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Photography Workshops by Christopher Dodds


Nature Photography Blog Journal Index

Shakin' off the Texas heat ...

Green Jay, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F6.3, 1/1250s Aperture priority @ +1/3, Flash with Better Beamer ETTL II -2+2/3

The Texas heat measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit or more during the day. I’m sure it got much warmer than that in the dark photo blinds (where we seemed to spend far too much time), as it seemed like sitting in an oven. All of our set-ups around the blinds included water, a vital ingredient in the desert. I love watching, and studying, my subjects while photographing them, so it was fun to see the Green Jays shaking-off the heat and enjoying the cool water. While doing their courtship display, Green Jays bob up, and down, while making a really cool cartoon-ish like spaceship sound.

I am in the mist of trying to prepare for my Point Pelee workshop, and putting together some fresh marketing material for my Bonaventure Island Gannets Galore workshops in June. I hope to make another post tomorrow, before I make the twelve hour drive to Pelee on Thursday morning.


Golden-Fronted Woodpecker & a prayer

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, Cozad Ranch, Linn, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F8, 1/800s Aperture priority at +1/3, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

The Golden-Fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons) consumes about as much fruit and nuts as it does insects. During the summer in Texas, the faces of some woodpeckers become stained purple from eating the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.

TIP: You have probably noticed that most of the images that I’ve posted from the trip so far are vertical. I try to shoot verticals as often as possible, it’s sometimes rather difficult to make a cover with a horizontal image ☺

Please say a prayer for 15 month old little-man, Ronan, who is fighting for life and breath, and for his parents, Heather & Mike. Be strong and get well, little buddy!



Green Jay

Green Jay, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 800, F6.3, 1/1600s Aperture priority @ 0, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Green Jays have been observed using sticks as tools to extract insects from tree bark. A group of Jays has many collective nouns, including a “band”, “cast”, party”, and “scold” of Jays.
There was no shortage of these gorgeous, stunning Green Jays while at the Ramirez Family Ranch in the Rio Grande Valley near Roma, Texas. Artie kept calling the place “Green Jay Heaven”. As photographers, we often dream of golden light each morning and afternoon. While in Roma, we were blessed with cloudy, bright conditions each day; much like a huge soft-box in the sky. This allowed us to photograph well past when the light would turn harsh on a golden morning day, allowing us to maximize our time with the broad variety of birds there.


Painted Bunting - Home safe

Painted Bunting, Cozad Ranch, Linn, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F9, 1/100s Aperture priority at 0, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

One of the most brilliantly colored birds in the United States, the Painted Bunting is the only bird in the U.S. to have a blue head and red under parts. A group of Painted Buntings are collectively known as a "mural" and a "palette" of buntings.

After Artie dropped me off at the airport at 04:00 yesterday morning (thanks again, Artie), I slowly made my way from McAllen, Texas to Montreal, Quebec via Houston and Cleveland. The first two flights were un-eventful and the only noticeable difference flying with the threat of swine flu was the amount of refreshing fresh air in the cabin. I’m a seasoned flyer, and constantly complain of feeling deprived of oxygen on commercial flights since the price of fuel sky-rocked way back (airlines save a fortune by reducing the amount of fresh air intake).
Like most nature photographers who travel, I have a large carry-on (a Think-Tank Airport Security roller), and it’s usually fully packed with cameras and long lenses. I was un-able to talk my way on board with the bag, until I noticed the Scottish accent and enamel pin on the lapel of the lady at the check-in counter. It was two flags, an American, and a Scottish one, and they were crossed at the middle of the flagpole. I commented that I had a similar badge, but it was the Union Jack crossed with the Canadian Maple Leaf. She immediately proceeded to assign me the last three available seats on the regional jet, and asked me to pre-board, remove and stow my camera gear in an overhead bin (with blankets and pillows), and then gate check my empty bag. Thanks-you to the nameless Continental Airline lady with the crossed flag lapel pin.


Homeward Bound


Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F8, 1/100s Aperture priority +1/3, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Once called the Cactus Woodpecker, the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker was first described in 1829 by German herpetologist Johann Georg Wagler. It is found in desert and arid environments in the United States, and in the pinelands of Central America.

Artie dropped me off at the airport in McAllen, Texas at 04:00 this morning (thank-you, Artie) and I am now in Houston waiting for my connection to Cleveland, en route home to Montreal. It's been an amazing trip, at a furious pace, for the last 19 days of photography and travel. We've had a blast, got many keepers and added many stories to tell. I have so much to be thankful for, but most important is the friends and people I meet along my path in life. I need to say Thank-You to Arthur “Artie” Morris for far too many things to mention here, but most important is his friendship. Artie will continue driving north, until I meet him at Point Pelee, Ontario (in only 6 days), where Artie will be co-leading my Pelee Songbirds Workshop with me. Travel safely, Artie. As great a trip as it has been, I look forward, very much, to getting home to Julie and T-Bone.
I have a massive amount of work to get done before heading off to my Songbirds of Pelee Workshop on May 7th, but I’ll make sure to post more images from this trip during the days ahead.

Did you know that a group of woodpeckers has many collective nouns, including "a descent", "a drumming" and "a gatling" of woodpeckers.



Cozad Ranch, Linn, Texas

Pyrrhuloxia, Cozad Ranch, Linn, Texas

©Christopher Dodds

Canon EOS 1DsMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F8, 1/640s Aperture priority +1/3, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Named from Greek terms describing its coloration and the shape of its bill, the Pyrrhuloxia is often called the "Desert Cardinal".

After an unforgettable morning on Tuesday, April 28 at the Ramirez Family Ranch, we drove the 50 odd miles to the Cozad Ranch in Linn, Texas. The 5,000 acre Cozad Ranch seems even hotter and drier than it felt while in Roma. The birding has been great, with many more keepers to edit and optimize (where will I find the time - smile). I have this afternoon, tomorrow morning and afternoon here, before flying home on Friday, May, 1. It's been an amazing trip with many images and stories to tell. I will be continuing to post images from the trip as I start to edit & optimize them.



Ramirez Ranch, Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Bronzed Cowbird Displaying, Ramirez Family Ranch, Roma, Texas


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 800, F6.3, 1/250s Aperture priority +2/3, Flash ETTL II -2+2/3

Aperture priority is the way to go when the light is constantly changing.

On Friday, April 24, we had planned on one last morning session photographing at Los Madrones Ranch before driving the nearly 575 miles to Roma, Texas. Our hopes of golden light faded into light rain and a very dark sky. Those who know me know that I'm not afraid of photographing in the rain, but it was simply too dark to photograph tiny little warblers on speed that twitch, jump, shake or fly away every time you press the shutter release button (or 1/1000 of a second before you press the shutter button). As Artie took up his favorite position behind his laptop in the back seat, he endured yet another "Driving Miss Artie" from me; he's a great sport and we've been getting along famously for the more than two weeks we've been on the road trip. You can read Artie's version here
That afternoon, we arrived at the Ramirez Family Ranch where Artie introduced me to Roel and his son, Michael Ramirez. We got the grand tour of the ranch that we have had to ourselves, and made ourselves at home on the 1,000 acre ranch. Roel, along with Artie's help and guidance, have set-up a network of pretty elaborate morning and afternoon blinds over the years. We've enjoyed bright, cloudy skies most mornings and some phenomenal photography of many varied species.
Special thanks to the Ramirez Family, Roel and Michael, who have treated us like kings.



More from Los Madrones Ranch

Black-Crested Titmouse, Los Madrones Ranch, Dripping Springs, Texas


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F8, 1/500s Manual.

Carolina Chickadee Los Madrones Ranch, Dripping Springs, Texas


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 2X II Tele-converter

ISO 400, F9, 1/800s Manual

Another Great day at Los Madrones Ranch in Texas Hill Country. We are off to another ranch in Roma, Texas after our last morning session here in Dripping Springs tomorrow. Thanks again to Michael and Julie Murphy


Los Madrones Ranch - Texas Hill Country

Golden-cheeked Warbler (male) Dendroica chrysoparia (Paruline à dos noir) Los Madrones Ranch (Texas Hill Country), Dripping Springs, Texas. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds All Rights Reserved. Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 IS, 2X II Tele-converter, Gitzo 1325 Tripod and Wimberley Head II. ISO 640, F8 1/800s Aperture Priority mode (-1/3 stop).

On Tuesday, April 21 at 03:30 we got an early start and drove the 675 miles to Los Madrones Ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas. After avoiding a collision with a rogue wheel early on, the drive was relatively uneventful. Micheal Murphy greeted us around four o'clock, and showed us around the gorgeous Casita that we will call home until Friday, April 24. We spent the last hours of light photographing Black-Crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee and House Finch in prime breeding plumage. We also had some great looks at five great Sparrows (more to follow in another post).

The highlight of the trip so far was when Greg W. Lasley (Texas' premier birder) arrived and took us to photograph the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler. It was an amazingly productive and satisfying morning.

Special thanks to Greg W. Lasley and to Michael & Julie Murphy @ Los Madrones Ranch. If you are planning a trip to Texas, be sure to look them up (512) 264-1741 

The Golden-cheeked Warbler Dendroica chrysoparia Paruline à dos noir is an endangered species of bird that breeds in Central Texas, from Palo Pinto County southwestward along the eastern and southern edge of the Edwards Plateau to Kinney County. The Golden-cheeked Warbler is the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Texas. Golden-cheeked warblers nest in ashe juniper and live oak trees in ravines and canyons. They use bark and spider webs to build their nests. Females lay three to four eggs. Warblers eat insects and spiders and the adult warbler can reach a length of 4.5 inches. They winter in southern Mexico (Chiapas), Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The warbler is endangered as many juniper and oak woodlands have been cleared to build houses, roads, and stores or to grow crops or grass for livestock. Other woodlands were flooded when large lakes were constructed.


Dauphin Island, Alabama - made it!


American Oystercatcher Fort DeSoto, Florida


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F8, 1/1000s Manual

On Tuesday April 14, after seeing the closest thing to a tornado (that wasn't) at Fort DeSoto, we drove to St. Petersburg to pick up Artie's Sequoia. After only a few short minutes, we realized that we would be spending the rest of the afternoon waiting for the work to be finished. Our plans to start driving to Alabama would have to change, so we called our friend, James Shadle, who agreed to take us aboard his boat, the Hoopty Deux the next morning.

Roseate Spoonbill Tampa Bay, Florida


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F5.6, 1/1250s Manual

After returning the rental car the night before, we met James and ventured out into Tampa Bay to a Roseate Spoonbill rookery where we spent the morning photographing Spoonbills, White and Glossy Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Great Blue and Tri-Colored Herons, Willets, etc. Like all good things, our morning with James ended, and we started our drive to the hotel to pick-up our luggage. Shortly after we took a wrong turn (no, I wasn't driving), all of the dashboard warning lights started to flash and the engine stalled right in front of a Honda dealer, and about 200 yards from a different Toyota dealer than had done the work. I don't think there could have been a better place to realize that the first Toyota dealer hadn't put the radiator's bottom hose clamp back in place, next to the thermostat. The hose had come off, and we had lost all of the coolant. Another afternoon was wasted as we waited for a tow and arranged a rental car. After realizing that our plans to start heading to Alabama must change again, we started heading back to Fort DeSoto and called another friend, Jim Neiger, who agreed to take us out on his boat on Lake Taho the next morning to photograph Snail Kites. Conditions at DeSoto were great, and we photographed Marbled Godwit, American Oystercatcher, Dowitcher, Willet, and Semipalmated Plover until sunset.

After an early wake-up call, we hit the road and drove to Kissimmee where we met Jim and had an amazing day photographing Snail Kites, Limpkin, Least Bittern, Purple Gallinule, and Barred Owls. The afternoon proved to be a challenge, as we endured the second (out of three) afternoon with winds from the East. We drove back to the hotel in Brandon, and were pleasantly surprised to find our vehicle had been delivered there as promised.

Snail Kite Kissimmee, Florida


Canon EOS 1DMKIII, 500mm F4 Lens with 1.4X II Tele-converter

ISO 250, F5.6, 1/1000s Manual

On Friday, April 17, we again got an early wake-up call, and drove the 570 miles to Dauphin Island, Alabama, and are now enjoying some great birding and wonderful southern hospitality. Special thanks to all who showed us around, fed us and were just plain lovely people. There are far too many to thank, but you all know who you are; Thank-you!

Photography at Dauphin Island has been good, with a small fallout of warblers this morning. We'll be up before the birds to make the 12 hour drive to Texas early tomorrow morning.

The hardest part of the trip is editing, optimizing images, and staying awake long enough to make blog entries.