Cranes, Cows and Maybe a Coyote

Cranes, Cows and Maybe a Coyote

In between our two January Winter events (we had ICE, then we had rumors of SNOW) my fave photographer Bill Maroldo and I made a big circle through some old and new birding hot spots. We hadn't taken any photos in a few weeks and finally the weather said "Overcast"...  so, we packed up for an adventure.

By the end of the day we had covered over 200 miles.

This mileage didn't count backtracking and reconnoitering and scouting... 

This mileage didn't count backtracking and reconnoitering and scouting... 

As I said, Galveston was the original target. This time of year you can find Sandhill Cranes in the open fields and I had read about a nature preserve called Lafitte's Cove I wanted to explore. As we neared Galveston, Overcast morphed into Partly Cloudy and eventually Mostly Sunny with Clouds. Not ideal for photos, but you take what you can get.

We wandered around some back roads and did see a few Sandhill Cranes way off in the distance. I was afraid I would have to post photos with arrows drawn toward blotchy lumps and tell you those were the cranes. I am still using the borrowed Sony A700, but these photos are taken with two different telephoto lenses (as noted under the images).

Do you think this is a coyote? Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1250 sec. f/6.3 ISO 400

Do you think this is a coyote?

Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1250 sec. f/6.3 ISO 400

Speaking of blotchy lumps, I *think* that is a coyote. It didn't move like a dog, and this area was all pastures and open land. But it isn't far from civilization at all; those pyramids in the background are for Moody Gardens. And there have been reports of coyotes even in the city of Houston. The last one I saw was in Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, which seemed appropriate. But I still think this is a coyote, too. What do you think?

Great Egret in flight Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Great Egret in flight

Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Scouring the country side for Sandhill Cranes, we came up on this Great Egret fishing in a small pond next to the road. He finally got tired of us taking his picture and flew off. My BIF (Bird In Flight) skills are greatly enhanced with this camera and fast shutter speeds.

Fractalius and Oil Painted Horse Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Fractalius and Oil Painted Horse

Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

I was surprised how rural the bay side of Galveston Island is. Usually, you see all the giant beach houses and developments along the Gulf side, but inland there are horses and cows and houses in progress. Some look like they have been under construction for a very long time.

At the end of Sportsman Road on the bay side, we found a place with Roseate Spoonbills and some other waders. It was still a bit early in the day and the birds were all backlit. Most frustrating. We left and explored the aforementioned Lafitte's Cove, but it was full of humans and we didn't have the patience to sit around waiting for warblers and winter migrants.

R.I.P.

R.I.P.

So we backtracked to the place where we had seen the Spoonbills.

Of course, they had moved off by then and were out of range, but a Northern Harrier had just killed a duck and flew off as we drove up. I know this duck did not die a natural death; too many fluffy feathers about.

I photographed the crime scene and Bill got some fine shots of the perpetrator.

Northern Harrier by William Maroldo Sony A900 with 500mm f/4.0

Northern Harrier by William Maroldo

Sony A900 with 500mm f/4.0

We kept waiting for the Harrier to come back and enjoy his kill, but he was content to swoop around and patrol the area. I entertained myself with a Savannah Sparrow taking a bath in a puddle and then getting dried out in the sun. At least I am reasonably certain this is a Savannah Sparrow; we get about 17 different kinds of sparrows in the winter.

Savannah Sparrow after a bath Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Savannah Sparrow after a bath

Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

The light was getting brighter and we had yet to see any Sandhill Cranes close enough to photograph, so we decided to head down the island to the San Luis Pass and come back home through Surfside and Quintana. And just before the bridge, on the right side of the road...

Sandhill Cranes Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 400

Sandhill Cranes

Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 400

Can you see how big the Sandhill Cranes are? There is considerable variation in height and weight, but they are bigger than Great Blue Herons and if I had to guess, these were over 3 feet tall. We saw about 6 in one flock and about the same number in another group a bit further away. They were eating grubs and grains; you don't find them near water but in open fields. I was so relieved to finally see and photograph some; I was worrying I would have to make that trip to Bosque del Apache in New Mexico before I would finally see one.

Closer to the fence were a group of cows. Cranes and cows ignored each other and didn't seem too interested in photographers, either.

Cow lick Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 800

Cow lick

Sony A700 with 75-300mm 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 800

On down to Surfside and around the Intracoastal Canal, but nothing much was stirring. Then over the bridge to some tidal flats close to Bryant Beach. At this point I changed my 75-300mm lens to a Sony 70-400mm and ... wow. It weighs a lot more than I am used to (camera and lens = 4.8lbs), and I may have to eat a lot of spinach to be able to handle it. But, it will be worth it. 

Killdeer Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640

Killdeer

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640

Mostly Killdeers run like crazy when noticed and you know the story about how they fake a broken wing to distract you from nests and youngsters. This one was walking next to the road and I was able to take a lot of shots out the truck window. I was really happy with this shot; the red eye is especially nice.

Next was Quintana Beach across from Surfside. It was getting colder by then, the wind had picked up and as we crossed the dunes I saw hundreds of gulls headed for the shoreline.

Bill  walking into the gulls, taking photos one-handed with one camera, holding big camera with the other... Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Bill  walking into the gulls, taking photos one-handed with one camera, holding big camera with the other...

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Not sure I have ever seen so many in one place. Most were Laughing Gulls, but there were some terns in the mix. The was just before a serious cold snap and I have no idea if it was weather related, or if they do this every night.

The Birds.... Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640 Silver Efx Pro

The Birds....

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640 Silver Efx Pro

When I got home and started looking at the photos of gulls.... I could not resist. You know the film, The Birds was in color. But, in my mind it was in Black and White.

Are you tired from a whole day of taking photos? Did you know photographers will shoot until the light is gone? Did you remember (falsely) the Hitchcock film was in black and white? Let me know in the comments.  

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A Curlew at Galveston East Beach

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