Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer -
Black Skimmer – Skimming – East End Lagoon Preserve, Texas

Coastal bird photographers, particularly those who have access to areas highly trafficked by humans, have really got things easy.  We were consistently surprised at how much luck we had getting close enough to our subjects – and this was with visiting these locations for the first time.  I can’t imagine the fun to be had with some time, experience and practice.

Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

The Black Skimmer just may be one of the perfect targets for the bird photographer.  The species is colorful and contrasty, which is so nice for autofocus.  This species is rather large.  It prefers to spend time in groups that enable the photographer to capture interesting social behaviors.  If you are lucky enough to be at the right time and place, the chicks are unbelievably cute.  And, if that isn’t enough, they of course have their namesake feeding behavior that can be seen in the image at the top of this post.

Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

Closely related to the gulls, auks and waders, the skimmers are in the small family – Rynchopidae (roughly translated to beak-faced).

Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

If you inadvertently flush a group, don’t give up or chase.  Skimmers have favorite resting places and will often settle to the same stretch from which they flushed.

Black Skimmer – Houston Audubon Society – Bolivar Flats Shorebirds Sanctuary, Texas

Until next time…


Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – White-tailed Hawk

White-tailed Hawk – Fort Bend County, TX

This stunning and large buteo is often seen with the last Texas gulf coast bird featured, the White-tailed Kite.  This was one of the birds that Steve and I got a big kick out of finding.  Although common and abundant over much of its range in the Americas, the White-tailed Hawk can only be found along the Texas coast and the Rio Grande Valley within the United States.  I was doubly fortunate to be able to find another perched in a tree in Fort Bend County when my New-Englander friend, Sam, and I came across it during a few precious hours birding following several hectic days on the job.

White-tailed Hawk, San Bernard NWR, TX

White-tailed Hawks are birds of the air.  Pete Dunne (Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion) suggests that the species is most often spotted in the air.  Steve and I first located a pair at San Bernard NWR on an island of trees within coastal prairie.  I paid the price by taking a number of fire ant bites by wading through the prairie trying to get a bit closer.  We watched as the pair eventual flushed and rose higher and higher on the coastal thermals, eventually rising to a height where they were almost invisible to the naked eye.  Once spotted in the air, there is no mistaking this species with any other bird, with contrasting white body with black-edged wings and striped tail.

White-tailed Hawk – Fort Bend County, TX

Until next time…

Location Spotlight – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles

Missouri's Palisades? Little St. Francis River Pinnacles - Madison County, MO
Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

“The Pinnacles are not easy to reach but a visit to the site is worth a considerable amount of time and effort.  Differential weathering of vertically fractured pink porphyry created a sheer bluff cresting a hundred feet above the bed of the Little St. Francis River.  Individual columns rising as monoliths above the bluff are responsible for the name, but the bluff per se is even more spectacular than the pinnacles.  The site could be compared to the Palisades of the Hudson and merits photography but defies the lazy or poor planner.”

Thomas R. Beveridge
Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri

Missouri’s Pallisades? – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Eight different pinnacles are listed in the Legacy that Dr. Beveridge left this state.  This particular pinnacles, along with associated geological features, is located in the St. Francois Mountains, just a stone’s throw away from a number of other classic destinations of this area.  Steve and I had been discussing our potential route for this excursion for quite some time.  We had tried once for an overland route but could not find or did not wish to aproach the private property owners and so decided that a water route was the best option for us.  This past November, with leaves being mostly fallen and temperatures being much warmer than average, was the perfect opportunity to try out our designed route.

This destination lies on a stretch of the Little St. Francis River (LSF) approximately 1.5 – 2.0 miles upstream from its confluence with the St. Francis River.  We knew that water levels were on the low side but we were completely uncertain what this would mean for traveling upstream into the LSF.  Would there be any navigable water at all?  If not, would it be possible to navigate within its bed by foot?  Facing the possibility of failure, we decided to give it a shot.  We loaded the canoe onto the powerful, symmetrical all wheel drive Subaru Forester and hit the road.

Love. It’s what makes a boxer a boxer…


We dropped off Steve’s truck at our takeout –  the Cedar Bottom Creek bridge and put into the St. Francis at Silver Mines Recreation Area.  With the sun directly in our eyes (as almost always seems to be the case), it was a pleasant and short paddle downstream to its confluence with the LSF.  See the following map for the highlighted route that we took that day.


Arriving at the confluence, our spirits were lifted.  We were forced to push a little to get over a sandbar, but the route upstream was slow and just deep enough to allow for paddling most of the way.  We portaged a few times, but we expected worse.

Steve Emptying his Boots
Steve emptying his boots

After taking in the initial views of the bluffs, we were naturally drawn to see the pinnacles themselves up close.  A quick lung-burning climb and we were there.

Ozark Monolith – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Although not the tallest of these spires, this monolith was the more picturesque.  I have other photography plans in mind for this guy if I can ever visit again.  See below to see Steve in the frame for scale.

Monolithic – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

The views from atop the bluff were quite nice.  The primary hill that faces south was Tin Mill Mountain and Pine Mountain lies to the north.  Here is an example of the rhyolite porphyry that composes the majority of this bluff.

Rhyolite Porphyry Bluff – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

This place reminded us a lot of Lee’s Bluff, which was not surprising due to how close these locations are to one another.  However, the pinnacles here brought a bit more visual interest.  Here Steve poses with a small, but likely ancient cedar, clutched within a crack that is probably older than the human species.

Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

To conclude, here I captured Steve doing a belly crawl to the edge of the bluff.  As I say so often, I long for another visit here.  It seems the LSF has several other features to share.  I hope we can one day float the entire ~15 miles with a couple or more feet of water.  There are apparently a couple of stretches of shut-ins that shouldn’t be missed.

Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Until next time…


Copyright Law for the Nature Photographer

I’m sure that anyone who has spent time viewing photographs in an online setting has seen them – those watermarks or scripts that contain the ©, often accompanied with text notifying the viewer that the photographer or graphic artist owns the copyright to that image.  But, did you know that this is completely unnecessary?

Many photographers place elaborate and beautifully designed watermarks across their images.  There is nothing wrong with this, especially for those photographers who are interested in building their brand, e.g., wedding or portrait photographers.  But I often find the watermarks are often more interesting or compelling than the images they emboss.  It is my opinion that collectors of nature photographs are more interested in the final product, rather than in a name.  Besides, if one makes a name for oneself, the photograph need simply be signed to identify the artist.

I have “signed” my photographs with generic text or my watermark for years, just as an artist would make their mark or signature when finishing a painting.  I am turned off by the idea of marking a hard worked for photograph with a sign of commerce, especially if it was unnecessary in protecting my rights to my work.  What I am sharing in the remainder of this post is mostly from what I remember from an Intellectual Property class I took during my Master’s program along with some light research to make sure there have been no significant changes.

Did you know that the instant you take/make a photograph your image has copyright protection that you own?  That’s all there is to it.  There is nothing else you need do to have that protection.  As the owner of the copyright you are provided certain rights that can be found here: U.S. Copyright Act at 17 U.S.C. 106.

Many of you have probably heard of ‘registering a copyright’.  If a photographer does not register their copyright with the Library of Congress prior to an infringement of the copyright, then the photographer can only cause two things: 1) cease and desist of the infringement, and 2) recover only actual damages caused by the infringement.  “Actual damages” equates to what you would normally be paid (fair market value) for an image that subject in the specific infringement.  If, like many nature photographers, you don’t sell your works, then the best you can hope for is for the infringement to be stopped.  You will likely not receive payment.

Taking the step to register your copyright with the LoC will allow the photographer to collect statutory damages in the event of an infringement.  Depending on the circumstances, e.g., the willfulness of the infringing party, statutes allow for the collection of between $750 and $150,000.  One must still prove that they attempted to protect their copyrighted work, but there have been more than a few artists that have made a living by simply collecting these settlements of their infringed upon registered copyright.

I registered my copyright to a few hundred photos a few years back.  There is a small fee and some work involved, but I remember it being a relatively painless process.  I have not continued to do so because I feel I take reasonable steps to keep my work protected, e.g., not posting image files online with anything larger than 1000 pixels on the longest edge, and that I know there are many greater photographers that potential infringers will target.  See below for an example of a Certificate of Registration.


I believe I submitted 500-1000 images on a single CD-ROM (the standard method at the time).  I recommend downsizing the files, which can be quite small and still be identifiable.  I can’t remember the specifics, but they were somewhere around 50-100 pixels on the longest edge.  You can easily do this in a batch process.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with adding that copyright symbol to your image and I realize there are some advantages in having it there.  However, I wanted to make sure those of you reading this know that this is an unnecessary attachment to your well crafted visual property.

That’s about it for the bare basics of copyright protection for the nature photographer.  There are other details if one delves more deeply.  Rules change a bit once you leave this country, but copyright protection can be found in most area of the globe.  If you have any questions that were not covered here or would like to offer a different viewpoint, please let me know by using the comments section of this post.

Until next time

In the Land of the Blind the One-eyed Man is King

Hooded Mergansers - Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary - St. Charles Co, MO
Hooded Mergansers First Year Males – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

The one-eyed man referred to in the title of this post is, of course, the photographer with a telephoto lens sticking out of a well-placed blind.  Yes, we are all aware of and use to good effect the mobile blind – our warm vehicles.  However, shooting from a car in a place like RMBS leaves a bit to be desired.

Common Goldeneye – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

From a car, the angle at which the birds are photographed will always be at the same downwards angle that in my opinion is less desirable than being close to eye level, which sitting low in a a portable ‘bag’ style blind can afford.

Hooded Merganser Hen – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Although I have owned such a blind for a few years, I have only recently given it some real use with friend and fellow like-minded nature photographer, Miguel Acosta.  All of the images from this post were made in our first attempts at this and even with limited light and opportunities, I can already see the potential in using this technique for improving photography of waterfowl.

Hooded Merganser Big Boys – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Getting an eye-level perspective yields more benefits than just a resting duck.  Catching birds taking to flight from the water’s surface from this angle makes for a more powerful image than from above.

Lift Off! – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

I’m really glad we tried this out.  It is something I’ve been wishing to do for quite some time and I guess it just makes sense that this is the way to do it.  Now I just need to think of places and opportunities to try more.

Trumpeter Swans – Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary – St. Charles Co, MO

Until next time.

Birds of the Texas Gulf Coast – Willet

Willet – Scolopacidae – Tringa semipalmata – Anahuac NWR, TX.

It is always interesting to find a bird species you are pretty familiar with in a new location or season.  Such was the case and pleasant surprise that Steve and I found when stumbling upon the Willet in coastal Texas in May, 2016.  This giant puppy dog of a sandpiper is typically a relatively low-key, almost dull bird when spotted in Missouri during its migration.  The individuals we observed in Texas, however, were quite conspicuous as they combined long vocalizations with slow flights that really showed off the contrasting black and white wings.  They were a pleasure to watch and photograph.

Willet – Scolopacidae – Tringa semipalmata – Anahuac NWR, TX.


Willet – Scolopacidae – Tringa semipalmata – Anahuac NWR, TX.


Bird #275

Eastern Screech Owl - Strigidae - Megascops asio, Grafton IL
Eastern Screech Owl – Strigidae – Megascops asio – Grafton IL

The 275th bird species I have photographed in Missouri and contiguous states turned out to be a special one.  This Eastern Screech Owl is definitely the current most famous bird in the bi-state area.  Many thanks to Miguel Acosta for the information.  A long time coming.

Eastern Screech Owl – Strigidae – Megascops asio – Grafton IL