South Texas Bird Workshop – May 2019

May begins a traditionally long hot, and often humid, season in far south Texas. This year is no exception. However many copious rains in April have kept the countryside lush and green. This has been a blessing for bird life.

This workshop during the last week of May was very productive with a large variety of great birds. Frequently in pairs, the species photographed numbered thirty-one, including some favorites including Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak and Grove-bill Ani. The traditional South Texas favorites included Green Jay, Pyrrhuloxia, Great Kiskadee, both Long- and Curve-bill Thrasher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Olive Sparrow and many more.

The following represents just a few of the favorites.

.From the top left:Painted Bunting female, Painted Bunting male, Painted Bunting first year male, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager male, Couch’s Kingbird, Grove-bill Ani, Green Jay, Curve-bill Thrasher, Mature and immature Crested Caracara, Crested Caracara Portrait with mouse, Greater roadrunner with mouse, Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia, and Long.bill Thrasher.

Everyone was able to make many amazing and similar images to take home. And the camaraderie was top notch.

If you have interest in a similar workshop, the next one is scheduled for October 24-27. 2019. If you have interest visit my web site at The Nature Connection or send me an email to bkloflin@austin.rr.com.

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

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Starry Nights in Texas

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The night skies are bigger in Texas! Join us during the dark of the moon for an afternoon and overnight photography experience that will be unforgettable. DigiNite is an introductory expedition into photographing the night skies. No previous sky photography experience is required. Participants will learn night sky still photography techniques including photography of the stars and the Milky Way, star trails, time lapse star motion and light painting of terrestrial structures with these star techniques.

Milky Way, Inks Lake, TX

This workshop will be held at Historic Seminole Canyon State Park – overnight May 3-4, 2019 in a very remote location without light pollution to take advantage of the best night skies. The workshop begins at 1:00 PM the first day and ends after a group brunch the second. Transportation, meals and lodging are not included. Lodging will be at Comstock Motel in Comstock, TX, nine miles from the state Park. After workshop signup, reservations may be made at 432-292-4484.

For more information see: http://www.thenatureconnection.com/workshopschedule.html  A detailed packet of information will be sent to those who register for this workshop.

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved.

Colorful Buntings and More!

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May is the ideal time to capture the best images of our special buntings. both Indigo and Painted. Come to the rich bird habitat of South Texas with Brian Loflin, a noted wildlife photographer and workshop leader.

Our workshop kicks off May 23, 2019 at Laguna Seca Ranch near Edinburg, TX. This ranch is purpose built for bird photographers and proudly offers the best all-weather bird photography blinds anywhere.

Painted Bunting (M)

Come to South Texas for three days of great bird photography. Capture great images of the Buntings and much more. Our Raptor shoots are always a highlight as well, offering Crested Caracara, Harris’ Hawk, Turkey Vulture and other Texas raptors.

For more information see our workshop schedule and details at http://www.thenatureconnection.com/workshopschedule.html .

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved.

Advanced Macro Photography & Digital Imaging

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This new book was just published in January 2019 and is the ideal volume for everyone seriously interested in close-up and macro photography. Written in simple language for the digital photographer, its 150 glossy pages are cram-packed with over 270 images and diagrams in full color.

Advanced Macro Photography & Digital Imaging begins with the digital camera, basics of digital exposure, close up photography and a easy-to-understand discussion on the tools and techniques required to produce close-up and macro images. Each technique is well-illustrated with color images that enhance the text.

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This book is written with the wildlife scientist and biologist in mind, but every application is useful for any field of study where close focusing and high magnification images are used.

Included in the text are methods to standardize color and to achieve true-to life images in a manner that is accurate and repeatable.  There are sections on how to set up a macro photography studio or lab, as well as photography in the lab and in the field.

Several detailed chapters are dedicated to new digital techniques, including the use of electronic flash, very high magnification, focus stacking of multiple images for enhanced Depth of Field, and post processing software and techniques.

The ample appendix is also filled with lighting tools, techniques and diagrams, information on memory cards, electronic storage devices, file production for publication, archival standards, and much more.

The book is now available in digital format for download and in a soft cover, 8.5 x 11 inch, paper format. Both formats are available through online sales at MagCloud at http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1556203 .

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

 

 

Two Stories: Extirpation vs. Restoration

 

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Fossil fish, possibly of the extinct genus Knightia, which is only about seven inches long. This is typical of the fossil fish that are found in shale and limestone strata. Complete fish tend to be rare, and it is far more common to find just parts of fish, like the backbone with ribs and spines attached shown above, which came from sedimentary layers of the Eocene period about 55 million years ago.

 

The National Geographic Channel is currently airing a television series called One Strange Rock. The program talks about the history of life on earth and five mass extinctions on the planet [Earth]. In the series, host Will Smith narrated, “Ninety-nine-point nine percent of all species that ever lived are gone.”

That statement refers to all the dinosaurs and all the animals and plants of the fossil record. That’s in the past, for sure. But you must be certain, this process of loss continues even today. Let’s look:

Extirpation:
Sandbur prickly pear cactus, Opuntia Pusilla

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Long, prostrate chains of elongated pads are typical of Opuntia pusilla. These pads are easily detached, making the plant typically quite short.

 

During the field work and production of our 2009 book, Texas Cacti, I was elated to be able to find a little-known cactus, Sandbur prickly pear. This species is recorded to be found only in a small area on sand dunes and rocky outcrops, behind the beaches along the Gulf Coast only on Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County, Texas.

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Detail of Opuntia pusilla pads, or stems. These stems are usually low and are seldom more than 4 in.  (10 cm.) tall.

 

Making landfall over Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas at 2:10 a.m. on September 13, 2008, a category 2 hurricane named Ike caused extensive damage, with sustained winds of 110 mph, a 22 ft storm surge, and widespread coastal flooding.

The effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas were crippling and long-lasting. Ike’s effects included deaths, widespread damage, smashing and flooding an estimated 100,000 homes. Galveston was declared uninhabitable, and the Bolivar Peninsula wiped clean of boats, buildings and most vegetation.

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Aerial photograph of the Bolivar Peninsula at Galveston Texas the day after Ike. The 2008 hurricane Ike wiped most all vegetation and structures from this area.

 

After several visits to the Bolivar Peninsula after Ike, we are very disappointed to to be unable to find any remaining indications of this little plant of the species.

Restoration:
Tobusch Fishhook Cactus; Sclerocactus brevihamatus var. tobuschii

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Endangered Sclerocactus brevihamatus var. tobuschii is quite cryptic in its growth among the grasses of its habitat. Often pollinating bees may lead us to the flowers in season.

 

The endangered Tobusch fishhook cactus, named for its unique hooked central spines, is found in only eight counties on the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. This uncommon cactus spends the first five years of its life smaller than the size of a quarter before even producing its first flowers. This cactus is a low, deep-seated and very inconspicuous plant because of its diminutive size, and the fact it is camouflaged within the grass and limestone of its habitat. Therefore, it very difficult to find.

During the production of our same publication, I was thrilled to be shown a small population in Kerr County, Texas by Jackie Pool, a biologist from Texas Parks and Wildlife who monitors this critically endangered species.

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Inconspicuous funnel-form, greenish flowers are about one half of an inch in size and bloom in February and March. The hooked central spines give rise to this plants common name.

 

 

Tobusch fishhook cactus was classified as an endangered species in 1979, when scientists knew of less than 200 plants in the wild. At the time of my photos there were just over 2,000 plants identified. Today, numbers have since improved through the discovery of additional populations, research on threats, conservation efforts at documented sites, and teamwork between a host of partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, private landowners and many more.

Now, approximately 4,500 cacti are known to exist across the species’ range. In big news for a little plant, the Tobusch fishhook cactus’ federal conservation status was this week reclassified from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act as of June 14, 2018.

I have been honored to get to know this little cactus in the wild, to photograph the little plants, and to watch its recovery.

Change continues. Today there are reported to be over 1.7 million species of plants and animals described by science. And new ones are discovered every day. And, of course, we know nothing of the species yet to be discovered. Only time will tell.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Close up lens selection for larger insects

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Roseate Skimmer Dragonfly, Orthemis ferruginea (m)-
Nikkor AF 200 mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor lens. Fill flash.

 

Last week I was preparing to visit one of my favorite hunting grounds for insects and other critters. The nearby Hill Country Water Gardens is an amazing emporium catering to those who build and maintain ponds. Additionally, they are a very complete nursery with a wide variety of plants. The best thing for me is that they have many tanks and ponds with live water lilies and lotuses. These water features attract many varieties of aquatic insects, including dragonflies and damselflies.

As I was gathering equipment I was selecting the optics appropriate for the day. I knew that I needed more reach than standard macro lenses like my Nikon AF 60mm F 2.8 Macro Nikkor or my Nikon AF 105 mm F2.8 Macro Nikkor. These two lenses are great, but the magnification just is not enough. My longer, Nikon AF 200mm F 4.0 has more reach, but as a fixed lens, there is no angle of view versatility and it will not accept a teleconverter.

So, the tried-and-true solution is a mid-range telephoto lens, with the addition of a teleconverter and for close-focusing ability the addition of a short extension tube. Frequently, a prime lens like a 300 mm lens with a 1.4x or 1.5x teleconverter and a 10 to 25 mm extension tube works well. The arrangement allows a full frame sensor to produce a field of view of about 4 inches and will focus to about 2 feet. That’s perfect, but that arrangement still has no angle of view flexibility.

The answer lies with a zoom telephoto lens, a teleconverter, and if required, an extension tube. With a teleconverter and extension tube robbing the optics of light, a fast lens is most desirable. The solution is a Nikon AF 70-200 mm F 2.8 VR Nikkor lens. To it we add a TC-17EII AF-S teleconverter. This produces a focal length range from 119 to 340 mm and at 200 mm, a field of view of 3.5 inches wide on a full frame sensor. The good thing about this arrangement is that it will focus down to 3.6 feet (measured from the sensor- about 2.5 feet from the front of the lens), plenty close for dragonflies and similar insects.

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Four-spotted Pennant Dragonfly Brachymesia gravida (m)
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter. Fill flash.

 

Canon makes the same arrangement with a 1.4x and a 1.5x teleconverter as well as a 2.0x. Their 70-200 F 2.8 lens will focus to 3.94 feet with a similar set up.

Both Nikon and Canon produce F4.0 versions of these two great lenses at a considerable difference in price.

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Robber Fly, Efferia albibarbis (m)
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter. Fill flash.

 

As these minimum focusing distances are perfectly ideal for butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and other insects and creatures, there is no need for an extension tube. A 12 mm extension tube will produce a 3.0-inch field of view but will further reduce the effective aperture by an additional stop. In some cases, you need all the light you can get for best auto-focusing and low light situations.

Another benefit of not using the extension tube is the lens combination can focus to infinity. This is a great benefit for that surprise bird or other subject at greater distances.

As in all outdoor photography, a flash used as a fill flash about 1.0 EV below the ambient exposure helps produce images with lower contrast, higher dynamic range and with more motion stopping capability. All the images in this article, except the lilies,  were produced with a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight at minus 1.0 EV.

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White water lilies in water garden-
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter.

Copyright © 2018 Brian Loflin All rights reserved.

New Workshops for 2018

The Favorite DigiNite:
Starry Night Sky Workshop-
September 7-8, 2018
$195.00

The night skies are bigger in Texas! Join us during the dark of the moon for an afternoon and overnight photography experience that will be unforgettable. The workshop will be held at Mason Mountain in a very remote Texas location without light pollution to take advantage of the best night skies. The workshop begins at 1:00 PM the first day and ends after breakfast the second. Emphasis will be placed upon planning, locating dark sky destinations, and how to prepare for a night sky photography shoot. Photography techniques to be demonstrated include selection and use of the appropriate equipment, photographic stills of the stars and the Milky Way, star trails, time lapse star motion techniques and light painting with all the above.
Outdoor hands-on photography will include location set-up and star photos of the Milky Way, star trails and landscape features. Transportation, meals and lodging not included.

Only time scheduled in 2018.

Milky Way, Inks Lake, TX

Back by Popular Demand!
Macro & Close-up Photography Intensive in the
Texas Hill Country-
October 12-14, 2018

$695.00

Learn to photograph our small world around us in the heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day photography workshop geared to shooting close focusing images. This highly-praised workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your close-up photographic abilities with newfound skills, tools, techniques and proficiency. The workshop will feature one-on-one instruction and demonstrations with abundant native Texas flora and fauna. Techniques will feature creating the perfect exposure, use of flash and lighting modifiers, one-to-one life size magnification, focus stacking, macro panoramas, and also include collecting, management, and photography of small animals.  Photography will be in the field and lab setting. This workshop is held at Mo Ranch, a 500 acre facility located on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River with aquatic, woodlands, and limestone hill habitats. Meals and lodging included.

Few seats now available!

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Most Popular:
Bird Photography in the Texas Rio Grande Valley-

October 25-28, 2018
$1,495.00

Come to the avian rich Rio Grande Valley for a hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of South Texas. The workshop features hands-on instruction and intensive shooting in some of the best birding habitat available and specifically timed for the best South Texas specialty birds and migrants. The workshop will be held at the 700-acre Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas, a purpose-designed ranch for bird photography.The ranch is preserved with all-native plants and animals and features constant-level ponds, and permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each blind provides outstanding photographic opportunities. A highlight of the workshop is the favorite raptor shoot, featuring Crested Caracara, Harris’ Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Black Vultures and more! At our workshop we bring the birds to you creating an outstanding South Texas birding and photography adventure! Meals and lodging included.

This one sells out fast! Only five spots remain.

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For more information see our web site HERE.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.