Once per week, usually on the weekend and weather permitting, the DirtNKids family picks a spot for nature hiking, birding and — for Mom — nature photography. Many times, it’s right in our own neighborhood during the school day when Dad’s at work, but when Dad picks the spot, we usually go well south of Houston to our favorite public park: Brazos Bend State Park.
If you type ‘brazos bend‘ into the search box beneath the header of the blog or even just click on the Tag Brazos Bend State Park, you’ll find that we frequent this beautiful wild space. Hiking at dusk has its upsides and its downsides. There are fewer crowds and loud kids (other than mine) to deal with, but the lighting is usually hit-and-miss. With a long lens handheld in dim light, the result sometimes can be frustrating.
After several months playing with a new big glass — required for birding — I have finally got the hang of the right settings to get the job done. Unlike most birders, I don’t carry a tripod; my camera and lens are strapped to my body instead. As a high ISO is never preferred (making a photo ‘noisy’ or ‘grainy’), the trick is a large aperture (f/5.0 a 150mm, f/5.6 at 600mm) and slow the shutter as much as possible, usually around 1/250″. I set the ISO = auto and let the camera choose the best for the varied lighting conditions, not to exceed 3200 (my preference). When I’m in a squat or fixed position with elbows firmly on a knee, I can turn the (image stabilization) IS = Off so that the lens drive does not ‘fight’ the lack of movement.
The Canon 60D and Tamron 150mm-600mm rarely fails me, and I continue to do no post-processing of my images. I do, however, save all images as JPG+RAW for the one day (retirement?) when I do find the extra time to fiddle with Lightroom® or Photoshop®.
Mama Gator…and babies!!
Go ahead. Say Awwww. Click the image to count them in hi-res (they are to her left). How many babies do you see?
(Play the track as you read the rest of this post. It’s not from Brazos Bend or even my recording, but it’s what BB sounds like!)
It was fun watching the American Coots, Common Moorehen, and Blue-winged Teal displaying for their mates. This teal did his job nicely of showing his pretty feathers to me…er uh, her.
Hey Lady. Check me out.
Flexing my muscle…
Like these pecs?
Down the path, this Great Blue Heron let me get pretty close. They seem to be used to people on the path. My feathered buddies out by the creek at home are decidedly less forgiving of us photographer types.
Great Blue Heron
There was a pair way off across the marsh that had set up shop and were *ahem” gettin’ down and dirty right there for all to see. Funny how birds never close the doors first before having sex. Everytime he mounted her, I was on the ground shooting something in the water. My timing is usually not very good.
Great Blue Heron pair, nested
The downside to have ‘fixed’ settings on a camera is that when conditions change suddenly or if I want to shoot a moving subject, I am stuck with what I have, having only a couple of seconds to make on-the-fly changes. It’s all fingers and thumbs, and the result looks something like this:
Roseate Spoonbill, shaky flyover
That is a shaky, blurry Roseate Spoonbill flying straight over my head suddenly, shot on the short end 150mm. You could say we got buzzed! All I could do was point and shoot and hope for the best, but with image stabilization already off, combined with a slow shutter, a heavy lens not well supported and pointed overhead, well…that is the best I could hope for.
I look forward to shooting this beautiful bird with more purpose when they are nesting and mating (the post is when I went last year) in just few months. You will want to come back for that one!
Angie found the only new one for our list for the day: a Tri-colored Heron. She’s got a great eye.
Our favorite feathered beauty of the evening is one known to my kids as Thunder Pumper: the American Bittern. It was my first time to see one for the year (Scott and Angie bagged him last month), and I usually see one far off the with field lenses instead. Such a treat to get him close-up! In usual ‘birding effect’ fashion, once I saw one, I suddenly spotted them everywhere. We counted six along the path, but we heard several more in the reeds (where they usually are).
If you are listening to the recording embedded at the beginning of this post, you will hear them in between the Red-winged Blackbirds. The kids says the bittern sounds a lot like Wii Tennis. This one was kind enough to let me do some portraiture on him.
Thunder Pumper! American Bittern
American Bittern, poser
It is a busy month! Lots of activity means lots of posts.
Now that the school is in routine, I have an hour a day to spend writing. Yay!
Click any photo or click DirtNKids’ SmugMug for galleries.