Friday, May 22, 2009

Los Madrones Birds

I took some time and went over to Mike Murphy's Los Madrones Ranch. He has a cute Casita designed for photographers and nature lovers to spend the night. He has set up a number of blinds across his 400 acre ranch with feeders and water features designed to attract birds and other wildlife. I spent Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning photographing birds at three of his blinds.

The western scrub jay swoops in to steal peanuts. After the peanuts are gone, it goes after the wonderful bark butter.

This is only the second place I've been fortunate to see the rufous crowned sparrow. I was so pleased to have an opportunity to get photographs this time.

I saw the lark sparrow last year at Pedernales Falls State Park. I had much better luck photographing it at Mike's place - no glass between my lens and the sparrow!

I have white winged doves at my house, but I thought they were cute as they were eating seed behind this log and poking up their heads at the same time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Home Birds - continued

I have tons of cardinals. I think in many ways they are everyone's "favorite" bird, because they are easy to recognize and identify and their bright color is so beautiful and cheerful.

I enjoy the tufted titmouse as well. Very shy, it sneaks into the feeder and flies away at the least little sound.

While the mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, I find them to be the bullies of the bird world. They swoop in and all the other birds get displaced until the mockingbird has finished feeding. But they do sing such beautiful songs!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Images of Mystery and Wonder

When I started experimenting with in camera motion blur photography, I was amazed at the things the camera sensor would reveal. A forest of redwood trees became an impressionistic work of art. Other times light flowed when I zoomed the lens during the exposure.

But sometimes, the combination of the natural landscape and the motion create "characters or creatures."

When we learned that we are heading for the Montreal's WorldCon, Anticipation, I went back to my images to find the ones that have created some fantasy creatures.

You may want to click on these images to get the larger view to get a better view of the "faces."

This one required only a little dodging and burning in three places to bring out the "face" of this critter. I think he needs a name - any suggestions?

I'm naming this one "Primal Scream."

This one required more post processing, but I was amazed at how many eyes I "found" as I worked the image. The title: "Eyes."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Golden Duck Awards

If you were listening really hard this morning, you would have heard me give a loud whoop! We are excited at our house this morning! Henry got an email notifying him that his YA novel, "Lighter than Air" had WON the Golden Duck Eleanor Cameron Award for Middle Grades. The Golden Duck awards are designed to encourage science fiction literature for children. It will be presented at this year's WorldCon in Montreal.

Henry is getting us signed up to go to Montreal in August!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Western Kingbird

I'd been seeing a bird several places around my yard, but never close enough to get a good look see. I was suspecting a Western Kingbird, but I've learned that flycatchers are very similar - with little tiny distinguishing details that I often miss.

These are NOT great photos. This was the closest this bird has come for me to get an image at all.

You can't see the eyes here, but it is a better view of the rest of the body.

After checking my Sibleys and the online Bird resources - I'm still going to say Western Kingbird because I've seen it next to the Scissor tailed flycatchers much farther away and the body size is pretty close. In one of these photos you can see the white edge to the tail - and I've seen that in flight from a distance.

But I'm going to send a link to this blog to a couple of friends from Texbirds so that they can either confirm or tell me why it is a different bird.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Wednesday Porch birds

Birding was slow this morning. It looks to me like the white crown sparrows have started moving north. Just a few days ago, I had a bunch coming to the feeders. Today there were only one or two.

The white winged doves are still here in mass. They don't coo much, but their wings certainly tell us when they have taken off - swoosh!

Best of the few photos today was this red bellied woodpecker. I sure hope there are some woodpecker chicks that will come to my feeder when they are bigger!

By the way, this photo was taken early in the afternoon. The sunlight was somewhat filtered. This feeder is shaded. I used fill flash with my better beamer to get better lighting on the woodpecker.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Henry came in and pointed me to another Twitter related website: Twittersheep. I entered my Twitter name and this is what showed up:

In a way I certainly can't explain or perhaps even understand, Twittersheep analyzes your tweets and comes up with keywords that are repeating themes in your tweets.

Hum . . . this is interesting on several counts.

1. If this is what a computer visualizes as to what "Mary Ann" is all about, then what do my followers who don't know me think about who is Mary Ann Melton?

2. Are the facets of "me" that are showing up in Twittersheep as large words the things that I think are most important.

While I suspect I don't want to deliberately change my Tweets artificially to bring out certain kinds of words on Tiwttersheep, I do think this is an interesting litmus test as to whether I'm tweeting about the things most important to me.

By the way, you can enter any Twitter account and see the analysis on Twitersheep.

Tuesday's Bird Photos

I'm trying to get myself more disciplined in photographing the birds that show up at my house. So . . . while I do my morning time on the porch, I've been setting up my 300-800mm lens. I write my morning journal, read my Bible scriptures for the day, and right now I'm working through the Artist's Way book. When a bird shows up, I break and attempt to get a photo.

Today was a somewhat cloudy day, not too dark, but I knew that I was going to need the flash to make anything work. I'm still experimenting with fill flash. I want it to look natural, not "flashed." The theory is that you set your exposure for the ambiant lighting and then use the ETTL setting of the flash at -1. (I'm not an expert here . . . and I'm still trying to find settings that work for my lighting and equipment.) Some of my images this morning were way too dark (I had the exposure compensation set too dark) and then when I set exposures to make it brighter, then I got that "flash" look.

But I had two photos that came out in the OK range.

With a gray sky, this is not a great shot of one of my white wing doves. I darkened the leaves a little using a layer of Selective Color. But that gray sky really pulls my eye away from my subject. But it was one of the "better" shots of the morning.

The blue jay has been amazingly camera shy. It seems to sense when I have the camera and lens pointed in his direction and immediately flies off. Since I cut off his tail (remember I had to be quick . . . no time for careful framing here) I decided to crop in and attempt more of a portrait feel. Here the flash worked pretty well adding light without that over bright look.

Neither of these is likely to get submitted anywhere, although the blue jay might make a good notecard. But I've learned in the past that when you set up regularly, some days don't yield any great shots. But . . . every now and then you have a great opportunity.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Monday's yard birds

I'm trying to get out more frequently at home to capture the birds that are coming in to my feeders. We've had a string of cloudy days and this is the first sunny day recently where I've had a chance to shoot with the sun helping me.

The sun can be your friend providing nice, bright, warm lighting to your subject as in this white crowned sparrow.

I've got some other shots where the sun was NOT my friend where it blew out details in either the bird or the surrounds.

When the sun is out, the ambient lighting even in the shade can give you opportunities for some good bird shots.

Here's one of the red bellied woodpeckers that are coming in regularly to the suet feeder. I suspect that this pair is feeding chicks because they come in regularly and carry off food. Today was the first time that there seemed to be some rivalry - I heard some woodpecker wars and I don't know if perhaps I know have two pairs of woodpeckers coming in.

I have a lot of white wing doves coming in. Sometimes I can see thirty or more at a time. They startle easily and the sound they make as they all fly off at once is amazing. What powerful wings they have!

I have visualized a couple of images that I'm trying to get. One of these visualizations is to capture one of the white winged doves coming in with its wings outspread. Here is one of my attempts to capture that idea:

Saturday, May 02, 2009

My painted bunting

I seem to have some new birds this year on my five acres. Yesterday I had a mystery bird that the best guess was a female indigo bunting - very cinnamon colored and eating the grass seeds at the ends of the stalks. Unfortunately, no photo, and it didn't show today.

But today, I had another bird that gave me pause. It didn't act like the orange crown warblers which are my usual "green" bird. While this bird was near my ground feeder - it was eating the seeds on the ends of the newly grown grass. I did have the camera out:

I saw female painted buntings last summer at Pedernales Falls State Park. But I knew there were painted buntings there. I was expecting the ID. When I looked up habitat for them, my property is really not their ideal habitat. While I do have a small amount of brushy area down by the pond, this bird was up in the grassier area closer to my house where my ground feeder is. So I confess to having my doubts as to whether I've made the correct ID. I do have a lot of birds coming into the ground feeder right now, so perhaps this painted bunting played follow the leader. Perhaps she is just passing through. But it was fun to see her and to get a photograph!