Short Stories and Being Rescued

Short Stories and Being Rescued

March 8, 2019 ~ I was reading that this February had a majority of cloudy and rainy days. Between the last day of January and the first of March we went out 13 times, so it must be true. Some of these trips I wrote up for blogs, but there are always a few images left over.

And a few stories to tell…


We did make a trip over to Resoft Park. It is one of the closer rookeries if you can’t manage a trip to High Island for the day. The birds here also nest on islands but you don’t have the advantage of being at eye-level with them like at Smith Oaks. Still, it is great for flight shots.

The Great Egrets are building nests now and will be flying in with sticks for their mates approval.

They will be followed by Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Black-crowned Herons and even Cattle Egrets later in the season.

In any event, it is a nice location if you are tired of you local parks. Plenty of Muscovy Ducks and a few Mallards as well.

Great Egret with stick for his honey
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; hand-held

Sticks are plentiful this early in the season and you should have many opportunities for shots like the one above. It helps that you can see them coming a long ways off. In years past we noticed the Great Egrets ran out of easily obtainable nesting material and were going over the grassy hill to the back corner of the park. We set up on the path and watched them pick up and discard sticks until they found one that met some mysterious criteria before flying back to the nest.

My tree! All mine!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2500 hand-held

This pulled back view shows you what the trees look like. Very branchy there and visibility will be even more difficult once they leaf out.

All the more reason to make a trip now.

Coming in for a landing…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2500; hand-held

But still, you can find the Great Egrets making those spectacular landings. My friend Kate (who used to call all birds chickadees) noted “he’s nice - with the green “I’m single” sign out”. Yes indeed, the birds look better in the Spring than any other time of the year.

Show off
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; hand-held

There are some Doublecrested Cormorants there now but I am not sure if they will be nesting. The day we went it was heavily overcast and even sprinkled a bit. White birds look great on the white background; dark birds are a bit more of a challenge to properly expose. We did see a female Anhinga but never did get a clear shot. There are a lot of branches, y’all,

Brown Pelican portrait
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/3200 sec f/8.0 ISO 800; hand-held

Texas City Dike is almost always good for birds. This Brown Pelican is working on his breeding plumage. The head is nice and yellow but he lacks the brown stripe up the back of his neck. This is a super crop from a full length portrait. Next time I go to Texas City Dike I want to do detail shots on their eyes and bills.

Sandy the Matagorda Burrowing Owl
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/5.6 ISO 1250; hand-held

And one day we drove to Matagorda Jetty area to see the Burrowing Owl. We had one at Anahuac a few years ago and everyone trekked down to see him. Same with this one, it just stands there and looks back at you. I haven’t seen any images of it with its wings up; a wink is considered serious activity.

It was supposed to stop raining and just be cloudy that day, but the weather forecasters tricked us again. Maybe we will head that way again soon. It was a nice drive down and it would be fun to explore some of the back roads and wetlands when it wasn’t so wet and rainy.

Great Blue Heron looking … GOOD!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; hand-held

On our last trip to Surfside this Great Blue Heron was hunkered down at the corner of Casco Road and the Intercoastal Canal turn around.. This is the area Old BW used to claim as his own, but we haven’t seen him in years. This one’s posture caused us to remember him. Bless his heart.

I did not intend to do such a tight crop on him but there was an ugly hose just behind him. Still, he has a lot of nice detail and look at those blue lores.

Osprey and BIG fish.
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

We found this Osprey perched on a cross bar of one of the utility poles with his BIG fish. He did not like us getting so close and left almost immediately. The fish is a fresh catch; they always eat the head first and this one is still intact.

Interrupted Osprey
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; hand-held

Late we found this Osprey in the middle of his meal on Bay Ave. Bill was shooting out the window of the truck and I was aiming between him and the door frame from my side. I used to shoot the Sony 70-400 like that; it is kinda nice because getting out with the bigger lens always risks spooking the bird.

I did find out from a photog friend (thanks, Kevin!) that even though those cables are strung in the location telephone lines usually occupy, but they are probably for CATV services.

Old photo of Bay Avenue mudflats - new fill dirt all in the bare area to the right up to the little drainage canal.

At the end of Bay Avenue is a public boat ramp and a great place for birding. We have set up with crates and tripods in the mudflats many times and got a lot of wonderful images. I stole this image out of Shrimpin’ at Surfside, a blog from 2016. I think I mentioned a few weeks ago we found a lot of fill dirt dumped near some low spots. The piles effectively blocked the 4-wheelers from traveling back into the marsh but left some low channels for drainage. We always park in the lot and walk out to the edge of the shallows for the birds, so it wasn’t a serious obstacle for us. We have driven back there to the canal but only during drought conditions.

Bill had his tripod and the Nikkor 600 f/4 plus a crate and I followed with my Nikkor 500 f/5.6 and my crate. I didn’t need a tripod for the lens, but I knew we would be a while. Plus getting low makes for better images and the birds don’t notice you so much. He stepped over a big draining channel where I had taken a spill a few months ago, so I took the long way around. That mud is slick and I didn’t want to risk falling again.

The birds were mostly too far away for good photos but we tried for a while. A Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, a couple of Tricolors were promising but never came close enough. So, we started back. I was following him and even crossed the deep running water with no problems. It was only about 6-8” deep, but still it is mud you are walking on.

Just past the little channel he got stuck. I could see his knee-length boots were in more than a foot of yucky mud and gray clay. The new dirt had dried out some, and had deep cracks but underneath it was sucky mud. He had dropped the crate and was using his tripod to balance while I watched. A man walking his two dogs came over and offered to take his camera rig while he worked to extricate himself from the mud. He was only a few feet from the hard packed sand/shale and the truck.

So. I didn’t think following him was a good idea and turned to pick up the path I had taken before. I had to cross a patch of the new dirt/mud. Even staying on the piles of washed up reeds I began to sink. My boots were getting harder to pull out of the mud with each step. I used my crate in my right hand to steady myself on the mud and managed to make a bit of progress before…

I fell forward on my face. BAM!

The camera and lens just bounced on the ground; I could see blobs of mud on the dials and controls. I did get upright but I was well and truly stuck in the mud up to my knees. I got the crate under my butt and just sat there catching my breath. Nothing seemed broken but I couldn’t figure out how I was even going to get rescued.

By then, I could hear Bill and the kind stranger talking and laughing on the other side of the truck. I knew he got out so I started yelling.

And yelling. “Help, I need some help over here!”

I could not get my boots free from the mud. They are half-height, and only the edges of the tops were visible in the mud. Bill finally heard me and came running with his crate. He used it almost like a snow-shoe with his hands to crawl out next to me. We just sat there for a bit to make a plan.

I had my camera in my lap by then and we tried to pull my boots loose. No way to get them out; they were forever lost to the mud. I had a hard enough time just getting my feet out. He took my camera and using the crates to help support our weight we managed to crawl to dry land. We cleaned up a bit at the edge of the dock and used a towel wet from the canteen to clean most of the mud off the camera and lens... and called it a day.

UPDATE: We went by the area on our next trip to Surfside, March 23, 2019 and I can add these phone photos:

Looking over the fill dirt to the ponds where we were watching the waders.

The dried mud looked exactly like this that day BUT it was quite deceptive. Only the top few inches were dry and there was yucky, soft mud just under the surface.

Poor little boots, forever stuck in the mud

Took us a little while to find the spot. But there are my boot tops, and just below in the dead foliage you can see the straight line of my crate. Where I sat waiting for Bill to come rescue me. I am pretty sure you can see his footprint at the far left.

I had to walk out in my sockfeet and I was shocked to recognize my own footprint still visible in the mud! Made me think about Indians and pioneer day tracking and reconstruction of crime scenes and even fossils. We all leave marks on the earth.

Have you ever gotten stuck in the mud? Did you know it makes you think about those old cowboy movies and quicksand? Are you amazed I haven’t been seriously injured in this dangerous photography hobby?Let me know in the comments below.

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Rookery Report

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