On the weekend of April 6th, I drove up to High Island, south of Houston to Houston Audubon’s Smith Oaks Rookery for Houston Audubon‘s first “Flight In Focus” photography workshop. The rookery had been on my list of places to visit, but when I saw they were having a 2 day photography workshop I decided that this was something I didn’t want to miss.
Speakers at the workshop were Alan Murphy, Trey Williams, Sonny Manley, Clay Taylor from Swarvoski optics, and Joe Smith. Topics ranged from set ups for bird photography, to digiscoping to urban eagle photography.
The lighting was overcast and foggy almost the whole time, but all of the photo shoots were fun and the talks were great. Some of the photographer speakers took more of a studio approach to wildlife photography and talked about their setups and lighting while others took more of naturalist approach and only photographed their subjects in natural light and spontaneous settings. I found it very interesting to hear talks from both camps and it has given me pause to think about my own photography style and philosophy, which I’m sure I will write more about later.
Some of the birds I was lucky enough to see and photograph on High Island that weekend were: Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets and the Double-Crested Cormorant. The Houston Raptor Center also brought in some of their educational/rescue birds for a photo shoot, which was fun. I’m starting to have mixed feelings about staged photo shoots though… definitely more on that later.
This past weekend, the air was filled with the songs of Robins and the whistles of Cedar Wax wings. Thousands of these birds ascended on the Austin area a few days ago. I don’t think it’s probably a coincidence that it coincided with the polar vortex up north. Humans dig in somewhere warm when it gets cold, birds can just fly somewhere warmer! My hiking accomplice and I also noticed alot of Cedar Waxwings… you often see them with Robins so perhaps they decided to ditch the cold up north and join their compatriots for a Texas vacation.
Cedar Waxwings – photo credit H. Valey
During a hike in the hill country on Sunday we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of Robins. The song of the birds were so intense at times that I felt like we were in a rain forest. The birds were flitting from tree to tree and hopping on the ground looking for insects. We noticed that a few we looked at seemed very tired.
This happened a couple years ago as well, when there was a particularly cold spell of weather up north. A huge group of Robins headed in to Texas, and that time they all landed in my backyard! Well it seemed that way… see the photo below!
Robins – photo credit H. Valey
So in most places the Robin is the harbinger of spring, but sometimes in Austin it’s the harbinger of someone else’s winter.
I tagged along on a Golden-Cheeked Warbler bird banding session with biologist Julie Murray from the Travis County Balcones Canyonlands Conservation office in Austin, Texas. The endangered birds are banded and re-sighted every year during breeding season to help scientists understand how many birds are returning each year, how long they live and how big their territories are, among other things.
Below is a photo essay of the banding experience.
For more information on the BCCP and the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, check out these resources below:
In some parts of the US, Ravens are pretty ubiquitous. Here in Austin their appearance is a bit more rare, but it seems I see more and more of them every year. Austin is a bird friendly town and in that fashion the Austin UT campus has set up a couple of cool bird cams this spring. The first one was the Peregrine Falcon cam on the University Texas Tower and now there is a Raven cam. A nesting pair of Ravens has set up a nest outside of the Texas Advanced Computing Center on campus and you can watch them raise their chicks online while you’re at work. Pretty cool stuff!
Fulton is just outside of Rockport TX, the place that got hardest hit during Hurricane Harvey last summer. You could still see the signs of the storm. Tarped roofs and piles of gathered debris were evident pretty much on every street we traveled in Rockport & Fulton.
When we got to the marina, still more signs of storm recovery. Bait sho
I wanted to get this done in January, but well the month steamrolled over me before I knew what happened.< Anyhow,! I’ve been wanting to do an overview of my favorite nature experiences of 2017.- -more- It’s healthy I think,- to look back on the past year and celebrate the moments that made that year special.> It’s so easy to forget the little things that brought a smile to your face or changed the way you look at the world. One of the reasons I like photography is it allows me to go back to a specific moment in time and relive it briefly.