Sunday at Surfside

Sunday at Surfside

In between winter blasts, my fave photographer Bill Maroldo and I made a trip to Surfside. We are just on the brink of Spring here, even though it is 38F as I write this up and we have had a week of miserable weather.

We were looking for indications of plumage change such as in Great Egrets (their lores turn green) and others. We know some birds are breeding already (witness the Clapper Rails from a few weeks ago) and Two Shutterbirds recently published some mating Blue-winged Teals they found at Brazos Bend. 

I know it is happening; I spied this new nest at the Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary on February 15, 2015.

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

Someone is getting ready ...

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

First off, after the obligatory stop at Buc-ee'swe checked out some abandoned piers on the way to the Intracoastal bridge. There used to be a walkway out to a tiny island but Ike or even an earlier hurricane washed away the establishment and means to get there. But, the birds don't mind and we saw some Roseate Spoonbills in fairly close. 

Roseate Spoonbill - don't you know it is difficult to preen feathers with a spoon? Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 800

Roseate Spoonbill - don't you know it is difficult to preen feathers with a spoon?

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 800

He is pinking up rather nicely, don't you think?. Their legs will be dark maroon and that dark band around his bald head will be black. I hope to see them nesting and squabbling at High Island soon.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1250 sec. f/5.6 ISO 640

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are one of my favorite waders. And this one has definitely been in the mud. But, even through the muck you can see his legs (or hers) are getting more orange. This one had just shook and fluffed up those fancy feathers.

Not long ago, just down the road from this spot we saw at least 7 Yellow-crowned Night Herons in the reeds next to an open ditch. Maybe we will have a bumper year for Yellow-crowns!

Clapper Rail admiring his reflection Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Clapper Rail admiring his reflection

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

As it was overcast, we set up with our tripods and milk crates at the pond where we saw the Clapper Rails in early February. They came out rather quickly and since we sat still, it seemed they got used to us. It was strange to see them looking at us looking at them. 

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

love the drop!

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

One was more bold and a bit larger than the other, which was probably the male. The more skittish and shy one seemed just a bit more pale in coloration. They swam across the pond a couple of times, and a several times got too close to focus.

We didn't stay too long as if this is a mated pair as I suspect, they will be nest building. I read the nest is dome-shaped and well camouflaged against predators. If they do have a nest, it is invisible to birders and photographers as well.

Osprey stare-down Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Osprey stare-down

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/1600 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Since we go to Surfside so often, we are aware of territorial claims of the local birds of prey. There is a Belted Kingfisher that perches on a wire not far from where this Osprey can usually be found. The Kingfisher flies off if you even if you slow down to look at him, but the Osprey isn't as skittish. 

In fact, I persuaded Bill to stop the truck on the ramp to Hwy 332 so I could get this shot. Don't worry, there was NO traffic behind us and this is not Houston, but Surfside, pop. 456. I got several good shots before we moved on.

He seems puzzled anyone would stop and look at him, don't you think?

Low ramp to get back on highway from Intracoastal Canal turn around.  Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Low ramp to get back on highway from Intracoastal Canal turn around. 

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

This was taken from the area near where the Spoonbills were. If you look closely at the lower telephone cable, you can see the Osprey perched near a pole and just above an inverted triangle highway sign. 

Snowy Egret in full intimidation mode Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/6.3 ISO 1000

Snowy Egret in full intimidation mode

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

In the marshes behind the abandoned piers we found a Snowy Egret and a Tri-colored Heron. I do supposed they hunt for the same prey as there is almost always conflict when you find them together. The Snowy is larger and usually wins - he chased the poor little Tri-colored back into the reeds. This one's feathers are looking quite nice; especially when he raises his crest. They also breed at High Island; after the Great Egrets and Spoonbills. 

Male Horned Lark showing you his .. horns Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Male Horned Lark showing you his .. horns

Sony A77 II with 70-400mm G2 1/2000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

We circled back around to Bryan Breach and noticed the gravel road had been graded. It had gotten so bad during the winter that even in 4-wheel drive the ruts and potholes were scary. The water on each side of the road after the turn was way too high for waders or crabbers for that fact. Just as we approached the beach I saw some sparrows scurrying in the dunes.

Except they were not sparrows. 

Here is a new bird for me. A Horned Lark might be here year round (according to range maps) but I have never seen one before. The Texas Breeding Atlas indicates it does occur year round on the Coastal Prairies and Gulf Coast, but perhaps farther south than Surfside. But it is definitely a great winter visitor. Bill and I both took scads of photos, but there is something about the feathers around its face. They seem to be very fine and soft; it is hard to see any real detail. Perhaps we will have another opportunity.

Random adventures: Snipe Hunt; Brazos Bend Again; Paintings and Illustrations

Are you sick of winter? Did you know I have a Facebook page now? Have you ever been to Buc-ees? Let me know in the comments below. 

Rush to Spring

Rush to Spring

In Search of Sandhill Cranes

In Search of Sandhill Cranes