Cattle Egrets and Green Herons at Anahuac

Cattle Egrets and Green Herons at Anahuac

June 7, 2019 ~ With Brazos Bend State Park still closed due to flooding and frequent high tides along the coast, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge has been our destination of choice. There is no shortage of birds and well worth the trip if you haven’t been this year.

The neighborhood is crowded
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000

The Cattle Egrets are nesting among the same reeds and canes with the White-faced Ibis and Tricolored Herons. All the same cautions apply when photographing them: try to get the sun and wind at your back and be wary of the foliage in the foreground stealing your focus. To add to the challenge these are small, white birds and … they are danged fast. Keep the shutter speed UP.

How do they know which nest (and mate) is theirs?
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

If you have some wind, then they slow down a bit when landing. If the wind is strong, watch for a while. You might see them circle around and then head into the wind to land.

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

Or you can get some hover shots. If there is no wind, then it is hard to predict what they will do. Without some wind, the Deer Flies will be out in abundance.

Who said nature photography was easy?

Almost a portrait…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/7.1ISO 1000

We found the best places for the nesting birds is the last leg of the Auto Tour around Shoveler’s Pond. There are some nests in front right against the wall of foliage and if you are patient, you might get some closeups. Those few visible nests in front will be the best bet for seeing chicks once they hatch out.

Cattle Egrets lay 2-4 pale blue eggs and incubate for 22-28 days. The youngsters are quite ugly (as all baby birds are if you are truthful) and move out of the nest after 2-3 weeks. It is going to get really really crowded in there with all those baby birds squawking and trying to get fed.

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

And if they aren’t close enough or you don’t have enough lens, you can do environmental shots! We all drool over close in shots, but showing the habitat can be very helpful. This guy wasn’t any further back than the others, it is just a wider crop. Even at f/6.3 the foreground and bird is in focus; the distant background is pleasantly blurred.

And if you are looking at the EXIF data for this series, remember these were taken over four different days and varying conditions. We had clouds, sun, sprinkles, wind and no wind. Sometimes all in the same day.

Just typical Texas early summer weather.

Green Heron in HIS habitat…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR with Nikkor 1.4x TC~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600; from vehicle window

Lots of Green Herons about. This is pretty typical where you see Green Herons. He is in full breeding colors with the orange legs and blue-green lores. Getting a clear shot is sometimes hard. If you are trying for one with this much distraction in the front, change the focus mode to single spot and make sure you have the bird in focus and not any of the branches in front. I sometimes take documentary shots like this thinking I may not even seen another.

If he stands still enough, you might not see him
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/5.6 ISO 1250

A good place to find them is on limbs out over water. You can see how well they blend with the surroundings and how effective the neck stripes are at camouflage. They will perch motionless for a long time, staring at the water and then pluck a fish out of that murky duckweed. Sometimes you can spot a favorite perch because of white bird poop on the lower limbs.

Trio of little fellas…  Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR with Nikkor 1.4x TC~ 1/800 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

Trio of little fellas…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR with Nikkor 1.4x TC~ 1/800 sec f/8.0 ISO 1600; tripod

That is exactly how we found this Green Heron nest on the road to Frozen Point. I saw a lot of white poop on the leaves below and thought it was a fishing perch, but surprisingly it was a nest with three babies. These were taken on May 19th.

They grow so fast!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR with Nikkor 1.4x TC~ 1/1250 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; tripod

…and this was taken May 31st. In 12 days they had moved out of the nest and were standing around stretching their wings and getting larger by the day. The light was HORRIBLE that day as you can see.

Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR with Nikkor 1.4x TC~ 1/1250 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000; tripod

We set up our tripods and big lenses and prayed for a cloud which we did not get. One chick gave us a big big yawn …

Parent Green Heron
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/4E VR with Nikkor 1.4x TC~ 1/1000 sec f/7.1 ISO 1600; tripod

…foreshadowing what he will look like when he is grown. This parent bird was keeping watch about 20 feet away when we were photographing the chicks on the 19th.

Yes.. I have eggs.
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1250 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600

On that day we saw this almost hidden nest along the same cane break. They lay 3-5 pale bluish eggs and both parents incubate for about three weeks. The chicks are fed by regurgitation, again by both parents. Young birds will move out of the nest to nearby branches about 16-17 days after hatching. They usually make their first flight at 21-23 days. The parents continue to feed them for a few more weeks as they learn to forage and hunt.

So there will be more chicks in the neighborhood. These are just nests we can see from the road. I suppose a prized nesting site would be protected but still open enough to see if any predators were close by? All that marsh stretches back from the few roads in the refuge for miles and miles. Who knows how may baby chicks are learning to fly and hunt back there?

I am king of the hill!
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000; braced on fence

Down at Crab Corner on Frozen Point Road you can sometimes find Green Herons hunting from the short retaining walls at the canals. We found this one behind the fence at the small stock pond. He had just scared off a Grackle. That general area needs to be renamed… Green Heron Corner?

No cloudy days since we went to Anahuac on the last day of May. That afternoon we got caught in a big rainstorm coming home. It was clearing out once we got downtown so we made a short detour for some wide-angle shots. Bill has a new Laowa 12mm f/2.8 ultra-wide lens and I will have one by the time you read this. We have been making a mental list of places to go for a new perspective and have tried out a couple of places.

Here is a little taste; a wide-angle lens gives you a big picture view. An ultra-wide puts you IN the picture:

Katy Rice Mills
Nikon D850 with Laowa 12mm f/2.8 ultra-wide ~ HDR f/11 ISO 1600

Are you tired of all this turbulent Spring weather? I guess it is normal; funny how we are constantly surprised by the conditions. Perhaps being photographers makes us overly sensitive to the forecasts? Like farmers. So, have you been to Anahuac? Or found someplace new to chase birds? We tried to find that Red Phalarope at Jersey Village but no luck. What about you? Let me know in the comments below:

Tricolored Herons at Anahuac

Tricolored Herons at Anahuac