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Summer Trips to Texas City Dike

Summer Trips to Texas City Dike

July 26, 2019 - We just didn’t get a lot of tern porn this year at the Texas City Dike. We tried several times and got a bit more activity but never got wild mating photos. This report is over several trips in late May and early June. And the two more trips in July. Texas City Dike is always good for birds but maybe not the ones you planned for.

Least Tern trying to impress a female
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 640

Early on we did find these Least Terns in the midst of a fish exchange. They are in full breeding colors and she has just taken a nice plump fish from him.

But there was no … follow through. There seemed to be all talk and no action…

Stately Black-crowned Night Heron
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

But there were plenty of birds around. We kept getting sidetracked by all of these wonderful Black-crowned Night Herons. They were so spiffy and fresh, no ragged feathers. In May we were seeing groups of them; three or four just hanging around on the rocks on the inland side of the dike. By July there were still a lot more at the Dike than previous years.

Flying high above me…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

I got a lot of nice flight shots. Texas City Dike is the BEST place to practice your BIF skills since you almost always have a plain sky or water background. No pesky trees or limbs to grab your focus. My keeper rate has skyrocketed with the super lightweight Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF.

There are rumors that Nikon is finally increasing production of the lens but we can only hope it is true. I know four people that have gotten theirs at Houston Camera Exchange so if you want one, give them a call (and a $500 deposit) and get on the waiting list. Oh, I buy from B&H and Amazon but we need to support our local stores as well so we will still have choices in the future.

Out of my way , hooman….
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

I really like this one; he seems to be looking at me but I suppose I just look like another obstacle to fly around. It isn’t personal.

screen shot from View-NX-i showing center of D-9 focus point

screen shot from View-NX-i showing center of D-9 focus point

One of Nikon’s own software programs, View-NX-i shows I was using D-9 AF in this shot. I wish Photoshop would show the focus point and type; I guess that is too much to ask since there are so many different cameras. But you can see that I was off with the focus point, but the “helper points” around the center caught enough of the wing to nail the focus.

A word of caution about using D-9 or any of the group-type auto focus modes. If the background is sky you are safe and may be surprised at how well it focuses in the plane of the subject even if you are not spot on. If you have trees in the near background or branches or grass in the foreground, those “helper points” may latch on to them and miss the subject. Same for waves in the background. You will just have to experiment with what works the best in the situation. I am constantly switching from single-point AF for stationary subjects to D-9 and/or 3D for birds on the move.

At f/6.3 and 500 mm on my camera at a guesstimate of 50 feet… I have over a foot of depth of field. Since he is in focus from tip of his bill to his toes I suspect he was further away than my guess. I am just not good at judging distances.

Hey… get out of my way you silly gull
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

On one trip the Black-crowns were hanging out on the shrimp boats. You can tell where they are in the pecking order as this one displaced the Laughing Gull - who probably left to hassle one of the terns or smaller shorebirds.

As I said, we didn’t find a lot of terns mating this year. When we did find some activity it was blocked by other birds, facing the wrong way or in bright sunlight. We saw a few courtship sessions but we must missed most of the mating.

But I know it happened because you can find the results even now.

Sandwich Tern adult drops off lunch.

The adult Sandwich Tern flies in with a fish for the waiting and expectant youngster. How in the world they find their own chick is a mystery. And I love the reaction of the little one when the parent leaves.

The gif was made from a series of hand-held 6 shots at 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000. I think my fascination with making all these gifs is that I have a long series of shots that are all in perfect focus. And you just want to DO something to celebrate that accomplishment. I know my skills have improved over time but the auto focus capabilities of the Nikon D850 are superb. And that is what you pay big bucks for.

I have no idea what this is she is going to eat
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/5.6 ISO 1000

The dike is always good for American Oystercatchers. This gal W3U was with an unbanded bird and they were poking around in the rocks at the breakers. We report any banded birds to American Oystercatcher Working Group and they share the info with Gulf Coast Bird Observatory who actually does the banding in our area. You can use either one; the important part is reporting the re-sightings for the database.

Great Blue Herons could win in those fishing tournaments they have
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

Birding is almost always good at the Texas City Dike. We like going during the week because it is not so crowded but this summer we are seeing families with little kids fishing off the piers and rocks. Making lots of memories that don’t include phones or electronic gadgets :-)

Have you been to the Dike this summer? You know there are fees on the weekends and holidays:

During the summer months (first weekend in March to last weekend in October) there is a $5 charge per vehicle to enter the dike on weekends. It is free during the winter months and summer weekdays (Mondays through Thursdays — unless they are holidays). On holiday weekends (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the Fourth of July and Saturday, Sunday and Monday on Memorial Day and Labor Day) the fee will be $10 per vehicle per day.

Not a lot of money for so much fun but best to know ahead of time.

Are you keeping cool in this summer heat? I have enough material for two more blogs (Brazoria and another Bolivar) but we still have to make it through August and I don’t do well in the heat. I might do some more tutorials if I am house bound. Any requests? Let me know in the comments below.

Bitterns at San Bernard and More Brazoria Birds

Bitterns at San Bernard and More Brazoria Birds

Chasing Birds and Avoiding Barry

Chasing Birds and Avoiding Barry