Butterfly Photo Workshop Is a Wrap!

Photographing a monarch

Photographing a Monarch during Jeff Parker’s butterfly photo workshop ~ a creative photo by Beatriz Boillat

Red Belly Ranch hosted 9 photographers for the full-day Butterfly Photo Workshop. A fun day of butterfly photography, learning, and fun on April 27. The cool, dry spring brought us a lot fewer butterflies this year than normal so we had to get creative. Of course, the “dry” spring blew in a big storm that very afternoon and we did get some rain during the workshop. What an unpredictable year it’s been from a natural standpoint!

Captive-raised Monarchs and Painted Ladies saved the day. Remarkably, three weeks later some of the Monarchs are still hanging out in our butterfly garden!

Monarch close-up by Linda Sheppard

Monarch close-up taken by Linda Sheppard at Red Belly Ranch

Several folks had macro lenses and that allowed them to get in close and create shots like this one by Linda Sheppard. We had the butterflies in an enclosed area during the workshop which made it a little easier to get close. Those who found butterflies near the Red Belly’s ponds had some luck, too. Nancy Naylor was especially determined to get a good “wild-butterfly” shot and I believe her patience paid off.

American Lady butterfly by Nancy Naylor

American Lady butterfly, by Nancy Naylor ~ near one of Red Belly Ranch’s small ponds

We discovered three tiny Monarch caterpillars on a piece of milkweed that Mary had picked for a prop (these were some of Red Belly Ranch’s natural inhabitants). That added a nice surprise and some photographic fun (and interest). [An update on the status of these littlest participants: This morning one of the three hatched into an adult Monarch. It is drying its wings as I write this, reminding me yet again what a miracle nature is.]

Monarch close-up

Monarch close-up, by Jeff Parker

We worked on creating backgrounds and participant Nicole Torres was our tissue paper “Matador(a).” I think she had more fun assisting others with their backgrounds than she did taking a single photo! After the workshop, my lovely and talented wife Mary held orange tissue paper as a background for me while I worked to get the shot above.

Backlit Monarch

Backlit Monarch, by Jeff Parker

With the butterflies confined and artificial lights set up just as we wanted them, getting back-lit images proved fairly easy to do.

Monarch on penta flower

Monarch on penta flower, by Jeff Parker

To get butterfly wings sharp all the way across it is crucial to get your camera parallel to the wing surface. Otherwise, the limited depth of field will cause the wing to blur if there is any tilt.

Fleabane by Kathy McCall

Fleabane (and friends) by Kathy McCall, taken during photo workshop at Red Belly Ranch

As always, the Red Belly hosted plenty of other subjects worthy of photographing. As participant Rose Epps said, “Even flies need love, too!” To wit: this nice image of fleabane flowers (and friend) captured by Kathy McCall. The simplicity of shapes and colors work together nicely here.

Beatriz Boillat supplied us with the image below of one of Mary’s wildflower bouquets. Mary really loves this photo and suggested to Beatriz that she create sets of note cards from it.

Wildflowers by Beatriz Boillat

Central-Texas wildflowers, by Beatriz Boillat

Magical Costa Rica

Jeff Parker in cloud forest, Costa Rica

Jeff Parker in cloud forest, Costa Rica

Magical Costa Rica captured my imagination the very first time we traveled there. I had been to a cloud forest in Mexico as an introduction to the tropics. That was magical in its own way as I had never experienced the lush profusion of a cloud forest. But, from that first visit, Costa Rica took that magic to a whole new level. The vegetation, butterflies, monkeys, poison dart frogs, and birds. Ohhh, the birds!

Scarlet macaws, Costa Rica

Scarlet macaws, Costa Rica, photo by Jeff Parker

Wild, free-flying macaws! What a thrill! Of course, pretty much everybody has seen macaws whether in a pet store, zoo or at least on TV. But seeing them wild and free in their natural habitat is a very different experience.

Spider monkey, Costa Rica

Spider monkey, Costa Rica, photo by Jeff Parker

Mary and I came upon a spider monkey troop during a hike. We even got to see a baby. The spider monkeys were cool, but kind of made me think of the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz (which always gave me the creeps).

Blue morpho butterfly, Costa Rica

Blue morpho butterfly, Costa Rica, photo by Jeff Parker

The exuberance and vibrancy of life in the tropics is a full body immersion. You feel the humidity, smell the sweet odor of fallen fruit, hear the birds (the call of the Montezuma Oropendola just says “Central America” to me), taste the fish that was swimming in the ocean and the fruit that was hanging in a tree that morning, and see the wild profusion of nature. After a week I was scheming on how we could move here and the thought still crosses my mind.

Silver-throated tanager, Costa Rica.

Silver-throated tanager, Costa Rica, photo by Jeff Parker

I’m very excited to be heading back to Costa Rica in a couple of months. What will I see this time?

White-nose coati, Costa Rica.

White-nose coati, Costa Rica, photo by Jeff Parker.

Texas Wildflower Photo Workshop Report ~ 2013

Prickly pear demonstrating lighting technique. Photo by: Allan Wyatt

Prickly pear demonstrating lighting technique. Photo by: Allan Wyatt, copyright, 2013

The sold out 2013 Wildflower Photo Workshop was held on March 30. Topics included lighting techniques (as demonstrated by the above image courtesy of participant Allan Wyatt), depth of field, dealing with midday light and a bonus painting with light demonstration.

The first half of the day was spent at Red Belly Ranch and the afternoon saw us visiting a couple of nearby locations with a variety of Texas spring wildflowers.

I enjoyed seeing everybody take the tools and ideas from the workshop and put them to use. With 10 people wandering about it was amazing the variety of images. Each person’s images were a unique expression of their particular vision. Participant, Barbara H., made the statement, “Macro photography is like going down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.” As proof she captured an image that took me several days to figure out where it originated.

Sandyland bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus), Fayette county Texas.

Sandyland bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus), Fayette county Texas. Photo by Jeff Parker, copyright, 2013

This Sandyland bluebonnet image demonstrates use of a large aperture to blur the background, rendering the grass behind the flower as painterly streaks.

Light painting at cemetery near LaGrange, Texas

Light painting at cemetery near LaGrange, Texas. Photo by Jeff Parker, copyright, 2013.

As the afternoon wound down most folks were tired and headed home — after all we’d been at it for nearly 12 hours! However, a couple of participants were in Energizer Bunny mode and accepted my offer of a light painting demonstration. The light painting was not on the schedule but I thought it would be fun for us to do. We headed to an old cemetery near LaGrange and waited for dark. The light painting wrapped up a long, but fruitful day.


* For portraits: Tamron Macro lens
* For scenes: Canon EF 28-135 mm lens
* Camera – either Canon 7D or Canon 5D Mark III (both work fine for this purpose)
* Gitzo Tripod (for scenes)
* Wimberly Plamps

* For portraits: Tamron Macro lens
* For scenes: Canon EF 28-135 mm lens
* Camera – either Canon 7D or Canon 5D Mark III (both work fine for this purpose)
* Gitzo Tripod (for scenes)
* Wimberly Plamps

NANPA Showcase Winner

Mexican Ground Squirrel drinking, south Texas

Mexican Ground Squirrel drinking, south-Texas. NANPA Showcase Winner ~ by Jeff Parker.

I’m happy to announce the above image placed as a NANPA Showcase Winner. That is to say, in the top 100 in the North American Nature Photography Association’s Showcase competition.

It will be one of the images shown during the “Nature and Music ~ Jacksonville Symphony Celebrates Nature Photography” performance on Thursday Feb. 27, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.

This image was taken in May of 2012 on one of the two ranches to which I’ll be returning during my Focus on South Texas Birds tour. Their photo blinds are built especially for nature photographers and provide great perspective just above ground-level, which allows us to capture intimate images like these.

Whooping Crane Photo Tour ~ Trip Report 2013

Whooping Cranes in flight. Click on the photos for a larger image.

Whooping Cranes in flight. ~ Photo by Jeff Parker ~ January 2013.

The sold-out 2013 Whooping Crane photo tour provided us with many great photo opportunities as well as the chance to observe many interesting behaviors of these endangered birds. At one point we had 10 cranes in sight. In the 1940’s that would have been nearly the entire world population as they had hit a low point of just 15.

Whooping Crane in flight.

Whooping Crane in flight ~ Photo by Jeff Parker.

We were blessed with unusually warm weather. That was icing on the cake for the many hours we spent watching and photographing. Most people, including some of our participants, have never seen these elegant birds in the wild. What a thrill and privilege it was!

Whooping Crane eating wolfberries.

Whooping Crane eating wolfberries ~ Photo by Jeff Parker.

Some of the most important foods for the cranes on their winter range at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are wolfberries and blue crabs. Over the course of the two-day tour we were able to observe and photograph the cranes foraging for both items.

Whooping Crane looking for crabs.

Whooping Crane looking for Blue crabs ~ Photo by Jeff Parker ~ Whooping Crane Photo Tour.

We had fun watching this guy as he diligently searched for crabs. He was very persistent. If he thought there was a crab under there he would dig and dig, even putting his whole head under the mud as seen here. He would move the mud aside with his beak and sometimes remove globs of mud in his mouth.

Whooping Crane with crab.

Whooping Crane with crab ~ photo by Jeff Parker

Persistence pays off! I only saw him give up without catching a crab one time.

Forster's Tern in flight.

Forster’s Tern in flight ~ photo by Jeff Parker.

Although our focus was the Whooping Cranes, they were not the only subjects for our cameras. These terns were a challenge to capture as they followed in the wake of barges and boats on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Northern Harrier in flight.

Northern Harrier in flight ~ Photo taken by Jeff Parker during his Whooping Crane Photo Tour.

This Northern Harrier gave us good opportunities for flight shots as she paced the boat while we traveled to another location. I believe most of the participants were able to get good images of her.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher. ~ Copyright 2013; Jeff Parker.

Our captain, Kevin Sims, was always on the lookout for photo ops. Here he positioned the boat at an oyster bar so we could photograph the American Oystercatchers.

If you would like to participate in next year’s tour, check the “Join Me” section of my website as we will be announcing the next one soon.

Big Bend in the Snow

Nugent Mountain with snow, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Nugent Mountain with snow, Big Bend National Park, Texas. ~ Photo by Jeff Parker; copyright 2013.

Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite places. When I heard there was a snow storm forecast for west Texas, I started making plans for a quick trip out to photograph Big Bend in the snow. Since that doesn’t happen often there, I had never had the opportunity to experience this phenomenon.

Six hours later, as I’m approaching Ft. Stockton in the dark, I start to see the snow piled on the sides of IH-10. After feeling a bit of slip crossing an overpass, I reduced speed to 30mph. Good thing I did. The next overpass started my 4-Runner into a slide. Luckily, the ice patch didn’t last long and the truck straightened out on the other side. Time to stop for the night.

Waking at 4:15 AM in the Stripes truckstop parking lot, I stumble in to prepare for the morning. I immediately spy vats of steaming eggs with sausage, eggs and chorizo. Yay! Fresh breakfast tacos! Alas, I’m informed they don’t serve until 5:30…45 minutes from now. I guess they need to age the food a bit to get the correct truckstop flavor.

Onto Big Bend.

Big Bend winter scene with Casa Grande Peak, Texas

Big Bend winter scene ~ Casa Grande Peak, Texas. ~ Copyright 2013, Jeff Parker.

Daybreak finds me in the desert east of Panther Junction, capturing images of Nugent Mountain and the Chisos Mountains with snow on them. The desert is quiet, cold, and beautiful. After a couple of hours capturing different foregrounds and light, it’s time to head up into the Chisos for some real snow scenes. The Lost Mine Trail parking pullout is surprisingly busy, but the beauty of the morning incredible. I enjoy having wild places to myself, but it was good to see others out witnessing this uncommon scene, too.

Being a south-Texas boy, snow is exciting to me. I know those of you to the north may not share my enthusiasm. Anyway, the novelty and beauty of this place I’m so familiar with all sparkly and white was really something. The long drive and early wake-up were totally worth it. By afternoon the event was mostly over. As I was hiking back to the truck the stars started to appear over the Chisos. Tired and cold as I was, I couldn’t resist making a few more images before calling it a day.

Orion through the Window, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Orion through the Window, Chisos Mountains; Big Bend National Park, Texas; ~ Copyright 2013, Jeff Parker.

Bosque del Apache Photo Tour

Dawn Snow Goose blast-off, Bosque del Apache
~ photo by Jeff Parker, copyright 2012.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is one of my favorite places and a must-do for a wildlife photographer. Mary and I met some friends there the first weekend in December. Our first morning held an extravagant sunrise display complete with a Snow Goose blast-off in front of the wild colors.

Seconds after taking the above picture I pulled away from the viewfinder and just stood there with a silly grin on my face and a tear in my eye. For a few minutes photography was forgotten and I just experienced one of the most moving sights I’ve ever witnessed.

Snow Goose silhouette against sunrise colors, Bosque del Apache.
photo by Jeff Parker; copyright 2012.

Soon enough I came to my senses and went back to attempting to capture the beauty of the morning through the camera. Early mornings were spent chasing silhouette images against the sunrise colors. As the color faded, we would head to the crane pools for some Sandhill Crane action.

Sandhill Crane action, Bosque del Apache; ~ by Jeff Parker.

The cranes provided lots of entertainment as they jostled, displayed, and got a running start for takeoff.

Sandhill Crane in flight above distant mountains, Bosque del Apache.
~ Photo by Jeff Parker

Bosque is the best place I’ve seen for practicing flight photography. At times the action is so fast and furious it’s hard to decide where to point your lens next. If you are new to flight photography and/or have difficulty acquiring your target with a big lens, this is the place to be. Miss a shot? Don’t fret as there will be hundreds of more opportunities to try again.

Sandhill Crane against pastel sky, Bosque del Apache.
Taken by Jeff Parker at one of his very favorite places.

When photographing into the sunrise or sunset remember to look behind you. The sky opposite the sun often turns pastel pink and blue. These sky conditions make great backgrounds for your flight photos.

Coyote, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico; ~ photo by Jeff Parker.

Bosque del Apache has plenty of other wildlife besides cranes and geese. Have a camera ready as you never know what you’ll see next. I got a grab shot of this coyote trotting along a refuge road.

Honduras for Nature Photography

During the 2012 photo tour I led in Honduras one of my favorite memories included photographing hummingbirds in the rain. This rain-loving Crowned-Woodnymph frolicked in the water and was really fun to watch. Photo by Jeff Parker; copyright 2012.

When most folks think of going to Central America for nature photography the usual suspect is Costa Rica. Maybe Panama for those who enjoy thinking outside the box. Photographers rarely think of Honduras. But think again because Honduras holds its own wealth of tropical wildlife and I’ve always found it completely safe.

With lowland rainforest, cloud forest, pine-oak woodland, and mangrove estuaries, Honduras offers many different environments to indulge in some great nature photography. And for those major out-of-the-box thinkers and the truly adventurous there is La Mosquitia, the largest expanse of tropical rainforest in Central America.

For a more relaxed photography trip head to the North Coast and the Lodge at Pico Bonito. With a wealth of tropical birds right on the grounds there is plenty to see and photograph.

For me the song of the Montezuma Oropendola is the sound Central America. Over the course of a few days the opportunities to see and photograph Oropendolas, Toucans, Motmots, Parrots, Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers, tropical butterflies and Neotropical migrants seemed boundless.

A side trip to the mangroves of Cuero y Salado wildlife refuge — where this White Capuchin peeked out its head while we did a boat-based photo shoot — always hosts plenty of interesting critters. And a stay in the so-called “Paris of the Mayan World” — Copán — adds even more to the diversity of subjects you can capture with your lens. So…if you’re thinking of a Central America birding/photography destination consider Honduras for nature photography. The people are friendly and the accommodations great…besides, everybody goes to Costa Rica!


While leading a photography walk at the San Antonio Bay Appreciation Day in Seadrift, Texas this past Saturday, we came upon this juvenile Laughing Gull. There were some various colored buildings in the background and I realized that simply by walking a few feet — changing my perspective — I could completely change the background.

Backgrounds can make or break a photo. I’ve seen hundreds of otherwise good photos with lousy backgrounds. While these gull shots are nothing special, they are a good example of being aware of the background. It was an overcast day, so light direction was not a problem. The gull was fairly tolerant of us walking around. This situation was ripe for experimenting with different backgrounds.

With wildlife photography we often don’t have the luxury of being able to walk around a subject and change the background (or changing our perspective). However, being aware of the situation will allow you move yourself when conditions do allow. It’s easy to get fixated on your subject and not notice what the background looks like. After taking a couple of frames, try to settle down, notice the background, light, etc. and see if maybe it’s possible to improve the image simply by changing your perspective.

Happy shooting!

Wild Horses of the Bordo

On a recent journey to New Mexico, Mary and I went on a side trip to locate the wild horses of the Bordo Atravesado Herd Management Area. It took us two tries, a trip to the BLM office and about 70 miles of gravel road, but we finally succeeded in locating them.
Unfortunately, it was overcast and near sunset by the time we spotted the horses. The photography was challenging, but the thrill of seeing these animals was undiminished by the lack of light.

Before we ever found the horses Mary and I were struck by the appalling condition of the range.
As you can see from the above image there is nothing for the horses (or anything else) to eat. These images were made in early September. I can’t imagine how the land will look after the winter.
Even the juniper trees were mostly dead. All the hills were bare. Lots of dirt, no grass and some cholla made up the majority of the range. Did you notice something else in the image of the dead juniper? That dark spot just in front of the tree trunk? A fresh cow pattie. A bit further down the road we found the makers of the cow patties. There was some grass here as it was in a wash which collects more moisture. However, the area along the wash was the only place with grass.
What are cows doing on a wild horse Herd Management Area? From a BLM website: “Under the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), BLM is required to manage public lands under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. Managing use by cattle and sheep, together with wildlife and wild horses and burros, and a host of other uses is a key part of BLM’s multiple use management mission under FLPMA.” With millions of acres of BLM land in the West being grazed, do we really need to graze the land down to dirt? This is a perfect example of what Edward Abbey called “cow burned” land. This is public land, it belongs to all of us. Do we want it ravaged down to dirt so we can collect a few dollars?


I spend a lot of time in the outdoors by myself. Mostly in south Texas. I’m often asked if I’m afraid of insert whatever that person is afraid of. The truth is, at certain times of the year I’m terrified….of chiggers.

Other than these little buggers that hit and run long before you are aware of their presence, I feel the other common fears are overblown. The scariest creature on the planet is Homo sapiens. In the city or public parks you certainly should be aware of this menacing creature. On private land not so much.

Many folks are concerned about illegal aliens in south Texas. I’m not. Entering the country illegally is a big risk and often they have paid big bucks to a coyote to get them across the border. The last thing these people want is to draw attention to themselves. They want no part of you. They want to pass through undetected. That’s one thing I don’t fear.

As for non-human concerns, I feel the dangers are way overblown. Every instance of snakebite I’ve heard of, the person was messing with the snake. I suppose you could accidentally step on one and get bitten. Possible, but unlikely. The rattlesnake in the above picture was going about his business. He wanted no part of me, I had to provoke him into that photogenic pose. Yes, I was messing with him.:)

I already talked about javelinas in my last post. If I were a dog I might fear them, but otherwise, nope. Feral hogs are similarly overblown. I’ve encountered many in the wild and never had one act aggressively. I’m sure if I wounded or tried to catch one it would fight back. Every one I’ve seen in the wild ran off or ignored me.

I don’t know of a single instance of a wild canine attacking a person. I will admit large dogs scare me. Many more people are injured and even killed by dogs than any wild animal. Luckily I’ve not run across any out there in the brush.

There have been a few mountain lion attacks in the last few years. Not in Texas though. There are so few lions in Texas and the only way the ones that are here survive is by being unseen. They are extremely shy and elusive. I would love to see one.

So leave those fears in the city where all those Homo sapiens are!

The Homely Javelina

Mother javelina with babies

The Javelina (have-a-leen-ah) has a special place in my heart. My first award-winning photograph (below left) was a javelina and my first magazine cover (in Texas Wildlife, a mother with her babies — right ) were both Javelina shots.

South Texas Javelina, photo by Jeff Parker

This pig-like critter is not in the same family as pigs. The homely Javelina is actually a peccary. There are 3 species of peccary with the Javelina being the only one found in the United States. They can be found in Texas and Arizona south to South America.

Sometimes confused with feral hogs, Javelinas don’t get as large nor do they tear up large areas with their rooting as hogs do. They are omnivorous but mostly eat plants and roots, with a particular taste for prickly pear cactus.

Javelinas have a reputation for ferocity that is mostly myth. Yes, they will slash open a dog that charges into their midst barking and biting. That is self defense and you can’t blame them. The tales of them attacking people always seen to happen to the brother-in-law of your hunting buddy’s wife’s cousin.

I think the misunderstanding comes from the fact that Javelinas don’t have great eyesight. If they catch wind of you they will bolt in all directions. Sometimes inadvertently towards you. If they see you but don’t smell you, they may stand their ground popping their jaws and raising the hair on their back as they try to figure out what you are. I have spent a lot of time with Javelinas in many areas of Texas. In all cases they either ignore people or run away. I’ve walked into groups of them on ranch land and had them burst through the brush in every direction and I’ve had to physically push them out of the way in Big Bend National Park.

I always enjoy watching and photographing Javelinas. They are another piece of the puzzle that makes south Texas so special.Javelinas in south Texas, wildlife photography by Jeff Parker


Check out my article, Best Ways to Photograph Javelinas, on the Apogee Photo Magazine website.

SOUTH TEXAS PHOTO TOUR:  I run a photo tour at special photo ranches in South Texas about once a year.  If you’re interested please be sure to check my “Join Me” section regularly.

Crested Caracara

This boldly patterned raptor is one of the many south Texas specialty birds popular with birders and photographers. The Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), sometimes called a Mexican Eagle, acts like a vulture and is classified as a falcon. The Crested Caracara is the only Caracara species to be found in the United States. It ranges from southern Arizona, central Florida and central Texas south to Brazil.

The Crested Caracara is not only bold in pattern, but also in behavior. It will frequently drive away the less aggressive vultures, such as the Black Vulture seen exiting the above photo. While Turkey Vultures will thoroughly check out the scene before landing, Caracaras often just drop right on in. With their long legs Caracaras spend a lot of time on the ground. Sometimes they will approach carrion on foot. As I’m scanning the sky waiting for one to appear at the bait one will casually come strolling out of the brush.

As they readily come to any type of meat set out for bait, Caracaras are fairly easy to photograph in south Texas. Nevertheless, these colorful birds of prey are always fun to watch and photograph.

UPDATE:  I thought I’d add some more to this post as, since I first published it in 2012 we’ve had a book come out that includes these birds (Explore Texas:  A Nature Travel Guide).  

Here’s some of the text from the book about these really cool birds:

Bright orange feet, a thick, sturdy, light-blue bill, black and white body feathers, and a clustered black batch atop the head (the ‘crest’) make them easy to recognize.  

Featherless facial skin reflects “moods,” and ranges from pale yellow to red to blue—relaxed, stressed, or angered, respectively.  Long legs and flat-footed talons allow them to run and walk more competently than other North American raptors.

During breeding season, genders court one another by belting out rattling calls while throwing back their heads so far that their yellow crops protrude.  Pairs mate for life and share in the raising of 2-3 young per year.  Crested Caracaras make the only falcon-family members to create nests, which they often begin building two full months ahead of egg-laying.

Rodents (especially packrats), insects, and carrion fuel these birds.  Vulture vomit’s on the menu, too.  In fact, Crested Caracaras often harass their fellow scavengers into regurgitating in order to partake of a ready-made meal.

Are You Naturally Curious? Me too!

Welcome to the blog of Jeff Parker. As a wildlife/nature photographer and naturalist, I intend to share images, photography tips and tidbits about the natural world. I hope you enjoy the ride!