Favorites of 2018
Dec 14, 2018 ~ I haven’t been able to get out much lately due to sunny or cold or wet weather and some other unforeseen events but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say! While backing up some images I thought about finding my favorites of the past year to share. Some of these were in adventures and some might be new. I noticed several of my photog friends are making great calendars, but that is way too much work for me. Here are a few images I felt especially good about from 2018.
Back in February Bill Maroldo (who else would I be out shooting with?) and I had a Good Day at Brazos Bend. It was not too cold and was very birdy as I recall and I think it was the maiden voyage of our infamous cart, or at least it was new. We had set up our tripods and crates opposite a stalking American Bittern near the spillway and took way too many photos of him. He was hunting and occasionally we got a good shot, but Brazos Bend is notorious for ClutteredCrappyBackgrounds™ so nothing we got that time was all that remarkable. If you don’t get low all your waders are taken from eye level looking down and the tops of their heads are not that attractive. I know, it is often difficult to get low because of the alligators but you can find clear spots on the side of the trails here and there.
So we are watching the Bittern and off to my right about 50 feet away were a couple of juvenile White Ibis. I love seeing them; each one exhibits different coloration as they grow into adult plumage. One was standing alone on a fence post covered with flood debris. There were no trees or brush close to him so the image has fantastic bokeh. It is difficult to get an image at Brazos Bend with such a clean background.
This has remained one of my favorites and here is it with a new vertical crop. It was taken looking back down the trail; hard to remember to look all around when you are intently focused on what is directly in your sight.
Back in March we went down south. Our coastal communities were hard hit by Harvey and were just beginning to recover. There is a Great Blue Heron rookery right in town (directions and map in South to Rockport and Port Aransas) and Bill and I had a fantastic day. The birds were in full breeding colors; bright blue lores and pristine feathers. We got tons of photos of them bringing sticks to their mates but I was a bit partial to this landing shot. When I first met Bill I had never even taken a photo of a bird in flight. I got an image of his of a Great Egret landing at High Island in this exact same pose - wings out, feet up and ready - and used it as my wallpaper on my work computer.
I wanted so much to get a shot like that and… I finally did.
And speaking of High Island. We went early in March and were devastated by the damage from Harvey to Smith Oaks Rookery. But in just a few short weeks the birds were back and it was a great season. I got fantastic images of the Great Egrets; it was a bumper-year for nesting Roseatte Spoonbills but my favorite of the season was this pert and perky Snowy Egret. Look at the breeding colors! His lores are bright red and his feet are not yellow but orange. All those fancy feather underscore why they were hunted during the Victorian age for hat decorations.
Early in the year we spotted a Sora along the mudbanks of the canal next to Shovelers Pond at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. I got a few images, but I remember being just incensed we had to make way for some binocular birding tourists that of course managed to scare him away. Soras are plentiful but seldom seen as they stay in the vegetation making clear photos a real challenge.
Except for this year.
We saw some off the road at Brazoria National Wildlife a short time after the Anahuac sighting. It was in a gap in the foliage on one of the big ponds on the autotour; the water was very low and there were no visible alligators. So… we took our tripods and crates down to the edge of the water in the mud.
Kids, don’t try this at home.
I have 102 images of Soras from that day. They walked in front of us, in and out of minimum focus distance and even took a bath. The whole story is in The Shy and Secretive Sora.
2018 was excellent for getting images of seldom seen birds. Least Bitterns are another one that evades your camera. We did find this one out in the open on the autotour at Anahuac back in May. Usually if you see them, they are sneaking around in the reeds and gone before you can get a decent shot. Or worse, they fly by unexpectedly and you aren’t even ready. This one perched and posed for us long enough to get off about 80 shots. We found a lot of birds on that Sorta-kinda Sunny Day at Anahuac.
So many days out are just so-so but we had a stellar day at Brazos Bend in May. We were just coming up on Elm Lake from the spillway trail and spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron near the shore. He was perched on a low log and stalking whatever was below the duckweed soup Patience rewarded us with this catch.
I was using the 1.7x TC on the Nikkor 500 f/4 with my Nikon D810 that day. Sometimes that teleconverter slows down the autofocusing and the images are not quite as sharp as with the 1.4x TC or with none at all, but that day all the stars were aligned. It was barely overcast making the bird evenly illuminated and just right for such a high contrast bird. Being a Night Heron you knew not to expect a lot of movements so a slow shutter speed was possible. And he was in a bend of the lake so the background was clean.
We had such a good time. 359 shots and a lot of them are identical :-) So what. He could have done something! And he did! You can read about it in A Black-crowned Night Heron.
By June we were experiencing drought conditions punctuated by torrential downpours. The heavy rains caused short term flooding but were not enough to stop the drought. We were starting to have to drive more to find birds. We started doing Brazoria, Surfside, Quintana, Bryan Beach areas every time we went out. In years past we might find a good location anywhere along the route and stay for several hours. But now we were just on the road more and coming up short.
Yes, there are alligators down there in the canals and yes, I was terrified.
The youngsters were so cute but difficult to get clear shots due to wind-blown branches. I hate that I clipped his toe in this one, but the baby feathers on the top of his head make up for it.
Summer was hot and unproductive and fall wasn’t a lot better. We did make several trips to see the Bolivar Birds in October and I enjoyed following the antics of a Reddish Egret in the shallow waters. I had my Nikon D850 by then and finally felt comfortable with all those mega-pixels. There were so many good shots that afternoon but I loved the sheer prehistoric feeling of the Reddish Egret above. Birds are just evolved dinosaurs, you know.
This guy was so close I was using my Nikkor 300 f/4 PF and he still came within minimum focus distance more than once.
By the end of the year I found myself hand-holding shots of more and more birds in flight. This Osprey is one of my favorites; I love the way he is looking back at us.
It was a good year. We had a lot of fun chasing birds and I worked hard on birds-in-flight like the scraggly-tailed Red-tailed Hawk in the lead in photo. That might be one of the first ones I tracked and followed and kept up with for more than a few shots. A few things helped with that goal. One, I practiced more. No more staying the truck when Bill jumped out to try for a hawk or osprey. I got out and held up that big lens and tried. Two, getting the Nikon 300 f/4 PF made a huge difference. It is light and mobile and I can say success breeds success. Once you get some good shots your confidence levels rise. And lastly, I learned to use multiple focusing modes on both the Nikon D810 and the Nikon D850. Sometimes I use the D-9 spot, sometimes 3-D and even Group depending on the background and distance. The D850 does have better autofocusing abilities than the D810 but all new cameras have so many features it takes time to experiment and try them all.
Did you look back at your images for the year yet? What do you think you improved on? And… what are your goals for 2019? I got a macro lens (Nikon 105 f/2.8 VR) and I should be out in the yard right now searching for bugs and critters. I have a flash that I have never even used so I have all the gear to work with. And luckily, I have someone to help me learn :-) Let me know your plans in the comments below!