Short Stories for March

Short Stories for March

Dang. The month is almost over and I will have to do my taxes soon! We had a few cloudy days to go out chasing birds this month including one marathon day pulling the cart over 6 miles at Brazos Bend. The timing is still chancy; the spring migrants are just now showing up but the local birds are sporting breeding colors and will soon be mating. There is a Red-bellied Woodpecker hollowing out a nest down the street from me and I see Black-bellied Whistling Ducks circling over my neighborhood.

There are always interesting birds about.

Spoonbill on a perch Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/6.31/1600 sec ISO 1250; braced in window

Spoonbill on a perch
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/6.31/1600 sec ISO 1250; braced in window

We did go back to Sportsman Road this week and found a posing Roseate Spoonbill. This one is in high breeding colors; note the pink on the back of his neck the filigree down the sides of his bill and bright pink legs. Why he isn't at High Island with all the other spoonies looking for mates I don't know!

Baird's Sandpiper Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/6.3 1/1600 sec ISO 800; braced in window

Baird's Sandpiper
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/6.3 1/1600 sec ISO 800; braced in window

Bill Maroldo and I stopped at the Quintana Jetty a few weeks ago. It was windy with more sun than clouds. There was one solitary shorebird poking around the edges of the puddle in the parking lot, so we stopped close by. I was comfortably sitting in the truck with the big lens propped on the window and Bill wandered off to do some BIF shots of the pelicans. This little guy ducked his whole head in the shallow water looking for food. As I kept clicking I willed him to get on that rock so I could see his legs and feet better. He definitely wasn't a Sanderling and seemed a bit bigger and slimmer than the usual suspects. After I got home I checked my sources and determined this is a Baird's Sandpiper. They just stop over on their migratory path from South America to the breeding grounds in the Arctic Tundra AKA Canada.

Distinguishing marks are long wings extending past tail, slightly down turned bill and dark patch on rump.

Surprise Bald Eagle near Byron Beach ponds Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 ~ f/6.3 1/2000 sec ISO 800; hand-held

Surprise Bald Eagle near Byron Beach ponds
Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 ~ f/6.3 1/2000 sec ISO 800; hand-held

The above photo is for documentary purposes only. We were driving down the road to Bryan Beach and could see a large bird perched on a utility pole ahead. There are Ospreys in the area, hawks and vultures but this looked .... bigger. Bill took the binoculars and verified what we both were thinking. Bald Eagle. We stopped and weighed spooking him with bringing the truck closer or spooking him by walking up. We decided to walk up because at least we might get some flight photos when he inevitably bolted.  He might have been drying his wings and his leg feathers look a bit wet. I know Ospreys catch fish out of the ponds behind Bryan Beach so I am sure Eagles could as well.

We saw him for less than 3 minutes. Wow. The only Bald Eagles I have seen are the ones that nest on the east side of Houston, but I am seeing more photos on Facebook of other sightings in our area.

American Bittern Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/6.3 1/1000 sec ISO 2000; tripod

American Bittern
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/6.3 1/1000 sec ISO 2000; tripod

Brazos Bend State Park used to be my favorite destination. I still like going there, but since the huge flood last spring it has changed quite a bit. Some areas remain flooded; the woods south of the trail between 40-acre and Elm Lakes are a swamp now and I fear for the trees. And the hyacinth is filling parts of the lake and sloughs where waders used to flourish. Ecology and habitats change over time; nothing is really static. We didn't find a lot of birds, but the American Bitterns are out and hungry. Here is one with a large crawfish. Must be a bumper year for crawfish as all the waders were eating them.

I took the photo in vertical format (tripod mounted) because he kept stretching up tall pretending to be a reed so I wouldn't notice him. Then he started hunting and I almost didn't get the prize in the frame. Obviously it was quiet overcast if I was shooting ISO 2000. I am telling you, ISO 2000 with my camera is better and less noisy than 1600. Go figure.

Northern Shoveler hen Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/5.6 1/1600 sec ISO 1000; propped on hood of truck

Northern Shoveler hen
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/5.6 1/1600 sec ISO 1000; propped on hood of truck

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge still has some ducks but most will leave for their breeding grounds soon like this Northern Shoveler. The male is very showy with a green head and white, russet and brown body. But the female is just as beautiful in her quiet way. She worked really hard preening and grooming her feathers.

I took this standing beside the truck with the big lens supported on a bean bag propped on the hood of the truck. It is tricky to do that, if the birds are too low I will get a white haze at the bottom of the frame from catching the truck body. But sometimes there isn't enough time to set up the tripod and at least the birds don't notice me as much. You have no idea how many times the birds bolt as soon as we stop.

Long-billed Curlew checking the sky at Texas City Dike Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/8.01/1600 sec ISO 1000; tripod

Long-billed Curlew checking the sky at Texas City Dike
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/8.01/1600 sec ISO 1000; tripod

The Long-billed Curlews will also be heading north soon. We didn't see as many this year as last. I don't think that is significant at all; we had a lot more rain this year and they were probably more spread out. This one was at the Texas City Dike. It is a male (the bill is much shorter than the female's) and we have seen one there for several years. Bill and I like to think it is the same one, returning each winter but we don't know for sure, of course.

Curlews aren't too wary; we got our crates and tripods and and watched this one look for bugs and probe the grasses for at least half an hour. When he walked away from us, we crept up closer. Which probably looked ridiculous to the passing traffic.

Brown Pelican at the breakers Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/7.11/1600 sec ISO 640; tripod

Brown Pelican at the breakers
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G ~ f/7.11/1600 sec ISO 640; tripod

Spotted this red-pouched Brown Pelican at Texas City Dike earlier this month. Since I wrote that blog post in January, we have been especially attentive to the pouch colors. And so far this year, 10% might be accurate. Of course, that involves a small sample but they are still fairly rare. We were at the dike on Wednesday of this week and the strong southerly wind was super for pelican BIF shots. The had to work hard flying against the wind so you had plenty of time to get the bird in focus. I will share some of those shots next week.

So... are you still putting off doing taxes like me? How is the yard shaping up? Spring is welcome of course, but it sure is a lot of work! Let me know what is going on with you in the comments below.

Before and After

Before and After

Galveston's Sportsman Road

Galveston's Sportsman Road