Monday, October 25, 2010

Photo Blind Map Update and Upcoming Workshop at Block Creek Natural Area

I spent part of my weekend doing some much needed maintenance to my Texas Photo Blind map.   It had been far too long since I took the time to verify and update the information so now it may be reasonably correct, or at least as correct as the websites I used for reference.  I added a couple of sites, but sadly had to mark a couple others as either closed or unable to find.  As always, contact the owners of the particular properties to ensure that all of the particulars are correct.  I built an accompanying spreadsheet which I may share via Google Docs in the next week or so once I am certain that I can share it without sharing everything else I do in that forum.

Also in doing my updates I discovered the Block Creek Natural Area will be hosting Larry Ditto's "Texas Hill Country Birds and Autumn Colors" workshop November 4-6.  I'm not sure how much of the workshop will be in the blinds and how much will be wandering around, but Larry's work is superb and I have heard that he puts on an excellent workshop.  More information can be found at Larry's website.

Image:  Male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), South Llano River SP, © Jim Miller -

Sunday, October 24, 2010

News and Notes...

Little bits of news and notes are trickling in every once in a while.  I am hearing decidedly mixed results about the blind at San Angelo State Park.  Bob Zeller reports that the fall birds are arriving, with the most notable arrival being the White-crowned Sparrows--a true harbinger of Jack Frost packing up the car and heading for my beloved West Texas.  However, another couple photographer friends of mine have reported that fall has brought a narrow species spread and the predominance of blackbirds and doves is still in full force.  Timing and weather affect that blind more than any other I've ever dealt with.  Fingers crossed for some species diversity and great images during this time of year before winter hits and the angles of light become less favorable.  I have not heard any word lately regarding the planned but delayed 2nd bird blind.  If someone could provide me some updated info I would be very appreciative.

Bill Yeates was down recently at South Llano River State Park near Junction and reports that species spread was also pretty narrow, with the blinds currently being dominated by Northern Cardinals.  In my mind that is not necessarily a bad thing--I love the Northern Cardinals.  But at the same time, there comes a point where one more picture of a particular species is just one more picture of that species.  He did bring home a couple of images that would have been lifers for me: an Eastern Phoebe and a Gray Catbird.  Bob Zeller has posted those images over at his site and I invite you to wander over there to see Bill's great images.  Gosh, we need to convince him to get into the blogging business one of these days ;)

I'm still waiting to hear some word regarding the goings on at Pedernales Falls State Park as well as word about any fall workshops that might be going on at the various private blinds in the Hill Country and/or South Texas.  Any news regarding these subjects would be appreciated.

My 2011 calendar, Dragonflies 2011 is now available for sale for $16.99 + S&H.  Yes, they are dragonflies rather than birds.  What can I say--this summer during my exile from Texas has been all about Odonates.  Of the 12 different images there are 11 different species.  The repeat (the Widow Skimmer) has a male for one month and a female for another.  I am very pleased with the images and the production quality and invite you over to Lulu to take a look.  My plan for 2012 is to have a Northern Cardinal calendar as well as another dragonfly (or possibly a damselfly) calendar.

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), San Angelo State Park, © Jim Miller -
Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera), Twin Creek Metropark, Germantown, Ohio, © Jim Miller -

Friday, September 10, 2010


Still alive and kicking in this neck of the woods.  The season of bird blinds opening up in my home away from home in Ohio starts in about a month.  I will be doing a report or two from Possum Creek Metropark and Spring Valley Wildlife Area as the calendar moves to October and the blinds start to open up.

Further along on the calendar, my time in Ohio will end towards the tail-end of March.  Hopefully by the first or second week in April I will be back in Texas (this time for good) and these reports will occur with much greater regularity.

In spite of not having any blinds to shoot out of, my life list has grown this summer.  I've added the Eastern King, Cedar Waxwing, and Red-bellied Woodpecker to my list.  That life list sits at 80 birds, but I know there is likely another 10-15 that are in my pictures that I just haven't recorded, to include a significant number of shorebirds from a workshop I attended a couple of years back and some shots from my time in Iceland.

Also on the horizon is another blog that I will be participating in to ensure that I am staying within the defined lanes of the other two blogs that I write for.  My vision is that this blog will only be news from the various blinds in Texas and my personal and shared blind reports, keeping other things photographic out of it.  Of course, where there is crossover I will probably post in both places or say, "Hey, I wrote about blah blah blah over at the other blog," or "A shot I made from one of the blinds is now available for sale.  More info over at the other blog."

So stay tuned...more good news on the way...

Image:  Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), Siebenthaler Fen, Beavercreek, Ohio, © Jim Miller

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lightroom 3 & Adobe Photoshop CS5 - The First Month

My digital darkroom received a major remodeling back about a month ago. Adobe finally released Lightroom 3.0. It was been in a public beta for an extended period of time and I used it off and on since the public release. I am a legacy Lightroom 1.x user and I am a "skip a version" user when it comes to Adobe products--Adobe's "Major" version number updates are typically not enough to get me to make the jump, but there is enough change every two versions to make me jump ship and engage the learning curve again. I was also using Adobe Photoshop CS3 so I upgraded to both CS5 and LR3 at the same time.

Things I liked moving from LR 1.x to LR 3.0:

  • Dual screen support: Admittedly this was available in LR 2.x, but since I didn't make the jump I didn't have it. Then again, I wasn't running dual screen on my computer either, so having the capability wasn't much of a selling point for me.
  • Graduated ND filter: Again, this was something that was in LR 2.x, but it was not nearly as smooth or useful as the current edition.
  • Plug-in Support for Flickr and SmugMug: This is a gee whiz, but it's a nice gee whiz. For folks who want to throw the initial images out on Flickr to share with family and friends, this is a nice feature. For studio work, I can see a great deal of good to be had by being able to push directly to SmugMug or other providers so that event images can be processed quickly and made available for customers.
  • Tethered Shooting: For studio and event shooters, this is an incredible feature. If clients can see what the shot looks like before they leave, they can provide feedback and re-shoots can be done on the spot rather than later. Happy clients should equal more sales.
  • New Slide Show Mechanism: Great improvement from previous attempts. This could eliminate or greatly reduce my reliance on software packages like Pinnacle's Studio. I can't wait to fully explore this one.

So now about a month into my new dual software experience and I have a few thoughts...

Even though it is a newer piece of software and software tends to get larger rather than smaller through it's evolution, Lightroom 3 is far quicker than Lightroom 1.x. Granted that right now my main processing folder only has 2010's images and they total just under 1,100 (or in the old days, about 3 shoots worth). But I find that except for the initial switches into the different modules (i.e. develop, web, etc), that Lightroom 3 is lightning quick.

Dual-screen support is incredibly useful in Lightroom 3, especially during dust removal and initial meta-tagging.

I've also found that there is so much to this program that I do not know that it is going to take some time to truly feel 100% comfortable with it. The features that I know that are carryovers from Lightroom 1.x are still very intuitive and I have successfully processed a number of images. But I also know there is so much there that I don't know that it is going to take some time.

Photoshop CS5 runs beautifully as well. What I knew of CS3 works great. I'm still learning the other features and am anxiously awaiting for mid-August when Scott Kelby's CS5 book is released so I can really get into the guts of what I need to know.

Overall it has been a smooth transition. I can't wait to (a) get the books to help me along the learning path, and (b) to make more images in the camera so I can take them into the digital darkroom.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 18th Report - San Angelo State Park

Just a short note regarding the blind at San Angelo State Park. I was able to visit the morning of the 18th for about an hour and was generally impressed. Water was flowing, the grounds were very well maintained, and the birds were plentiful. The species spread was kind of narrow, but I also didn't spend the amount of time I usually do at the blind. Far too many things going on elsewhere during my trip home and not nearly enough time to do everything that I wanted to do.

The highlight of the visit was a Wild Turkey hen and three or four offspring that made it into the general blind area. Only one of the offspring was brave enough to venture close enough to get a good look, but his siblings were definitely in the brush and while obscured, were definitely identifiable. Of all of the trips I made into the blind, this was the first time I had seen Wild Turkey chicks.

No pictures for right now... I left my memory card from that particular shoot at home. I'm hoping that it will show up in the mail in the next few days and I will share then.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Workshop On the Hoizon

I'm still alive and well here in the rust belt. Not much shooting for me of late--no free time is one of the dangers of going to grad school full time. Membership has it's privileges, I guess.

I received word today from Sean Fitzgerald that he is offering a 2nd workshop at Los Madrones Ranch near Austin. The dates are May 28th - May 30th and the cost is a very reasonable $990. Sean does some outstanding work and I've heard nothing but very positive reviews about the workshop experience with him. More information can be found at this website or you can call 214-213-4193 .

I also received an e-mail from Bill Yeates, one of my photographer friends back in San Angelo. He has been spending some quality time down at South Llano River State Park and sent me some pretty images of an Indigo Bunting, a Lark Sparrow that was partially albino, and warbler that neither he nor I was able to identify. He also reports that he saw Painted Buntings, Black-throated Sparrows, and a number of other warblers. As you have read in these blogs before, I am consistently impressed with the blinds at South Llano River State Park and big kudos need to go out to the staff, management, and tireless volunteers for creating and maintaining what may be the best public land birding experience west of San Antonio.

On my current local front, I found what could be an outstanding blind here in the Dayton area. I will do an initial site report on it when I can find some time and I can get some other questions answered.

I hope that your bird photography experiences are going well during this spring. I hear wonderful things about the amount of precipitation that Texas has gotten and how pretty the wildflowers are. I don't foresee a trip home any time soon. I have a couple of weeks with no classes, but I need to spend some quality time on my thesis research. In fact, as soon as I finish this out, I have another 14 page scholarly paper I need to read before I start slaving away again at the keyboard. Just ten months to go...I can't wait ;)

Image: Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), Possum Creek Metropark, Dayton, Ohio, © Jim Miller

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

San Angelo State Park report revisited

It has been a busy couple of days in e-mail regarding the blind visit report that I posted Sunday. Very odd--it is not the first time that I've written a critical piece but it is certainly the first time that I've caught as much negative reaction from it. I'm glad folks still care about the park and the blind, but there needs to be a hair less emotion attached I think. And no, my parents were married before I was conceived, thank you very much.

First a couple of clarifications... In reviewing the piece, the words I used at the front were probably less precise than they should have been. It was indeed a disappointing visit to the blind. Weather was lousy for photography, there was no water drops attracting the birds, and there was no seed or evidence of consumed seed in the feeders. I lumped the water and seed into maintaining the site, and it implied that the place looked rundown.

But the physical aspects of the blind were in good shape. As I mentioned, the increased number of feeders (and quality feeders at that) in the trees is a good thing. The grounds were recently mowed, and the trees appeared to have been trimmed during the winter months. All positives.

The bird seed, I am convinced, is just an issue of heavy bird traffic based on a couple of e-mails I have received. The water feature issue has been fixed as well. I don't know the particulars, but I do know that when alerted to the problem, a team of TPWD personnel and volunteers both restored the water flow and cleaned out the catch basin. I know without a doubt based on another e-mail that the staff at SASP did not know that the water feature was not flowing. And that, quite frankly, is on the visitors to the blind (including yours truly). SASP staff can't be everywhere all the time and they rely on visitor input when things are broken. If we don't tell them, they can't fix it. Mea culpa.

I was also reminded, though I knew this from my own personal experience, that volunteers heavily augment TPWD's staff to get many things done around the park. And when things aren't done, it is often a sign that not enough people are coming out and giving back to their local community parks. $3 a person coming into the park doesn't go very far in terms of staffing the park and without volunteers there would be far less great things in our state parks.

So to summarize and wrap up
  • Good on TPWD and the volunteers in getting the water feature flowing again
  • Sorry my words were not as precise as they should have been
  • Come out to the park and watch migration at the blind
  • Thank a park volunteer--they make it possible for you to enjoy nature
Image: Golden-fronted Woodpecker, adult male (Melanerpes aurfrons), San Angelo State Park, © Jim Miller

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 26th Report - San Angelo State Park

I had a highly disappointing trip to San Angelo State Park late last week. Some of the disappointment was just nature being nature. But a good deal of the disappointment has to do with the way the blind is being maintained these days. I know that this is going to sound like whining and it very well may be. And there are likely very good reasons as to why things are the way that they are. But having spent a good deal of time in this blind and a good deal of timing keeping it up when I was still a full-time resident of San Angelo, it is disappointing to see things as they were.

First, nature being nature... The light was horrible. Very bright with no clouds in the sky to soften it. The trees and other greenery has not come in strongly enough yet to act as a diffuser either, which meant on this cloudless day that I was really wasting my time as far as making images that were going to be printable.

But to the things that could have been changed... To attract birds to a blind, the ideal situation is to have three basic things: Water, food, and a sense of security. Of those three items, only one of the three (sense of security) remains.

A number of feeders were added to the blind area, which is a good thing. But when I went in, there was not a morsel to be found in any of the feeders. Zilch. Zero. The key to keeping a steady stream of birds coming in is knowledge that they can come to the area when they want to and feed. If it is hit or miss as to whether or not a food source will be there, it will be hit or miss as to whether or not the birds will take the opportunity to come in. It is possible that I just hit a bad day, or it is also possible that traffic has been so heavy to the blind (as far as birds go) that it was demand that left the cupboard bare.

But then there is the issue of water. Birds are attracted by the sound of water. There is a large and well-constructed water feature in the middle of the habitat area. But not a single drop of water was flowing through it. By looking at the level in the collection area at the bottom, it is fairly obvious that it has been weeks since water has been flowing through it. I'm not sure if this is a TPWD thing or a maintenance thing or a philosophy thing. But I do know that without a steady source of water, a good deal of the non-seed feeders will never come into the blind and the seed-feeders will look for other sources of water and food before coming into the blind area.

As a former member of the Board of Advisors for Friends of San Angelo State Park, I still have some contacts with the powers that be and I will find out why the water issue is the way it is.

As to the reason why I went in the first place... I arrived at the blind at around 9AM. Very windy and bright morning. Based on what my camera says, it was nearly 45 minutes before the first bird came down to where they could be photographed. Some White-winged Doves made it into the trees around the blind, but it was a House Finch that was the first to be brave enough to feed on the seed.

Once the House Finches gave the all clear, then the standard assortment of suspects made it into the blind, to include male and female Northern Cardinals, Titmice, White-crowned and House (English) Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, White-winged and Mourning Doves, and Pyrrhuloxia ventured in. Eventually a very brightly colored Golden-fronted Woodpecker came in as well.

After seeing the results on the LCD and understanding that neither the light nor the wind was going to get better, I headed back home to finish my primary project for my trip back to San Angelo: Putting sod down in the backyard.

I'm hoping I will have better luck in early summer when I head back to San Angelo for another short visit.

Pyrrhuloxia, adult female (Cardinalis sinuatus), San Angelo State Park, © Jim Miller
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), San Angelo State Park, © Jim Miller

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Updates as we approach Spring - (UPDATED:3/18 @ 4:45 PM CDT)

Greetings friends. It's been a "fun" couple months since I last checked in. All I can say is that winter in the rust belt makes me miss my Texas home that much more...

Some important dates that you need to be aware of:

David Cardinal's Texas Hill Country Bird Photo Safari & Workshop runs April 25th to May 1st. His website reports that there are still 4 openings. David's pre-site visit last year produced some very nice images and his résumé speaks for itself.

Sean Fitzgerald's Los Madrones (Austin) Workshop runs April 30th to May 2nd. This one just popped into my e-mail this morning and I wanted to get it out as quick as I could. It is limited to 10 participants. More information is available at Texas Photo Workshop's site. Sean does some outstanding work and this is the 2nd or 3rd year that he has been doing workshops out of photo blinds, with last year being out at the Fennessey Ranch near Corpus Christi.

And last, but certainly not least, is David Middleton and Jeff Wendorff's Texas Hill Country in Spring Workshop. This runs from May 5th - May 9th, though the formal part of the workshop ends the evening of the 8th. Both David & Jeff are veteran photographers and workshop leaders. UPDATE (3/18 @ 4:45PM CDT): Photographers Alliance Workshop (PAW) is offering a $150 discount to readers of Texas Photo Blinds. Use the discount code TXPHOTOBLINDS during the registration process to get the discount. Thanks Scott!

If you have the vacation time and can work it right, you could knock out two of these workshops without having to travel very far in between and get a year's worth of instruction in a short period of time. Texas, I hear, is officially out of it's drought, which means there will be plenty of food available and plenty of food means plenty of critters.

Part of me hopes to get back to Texas while I'm in between academic terms, but that same part of me knows that if I do there will be a ton of Hunnadews to work (Hunnadew this and hunnadew that, and well, ya know...)

Your comments, reports, and criticisms are always welcome...

Image: Northern Bobwhite [Male - Colinus virginianus], © Jim Miller

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Sighting at the San Angelo State Park blind...

Bill Yeates sends word that this past weekend he spotted a Brown Thrasher at the blind. While it is a bird that is seen elsewhere in the park, it is the first time in recent memory that one has made its way to the blind. It's cousin, the Curve-billed Thrasher, is a regular visitor and I saw a pair of them at the blind when I was there at the end of December. Bill also noted that this particular bird was very agressive and "...pulled a beak full of feathers out of any bird that got too close." Sounds very much like the young Curved-bills that come into the blind until they figure out that there is enough food for everybody available.

This once again is further reason for the building of a second blind in the park so as to allow a bigger variety of birds to be seen by those folks who come out to see them.

Bob Zeller has a copy of Bill's image at the Texas Tweeties blog.