Traveling East

Traveling East

March 30, 2018 ~ So... Last Monday's forecast for was heavy cloud cover all day and we happily headed east. Early. Dang, y'all drive in that traffic every day? We made it out to High Island a about 9 am and after complaining again about the No Equipment Cart Rule to the nice (but sympathetic) Audubon lady we made our way up to the last platform. I have a strap on my tripod but carrying it and the 10 lb camera/lens for long distances is hard. 

But you do what you have to do.

Rookery in Spring of 2014 - Click to embiggen

The rookery island is still quite bare and stark with no green underbrush or reeds along the shore. I suppose it will all grow back in time. Looking at some old photos I was shocked at how much it has changed over the five years I have been going. Bill Maroldo tells me there were tall trees on the island before Ike and the wooden platforms were added after that event. 

  The perfect perch    Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500   sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

The perfect perch
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

There is one interesting branch at the far end of the island. It is quite recognizable by the scared area where a branch was torn loose, and it makes the most wonderful perch. There is nothing behind it but the distant shore so subjects are perfectly set off with great bokeh. Here a fully adult Roseate Spoonbill in breeding colors obliged me by posing with wings up AND a lifted foot. 

Great Egret with fading green lores 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

I love that spot and I paid a lot of attention to who was using it. I think this guy was on his way back to his mate and nearby nest. Most of the Great Egrets have nests now, and we should have chicks in a week or two. Once they have a mate and are incubating eggs, the bright green lores start to fade. Useful signal to other birds that they are off the market. 

Spoonies clattering. 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

This Roseate Spoonbill interaction could be a prelude to mating, or two males just showing off. It was hard to get both birds in the shot; this is a minimal crop. I could have removed the 1.4x teleconverter and shot it at 500mm focal length, but then something exciting would have happened where I needed the extra reach. Photography is always about choices and trade-offs. 

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

Perfectly situated for photography is this Great Egret nest. I will venture to say you will see this one and their chicks numerous times on FB. It is at the very end of the rookery island, nothing in the background except water and an excellent set up for photography. The only disadvantage I can see is there is not going to be much room for three chicks to stand in that nest and fight for food from the parents. 

Tiny, spunky Snowy Egret in breeding colors
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

New this trip to the rookery were the Snowy Egrets. They come later and build nests among the lightweight branches that wouldn't support the heavier Great Egrets and Spoonbills. Note the lores are red, and his feet are not the usual yellow, but more orange. 

Snowy perched on dead snag
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000; tripod

Someone should grab this fine looking fellow! We saw a few with nests but mostly they were being all agro with each other. The males are very competitive for nest sites and females.

About 1:30 pm the wind shifted and we could no longer convince each other the clouds were coming back. We packed up and headed for Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. At least there you can move your position in relation to the sun, so you have a chance with the brighter light.

We started around the Autotour and tried to do some White-faced Ibis but caused a traffic jam and had to move on. We let ALL the cars pass us and moved along slowly. The reeds on the back side of Shoveler's Pond seem shorter; maybe the freeze damaged them. We did see Tricolors flying over and that side has been good for nesting White Ibis, Black Crowned Herons and others. Moorhens and Coots, but no Purple Gallinules yet.   

I was scanning the canal shore line for my Red-tailed Hawk (not there) and perhaps a Green Heron when.... in a dark recess I saw a Sora splashing around taking a bath! 

Stop the truck! Stop, stop STOP!

Bill stopped, backed up a bit and I got my camera up in the window and then we noticed THREE cars jammed up behind us. I mean, not coming along but right on our bumper. There isn't a whole lot of room to pull over on the levee road but we managed. And the cars passed (never even looking over to where we had seen the Sora. Such uncurious birders!)

Of course the Sora had disappeared by then.

  YUGE crop of Sora    Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600   sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

YUGE crop of Sora 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; tripod

But we are stubborn! We got our crates and tripods and set up on the embankment and waited. And waited. Finally I noticed movement in the reeds and we could see the bird preening but covered up by reeds. Bill even thought it could have been sitting on a nest, but finally we saw its feet, so that wasn't the case. Further research shows they don't breed here anyway.

Soras are uncommon to locally common migrants throughout Texas from early March to mid-May and late August to early November. These rails are common to locally abundant migrants and winter residents along the Coastal Prairies.

And after about 20 minutes the bird ventured back to the opening where it had been bathing. We got a few shots but most of them were obscured by the vegetation. He did keep coming closer, which helped but then... with no warning, he flew across the canal toward us and disappeared in the brush on the shore to our right.

Needless to say no shots of him in flight. Bummer.

Willet calling and calling and calling
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; braced in truck window

Heading down the road to the locks and boat ramp we looked hard for Green Herons (we had seen two fly over earlier at Smith Oaks) but nothing. We were so desperate we started stalking the abundant and noisy Willets. They actually have nice coloration this time of the year. Now, there are Eastern and Western races and both can be found along the Texas coast at this time of year. It is confusing and I wrote about it here.

If you worry about that kind of thing.

Tricolored Heron in breeding colors at culvert
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; braced on truck bed

At the very last culverts before the boat ramp we found a beautiful Tricolored Heron with blue face, shaggy neck feathers and purple legs. He had one culvert and a Snowy had the other. They were constantly picking tiny fish out of the moving water. 

Bill parked the truck where he could see both, and I shot braced on the corner of the truck bed, and later from the front. I was leery of getting the tripod out and stayed hidden by our mobile blind. They obliged us by catching fish and even exchanging places a couple of times.

Young Neotropic Cormorant's balancing act
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250; braced in open door

Around that last part of the canal are pilings that are almost always in use. I have photographed terns, gulls, snowys and many cormorants on those perches. This young Neotropic Cormorant was not one bit afraid of us. They just have a goofy, sweet look. 

We made a trip down to Frozen Point to bemoan the fact the Burrowing Owl did not come back and checked out the Caracara nest on a water tank in a cow lot. It isn't very visible but perhaps the youngsters will be later on.

Heading home we decided it had been a pretty good day. We were disappointed the light had changed but felt we made the best of it. Overcast light allows you to shoot from any direction and avoids harsh shadows on your subject. If the sun breaks through you have to change your position; keeping the sun behind you and waiting for the bird to position itself so foliage, branches or part of its body doesn't leave a mark. All in all some pretty good opportunities. 

And... I want to thanks all my Facebook readers who responded to my question about "who reads my blog?". I know for sure now there are many more readers than my subscriber list and I appreciate all of you and your comments. Let me know if there are subjects you would like me to write about; I welcome suggestions and ideas!

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