Wild Day at Brazos Bend State Park

Wild Day at Brazos Bend State Park

May 10, 2019 ~ The other day we decided to stop by Cullinan Park on the way to HEB. Really, it is actually on the way if you take the long way around to miss the train at US 90. We had packed our Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF lenses and had extra batteries and cards in our pockets. You know, just in case the Bald Eagle was diving in the lake and then eating his catch right there on the piers.

But we saw nothing. Nada zip.

So we went on to Brazos Bend State Park. It was sorta-kinda off and on cloudy and Bill was feeling up to walking a bit. We parked near 40-acre lake and headed down the hill. Right there on the trail was this YUGE American Alligator.

Sprawled out on the trail…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

It was a big one, and soon he had his mouth open enjoying the sunshine. Now, all of us regular park goers have a healthy respect for the alligators. We have all carefully passed sleeping alligators on the side of the trails giving them as wide a berth as possible but nowhere near the recommended 30 feet safety rule.

But this guy was across the entire trail. There wasn’t much room to pass and he was definitely awake.

Happy alligator smiling at me?
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

See? We stood around and managed to find some birds on the side of the trail to shoot waiting for him to move on. Just about the time I was trying to convince Bill that we were going to have to go back and take the long way around the lake, the alligator stood up.

And pooped.

I was so shocked I just watched. I could have had a photo of an alligator pooping. But, no.

He laid back down in his poop. Really.

On the move…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

A few minutes later he moved over to the grass and arranged himself parallel to the trail and laid still.

We hurried by on the other side at the very edge of the water.

Whew.

They are entering mating season. And that is their primary concern now. Keep that in mind and don’t forget that they are … animals. Stay out of their way.

They are back!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

We did find a few Purple Gallinules. They come up from Central America about this time of year and raise babies. This one has a horrible messy background; the ones at Anahuac generally are in reeds or on lily pads and look much nicer.

A bit further down we found some in the water hyacinths. Which is non-native and invasive but awfully attractive when in full bloom.

Much prettier image but in invasive species water hyacinth
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

Now, this I want to work on again. More blooms in the background, a totally raised foot and the bird looking more toward me. It is hard to get down low at Brazos Bend but maybe next time we can take the cart and the crates.

Sora! Sora! Sora!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

And this was beyond exciting. We saw a small brown bird dart out of the foliage and head away from us. Bigger than a sparrow and not moving at all like one but … OMG it was a Sora! Personally, I have never seen a Sora at Brazos Bend but we did find a lot at Brazoria National Wildlife last year. No reason for them not to be here, it is similar marsh land.

So keep an eye out, you just never know.

Young White Ibis showing off
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 1000

And then we spent way too much time and clicks on a young White Ibis. This dead snag sometimes is used by the Anhingas, and it will eventually collapse and fall. So many of the trees along the trails are dead and dying from the frequent flooding. They just can’t thrive when inundated by water for months at a time.

Tiny but fierce
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/9.0 ISO 640

Just past the Observation Tower we found another alligator in the path. This one was young and not as scary, but I still couldn’t bring myself to get down low for a really good shot. I don’t get up so fast these days and he was on the move. This was shot at f/9 and still not enough depth of field to even get his second set of legs in focus. He moved into the grass fairly quickly.

I was surprised one this size still had so much color variation. He was about 2 1/2 feet long so well into his second year.

We walked on past the bridge over the dry spillway all the way to Elm Lake. Not a whole lot. I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker. We passed the place where the Yellow-crowned Night Herons nested years ago. It is so much more OPEN as the trees on each side of the trail are dying out from the repeated flooding. The habitat is changing and I suspect soon we will be able to see all the way to the park road that connects the lakes.

Green Heron getting low to stalk  Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200

Green Heron getting low to stalk
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200

On the way back we saw a Green Heron deep into a bush. There were a few clear spots but it was so dark it required a really high ISO and slow shutter speed. He did come out in the open for a few minutes and but even this image has had some serious post-processing.

But, we did see this one and one other one. The literature states we have Green Herons along the coast year round, but we usually dont see any until the summer visitors come up from Mexico and Central America. They breed in swamps and inland wetlands close to water. I saw some cute baby Green Herons posted on FB from Anuhuac just the other day.

Most photographed Anhinga EVAH
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000

The male Anhinga we have all photographed lately made an appearance. His breeding colored lores are fading and he refused to spread his wings while he sat and stared at us. Bill stayed taking more and more shots and I rambled on ahead.

Least Bittern lost in thought.
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600

And found this tiny Least Bittern staring out at the open waters of Pliant Lake. Not the greatest of head angles, but I only had a few seconds before he disappeared back into the reeds. I am not sure if I have ever seen one here before. As I said earlier, the habitat is changing around 40-acre Lake; it is becoming more open so it is not unlikely we will be seeing different birds.

On the way back just before the still parked alligator I found a young White Ibis…

Oh my. A SNAKE !!!   Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

Oh my. A SNAKE !!!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

… with a snake. Being that he is a young bird maybe this was his first time with a snake. At least he seemed inexperienced as it took him at least 10 minutes of trying to get it killed.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000

He held it up and chomped on it several times. Snakes do not give up easy; as this one was flattened in several places he still could curl up and move around.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000

The patterns on the snake’s body look very much like the one the American Bittern was eating a few months back. It was decided by reader’s input and a FB Snake ID site that it was a Glossy Crayfish Snake.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000

You can see the White Ibis has his nictitating membrane covering his eyes during all of this activity. He kept chomping on the snake, dropping it and picking it up again. Eventually he started to swallow the snake and I moved on. There is just so much of this wildlife you can deal with and that is gross.

A trio of friendly foreign tourists had passed us on the way out. I could see them all standing around the alligator we had side-stepped hours earlier. They were way too close and as we approached I could see they were photographing each other with the alligator. With an iPad. As we passed on the far side one was squatting down with the alligator’s head just a few feet away.

Obviously since it wasn’t in the news, the alligator thankfully ignored the whole thing. AND I know the park rangers caution visitors about the alligators but still… some people won’t listen. A few years ago we watched an old man kneel down beside a young alligator and tell him “don’t worry, I will be back to see you soon”. I think he would have petted him if we hadn’t been nearby.

Brazos Bend State Park seems fully recovered from Harvey and other recent floods, but that can all change with this present storm system. We don’t seem to have a name for the storm yet except “May 2019 Rainfall Event” but the park is closed to visitors starting on the 8th due to the rising Brazos River. Hopefully it is just a precaution and all will be back to normal soon. We got NINE inches of rain here in Sugar Land Tuesday afternoon and evening. We barely made it home from Surfside and had some serious street flooding in our neighborhoods. As I get ready to publish this on Friday morning, we had a relatively good night (only 2 inches) where others got much more in this latest round. And it is going to rain off and on all of Friday and Saturday before clearing out.

Being a flat-lander has its challenges. But hopefully, we will be back out chasing birds and avoiding alligators and snakes soon! Thanks for reading and let me know if you are underwater in the comments below.

After the Storms

After the Storms

Reddish Egret at Surfside

Reddish Egret at Surfside