Short Stories ~ Sliding into Summer 2017

Short Stories ~ Sliding into Summer 2017

June 2, 2017 ~ It is almost here, right? Already we are feeling the heat and the birds are getting scarce. Dependable areas are either dried up or too deep for waders after a big rain. And it is only going to get worse. At least the heat will. So, here is a bit of lagniappe, this and that left over from Spring adventures offered up as a treat.

Female Wilson's Phalarope almost airborne
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

For a couple of weeks in mid-May we were obsessed with Wilson's Phalaropes. They stop off briefly along the Texas coast on their journey from South America to the upper North American Plains and Canada. The above photo was taken at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge where we waded out in the muck to get low enough for good shots. The mud was so thick I lost all three feet off my tripod. And almost my boots.

Female Willson's Phalarope spinning with Greater Yellowlegs watching for prey
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; tripod

A beautiful bird with most atypical variations for shorebirds. First, they feed by spinning around in circles to stir up aquatic prey in water too deep for their rather short legs. We found several one afternoon in a small stock pond out on West Galveston. You can see the turbulence in front of the female Phalarope as she spins around and a Greater Yellowlegs taking advantage of her hard work.

Second interesting fact about Phalaropes is when they get to the breeding grounds, the more colorful female choose a mate, lays exactly four eggs in a scrape on the ground and then leaves. The male incubates the eggs and watches over them when they hatch. She is long gone, perhaps to mate a second time.

Killdeer chick on his own
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/12000 sec f/8.0 ISO 800; tripod

That same day we saw this adorable Killdeer chick. He was moving around on his own, but an adult was on the other side of the pond. I think we saw him take his first bath. He sat down in the water and waved his tiny wings for a few seconds and then hopped out. I got some photos but he was really too far away. Shame, because all baby birds are cute.

White Ibis with unusual perch
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; tripod

We have been to Bolivar a couple of times recently trying to duplicate our fantastic results in the Report from Rollover Pass, but no luck so far. But, we have found a couple of new places to explore. The coast abounds with abandoned vehicles and debris from long-past storms and hurricanes, especially the hard hit Bolivar Peninsula. Even now what's left of the road at the intersection to High Island and Winnie is constantly under attack from the tide and storms. It is the only overland evacuation route from Bolivar so maybe this expensive improvement project will make a difference.

Old dead tree decorated with birdhouses on Bolivar
SonyA77II with Sony DT 16-50mm f/2.81/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; hand-held

The Bolivar Peninsula is a bit like the wild west on the bay. There aren't many fancy developments and a most of the year-round residents are quirky and independent. Remember during Ike some refused to evacuate and more than 20 were swept out to sea. And even after the storm, when the roads were destroyed, with no power, gas or water some survivors insisted on staying.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron with GIGANTIC crab
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/1600
sec f/7.1 ISO 640; tripod

Around the Frenchtown area near the ferry landing we did find a this young Yellow Crowned Night Heron with a rather large crab from the adjacent ditch. He brought it out to the road to eat, but alas... it got away from him.

You see that a lot; birds bring their freshly caught prey away from the water if possible to eat and reduce the chances it will escape. Crabs were so plentiful in the ditch that losing this one didn't make much difference to him. We were set up at the edge of the road and I could see crabs moving around in the shallow water.

Great Blue Heron and SNAKE
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 640; tripod

Wading birds are quite opportunistic as far as food sources. We have seen Great Blue Herons eat a lot of different things. This is a Gulf Salt Marsh Snake and I think the reptile was quite dead when we focused in on the activity. He carried it around a while and then flew off into the marsh for his solitary feast.

Great Blue Heron with a RAT - click to embiggen
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2500
sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; braced on truck window

This is an enormous crop but I wanted you to see the poor little rat, probably a Marsh Rice Rat. When I first saw the Great Blue had something (on the south canal bordering Shoveler Pond at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge) it was just a muddy blob. With a combination of frequent washing (drowning) and turning (crunching the little bones) he rendered it suitable for a meal.

Lovely Eastern Kingbird
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/500
sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; braced on truck window

And the Eastern Kingbirds are everywhere! They breed here during our summer months and seem to be on every wire and fence post at Anahuac and Brazoria. I was thrilled to get this guy on top of a green bush.

Funny, how you keep raising the bar in bird photography. In the beginning you are happy to have a clear, well exposed shot. Then the head angle has to be good so the eye is visible. And the perch has to be suitable, not too heavy for a little bird and certainly nothing man-made. No distracting shadows or blurry twigs in the foreground. And bokeh! The background has to be smooth and creamy with nothing distracting from the subject.

It goes on and on. Which is good; we should never be too satisfied with our work or how will we improve?

Snowy Egret chicks and worn-out parent
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000
sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

And we made seven trips to Smith Oaks Rookery at High Island this year. On the last trip we found a number of Snowy Egret fledglings and they are just as mean and aggressive as the Great Egrets were. Must be those sharp pointy bills.

Roseate Spoonbill and chicks
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

It seems to have been a great year for Roseate Spoonbills. The chicks are so much better behaved and almost all the nests had at least three babies. The seem to be much less competitive even though the feeding method is much the same as with the agressive egrets.

Young guy learning to control those big flappy wings
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR~ 1/2000
sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; tripod

This young Roseate Spoonbill was testing his wings and agility. He had a ways to go as he didn't grip the perch well enough and had a surprising slide!

We were disappointed that there were no Tri-colored Herons nesting this year as they have done in the past. And the Cattle Egrets have also nested on the island previously, but did not see any this time. The island ground under the remaining trees is hard and bare; nothing can grow in the ah... fertilizer rich environment. The wind was out of the southeast last visit and the whole area is quite fragrant. But there were no mosquitoes!

Oh, just a note about the Rookery. The gate to the Old Mexico entrance (where there is the big parking lot) will be closed during the week starting June 15. It will be open on weekends, but if you go during the week you will have to hike from the Winnie Street entrance.

We are already thinking about different subjects for summer photography. Both of us have ordered flashes and plan to work on some macro photography. Bugs and flowers can be a lot of fun. And I want to get out and do some more wide-angle work. Stay tuned!

Does it feel like Summer already to you? Are you making plans to go away? Or do you want to work on your backyard bird set ups? Let me know in the comment section below.

Rookery Near McClendon Park

Rookery Near McClendon Park

Chasing Birds with Bill and Linda

Chasing Birds with Bill and Linda