Chicks and Babes

Chicks and Babes

I have made numerous trips to Brazos Bend State Park lately getting used to the new Sony A77 II. And just like any other skill, you have to practice, evaluate, fine-tune and then practice some more. I really wish the editing software (I use Bridge and Photoshop) would include the Focus Area choice in the EXIF data. It is impossible to remember which one you used for a particular shot when you take hundreds of photos in a day. I suppose that is too much to ask and it is probably proprietary info anyway.

First, I want to show you something that is making life much easier on these adventures.  Look at this cool collapsible wagon we got from Amazon! When my fave photographer Bill Maroldo and I go out we usually carry (approximate weights):

Cool collapsible wagon.

Cool collapsible wagon.

  • A77II camera with 70-400mm lens (5 lbs)
  • A77II camera with 500mm lens (11 lbs)
  • Tripod with Wimberly Gimbal head (6.6 lbs)
  • A850 with 100mm lens and flash for macro shots (5 lbs)
  • Panasonic FZ200 for macros
  • two milk crates for sitting on the grass/ground/mud


We had been toting all of this, but it is just too much in the heat. Now we can carry water in our new fancy jug, a small bag with extra batteries, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, lens cleaning kit, towels and snacks. We also carry big black trash sacks and little clips to cover the whole open area in the event of sudden downpours. Which came in really handy last trip.

40-acre Lake rapidly evolving into a meadow from uncontrolled Water Hyacinth growth. The brown strips are from herbicide sprays. Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

40-acre Lake rapidly evolving into a meadow from uncontrolled Water Hyacinth growth. The brown strips are from herbicide sprays.

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

It was a nice overcast day, with some sunny periods. This is the east end of 40-acre Lake at Brazos Bend State Park. Water Hyacinth has been taking over the open water and they have been testing some sprays to control the growth.

Water hyacinth is listed as one of the most productive plants on earth and is considered the world's worst aquatic plant. It forms dense mats that interfere with navigation, recreation, irrigation, and power generation. These mats competitively exclude native submersed and floating-leaved plants. Low oxygen conditions develop beneath water hyacinth mats and the dense floating mats impede water flow and create good breeding conditions for mosquitoes. Water hyacinths are a severe environmental and economic problem in all of the gulf coast states and in many other areas of the world with a sub-tropical or tropical climate. This species has rapidly spread throughout inland and coastal freshwater bays, lakes, and marshes in the United States and in other countries

We had found some nesting birds and baby chicks early in the day on the other end of the lake.

Purple Gallinule Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Purple Gallinule

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

This is a Purple Gallinule... with an unidentified bug. I have shown you these guys before; they have big yellow chicken-like feet and walk around on the vegetation looking for bugs and grubs. They go south in the Winter, but during the Summer they breed along the Gulf Coast states. Their iridescent colors are just beautiful.

At the far southeast end of 40-acre Lake there is another area where they have sprayed to control the ever-expanding Water Hyacinth growth. A lot of the vegetation is dying out and this is where we found some nesting Purple Gallinules and Common Moorhens. They were much more visible to prying photographers than if they were hidden in all that greenery.  

On the move...with a leaf for the nest. This one seemed to be particular about the nesting material; he would venture out 10-15 feet from the nest to find one that was just right. Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 800

On the move...with a leaf for the nest. This one seemed to be particular about the nesting material; he would venture out 10-15 feet from the nest to find one that was just right.

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

Purple Gallinules have no noticeable sexual dimorphism; that is the males and females look identical. What is more, they both sit on the nest and incubate the eggs. So, unless you see them actually mating, it is hard to discern males from females. So, we can say this is a male bringing a dead hyacinth leaf to the female at the nest. And we have a 50% chance of being right.

Here you go, dear. The nest mound is that messy pile on the left. Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 800

Here you go, dear. The nest mound is that messy pile on the left.

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

He didn't just drop the frond in the area, there was a definite hand-off of materials. She then pushed the vegetation into the nest. And he ran off to get more. Some references call this behavior 'changing of the guard' when they switch places to incubate the eggs, but the original adult stayed on the nest at this time.

What was surprising was there were already at least three little chicks close by. They were tiny, but out of the nest and moving about. These offspring are precocial, or mobile and alert from birth. They have feathers, their eyes are open and have tiny spines on their little wings to aid in crawling out of that nest mound.

And you can understand why. These baby birds don't have the protection of a nest high in the trees; they need to watch out for predators from day one.

Adult Purple Gallinule almost stepping on tiny chick Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 800

Adult Purple Gallinule almost stepping on tiny chick

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

The babies did stay within a stand of taller clump of live hyacinth some of the time, but often they were scampering about. My 70-400mm lens on the cropped camera has a reach of 600mm, but it was just not enough to see much of these tiny chicks.

Lunch... Precocial chicks can forage on their own but might need some instructions from the parents Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

Lunch... Precocial chicks can forage on their own but might need some instructions from the parents

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000

At times both the adults were foraging and often bringing food to the offspring. Since they still have a nest in the area you could speculate they are working on a second brood of chicks. I will let you know.

There was a Common Gallinule (or as I like to call them, Moorhens) family with a nest quite near these Purple Gallinule. They also seemed to be on their second brood. I didn't observe any nest building activity, just one sitting on a nest. The Moorhen chicks were much larger and easier to photograph.

Moorhen chicks Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 500

Moorhen chicks

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 500

The Purple Gallinule chicks will look a lot like these except no bald head. Mortality rate seem to be fairly high; we heard a chomp and splash and saw a large alligator had slid under the vegetation and came up in a clear spot near the Moorhen family. The adults all raised a cry, even the Gallinules adults ran to the general area.

He probably got a chick.

Update: We went back later in the week after another big rain and the nest looked collapsed and abandoned. There were still three baby Gallinule chicks running around. I counted five baby Moorhens.

Next week I will tell you about the Green Herons at Brazos Bend and how much fun it is to get rained on four times in one day. Did you get a lot of rain last week? Do you locals remember how it used to rain almost every afternoon in the summer?

Green Herons

Green Herons

A77 II - First Adventure

A77 II - First Adventure