near the bird blind and on the trails.

Just a few miles outside of town, though is Wildseed Farms. Spend the $5 and go to the Butterfly Haus. Goodness gracious I could have spent all afternoon in there. I will recommend that you go with something smaller than my 300mm/1.4x combo as it was very difficult to shoot in that intimate setting. I would recommend (and I will accomplish next time) a 300mm/macro extension tube combination. Technically I probably could have slapped on the macro tube with the 300mm/1.4x combo, but in an attempt to walk around light I left the photo vest in the car (doh).

Final Thoughts: I had a good time at the Fredericksburg Nature Center. The bird blind was a disappointment and if the only thing that twists your dials is bird photography in a blind, then this is not a trip for you to make.

Having talked via e-mail with the folks who run the place, photography was not the basic consideration when they put the blind up. And for the purpose(s) it was put it up it meets that requirement and then some. It has been optimized for the set of solutions that they were trying to achieve and they did an outstanding job with it. These are some outstanding folks with some outstanding volunteers providing a service to their community and to all who visit the center.

This may sound bad (and if it does, I apologize ahead of time--no offense is intended), but seeing the setup of the blind put me through the paces as a photographer as to why it doesn't work for photography. And knowing why something doesn't work is the springboard for understanding why other things do work. And that's often what photography is about--playing the mental game to think through the process and consider what is missing.

Again, the folks who I dealt with in-person and online were outstanding and talked with me about my concerns and explained why things are the way they are. I respect that and congratulate them on building and maintaining an outstanding 10 acre facility under difficult conditions over the last couple of years. I plan on making a return trip in the winter when the light may be a bit better.

Image: Unidentified Butterfly, Fredericksburg, Texas, (c) 2008 Jim Miller

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