A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to work a triangle day of shooting. The plan was to go up to Abilene State Park to visit the new blind that Big Country Audubon Society and Earth Share of Texas has constructed, and then go across to Cedar Gap Farm and check out that site. Rather than do the standard Initial Description post, I am going to give an abbreviated version.
Abilene State Park is located on Texas Highway 89, about half-way between US 287 and US 83/84. The nearest town is Buffalo Gap, and the park is about 20 miles from downtown Abilene.
As is the norm, the TPWD staff at Abilene S.P. were outstanding and provided very accurate directions. The blind is in the area that on the official map says "CLOSED AREA." There is a restroom near the trail head. Park there and walk down the trail. It is only a short walk from the paved road/trail head to the shelter.
I was warned by the president of Big Country Audubon that the facility is still a work in progress. She is right, but they're moving in the right direction. They are having problems with reflections off of the windows in the blind and their water feature is not getting enough juice from the solar panel to work the way that it is supposed to.
Those things aside, they've done some very good things to get the blind running. Birds are certainly coming, though at this point the variety band of species in the blind was very narrow based on the morning I visited. I counted Northern Cardinals, Black-Crested Titmice (Adults and Juveniles), Carolina Chickadees, and Hummingbirds of an unidentified species (I believe they were Black Chinned but my images did not turn out well). Add a couple of squirrels and a fox, and that was the full listed of vertebrate species.
There are ample feeding stations in the blind, both seed food and hummingbird friendly. While the water feeder may not have been working correctly, the water that was there was being consumed dutifully.
I think with the adding of some tree stumps in such a way that they're close enough to be stopping points for birds but far enough away from the feeders to deter squirrels will increase it's usefulness for photography.
The biggest detriment to photography is the way that they are trying to discourage bird collisions with the plate glass windows in the blind--strips of tape run vertically down the front of the window. It may be a good stop-gap way to protect the birds (and I'm 110% in favor of protecting the birds from human-made obstacles), but it kills all of the photographic angles from the normal sitting areas. I hope that the more permanent solution will take both the birds and photographers into account.
There is a single open window and I found it to be workable, though not ideal. The Rolling Stones were right when they said you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.
This blind has the makings of a good blind for photography, but it's going to take some time. Based on the angle of the light, I'd say late afternoon is going to give the best photographic light. I'll try again in the spring.
I then wandered down the road to Cedar Gap Farm. Cedar Gap Farm is located off of US Highway 83/84 near Abilene. If headed towards Abilene from the south, make a right hand turn at County Road 150, and then a left hand turn onto County Road 563. Follow the signs and it will be difficult (though not impossible) to miss it.
Cedar Gap Farm is a great place for sitting in a large air conditioned room and watching birds. Huge numbers of Northern Cardinals (Adult and Juvenile), Titmice, Painted Buntings, Sparrows, and a number of other species (lost my notes from the trip). In addition to the bird watching room, there is a nature trail and a wildflower garden.
I cannot fully judge how good the photography is going to be there. I got there near high noon and did not have the patience to stick around for better light in the afternoon. But given that one of the photographer from the Abilene area that I admire greatly has done some outstanding work there, I'd say that the photographic possibilities are good. This again will likely be an early May '09 trip as by this point in the season it is likely that the prime reason for me to go up (the Painted Buntings) will have made their migration south. But I may go up just to drop a couple of dollars in the donation box and scout the light for future trips.
This is an interesting place and I had the good fortune to talk for a spell with Earlene Hutto who keeps the place going. It finished up a good morning of photography.
Both places deserve and will get a full write-up next spring.