Select a year from the drop down:

Search by location or subject:

No material, including text and photography, may be used or reproduced without the express permission of the author/owner.

Chasing Birds and Avoiding Barry

Chasing Birds and Avoiding Barry

July 19, 2019 ~ Last Saturday the uncertainty about the disturbance in the Gulf named Barry had finally settled down. It was going to hit Louisiana and that put us on the clean side of the rotation. Of course, we could get rain showers and some wind, but as Bill Maroldo says “Showers mean the sun isn’t shining” so we packed up and headed for Bolivar. There is a tendency to return to the site of a great photo shoot in hopes of repeating the experience and we did have a good day with the Reddish Egrets earlier this month. Sometimes it happens, but mostly each time is different.

Since it was a Saturday more traffic getting to Galveston was expected. But we were surprised to see one of those mobile signs on I-45 S stating “45 minute wait for ferry to Bolivar”. Dang. We were resigned to the wait and discussed coming home the long way through Anahuac and back to town on I-10 E.

But, we drove onto the ferry with no wait at all; in fact one of the workers told us those signs are hardly ever right.

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

As soon as we got to the beach we saw a Long-billed Curlew patrolling the surf. Usually they are gone by this time of year; off to the northern plains to breed. I have read several times that birds too young to breed will sometimes forego the long and difficult trek and just hang around their winter grounds if the food is sufficient. Or, this could be an early returnee. This gal was poking along the shoreline and probing for invertebrates and tasty morsels.

We walked halfway down the beach towards where we found all the Reddish Egrets and Snowies before, but the area was full of Brown Pelicans instead. And more were arriving in long lines all the time. Must have had something to do with the weather to the east of us; hundreds and hundreds of Brown Pelicans standing around in the shallow water.

Lots of terns noisily passing overhead. We followed another Long Billed Curlew for a while but she refused to turn around and finally flew away.

It started sprinkling on us so we turned around and headed back. I sat in the truck for a while and then saw Bill out following a Reddish Egret in the surf. He was right by the truck, no need to walk so far! It wasn’t a group like the week before but… hey, you only need ONE, right?

Reddish Egret doing his thing
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

I sat on my crate and watched him pluck tiny fish from the receding waves. After a while I guess he decided to rest a bit. He walked over to the tall piling barrier and attempted to unseat a cormorant.

No. Nope. Nada. Not giving up my place
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

But the cormorant was having none of that. He squawked at the Reddish and refused to budge. It surprised me since the Reddish is bigger, but hey. Birding is all about surprises.

The Reddish walked down to the next pole and gave me a nice opportunity.

Reddish landing on piling

I got him from walking on the ground to flying up to the other pole but gifs are easier to make if they are in one relative place. I was using D-9 auto focus points and my settings were f/6.3 1/2500 sec and ISO 1250. Love that D-9; I got 19 sequential shots and they are all in focus.

It had stopped raining but the clouds from Barry were still around. There were more cars and traffic on the beach so we decided to head north and see what was happening.

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

Going out on Rettilon Road offered up some young Barn Swallows hanging on to the barbed wire on MY side of the truck. I don’t think I have ever gotten a good image of one flying, so finding some perched was pretty exciting. There were three of them, and they occasionally flapped their wings to balance in the stiff wind.


We made a trip down Yatch Basin Road and found some young Yellow-crowns and Snowies in the marsh. A Clapper Rail ran across the road and a Caracara flew off a pole away from us.

Nothing much and the old van is STILL out in the marsh. One time when we were there it was covered in White Ibis.

Next stop, Rollover Pass.

Cormorant landing into the wind
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600

The water was roaring OUT into the Gulf through the pass. The really strong north winds were pushing the Gulf waters out so far the water in the bay was rushing to fill in the void.

As usual there were tons of Double-crested Cormorants perched on the rusty breakers near the bridge. Occasionally one would fly in from the Gulf under the bridge, fighting against the wind and skid to a stop right in front of us. He would then ride the current for a while back toward the bridge. We got tons of in flight shots like at the beginning of the post. Which was shot at 1/2500 sec f/6.3 and ISO 1600. Hand-held.

Squabble in the hood
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

When a newcomer decided to perch for a while with the others on the breakers, it was tough to find a spot. There were also a couple of Snowy Egrets in the crowd.

Snowy trying to land into the wind
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

Any time you find a strong wind, there are great opportunities for flight shots. To fly against the wind the birds will hover, float and almost hang above you as they struggle with unseen currents.

We had brought our big lenses on this trip, but never got them out of the truck box. Hand-holding for flight shots gives you so much more mobility so the little Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PFs got a real workout.

I can report they have been working on the highway north of Rollover Pass and it looks good. You know, the part adjacent to the ruins of the old road that is in the Gulf now. It still stops where you turn to go to Winnie, but that is all redone and repaved.

We will see how long it lasts…

White-faced Ibis adult feeding youngster. Old habits are hard to break
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

At Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the first part of the Auto Tour we found a group of young White-faced Ibis just hanging around. A dozen or so youngsters walking around on the road. Occasionally an adult would show up and someone would get fed.

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

The youngsters have interesting white markings on their throats and a bi-colored short bill. These guys could fly very well and probably were capable of finding their own food. We did see a few poking in the grass along the levees.

Cattle Egret with eager youngster
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

Cattle Egrets were feeding their chicks as well. A lot of skill and dedication to feed a squawking youngster flapping in that high wind.

Young Cattle Egret
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

They are getting big, too and should be out on the roads with the White-faced youngsters soon. There were so many congregating in that one spot we were calling it “the Mall”.

Tricolored Heron gif

We did get some good photos of a Tricolored Heron fishing at Crab Corner but the Green Heron juveniles must have been hiding from the wind. Oh, we saw one on the side of Lock Road but he flew when we got out of the truck. And the nesting Caracaras were not cooperative but we did see a juvenile peeping over the railing of the solar structure.

But, it was a good day. The forecast rain from Barry missed us entirely while we were out chasing birds but we did get a bit on the way home. Cloudy days are few lately and this heat is just too much for me. I have been doing house projects (painting interior doors and trim!) and working on photos. Maybe I will do some more Photoshop tutorials while we wait for summer to get over.

Are you still going out in the heat? Or do you have any trips planned to cooler location? Maybe the high heat and humidity doesn’t bother you? Let me know in the comments below.

Summer Trips to Texas City Dike

Summer Trips to Texas City Dike

Birds at Bolivar Flats

Birds at Bolivar Flats