Anahuac to Bolivar

Anahuac to Bolivar

Feb 23, 2018 ~ Recently we drove over to Beaumont to check out Cattail Marsh. I had seen FB photos from some friends and even heard there are Eagles there so we packed up and headed out. We go to Winnie (and then south to High Island) all the time, and Beaumont is only about 20 miles farther. As luck would have it, the sun broke through the clouds big time and it turned into a Blinding Sunstorm™ and a 80F day for our visit.

Because of the light and the hidden Eagles, I have nothing to show you from Cattail Marsh. We did see flocks of Glossy/White-faced Ibis, hundreds of ducks and some of the biggest, fattest  alligators I have ever seen. They are YUGE, folks. 

We did check out Smith Oaks Rookery that same afternoon. Looks pretty sparse after Harvey and there were no nesting birds yet. Lots of Neotropic Cormorants roosting, a few Great Egrets and Snowies on the far islands. A beautiful Harris Hawk that was too far away for a photo.

The next morning we left Winnie in the fog and headed for Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. I can't believe how quickly the fields are greening up. We saw giant flocks of Snow Geese in several places. 

Near the entrance to the park I yelled at Bill to stop. I had seen an OWL right off the road! Really, I did!

Making eye contact with a majestic hawk
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200; hand-held

He backed up the truck and my "owl" morphed into a very pretty Red-tailed Hawk. See how the branches just above his head kinda-sorta look like ... ears? In passing from an angle? We carefully got out and walked a bit closer. I love how he has moved his head slightly to peek at me around the branch. The ISO 3200 was obviously leftover from a previous shot but it still came out pretty well. 

Turned and almost ready to go...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; hand-held

Of course they are going to fly. You know that! And they will fly away from you 90% of the time. The image above is just before lift off. And the next image was obscured by Photoshop-defying branches right across his eye and then the next one is blurred. You don't get many chances. 

We started around the Auto-tour with two more non-photographic worthy hawk sightings. If the bird is just buried up in branches, facing away or backlight then the chances of a good image are pretty low.

Drive on.

Female Shoveler showing you her dainty foot
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; braced in truck window

ANW_DSC_5176.jpg

We saw Common Gallinules, Coots, White-faced Ibis in the distance. On my side of Shoveler Pond was its namesake, a female Northern Shoveler.

The females are quite attractive if you like that long... shovel shaped bill.  The bill has has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water. Here is a close up; they look like little teeth. 

Male Shoveler raising up a bit in the shallow water
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; braced in truck window

The pairs are monogamous and are just here for the winter. They nest in the western plains and all the way across Canada to Alaska. Ducks are just not my thing. I mean, mostly they just swim around. Occasionally they will rise up and flap but not a lot of action. 

Study in inaction
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/400
 sec f/8.0 ISO 800; tripod

We parked at the southwestern corner of the Auto-tour and worked on some dew-covered spiderwebs. I noticed these two young alligators sunbathing and did a 2-shot panorama . Not youngsters, but at least 5-6 feet long. 

Lined up for a race? 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

And a group of Neotropic Cormorants on an old structure. The Neotropics don't get the bright orange bill or white tufts for breeding plumage. And they are much smaller than the Double-crested. 

Red-tailed Hawk in his usual place
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; braced in truck window

Headed down the levee, we had seen a Red-tailed Hawk across the canal on another trip and I even chatted with a FB poster about seeing one in the same area. So I was scanning the low overhanging branches on the far side.

And yep, there he was. 

Three... two... one ... blast off
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; braced in truck window

I did get a few shots off before he flew. Following a take off from the passenger window is not easy but I have to say I am improving. I had the shutter-speed for this one, but f/7.1 was not enough depth of field for that wide wingspan (44.9-52.4 in) at a reasonably close distance.

But his head is sharp!

Staying with him...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; braced in truck window

He almost flew out of the frame here; the tips of his left wing got clipped. I am using that Dynamic AF 9-spot mode I told you about and it is chancy with a busy background like this. I just read this article on Group AF and I might try it next. You can always keep learning. 

Merlin way up high
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; braced on truck window

On the way out Bill saw this Merlin perched high atop a pole. He was very busy eating his lunch (a hapless bird by the presence of that foot sticking out) and tolerated us getting out and firing off a bunch of shots. Occasionally we saw tufts of dark feathers fall away. Once he ate all he wanted he flew to another pole top, and then to a mid-size bare tree.

We followed.

Such a regal bird
ikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; braced on truck window

He would not face us, so we had to be content with profiles and an occasional glance over his shoulder.

Another Red-tailed Hawk
ikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; braced in truck window

Back out on the highway we found another Red-tailed in a tangle of vines and branches on a small tree. He was on my side, backlight but then there was a small cloud. When he flew, I got this "looking back at you" shot. We saw so many hawks on this drive but you can't always stop safely. 

Double-crested Cormorants in a friendly encounter... 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; tripod

The tide was way out of the bay side at Rollover Pass so we set up near the will-it-be-closed-or-not cut and watched the cormorants. It was a mixed group but we caught these two Double-crested Cormorants in a big squabble. 

We made a quick check of Bolivar Flats (fogged in) and Frenchtown Rd but nothing blog-worthy. We did follow a female Northern Harrier as she made endless loops above us but the images were not sharp. I think the moisture in the air from the nearby fog was the problem. The male we saw later was also affected, so nothing to share.

Then we waited an hour to get on the ferry. Strange that no boat came for such a long time. When one finally did arrive the first vehicle off was an ambulance. Grim reminder that living in out of the way places can have a big price tag. But we finally got on and took way too many photos of the gulls.

I think it is just a tradition.

Laughing Gulls are getting black heads for breeding plumage
Nikon D810 with Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 ~
1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600 ; hand-held

Have you been over to Cattail Marsh and if so, did you have better luck than we did? And isn't Anahuac great this year? Let me know about your birding adventures in the comments below.

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