Green Herons of Cullinan Park

Green Herons of Cullinan Park

July 7, 2017 ~ Continuing my series on the wildlife of Cullinan Park - it is the only place I have been in weeks! If we are really lucky there are clouds in the early morning, but by noon it is relentless sunshine and high temps. We are already in the "feels like 106F" range due to our high humidity. Container plants on the shady patio have to be watered every single day.

This does not bode well for August.

Nice upright pose
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; tripod

I saved all my great photos of the Green Herons for one big blowout. I love this one even though I had to crop out a lot of crap at the bottom. He was tucked into a low bush and it was difficult to get a clear shot. But, I like the clear profile and the curve of his neck.

On the move
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

Green Herons are fantastic subjects and Cullinan Park (with all its dratted Water Lettuce) shows off bird with a smooth, uniform colored background. You can avoid the few stalks sticking through the matted vegetation and there is always the chance he will climb up on a flat lotus pad.  Much different than trying to catch them along the mud flats with brambles and trash in the background.

I don't know how deep the lake is in this area, but he manages quite well walking on the vegetation. We have observed he will ...step... step... step...

Adjusting the stride
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; tripod

... and then flap his wings for balance. It is like a tight-rope walker using that big pole to stay upright. You can get the rhythm and then fire off a burst of shots to catch the upraised wings.

And be careful with your exposure. Remember, this is a dark bird walking around on a light background. You want to expose for the dark bird which is a really small part of your image compared to the bright, light colored surrounding area. If you aren't careful you will have a dark blob of a bird with no detail. You may be in the habit of looking at your histogram, but the point being it is easy to underexpose a dark bird against a light background. I am using spot-metering, focused on the bird, and the little gauge will often show the image is overexposed. Shoot and check your image.

I know, it is really hard to see the LCD screen in all that bright light (and without your reading glasses) but look at the tones. If you zoom in and can see detail in the bird, it will probably be OK. If the bird is just a dark mass, you are underexposing the subject. There are limits to what can be recovered in post-processing.

He ate a lot of these whatever they are
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; tripod

And they are great hunters. Not sure at all what this is. Can you see the discarded legs on the water lettuce below?

He was pretty close, but the big lens helps :-)
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; tripod

And this looks like some kind of spider. It could be a Wolf Spider, but the legs look thinner.

I could HEAR him crunching the dragonfly!
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/8.0 ISO 1250; tripod

No doubt about this catch. It is an adult male Pondhawk dragonfly and sometimes they pluck them out of the air. Bill got a shot of one that grabbed a pair of Halloween Pennant dragonflies doing the airborne mating thing.

Pay attention to your f/stop and depth of field if you get one this close and turned toward you. You want the prey, the bill, and at least the head in sharp focus.

Hard at work finding food
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; tripod

Nothing too small; it takes a lot of fuel for a bird. Can you see a tiny part of his nictitating membrane extended to protect his eye? Go ahead and click or tap the photo to see the full sized version. All my photos can be enlarged like that. Go ahead and try it; then just tap/click outside the embiggened image to return to the text.

Green Heron out of the hot sun
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/7.1 ISO 800; tripod

This adult perched in a low tree one afternoon, I think to get out of the heat. I saw him leaning way down and get a dragonfly but the heat waves distorted the focus. It is really hot out there guys. If you go, and I hope you do, don't forget the hat and sun screen and .. take water.

If you haven't been before it is a really short, paved walk from the parking lot to the boardwalks. Not a problem to return to your car for something you forgot or if you need to cool off for a while. This isn't Brazos Bend where you need to hike back from the Observation Tower. Things are close and it is a compact area around the boardwalks. You can wear your shorts and flip-flops.

Sometimes you see him, sometimes not. But he is always there
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

Over by the large T-shaped pier lurks this YUGE alligator. He is often under the pier and sometimes you see him moving through the water lettuce. I have heard he comes out when there are fishermen there. Now, I am used to 'gators from Brazos Bend and Brazoria, but this guy has the widest head I have ever seen. His skin looks like oak; he is really old.  We estimated he is 10-12 feet long.

Just another difficulty to overcome in cleaning out the rapidly growing Water Lettuce. I am not kidding, this aquatic vegetation has probably doubled in size in the last month.

But his tail has no red so what is it?
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

Got this hawk circling the lake one afternoon. It is not a Red-tailed, which is our default go-to hawk ID so I am going to venture it is a ....Red-shouldered Hawk but I am definitely uncertain of my ID.

What do you think?

Green Heron portrait
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/8.0 ISO 800; tripod

Another time we were out there, this Green Heron perched in a different low bush and had a serious preening session. This is the same bird shown in the first photo above; I had really small window for a clear shot. There were dead lotus leaves just below his feet. And the sun was shining so only certain poses would work or there would be devastating shadows. You know by now I don't like to shoot in the bright sunlight, but you have to work with what you have. At least for a while.

Mom and Junior checking us out
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

And to remind you that there is more wildlife than just birds, these two Racoons came around the corner to surprise me and some friends one hot Saturday morning. There were five of us oohing and aaaahhing and taking their photos. They didn't stay too long, but I don't think they were afraid of us one bit. It is a bit unnerving to make definite eye-contact with an animal and know they are looking back at you.

Next week I hope to have something new for you; I love Cullinan Park, but I am ready to go somewhere else! But, the forecast is for bright sunny days so you might have to look at photo art or street art. Who knows? Are you enjoying the hot summer days? Drop me a line in the comments below; I would love to hear from you!

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