Sizzling Summer Stories

Sizzling Summer Stories

August 31, 2018 ~ Arrgghh. We haven't had a hotter summer in ages. Day after day of brilliant blue skies, record-breaking heat and very little rain. All our favorite bird places have dried up and the few times we have ventured out, the promised cloudiness turned out to be a mirage. I know, this time last year we were recovering from Harvey and all the flooding, but this heat has been hard to take.

Bill Maroldo and I kept trying to find birds in Surfside, Bryan Beach ponds and Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. The day we found the Reddish Egret and I wrote about Perspective was an exception to the usual. But, we did find a few nice birds during a surprise rain event the end of July.

And even that was a hard day.

With a cloudy forecast we headed south (and navigating the 288/BW 8 construction is tricky) so we decided to check out the ponds behind Bryan Beach first. It was barely raining at that time as we crossed over the Intracoastal Canal bridge and turned off where the fruit stand guy used to be.  They have been revamping the retention pond directly behind Bryan Beach and have built some kind of overflow structure. Cheryl Vance-Kiser had seen baby Black-necked Stilts in the new ditch. We did see a tiny chick, but it headed for the brush when we stopped. But we did see this:

Big babies hiding from the rain
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000; hand-held

These Black-necked Stilts are practically teenagers but instinct is to run to mom for protection. Now that I think about it, it could be the first time these youngsters have experienced rain! She sheltered them for a while and then flew off leaving the big babies to fend for themselves. 

Yep. It is that dry around here.
Nikon D810 with Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 ~ I/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; hand-held

The rain quickly stopped and I got out and took some wide angle shots. The ponds behind Bryan Beach have always been a productive location but do dry up at times. They aren't exactly tidal but down the coast they do have access to the mouth of the Brazos River and then the Intracoastal Canal is very near. The water table is pretty high along the coast; this is hardly more than marshland.

Bill inspecting the landscape. The birds are on the far shore.
Nikon D810 with Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 ~ I/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; hand-held

Back when Bill Maroldo and I first started shooting together, it was during the drought of 2013 and we got stuck here after driving out on the mud flats. I don't think I wrote about it but it was a good thing we had some cash for the nice guy that pulled us out. 

And then it started raining again. 

Brown Pelicans having a party
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.7 ISO 1600; braced in passenger window

There were many birds far out in what was left of the water. And Brown Pelicans which we usually don't see here. I am sure they were feasting on the poor fish trapped in the rapidly shrinking ponds. The rain did not last long and hardly made an impact. 

Still life with Tricolored Heron and Dead Fish
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; braced on back of truck bed

On the other side of the road to the beach there was still a small pond next to the bridge. It was much more shallow and most of the fish had died from heat/lack of oxygen. There were birds walking around and eating the still living minnows, but dead fish are not attractive. This was such a pretty little Tricolored Heron but the backgrounds here were awful. It is a lot of trouble to Photoshop scads of dead fish and trash. 

We found nothing at Surfside so we went over to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. 

It was just as dry even after the rain. The ponds are turning into meadows, the canals are almost dry. We went all the way down to the boat ramp and found this juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron trying to dry out. 

Young Yellow-crowned Night Heron at the edge of the coast
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.7 ISO 2000; braced in passenger window

So... we hated to come home with so few photos and after some discussion we went back to Surfside. And it was a good decision.

Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 2000; tripod

It was a bit overcast after the showers and we set up crates and tripods on the side of Casco Road. I think there were some White Ibis but the Clapper Rails were very active. And this one kept his wings out for... 88 shots! I started out horizontal and changed to vertical. In some shots his wings are higher, then lower and he turns his head from side to side to finally dissolve into preening.

And these are not cropped much at all; he was THAT close. 

Hacking up a big pellet...
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1600 sec f/8.0 ISO 2000; tripod

Hope you aren't grossed out by this shot, but it is a normal bird thing. Birds hack up pellets - plants, exoskeletons of insects, bones, fur, or other undigested matter. Whatever cannot pass through the digestive system. < great article telling your way more than you might want to know.

Look at me!
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/8.0 ISO 2000; tripod

I finally removed the teleconverter they were so close. We had about six birds running back and forth. This looks to be a first year bird; it doesn't have much coloration yet. I loved the way this one kept her tail up as she ran about. (I just decided she was a prissy girl; there is no way to tell for sure).

After over 800 photos of the Clapper Rails we moved on. Nothing much on the mainland side but we found some birds under the big bridge on the island side. Not where the red building is, but one of the other ponds. 

Green Heron peeking at us
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/640 sec f/6.7 ISO 3200; tripod

When the water gets this low all kinds of submerged things are exposed. This might be a commercial fiberglass sink but it is now a reef in the shallow water under the bridge. It was hard to get a good shot of the Green Heron, he wanted to fish right in front of his perch. 

Note that I have the teleconverter back on, the shutter speed is slow, the apperture wide open and the ISO high. It was dark under that bridge; he is a dark bird and thank goodness Nikon is good at low light situation. Go ahead, click and embiggen. I used a bit of noise reduction in ACR, but it looks sharp to me. 

Tricolored Heron with tiny fish
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.7 ISO 3200; tripod

There was a Tricolored Heron with great colors fishing waaaay down at the other end of the pond. We did all kind of mind control on him in an attempt to entice him to come closer. No such luck. This was shot at ISO 3200 as well. No fancy noise reduction, just a bit in ACR. If you shoot Nikon, don't be afraid to try higher ISOs. 

Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.7 ISO 2500; tripod

A Great Egret did come in fairly close. We tend to ignore them after breeding season when the green lores fade. But this was a nice one and it caught a good sized fish. They tend to chomp down on them several times to break the bones before swallowing. This one might have bristled up its feathers to warn off the surrounding birds. 

Mostly we watched a Reddish Egret saunter around the pond. He did none of that shadowing and frantic drunken sailor hunting, only plucked a few little fish from the shallows. 

Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.7 ISO 2500; tripod

Still, this image is nice. All high key looking but it was taken in the shade of the tall bridge in rather low light. He was close; I was able to frame/crop out any distracting colors and just include the reflected light. 

Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 500mm f/4E VR + Nikon 1.7x TC ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.7 ISO 2500; tripod

But, he did move around some. We were happy. Sitting on crates in the mud in the shade watching beautiful birds. It was hot, but we finally did find some birds and light we could work with. Which was not the case for several other trips this summer.

Are you ready for cooler weather? Did you notice some of the trees are shedding leaves already? Do you think we will ever need jackets again? Let me know how sick of summer you are in the comments below!

Checking Out Cullinan Park

Checking Out Cullinan Park

One Reddish Egret from Different Points of View

One Reddish Egret from Different Points of View