Curlews for Christmas

This adventure is about our winter visitor, the Long-billed Curlew but I promise to find a totally non-bird photo or two to finish this off for the year. Yep, I am taking a break after this one until Jan 2, 2015. 

The Long-billed Curlew once bred all over the central North American plains, but now has a more restricted breeding range. Texas is fortunate to have numerous winter visitors. And you have to re-think what "winter visitor" means.

Our winters are mild generally starting in late December or early January and over by March. It is the bird that is escaping the harsh winter weather of his breeding range. So, they show up here way before it gets cold. 

It is amazing that I have been at this long enough that I have a database! I have statistics! I have personally seen Long-billed Curlews on the Texas coast as early as August 26 and as late February 19.

Recently I found several at Surfside and one at the Texas City Dike. Curlews have been the focus of my adventures more than once, and they are always exciting to see. 

Female Long-billed Curlews have much longer bills than the males or juveniles Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Female Long-billed Curlews have much longer bills than the males or juveniles

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

This is a female; take note of how long the bill is. This was taken at Surfside on the north side of the Intracoastal Canal on Sept 13, 2014. The lagoon/pond she is wading in has much less water now. Lagoon seems like such a unsuitable, tropical word. This area is not a tidal mudflat, it is just a depression that fills up with rain water. Not a puddle either, but I don't know exactly what to call it. It isn't a swamp. Coastal marsh land, maybe.

Precision of language, Jonas. Did you see that movie?

Male or young Long-billed Curlew at Texas City Dike Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Male or young Long-billed Curlew at Texas City Dike

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

We spotted this one at the Texas City Dike on Dec 2, 2014. He was in the grass, and then headed for the beach. I got my tripod set up, and Bill was off to my left. We 'triangulated' him which works out rather well. The bird is a bit confused and usually moves back and forth between us. With curlews, you have to worry about depth of field with that long bill. I lucked out with f/5.6; if the bird is in a flat plane to your sensor, you do better.

High-stepping in the grass Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

High-stepping in the grass

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Most cooperative bird. It was cloudy and even with the tripod I try to keep my shutter speed up, because I don't know what they are going to do next! If i was better at reading their movements and behavior, I might foresee a change and quickly adjust my settings, but that is more a goal than a reality at this point. 

Then, last week we were in Surfside on the north side of the Intracoastal Canal looking for Clapper Rails. We did see several but they were on the wrong side of the road, all back lighted and poor photographic subjects. A most frustrating bird. As we were leaving Bill spotted a Long-billed Curlew taking a bath. Below is the unedited photo at 70mm:

See the curlew? way off in the clear water? Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

See the curlew? way off in the clear water?

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

This area is tidal, there are oyster beds all around and the color change on the vegetation indicates the fluctuation of the water level. On Dec 11 the exposed mud was perfect for Clapper Rails. We never expected to see a curlew here. 

Oh, can you see the white plastic chair on the left? I have seen Great Blue Herons perch on that chair. 

I took several shots of the curlew bathing, but it was way too far and the foreground grasses got in the way. He even looked straight at us for a moment, then determining we were no threat, he returned to his bath.

We drove on back to Surfside proper and were discussing the day's events when Bill suddenly made a quick left turn, stopped and grabbed his camera from the back seat.

Long-billed curlew right there in the vacant lot! Photo for documentary purposes only

Long-billed curlew right there in the vacant lot!

Photo for documentary purposes only

The curlew was not 10 feet from the side of the truck. I took this (uncropped) one over his shoulder; you can see the mirror on the right. When the bird didn't bolt, we eased out of the vehicle and set up our tripods. The neighbors all came out to see what we were doing. The bird is expertly camouflaged for this type of habitat so I am not sure they could tell what we were focusing on. 

Long-billed Curlew with successful catch Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/7.1 ISO 800

Long-billed Curlew with successful catch

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/7.1 ISO 800

Looked like he was finding grasshoppers in the tall grass. Sorry about the angle on this one, but I liked the cloud of dust/seeds around his catch. 

Caught in mid-fluff Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640

Caught in mid-fluff

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640

Since they rarely breed along the Gulf Coast, more than likely this young one came down from Utah or maybe even Canada. I do think he was a young bird, but the photo above of him fluffing out makes him look much younger than he was.  Can you see how much shorter the bill is than the earlier female? Wonder why the males and females have different sized bills?

And I promised a non-bird photo. I know, several of you have even admitted to me you never ever read the words, you just look at the pictures. I could name you, but since you never read the text the joke would be lost. 

Beach house at Surfside Photomerge of two images, post-processing with Fractalius and Topaz Simplify

Beach house at Surfside

Photomerge of two images, post-processing with Fractalius and Topaz Simplify

This highly individualized beach house is two blocks from where we saw the urban curlew. Obviously the Homeowner's Association has different rules in Surfside; it is a funky little community of about 500 apparent free spirits. There are houses in three distinct areas and I suppose each section has its own personality. One area has canals and really big houses and really big boats, another seems to be newer construction with mostly rentals. This part might be the original town. 

What a cool house! Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/8.0 ISO 400

What a cool house!

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/500 sec. f/8.0 ISO 400

Most of these houses have names; the above house is called Purple Haze. I saw one named Splish Splash. Does your house have a name? If not, what song would you name it after? Let me know in the comments. And remember, I am on break (hah, she is retired and needs a break?) until after New Years!

Related adventures: Curlew Confrontation or Courtship; A Curlew at East Galveston Beach; Summer Day at Surfside