Tag Archives: eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)

New angles

I don’t always know what I’m going to photograph until I photograph it, and it’s never so much about setting up the shot as it is about capturing life in progress, nature in its natural state.  And I don’t care about the picture’s technical correctness but instead about how it makes me feel later.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) with its head above water while it rests its body below the surface (2009_03_08_012493)

Many of my photographer friends produce breathtaking images, much of it eliciting my jealousy for their skills and their access to that which eludes me.  Each of these people has a singular gift which translates into a signature, an impression felt as much as seen when their work is viewed.

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) clinging to the tip of a twig (2009_07_07_026174)

But I hear so much about how to “setup the shot” so the picture is technically correct—rule of thirds and bokeh and all.  Nevertheless I’m left to wonder how much life goes by unnoticed while they’re setting up the shot.

A female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perched on a tree branch (2010_03_06_050806)

I’ve tried that method before, yes, and it can from time to time produce exquisite imagery that might otherwise have eluded capture, yet each time I focused on the mechanics of the thing, in the back of my mind I knew the meaning of the thing escaped me, for nature just happens, not posed or staged or manipulated, but rather real and visceral and now.

A female great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans) perched on a dry reed (2009_07_19_027339)

I don’t mean technically correct images leave me feeling little or nothing.  On the contrary, often they grab my attention, cause my heart to skip a beat, catch the breath in my chest, leave me awestruck and inspired.

A male Texas oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha huasteca) standing in the bed of a pickup truck (20120608_00165)

Yet inevitably they leave me wondering.  Not about what the image shows, mind you.  No, I’m left to wonder about what the image doesn’t show, what might have been, what remained unseen and, therefore, unappreciated.

A female slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) perched on barbed wire (20120624_00385)

The ubiquitous can be unique when caught in unexpected framing, the mundane can be marvelous when caught in the right light, and the everyday can be extraordinary when caught demonstrating life in progress.  Because—let’s face it—nature doing its thing, to me at least, is far more compelling than nature in a perfect image.

A female square-headed wasp (Tachytes sp.) perched on an old pipe (20120630_01137)

So unplanned and ad hoc, I will continue to photograph the wasp who turns her head to look at me, and that even if I’m unprepared.  I will continue to snap pictures of everything I see, and that even if I already have a million pictures of the same thing.  And I will continue to take notice of whatever nature throws my way, and that even if nature gives me no time to prepare, to plan, to setup the shot.

Crepuscular rays created by a distant thunderstorm at sunset (20120706_01357)

Because I’ve learned over many years that, with photos licensed for field guides and dissertations and government presentations and whatnot, when it comes right down to it, nature never shows the same face twice.  At least not when you’re willing to see it in whatever form it takes and at whatever angle it displays.

Besides, photography should never be about technically correct images but instead about seeing old things in new ways and new things in memorable ways, or at least that’s what I think.

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
  2. Swift setwing (Dythemis velox)
  3. Female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  4. Female great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans)
  5. Male Texas oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha huasteca) in the back of my uncle’s truck
  6. Female slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) perched on a barbwire fence
  7. Female square-headed wasp (Tachytes sp.) on an old pipe
  8. Crepuscular rays from a distant thunderstorm at sunset


Take one of these.

Adult female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perched on a wire (2009_10_31_035929)

Add one of these.

Adult male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perched in a tree (2010_01_12_048126)

Mix them with one of these.

A bluebird house (IMG_3698)

And soon you might have some of these.

A clutch of eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) eggs in the nest (IMG_2798)

Which turn into these.

Five eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) hatchlings in the nest (IMG_0799)

Which grow into these.

Five eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) nestlings sleeping wingtip to wingtip (IMG_1152)

The few weeks punctuated by lots of these.

A female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perched on the nesting box and feeding her young (IMG_1388)

Ultimately resulting in the appearance of these.

Two eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) fledglings perched on a fallen tree (IMG_1968)

If this happens early enough, the process will automatically repeat.

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Adult female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  2. Adult male eastern bluebird
  3. One of several bluebird houses at the family farm in East Texas
  4. Eastern bluebird eggs in the nest
  5. Eastern bluebird hatchlings a few days old
  6. Eastern bluebird nestlings almost two weeks old
  7. Female eastern bluebird perched on the nesting box and feeding her brood
  8. Eastern bluebird fledglings


  1. Although several bluebird houses exist at the family farm here in the Piney Woods of East Texas, bluebirds are not the only species who use them.  More on that in a coming post.
  2. Assuming the bluebirds nest early enough in the season—here they often do just that—a second nest might be built in the newly vacated house.  That’s the case here, thus we have adult bluebirds already feeding young in the same house that birthed the five youths shown here.
  3. Moving to East Texas from Dallas in February has offered plenty of nature to photograph.  I now live in the Piney Woods far from urban jungles, so things here are more wild and more abundant.  Alligators are a walk away (from the farm to the bayou), cougars are rarely seen but making a comeback, birds are plentiful and plants are everywhere.  Once again I find I’m collecting more pictures than I can share, but I promise to do my best in that regard.

Birds I never knew – Part 3

Ever had the wrong camera for the job?  Ever taken aim and snapped a photo of something so far away that you’re convinced it’s just a leaf blowing in the wind?  Ever taken pictures out of the moonroof of your car while speeding along a busy boulevard?

Truth be told, many times I’ve attempted to capture an image that I knew ahead of time was well outside the scope of my abilities, the power of the camera, and the convenience of the circumstances.

But I never let any of that stop me from trying.

A juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) perched on a fallen tree at Lake Tawakoni (211_1130)

A juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea).  While visiting Lake Tawakoni more than a year ago to see the giant spider web that spanned acre after acre of the shoreline, I chanced upon a small bay thriving with wildlife.  I regrettably had only my previous camera with me, a Canon PowerShot S50, and it simply had none of the range or power I needed for such a vast and beautiful place.  Yet I felt a tinge of excitement when I reviewed the images later and found it had memorialized this child as it stood preening in the morning sun.  The bird had been so far away from me that I couldn’t tell what it was—other than being a large bird, I mean; I was therefore pleased to no end to find that small camera had been able to see what I myself scarcely recognized from across the water.

A male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) clinging to a bare branch at the top of a tree (20080414_03480)

A male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis).  Mom provides several nesting spots for birds around the family farm, and one species that makes it their home every year is the eastern bluebird.  Although we had seen the mated pair busily flitting about the main yard as they tended to their family duties, I had not been able to take a photo as we ourselves were busy with hour own duties.  Standing at the far end of one of the pastures downhill from the house, I happened to see a shadow dancing at the very top of a tree on the far side of the farm.  I decided to attempt a photograph even thought I was at a tremendous disadvantage.

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in White Rock Lake (20080314_02701)

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).  The males of this species are gregarious, yet the females always seem to be aloof…even a tad disinterested.  I admit once they’re mated they stay with their male counterparts, but as a group waiting to find a man, the females keep to themselves and stay well out of sight.  Imagine, then, my pleasant surprise to find this lone female trailing a group of males well out in the center of White Rock Lake.  I ran around Sunset Bay to find a higher vantage closer to their location, then I took a few pictures despite knowing she was too far away to see clearly.

A female spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) hurrying along the concrete steps behind the Bathhouse Cultural Center at White Rock Lake (20080426_04797)

A female spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia).  After arriving at the Bathhouse Cultural Center where I would begin my walk, I sat atop a picnic table far from the water’s edge as I collected my things, put filters on the camera, and packed spare batteries and the like in the tripod bag.  American coots flying by drew my attention to the lake where I saw this gal bobbing along the concrete steps in the old swimming area.  She wasted no time as she hurried along, so I wasted no time in taking aim and snapping a photo.  As unprepared as I was, and despite my disadvantaged location well away from her position, I was happy I didn’t wait longer than I did: she vanished right after I pressed the button, flitting across the water and arcing quickly through the air out of sight.

A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) perched on a wire (20080712_09306)

A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis).  Driving along sans a care in the world save surviving Dallas’s horrific traffic, I do my best to remain aware of the nature that thrives even in this concrete jungle.  I’ve seen American kestrels perched atop light poles, massive hawks circling right above the road, armadillos sauntering along as though they own the place, and all manner of flora and fauna just hoping someone will notice them, appreciate them.  And so it was with this bird.  Resting on a wire hanging above the road, my quick approach meant I didn’t recognize it and wouldn’t be around long enough to do so.  I therefore opened the moonroof and held the camera out above the car as I sped along beneath it.  I didn’t zoom in since that would have made it impossible to take a picture or drive, or both.  What resulted was a wide-angle shot that hid this beautiful little spot of feathers off in one corner of a very large, very blank image.

An eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) perched on a plant in the middle of a field (20080426_04631)

An eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus).  Because one good kingbird deserves another.  No matter how often I visit White Rock Lake and walk the miles of shoreline, I never fail to see a new flower, snake, bird, or other bit of nature.  It’s not that I never noticed before; it’s just that this large expanse offers refuge to so many species that one can never see them all (and that doesn’t include migrants, some of whom are extremely rare in this area).  Well downhill of a massive field of wildflowers and grasses, I saw a red-winged blackbird perched on a wire and decided to try for a shot.  I had to face into the sun to do it, so I knelt down behind some brush to take advantage of the paltry shade it offered.  Only then did my vision clear enough for me to see this kingbird resting far uphill from me in a spot where the plants behind it gave some shade.

[Prev | Home | Next]

Farm life – Part I

Hidden away in the Piney Woods of East Texas, the family farm can be exhausting at its worst and magical at its best.  Plenty of hard work awaits those who tend its chores and care for its animals, yet the surroundings provide ample nature in which to wallow, not to mention the resident population of family critters who offer up joys beyond compare.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) around a feeder at the family farm (139_3998)

Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are ubiquitous around Big Cypress Bayou in all but the cold months.  Mom keeps several feeders available for them, each carefully and diligently supplied with sugar water, and so the hummingbirds come year after year, their antics providing hours of entertainment.

In fact, Mom often stands outside holding one of the feeders right next to her face.  As soon as the birds realize she’s not a threat, they begin visiting, buzzing around her head and brushing her cheeks with their wings.  It’s more than fantastic, more than beautiful; it’s divine to see.

Adult and juvenile cows roaming through one of the pastures at the family farm (194_9494)

Even the cows enjoy roaming from pasture to pasture, some fields cloaked by dense woodlands drawing a barrier around them and others set within those very same woodlands.  A serenity befalls the place no matter where one looks.

When calves are about, fun spills over the grass like so much rich honey.  Large enough to hurt you if they ran you down, these little guys spring and leap in ways that puppies and kittens would envy, and it doesn’t hurt that the mothers always have a fresh drink of milk with them at all times.  It can get pretty hot in Texas, so a bit of play is always followed by a rapid search for and happy reunion with mom—then a tasty bit of nourishment and energy for more play.

A Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) resting on the ground in the main yard of the family farm (214_1441)

Gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) dance in the main yard, flitting about with abandon as though they had not a care in the world.  They appreciate this place.  At times the yard reminds me of a field of waltzing flames as a dozen or more of these butterflies converge.

The farm boasts a magnificent insect population that ranges from giant moths to giant beetles, from katydids and grasshoppers to spiders and wasps.  The air is often filled with dragonflies and butterflies, and with leaping grasshoppers and katydids, not to mention the chorus of a thousand species.  Only in winter do these sights and sounds disappear, a lonely echo creating a void they once filled and will fill again.

Purple bindweed (a.k.a. cotton morning glories; Ipomoea trichocarpa) growing alongside one of the pastures at the family farm (214_1442)

Purple bindweed (a.k.a. cotton morning glories; Ipomoea trichocarpa) offers up perfume and lavender beauty, flowers fully open in acceptance of morning sunshine.  Like so many other wildflowers, this stunning plant, considered a weed by so many, grows readily along paths and trails running throughout the farm.  There can never be too much life here.

Wild berries grow on the hillside in a pool of varied briers, grasses and flowers.  Dense woodlands stretch across rolling hills with pine, hickory, oak, ash, dogwood and magnolia trees defining the landscape, each skirted with an assortment of brush sometimes too thick for the average walk.  Cypress grows along the bayou and its tributaries.  Just north of the only natural lake in all of Texas, the area gives rise to springs and marshes that dot the landscape like a patchwork of wonders.  In fact, no one has been able to count the number of springs on the farm because they are so numerous.

A cow sticking its tongue out hoping my mother will give just one more treat (216_1650)

Then there are the treats, the special goodies that deserve kisses—even if from a cow.  Always listening for Mom’s voice, these domestic giants lavish themselves in the affection and care they receive.  In fact, they call out to her—rather loudly, I might add—if they believe she’s late to visit.

But Mom is not the only one who enjoys such special attention.  Dad happens to be the person who gives them maple, a sweet, delectable goody for which they mob him like children begging for candy.  He’s forced to push and shove his way through a herd of drooling mouths and suppliant scroungers desperate to smell the scent and taste the flavor of nutritious yet obviously addictive syrup applied generously to hay.

A cow sticking its head through the fence with a wanting, begging look on its face (216_1660)

And the looks of wanting mixed with cuteness as bovines beg and plead for just one more taste of heaven leaves us simple humans laughing with pure delight.  They know a good thing and waste no time putting on the Oliver act: “Please, may I have some more?”

An eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) arriving at the nest with food for its young (20080414_03434)

Joining the various farm animals is a contingent of wildlife.  Nesting in an old can wired to the utility shed because their house had been invaded by wasps, eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) rear their young with a diligence all of us at the farm notice.  Both mother and father spend their days bringing food to always hungry, always talkative young hiding away until it’s their time to fledge.  One need only walk out the side door to see this spectacle across the main yard.

Male brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) perched atop a pine tree (20080414_03445)

Meanwhile, male brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) gather atop a pine tree to plan their day.  Looking for mates and planning nest invasions undoubtedly requires a group effort.  Along with these avians can be found a litany of birdwatching gifts, from egrets to cardinals to flycatchers to hawks to owls to a plethora of winged beasts both great and small.  It’s not uncommon to see vultures flying low overhead as a hawk circles in the clouds.  The fact that Mom provides food for many bird species helps draw them in like clockwork, various groups and individuals visiting the feeders throughout the day as though scheduled in shifts to arrive and depart at preset times.

Those who don’t indulge in such handouts still surround the farm as they live out their lives in a vast wilderness that reaches through four states.  One need only stop, look and listen to enjoy a dynamic show of feathers.  And if the local population isn’t enough, my parents have a close friend who happens to lead the local bird banding efforts.  What might only be an unidentified shadow seen peripherally at other times suddenly rears up as large as life when a beautiful morning is spent identifying, cataloging, banding and enjoying the always surprising abundance of these creatures.

[To be continued…]