Archive for the ‘Nature Photography’ Category

On December 16, 2011 we made our yearly trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio, New Mexico.  Bosque is a nature photographer’s paradise!!!! Every winter thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and many other migrating birds make Bosque their winter home.  New Mexico’s amazing sunsets, multicolored mountains and bright blue skies make for very special settings to do photography.

Sandhill Cranes leaving their roosting ponds early in the morning. New Mexico's Chupadera Mountains in the background.

“Bosque del Apache translates to “Woods of the Apache.” Native Americans often lived at this river-side forest.  The area was populated  by the Pueblo Peoples centuries before the Spanish explorers came here.  The Spanish established the Camino Real  (the Royal Road from Mexico City to Santa Fe) in the sixteenth century.  The Camino Real ran right through the present-day Refuge.” 1

The refuge is about 58,000 acres and it runs parallel to the Rio Grande River.  The refuge is located on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert.  Water is diverted from the Rio Grande to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests.  These make conditions ideal for wintering birds that come here.

Beautiful Red/Orange skies are common over Bosque del Apache NWR.

We normally started photographing at what are known as the crane ponds.  Here hundreds of Sandhill Cranes roost every night and you can photograph them as they leave their roosting site to go look for food.  It makes for a wonderful setting to photograph the cranes.

Sandhill Crane in flight.

Leaving the roosting ponds in search for food.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes in flight.

This year I tried something new one of the mornings that I was at the crane ponds.  The morning was cloudy and grey and very little light was coming through the clouds.  I decided to slow down my camera by lowering the iso to 100 in order to get blurry images.  I wanted to show movement on my photographs and I was able to accomplish it.  Images are a bit different from what I normally shoot but I really liked the end result.  Below are three of the images from that morning.

Sandhill Cranes taking off. Low ISO setting to show movement of birds.

Cranes in flight. I panned with the birds and a slow shutter speed gave the image the desired effect.

I like to call this one "Rush Hour Traffic" 🙂

After shooting the cranes in the morning we enter the refuge loop and we drive around searching for wildlife to photograph.  We saw mule deer, coyotes, hawks, eagles, Canada geese and many other residents of the refuge.  Even if not photographing, driving around observing all that wildlife makes for a pleasant and peaceful time.  One of the best things about our trips to Bosque is the time spent with good friends enjoying the great outdoors.

Canada Geese

Pintail Duck in flight.

Pair of Snow Geese banking.

Thousands of Snow Geese moving from corn field to corn field in search for food.

Late afternoon shot of Snow Geese flying with the San Pascual Mountains in the background.

We would finish our days of photographing at the same place were we started, the crane pools.  Now we are targeting the cranes again but as they come back to roost for the night.  you can get amazing backlit silhouettes of the birds as they fly in to roost.  The gorgeous sunsets in New Mexico gives you the ability to capture amazing colors as the birds come in to the ponds.

"Come in tower.....requesting permission to land!!!"

Crane Silhouettes.

Crane landing at roosting pond.

Getting ready to roost for the night.

The Crane Ponds.

As you can see the photography is always good at Bosque del Apache.  Every year I come back very satisfied with the images I’m able to obtain.  Going to Bosque is one of my favorite things to do and I always look forward for our yearly trip.  The photography is awesome but the time spent with good friends enjoying the outdoors is what I really look forward to.  This year Dr. Beto Gutierrez, Tan Gutierrez, and Joe Roybal accompanied me on this trip.  We had a wonderful three days spent at Bosque del Apache.  Joe took the photo below of Dr. Beto, Tan and me.  Yes it was really cold and this Central American boy has to wear all kinds of gear in order to stay warm. 🙂

A very cold morning (22 deg. F) at Bosque del Apache. From left to right, Myself, Dr. Beto and Tan Gutierrez.

Until next time. Good shooting and hoping the good light follows you around! Take care my friends.

1. taken from the Friends of Bosque del Apache NWR website.


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Raptor Day!!!

On November 19 we headed out to two ranches here in South Texas looking to photograph raptors. Our first stop was the The Martin Refuge – Javelina Ranch.  Patty Raney, the ranch guide and photographer, invited me to photograph at the ranch.  Our plan was to photograph at the Javelina in the morning and then move to Santa Clara Ranch in the afternoon.

Harris Hawk at Santa Clara Ranch

Crested Caracara at the Martin Refuge

The Javelina Ranch has one of the best blinds, if not the best, for photographing Crested Caracaras.  Within minutes of setting out our bait (chicken leg quarters), dozens of Caracaras showed up to the setup.  I believe at one point we had over 16 at the same time.  In all my outings here in South Texas I don’t think that I have ever seen such a large number of Caracaras come to bait and come in so quick.  We had birds coming in from the left, the right and straight at us.  What a wonderful setup!!! I cannot imagine anyone visiting the ranch and not coming out with some fantastic images.  Here are some of my photographs from that morning:

What a great morning we had at the Javalina.  Congratulations to John and Audrey Martin and to Patty Ranney for keeping such a wonderful place and to make it available for photographers.  To learn more about the Javelina Ranch, visit their website at: http://www.martinrefuge.com/

As planned we moved to Santa Clara Ranch that afternoon.  Patty was targeting a Green-tailed Towhee that she had seen at one of our blinds so she photographed at our afternoon blind #4.  I was still all excited about raptors from that morning that I went to the raptor blind.  At Santa Clara the raptor blind is mounted up on 4 telephone polls so the blind sits roughly 5 feet off the ground.  It was built this way to get nice muted green backgrounds when photographing raptors.  While we don’t have the high numbers of birds that the Javalina Ranch has, we do have a nesting pair of Harris Hawks that nest close by that are pretty regular to our blind.  In the last 6 months we see them all the time when we sit at our setup.  This day I was actually surprised because we had the Harris Hawks show up and we also had 3 Crested Caracaras show up to the setup to feed on the beef kidneys that I had set out for them. Below you will see some of my images from that day.

Well as you can see it turned out to be a pretty spectacular day for photographing raptors here in South Texas.  I was actually very excited this day because it was also the day that I used my new Nikon D7000 camera for the first time.  The D7000 with the Nikkor 500mm lens and the Sigma 150-500 was able to produce some fantastic shots.  I am really amazed on how well this new dslr worked for me.  The high ISO capabilities of the camera are incredibly good.  The 3-D focus tracking for shooting birds in flight was something I had never used and I am really amazed on how easy it was to obtain nice flight pictures in tack sharp focus.  Nikon outdid themselves with this camera.  For information on the Nikon D7000 click here.

For information on the Santa Clara Ranch go to our website at: http://www.santaclararanch.com.

That is all for now folks and remember to get up early in order to get the good light for your photographing adventures.

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After 10 long months of competition the winners of the 2010-2011 Coastal Bend Wildlife Photography Contest were announced on November 5th.  I am very happy to have finished in the top three.  I was able to get 3rd Grand Prize in the competition.  I had 29 winning images and my image of an American Alligator was selected as the People’s Choice for best in contest.  A big congratulations goes out to Rolf Nussbaumer who claimed the 1st Grand Prize this year.  His photography is amazing and he deserved to take first place.  In my opinion Rolf is one of the best, if not the best, nature photographer in the country.  Congratulation also to Bill and Sharon Draker as they took 2nd Grand Prize.  They are wonderful photographers and I have admired their work for many years.  4th Grand Prize was won by James Fuller and 5th Grand Prize was taken by Dean Johnstone.  They entered some fantastic images in the contest.  A big congratulations also goes out to all the other photographers that had winning images in the contest.  These contests are tough to participate in and the competition is fierce.  Anyone with a winning image worked really hard to obtain it.

American Alligator - People's Choice Award - 1st Place All Other Reptiles

I paired up for the contest with the Fennessey Ranch in Refugio, TX.  What a wonderful place!!!! The owner Brian O. Dunn has done such a wonderful job in preserving the native brush in order for wildlife to thrive in his property.  At the Fennessey you will find 4000 acres of land that acts as a sanctuary for birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates of all kinds.  The folks at Fennessey are strong believers in preserving the lands so that our kids can enjoy it in the years to come.  I want to thank everybody at Fennessey, specially the staff, for helping me during the contest.  Sally, Mog, Chuck and Jeannie were a big part of our success this year.  Without their help I wouldn’t have placed so high.

Before we get to the images I would like to thank my photographer friends that helped me during the contest.  A big thank you goes out to Todd Steele, who runs the photo club at Fennessey, for all his great help and guidance.  Todd has been photographing at the Fennessey for multiple years now and his help with locating wildlife and pointing me in the right direction was of tremendous value in my effort this year.  Thank you Todd.  Another photographer friend that helped me by giving me pointers and actually travelling to Fennessey with me is Lance Krueger.  Lance is the best deer photographer in the nation.  Pick up a copy of Field & Stream or Outdoor Life and if you see a deer on the cover, 95% chance is one of Lance’s images.  I learned so much from Lance in regards to calling game animals.  Just by observing how he operates when in the field was of great value to me.  Thank you Lance for your help, it’s greatly appreciated.  Last and definitely not least is my good friend and mentor Dr. Beto Gutierrez.  Dr. Beto travelled to the ranch with me for the last 10 weekends of the contest to serve as my photo assistant.  Having him as an assistant during that time enabled me to create some wonderful images.  If Dr. Beto hadn’t been there the final result would have been very different.  I was able to accomplish what I did due to Dr. Beto’s help and guidance.  I don’t know anybody else that loves the outdoors and the Texas brush more than Beto.  His passion for photography and wildlife is in-measurable.  Thanks Doc for all your great help, guidance and support.  We did some heavy bonding, like he calls it, while at the Fennessey.

Like I mentioned earlier I had 29 winning images in this contest. You saw the alligator People’s Choice Award above, now here are the remainder of my winning images. So until next time, may the good Lord bless you with good light in all your photographing endevours.  Hasta pronto!!!


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Last night was the awards ceremony for the 2010 Valley Land Fund Photo Contest.  I am very happy to announce that I walked away with top honors this year.  I took First Grand Prize in both the Pro Division and the Open Division.  One of my images also got Best of Contest in the Pro Division.   In the end I had a total on 25 winning images in both divisions.  All the photographer’s images in the contest were fantastic.  To be able to walk away with top honors is an honor and I am humbled by this award.

The Pro Division
This is the tough division.  This year we were given two months, from June 1 thru July 31, to get 50 images to enter in this division.  All entries must be taken during these two months and they must be taken in the 8 counties that make up South Texas (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Kennedy, and Brooks county).  Images must fall into different categories that range from fauna, flora, scenics, and landscapes.

Awards Won in Pro Division
– First Grand Prize – Best portfolio submitted.
– Best of Contest – Best Image of all Division.
– 20 winning images in the different categories.

(click on images for larger view):

Praying Mantis – taken at the Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates Portraits.
Best of Contest – Pro Division

Swainson’s Hawk – taken at the Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Mammals and Bird Portraits.

Great Plains Rat Snake – taken at Casa Santa Ana, Hidalgo County.
Winner – Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates Portraits.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates Portraits.

Greater Roadrunner w/ Frog – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Birds and Mammals Portraits.

Cottontail Rabbit w/ Wasp – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Birds and Mammals Portraits.

Gulf Coast Toad – taken at my backyard, Hidalgo County.
Winner – Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates Portraits.

Sunflower – taken at Casa Santa Ana, Hidalgo County.
Winner – Flora Portraits.

Whitetail Deer – taken at Port Mansfield, Willacy County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Birds or Mammals.

Pyrrhuloxia – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Birds or Mammals.

Dung Beetle – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates.

Mexican Ground Squirrel w/ Grasshopper – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Birds or Mammals.

Texas Tortoise – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates.

Black Widow’s Prey – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates.

Greater Roadrunner – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Birds or Mammals.

Milky Way Galaxy – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Skies & Water.

Hurricane Alex – taken at Padre Island National Seashore, Cameron County.
Winner – Skies & Water.

Cloud Formations – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Skies & Water.

Coyote Skull w/ Sunflowers – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Flora.

Mesquite @ Night – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Flora.

The Open Division

The Open Division of the contest was a little bit easier, but not much.  In the Open Division you can enter images up to two years old (taken after Jan. 1, 2008) as long as the images were taken in the 8 counties that make up South Texas.  This portfolio is made up of 25 images.  It is easier since you can enter images that are up to two years old, but you need to enter very strong images since you will be competing with other photographers’ best images dating back two years.  I was fortunate enough to enter a strong portfolio from some of my past images and some recent ones as well.

Awards Won in Open Division
– First Grand Prize – Best portfolio submitted.
– 5 winning images in the different categories.

(click on images for larger view):

Great Plains Rat Snake – taken at Casa Santa Ana, Hidalgo County.
Winner – Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates Portraits.

Night Blooming Cactus – taken at Tres Presas Ranch, Hidalgo County
Winner – Flora Portraits

Bobcat – taken at Campos Viejos Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Birds or Mammals.

Snail – taken at Santa Clara Ranch, Starr County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates.

Spanish Daggers w/ Star Trails – taken at El Desierto Ranch, Hidalgo County.
Winner – Scenes w/ Flora.


This was a very tough contest.  The high South Texas summer temperatures combined with record humidity (we had one of the wettest summers in history) made for some uncomfortable situations.  The record rainfall (one hurricane and two tropical systems), the South Texas summer windy days, the helicopter sized mosquitoes, the Rio Grande flooding, were some of the things that made it a challenge to photograph during this contest.  In the end it was still a lot of fun to photograph and I cannot wait for the next contest.

I cannot take full credit for these images.  Yes I was the person behind the camera, but I had help from the different landowners and other photographer friends that helped me by giving me advise and by assisting me in the field. I would like to thank the following persons:
Land Owners

Dr. Beto and Clare Gutierrez – Owners of Santa Clara Ranch.  Dr. Beto opened up his ranch to all photographers in the contest.  After visiting the Ranch once I knew I would base myself there for much of the contest.   Dr. Beto’s love for the land and love for conservation shows by how much effort and time he puts into Santa Clara.  He gave me full access to the Ranch plus assisted me in the field many days.  Thank you Dr. Beto for your help, guidance, and most importantly for your friendship. 

Judy and John McClung – Owners of Casa Santa Ana.  I called the McClungs one week before the contest to ask if I could photograph at their place.  I had heard great things about their property from other photographers.  They welcomed me and gave me full access to their place during the contest.  Thank you very much for your help and for your support.  Casa Santa Ana is a wonderful place.


A friend once told me that Nature Photography can be defined by long periods of inactivity with short bursts of action.  I agree 100%.  Unfortunately the long periods of inactivity can be very, very long. So being in the field by yourself can be relaxing and very rewarding, but as a whole is somewhat boring.  I have learned that actually being in the field with other photographers that share your passion can be twice as rewarding and a whole lot more fun than being out there by yourself.  Here is some photographer friends I would like to thank.

Kevin Hurt – I met Kevin at a TexNEP meeting a few years back.  We started going out photographing together shortly there after.  I gotta say there in not a dull moment when we go out photographing together.  Kevin went out with me many times during this contest.  His help with pushing deer my way, calling wildlife in with his famous Javelina Call (it actually scares them more than attract them), staying up till 3:00 am to photograph the milky way (it’s scary in the brush at night when you are by yourself), and lending me his spare 50 lb tripod after I ran over mine with my truck, were instrumental in this contest.  Thanks Kevin and your check is in the mail (snail mail btw).

Dr. Beto Gutierrez – Dr. Beto is not only Santa Clara’s owner but a very accomplished award-winning photographer as well.  His help on the field was a great value to me.  Thank you for all your help, thank you for all the grasshoppers, and a great big thank you for grabbing that rattlesnake by its tail so that I could photograph him.

Ruth Hoyt – Ruth is the reason I got into nature photography.  After taking one of her classes back in 2007 I was hooked.  She was also this year’s photo contest director.  Thank you Ruth for all the hard work that you did, we all know how rough you had it.  Thank you for your support and all the help you have given me in these past 3 years.

Last but definitely not least, I want to thank my family for their continuous support.  Without their love and support I wouldn’t be able to do this.

So until next time, may the soft diffused light follow you always.  Good shooting everybody. Ciao.

All images © 2010 Hector D. Astorga.  All rights reserved.

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Photographing at a waterhole here in South Texas gives you ample of opportunities to get great images.  On very hot summer days loads of wildlife comes to the ponds to drink water.  Setting up near one will  reward you with plenty of wildlife to photograph and also give you unique images you can not get by just venturing out into the brush.   One of those opportunities is the reflections you get off the water when it is a calm day.

At Santa Clara Ranch the photography setups are excellent for this.  The blinds are built into the ground about 4 ft deep.  This gives you the ability to photograph at ground level and get beautiful low angle images.  Click on the image to the left to see one of the blinds at the ranch.

Below are some of my best reflections images captured at Santa Clara Ranch this summer (click on the images for a larger view):

Cottontail Rabbit coming in for a drink on a hot summer day.

6 Northern Bobwhite Quail of a covey of about 25 that came in to drink one morning.

Whitetail Doe at Blind #3.

Male Cardinal landing.

Hispid Cotton Rat. Who says rats can’t be cute?

Mexican Ground Squirrel.

White-tipped Dove around the pond.  “You Talking to Me?”

Good setups, water and plenty of heat made these images possible.  Come visit us at Santa Clara Ranch and you too will be able to capture the abundant wildlife at the ranch.

Until next time, may the Lord bless you with good light. Happy shooting everybody. 🙂

All images © 2010 Hector D. Astorga.  All rights reserved.

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The images on this post are from three recent trips to Port Mansfield, TX.  On all trips our mission was to target newly born fawns.

My friend Kevin Hurt and I ventured out on the first trip about 5 weeks ago.  I was still photographing for the Valley Land Fund photo contest at the time so I was hoping to come back with some great fawn images for the contest.  Well it didn’t work out as planned.  We did find some fawns but I was unable to get one to follow me to the more open brush so I could get a better photograph of him/her.

I was able to get some nice images of some bucks that did make the cut for the photo contest.  Below are the two images that made it.  The first was entered in the Mammal Portrait category and the second on the Scenes w/ Mammals category.  I’ll find out on October 2 if any of these two images placed in the contest.

The later trips were more succesful in getting the fawns to cooperate.  On the last trip, 5 South Texas nature photographers ventured out together.  We had a great morning shoot even though our day was cut short by Tropical Storm Hermine.  Larry Ditto, Dr. Beto Gutierrez, Randall Ennis, Kevin Hurt and I headed to Port Mansfield early Labor Day morning.  Under the threat of thunderstorms we were able to photograph some of the biggest bucks that I have seen in Mansfield.  Below you will find the images from the last two trips.

2nd trip images

3rd trip images

I ended up with some nice images on that last day shoot but what I really enjoyed was going out to photograph with a great group of friends.

Until next time, may the good light follow you and the photo opportunites be plenty.  Ciao.


All images © 2010 Hector D. Astorga.  All rights reserved.

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