Black-necked Stilts at Anahuac

Black-necked Stilts at Anahuac

June 28, 2019 ~ The newly renovated boardwalk at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the back side of Shoveler’s Pond affords a wonderful vantage point to observe (and photograph) nesting Black-necked Stilts. It may look deserted, but they have built nests on the high spots among the tall grass.

Re-built boardwalks
Nikon D850 with Laowa 12mm f/2.8 ~ 1/200 sec f/11 ISO 100

It is almost too easy as the pairs will fly up and try to distract you from the ground nests as soon as you get out of the car. They seem to feel threatened by anything that comes within 25 feet of a nest. That must be their nature; we have been harassed at Brazoria by nesting Black-necked Stilts while we were still inside the truck.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

But, birds flying around and around squawking at you at least gives you lots of opportunities for in-flight shots. The light-weight Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF really excels at this kind of work. It is only weigh 3.2 lbs so hand-holding is easy. If you want one of these, the best strategy is to get your name on the list at Houston Camera Exchange with a $500 deposit. I know several other photographers in the area who have received theirs after a 2-3 month wait. No one I know has gotten one from Amazon or B&H.

Why are they in such short supply after being released in late August 2018? Speculation at the DPReview Nikon Lens Talk Forum and analysis of reported serial numbers concludes Nikon is only producing 400-500 lenses a month. IF the US market gets 1/3 of the global supply, then that is maybe 140-160 units to spread around to ALL the camera stores. Something to think about.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

On the ground, they do their version of the Killdeer “broken wing” ploy to lead you away from the nest and perhaps chicks. They lay 2-5 eggs and incubate for 24-29 days. The chicks are super precocial and leave the nest immediately.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

They will run off anything that gets close to the nest. These guys are ferocious and are not intimidated by intruders much larger than themselves. I read they will even attack humans if they stray too close to a nest. This White-faced Ibis was just trying to find something to eat but the Black-necked Stilt would have none of it.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

Down at the end of the boardwalk we found two birds that put on quite a show. The nest could have been anywhere in the area.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

The sun had come out and we had to be careful of the direction. At least here the sun was to our backs which minimized harsh shadows. Still, photographing a high-contrast bird like these is a challenge to keep details in the blacks and not blow out the whites. You can enable blinkies to help determine if you are overexposing the whites.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

On one of our trips we saw a Purple Gallinule way out in the distance carrying something that turned out to be a nice plump frog. He was pretty far away and this is a YUGE crop. We followed him as he moved along the grassy island….

until there was a big squabble involving…

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

a mean Boat-tailed Grackle that flat-out STOLE the frog from the poor little Gallinule.

Dang. It is hard being a bird.

Tiny chick guarded by adult
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

So… life ahead for this tiny chick is full of perils and challenges. This was taken June 7, so hopefully he is much bigger and stronger. I bet there are quite a few little guys around the boardwalks by now.

Update: We went to Anahuac on Tuesday, June 25 and … there were NO Black-necked Stilts to be found. We didn’t see any Killdeer in the area either. We have had several rounds of serious rain this month and I suppose all the ground nests were overwashed. Hopefully they have moved on to higher ground and will still raise some chicks this year. Like I said earlier, it is tough being a bird.

Have you been out to Anahuac lately? Did you know they have a great contest with weekly winners? And the winners then compete in a big seasonal contest for prizes? It is sponsored by the Friends of Anahuac Refuge and the Summer contest is going on right now. Here are the rules if you have some current images to enter. Bill Maroldo and I have been honored winners in the past and have some great binoculars to show for it.

Did you get to see the Black-necked Stilts before the floods? Did you know Brazos Bend State Park reopened June 26? Have you been able to mow your yard in between all these days of rain? Let me know in the comments below.

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