Anahuac Antics

Anahuac Antics

September 2, 2016

We made several a trips to Anahauc National Wildlife Refuge during the early part of the summer specifically to photograph Purple Gallinules. Before all the flooding and re-flooding, Brazos Bend State Park was a reliable location for Purple Gallinules, but the park has been closed more than it has been open lately. The trip to Anahuac is longer and more exciting since we have to travel I-10 East, otherwise known as The Beast. Every time we make the trip, we see an eighteen-wheeler wreck. Either on the other side, or blocking several lanes in our direction. The usual route south to the refuge has been blocked by a washed out bridge, but it is about the same distance to go through the town of Anahuac.

 

When you reach the refuge, just past the Visitor's Center is the road down to Shoveler Pond for the Auto Tour. There are several places you can pull over, some benches where you can sit and binocular bird. Anahuac has boardwalks and interior trails, but around the water there are always alligators. Just be aware.

Purple Gallinules can walk on water. Well, on lily pads. Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/1000sec f/7.1 ISO 640; tripod

Purple Gallinules can walk on water. Well, on lily pads.
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/1000sec
f/7.1 ISO 640; tripod

Most of the days we were there were bright and sunny, not the best for photographs. But, if you were careful and kept the sun behind you and the birds in a parallel plane, you could avoid the worst of the harsh shadows.

Purple Gallinules breed here along the coast and their chicks are almost as ugly as the Moorhen's IMO. It was a bit late for tiny chicks but we did see a few. I have no good photos to show you; they were swimming away or obstructed by reeds.

Mom (or Dad) with a tasty treat for the kids Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec f/8.0 ISO 1250; tripod

Mom (or Dad) with a tasty treat for the kids
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec
f/8.0 ISO 1250; tripod

But, on one of the last trips over, we did see an adult with a lily bulb for her offspring. There is no sexual dimorphism in Purple Gallinules; the males and females look alike. In fact, they look the same year round as there is no plumage change for breeding season. The chicks are quite pretty at this juvenile stage; a soft brown with just a hint of the future iridescent blue. Purple Gallinules eat bulbs, roots and insects. And seeds. One of the first times I photographed a Purple Gallinule was at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary and he was eating seeds from long, droopy grass. You never know when you will find an interesting bird.

Using those extra long toes to get around Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

Using those extra long toes to get around
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

We had some fleeting clouds, you can see how the iridescent feather colors change with the light.  I think I was sitting on the pavement with the camera and lens propped on a bench here. It was really hot.

Tightrope walking is hard, y'all Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G +1.4x TC; 1/1600 sec f/8.0 ISO 1250; braced on back of truck

Tightrope walking is hard, y'all
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G +1.4x TC; 1/1600 sec f/8.0 ISO 1250; braced on back of truck

Sometimes they are not graceful at all. This one had suddenly appeared out of the thick reeds and was making his way across in front of us. And he slipped.

Purple Gallinule impersonating a pirate Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000;  braced on back of the truck

Purple Gallinule impersonating a pirate
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000;  braced on back of the truck

This one had climbed to the very top of some reeds to keep an eye on us. Sometimes we are ignored and not perceived as a threat, other times you can just stop the vehicle and they will bolt.

Young Pied-billed Grebe with pipefish Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

Young Pied-billed Grebe with pipefish
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC; 1/800 sec
f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

In the water in front of the reeds, we found a young Pied-billed Grebe. They have such a sweet expression and didn't seem to think we were any threat at all. We had our crates out, tripods set up and the sun behind us. I think I took about 400 shots. He swam between the clear water and some cluttered areas, repeatedly diving and coming up with Freshwater Pipefish. They are tiny fish that look like straight seahorses and are evidently very tasty to a young grebe.

White-faced Ibis in flight Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1ISO 640; hand-held

White-faced Ibis in flight
Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 ~ 1/1600 sec
f/7.1ISO 640; hand-held

We made three trips in June to Anahuac and another at the end of August. It was reliable for different species of birds: Purple Gallinules, Eastern Kingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, plus Green Herons, and even an occasional Least Bittern. Late in the afternoon flocks of White and White-faced Ibis, Tri-colored Herons, Snowy and Cattle Egrets came in to roost in the reeds for the night.

We stood in the truck bed and did hand-held shots until we were tired and they still were coming in.

Afternoon sky over Anahuac Wildlife Refuge Sony A77II with Sigma f/3.5 10-20mm HDR

Afternoon sky over Anahuac Wildlife Refuge
Sony A77II with Sigma f/3.5 10-20mm HDR

Anahuac is such a peaceful place. It is so isolated there are no man-made structures on the horizon; even at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge you can see far off refineries and sometimes barges in the Intracoastal Canal. Anahuac is just open land and big sky.

Do you feel the need to get away from the city and have uninterrupted horizons? Have you ever wondered how the landscape looked to the first settlers? Do you think you could have homesteaded in the wild and wide open spaces of early Texas?

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