Back-to-back Days at Brazoria

Back-to-back Days at Brazoria

August 9, 2019 ~ We don’t usually go out on the weekends because we are retired and can go during the week to avoid the traffic and crowds but last weekend was an exception. Dixie Spurling and I had been out early trying to find the YUGE crates that were making their way through Sugar Land to the ship channel, and did locate the smaller one. After I got back Bill noticed the clouds were hanging around and we hadn’t been out in a while… so mid-afternoon we quickly packed up and headed to San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. You know, to get more Least Bittern images.

And they were hiding from us. I think he did get a couple of shots and I almost got a Purple Gallinule flying into the reeds. Well, two not in focus, two sharp as a tack BUT his wings hid his head. Close.

Phone photo of the pond next to the first canal. Bil with tiny 500 PF lens sitting on crate

We decided to try Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. The ponds are drying up, the Wood Storks are mostly gone but low water can attract small shorebirds so we hurried over.

No White-tailed Hawks on the way in, nothing in the ditches at the culverts, nothing at the stock tanks, nothing on the windmill. We did see lots of Mockingbirds and Black Vultures on fence posts.

We made it as far as the pond next to the first canal crossing inside the refuge before stopping. It was just full of Snowies and Tricolors and they were actively feeding. We pulled off the road a bit and set up our crates.

Oh, boy.

Snowy Egret picking out tiny fish
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600

The Snowy Egrets were flying toward us, dragging their little yellow feet over the quiet water and dipping forward to catch tiny fish stirred up by the actions. I have seen Snowies do this before, even Great Egrets but this was just one after another. It was almost like a planned competition; one would fly up the pond, twisting and turning to catch little fish and then land. And then another would try to out do that performance. And then another ...

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

When we first got there, the light was PERFECT. Just a bright overcast enabling us to use fast shutter speeds and adequate ISOs. And they were flying straight at us. Over and over again.

It was pretty exciting, y’all.

Low bright sun causes shadows
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

At some point the clouds dissipated and we got direct sun but by then it was quite low in the sky. There were some shadows, but also interesting reflections. You just have to work with what you have.

Young Tricolored Heron has this fishing stuff DOWN
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600

We saw a giant alligator snug up against the water control gate at the side of the pond. The Refuge can manage the water during flood stages by opening and closing strategic gates. And alligators swim through open ones all the time.

There were several young Tricolored Herons fishing just in front of us; almost too close. I suppose it takes a LOT of tiny fish to fill one up. The immatures are quite handsome and have mostly russet feathers before they get adult plumage.

We started noticing there were Green Herons in the darker areas below the banks. Mostly young ones, but a few adults. Several times they flew across the pond but I was too slow to get one in flight.

Juvenile Green Heron landing in the brush
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1600

Of course, dusk never stopped us when there are Green Herons about. By then it was SO DARK I wasn’t even sure where the bird was. I just kept the shutter speed high and counted on the autofocus to keep up.

After two hours of clicking and shooting it finally got just too dark. We excitedly headed home and talked about coming back the next day.

Which we did.

Juvenile Tricolored Heron
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 640

We were back at the same spot by about 10:15 am. We met up with Greg Lavaty, good friend and Bird Guide Extraordinaire, and settled into our same spots. Except the light was much brighter than the day before. It was good for the darker Tricolors and Green Herons because they were low and hiding out in dark places, but the little Snowies were a real challenge with stoopy shadows on their bodies. We had gone through a shower entering the refuge but for now it was a Blinding Sunstorm ™.

We decided this alligator was older than all of us.
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

The big alligator was more active, swimming out to the middle occasionally which put a damper on the foot-dragging fishing technique. And then wind shifted and ominous dark clouds were building up in the north. When the wind changed, the Snowies started flying AWAY from us doing their little thing.

I am cute from any direction…
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 800

But even when they are flying away sometimes you can get a stellar butt shot…. Finally we gave up on fighting the light AND the wind and headed over to Surfside for a break and planned to come back later.

Green Heron in mid-fluff up  Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

Green Heron in mid-fluff up
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250

On the way out we saw a Green Heron down in a small pond at a culvert. He was minding his own business, but after we stopped, he flew up to a nearby post. I got a lot of photos of him from the truck window of him stretching and preening and then this major fluff-up. The ones at the pond were more active, but here the setting so nice.

So, do you wonder what that orange/rust thing is in the background?

Photobombing cow gif - you can see where I hesitated as it started to pass

We did find a some birds at Surfside but headed back to Brazoria after a few hours. We had to sit out a big shower in the truck; at least we were able to look at the day’s shoot while we waited. It slowed to just sprinkles so we got out with our crates and draped towels over our long lenses until it stopped.

Bird photography is a lot of driving, weather watching and waiting …punctuated by periods of extreme excitement. And sweat, mud and bugs. Not much glamour, at least the way we do it.

Over by the flood gate where the alligator likes to hang out we noticed a little squabble now and then as different Snowies played King of the Mountain on the structure and an angled piece of metal.

It got really interesting when a Tricolor decided he could occupy the special place.

Tricolors and Snowies are NOT BFFs

The Snowies were mostly flying across the pond and back doing their feet-dragging fishing, but occasionally flew toward us.

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

Like this little guy above.

Even a lightweight lens like the Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF gets heavy after along time of hand-holding so that afternoon, I concentrated more on the Green Herons and Tricolors. Besides, they were so close, mostly hunting in the reeds and shallows just below us.

Tricolored Heron practicing mystical movements
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/2500 sec f/8.0 ISO 1000

Like the Tricolor in the image above; he was so close that is hardly cropped at all. The ripples around where he had just hit the water were so interesting. I upped my f/stop for more depth of field since they were RIGHT THERE.

Green Heron juvenile doing the hokey pokey  Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250

Green Heron juvenile doing the hokey pokey
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF VR ~ 1/1600 sec f/7.1 ISO 1250

And this Greenie was also just a little bit further back. Picking a spot to get an unobstructed shot was hard, y’all. This little pond has reeds all around. Maybe the birds couldn’t really see us sitting still above them and that is why they ignored us.

Finally, we called it a day. Or Two Days. Anyway, I have thousands of images to go through and choose from for this adventure. The larger ponds are rapidly drying up and are presently home to small shorebirds. This pond next to the canal is still holding water, but unless we get a lot of rain, it will go dry, too.

But that is the way of the coast and the birds are adaptable. They will fly to wet areas of the marsh that aren’t accessible to us and may have to work harder to find the tiny fish and prey. And then the rains will return. Probably more than we want!

Are you still going out in this heat? There are heat advisories posted, so take water and wear a hat if you do. Maybe you are just resting up for Fall Migration and all those hawks that will be coming back for the winter? Let me know in the comments below.

Short Stories - End of Summer 2019

Short Stories - End of Summer 2019

Bitterns at San Bernard and More Brazoria Birds

Bitterns at San Bernard and More Brazoria Birds