The Dump

To start the New Year off we are going to the dump. No, not The Dump but the Ft. Bend Regional Landfill out near Brazos Bend State Park. We have visited the area several times this winter and there are plenty of birds to see plus the dump is fascinating. I am not going to get all political about waste/recycling and all that, but geez... there is a LOT of stuff out there. 

The landfill is just huge (or do we say YUGE now?) and is visible as a giant hill on our basically flat horizon. The trucks come in and are checked over at a gate, then they climb some switchbacks to get to where they will unload.

Mountains of trash Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1000; hand held

Mountains of trash

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1000; hand held

I don't know the full process but I suspect they cover over the trash with dirt and probably spray it with something. There are pipes sticking out of the ground here and there, and I can see some hoses spread out. It looks different every time we go and actually, the area isn't as fragrant as you would suspect. Or maybe we are not downwind. 

But there are always flocks of vultures and blackbirds, plus gulls hanging around.  

Mixed flock of Grackles, Brown-headed cowbirds and maybe Red-wing blackbirds Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1250; hand held

Mixed flock of Grackles, Brown-headed cowbirds and maybe Red-wing blackbirds

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1250; hand held

The blackbirds (mostly grackles) swirl around in huge flocks and gather in the bare trees at the edge of the shallow lake across the street. Then they all take off together to visit the dump.

Flooded lake in front of the dump Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1250; hand held

Flooded lake in front of the dump

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1250; hand held

We have had a very wet fall so the lake reaches almost up to the road. Years past, we found a small boat ramp not far from here. There are several shallow lakes around the landfill; I suspect they are a source of water for the operations. Out on the lake are American Coots and wading along the shore we saw Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis and even an American Pipet.

The lake side is only good for photos if it is overcast, other wise you are shooting into the sun. At least this time of the year.

Suncalc plot of the area

Suncalc plot of the area

The above map comes from a super-nifty free website called SunCalc. Great for photography, but it is a really useful for planning your garden and landscaping. You can set it for any location and date. 

Eastern Phoebe out in the open Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1000; hand held

Eastern Phoebe out in the open

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1000; hand held

This is an Eastern Phoebe, a small flycatcher. They are fun to photograph and often return to the same perch. We saw a lot of these, plus Yellow-rumped Warblers and even some Eastern Bluebirds. But they often are in dense brush and hard to sneak up on. 

Nope, he isn't sleeping. Dead. Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1600; hand held

Nope, he isn't sleeping. Dead.

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2  f/5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1600; hand held

Speaking of sneaking around, I saw three small alligators including this dead one. The live ones were at the edge of the water and probably trying to soak up the feeble sunshine. Have no idea what killed this guy; his arms look really skinny, but we didn't observe any injuries. Another reminder that not all wild creatures survive.

Oh! I was looking up a link to "alligator" and found this site provided by my new home town: Coexisting with Alligators. Very useful since a few months a large alligator had to be removed from behind the Home Depot. 

Back to your regularly scheduled adventure.

The landfill area is wide open and great for bird-in-flight (BIF) shots. I cannot hand hold the big 500mm lens for more than a few shots, and my 70-400 isn't really powerful enough for birds so high up.

But, Bill Maroldo has great luck. And skill. 

Adult and juvenile Crested Caracara by William Maroldo Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4E

Adult and juvenile Crested Caracara by William Maroldo

Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4E

Mixed in with the vultures are Crested Caracaras. They are about the same size as a vulture, but flap their wings more and don't have the characteristic long glide. Caracaras will eat carrion or road kill but also hunt small mammals, fish, reptiles and insects. I have seen photos on Facebook of one carrying off a turtle. We have seen them hunting for mice in short-grass fields. 

These seem to roost in a big live oak tree and make regular forays to the dump. 

Sandhill Cranes in flight Sony A77II with Sony 500 f/4.0 G  f/5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1600; hand-held

Sandhill Cranes in flight

Sony A77II with Sony 500 f/4.0 G  f/5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1600; hand-held

Well, I have tried to hand-hold the big 500mm lens for BIF shots with some success. These Sandhill Cranes were taking off from a field fairly close to the dump and I managed to fire off six shots. The first image has the birds centered in the frame, but in each succeeding shot they appear higher and higher in the frame as I struggled to hold the lens aloft. The sixth image is mostly sky with a few clipped birds at the top. The lens/camera/teleconverter is about 2 feet long and weighs slightly over 9 lbs. I am lucky to lift it at all. 

Birds aren't the only wildlife around the dump. Often we find cows walking or even resting on the road. We have been doing a lot of back-road exploring recently looking for raptors and I am getting quiet a collection of bovine photos to share with you. Next time, maybe.

So how is your new year starting out?  I read we should not make resolutions we will break and feel bad about, but Set Goals We Can Plan and Track.  Looks like a LOT of work to me. Did you make any resolutions? Or set any goals? What one big thing do you want to make happen in 2016?

Backroad Adventures

Backroad Adventures

Winter Shorebirds

Winter Shorebirds