Outrunning the Cold Front

Outrunning the Cold Front

Well, you really can't but that didn't stop the effort. Locals know last Tuesday's forecast was exciting:

Sometime on Tuesday, most likely between 9 a.m. and noon, a strong cold front will barrel through and significantly cool down the area. Temperatures will fall into the 50Fs by early evening. There is a chance of rain with the front, especially along the coast where moisture levels will be highest.

But the most noticeable effect will definitely be the cold air.

Did you notice the verb in the forecast above? Our cold fronts don't sneak in or come on gradually. Our cold fronts barrel through.

We packed up and headed to the Freeport as it was a nice overcast day ahead of the front. A few sprinkles on the drive down but it was still in the 70Fs and a great relief from the usual heat and humidity. We knew the front wouldn't reach the coast until late afternoon. You can take a lot of photos in a couple of hours; and the rest of the week would be too cold and rainy to get out.

First stop was under the Intracoastal Canal bridge just before Surfside. The water level of the lagoons around the bridge fluctuate; this time the water was extra low with a lot of exposed mud. Low water concentrates birds in smaller areas making it easier for photographers.

Clapper Rail running away from me Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Clapper Rail running away from me

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

And we immediately saw a Clapper Rail. Probably not this one as that subject darted into the weeds before we could even get set up. This guy showed himself briefly and I am going to make a positive statement about him facing the wrong direction. 

Look at the cool white feathers on his tail!

Looks to me like they are starting to get breeding colors; the russet chest and bit of orange on the bill. Last time we saw them most were quite plain with a white chest. Some of those could have been juveniles, come to think of it.

After trying to coax out more Clapper Rails we saw a Turkey Vulture (with his red head instead of the more common Black Vultures), some Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. Most were just a shade too far for my 400mm lens. Since I use it on a cropped camera, the effective focal length is 600mm, but birds can still be pretty small in the frame at that.

Males and female Snowy Egrets look identical. I just decided this was a girl. Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/640 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Males and female Snowy Egrets look identical. I just decided this was a girl.

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/640 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Like this Snowy Egret. She was perched on a short, weathered piling with what I think are ceramic electrical insulators. There are 3 posts in a row out in the marsh, and my cursory Google exploring suggests these white items might be for electrified fences. It is a rural area and might not have been wetlands decades ago. Why so many close together like that is a mystery to me. All I know is now my browser will try to sell me fencing materials after my search.

A few months back we explored the area of Surfside across the bridge. There is a real community of houses on stilts and stores and bars. One of the grid streets leads back to the wetlands on the other side of the Intracoastal canal. It has been very productive for birds when there are not humans throwing nets for bait or walking their dogs. 

Greater Yellowlegs and his reflection Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Greater Yellowlegs and his reflection

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

And today we had the road to ourselves. I found this Greater Yellowlegs searching for fish or whatever looked tasty in the shallow waters beside the road. Again, the water level was low and we saw more Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons and a few more Clapper Rails that refused to become internet stars.

Yes, there is a Lesser Yellowlegs and if you saw them together you could immediately differentiate by size. But, this is the Greater because his bill is thicker and has a gray base. We have them both during the Winter just to make it challenging.

Uncropped photo with obstructed view of bird to show you not all photos are keepers Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Uncropped photo with obstructed view of bird to show you not all photos are keepers

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

And then there is this guy, the highlight of my day. This is a new bird for me, never photographed or even seen. This is a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. You know we have numerous sparrows here on the coast for the Winter; I heard 17 different species but don't quote me on that. And most of them look a lot a like. 

This one is tiny, much smaller than your familiar House Sparrow. A couple of them were flitting around at the marsh edge, almost perfectly blending in with the golden grasses. They make a really soft chirpy sound and spend a lot of time on the ground. Their almost constant movement was a real challenge as the low light was limiting my shutter speeds. From practice I have found that ISO 1000 can be quite satisfactory; higher than that often produces too much noise. I wish it were otherwise, but ... there it is.

I got out my tripod and persevered.

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow sitting still for one instant Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow sitting still for one instant

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

What a great find! And I do want to thank my friends Chris Cunningham and Elisa Lewis for pointing out the presence of this fantastic sparrow in their own blog. Please do check out Two Shutterbirds; they are both great birders and photographers (even if they are Canon shooters). 

We crossed over the bridge and checked out the areas around Bryan Beach but it was starting to rain by then. A gigantic barge was parked in our favorite Pelican Landing Zone, but we did find a wet Osprey near the road. Nothing to show you out of that part of the afternoon.

Great Blue Heron portrait Post-processing with Fractalius, Topaz Simplify and Photoshop Oil Paint

Great Blue Heron portrait

Post-processing with Fractalius, Topaz Simplify and Photoshop Oil Paint

Back around the bridge at Surfside the birds were quiet active out in the marsh. Another Osprey hit the water with a big splash; we saw Great Egrets and even some Roseate Spoonbills. At a distance.

We were losing the light fast.  

View over the marsh toward the refineries at Freeport Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

View over the marsh toward the refineries at Freeport

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

And soon a hard wind was coming out of the North. The temperature dropped quickly and more rain hit. Cold dry air collides with warm moist air and you get a LOT of rain. Cold rain. We took a few more shots from the truck windows because it is hard to pass up any opportunity (the "good" side is away from the blowing rain) and then finally called it a day.

Are you prepared when the weather changes suddenly? Do you make stew or chili? Won't you be glad when this passes and our mild weather returns?

Let me know in the comments. SquareSpace is still working on it, but I know Chrome works for most people. Internet Explorer is totally borked. 

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick

Too Sunny for Birds

Too Sunny for Birds