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WildBird Magazine Contest

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25th, 2011 by Alan

It was an honor to win first place in Wildbird Magazine’s Flight category.
This is an image of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher catching a fly. The bird made a brief appearance in
Galveston, Tx and was quite approachable. I don’t often chase rare birds, but this one paid off nicely.

Salvaging a Barred Owl

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3rd, 2010 by Alan

D3, 400, ISO 640, f4, 1/250 -1.0 EV

I wanted to share this image that I processed 95% in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw CS5).
The image is full frame and was shot in very harsh light. The image on the left is converted from Raw with no adjustments.

I used the adjustment brush to tone down the over-exposed right side of the Owl and also to bring out more detail in the shadow side of the Owl, and the dark background.
Since the birds right eye was in shadow, and his right eye was in full sun, you can see the different size of the eyes. After balancing the light with processing, I felt both eyes should be the same. I used a samll brush in “liquidfy” (under “filters”) to resize the eyes. Credit to Mike Gray for showing me the “adjustment” tool.

I love that each new version of Photoshop is saving more and more images that I used to throw away :-)

Getting Birds off Barbed Wire

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2nd, 2010 by Alan

How many images of Shrikes and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers do you see on barbed wire fences?

It’s rare when you see images of those species on natural perches. Most photographers tend to be content with images of them on wire fences, as they feel that is where the birds hang out.

For me, I believe if man had not introduced fences into their habitat, then you would see them on natural perches, so that is always my goal: To have no “Hand-of-Man” in my images.
I want to be up front before I go into how I tackle this problem. This is a low percentage shot. It does not work all the time, but when it does, you have a unique and hard to get image.

In Texas during the fall migration, we get hundreds to thousands of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers staging on the Upper Texas Coast waiting for North winds to carry them on their journey South.

On some days you can see dozens and dozens of Flycatchers on wire fences on most coastal roads. This was the case on the day I did this setup. The number of birds increased my odds of pulling this off.

The image below shows a typical road where many Flycatchers were hanging out. (the birds are not in the image as they took off when I got out of my car to take this picture)

The idea is to set up a natural perch above and parallel to the barbed wire. To do this, first find or cut a straight stick, then attached to a fence post using zip ties.

Here’s a close up of attaching the stick with zip ties.

The next step, choose a nice perch. Try to find one that is firm and of the same diameter as the barbed wire.

In the image below I chose a sunflower stalk (growing nearby) as a perch.

Then attach the perch to the upright stick using zip ties. Make sure the perch is horizontal when you are finished.

To increase the chances of getting the bird on the perch and not on the wire, grab clumps of grass and lay them along the wire.

Cover the wire with grass for at least 20 yards on either side of the perch. As the Flycatchers move up and down the fence line feeding, the grass will deter them for landing on the wire.

Once everything is in place, set the camera and lens up to shoot out of your car window (Scissor-tails are very comfortable with cars getting close.)

Below is the view with the distant field as background. Then it’s just a matter of waiting.

I got lucky with the bird landing at last light as the wind dropped. When there is no wind the Scissor-tails will drop their tail making a more pleasing image.

Nikon D300s, 600 MM, ISO 250, f8, 1/160.

This set-up can be done in about 10 minutes and can yeild some unique and fun photo opportunities.

Remember to bring your zip ties, pruning shears and some patience.

How to get Images of Hummers Perched

Posted in Uncategorized on September 10th, 2010 by Alan

Here’s a quick set-up to get Hummingbirds on a nice perch.

First, remove the plastic perch from your hummingbird feeder so the bird has to fly to feed.
Then remove the plastic gaurd, leaving the small spout.
Find an attractive perch and set it up next to the feeder.
The Hummingbird should land on the perch to feed.
I then clone out what part of the feeder is showing in the final image.

St. Paul Island Workshop Report.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17th, 2010 by Alan

Hey Everyone,

I’m just back from St. Paul Island, AK in the middle of the Bering sea.
I co-led a workshop with Greg Downing and had 10 participants.
We managed to photograph all of the breeding species of birds for the Island, including the four species of Songbirds that make the Island their home.
Below is an image of a few of the participants that are set up on a large piece of drift wood. The driftwood had some wonderful lichens grownig on it and it made a beautiful perch.

Below is a couple of images of the birds on the drift wood.

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch

Lapland Longspur

Press Release

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27th, 2010 by Alan

Winner of WildBird Magazine’s 22nd Annual Photo Contest

I was happy to find out that I won first place in the “Shorebird” category.
This was the category I wanted to win, as the prize is a fantastic pair of Zeiss Binoculars.
The winning images are in the September/October issue.

Magazine Covers

I have two cover images coming out this month.

The September/October issue of WildBird.

The July/August issue of Birding.

In this collage of images on the cover, I have the two bottom images.
The cover is also a foldout with a flap.

That’s it for now. I’m heading to the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, on Thursday with Greg Downing.
We will be Co-leading a workshop with 10 participants. See you all when I get back. Alan.

2011 Workshop Dates

Posted in Uncategorized on July 21st, 2010 by Alan

I now have my 2011 workshops dates available.
I will be doing them at the Casa Santa Ana in South Texas. This is a beautiful B & B with grounds that back up to the Santa Ana National Wildlife refuge. It is about 20 mins from McAllen.
We will be spending 3 mornings at the feeder setups, and the evenings at the local refuges and State Parks. One evening we will be doing some mulit-flash Buff-bellied Hummingbird photography.
3 days, 4 people.

For more details click here:

To see what you will be facing each morning, check out this footage that I shot there this past Feb.

I am also doing two workshops in Roma, TX where I have been doing them for the past few years.

For details, click here:

Contact me with any questions,


Fun With a Home Made Nest Box

Posted in Uncategorized on March 27th, 2010 by Alan

For years I have been wanting to get an image of a Bluebird on a natural tree cavity.
The chances of finding a nest cavity that is low enough to the ground for photography is slim, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
The first step was scouting for a dead tree that had limbs with either a hollow or a soft center.
Once a tree was located, tapping on the limb will let you know if the wood is solid or soft.
After finding the right limb, I cut off a 3 foot section and took it home.
To make the stump hollow enough for a bird to nest in it, I used a screw-driver to chip away at the soft wood inside.
IĀ stopped removing the inside wood, when I got to about 4 inches from the bottom.

Below is an image looking down into the hollowed out stump.

Once the stump was hollowed out, a wood cap was then placed on each end on the stump. The lower cap acted as a base to attach a stand.
The top cap is removable to allow cleaning of the next box after breeding season is over.
I also chose a good spot on the side of the stump to drill a two inch hole for the birds to enter.

Below is a close up of the stump with the two caps and the entrance hole.

Mounting the stump on a pole and placing it away from my fence made it attractive to the local Bluebirds.

It only took a couple of days before the Bluebirds were checking out the new nest box.
The next challenge was the background that I wanted in the image.
My yard is small with limited backgrounds that have shadows and a busy fence.
To get around that problem, I made a board out of 4 printed images and pasted them on some foam core. Using a stand, the foam core background was raised to the desired height.

In the image below, you can see the nest box, the printed background, and the location of my camera.

Now I was ready to take some images.

After covering my self and photo equipment with Kwik Camo (a camo sheet that has a mesh screen to see out of) I waited for the bluebirds to return.

Below is the final result that I had envisioned.

Many times when the female would enter the cavity, the male would hover outside providing for some fun flight shots.

My next project with the nest box started a few weeks later when my peach tree was in full bloom.
I wanted an image of a perched Bluebird with a Spring time feel to it.
The peach tree in my front yard donated some limbs to this project :-)

Placing a limb in front of the next box provided a perch for the bird. Choosing a perch carefully so that it had just the right amount of gap between the flowers, allowed me to know exactly where the bird would land.
Placing more limbs with blooms between the perch and the background gave the image some depth and continued the color theme throughout the image.

Here is the set up with the blooms and background.

The final image.

How to Photograph a Kingfisher

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24th, 2010 by Alan

During my last workshop in South Texas in Feb 2010, we noticed a Belted Kingfisher on the ranch pond.
We quickly did a set-up for this beautiful bird. The first thing we did was to set up a long perch in the water. I have found that Kingfishers prefer a perch in the water over one on the bank, because he will have a 360 degree view of the water. The height of the perch was set-up so that we had the distant bank as out background.
The next step was to build a cage to house minnows. This was built out of PVC pipe and fine mesh screening. A swimmers floatation tube was used to keep the rig afloat. This cage was to keep the minnows alive.
We also used a small childrens plastic swimming pool to float on top of the water. This was used on the days we were shooting. We would take some minnows from the deeper mesh cage and put them in the small plastic shallow pond.
We also changed out the perch each day for different looks.

Here’s a couple of images of the set-up.

All of the workshop participants managed to get great images of the Kingfisher. Below are some of those images.

I have a good feeling that this bird will be there when we return for workshops early in 2011. If you are interested in joining me, drop me a line and I’ll add you to the list.

Good shooting,


Getting the White-tipped Dove up on a Rock

Posted in Uncategorized on February 23rd, 2010 by Alan

The White-tipped Dove is a speciality bird of the Rio-Grande Valley in Texas. It can only be found in this part of the US.

I have always set myself a goal to get ground feeding birds like Quail, Dove etc up on a stump or rock when I photograph them.

This is a low percentage shot, but if it can be pulled off, the results are worth it.

Getting the bird on a stump or rock will put your background much futher away, rendering a nice smooth out-of-focus backdrop.

An out-of-focus background will be less distracting and allow the bird to really stand out.

After many years of experimanting with this challenge, I figured out that the best way to get the birds up on your elevated set-up is to build a ramp on the back.

You would think that the birds would just hop up on the rock or stump to get to your bait/food, but if you offer them a ramp, they will rather walk up. I guess it takes less energy to walk up than it does to hop. It also allows the bird to go slow and check out what is on top of the rock, rather than just jumping up and taking a chance.

Below is an image of me teaching participants at a workshop. You can see the piece of wood that I used as a ramp. You can also see the rock and the wildflowers that I placed of the front of the rock.

Below is the final result, shot in sweet morning light. All workshop participants got this same image.

For my April 12-15, 2010 workshop, we plan to do many set-ups like this one, especially with the Quail.

I only take four participants on my workshops and I have just one opening for this one.

If you are interested in joining me, you can get more details here.