Summer Scissor-tails

Summer Scissor-tails

September 9, 2016

The summer heat was really brutal and I stayed inside under the air conditioning most of the time. We did venture out when the forecast promised cloudy or overcast days, and most of the time it was wrong. We learned to go out later in the day and wait for the low afternoon sun, but still it was hard work. With the wet spring and recent floods, the birds have spread out and aren't always in the usual locations.

But, one afternoon we found a bunch of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher fledglings near the Quintana Jetty.

Brothers and sisters, all in a row Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/1000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250

Brothers and sisters, all in a row
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/1000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250

From the road they looked like four little lumps on the wire. A Facebook friend had posted some photos of them earlier in the week so I immediately had Bill stop and back up. Sure enough, there were the tiny guys with no tails yet waiting to be fed. I think they had only been out of the nest a day or two.

We shot a lot of photos from the truck, him from the driver's side, me with the big lens propped on the corner of the truck bed. After a while we realized the babies weren't going anywhere so we moved a bit closer and set up the tripods.

Mom with a grasshopper Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250

Mom with a grasshopper
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250

Probably both parents were feeding the babies, but you can't really tell them apart. We only had to wait a few minutes between arrivals and it obviously takes a lot of work and bugs to feed four open mouths. The little guys sat patiently until they could see the adults on the way, then they jumped around with open mouths in anticipation. The parents brought grasshoppers and other insects for the brood. And some babies were much more active and insistent therefore getting more food.

I was surprised to note the orange coloration under the adult's wing is the same as the baby bird's open mouth.

Impatient babies Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 1250

Impatient babies
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 1250

The little guys could fly short distances. We saw them move up and down the wire and even fly to the lower wires and back. But they can't maneuver well enough yet to catch dinner on the fly. In a couple of weeks they will have longer tail feathers and start hunting on their own.

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers arrive in Texas by early March and breed as far north as Kansas, Louisiana to the east and New Mexico to the west. By early October they are concentrating back in Texas for the flight south. They winter in southern Mexico, the Yucatan and Costa Rica.

Hungry babies ~ photo by Bill Maroldo with his fancy Nikon D810 and 600mm lens

Hungry babies ~ photo by Bill Maroldo with his fancy Nikon D810 and 600mm lens

Bill Maroldo got some great action shots as well; in fact this one was chosen as the banner shot for the Facebook group, Birds of Texas.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from 2014. Taken with Sony A77II and 70-400 G2 lens

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from 2014. Taken with Sony A77II and 70-400 G2 lens

Once they grow up, they will look like this handsome fella in full breeding plumage. I think this is my favorite image of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. It was taken on the road to Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary in front of the big LNG Plant. Every time we pass this spot we look for Scissor-tails, but usually only see Doves and Mockingbirds.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from 2015. Taken with Sony A77II and 70-400 G2 lens

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher from 2015. Taken with Sony A77II and 70-400 G2 lens

This is a nice adult bird perched on an old fence post near Surfside. The great thing about flycatchers is they will often return to the same perch. Sometimes you can set up and focus on the perch and catch one returning with a fat, juicy bug. They snatch insects, including grasshoppers, beetles and crickets off vegetation or out of the air.

From early spring Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G +1.4x TC; 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 800

From early spring
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G +1.4x TC; 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 800

This guy obliged by posing on a bent twig. He was close to eye level; much better than trying to shoot one on an overhead wire. It was taken earlier this year and is probably a young bird.

Did you know the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is the State Bird of Oklahoma? Have you seen one on the wires as you drive around town? Are these not the cutest baby birds? Let me know in the comments below.

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