More Itty Bitty Flitty Birds
May 4, 2018 ~ Bird watching and bird photography is so uncertain. Some days are slow and unproductive, and then others are outstanding. We had been to Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary on April 7, 9, 13, 20, 22 and finally on the 26th I came home with a bunch of great photos. The other trips had varying success rates and were a bit on the low side for quality images.
Except on the April 22nd when we found a tiny Least Bittern in the ditch out front. It is not a warbler, but does qualify as a itty bitty bird; bigger than a Robin but smaller than a Crow. He looks big here in this closeup but you would be surprised how small he really is.
Least Bitterns are usually shy and secretive, hiding in the weeds and rushes. And this one was right out in the open ignoring the half-dozen photographers watching his every move. I got hundreds of photos and heard later that the GCBO staff netted and moved him for his own safety later that afternoon.
He had started walking on the road and was becoming a traffic hazard to cars and himself.
For the first part of the day I was using my new Nikon 1.7x TC which gave me 850 mm reach with the 500 f/4. It worked fine out in the open where there was more light. This male Baltimore Oriole was high on a bare branch in the open area next to the sanctuary. If you set up on that old concrete foundation you have a huge view and can find birds landing on the small trees and bamboo.
Migration has been strange this year. The timing feels late, but probably is about right. I read somewhere that the colorful birds are stalled out here in Texas because it is still cold in their destinations. Now, how they know that is one of the avian mysteries but they have been doing this FOREVAH so I just enjoy seeing them for whatever the reason!
There is a small tree directly between the concrete pad and the outside trail of the sanctuary. It stands in the middle of masses of dewberries and brambles and is a great stopping place for the birds. We puzzled over this one for a long time; and finally that long sharp bill gave it away as either a female Baltimore Oriole or female Orchard Oriole, but not a little warbler.
We followed a small group of Baltimore Oriole across the street and found where they landed on a small tree in someone's yard. We were right next to the Historical Marker and then the birds flew on to the backyard and this fantastic bare bush with sunflowers in the distance.
The vacant lots around the sanctuary are full of golden flowers; I even saw a young gal sitting in the field posing for a photo by her boyfriend. Hope she didn't get chiggers.
The Hooded Warblers were abundant. People have laughed this year (oh, just another Hoodie), but they are all over the ground and seem quite acclimated to humans. This male was in the brush at the front of the sanctuary; I was set up on the edge of the road near the ditch where the Least Bittern had charmed us last time.
In all those same brambles and brush I followed this beautiful Chestnut-sided Warbler trying to get a clear shot. They are such tiny things. Maybe this one flew up the coast instead of over the Gulf of Mexico, but he has a long way to go yet.
He has to eat a lot of insects to fuel such a long trip.
I saw a Black-and-White Warbler while following this one around, but no luck. The 1.7x converter has a nice reach, but focusing is slower so I swapped it out for the 1.4x TC. That dropped me down to 700 mm for the rest of the day.
I wished I had the extra reach when I saw this Tennessee Warbler on the orange. He wasn't very close and I was afraid I would spook him if I moved closer. It is the same bird on the lead-in photo; who knew the little guys would eat grocery store fruit? The oranges are favorites of the Orioles and the Grackles like them as well. He couldn't reach it at first and hopped back and forth trying to get a good angle. Finally, standing on your food seemed like a good idea.
Not all the migrants are so tiny. This is a Gray-cheeked Thrush; I had to rely on the binocular birders for that identification. A little smaller than a Robin, and it breeds way up in the Arctic Tundra (aka Canada) so it is not commonly seen in the USA except during migration.
A Gray Catbird landed on a low branch and then walked around on the trail for a while. I was going to try to get low, but he decided to fly at that moment. I snapped off some shots and was pleasantly surprised to find I got a full 'wings up" pose. Bill was next to me and we must have clicked at the exact same moment; our shots are almost identical. Amazing, huh?
And then.... and then I saw a Painted Bunting in the underbrush. These little guys are mostly seed eaters, so you find them on the ground with Indigo Buntings and at feeders. Bonus points for one on a limb or a branch. They breed over nearly all of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and should be much more evident during the summer, but they must be off in the woodlands and brush. The varied coloring is striking but in the shadows and dappled light they are hard to see.
Quintana has been our go-to spot this year for migrants. Birds are quite accessible there; we have seen a lot of warbler types at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge on the roadside but they are hard to get close to. The sanctuary is a small place and can get crowded, but it is fun to run into photogs you have known for years and also finally put the person with familiar Facebook contributors. Have you been to Quintana yet? Do you have migratory birds in your backyard? Let me know in the comments below!