When is a Seagull Not?

For most of my life I’ve referred to gulls as “seagulls.” After my recent trip to Colorado and New Mexico, I now know why birders insist on referring to them simply as gulls. There seemed to be as many there as there is here in Tacoma.

I loved watching the Ring-Billed Gulls soar in the brilliant skies above Lake Cabello.

Ring-Billed Gull

The main attraction on the lake, though, were the Western Grebes. Although they shied away when I first walked down to the lake, it didn’t take long before they surrounded me. It was the closest I’ve ever gotten to Western Grebes, even closer than I got at Malheur this year. At close range, the bill looked quite formidable,

Western Grebe

and I could actually begin to distinguish one grebe from each other.

Western Grebe

The online guide that I used to find Cabello State Park said it had the highest Christmas Bird Count of any area in the state. I believe it. Though the sheer number of birds didn’t come close to what I saw at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge later in the week, I saw more birds here than I saw anywhere else in New Mexico or Arizona.

The lake also drew songbirds, like this Western Bluebird,

Western Bluebird

this Say’s Phoebe,

 Say's Phoebe

and this White-Crowned Sparrow.

White-Crowned Sparrow.

It took me a little research to discover that this

immature White-Crowned Sparrow

is also a White-Crowned Sparrow, but it’s an immature White-Crowned Sparrow, something I’ve never noticed before.

None of these were “first’s” for me, but most were birds I rarely see so it was a treat seeing them.

Cabello Lake

Although New Mexico is one of the places I’ve always wanted to see, I was less than impressed by what I actually saw. Part of the problem might have been that I covered a considerable part of the Northern section during night to get to where I wanted to be the next day. Perhaps I made a mistake heading to southern “birding areas” because I was heading to Southeast Arizona next.

Perhaps I missed the most scenic areas during that time I was driving at night, though I wouldn’t count on it. Let’s just say, that I’ll take another way home next time. Unfortunately, the birding wasn’t much better than the sightseeing even though I was following an online guide provided by the state of New Mexico.

I stayed a night at the Lake Cabello State Park, which, surprisingly, turned out to be the best part of my trip through New Mexico.

Not only did the lake attract birds, but it presented a nice contrast to the sage and mountains in the distance:

Caballo Lake

It seemed more like early Fall than Winter in New Mexico. At times, the autumn leaves were breathtaking, particularly contrasted with the dry grass.

Tree with Cow

Without a doubt, though, the dominant feature was the distant mountains that seemed to anchor this land.

Caballo Mountains in the Distance

I’m still struggling with how to capture that stark beauty in a photograph. For now, I’ll have to hold it in my mind.

Playing with HDR Efex Pro

Chronologically it’s time to move on to New Mexico, but I’ve been busy playing around with HD EFX Pro all day to see whether I want to buy this plug-in for Photoshop or not.

One of my concerns with using any HDR program is that the photographs produced often seem overly dramatic to me. For instance, here’s a shot from the Garden of the Gods that I’ve processed with one of the plainer presets from HDR Efex Pro.

HDR enhanced photo

I admit I’m actually rather ambivalent about it. In some ways it does seem to capture the feelings I had while there, particularly the first time I was there. On the other hand, when I sit at my computer and look at it looks too dramatic to be “real.”

Some people imagine that a photograph captures reality, but those who have studied photography for any length of time realize that different kinds of films produce quite different photographs. It was a matter of choosing what style you wanted.

Photographers today are faced with an infinite number of choices. My Canon camera gives me five or six different standard settings to decide what kind of results I want. I happen to prefer to use the plainest setting possible and then use Photoshop to adjust the photo while at my computer. Photoshop, particularly with all the plugins available today, can make your original shot nearly impossible to recognize.

Colorado Wildlife

As much as I enjoyed the Garden of the Gods, capturing pictures of wildlife actually gave me a greater thrill.

Unfortunately, though there were many signs warning of elk crossings, the only one I saw was at night when it was far too dark to get a picture.

I did, however, manage to get several deer pictures. These two does were part of a small herd that I noted right off the road.

Two Does

I like this shot of a buck even more because of how I got to shot. As I was driving through the small town of La Veta, I saw the buck right in the middle of the street taking a drink. I was sure that when I stopped it would immediately take off, but it didn’t move an inch.

Buck Drinking

In fact, it sat there so long that I began to wonder if it was a joke and it had been stuffed and put out on the street. It was only when it finally raised its head as I backed up that I realized it was a real buck.

However, my favorite shot of the trip might’ve been this one of a coyote crossing a snowfield.

Coyote in Winter Coat

Though I was a ways away, once it sighted me it started back towards the woods and I drove off, not wanting to stress him anymore than I already had.