For the first time since junior high I did not watch a single down or minute of the NFL this season and I couldn’t be happier for it. Rape my town three times, NFL – shame on you. I’ve been pleased to get those precious free minutes back for my Sundays, several of which I found I could spend not dreading the upcoming workweek.
When the forecast showed a near perfect meteorological condition for shooting the Short-eared Owls of BK Leach, I figured this could be promising. While most other naked apes with functioning vision would be in front of the picture box and ingesting mass quantities of wings and beer, I would enjoy the warm and lightly breezy evening in my own kind of chair with friends of a different sort.
Of course there is never a sure thing. Often, when I have expected the best due to light and temperature, the owls don’t show where I set myself. On this particular day, all conditions came together and I had a super time.
I want to give huge thanks for my lovely and talented wife, Sarah, for the special help she gave me this season in getting my best to date SEOW in flight shots.
A perfect day ended in the perfect way – with a great sunset on the Lincoln Hills.
When traveling to a new location it is always interesting to see what gull species is the local equivalent to our Ring-billed Gull. In the case of the Texas gulf coast, that is definitely the Laughing Gull. We found that a really great place to see hundreds at great distance is the ferry ride between the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston. Be sure to check the water as well as the skies if you take this 20 minute boat ride. Steve and I were able to spot a bottlenose dolphin or two during the crossing.
After hearing their vocalizations for quite a long period, we can say this species is quite aptly named!
In summer plumage, this is obviously one of the easier gulls to identify. Largest of the hooded gulls, with red bill, legs and feet, slate-colored back and black primaries.
Coastal bird photographers, particularly those who have access to areas highly trafficked by humans, have really got things easy. We were consistently surprised at how much luck we had getting close enough to our subjects – and this was with visiting these locations for the first time. I can’t imagine the fun to be had with some time, experience and practice.
The Black Skimmer just may be one of the perfect targets for the bird photographer. The species is colorful and contrasty, which is so nice for autofocus. This species is rather large. It prefers to spend time in groups that enable the photographer to capture interesting social behaviors. If you are lucky enough to be at the right time and place, the chicks are unbelievably cute. And, if that isn’t enough, they of course have their namesake feeding behavior that can be seen in the image at the top of this post.
Closely related to the gulls, auks and waders, the skimmers are in the small family – Rynchopidae (roughly translated to beak-faced).
If you inadvertently flush a group, don’t give up or chase. Skimmers have favorite resting places and will often settle to the same stretch from which they flushed.
This stunning and large buteo is often seen with the last Texas gulf coast bird featured, the White-tailed Kite. This was one of the birds that Steve and I got a big kick out of finding. Although common and abundant over much of its range in the Americas, the White-tailed Hawk can only be found along the Texas coast and the Rio Grande Valley within the United States. I was doubly fortunate to be able to find another perched in a tree in Fort Bend County when my New-Englander friend, Sam, and I came across it during a few precious hours birding following several hectic days on the job.
White-tailed Hawks are birds of the air. Pete Dunne (Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion) suggests that the species is most often spotted in the air. Steve and I first located a pair at San Bernard NWR on an island of trees within coastal prairie. I paid the price by taking a number of fire ant bites by wading through the prairie trying to get a bit closer. We watched as the pair eventual flushed and rose higher and higher on the coastal thermals, eventually rising to a height where they were almost invisible to the naked eye. Once spotted in the air, there is no mistaking this species with any other bird, with contrasting white body with black-edged wings and striped tail.
The one-eyed man referred to in the title of this post is, of course, the photographer with a telephoto lens sticking out of a well-placed blind. Yes, we are all aware of and use to good effect the mobile blind – our warm vehicles. However, shooting from a car in a place like RMBS leaves a bit to be desired.
From a car, the angle at which the birds are photographed will always be at the same downwards angle that in my opinion is less desirable than being close to eye level, which sitting low in a a portable ‘bag’ style blind can afford.
Although I have owned such a blind for a few years, I have only recently given it some real use with friend and fellow like-minded nature photographer, Miguel Acosta. All of the images from this post were made in our first attempts at this and even with limited light and opportunities, I can already see the potential in using this technique for improving photography of waterfowl.
Getting an eye-level perspective yields more benefits than just a resting duck. Catching birds taking to flight from the water’s surface from this angle makes for a more powerful image than from above.
I’m really glad we tried this out. It is something I’ve been wishing to do for quite some time and I guess it just makes sense that this is the way to do it. Now I just need to think of places and opportunities to try more.
It is always interesting to find a bird species you are pretty familiar with in a new location or season. Such was the case and pleasant surprise that Steve and I found when stumbling upon the Willet in coastal Texas in May, 2016. This giant puppy dog of a sandpiper is typically a relatively low-key, almost dull bird when spotted in Missouri during its migration. The individuals we observed in Texas, however, were quite conspicuous as they combined long vocalizations with slow flights that really showed off the contrasting black and white wings. They were a pleasure to watch and photograph.
The 275th bird species I have photographed in Missouri and contiguous states turned out to be a special one. This Eastern Screech Owl is definitely the current most famous bird in the bi-state area. Many thanks to Miguel Acosta for the information. A long time coming.