Monday, November 28, 2011

New Private Blind Property - Rocking R6 Ranch

I hope that you had an outstanding Thanksgiving holiday.  I stayed relatively close to home so I didn't shoot any images from a blind this weekend.  I'm hoping for next weekend, though all of my favorite blind areas here in Texas are showing a good chance of rain at this point for the coming weekend.

Good news to share today.  I have added a new property to the bird blind map that offers blind rentals.  It is the Rocking R6 and it is about a half hour or so north of Laredo.  This once again shifts the overall coverage area further to the southwest.

The proprietor, Butch Ramirez, is also an outstanding photographer in his own right as the images on his site reflect.  In my opinion this is an ideal situation: A photographer who knows his craft, knows the land, and knows the light setting up blinds for other photographers.  It doesn't get any better than that.

The ranch will also be home to an ICF Pro-Am competition the long weekend of April 27th to April 30th.  ICF only picks the best for their competitions, so undoubtedly this is an outstanding place to shoot.  This property has also been the site of other photographers doing workshops.  All signs that this is a great place to shoot.

The prices are in line if not a little bit lower than most of the ranches in Texas:
  • $75 for a half day
  • $125 for a full day
  • $200 for a weekend safari
I like the fact that he offers half day rentals.  Shooting for an entire day is not a trivial matter.  As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this blog in 2008, if you are doing what a craftsman does with a camera, a day full of shooting is very mentally taxing.  Up there with spending a day of doing nothing but writing programming code for those who have engaged in the art.  A half day is a good set of training wheels before daddy lets go of the bike.

Butch is doing another weekend safari the weekend of December 10th & 11th.  He also offers other amenities that go a little beyond the scope of this blog, but I know that sending an e-mail off to him will garner a quick response and he can fill you in on the details.

I hope to get out to the Rocking R6 Ranch once spring breaks.  It looks like a great addition to the blind landscape.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 20th Report - Pedernales Falls State Park Blind #2

Wow... what a great trip to Pedernales Fall SP.  This trip was everything the previous week's trip to South Llano River SP was not.

Weather was not great for this trip.  Cloudy with some significant gusty wind here and there.  Temperatures were a little cooler, but still very pleasant in short sleeves.

But I had this trip what I didn't have in the trip to South Llano River SP--very light traffic into and out of the blind.  When I walked in to the blind it was empty, though I had walked into the gate with a 2nd person.  He eventually joined me over there and stuck around for a while.  After a spell he left for destinations south, but a couple from the Houston area came in and stayed for an extended visit.  Other than that the blind was quiet.  And that made all of the difference because the blind landing area had a chance to stabilize.  Circles of fear were relaxed a little bit and plenty of birds came into the blind area.

Species spread was reasonably broad.  I counted 19 species in the 2 1/2 hours that I spent in the blind.  Surprisingly enough there were no doves among that group, nor were there any White-crowned Sparrows.   High quantity birds were Northern Cardinals, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows. 

The "Bird of the Day" though as far as images went was the Eastern Phoebe.  It didn't stay in the blind area long, but the time that it did spend was productive and it perched for reasonably long period of time on two different spots.  This produced what is easily the best image I've made of this particular bird.

Close seconds on bird of the day were a Carolina Wren and female Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  The Ladder-backed though gets the frame count record for the day that landed somewhere in the mid-80's between three different perch locations.

All in all this was an outstanding morning of bird watching and bird photography.  I met some neat, considerate, and very knowledgeable folks.  I made a big number of images.  I added three to my documented life list of birds:  The Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata), the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) , and the Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Aimophila ruficeps).

I really enjoyed the peace and quiet that comes from shooting out of a blind.  I can't wait to get back to Pedernales Falls SP.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), Pedernales Falls SP, © Jim Miller,
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Pedernales Falls SP, © Jim Miller,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 13th Report - South Llano River SP - Acorn Blind

I will rarely complain about getting to spend a day in a bird blind.  And I'm not going to complain about my recent visit to South Llano River State Park's Acorn Blind (aka Blind #4, aka Powered Camping blind).  But honestly the results were marginal to disappointing.

For those of you who have read this blog for a long time, you know hat South Llano River State Park (SLRSP) is one of my favorite places to shoot in blinds.  The four blinds in the park make it easily the single best public property for blinds in the entire state of Texas.  And the Acorn is my favorite because it is the most intimate of the four in the park.

But on this fall morning there was very little that was working.  Part of this is just luck of the draw.  Part of this was my tardiness in arrival.  And part of it illustrates some of the short comings of shooting in a public blind.

First and foremost I did not get into the blind early enough, or as early as the park would allow.  This one is on me.  I probably lost 90 good minutes because of my laziness.  Point accepted.  But even more ideal would be the ability to get into the blind before 8AM.  Unfortunately, unless you are camping in the park the earliest you can get your permit for the day is 8AM.  At private blinds this is not a problem--property owners cater to early arrival because they know it works best for the photographers.

Also, during my time in the blind there was nearly constant stream of foot traffic.  This is good because it shows that people are at least interested in birding and getting kids started at this age leads to the hope that maybe even a small percentage of these will continue with birding and help keep the cycle of funding and blind building going.  But all that traffic never allows the blind to settle and stabilize.  Thus, only the bravest (or hungriest) of the birds venture in.  Needless to say, at private blinds this is not a problem.

What caused this traffic was two things.  First, it was the end of the Veteran's Day holiday weekend and the campgrounds were packed with people.  Second, the trail down to Buck Lake which is normally closed off for Turkey Roosting is now open after 10AM.  Of course, I got there not too much earlier than 10AM so the constant foot traffic down to the trails added to the misery on the day.

I'm hoping in mid to late spring to test the public/private mix at one of the blinds in that area by going to the park one day and to the private blind another day.

But again, I'm not going to complain because even with those issues the bird photography was reasonably good.  Certainly a lot better than still being cooped up in the house post-surgery.

Species spread was narrow.  The birds of the day with the highest population were Field Sparrows and Inca Doves.  The Field Sparrows were a life list add, though that was likely an oversight from previous times.  My other life list add of the day was the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Only one on the day early in the visit, but images good enough for identification purposes.  Wish it had gotten a little closer to the front, but if wishes were fishes.

Also present were the usual suspects:  Northern Cardinals, Black-crested Titmice, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, White-crowned sparrows, and many others.  No woodpeckers, just one White-winged Dove, and Mourning Doves were conspicuously absent from the mix.  There's at least one more sparrow to identify in the mix.

The blind is still in very good shape.  It still has the theater-style padded, folding seating which is only marginally useful for photography.  I spent most of my time at the far side of the blind.  I still need to pick up an appropriate folding chair for the other window.

Total time in the park was about 2 hours.  Fifteen to twenty minutes of that time was spent gingerly walking down the Buck Lake to do some scouting for a different project and hoping to see a water bird or two.  No luck on the water bird, but amazingly enough there were a couple of damselflies on the pond.

All in it was marginal for photography, but still a good visit to the park.

About the Image:
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata), South Llano River SP, Junction, Texas

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Filling in Most of the Blanks

Welcome to blog entry 100.  I'm happy that you're still with me on the journey.  I'm sure we'll be around for at least 100 more...

I'm down to just the Cozad Ranch when it comes to missing information.  Fennessey Ranch no longer offers daily rentals of their blinds.  They have moved instead to a membership program which gives unlimited access to the blinds and the rest of their ranch for a specific fee for a timeframe that encompasses early spring to about the start of hunting season.  I'm marking it on the blind map in the most expensive category based on the fact that very few of us have the chance to shoot more than 3-4 days a year and that best reflects their fee structure.  Of course, if you're retired and having nothing else to do (and are close to the property), then this is a bargain.  I do encourage you to visit their site and inquire about the details.  It might very well work for you and how you shoot.  It doesn't work for me.

I will try to readdress with Cozad Ranch in the next day or two to finally clean off all of the unknowns on the map.

I was successful in finding my way to South Llano River SP on Sunday and I will have my thoughts on that visit in the next day or so.

Edited at 8:19pm adding that the fee at Fennessey Ranch also covers the rest of the ranch.  Again, contact them for more details.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spring 2012 Workshops in the Blinds...

In the process of doing my updates for the maps I learned of some shooting opportunities that will be of interest to this community.  Up at Block Creek Natural Area, David Cardinal will be holding a workshop April 18-23.  He had a very successful workshop there this past spring and I'm happy to see that he is coming back.  Pricing and additional info about this Hill Country workshop can be found at his website.

As he did last year, he will then move his show down the road to south Texas with a workshop April 24-30 at Dos Venadas, Santa Clara, and Campos Viejos ranches.  This one sold out early and apparently a good time was had by all because this too is down to just two openings left.  Pricing and additional information can be found again at his website.  And yes, for the sharp-eyed among you (which should be all of you... we are photographers, right?), I do not have a link to Campos Viejos.  That will be a project for this week to search out.

On May 11-13, Larry Ditto returns to Block Creek Natural Area to do another workshop.  Larry is one of the best in the business and it is great to see him back at Block Creek.  His cost is extremely reasonable and it looks he will be bringing in some raptors during the visit.  More details can be found on his website (note, I'm taking you in through his General Tour Info page.  You can then move to this opportunity which is on the following page).

There are also a pair of Images for Conservation Fund (ICF) Pro-Am tour dates in May 2012 with Los Madrones Ranch and Block Creek Natural Area hosting events on May 3-7 and Tacubaya Ranch and Dos Venadas hosting events May 17-21.  More information about the Pro-Am can be found at ICF's site.

Undoubtedly there are other opportunities out there and I will keep an eye out.  Some of the usual suspects have not posted any spring dates for shooting in the Hill Country or in the Rio Grande Valley.  I will keep an ear out.

One last note, I've made a couple of additions on the Blind Map.  Red Creek Nature Ranch got back with me on Friday afternoon and I've posted that update.  I'm still waiting word from Cozad Ranch and Fennessey Ranch and I will re-ping them on Monday if I haven't heard from them.  They are two of the originals and I'd love to get some updated information from them.

By the time this publishes Sunday morning I will be on the road to make some images.  Honestly I don't know where that will be until I wake up in the morning.  It will depend solely on how my recently surgically repaired foot is feeling in the morning and how far I will want to walk from the car to park my carcass somewhere in a blind.  But regardless, I am getting my face behind a camera.  I hope you'll have that opportunity, too.

White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica), San Angelo SP, San Angelo, Texas, ©

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bird Blind Map Updated

I had forgotten what kind of a task it was to do a full update on the bird blind map (, but is about 95% done.  Many thanks to Doug Campbell for filling in some of the blanks.

I have made some minor changes to the way the properties are now displayed.  Those properties with the Google place mark with the spot in the middle of them are properties I am still awaiting word on.  As of right now that encompasses just four properties:  Cozad Ranch, Fennessey Ranch, LaCopita Ranch, and Red Creek Nature Ranch.

Those properties withe Google place mark minus the spot are properties that I have reviewed and/or received additional and confirming information on.  That encompasses most of the properties.

The color of the markers have meaning.
- Purple means a blind on public lands
- Light blue means a property that the fee for the day is under $125 per photographer
- Green means a property that the fee is $125-$175 for the day per photographer
- Magenta means a property that the fee is over $175 for the day per photographer
- Blue means that it is a non-traditional blind--more about that later
- Red triangle with the ! mark means that this property is no longer available

Fee per photographer includes the fee for a guide if the property requires you to hire one of their guides.

Two new properties were added to the list:  Laguna Seca ranch and Santa Clara Ranch.  One, Weaver Cattle Ranch, was moved to the no longer available list, joining the Petersen Ranch.  For what it is worth, both of Petersen and Weaver still have active websites.  That forced me to go back and check all of the remaining sites and make positive contact (directly or indirectly) with the property owners.

Non-traditional blinds are blinds that are not structures.  This is not a place where one would sit to take pictures.  Rather it would be some place where you would stand and have  

The update is not done yet, though.  I need to link previous blog entries to the sites.  I also have a spreadsheet that is still full of holes that I may make available as well at some point as a Google Doc.

So for now go at it.  Tell me if it is helpful.  Tell me if I got it wrong.  Tell me if you've visited one of these places.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Status Report

I am still working hard to catch up here.  My surgery last week was, by all indications, successful.  So this week, while dodging pain killers I am trying to take care of some research and maintenance tasks.

With any luck I will have a full refresh on the Google Map.  I am including with each of the entries a last verified date to give a better idea of how fresh the information is.  If I've done a blog entry, I will put that in the notes as well.  I'm hoping to have that done before the end of the holiday weekend.

If I can drag my carcass out of the house during the weekend I'm hoping to get to one of the local public blinds.  I'm not sure which one--that will really depend on how far I feel like I am capable of driving.  But one way or another I really need to get out.  I've been cooped up in this house for far too long.

Did I miss a blind that you are aware of?  Do you own a ranch (listed or not on my map) with a blind and want to share why you think it is a great place to make images?  Please e-mail me.