The National Parks Traveler published my latest photography article. This month’s article deals with focusing on more than just “The Mountain” in Mount Rainier National Park. Click on the photo above to be taken to the article.
Strawberry Pitaya Cactus Bloom
One of the reasons I traveled so far to visit Big Bend National Park, Texas, in late April, was to view and photograph the blooming cacti. I don’t know what it is about being so excited to see these lovely flowers as opposed to any other spring wildflower. Perhaps it’s because I am always so amazed to see something so prickly and painful produce something so colorful and delicate.
Englemanns (?) Prickly Pear Cactus Bloom
Eagle Claw Cactus Blooms
Pollen-Laden Bee and Prickly Pear Cactus Bloom
Claret Cup Bloom
Strawberry Pitaya Cactus
Tree Cholla Bloom
Bee and Cholla Bloom
Two Bees in a Prickly Pear Bloom
Prickly Pear Bloom
Bird’s Nest in a Blooming Cholla
I used several different methods for achieving these blooming cacti shots – all without the use of a dedicated macro lens:
Blooming Prickly Pear and Chihuahuan Desert Scenery in Big Bend National Park
Spring means bluebonnets in Texas hill country.
It’s been maybe 4-5 years since I traveled into the hill country in search of those quintessential blue harbingers of a Texas spring.
One day, last week, a co-worker emailed to tell me she had driven to Chappell Hill and then on to Washington-on-the-Brazos to view the wildflowers. She said the color display was amazing.
So on my next Friday off, I took my cameras and myself on a little drive along Hwy 290 to Chappell Hill to see the color for myself.
Yesterday, I drove out toward Texas hill country to capture some images of the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers – like this field of gold wildflowers (whose name I need to look up). It was a beautiful day and I managed to get some great shots, more of which will be in a future post.
If you are currently in the southeast/central part of Texas, drive Hwy 290 over to Chappell Hill and then take 1155 from there toward Washington-on-the-Brazos state park to see some lovely carpets of blue, red, and yellow covering the fields as well as much smaller spots of scenery.
Although I have a full plate of things to do around the home during the 2012 three-day Memorial Day weekend, I still tend to get a little stir crazy if I can’t go out and photograph something during my time off.
While I may bitch about living in southeast Texas (being a gal from the mountains, I’ll always be doing that), I readily admit that it’s rather nice to have two very interesting photographic ops right at my back door: Brazos Bend State Park, and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.
Right after visiting with my mother on Saturday morning, I grabbed my cameras, loaded them, tripod, and myself into the car, and drove the 20 miles south-southeast to check out the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge.
I’ve been there before, but that was back in 2007 (if I remember correctly). At that time, the road to the refuge center was only paved for maybe 2 miles, and the remainder was all gravel. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that now, in 2012, the entire road to the refuge center is paved.
For the photos you see here, I used my Canon 5D Mark II cameras and my 16-35mm and 70-200mm lenses. I carried everything in my new Lowepro Fastpack 350, which, btw, is AWESOME! I am going to Mesa Verde NP and Arches NP later this year, and wanted something that would carry a camera and long lens, as well as water, snacks, etc. Ok, sorry, I went off on a tangent. The 16-35 lens was attached to the tripod for landscape shots, and I hand held the 70-200 lens (with IS turned “on”) for the wildlife and more close-in images. I find I hand hold this lens more often as not, eschewing the tripod ring. I was pleasantly surprised upon post processing that I really only had to do a very little editing for light/brightness and a teeny bit for sharpness details on some (but not all) of the photos. The light was just right that day – very sunny but with some interesting clouds. So I kept the ISO at 200 and the aperture around 7.1. Oh, and I gotta tell ya, a long lens is a must-have for this area. Unlike Brazos Bend State Park, there are not many places to comfortably get up close and personal to the birdlife, and there is slim-to-no parking alongside the one-lane gravel road past the refuge center. My 70-200mm was ok, but what I really needed was a lens 400mm or more. But….one makes do with what one has.
Next to the refuge center is a boardwalk across Big Slough (pronounced “slew”), leading to a plowed path called Big Slough Trail. I didn’t go very far down the path because:
1) The mosquitoes were horrible (they must have been as large as egrets!) and I forgot to wear bug repellent (I was in too much of a hurry to leave the apartment and that is one of the things I forgot, although I did remember to apply sunscreen and grab a hat).
2) As far as I can tell from my walk and the map, this trail doesn’t lead down to the water’s edge, which is where you really want to be to get those bird shots.
So I did some landscape and flower photography along the boardwalk before heading out along the gravel-road auto tour.
Note: the Texas wildflower book I own is total crap and didn’t list half of the flowers I photographed. I ran some searches online and couldn’t come up with much either, so many of these flowers won’t have captions to them. If you think you know what the un-captioned flowers are, do let me know.
Unknown seed pods.
Unknown yellow flower. There were a number of “look-alikes” in my useless wildflower book, but none of them really fit this image. So I don’t know what these flowers are called.
Unknown little white flowers.
Unknown red flowers.
Basketflower (at least my wildflower book has something).
Unknown white flowers.
Unknown little purple flower.
Big Slough views from the boardwalk.
Big Slew inhabitant
Nope, I didn’t see any American alligators. It was hot already and I’m pretty sure they wanted to stay in the water to remain cool, rather than sun themselves in the growing heat.
After my visit to the refuge center boardwalk area, I climbed back into the car (followed by hoards of mosquitoes) and started along the gravel road auto tour. It’s basically one-way, although they don’t have arrows – instead they have signs with numbered stops (which means there is probably a tour guide within the center that I should have gone in get). It’s practically impossible for one car to pull over to allow a car from the opposite way to pass you….as I can attest….
Texas coastal marshland and wetlands as far as the eye can see.
Gull-billed tern taking flight.
Ibis in the water.
Red-wing blackbird. You can’t see its red markings in these photos but I did when it spread its wings out.
If any of you are interested, I just published to my Blurb Bookstore a 150-page journal titled Texas Coastal Images. Half of the journal is filled with totally awesome photos taken in such places as Brazos Bend State Park, Port Aransas, Padre Island, and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and the other half is nothing but blank lined pages for writing/artwork. It would make a great gift for yourself or someone who is a fan of coastal Texas landscapes, flowers, and wildlife (mainly birdlife). Click on the book link on the left side of this blog and it will take you directly to that particular book in my bookstore. You can preview the pages of this journal and see for yourself the Masterpiece that I have created.
Hey, it’s all about marketing!
I wrote a post awhile back about Brazos Bend State Park in the winter. This post is about Brazos Bend State Park in the spring – well, almost spring – I visited 3 days prior to the official first day of spring (March 20). I wanted to see if anything had changed since my winter visit. Plus, I didn’t have to return the Canon 100-400mm rental lens for two more days.
First thing I noticed: water. More of it. In all the places that had been high and dry before. In case you were not aware, Texas has been experiencing a horrendous drought. Everything that should be wet and swampy, instead was dull brown dirt covered over with clumps of green dry slime that reminded me of nori (seaweed). For this visit, everything looked as it should look in a swampland.
I saw more spring flowers, like these primroses,
and this herbertia,
and these spider lilies,
and this sweet little purple flower which I can’t identify (I’m not very good with wildflower identification, even with two Texas wildflower books in my possession). Anybody know what this flower is? The photo at the very beginning of this post is a wider-angle shot.
I saw Indian paintbrush, blowing in the wind.
And these yellow flowers (which I can’t identify, either), in the swamp waters.
There were more alligators. I overheard one set of walkers tell another set of walkers that during the mating season in April, the alligators get quite aggressive and can sometimes be seen clamped to each other’s necks, rolling over and over in the water or even along the pathway. Now that would be a photograph! All I saw were alligators lounging in the still, reflective swamp waters, posing for the tourists and looking menacing; it really doesn’t take much for an alligator to look menacing, and woe betide the person who so close as to elicit a low, rumbling growl from deep within, as the alligator’s jaws gape open to warn the hapless visitor to back off.
I saw lots more birds. It’s ironic that my photos of the alligators turned out better than my photos of the birds, since the birds were the main reason I drove to the park that day (0f course, alligators don’t’ move much, while birds move a lot). I saw three different little blue herons (you can tell they are the little blues by their brilliant blue beak),
Taking the plunge.
Crawfish catch of the day:
I saw a number of snowy egrets,
roseate spoonbills (way off in the distance, so it’s not exactly a stellar image),
one moorhen in its breeding plumage (none of my photos turned out very well), and a number of other little birds that I could not identify nor could I photograph very well (they just won’t stand still for me, dammit!).
The next time I visit will be later in the summer. We’ll see what other changes (if any) have occurred during that season.