Spoonies at Surfside are Showing Signs...
Feb 3, 2017 ~ In between freezing temps (low of 23F Jan 7) and heat waves (high of 79F Jan 29) we made a several trips to Surfside. They are repairing a small bridge on the exit road at the Intracoastal Bridge on Hwy 332 but the construction doesn't seem to bother the birds at all. It does limit our ability to pull over and get close at that particular spot, but they will be finished soon. It is the same general area where they installed a pipeline last year and it was better for birds when they were done. We will see.
One of the many places we always check out is an abandoned fishing pier just before the bridge. I have asked around and the story seems to be it has always been there but definitely suffered during Ike. Bill Maroldo tells me there used to be a walkway to get to the small island, but it is gone now. The wading birds really like perching on the old piers and you can get quite close. That is, if they don't all congregate down the side.
A flash of pink on a great overcast day raised our hopes for some nice photos.
Sure enough the Roseate Spoonbills were lined up on the closest piers. The bird above is fairly young. She still has feathers on the top of her head and not even a hint of black around her neck. I don't have any idea if this is a female, but all of them seem so feminine and pretty. Let's just call them girls unless it is obvious it is not.
This bird is an adult; note the naked head, the black skin on the back of the neck and a hint of orange in the tail feathers. The flattened spoonbill is also taking on color. In full breeding plumage it will develop a fillagree look around the edges. We saw several adults showing signs of breeding colors. It won't be long!
And a bonus bird! In with the spoonies was this Reddish Egret. He mostly just stood around but did spend a bit of time preening. Reddish Egrets are only found along the coast and it is still a special occurrence when we do get to photograph one. We did find a lone bird at Storey Park in West Houston last summer, and someone on Facebook mentioned they have seen a stray at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in North Texas. There are only about 6000 birds in North America.
After a while he flew off, circled around and landed in the back part of the old pier among some unhappy Cormorants. A major squabble ensued but I had too many birds in the way to catch the action. I got him in focus, and one angry cormorant, but with a big blob of a Laughing Gull in the foreground.
Sigh. Clean foregrounds and backgrounds really contribute to better images. These were all processed a bit to remove out-of-focus blotchy birds in the background. The black cormorants were the biggest offenders leaving dark smudges that distracted from the isolated subject.
I forget how exotic these birds are to my readers that don't live on the coast. We see them all the time in ditches and bayous, so they are fairly common place to us. Not unusual to see them in mixed flocks with White Ibis in shallow water moving that big bill back and forth, straining the water for little fish and aquatic insects.
It was fun to find these birds perched on the old piers and almost at eye level. Too often we find birds in the water where the only angle available is looking down on the bird. It is always better to get low, but sometimes you just can't. Either the bank is too steep or there are rocks or the ever present danger of alligators.
One of the very best places for Roseate Spoonbills is the Smith Oaks Rookery at High Island during late February through April. The Great Egrets will nest first, then as they are incubating eggs and feeding chicks, the other birds will be courting and building nests. The following images are from last year; too early for much activity right now.
The spoonbills put on quite a show as they stake out territory to attract mates. It is wild and confusing as the birds are coming and going, some courting, some bringing sticks and building nests. And all making a huge amount of noise!
Compare the coloration of these breeding birds with the adults I found at Surfside last month. They still have a ways to go.
And mating. Yep. Lots of that going on and they don't mind if you watch and take photos. The Rookery at High Island is open year round, but the main entrance with parking opens mid-March. If you go earlier you have to hike a bit. Just Google "High Island" if you want to read up and plan your trip. Most people enjoy all the warblers at Boy Scout Woods, but we are partial to the big waders at the rookery. You can stay in Winnie, but I heard the motel in town is pretty good. We will probably make a trip over in late February; the visibility is wonderful before the trees leaf out. I will let you know what I find.
Are you excited about Spring Migration? Have you been to High Island? Did you know I took a Vacation day to go my very first time? Let me know in the comments below.