Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure

Recently I went to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. And Surfside. And old Freeport. And Quintana. And the Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. Suffice to say, it is all south of Houston along the coast. There was a bunch of back and forth traveling, to find the birds and the best light.   But you don't have to worry about that; just enjoy the trip and the pictures.

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge - about 75 miles

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge - about 75 miles

Starting out early morning at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge wasn't the best for the birds. The light was harsh, the birds were not cooperating, and there were other birders and traffic. I was with my photographer friend and we made a quick reconnoiter around the ponds and decided to try some other places and come back late in the afternoon. On the road to Surfside I spied some nice cows. 

Hey, there is always something to photograph, right?

Calf and friendly steer

Calf and friendly steer

Over at Surfside, the beach was too crowded with people to photograph the birds, but there was a tidal area under a bridge. There were some Great Blue Herons fishing, but I saw something new and interesting!

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

This is a new bird for me. Whimbrels probe in the mud for invertebrates and eat small crabs and insects. It will also eat berries and butterflies. This is another one that breeds in the Arctic Tundra, or Canada as I was informed by a loyal reader. I don't know if this is a breeding adult or not. I do know they are wide-spread; I have seen Intstagram folks from South East Asia and Australia post pictures Whimbrels.

Next we went over to a tidal area near Quintana. There were a lot of folks catching crabs off the side of the road and lots of birds. Quintana is actually an island surrounded by mud flats. This is where the 4-wheel drive truck is a necessity.

Tri-Colored Heron

Tri-Colored Heron

Now, you have seen this bird before. This Tri Colored Heron is in breeding plumage; note the blue bill and that pretty white crest. He was really active in the shallow water, looking for fish to spear. And then he starting doing something I had never seen before. 

Tri Colored Heron ... shadowing 

Tri Colored Heron ... shadowing 

See how he is extending his wings? He is making a shadow on the water to increase his visibility for hunting. Or her hunting. These birds look the same, male or female.

He was successful at catching a fish, but alas, I was not successful in capturing it for you.

Sanderling

Sanderling

This is a Sanderling like I showed you in the Texas City Dike adventure. You can see how the breeding colors are developing. There were so many of them, I wonder when they will all leave and fly to Canada to breed?

White Morph of the Reddish Egret

White Morph of the Reddish Egret

Now, this was a exciting find, too. Remember we are in a tidal area; this is salt water. I was hoping to see a Reddish Egret since they don't frequent fresh water like Brazos Bend. They come in these two distinct varieties and both are on the "near threatened" conservation list. And the bird above is a Reddish Egret, but it is the White Morph. The regular one is kind of slate blue with a red-brown head and neck. You can tell this is not a Great Egret or Snowy by the behavior and that pinky-bill with the black tip.

What is so cool about these birds is they hunt and fish totally different from the other herons and egrets. They are much more active, almost hyper in their movements. These jump around and sometimes straight up in the air. Might be for increased visibility; I don't know. Maybe an adaptation for the waves.

After watching the shorebirds, we made a trip through the Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary. It is a small park used by migratory birds as a stopover spot.  And I did see some hummingbirds and a pretty yellow, unidentified warbler. No Painted Buntings, which is on my list and I still hope to see.

Purple Gallinule with a strange item

Purple Gallinule with a strange item

But it was a day for surprises because we saw this Purple Gallinule on the trail with a snake. Or the back end of a snake.

They don't eat or kill snakes, I think he was just investigating this interesting find. The snake was in two pieces; I think the mower might have killed it. These Gallinules are similar to the Common Moorhens and belong to the Rail family. Look at those big yellow chicken-like feet. They usually are poking around in shallow water and walking on lily pads. Finding one on the trail, in the grass, was unusual to say the least.

Purple Gallinule stretching

Purple Gallinule stretching

Then he dropped the snake and commenced to eat grass seeds. The colors are so bright and vibrant. I think I took about 50 photos of him, edging closer each time.

It was getting to be late afternoon, so we headed back to Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. And it was a much better scene.

Birds on the shallow ponds

Birds on the shallow ponds

This time there were Phalaropes, Whistling Ducks, Sanderlings, Avocets and Ibis and Spoonbills. And the secretive Soras. The trick was to isolate one from the crowd for a good picture.

Wilson's Phallarope

Wilson's Phallarope

This year was a bumper crop for phalaropes; they were just everywhere!

They swim in tight little circles; it is thought the whirlpool raises food up from the bottom where it is easier to catch. But it looks pretty funny to see a dozen little birds spinning about in the water.

This are Wilson's Phalaropes and have a very interesting life story. The females are larger and have the brighter colors, and fight over the males. She will lay the eggs, but then he does the incubation and handles all the chick care while she tries to find another male to mate with. Told you it was interesting!

American Avocets

American Avocets

These two long legged birds are American Avocets.  The pretty reddish brown on their heads and necks is only for the summer breeding colors; the rest of the year they are much plainer. They will soon leave for wetlands in the mid-west where they breed in huge colonies.

While we were watching the birds I saw a deer way off on the horizon. No, wait. this is not the habitat for a deer, but what was that golden brown animal moving around in the tall grass?  He started doing these pouncing movements and once I got the binoculars on him... it was a coyote! I am serious. It was much too far away for a picture but he looked straight at me for a few seconds. Wow.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

If that wasn't enough reminder of the perils of prey and predator, there was this nice hawk by the side of the highway as we made our way back to Houston. I am thinking it is a juvenile Swainson's Hawk, but it might be a Red-tailed. Doesn't really matter, does it? It was just looking for something for dinner.

Did you know Quintana is where the Spanish looking for Montezuma's gold landed and found fresh water? Have you ever seen a coyote? Don't you wish I had shown you a picture of a brown smudge on the horizon as evidence I am not making this up?

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