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