Resoft Park Redux
Go ahead, zoom in and look at the five little islands at the south end of the park. Three of those have nesting birds just like Smith Oaks Rookery and this is much closer to most of you. It is 33 miles from my house in Sugar Land and the trip to High Island clocks in at … a flat 100 miles.
I was too lazy to go get my wide-angle lens for a real good look at the park, but you can see two of the islands in this shot. There are three little wooden piers you can walk out on and a paved trail all the way around the lake. Parking is right there; no need to hike a long distance and you can go back to the car for batteries or supplies. Weekends are probably crowded with picnickers and be aware that bank fishing is allowed. But during the week you might have a few exercise walkers and some families with little kids feeding the ducks. It is a great place.
So, what did we see? What could you find there? And how much telephoto do you need? At the moment there are at least four Great Egrets pairs with chicks in various stages of development. There are rumors of Anhinga nests and we have seen some hanging around. Also, there are some Little Blue Herons in full breeding colors you can spot flying in with nesting materials. A smattering of nesting Roseate Spoonbills (we saw babies there in 2016) and about a kazillion Cattle Egrets.
These little Great Egret chicks are right in front on the middle island, about half-way up. All the images in this adventure were taken with my Nikon 500 PF f/5.6 with no teleconverter. We found that the 500 mm was plenty of reach and I have seen some nice photos taken with less. Last year we went once with our 300 PFs and 1.4x TC (410 mm) and got some great flight shots.
And there are Cattle Egrets EVERYWHERE in various stages of breeding plumage. This one has the purple lores and red legs plus look at the distinctive pale russet crest and back feathers. They look especially nice against the foliage of the Chinese Tallows.
The Little Blue Herons are a bit trickier to get. They are so much darker and seem to surprise you by just appearing out of the gloom. It is hard to remember to change your settings for these since you get caught up taking photos of the white Cattle Egrets and Great Egrets. Dark birds will need a higher ISO and maybe even a slower shutter speed. Or you may have to lighten it up in post-processing like I did.
Just depends on the light. But these guys are amazing with that blue bill and maroon head and neck. No, I did not oversaturate the image; they are really that vivid this time of year.
And we found a lot of sub-adult White Ibis working the ditches around the perimeter. There were adults flying over but I don’t think any of them are nesting here.
Wonder where they are nesting?
But the big attraction right now is the Cattle Egrets. They are small and have built nests all back in the trees. They seem to have the same loud greeting rituals I have seen in Great Egrets when one returns to the nest. She does most of the nest building from materials he brings to her and then lays 2-4 eggs. The incubation period is 22-28 days. The literature says he will defend the nest site and that must be an arduous job with such close neighbors. It is just hard to see into the trees how many nests are under construction or finished.
And this was shot at ISO 2000 but brightened considerably in post-processing. I use Adobe Camera RAW to make any necessary adjustments to color or exposure, crop and then in Photoshop, I reduce the image and save as a jpg. Sometimes in Photoshop I will remove a wayward twig or bright spot, but this entire set was basically processed in ACR. Takes only a few seconds per image.
There are so many Cattle Egrets it is often difficult to isolate just one. This little guy had just done a fluff-up and I liked the way he was framed by the trees.
There are a lot of males bringing sticks, twigs and limbs to the nest sites. They are fast and unpredictable; a great subject for perfecting your bird-in-flight shots. Try to keep at around 1/2000 sec shutter speed for these little devils. And stay with them; they can turn on a dime and head back a different direction once you have decided he was going to land.
When we were there Tuesday there was a brisk tail wind out of the southeast and it made catching them flying in with materials a real challenge. If you can spot one coming from way far off and lock your focus you can often follow him for a long distance.
I know I have said this before, but analyzing your efforts can help you improve and learn what works. I got a lot of keepers out of this session but I was still a bit surprised to see the majority of images were taken at 1/2000 sec and ISO 2000. An f/stop of 6.3 is more than adequate for birds this far away.
Sometimes he would fly past the nest site and turn back into the wind to control the landing. Most of the times the twigs are fine and lightweight; often you aren’t even sure if he has anything.
Getting a photograph of the stick exchange is about hopeless. The nests that are built on the edge of the trees are still covered up with leaves and foliage. Looks cozy in there, doesn’t it? We saw a few getting sticks at the water’s edge but noticed a lot were coming over the slight rise at the back side of the lake.
Along an old fence row we found several Cattle Egrets pulling dead vines out of the over growth. Now, this was a challenge for the autofocus! If you are using a multiple focus mode it is better to switch to single point for this kind of habitat. All three birds are about in the same focal plane (parallel to the camera’s sensor) so f/6.3 worked here. I was not too close and there was nothing but fields behind them to make a soft blur.
I wasn’t much closer for this shot; it is just a big crop. The Nikon D850 has 46MP sensor, so you can successfully crop a sharp image down to the 5MP range without noticeable loss of image quality for posting or sharing (not for printing). Look at the bottom of the ACR screen shot to see the actual size of the crop in the image above. And you can see what tweaks I did in post-processing.
This one is losing his breeding plumage; I suppose once they mate and start the serious business of reproduction those flashy colors are no longer needed.
This one is well along in the season as well. I think this is my favorite of the day; I always like the high-key look. White on white is just so stunning.
Just a cautionary note: It is a small place and following a flying bird may start out against foliage and cross into bright sky or water and then back again to a darker area.
You want to expose for the subject, not the background. If you are using any automatic settings, the camera is going to be affected by the changing amount of light hitting the meter and it will alter the exposure. Depending on how you have your camera set up, it could change the shutter speed, or the ISO or even the aperture. If you have the correct ISO for the subject, and you picked an appropriate f/stop and shutter speed, nothing changes as the subject passes different backgrounds and your settings do not need to change. Just something to think about.
Have you been to Resoft Park? Did you even know there was a full-fledged rookery so close to town? Let me know in the comments below.