Quintana Mini-Fallout

Quintana Mini-Fallout

Birders and bird photographers hope and pray during Spring Migration for a Fallout. That is when the exhausted migratory birds from Central and Southern America run into a Texas-sized norther just as they arrive at the coast. Thousands of birds drop into hardwoods and brush to recuperate and replenish before rejoining the trek northward to their breeding grounds. Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, Lafitte's Cove in Galveston and the Boy Scout Woods at High Island are all famous "migrant traps" and frequented by serious birders each Spring.

On April 22-23rd the remnants of a serious storm made its way across Texas to the coast and we experienced gusty winds out of the north of 12-15mph. It wasn't much but just enough to increase the numbers and varieties of warblers and other colorful migrants in our area.

The crowd at Lafitte's Cove - photo by Sandy Kroeger (thanks!)

The crowd at Lafitte's Cove - photo by Sandy Kroeger (thanks!)

We had noted the possibility and planned to go to Quintana early Sunday morning. Early for us is not daybreak but we did get there about 9 am. The clouds were gone, and it was going to be a blue-sky day. We found a parking place a block away; the serious binocular birders were out in force, plus a lot of big lens guys. And gals. And folks with mid-sized lenses. And bridge cameras. It was crowded but not as much as Lafitte's and Boy Scout Woods. Still, a sizable bunch of enthusiasts.

Baltimore Oriole male
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; tripod

There were a LOT of Baltimore Orioles being conspicuous in the leafy trees. Bright flashes of yellow orange here and there, but still very hard to get an unobstructed shot. Bill Maroldo headed for the drip, I wandered around in the lot next door for a while before heading back to join him.

There were four of us with tripods and big lenses focused on the pool of water. Others crowded around with hand-held cameras. Occasionally a bird would drop out of the brush and tempt us but mostly we talked gear and told war stories.

And then a BIG bird showed up.

Green Heron pretending to be an exhausted warbler
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; tripod

Friends have told me a Green Heron has been seen at this pool for years, but it was a first for me. I doubt there are any fish in the pool, maybe he just wanted a drink. He walked around on the rocks and I took way too many shots of him doing mostly nothing. He eyed a dragonfly but no luck with a sudden lunge. The light was harsh and the shadows were deep.

Yes! A Painted Bunting Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 800; tripod

Yes! A Painted Bunting
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/6.3 ISO 800; tripod

We were rewarded with a Painted Bunting a bit later. He stayed for quite a while and even took a bath. The light was so harsh that my shots in the bright sunlight look shiny and artificial to me. This one was way back in the shadows and I did some fancy post-processing to bring it up. I think it actually looks more realistic; the bright colors are excellent camouflage in the shade and dappled light of the woodlands.

It was slow in the morning and we decided to travel around a bit and come back later. I had received a text from a friend:

Check out Road to Bryan beach before you leave. I'm seeing stuff here. Scarlet tanager indigos oriole's Not far from the fruit guy on right

We drove down that way and this is what we saw from the road on the embankment for the huge detention reservoir:

Tiny warbler in the bush - what Spring Migration REALLY looks like Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 640; from vehicle window

Tiny warbler in the bush - what Spring Migration REALLY looks like
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 640; from vehicle window

I don't even know what that is! And that is with 500mm plus the 1.4x teleconverter so roughly 700mm. We got out and climbed the steep hill through the brambles and berries carrying cameras and tripods, but the birds all flew the the closer we got. Still, it was cool and I felt good about still being able to climb rough terrain. Until we started down and I did fall backwards on my butt. Bill said later the thought it was odd I sat down to rest!

But I managed to get upright and we loaded up to chase more birds.

Red-eyed Vireo giving me the eye
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
sec f/6.3 ISO 500; tripod

We saw lots of migrants along a road parallel to the Intracoastal Canal in Surfside. I thought this was a Tennessee Warbler, but I think it is a Red-eyed Vireo now that I can see it better. These little guys were newly arrived to the coastal scrub brush and stuffing themselves on bugs, berries and seeds. We saw Indigo Buntings, more Baltimore Orioles, and American Redstarts.

But all of them were in the thickets and hard to get an unobstructed view.

Male Summer Tanager - the only solid red bird in North America
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.3 ISO 640; tripod

Back at Quintana we set up next to a big feeder (which was being monopolized by Redwing Blackbirds) where we could shoot with the sun behind us. It was a cooperative effort; the binocular birders were excellent spotters. And by late afternoon it got quite birdy.

There were a lot of the Summer Tanagers about. The above is a male; the females are mustard yellow. None of the photos I got of the females were good enough to share. We got the BEST photos of Summer Tanagers at Lafitte's Cove a few years back if you want to read all about them. They eat WASPS!

First year male Summer Tanager or "marmalade" male
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/8.0 ISO 800; tripod

This is a young male getting his big boy red feathers. I only saw one of them; probably a first year male making the long trip north with no chance to mate and breed. By late summer he will molt again and be all red like the adult male. I couldn't find any information on when they are sexually mature to breed, but I just doubt it is first year. Does anyone know? If so, make a comment below!

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; tripod

By late afternoon we were seeing a lot of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. They are stunning birds, with the black and white plus the rosy red spot. Sometimes we see younger males that look a bit scruffy, but this one is stunning. He edged closer over a long period of time. You have to be really patient and wait for them to show themselves. And then a leafy branch blows over the view. Or the shadow of a branch fall across his body.

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/6.3 ISO 640; tripod

The females have classic protective coloration making them harder to see. She had her eye on the feeder and moved closer and closer. Once she landed on it a bossy male Redwinged Blackbird chased her off. There was a collective outcry from the observers; Noooooo, how rude!

We decided to make one more circuit of the areas around the sanctuary and see if there was anything else showing up. On the backside of the cane break we spied a Painted Bunting, but he got away. We were setting up to get another Baltimore Oriole when I glanced behind me.

Late afternoon Painted Bunting
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

He had come back and was right there! The low sun was still strong and I was really in the wrong direction. But, with a Painted Bunting, you are always grateful for the chance.

This year has not been as good for warblers as two years ago, but it is still early. I think I got spoiled with all the warm weather we had in February and March and I forget this is still April. If we get more cloudy days we will try Lafitte's Cove on a weekday when it is not so crowded. And I want to go back to High Island in a few weeks to check on the Spoonbill chicks!

Did you go out looking for warblers yet? What new birds are you seeing in your back yard? Let me know in the comments below!

Surfside Bathing Beauties and a Swallow

Surfside Bathing Beauties and a Swallow

Short Stories - April 2017

Short Stories - April 2017