Monday, December 31, 2007

Bulletin #24 - 2007 review of the year

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
December 31, 2007

Bulletin #24 – 2007 in review

Hello friends,

As 2007 winds down, I look back on the progress I have made in my photography this year. I am still a novice, having taken up this hobby only 2 years ago. However, with the internet resources available, I have learned a lot about nature photography, much faster than I could have ever learned on my own. Also, like any other endeavor – practice makes you better. I have taken thousands of pictures in 2 years and spent lots of time in the field.

I also want to express my thanks to all of you who choose to receive these bulletins. I try to capture the beauty in the natural world. I hope that you get some pleasure from the pictures and I also will try to educate by pointing out the features of the bird that allow for field identification.

There are several people who deserve special thanks.

First, the Alexanders and Amunys, whom I met at LaFitte’s Cove in Galveston, during spring migration. They asked if I would send them some of the bird photos I was taking that day. This was the beginning of the Bulletins idea. It has grown, so that now I have about 40 people across the USA, Canada and Ireland receiving them.

Jay and Bill are 2 other photographers. We met at Anahuac NWR one Saturday in the summer and spent the day shooting together and have swapped photos since. We have only managed to get together once since as we are all too busy with our day jobs. Thanks for your encouragement and critiques.

Special thanks to the superb guides I used this year who found lots of birds for me and were very patient, as I tried to get the right picture. I highly recommend them all.
· Rick Fournier in Monterey California. His email is
· Paul Bithorn in Miami, Florida. His email is
· Roy Rodriguez in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. His email is

The person who has helped me the most is Susan Billetdeaux. Susan is the webmaster of the Houston Audubon Society web site. She has critiqued my photos for almost 2 years, since I began submitting them for possible inclusion in the HAS bird gallery. It is an honor to have more than 30 photos in the gallery and to be included in the company of excellent photographers such as Alan Murphy, Wayne Nicholas and Joe Kennedy.

For anyone who might be interested in what equipment I use, web sites for information etc, I have put together a 2 page sheet in MS Word that I would be happy to send along. Please email me if you would like it.

I have now seen 1293 world species of birds with 28 lifers in 2007, the best year since I went outside the USA in 1997. Of these, 11 I found myself and the other 17 were with the guides listed above. I have photos of 350+ species, almost double the number I had at the beginning of 2007.

So for a summary of 2007, I’ll present my 10 favorite bird photos, my best butterfly and dragonfly photos and a non-wildlife photo. Some of these have been in previous bulletins, and some are shown for the first time. But, they all are special to me.

There are 3 reasons a photo might be special for me. The first is that rare time when a photo may transcend the snapshot and become a work of art. As these are all shot in the field and not staged, it doesn’t happen often. Usually I only appreciate it when I see it on the replay in camera or on the computer. Here are 3 that come close to ‘birds as art’ as Arthur Morris describes.

The Wandering Tattler in non-breeding plumage is a handsome gray bird with yellow legs. But what makes the photo special for me, is dark blue Pacific Ocean background.

The Vermilion Flycatcher is the most beautiful flycatcher in the ABA area. I photographed this male in the Rio Grande valley of Texas in October. This is a simple uncluttered photo with only 3 colors.

The third is this Burrowing Owl who spent last winter near Galveston. He became quite tame and approachable as many birders went to see him. I caught him here after an all day rain. He was sitting up in the sun to try and dry out. The background complements his big yellow eyes.

The second reason a photo is special for me is just a beautiful bird or a rare bird that I discovered and was just excited to find the bird. The next 5 photos are in this category.

This juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper was a life bird for me. I found him poking around the washed up kelp on Carmel River beach in California. What was unusual was that this bird is a rarity in California, but common in Texas. Yet I had never seen it in 17 years in Texas.

Spring brings millions of songbirds through Texas on their way north to their breeding grounds. Many are very colorful – warblers, tanagers, orioles and finches. My favorite photo from this spring was this Indigo Bunting in a mulberry tree. He is as blue on the underside as on top!

Hummingbirds are a family of birds that I love. This fledgling Allen’s Hummingbird in California was still showing some downy feathers.

This Buff-bellied Hummingbird is famous, as he is on the Houston Audubon Society web site.

I was photographing some swallows perched on a low wire in Carmel, when the pair on Tree Swallows mated. This mating lasted only about 10 seconds, but because I was already on target, I captured the moment. I have never seen any other passerines mating before or since.

The third reason a photograph is special is when the bird has allowed me to approach very closely. It is wonderful to gain the trust of a wild animal like this and to be allowed within its comfort zone.

I photographed this Common Loon (aka Great Northern Diver in Europe) 2 weeks ago at the Texas City dike. This large 32” bird was always a childhood favorite of mine growing up in Canada. Its haunting call at night can never be forgotten. Anyway, this bird was close to shore and allowed me to approach to within 20 feet. Thus the eye color and pupil was seen, as well as individual water droplets on his back. Normally, loons are seen at great distances of 40 – 50 yards or more.

This Hermit Thrush was a winter resident of my yard last year. It was the first time I had seen this bird in Texas. He came to the bird bath every morning between 7:30 and 8:00 am. Then he would join the cardinals and doves on the ground under the feeders. I took many photos of him over several months, but this one had him right outside the kitchen window at eye level. I went outside and gradually moved to within 15 feet which is the closest I can use with the 500mm lens. He is also a famous HAS gallery bird.

I started taking photos of butterflies and dragonflies when the birding slowed down during the summer months. This was a whole new challenge to capture these tiny creatures ‘on film’.

This is a Gulf Fritillary on a passion vine flower. Thanks to Chris LaChance for IDing the flower for me.

The best dragonfly photo was the female Four-spotted Pennant. It was the only photo I got that showed all 3 pairs of legs holding onto the perch. It was a very windy day in Galveston when I took the photo.

However, the photograph this year that I liked the best, and received the most comments from observers was my Carmel Cross. It is sunrise at Carmel River beach. When people exclaim ‘You took this?’ or ‘It sends chills up my spine!’, I know that I have created something special. It is also the photograph that I get asked the most for prints.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bulletin #23 - Texas Hill Country #2

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
December 17, 2007

Bulletin #23 – Texas Hill Country - part 2
Hello friends,

I was in the Hill Country, west of Austin for a weekend in early November. I visited Pedernales Falls State Park on a Friday morning. They have a very nice bird blind. They put out multiple feeders of all types as well as food on logs etc to attract as wide an assortment of birds as possible. They also have a bird bath and water drip. In addition there was a very nice couple of volunteers who live in the park over the winter and restock the feeders twice a day. The volunteers know all the birds and are happy to help the visitors with ID problems, as well as anecdotes etc.

The sun was directly behind the feeders in the morning when I was there, so it was difficult to get photos except when the birds got into the shadows of trees etc. Otherwise the birds were all backlit. Next time, I would go in the afternoon and hopefully the light would be better.

Here is the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris).The male has the red crown, horizontal striped back and 2 narrow facial stripes.

The female is similar but without the red crown.

The beautiful Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculates) was very shy. He would dart out from a brush pile to get some seed and then quickly return to the brush and out of sight. However, I eventually got a photo of him. This is the first time I have seen this bird outside California.

Another member of the New World Sparrow family was the Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melanospiza lincolnii). He has a striped chest with caramel colored band across the chest. Here are 2 photos – on the ground and in the bird bath. click ‘next’ once

The only warbler that day was an Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata). This drab bird has almost no markings. There is a hint of an eyestripe, but no wing bars. It is gray to olive to a little yellow depending on subspecies. The most distinguishing feature is the slight streaking on the breast. It is another bird named for its field mark that is seldom seen. The volunteers stated that the orange crown is only visible when the bird is wet and the feathers on the head stand up a little. I have seen pictures in magazines that have demonstrated that feature, but I had never seen the orange crown. Fortunately with the bird bath, he eventually went in and played around in the water. In this case, the backlit sunlight actually was helpful, as the orange crown lit up from behind. The first photo shows the streaked breast and the second shows his orange crown. click ‘next’ once

Other birds seen that morning that I didn’t get good photos due to the lighting were Northern Cardinal, Common Ground Dove, Black-crested Titmouse, House Finch, Western Scrub-Jay and White-crowned Sparrow.

On the way out, I saw this butterfly. It is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).

I spent about 2 hours at the blind and it was birdy and most enjoyable. Another time, I would try and go in the afternoon when hopefully the sun would be in a better location. So if any of you are photographers and plan on visiting this site, you might keep that advice in mind.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bulletin #22 - Texas Hill Country #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
December 9, 2007

Bulletin #22 – Texas Hill Country - part 1

Hello friends,

I was in the Hill Country, west of Austin for a weekend in early November. I have birded there numerous times in the last 5 years and I never expect to see a new life bird, but this trip I did.

The only wren in the ABA area that I had not seen is the Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus). I found the bird sitting on a low rock wall along a creek that I had birded at least 10 times previously. As these birds are non-migratory, I guess I just missed him all those other trips. The bird is 5.75” long with long bill, white throat and breast, chestnut belly, and spotted back. The sexes are similar coloration. To me, it is the prettiest of the wrens and so distinctive that when I saw him, I knew exactly what he was and started snapping photos. click ‘next’ once

There are 9 species of wrens in the ABA area. The same morning I found the Canyon Wren, I saw 3 other wren species along the same 50 yard stretch of the creek. These photos were taken previously.

The next is Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludivicianus). This is the common wren in the southeastern USA. The bright eye stripe and rufous breast and belly are diagnostic.

The Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) is more common in central USA. This photo was also taken in the Texas Hill Country. It also has a bright eye stripe, but gray underside.

And the 4th wren I saw there was the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). This bird breeds in northern USA and Canada, but winters in Texas. It is drab brown with some barring on belly. click ‘next’ once

The day was hot for November (low 80’s). There were a number of birds bathing in pools along the creek. I captured this male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) trying to cool off.

Driving along the back roads, you always come across some roadkill. And where there are dead animals, there are vultures. A pair of Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) were sitting on power poles and stayed still while I unpacked my camera and set up to get these close-ups. click ‘next’ once

Lastly, I saw this beautiful white and orange butterfly along the same creek as the wrens. I took the photo, and after buying a butterfly field guide, I was able to ID it as a Common Mestra (Mestra amymone). This Mexican species extends its range into south Texas.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

Notice – photos with name preceded with an asterisk (*) were updated for this blog and the text was edited accordingly