Week 12 – Texas Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Muscivora forficata at Laguna Seda Ranch

I had driven down to south Texas to photograph birds. After a few days on my own I picked up David Fahrney, a friend from Colorado who had flown to McAllen, Texas to join me. We were planning to photograph at the Laguna Seda Ranch, a few miles north of McAllen. On this particular morning our most capable nature photographer guide, Janice McConaha had taken us to a field used to bait birds of prey. A blind had been constructed and the field was grass with a few dead tree branches here and there.

When we arrived, a pair of scissor-tailed flycatchers was flying about hunting insects. We noticed that from time to time they would sit for a short time on some of the dead tree limbs that were in the field. It shortly became my goal to photograph one of these beautiful birds with its wings extended. I tried as the birds were hunting in flight. Then I tried to focus on a bird sitting and photograph it as it flew away. This did not work very well either.

I persevered and finally came up with a plan that worked. With my camera on a tripod I would pre-focus on an area where I hoped the bird would be approaching a landing. It was useless trying to look through the camera viewfinder and take the picture when the bird arrived. I was always too late. So with a remote shutter release cable attached, I would watch the bird approaching and begin firing a burst of exposures hoping that I could capture the bird with a nice pose and that it would be in focus. Unfortunately the birds did not always come from the same direction or go to the same perch. I do not know how many shots I took, but probably 200 or more. Maybe 25 were sharp. Some poses were much better than others. Then I got the one that you see attached here. It is the male scissor-tailed flycatcher with a moth in its beak. A second later the insect was swallowed.

As a youngster growing up in Albany, GA I developed an interest in nature, and birds in particular. By age 14 I had acquired and almost memorized Peterson’s “A Field Guide to the Birds”. The scissor-tailed flycatcher was very rare in southwest Georgia and I never saw one. It was one of my dreams to see this bird and after 60+ years not only did I see one, but photographed it as well. Just for the record, while I really enjoy birds, I am not considered a serious birder since I have not kept a “life list”.

Technical Data:

  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Muscivora forficata at Laguna Seda Ranch
  • Nikon D800 with Nikon 200-400 f/4 and 1/4X tele-converter
  • Focal length 550 mm, 1/500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400
  • April 16, 2014 at 9:44 AM