Short Stories - March 2018

March 16, 2018 ~ This is that in between time for chasing birds. The Winter visitors are beginning to leave for breeding grounds in the north and our Spring migrants have not yet arrived. Plus, we have had a fairly wet winter and our year-round birds have spread out.  It is a bit tough out there;  most of our trips have only yielded a few keepers. That joke about "not having to spend a lot of time downloading photos when we get home" is wearing thin. 

Forster's Terns
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

Even Texas City Dike has been quiet. We worked the birds at the breakers recently and most of the Forster's Terns have not gotten breeding colors yet. The airborne one above is getting a black cap, and his bill is bright orange with a black tip. The one perched on the breaker still has a black bill and white head. The White Pelicans have moved on, the Brown Pelicans were busy somewhere else and we didn't see the Long-billed Curlew that hangs out in the grassy areas. I think he was still around this winter, but we didn't see him. 

Just a note about the dike - the free entry on weekends is about to end: During the summer months (first weekend in March to last weekend in October) there is a $5 charge per vehicle to enter the dike on weekends. And they count Friday as weekend.

Banded American Oystercatcher at Texas City Dike 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; braced on back of truck

We did see WR, a banded American Oystercatcher in the company of another banded bird, LN. This girl is an old friend as we have seen and reported her three times. She is the chick of 15 and 16 and was banded in West Galveston Bay on 5/19/2014. She has been resighted and reported in the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory database 24 times, mostly at Texas City Dike. I report my sightings to AMOY as they have an accessible "My Oystercatchers" database and they share all the info with Gulf Coast Bird Observatory's Susan Heath. You are following her reports on the banded Oystercatchers, aren't you?  

White-faced Ibis
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 2500; braced on back of truck

Even Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge has been hit or miss. Sometimes there are a lot of birds but they are just too far away for good photos. This White-faced Ibis moved slowly closer while we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Black-necked Stilt 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 2500; braced on back of truck

There were only a couple Black-necked Stilts near the auto-tour the last time we went. We have them year-round and they nest at Brazoria so we should be seeing more in the weeks to come. One year we even found a chick, do you remember? I wrote about it in The Longest Legs.

Maybe you noticed in the last three photos "braced on the back of the truck" appears in the caption with the settings. That is because many times the birds are sighted on the left side of the road. The driver (Bill Maroldo) pulls up and positions the vehicle and then braces his long lens on a bean bag in the window and gets fantastic shots. The passenger (Linda Murdock) waits to make sure the bird isn't going to immediately fly, then slips out carefully and creeps to the back of the vehicle, using it as a blind. She makes her way to the corner of the truck bed, and positions the bean bag she has been carrying along with the 10 lb rig. Hopefully she can line up on the bird and get some nice shots.

Just so you know what that means. And, he swears that most of the birds are on the right side, and I get to shoot from the window and he has to get out and hand-hold, but .... that's my story and I am stickin' to it. 

Mysterious fungus
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/500 sec f/9.0 ISO 2000; hand-held

I have no idea what kind of fungus this is. At Brazoria, the short shrubs stay black after the controlled burns and look amazing against all this new spring greenery. This was shot hand-held and the old rule was your shutter speed should match or exceed the lens focal length, so I am really pushing it here. With image stabilization, a static subject and good technique you can manage, but the larger the sensor more magnification of shake. Or so they say.

Anxiously awaiting the return of the Purple Martins. 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; braced in truck window (it was on MY side) 

Last week we were headed toward Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary and saw this hawk perched on a really cool Martin house. It looked like a Red-tailed Hawk as it flew away. That is kind of the default hawk around here; most of the time that is what you see. 

Red-tailed Hawk at Surfside
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; hand-held

Like this one. And they are looking rather scraggly these days. This one seems to be missing feathers on each side. From what I can gatherer Red-tailed Hawks start molting in the Spring and it lasts until Fall. 

Coastal cat
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250
 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; braced in truck window (it was on MY side) 

And just down the road was this cat staring at me. It was quietly sitting in a residential yard; I saw a white spot and thought it might be a hawk resting on the ground. 

Coots dive down and bring up this stuff to eat. yuk
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 2500; tripod

A busy Sunday found us watching American Coots at Brazos Bend State Park. We went out because it was overcast and the light was wonderful BUT a cart full of equipment on a family-packed day was not a good choice. People are curious and ask questions - well meaning, of course, but it is highly disruptive when you have a bird in focus or you are waiting for a particular behavior and you hear behind you..

"What are you looking at?"

"Did you see the gator?"

"What kind of duck is that?"

Preening... 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2500; tripod

We did find a most cooperative American Bittern. Most of the time you find them in dry and dead reeds where they blend so perfectly with the surroundings. This one was in the open and the green foliage set off his feathers and shapes. 

Stretching... 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2500; tripod

They do a deep stretch sometimes and puff up. Must be intimidating to other Bitterns; maybe he was displaying toward the crowd on the trail gawking at him. 

The girl with the curl...
Nikon D810 with Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 ~ ISO 1600 f/6.3 I/640 sec; hand-held

And we took some photos of Bill's great-niece Ellie for her first birthday. That stuff is hard, y'all. Ellie had a lovely dress and was sitting in a basket with a balloon, plus a rainbow backdrop and this is the closest thing to a smile I got all day. She was pulling the pretty bow-hat off her head; she didn't like it any better than the cute cone hat with a big 1 on the front her mom tried to get her to wear during the cake smash part. 

It was fun, but I think we do better with birds! Are you ready for Spring migration to really start? Do the crowds at parks sometimes bother your photography sessions? And most of all, have you even tried to do babies and children? Let me know in the comments below!

Why Caracaras Cost Me Money

Why Caracaras Cost Me Money

Rockin' the Rookery at Smith Oaks

Rockin' the Rookery at Smith Oaks