In Spite of the Rain

In Spite of the Rain

June 22, 2018 ~ Recently a tropical depression formed in the Gulf of Mexico and the models and forecasts told us it was going to be a Category 2 hurricane, no... a tropical wave...no, maybe it is going to go south...umm... no, it will be a direct hit... oh gee, we don't know but it will definitely be a major flooding event! Be prepared! This happens here on the coast with great regularity; sometimes they are right and sometimes not. You do have to keep up with the forecasts, because things can change rapidly, but a lot of times the expected rain moves south, or east or fails to materialize.

Monday, June 18 we packed up and went south. It had barely rained Sunday but the radar did not show anything serious out in the Gulf. Bill has a 4-wheel drive truck and we know the areas that usually flood. We took towels and rain jackets along with our regular gear. And as it turned out, we had a fantastic overcast day with a few intermittent showers. 

First stop, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. We had been there on Saturday and wanted to see if the rain south of us had made any difference. There were some vultures at a cow carcass on the way in and three Caracaras politely waiting their turn, but I couldn't get a clear shot before they flew. There were a few new puddles and we got some mediocre shots of Black-necked Stilts, a Snowy and some female Red-winged Blackbirds. The mud-cracked ponds are going to need a lot more rain. A lot more.

And then on the way out we stopped for a Green Heron in the ditch on the left, which bolted rather quickly. But the one I spotted on the right didn't care. 

Green Heron hacking up a pellet
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; braced in truck window

In fact, he walked a few steps and hacked up a BIG pellet. This is totally normal; it is the undigested bones, scales, feathers, or fur of previous meals. Want to know more? Try this fabulous article explaining a bird's digestive system.

See the pellet by his foot? 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; braced in truck window

Bill got out and set up his tripod and crate at the edge of the road; I took my 224 shots from the passenger side window. Shooting down on a subject is not ideal, but he was so close I couldn't risk getting  out.

Trying out a grub as a lure...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
 sec f/8.0 ISO 1250; braced in truck window

We watched him drop a grub in the puddle and retrieve it several times. They are known to use insects or even bread as a lure to catch fish. He might have been trying out the grub as bait, but it probably wasn't ideal since it didn't float. He finally ate the grub and flew off. 

It sprinkled on us a bit on the way to the Quintana-Bryan Beach area. We stopped at the canal that runs alongside Hwy 36 to check out the nesting birds there. You have to park on the shoulder of a really busy highway and it is so dry now you can walk out on the cracked mud. Of course, it is stinky and messy and there could be alligators lurking. It was raining a bit more now so we went on to Bryan Beach and planned to come back later. 

Snowy Egrets collectively fishing...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000
 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; braced in truck window

The ponds behind Bryan Beach are mostly tidal and we spotted a group of Snowy Egrets trolling the surface. They were flying low, occasionally dragging  their yellow feet and sometimes snatching a fish off the surface. Several Sooty Terns (or Black Terns?) accompanied the group.

I think the red fish was a bit too big to grab. 

Grabbing food on the fly... literally
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; braced in truck window

Here is a big crop from a group. Bill called it "flying in formation". 

We saw the tiny Willet chick was still alive, and shooed a duckling out of the road and back to safety in the ditch. There were a lot of birds in the first pond at the corner, including a Reddish Egret but the wind was blowing the sprinkles back at us. We checked out a few other spots and headed back to the rookery on Hwy 36.

Juvenile Tricolored Heron near nest...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000; braced in truck window

Most of the close nests were in some salt cedars which would have been on an island in the canal if the part next to the highway wasn't dry. The wind was blowing and finding a clear shot was tricky. This juvenile can probably fly. 

And it was quite overcast and if you look carefully (go ahead, click to embiggen) you can see some spotty rain.  Nikon does well with high ISOs; no noise reduction applied to this. Behind the bird is the canal, and then a brushy shore. Perfect separation for great bokeh. 

Same little guy flapping his new wings. 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; braced in truck window

But he sure was awkward moving around on the branches. I shot these from the passenger side of the truck, but later got out and ventured down into the muck. We looked carefully first and didn't see any alligator tracks in the dried mud. But they are definitely in the canal. This place is not for the faint of heart.

Working on the fishing skills
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1600
 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

Across the canal you could see young Tricolors fishing along the banks. Sibling rivalry seems to be extended out of the nest as well. 

Young guy with fuzzy head
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1000
 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

This guy was really young. He was close to us but on the back side of some cedars and almost impossible to get a clear shot. Bill was right beside me and we tried to talk him into moving a bit. 

  What a cutie!    Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250   sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

What a cutie! 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

He was active and seemed more curious than afraid of us. No one came to feed him while we were there, but several other youngsters landed close by from training flights over the water. 

Success! 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/1000 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

This is cropped only on the sides; I wanted a full body shot and finally he scrunched down his neck, the cedar limb to the right almost blew out of the frame and I got it. After 357 shots, we climbed out of the canal and headed on to Surfside. Cheryl Vance-Kiser had stopped by to see us on the side of the road and she told us about a Reddish Egret she saw off Crab Rd the day before.

Calling Clapper Rail...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm
f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/8.0 ISO 2000; hand-held

No Reddish Egrets there but we did find a noisy Clapper Rail. We have caught glimpses of chicks this year, but no good photos. I switched over to my 300 mm f/4 at this point. With the 1.7x TC it has a 500mm reach and it is so much easier to manipulate.

Especially late in the day...

The wetlands are full of youngsters... 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; hand-held

We found some juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons in the marsh and then this... 

Big guy.... 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/800 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; hand-held by Bill Maroldo with my camera so he owns it

It is standing behind one of the beach houses. It is YUGE; that is a pipeline marker to the right and they are 42" above ground. I suspect he was cut from a 4x8 sheet of plywood. But... why? Do you have any ideas? Is it someone famous I don't recognize? Google Images said the best guess was Bodybuilding and then showed me some drawings of Neanderthals. 

My last photo was taken at 6:28 pm and we headed home. It must have sprinkled a bit more in Sugar Land; the rain gauge showed 3/4" since Sunday. Tuesday it was at 2.5 inches cumulative after a good shower. On Wednesday we went out again and only got rained on once along the coast (OMG Reddish Egrets next week!) but when we got home the rain gauge had overflowed and my backyard looked like a lake. I am writing this on Thursday and we have a long band of 50-mile wide weather hugging the coast. It is not over yet, but the street flooding has been localized and spotty. Anyway, it is a nice change from the Blinding Sunstorms and heat and our yards are thankful.

Do you stay home when rain is forecast? Or do you take your chances? And do you know anything about the Surfside Apeman? Let me know in the comments below!

Rockin' the Reddish Egrets

Rockin' the Reddish Egrets

Awesome Anhingas

Awesome Anhingas