Summer Day at Surfside

Summer Day at Surfside

Part of my Brazoria Loop excursion includes the area around the Intracoastal Canal near Surfside, Texas. There are some tidal mudflats under the bridge on the North side of the canal, and a short road to an industrial site that sometimes yields great birds. Not always, but a trip in late August was especially productive. That is remarkable, since most of the summer was a total bust due to heat, humidity and mosquitos.

Clapper Rail hiding in the brush Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Clapper Rail hiding in the brush

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Right after we got there I saw a dark bird scurrying in the foliage next to the road. I expected a grackle, but surprisingly it was a Clapper Rail. Sneaking up carefully, I got off some hand-held shots before he bolted. Only after I got home and downloaded the photos did I realize he was standing on a manhole cover. The flat surface gives a much better look at his legs and feet. 

Clapper Rails are common, but rather secretive and not seen too often. The two committees of the American Ornithologists’ Union, the North American Classification Committee (NACC) and the South American Classification Committee (SACC), just recently made a taxonomic change and split the Clapper Rails into Clapper, Ridgway's and Mangrove Rails. The one that frequents the salt water marshes on the Gulf Coast keeps the Clapper name. Good for me. I am still annoyed about the Common Gallinule/Moorhen change and that was years ago. 

Typical Clapper Rail open habitat Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Typical Clapper Rail open habitat

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

Thankfully, he didn't fly far. This time of year they are rather plain, better to blend in while he probes the mud for crustaceans, aquatic insects; they will also eat small fish. During breeding season, they have more rusty colors and orange at the base of their bills. I have see photos of their tiny black chicks, but I have never see any.

They build nests in the marsh similar to the Purple Gallinules and Moorhens I showed you from Brazos Bend in June 2014. All belong to the same family, Rallidae since we are being all precise.

On the run! Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

On the run!

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 400

He didn't stick around long enough to get any tripod shots. I was just thankful I had a fast shutter speed to catch his action. Sometimes the birder in me gets so excited about a sighting, the photographer just fires away without checking the settings.

After checking out some other places in the area (future adventures!) we came back in the late afternoon. 

Yellow-crowned Night Heron Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

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

Yellow-crowned Night Herons can be found in fresh or salt water, or in your local drainage ditch. We have had a bumper crop this year; remember I wrote about all the Night Herons last Spring. This one didn't catch anything, but the setting was nice.

For bird photography, the foreground and background are important. In this instance, the yellow-green foliage was going to make the grays and blacks stand out, plus the clear water promised a nice reflection. Brazos Bend is great for seeing birds, but the dead lotus and ubiquitous duckweed are challenging for nice photos.

Tri-colored Heron in the same neighborhood Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Tri-colored Heron in the same neighborhood

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

Same for the Tricolored Heron, although he was a bit further back from the open water. Ya'll know a lot of these photos are taken from then passenger side of the truck, shooting out of a tiny opening between the driver's side mirror and Bill's long lens? Sometimes you only get a few shots before the bird flies away.

Female Long-billed Curlew - look at how long the bill is! Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/8.0 ISO 1000

Female Long-billed Curlew - look at how long the bill is!

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1000 sec. f/8.0 ISO 1000

And then... we spotted this female Long-billed Curlew in the same tidal pool where the Clapper Rail was that morning. Wonderful late afternoon light, clean green foliage for contrast, rippling water for interest. Perfect set up and she didn't fly off when I got out of the vehicle.

My long-time readers might remember I saw Long-billed Curlews at Galveston East Beach February 2014, a confrontation between two males at the North Jetty in March 2014. The first one I ever saw was at Texas City in Oct 2013. We know they go to the mid-western plains states to breed during the Summer months, so I am thinking this sighting indicates their return for our Winter enjoyment. You know they are the largest North American shorebird.

And this curlew sighting just capped off a wonderful birding excursion. We were headed back home when I saw a Black-crowned Night Heron in a ditch in front of a bait shop. We turned around and stopped. Those photos didn't turn out at all, but a Green Heron had been hiding in the reeds and flew up. We chased him down the fence line. Birding is so exciting, ya'll!

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

Green Heron

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

He moved from post to post and we stayed with him as the light faded. Bill got some fantastic shots with his 500mm lens and tele converter of him preening, but I was happy with this one giving us the evil eye.

It was an excellent birding day. Next time I will show you the white morph Reddish Egret that was super cooperative. And some dark morphs I found in the same area.

Are you glad Summer is finally over? Are you seeing any Fall migrants in your yard? Did you get enough birds in this adventure?

No Barrier to Imagination

No Barrier to Imagination

Tripod Talk

Tripod Talk