Monday, December 19, 2011

December 17th Report - San Angelo State Park Blind

It was a bit of a homecoming for me this weekend.  I was able to make it out to San Angelo State Park this past Saturday to spend a little time in the bird blind out there.

For my long time readers you know that this was my home away from home when I was in San Angelo.  Reports about this blind dominated the early couple of years of this blog because I was in that blind just about every weekend.

This trip was not specifically aimed at going to the park.  Other business took me to San Angelo.  But Saturday morning was free so I took advantage of the opportunity to take a look around and fire off a few frames.

As I mentioned over at Jim's Assorted, Usually Photographic, Ramblings, there have some words of discontent about the blind as of late.  Bob Zeller, a good friend and a photographer I respect a lot, issued some scathing words about the upkeep of the blind a few weeks ago.  Privately I had heard from a couple of other photographers that things were not being kept up to previous standards.

Along with visiting the blind I also helped maintain it for about the last 12-15 months I was in San Angelo.  I didn't do the heavy lifting--others spent far more time than I.  But I knew what it looked like when it was running good as well as the constant irritants that created work and would make the place look bad if not attended to promptly.  And I was worried about some of the things I had heard.

It is really easy to concentrate on the problems the blind may or may not have, so let me start with the photography first.  Weather conditions were perfect for this particular blind.  Light to moderate overcast skies created nature's soft box and diffused the sunlight.  This all but eliminated shadows in the blind area.  But it did mean faster ISO than I normally would shoot with and the resultant noise that comes with it.  I shot ISO 400 almost the entire morning.  Often even at ISO 400 I was at 1/100th or less at f5.6.  Light was challenging even under the ideal circumstances.

Nothing horribly special in terms of species.  I won't do a laundry list like I did back in the day, but if you look this laundry list from December 14th, 2008, add a Spotted Towhee and subtract the Greater Roadrunner, Cactus Wren, Golden-fronted and Ladderbacked Woodpeckers, and Northern Bobwhites you will get my full list from my visit.  It was especially nice to see a Canyon Towhee--I had not seen one since my return to Texas.

Volume of shots was very small as compared with that photo shoot in December 2008.  In 2 hours or so I made 156 images this year.  Three years ago that number was 264 in an 75 minutes.  Part of that may have been the overcast--typically overcast skies do diminish the count a little bit.  Temperatures were moderate (low to mid 40's for most of my time).  I have two or three solid keepers in the bunch.

Upon arrival I could see both good and bad.  The bad for us as photographers is that we are down to just one shooting window left.  A maintenance issue cropped up some time in 2009 that required that the center window be sealed.  Now the left position also is sealed.  Sort of.  The glass in the left window broke once again, and rather than try to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic they instead covered the opening with a sheet of plexiglass.  This was not much of a shock if only because I knew that the Friends of the Park had paid to replace all of the glass in the blind.  This small stop-gap measure is completely understandable, though a barrier to us as photographers for the near term.

Also of concern was the lack of dripping water.  In past years a hose was run to the back to the water feature and allowed to run at the pace of a drip.  The hose is still there, though moved away from where it would do the most good.  But no water was flowing.  There was water in the trough, though and birds were drinking.

And then there was the lack of seed.  That was somewhat normal.  Birds continue to feed overnight.  But with as many feeders as are present it was unusual to see all of the feeders empty and little to no evidence of spent seeds in the flat feeders (terra cotta and trash can lid feeders specifically).  So either they were really, really hungry or it had been a day or two since the volunteers were last out to feed.

However, beyond those things the blind looked pretty good.  The blind area had a more natural appearance to it which I think is better for photography.  The perches were well placed and aside from the leaning black pole that has always leaned one way or another, everything inside the blind seemed to be in good repair.

I discussed my concerns with the park superintendent and I have great confidence that we are on the road to recovery with the blind.  Fingers crossed that it continues on that path.

Canyon Towhee, San Angelo SP, © 2011
Northern Mockingbird, San Angelo SP, © 2011 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Called on Account of Rain

My shooting schedule of late has been severely curtailed by the weather.  And that is a good thing.  Sort of.

We desperately need rain in Texas and Mother Nature has provided a good number of days of rain over the last couple of weeks.  The last time I shot out of a blind was back at Pedernales Falls SP on November 20th.  The last shooting I've done anywhere was at Cook's Slough Nature Park in Uvalde a week later.  And even that was an afternoon shoot that wedged between a pair of storms.

In the big picture I am not complaining at all.  We need every drop we can get.  Good rains now will help everything to grow in the spring which will also benefit everybody and everything.

I am working on two blind-related things.  One is the blind out on the gulf coast that I still haven't been able to make positive contact on.  The other is a follow-up on a set of images I saw out of a relatively new property and I'm trying to get in touch with the photographer who did them.

Also, if all works out this weekend I may even have an update on the blind at San Angelo State Park.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two New Photo Blind Workshops

Sharron at Block Creek Natural Area has given me a heads-up that Kathy Adams Clark will be offering a photography workshop February 3rd through February 5th. 

Kathy is a great photographer and I have heard nothing but glowing reviews from the presentations she does. It seems like she did a workshop there in the last year or so and I'm glad that she is once again keeping workshops in blinds on her schedule.

My understanding is that details are still to be worked out, but you can visit Kathy's website for more details as well as contact info to get more specific details

While finding more info about the February workshop, Kathy is also doing a workshop in blinds in the Rio Grande Valley June 3rd through June 5th.  Again, visit her website for more details/contact information.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), Pedernales Falls SP, © Jim Miller,

Saturday, December 3, 2011

All is calm...

Not much photography right now for me. I have a huge professional certification test coming up in about a week and then I get really deep into the preparation for the holidays. I'm hoping if all works out well to be up in San Angelo before Christmas to partake in a family tradition and maybe get an on-scene look at the bird blind at San Angelo State Park to see if progress has been made towards rehabilitating it.

I stumbled upon an blog posting by Russell Graves, a true steward of the land and working nature photographer here in Texas.  Mr. Graves does not blog a lot, but when he does there often nuggets of pure photographic gold contained within them.

The blog post I stumbled upon spoke to the unglamorous nature of what it takes to make images when you are on assignment for a magazine.  Words of wisdom for those considering moving their hobby and their passion into the day-to-day job.

I also have a lead on yet another blind, this time more towards the gulf coast.  That may be the next post to the blog.