Bryan Beach and Least Bitterns

Bryan Beach and Least Bitterns

A couple of times the weatherman lied (can you believe that?) and we went out during August hoping for a few clouds. Another exercise in futility but you can only take so many photos of Cardinals or woodpeckers before you hunger for big waders or tiny shorebirds. 

We had heard a Least Bittern was hanging around the ponds behind Bryan Beach and even saw a few photos on Facebook Birds of Texas. If you do FB and like birds, that is the site to follow. It is a great source of information especially about migrating birds. 

We have Least Bitterns all Summer; they even breed here but they are usually hiding in the reeds. And they are really small. Long legs for wading and clinging to reeds and a body about the size of Blue Jay. So, we set out on our quest. We would see one, he would startle and fly away never to return. This happened on several trips.

Finally, we had success. Of sorts. We found one crouching in the weeds but couldn't get a clear shot or if we did there was Photoshop-challenging trash to deal with. After a couple of fruitless tries I looked back at the truck.

Least Bittern with truck for scale Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/6.31/2000 sec ISO 640

Least Bittern with truck for scale

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/6.31/2000 sec ISO 640

Doesn't that beat all? Of course when we scrambled to the other side, he had found a new hiding place. He did come out but the shadows were horrible. We waited and watched until he climbed up on the culvert in a little cave. I tried taking photos of him from the road, but the angle was wrong and he was in a pretty dark place.

So. I made a big circle through the brush and mud to see if I could get a clear shot from another direction.

Tiny Least Bittern fishing in a puddle.  Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/400 sec ISO 1600; hand held

Tiny Least Bittern fishing in a puddle. 

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/400 sec ISO 1600; hand held

Can you see him on the culvert under the road? Almost covered up by the grass? I have no idea what that other culvert is doing along side the road. Just down from this place is a big pile of trash including a couch and a camper top. Back up the road are four tires, but the mattress finally disappeared. I swearz.

Because of the terrain, I didn't bother with my tripod. I knelt down in the muck, focused through that big culvert and got this shot:

Least Bittern intent on finding something to eat Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/400 sec ISO 2000

Least Bittern intent on finding something to eat

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/400 sec ISO 2000

He intently stared at that small puddle for the longest; not once did he break concentration to notice me or Bill (who was in the ditch to the bird's right). I never saw him catch anything, but Bill was more patient than I was. I think he got him grabbing a little fish. 

When we were there on August 12 and 17, the ponds were drying up, which concentrates the birds in smaller and smaller areas. Nearby was a nice Clapper Rail preening and grooming after a bath.

Clapper Rail in major fluff-up Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/8.0  1/2500 sec ISO 1000

Clapper Rail in major fluff-up

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/8.0  1/2500 sec ISO 1000

Clapper Rails are hands-down my favorite bird. We have been so fortunate to see so many and be able to photograph them this year. Most folks think they are shy and secretive, but we have had them walk within a couple of feet of our tripods.  It seems if you stand still, they don't mind you much.

Green Heron stretches to grab a fish Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/7.1  1/1000 sec ISO 640

Green Heron stretches to grab a fish

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/7.1  1/1000 sec ISO 640

Down by the bridge a Green Heron was having a lot of success. I think this is a mud fish.  This was another one I talked to... trying to get him to move a bit so the light would be better. I haven't seen a lot of Green Herons this year. Brazos Bend is usually the place, but for me it has been a bit disappointing lately. First the floods, and now the water hyacinth seems to be reducing all the water sources. 

Black Skimmer looks like he is looking at me Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/6.3  1/2000 sec ISO 640

Black Skimmer looks like he is looking at me

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/6.3  1/2000 sec ISO 640

I did get the opportunity to practice my Black Skimmer in flight techniques. They are great subjects to perfect your skills since the flight path is almost always predictable. But, hard birds to photograph in bright light since the black/white is such high contrast. Often you get photos where the whites are blown and the eye is indistinguishable from the black cap. 

Spoonbills, Ibis, Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Snowy Egrets crowded the ponds of Bryan Beach Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/7.1  1/1600 sec ISO 640

Spoonbills, Ibis, Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Snowy Egrets crowded the ponds of Bryan Beach

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/7.1  1/1600 sec ISO 640

Bryan Beach was the most productive location for birds this summer. Even when most of the water dried up, there were birds wandering around in the mud flats. In fact, drought conditions are much better for photographers. But, now the rains are back and the birds are dispersing to take advantage of less competition for resources - making us have to work harder for good photos. 

Are you looking forward to cooler weather?  Would mid-80s be good enough? Let me know in the comments what has been going on with you this summer. 

Printer's Ink

Printer's Ink

Making Art

Making Art