Little Jewels

Little Jewels

During my hunt for Spring migrants, I grew to like those little perching birds. Yes, they are a real challenge to find and photograph, and my 400mm lens is barely up to the task, but... still. There are a lot of pretty ones out there. And it is exciting to finally get a good shot of a rare one, or of an old friend.

Male Scarlet Tanager Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/400sec. f/5.6 ISO 2000

Male Scarlet Tanager

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/400sec. f/5.6 ISO 2000

This is a new bird for me, a Scarlet Tanager, and he is just passing though South Texas. Don't you wish he would stay year round? This is the male in his breeding finery; the female is a greenish-yellow. They are on their way to the Northeastern US. And after raising their chicks, the male molts and then has the same coloring as the female and juveniles. Then they all take off in the Fall for Central and South America to avoid our harsh winters.

Showing you his black wings and tail Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/400sec. f/5.6 ISO 2000

Showing you his black wings and tail

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/400sec. f/5.6 ISO 2000

Here is another view of the Scarlet Tanager. You can see his black wings and tail. He must have been exhausted from his flight across the Gulf of Mexico because he was quite approachable. The volunteers at Lafitte's Cove stick half-oranges on branches and thorns, plus put out seeds for the visitors. That's Texas Hospitality, ya'll.  

Lafitte's Cove in Galveston is a famous migrant hotspot and this time of year you can meet birders from all over the world. Most birdwatchers are thrilled to put binoculars, or even better, a spotting scope on a bird. The bird then goes on their daily list and maybe, if it is a new bird, their Life List. There is a bit of tension between the birders and photographers at this time of the year; we are jostling for access and space. There are signs up limiting tripod setups and other notices admonishing all of us to be quiet.

Some photographers, like me, were once birders and took up photography because they genuinely like watching birds and documenting their behavior. Others are photographers that like natural subjects and accidently became birders.

Birders don't really care much about the vagaries of the weather; as long as it isn't pouring down rain they are out counting the birds. Photographers make the best of the light at the time. And in the woods at Lafitte's Cove, it is dark. ISO 1600 at least.

Hooded Warbler Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640sec. f/6.3 ISO 1600

Hooded Warbler

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640sec. f/6.3 ISO 1600

That day these little warblers were hopping around on the pathways catching insects and tiny caterpillars. At least these guys would get out in the sun occasionally. This is the Hooded Warbler like I saw at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary earlier this Spring. Just passing through as well.

White-crowned Sparrow Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/160 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1600

White-crowned Sparrow

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/160 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1600

And this handsome bird was found at Quintana. This is a White-crowned Sparrow. They winter over most of the US, but breed in the Arctic Tundra AKA Canada. These little guys do a hop-jump in loose leaves to stir up insects and seeds. I had gotten down low with several birds along a path for a better angle, and of course they all flushed once I got focused. This one only flew a few feet into a bare bush on my left. You can still see the dirt on his beak where he was foraging in the path.

And this was hand-held at 1/160 sec. Geez, I surprise myself sometimes.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

And this is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on a barbed-wire fence in Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. Usually these perch high on wires above and you end up with a silhouette against a bright sky. They are so easy to recognize with that giant tail. If you can scan the power lines while driving without wrecking, you might see one.

I did see some near Quintana that were doing arial courtship maneuvers, but they were too far away. That didn't stop me from taking 50 photos just in case, but they were just too small in the frame to share.

This was taken late in the day and we were pulled off the side of the road, actually on the left, but there isn't much traffic on those park roads. I was on my knees shooting out the drivers'  window in a tiny space between the side mirror and Bill's giant lens.

The things we do to get a good photo.

Prothonatory Warbler with lunch Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Prothonatory Warbler with lunch

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/640sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

I showed you one of these that I saw at High Island a very adventures ago. The Prothonatory Warbler is generally a brilliant yellow flash, moving quickly through the tree-tops. I found this one at Brazos Bend State Park along the levee trail between 40-acre Lake and Elm Lake. He was about eye-level in a small tree leaning out over the water. I thought at first he was eating leaves, but no, he was turning them over and grabbing small caterpillars.

Prothonatory Warbler on the ground with a katydid Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/320 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

Prothonatory Warbler on the ground with a katydid

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/320 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

A few days later (and yes, I sometimes go more than once a week) on the same levee trail I saw movement to my left on the ground. I turned and this guy was hopping along not 5 feet from me! He was busy with this ... green thing which I did not recognize until I saw the photo on my computer after downloading. It is a Katydid, and he methodically removed its legs before eating. Since this involved picking up the poor insect and dropping it several times, I suspect it was much easier and safer to handle on the ground than in the trees.

I did get a lot of shots, but it was heavily overcast and I was under the canopy of trees. I was already shooting ISO 1600 with a slow shutter speed so I felt lucky to get a few keepers.

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

Turtle Insanity

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

Just when you think you have seen everything, you realize Nature is still surprising. This Red-eared Slider is sunning himself on top of a 3 ft high stump at the edge of 40-acre Lake.  I cannot imagine anyone setting him up there; there are huge alligators all over. But I never have seen a turtle do so much climbing before.

Sadly, most of the Spring Migrants have moved through our area. I see these same birds on Instagram in now in Connecticut and Maryland. We will have a few that stay in our area and I have learned to look for them... and to listen for their songs.

Did you see any migrants this year? Flashes of red or yellow? Any birds build a nest in your flower pots? Let me know in the comments.

Herons of the Night

Herons of the Night

It is the Season

It is the Season