Galveston and Bolivar Day Trip

Galveston and Bolivar Day Trip

Dec 22, 2017 ~ One of my favorite winter excursions is going to Galveston in hopes of finding Sandhill Cranes. We made a trip on Dec 15th and had pretty good luck, plus we checked out Bolivar for other winter visitors. The drive home in the extreme traffic will not be discussed. 

A mated pair of Sandhill Cranes
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250
 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

We found a few Sandhills at the golf driving range on Stewart Rd, a few more way off in the distance along 8 1/2 Mile Rd, and then these two in a field on Homrighaus Rd. Or Ostermeyer Rd. It gets confusing back in the rural areas after all those left, right, left turns. But, these two birds  were fairly close in on our left. Bill pulled the truck over and we carefully got out. If you have tried to photograph Sandhill Cranes before, keep in mind they are hunted in some Texas counties at certain times of the year. So, they are much more wary than a lot of other birds. In this case, one bird would eat, one bird would watch as they slowly moved away from us. Bill walked down the road a bit, and they turned and started walking back toward me.

Until they decided to fly. And I was so fortunate they were flying toward me, instead of away. Thanks, Bill!

Anticipating airborne
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250
 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

I was using my tripod and didn't really have enough shutter speed for flight, but hey. You work with what you have. Look at that! The wing span is six and a half feet!

Off and away...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250
 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

These shot is not ideal as they are turned slightly as they headed away, but you can see their eyes and it is pretty sharp for two birds. And they are calling as they flew away! The windmill is just a bonus.

We wandered around the usual places (Sportsman Rd, Settegast) and didn't find too much. A nice Tricolored Heron posed on the old pier/fence post where we found a Reddish Egret earlier this year.

Tricolored Heron thinks about flying off
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

Judging by the amount of bird poop, it is a popular spot! It was early; we debated going south to San Luis Pass and doing the Brazoria area or... taking the ferry over to Bolivar.

Look out above
Nikon D810 with Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 ~ 1/2000 sec
f/7.1ISO 1000 at 30mm; hand-held

The ferry won. We had a few pieces of stale cereal to throw at the gulls. I was surprised at this shot; every gull in the shot is looking at the one that got the prize.

Just after you get off the ferry, turn LEFT onto Frenchtown Rd. I mean, first chance you get, TURN.

 

There are marshes on both sides of the road and since it was low tide, we found a nice expanse of mudflats with half a dozen Snowies feeding in the shallows. A couple of Willets and a Lesser Yellowlegs as well. A Little Blue off behind some reeds and a Great Egret. Lovely place to set up tripods and crates and watch the show.

  Marbled Godwit in the mud    Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250   sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; tripod

Marbled Godwit in the mud
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; tripod

There was a Marbled Godwit all by his lonesome. They are definitely winter visitors and usually you find them in flocks. He didn't stay long.

How beautiful is that? 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; tripod

We turned out attention to the Snowy Egrets. We have them year round and they can put on quite a show. The overcast light was perfect for photographing white birds; on a sunny day it is very easy to overexpose the white and lose all detail. The wind gusts made you realize why these birds were almost hunted to extinction for their feathers.

Working for it
N
ikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; tripod

This one was busy. I took turns focusing on each of the four Snowies. A couple were youngsters; they still had yellow stripes up the backs of their legs. All of them were finding small fish and shrimp in the shallows. 

Muddy White Ibis
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; tripod

A White Ibis dropped by. She made a mini-fluff and shook off water. Note the mud on her long curved bill. A clever opportunist...

White Ibises probe for insects and crustaceans beneath the surface of wetlands. They insert their bill into soft muddy bottoms and feel for prey. When they feel something, they pinch it like a tweezer, pulling out crayfish, earthworms, marine worms, and crabs. They also stab or pinch fish, frogs, lizards, snails, and newts. Many of their prey are swallowed on the spot, but for really muddy items they carry them away to wash the mud off before eating. They break harder crustaceans with their bills and remove claws from crabs and crayfish before eating them. From AllaboutBirds.

Snowy with strange food
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; tripod

This Snowy found an unusual fish. He worked really hard removing spines and appendages. Several times he dunked it in the water. As near as we can tell, this exceedingly ugly fish is commonly called a Toadfish

Snowies are serious showoffs
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; tripod

Snowy Egrets can be so elegant. I don't think any shadowing was going on; actually the bottom of the shallow pond must have been very uneven. Often the birds would throw up their wings for balance as they hunted for food. 30 minutes and 320 photos later we decided to move on. It was pretty cold with the wind blowing off the water. 

Osprey and headless fish
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; hand-held

Nothing on the beach at Bolivar Flats. No curlews, no gulls except Laughing Gulls. No Caracara perched on the cross in the dunes. On the way back out Rettilon Rd near the highway we found an Osprey with a fish. When he flew off, the fish was trailing vegetation picked up by his talons. We stopped several times for hawks perched on poles on the way back to the ferry.

The traffic was moving when we got there ... and we were the next to the last vehicle to get on!

Brown Pelican looking to dive..
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200; tripod

Our last stop was at the entrance to East Beach in Galveston. It was getting very late and dark but there were Brown Pelicans diving in the shallow water by some old piers. Usually the area is crowded with fishermen, but this time we had it to ourselves. It was 4:45 pm when we stopped and the sun officially set at 5:22 pm. It was pretty dark, y'all. 

Preening young Brown Pelican
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200; tripod

And it just got darker. Bill always says it it never too dark, you just have to up the ISO and slow your shutter speed. I think I took these just to see how the higher ISOs would come out. And surprisingly, there is not a lot of noise in the darker areas. These two have a bit of noise reduction applied in ACR during post-processing. But look at that ISO 3200! 

We were feeling pretty good about the day's accomplishments as we headed home. From East Beach, Galveston to my house in Sugar Land is 67 miles. Even with traffic it should take about an hour and a half. Maybe a bit longer. I took my last photo at 5:01 pm and walked into the house at 7:52 pm. We averaged about 37 mph for the trip home. 

Do you like to go to Galveston and Bolivar? Do you think the traffic is worse this Christmas season or about the same? And are you ready for Christmas? Let me know in the comments below. 

Last Trip of 2017

Last Trip of 2017

YCNH at Sportsman Road

YCNH at Sportsman Road