Operation PhotoTrogon Stop #3 – Paton Center for Hummingbirds

By Jim Gain

OPERATION PHOTOTROGON

This blog series chronicles the adventures that Rich Brown and I experienced on our quest to find and photograph the amazing birds of Southeast Arizona in May of 2022.

THE PATON CENTER FOR HUMMINGBIRDS – A HISTORY OF HUMMINGBIRDS AND BIRDERS

I first learned about Wally and Marion Paton when Maria and I ventured to this area back in July of 1997. According to the Lane Bird Guide, it was a must stop location for all birders with its specialty being the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. I remember chatting with Mrs. Paton in their backyard while tallying species such as Summer Tanager and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is the bird to see at the Paton Center. Native to western Mexico, this species’ range just barely reaches into the United States, and the feeders at the Paton Center are the best — and often only — place in the country to see this spectacular bird. While the Violet-crowned may be the star of the show, an amazing total of 15 hummingbird species have been recorded at the Paton feeders, with 12 of these occurring most years. Depending on the time of year, Broad-billed, Anna’s, Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds may all be present at the feeders, along with less-common species such as Costa’s and Calliope Hummingbirds.

LINKS
Ebird Link: Paton Center for Hummingbirds (Patons’ Yard)
Google Maps Link The Paton Center for Hummingbirds

Rich and I arrived at the Center at noon and were checking off the species before we even left the parking area; Brown-crested Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, Summer Tanager and Northern Cardinal.

Brown-crested Flycatcher
Gila Woodpecker
Second-year Male Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal

Soon we ventured into the backyard and added the star of the Center, a Violet-crowned Hummingbird. It was a brief encounter and would end up being the only time we saw one that afternoon.

Paton Center Backyard Area

I overheard someone mention RUDDY GROUND DOVE out in front and we took off to try and see it. This would be an American Birding Association area bird, though not a lifer as I had just seen many in the Yucatan last January. The docent got us on the calling female just across the wash and he got a scope set up so we all could see it clearly. This is a rare, but regular species overall in SE Arizona, but has been seen regularly here of late. It was not possible to get photographs of the distant female, but as luck would have it, a male appeared in the trees right next to the feeders and I managed a decent shot.

Ruddy Ground Dove

Over the course of our three hours of birding we logged 43 species with photos of 17 species. Ebird Checklist link.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Summer Tanager – 2nd Year Male
Summer Tanager – Adult Male
Summer Tanager – Female
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Inca Dove
White-breasted Nuthatch (Interior West)
Yellow-breasted Chat
Northern Cardinal – Male
Northern Cardinal – Female
White-winged Dove
Phainopepla
Gambel’s Quail

Next Stop: Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary

Operation PhotoTrogon Stop #2 – Tucson’s Sweetwater Wetlands

By Jim Gain

OPERATION PHOTOTROGON

The name Operation PhotoTrogon came about weeks ago as Rich Brown and I started planning our trip. We discussed the potential top target birds for the adventure and it didn’t take long for us to settle on Elegant Trogon as the clear winner of the #1 bird we wanted to photograph.

SWEETWATER WETLANDS

According to the Tucson Water website, “The Sweetwater Wetlands is one of the most important functional, environmental, and educational components of the City of Tucson’s reclaimed water system. The facility was originally constructed in 1996 to handle backwash filter water from the reclaimed water plant. The wetlands now uses reclaimed water exclusively. The Sweetwater Wetlands has more than 2.5 miles of pathways accessible to visitors. Almost 1,000 feet of pathway is concrete surfaced and ADA-approved for wheelchair access.”

“Concrete surfacing allows easy access from the parking area to the main ramada, where visitors can overlook areas of both deep, open water and shallow water with emergent (bulrush/cattail) vegetation.”

Download the Sweetwater Wetlands Location Map 

We took our time leaving Buckeye because Google Maps ERRONEOUSLY listed the opening hours for Sweetwater Wetlands as 9:00 am EVERY DAY. To our dismay we discovered they actually are open from DAWN to DUSK every day EXCEPT MONDAY!.

Below are some of the image highlights from this stop. Overall we observed 32 species here with the highlights being Rich’s lifer Bell’s Vireo and Lucy’s Warbler. Ebird Checklist Link

Female Vermilion Flycatcher
Gambel’s Quail
Verdin
Bell’s Vireo
Abert’s Towhee
Lucy’s Warbler
Common Gallinule

Next Stop: Paton Center for Hummingbirds

Operation PhotoTrogon

On Monday, 5/9/22, Rich Brown and I (Jim Gain) rendezvoused in Turlock, CA to begin Operation PhotoTrogon. Our target lay deep in the canyons of the Santa Rita and Huachuca mountains in SouthEast Arizona. With plans to traverse the most treacherous terrain filled with cold-blooded reptiles, sharp-spined Saguaro and crafty Coati we departed before the break of dawn.

Counting gas, food and restroom stops, the drive to Tucson is long and tedious and the route options are limited. With an eye for not over-exerting ourselves and getting into an energy deficiency before we even start birding, we opted to stay the first night in Buckeye, a suburb just west of Phoenix. Given that the traffic was best after the morning commute, we decided to leave Turlock at 6:00 am. Our non-stop conversation about all of the exciting target birds we hoped to encounter made the first leg pass quite quickly and after checking in at the Holiday Inn, we went exploring to see what desert birds might be nearby. Looking over the nearby eBird hotspots, we chose the Robbins Butte WA and headed south of town.

First bird was a Eurasian Collared-Dove, and then a Mourning Dove and then more Mourning Doves. Then a dove with bold white racing stripes on its wings came flying by, our first White-winged Dove of the adventure. Then a Phainopepla was spotted, and then another one.

And then the first of two Greater Roadrunners hopped up along the side of the road, gave us a wary look, and then flew across the road and into a nearby Mesquite tree. Thoughts of “Roadrunner, the coyote is after you” and “BEEP, BEEP!” went through my head.

We found a small group of songbirds which included two female Wilson’s Warblers. After an hour we headed back to the Sundance Golf Course by the hotel hoping to catch some Lesser Nighthawks cruising the pond as we did back in January of last year.

As expected just at sunset, three Lesser Nighthawks suddenly appeared at the far end of the pond and we watched them until it got dark. An enjoyable and relaxing first afternoon of birding Arizona.

Next Stop: Sweetwater Wetlands outside of Tucson.

700 o busto – Cuenta regresiva de Lifer

Con un BIP BIP BIP desagradablemente fuerte, mi alarma de las 5:00 am me despertó de un sueño profundo. La adrenalina se disparó instantáneamente y literalmente salté de la cama. Estaba seguro de que hoy me traería la especie Lifer número 700. Estaba en una visita de regreso a la mística península de Yucatán, que acababa de visitar un mes antes. Nuevamente solicité los servicios del experto en aves de Amar Aves, Miguel Amar Uribe y había reservado un tour de 6 días por la península. Miguel y Claudio López me habían recibido en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Cancún la noche anterior y manejamos (más bien Claudio manejó todo) hasta el pueblo de Río Lagartos para pasar la noche.

Rio Lagartos Malecón

Abrí la puerta y miré al otro lado de la calle hacia el malecón y observé los botes turísticos meciéndose suavemente con el agua y pude escuchar a las olas contra ellos. Me quedé con 683 lifer pájaros, siendo mi último lifer un Colibrí Garganta Negra en la Isla de Cozumel en diciembre del año pasado (2021). La lista de posibles aves de vida en esta área era asombrosa y con visiones de exóticos colibríes, coloridos trogones y extravagantes flamencos en mi cabeza, deambulé por el malecón, tratando de tener una idea de cuán espectacular sería el día. A las 5:30, Miguel, Claudio y yo nos unimos con “Chino” Santiago Contreras y salimos a explorar los bosques cercanos con planes de regresar para hacer un recorrido en bote por la bahía al mediodía. Además de ser uno de los observadores élite de aves de la región, Chino sería nuestro capitán del bote para el recorrido por el Parque Natural Ría Lagartos.

Avance rápido hasta nuestra llegada de regreso a Río Lagartos, después de haber marcado a los Lifers # 695 Matraca Yucateca (Yucatan Wren) y # 696 Colibrí Canelo (Cinnamon Hummingbird).

Matraca Yucateca (Yucatan Wren)

Nos detuvimos brevemente en la casa de los colibríes en la Calle 17 para ver docenas de colibríes mexicanos (lifer #697) y colibríes canela.

Colibrí Tijereta Mexicano Mexican Sheartail y Colibrí Canelo (Cinnamon Hummingbird)
Colibrí Tijereta Mexicano (macho) (Mexican Sheartail) (male)
Colibrí Canelo (Cinnamon Hummingbird)

Cuando abordamos el bote de Chino para comenzar nuestro recorrido por la bahía, teníamos muchas fragatas, cormoranes y gaviotas reidoras volando a nuestro alrededor.

Fragata Tijereta (Magnificent Frigatebird)

Navegamos alrededor de la bahía poco profunda adyacente a Río Lagartos observando una variedad de aves playeras y garzas con una breve vista de un Rascón Costero del Atlántico (Clapper Rail).

Ostrero Americano (American Oystercatcher) y Garza Rojiza (Reddish Egret)

Continuamos nuestro viaje lento a lo largo de las orillas del río cuando Claudio de repente grita “¡Garza Tigre Mexicana!” Chino guió hábilmente el bote mientras flotábamos hacia un hermoso pájaro que actuaba como si no estuviéramos allí. Después de varias docenas de fotos, salimos en busca de mi próximo lifer.

Garza Tigre Mexicana (Bare-throated Tiger-Heron)

En este punto, la bahía se estrechaba más como un río con vegetación que se elevaba a cada lado. Primero escuchamos, y luego vimos un Aguililla Negra Menor (Common Black Hawk) #699. Pudimos ver y fotografiar primero un pájaro inmaduro y luego un adulto. ¡CASI AL #700!

Aguililla Negra Menor (Common Black Hawk)
Aguililla Negra Menor (Common Black Hawk)

Cuando doblamos una curva, el paisaje se abrió y ante nosotros en la distancia había una veintena de pájaros vivos #700, también conocidos como FLAMENCOS AMERICANOS.

Flamenco Americano (American Flamingos)

Chino fue muy considerado en no molestar de ninguna manera estas magníficas maravillas de la naturaleza, pero mi lente de 500 mm me acercó lo suficiente como para tomar algunas buenas fotografías.

En ese momento, el sol comenzaba a ponerse bajo en el horizonte bañando a los flamencos en una cálida luz brillante.

Mientras nos dirigíamos de regreso a Río Lagartos, estaba exhausto y emocionado al mismo tiempo. ¡Qué gran aventura, y esto fue solo el primer día!

Finalmente, un gran agradecimiento y saludo a la amable gente de Mexico Kan Tours (enlace de Facebook), Amar Aves (enlace del sitio web), Miguel Amar Uribe, Claudio López (enlace de Facebook) y nuestro patrón “Chino” Santiago Contreras (enlace de Facebook).

700 or Bust – Lifer Countdown

With an obnoxiously loud BEEP BEEP BEEP, my 5:00 am alarm woke me from a deep sleep. The adrenaline instantly kicked in and I was literally jumping out of bed. I was certain that today would bring me lifer species number 700. I was on a return visit to the mystical Yucatan Peninsula, having just visited there a month before. I again requested the services of Amar Aves bird expert, Miguel Amar Uribe and had booked a 6-day tour of the peninsula. Miguel and Claudio Lopez had met me at the Cancun International Airport the night before and we drove to the town of Rio Lagartos to spend the night.

Rio Lagartos Malecón

I opened the door and looked across the street to the malecón and watched the tour boats gently rocking with the water and could hear the waves lap against them. I was sitting at 683 life Birds, with my last lifer being a Green-breasted Mango on the Isla de Cozumel in December of last year (2021). The list of potential life birds in this area was staggering and with visions of exotic hummingbirds, colorful trogons and flamboyant flamingos in my head, I wandered along the malecón, trying to get a sense of just how spectacular the day would be. At 5:30, Miguel, Claudio and I were joined by “Chino” Santiago Contreras and we headed out to explore the nearby forests with plans to return to take a midday boat tour of the bay. Besides being one of the elite birders of the region, Chino would be our skipper for the tour through the Parque Natural Ría Lagartos.

Fast-forward to our arrival back at Rio Lagartos, having just checked off lifers #695 Yucatan Wren and #696 Cinnamon Hummingbird.

Yucatan Wren

We stopped briefly at the hummingbird house on Calle 17 to get a look at dozens of Mexican Sheartails (lifer #697) and Cinnamon Hummingbirds.

Mexican Sheartail (female) and Cinnamon Hummingbird

Mexican Sheartail (male)
Cinnamon Hummingbird

As we boarded Chino’s boat to begin our tour of the bay we had lots of frigatebirds and cormorants and Laughing Gulls flying all around us.

Magnificent Frigatebird

We cruised around the shallow bay adjacent to Rio Lagartos viewing an assortment of shorebirds and herons with a brief view of a Clapper Rail.

American Oystercatcher and Reddish Egret

We continued our slow commute along the banks of the river when Claudio suddenly yells out “Bare-throated Tiger-Heron”! Chino guided the boat skillfully as we floated towards a beautiful bird that acted as if we weren’t there at all. After several dozen photos, we were off in search of my next lifer.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

At this point the bay narrowed to more like a river with vegetation towering along each side. First we heard, and then we saw a Common Black Hawk #699. We got to see and photograph first an immature bird and then an adult. ALMOST TO #700!

Common Black Hawk – Immature
Common Black Hawk – Adult

As we rounded a bend, the landscape opened up and before us in the distance was a score of lifer birds #700, otherwise known as AMERICAN FLAMINGOS.

American Flamingos

Chino was very considerate as to in no way bother these magnificent wonders of nature, but my 500mm lens brought me plenty close enough to get some good photographs.

By this time the sun was starting to get low on the horizon bathing the flamingos in a warm glowing light.

As we headed back towards Rio Lagartos, I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. What a grand adventure, and this was only the first day!

Finally, a big thank you and shout out to the kind folks at Mexico Kan Tours (Facebook Link), Amar Aves (Website Link), Miguel Amar Uribe, Claudio Lopez (Facebook Link) and our skipper “Chino” Santiago Contreras (Facebook Link).

A 4 “Yucatán” Bird Day

As I looked ahead to the list of birds that would be “lifers” (never observed before) for me in the Yucatán peninsula there were upwards of 100 species that I thought I had a fairly decent chance of seeing. This list of 100 species was composed of mostly common to fairly common regional birds with ranges from central Mexico down to South America. However, that group of 100 species also included a subset of around 20 endemic birds that are only found in the Yucatán peninsula. These endemic species ranked highest on my Want-to-See List. And at the Tip-Top of that endemic list were those 8 species with “Yucatan” in their name.

Yucatán Nightjar

Our first day of birding found us driving country roads long before sunrise in hopes of getting either or both members of the Nightjar family, technically called Caprimulgidae. We saw many nightjars on the road that flew up before we could get very close and most of those were clearly Common Pauraque. However I did manage two shots of a Yucatán Nightjar. The two images I have are horrible terrible no good bad photos, but they were enough to show that the bird had no white in the wings or tail and did not have a prominent white throat stripe.

Here is a link to a great image on eBird https://ebird.org/species/yucnig1

Here is my really bad image.

Yucatán Nightjar

Yucatán Flycatcher

The second bird with Yucatán in its name happened to be a Yucatán Flycatcher. This bird very closely resembles the Dusky-capped Flycatcher that is also found in this area. Identification by their calls is the easiest, but this bird was not giving voice lessons this morning. Photographs however, clearly show the pale gray coloration that encircles the eye and what appears to be a relatively smaller bill.

Yucatán Flycatcher

Yucatán Woodpecker

A short time later in the same general area as the Yucatán Flycatcher, we encountered the Yucatán Woodpecker. Once again, this is one of those birds that closely resembles a another bird that is much more widespread. Ranging from the southern US down to Central South America, the Golden-fronted Woodpecker has the same general color patterns as the Yucatán.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (bigger bill)

The Yucatán woodpecker is smaller with a more slender bill usually with golden feathers circling the base at the bill. As with the Yucatán Flycatcher, its calls ensure its identification. Fortunately for us, this bird cooperated in giving us its beautiful call.

Yucatán Woodpecker (smaller bill)

Yucatán Wren

The final “Yucatán” bird species for the day turned out to be the Yucatán Wren. After spending the morning cruising the back roads of the upper Yucatán Peninsula, we stopped at an intersection with a safe spot to park just outside of Rio Lagartos. There was lots of cactus in the area and before we could get 10 yards from the car, Chino was calling out, “Yucatán Wrens here!”

The Yucatán Wren has a very limited range, only occurring in the dry coastal scrub along north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Yucatán Wren Distribution from eBird

To me, this species looked almost identical to the common Cactus Wren of the southern US.

Cactus Wrens in SE Arizona

In the images below, a parent Yucatán Wren is feeding a young bird.

Yucatán Wren
Yucatán Wren
Yucatán Wren

Holy Batcave – Batman

Taking a slight deviation from my theme of Yucatan Birds, one of the biggest Holy Guacamole moments was actually of a different kind of flying vertebrate – bats. Deep in the forests of southern Campeche is a unique natural protected area known as “Zona Sujeta a Conservación Ecológica Balam-Kú” in Calakmul Municipality. This ecological area is home to “El Volcán de los Murciélagos”.

There are seven bat caves known in Mexico, but this is the only one featuring a visual volcano of erupting chiropterans. In fact, it is one of only two know to exist in the entire world. The second one being in Malasia.

There have been 9 bat species identified in this cave with one being nectivorous,

  • Pallas’ Long-tongued Bat – Glossophaga soricina,

and the others insectivorous.

  • Davy’s (lesser) Naked-backed Bat – Pteronotus davyi,
  • Big Naked-backed Bat – P. gymnonotus,
  • Parnell’s Mustached Bat – P. parnellii
  • Wagner’s Mustached Bat – P. personatus
  • Ghost-faced Bat – Mormoops megalophylla
  • Mexican Funnel-eared Bat –Natalus stramineus
  • Hairy-legged Myotis Bat – Myotis keaysi 
  • and Broad-eared Bat –  Nyctinomops laticaudatus).

Over the years a 130-feet-deep landslide has formed due to rainfall and erosion. At the bottom of this landslide there is a cave with an entrance 400 feet wide and 500 feet deep, at its longest with a depth of almost 2,000 feet. Every afternoon, approximately between 5 and 6 pm, “the volcano”, erupts with between three and four million bats as if they were lava. From the first handful of emerging bats, the eruption can last up to 90 minutes until the last bat leaves its roost.

SENSORY OVERLOAD

Hushed conversations in Spanish, French, English and German coming from the small group of ecotourists that were gathered with much excitement in anticipation of this living volcano of bats. Standing on the edge of this expansive grotto, the quiet conversations seemed to be absorbed by the mysterious and beautiful setting. Suddenly the talking stopped as the first handful of bats flew right past our observation point – “Here they come!”

My mind tried to envision what the guide said would be almost 8 million bats erupting from the cave. At first, a few dozen began to circle around the opening, slowly rising higher and higher. Gradually the numbers grew, slowly at first and then increasing almost exponentially. Dozens became hundreds became thousands became MILLIONS. ABSOLUTLEY INCOMPREHENSIBLE.

Soon, the cave walls resonated with the sound of a million tiny bat wings flapping mightily to rise into the jungle sky. Creating their own mini-weather system, the circling bats generated a funnel of rising winds, laden with the sulphureous odor of uncountable tons of bat guano.

Links to more details

Conservación de Murciélagos en Campeche

Cueva de los murciélagos en Calakmul, Campeche

Reserva de Balam Kú: El “volcán” de los murciélagos

Let’s Groove Tonight

Groove-billed Ani – Crotophaga sulcirostris

Ranging from the tip of Northern Chile to the lowlands of Southern Texas, the Groove-billed Ani is a member of the Cuculidae Family that also includes Roadrunners and Cuckoos. It can be found throughout the Yucatán Peninsula often found foraging on the arthropods flushed up from ant swarms.

In Search of…

After getting a great night’s sleep in Rio Lagartos, Yucatan, the four Pajareros left before dawn in search of any number of Lifers for me.

We ended up walking along a very quiet dirt road listening and watching for cooperative birds.

Miguel, Claudio and Chino, Pajareando

One of the three amigos called out rather casually, “Groove-billed Ani.” Unbeknownst to them, the Groove-billed Ani was on my list of US birds that I did not have a photo of. Miguel Amar quickly pointed out a distant Ani and I snapped off a dozen shots of the VERY distant bird. Even though it wasn’t something I’d ever share in a presentation, it was a decent record shot and clearly showed its most unusual bill. Miguel chuckled and commented, “Don’t worry, we’ll see many more. And much closer!” (Yeah right, I thought to myself, I’ve heard that before…)

Groove-billed Ani

Well, it only took another 20 minutes to prove Miguel right! We came upon a swarm of ants and the birds started coming in. 25-minutes and 140 images later, I landed a few really decent images of the GROOVE-BILLED ANI.

Groove-billed Ani
Groove-billed Ani
Groove-billed Ani

In Search of a 5-Star Rated Vermilion Flycatcher Photo

After seeing several recent excellent photos of the returning Vermilion Flycatcher by Doug Krajnovich at Lake Yosemite County Park In Merced County, CA., I decided I ought to try and track it down and shoot it. Digitally that is!

ABOUT THE PARK

Lake Yosemite is a freshwater reservoir built in 1888 for irrigation purposes and is currently owned and operated by the Merced Irrigation District. It is located about 5 miles east of Merced, CA.

Lake Yosemite Park Entrance
Lake Yosemite

VERMILION FLYCATCHER BACKGROUND

Doug Krajnovich first discovered a first fall male Vermilion Flycatcher on 10/10/2019 at the south end of the park along the Fairfield Canal. Generally, they are rare across the Central Valley, but they seem to be occurring more frequently in Merced County over the past 20 years. At one point last year in the winter of 2020/2021 up to 3 were seen at the same time at Lake Yosemite County Park.

Vermillion Flycatcher at the Merced NWR 1/17/2021

THE DIGITAL MEDIA EXPLOSION

When I first started photography, shooting images often came at a steep price and as a beginner I found myself in a quandary. Did I use Ektachrome 100, Kodachrome 64, or Fujichrome Velvia 50 when in the field? It was expensive to buy and then develop. And the worst part was not knowing if you nailed the shot or not until you got them back several days later. With the advent of more reasonably priced equipment and an almost endless number of images that can be captured on one SD Card, I often take upwards of 500 images in a morning’s outing. The challenge then becomes one of which image is the best.

RATING A PHOTOGRAPH

As a birder turned photographer, I strive to both capture an image that will serve to document a bird sighting and to satisfy my artistic expectations of a high quality reproduction. This typically involves taking the first image at a distance and steadily getting closer and capturing more and more images.

eBird Ratings

eBird is an online database of bird observations providing scientists, community scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. Today, the vast majority of birders record their location sightings using eBird. Along with recording numbers of each species encountered, users can submit images, audio recordings and video snippets to help document what they found. Each image that a user submits can be rated to help with the greater community science needs. According to their website, “Ratings increase the utility of Macaulay Library media for everyone, enabling the best images, audio, and video to be discovered and used in projects such as Merlin and Birds of the World, as well as Illustrated Checklists and external research applications.

From my perspective, getting a good image has helped me to either cinch or reject the identification of a challenging or unusual bird species.

They use a 5-star rating system, with 5 stars being the highest quality. They specifically state that the ratings should be strictly technical in nature and not to take in account the rare status of a species. A great photo of a common, drab bird should still be 5 stars and a poor photo of a very rare or hard-to-photograph bird could still be only 1 or 2 stars.

Drab, common 5-Star Northern Mockingbird

Key Points to Consider When Rating a Photograph for eBird

From the eBird Support Site “How to Rate Media

Sharpness: Is the primary subject in focus? Is the image blurred or grainy?
Visibility of bird: How well can you see the bird? If the bird is very small, partially obstructed from view, or backlit in the photo, the rating should be lower than it would be otherwise.
Size of photo: Lower your rating of any photo that has a noticeably small resolution. Uploading full resolution files is always encouraged.

Descriptions of star ratings for photos: (Remember the rating is a technical rating and does NOT take into account the rarity of the bird.)
1 Star: Very poor quality. Very low resolution or very poor focus; bird may be very small or obscured in the frame or have extremely bad exposure. In general should only be uploaded as record shots, if still identifiable.
2 Stars: Poor quality. Could be a good image but at a noticeably low resolution, or high resolution but with significant flaws. Lighting might be severely backlit or poorly exposed. Image might be good but the bird is extremely small in the frame or mostly obscured.
3 Stars: Decent quality. High or medium resolution with decent focus. Lighting might be less than ideal; bird might be smaller in frame or somewhat obscured. Might have several factors that prevent it from being rated higher.
4 Stars: Very good quality. High resolution and in good focus, at least decent lighting, and bird reasonably large in frame. One or two of these factors may be less than ideal and prevent from achieving 5 stars.
5 Stars: Excellent quality. High resolution and in sharp focus. Lighting should be good and the bird at least fairly large in the frame and not significantly obscured.

HUNTING MY PREY

After downing my morning latte, taking the dog out to use the front lawn and double-checking that I actually had a charged battery this time… I was off to the park. I made a brief circle around to the back of the park and then parked near the entrance. I soon spotting the famous, aforementioned Doug Krajnovich peering intently into a tree not far from the Fairfield Canal. We exchanged salutations and he promptly informed me that he had not yet found the target bird, but he was full of optimism that we would find it eventually. We split up a bit and I went east and he west. I took photos of a California Scrub-Jay, an Osprey and a Black Phoebe while I worked my way back towards Doug.

Soon I could see him waving frantically at me. Alas, the hunt was afoot! As luck would have it I heard those too often vocalized words, “You just missed it!” SIGH… But the morning was young and I was keen on capturing my prey. Barely 5 minutes passed and I saw movement in a tree about 60 yards away and I was certain that I had seen a flash of red! Now the adrenaline was kicking in and I promptly noted the best sun angle and I slowly crept at an angle with my back to the sun while I scanned the tree for further movement. Then I saw it. For certain this time! As most birders that are photographers do, I wanted to get that first 1-Star, record shot. Something that would prove that I had seen it. Click, click, click and I was sure I had to have gotten some type of record. Well, I did, but as you can see below… YUCK!

1-Star Record of Vermilion Flycatcher

Before I could get closer, it flew off, caught an insect and moved farther away. Using my most predator-like stealth techniques, I slowly and quietly moved in for the kill. Killer shot I mean. It allowed me to get a little closer and I snapped off some more images (OK, so maybe a lot more!). But hey, they’re free.

REJECTS VS KEEPERS

When I post an image online, viewers don’t ever see how many never make it to the Keepers folder on my computer. In reality, I may only edit 5 % of the images I capture. However, for your entertainment, here are a few of the typical shots that viewers will never see.

So Far Away… 2-Star Rating
Baby got Back
Peek-a-boo
Peek-a-boo From the Other Side – 3-Star Rating
I’m Hiding – 4-Star Rating

FINALLY – I GOT MY 5-STAR PHOTOGRAPHS – Click to view full-size

Baa Baa Sheepshead, Have you any birds?

Post #6 of The Great Texas Birding Adventure

Previous Post #5 South Padre Island – Migratory Bird Mecca

Smallest of the South Padre Island (SPI) Big Three birding spots, the Valley Land Fund Lots on Sheepshead Dr. seems to have the biggest concentration of birds. The fact that the dense vegetation is at the southern end of the island and birds would head for it first.

preservation efforts of The Valley Land Fund and its volunteers. These wooded lots serve as an oasis to the birds struggling to make it across the Gulf of Mexico during spring migration.

The Valley Land Fund

South Padre Island is located at the confluence of two major flyways: migration routes on which birds travel during Spring and Fall to and from North, Central, and South America.. In the Spring, SPI is a crucial first landfall – a lifesaver – for birds making the arduous cross-Gulf migration. For many years, the 12 lots owned by the Valley Land Fund and private landowners between Pompano and Sheepshead along Laguna Blvd., have been a crucial location for these worn out migrants to stop, rest, feed and regain their energy. Serious birders have long known what an important area this is, and flock there to view some of the 350+ species of birds which have been identified in South Texas. – From The Valley Land Fund Facebook Page

The Birds…

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Summer Tanager – male
Summer Tanager – female
Magnolia Warbler
American Redstart – male
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Great Kiskadee
Dickcissel – male
Indigo Bunting – male
Orchard Oriole – male
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Scarlet Tanager – 1st year male

Over the course of the next 4 days, we visited Sheepshead Dr. location 6 times.

eBird Species Link for South Padre Island – – Valley Land Fund (45 species over 6 visits)