February 14, 2018 Grand Isle, Louisiana

Roseate Spoonbills
Roseate Spoonbills

Finally!

After twelve straight days and nights of rain and fog with what must be about 100% humidity, I stepped out of the motorhome around 5 AM for Sam to do her thing … and I actually saw stars above. For the first time in two weeks! And that was followed by a visible  sunrise, and what’s more, the sun continued to be seen throughout the entire day.

I really do think I made a mistake not staying in the desert this winter. I can’t say I enjoy the fogged up windows day after day and the muggy 70 degree nights for sleeping, I guess the desert’s winter climate kind of spoils you with it’s wonderfully consistent sunny days, lack of humidity, and cool starlit night skies.

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Anyhow, with a return of the sun, there also was a return of some Roseate Spoonbills, a beautifully ugly wading bird that I had only caught a distant glimpse of during the last two weeks. Today I encountered a few individuals here and there and the one pair in the top image. Gorgeous pink plumage and an almost prehistoric looking head with that very unique beak.

Osprey
Osprey

The Ospreys were out in force, as usual. At times you may see one perched atop about one of every ten utility poles running along the highway, and they usually are dining on a freshly caught mullet or Speckled Trout.

Osprey with Speckled Trout
Osprey with Speckled Trout

There were a few wading fisherman below this bird who would have been glad to catch a healthy Speckled Sea Trout like this guy was dining on.

Great Egret
Great Egret
Great Egret
Great Egret

With the sunny weather, there seemed to be a few more Great Egrets out and about, prowling the shallow waters in search of breakfast.

Brown Pelican with White Pelican
Brown Pelican with White Pelican

Once again there was a single White Pelican wandering among the Brown Pelicans at their usual haunt on the south side of the highway. This morning I counted 88 pelicans gathered there with the majority of them juveniles.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Came close, but just didn’t quite get the dramatic pelican diving-for-fish shots I was looking for. But with some decent light this morning, at least I had some opportunities.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

I get a kick out of watching the occasional chaotic action in this large gathering of Brown Pelicans. Ninety percent of the time they are patiently floating along as in the image above.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

Then someone stumbles upon a fish …

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

… and everyone around instantly flies or paddles in …

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

… to get a piece of the action.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

A lot of splashing and slashing, then after just a minute or so, calm returns, until someone else discovers another fish below the surface.

Tomorrow is also supposed to be rain free, so I will get one more chance to get some shots before I head up to New Orleans for a few days at Bayou Segnette State Park.

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February 9, 2018 Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

 

Osprey and seagull
Waiting for scraps

What Happened to the Birds?

Now I remember why I enjoy the desert in winter … the sunny, warm days, the cool dry nights. I arrived in Grand Isle one week ago today and it has rained at least part of every day I have been here. Several of the campsites are flooded at times, fortunately not the one I am on. Daytime temps have been in the 60’s and low 70’s, nighttime temps in the 60’s, and with the constant showers and high humidity, it’s often difficult to see out the fogged up windows of the motorhome. Haven’t seen the sun, nor a single nighttime star since I arrived, but lots of clouds and fog. Enjoying myself here so much, I just renewed for another week! And the forecast for next week?

Next Week

Rain … every day!

The reason for reupping is really just to kill time since my next destination is Bayou Segnette State Park on the outskirts of New Orleans, and this week is Mardi Gras week.

I have visited here three or four times over the years and have always enjoyed my stays here at the state park. It is a quiet, not terribly busy park this time of year and I have had good luck with wading birds and ospreys in the shallow waters along the highway coming into Grand Isle and Port Fourchon. However, this year I am wondering what has happened to all the wading birds.

Osprey Dining
Osprey Dining

I came upon this osprey enjoying his meal about a hundred feet off the Port Fourchon road ( those are storage tanks in the background ), when a passing truck apparently scared him off his dining perch.

Osprey Dinner Interrupted
Osprey Dinner Interrupted

I am always amazed at the incredibly long, narrow wings of an osprey that seem so disproportionally long for it’s body.

Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Catch
Osprey with Catch

The ospreys are still plentiful and I am seeing large numbers of Brown Pelicans, with an unusually large number of immature ones. As in the image just below, the youngsters seem to outnumber the adults by a large margin. I guess that’s a good thing since just a few years ago, folks were worrying about the future of these birds.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

There is a spot along the highway frequented by folks fishing from shore ( for what I am not sure ) and also by about 50 or more pelicans. Mixed in with the Brown Pelicans were three White Pelicans, the first time I have seen the two different types of pelicans together.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Immature Brown Pelican

I was aware that the White Pelican was larger than the Brown Pelican, but I never realized there was this much difference in their sizes.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Brown Pelican

I have only caught a glimpse of one Roseate Spoonbill flying way off in the distance, whereas before I have always encountered numerous small groups of them wading along the roadside waters. I have seen a few Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibises, but nowhere near the numbers I remember. Perhaps I’ll have some better luck next week ( in the rain ).

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January 31, 2018 Port Aransas, Texas

Port Aransas Beach Camping
Port Aransas Beach Camping

A Short Stay in Port Aransas, Texas

Above is a photo of my camping spot on the beach in Port Aransas, a place I have visited three times in the past. I had planned on staying here a while but left after only three nights and continued on to Louisiana.

The beach itself apparently did not sustain much damage from the hurricane and looks pretty much the same as it did on my previous visits here. To camp on the beach you simply obtain a $12 beach parking permit at one of several different locations, I bought mine at one of the Stripes convenience stores. During the busy summer beach season, you are limited to just a few days of camping but during the winter season, you can stay an extended length of time. The beach road is graded regularly and is very firm, making travel safe for any kind of rig with many miles of beachfront camping to choose from. There were very few people camped here this year as compared to my other times here.

Deep Sea Oil Rig Transport
Deep Sea Oil Rig Transport

As I was having coffee my first morning on the beach, I saw this enormous deep sea drilling platform being escorted out of the Port Aransas shipping channel. Headed for a deep sea location somewhere south of New Orleans, it was being towed and pushed by nine huge tugboats. Each tug was probably about three stories high from water to the top of their masts, so that might give you an idea of the size of this oil rig, just absolutely gigantic. The jetty rocks that can barely be made out in this image are probably about 10 feet above the waterline.

There still were piles of demolition debris along the streets of Port Aransas awaiting pickup and there were plenty of blue tarps on the roofs of hotels and private homes. Several empty lots were visible where structures have been demolished and await rebuilding efforts. Probably half the businesses were now open and most of the rest had signs saying they were opening soon. All of the RV Parks appeared open and most were all but full, so the winter Texans have shown up in Port Aransas.

I drove down to the Padre Island National Seashore and checked out the birding areas there … and came away with nothing. I mean there was no kind of bird life anywhere there. One little roadside pond where I have photographed hundreds of ducks before was completely devoid of life. No shorebirds, no ducks, no raptors anywhere, really strange.

Sadly, the best birding attraction in Port Aransas, the Leona Turnbull Birding Area, was heavily damaged by the hurricane, the boardwalk and observation decks being completely destroyed and are awaiting reconstruction, of which there are no signs of immediate efforts to do so.

Oil Rigs From the Ferry
Oil Rigs From the Ferry

So, the next day I hopped on the ferry and headed about 25 miles north to check out one of my favorite all-time places to stay, Rockport. There were three oil drilling platforms being refurbished alongside the north ferry terminal. These rigs would have been dwarfed by the rig seen going out the shipping channel the day before … and these are pretty impressively large structures themselves.

Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps
Hurricane Trash Heaps

The remnants of the demolition debris piles from the hurricane were spread over a half mile of the bypass highway median as you approached it’s northern terminus. A few months ago these piles were about ten times this size according to what some of the locals told me. There was a lot of obvious damage all through the town and my favorite spot to stay here, Goose Island State Park, has yet to reopen for camping.

The entire area is pretty gray looking and forlorn. Tremendous numbers of oaks have been blown down or uprooted and all the foliage in the area has been blown off or browned, it really is a pretty depressing looking area right now. The cow pastures along the coast, just outside the State Park, the usual haunts for the endangered Whooping Cranes, are no exception to the bleak looks of this part of the Texas coast. Finding this all a little depressing, I packed up after just three nights and continued on towards Louisiana and Grand Isle.

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January 30, 2018 Falcon Lake State Park, Texas

 

Red-winged Blackbird and Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird and Northern Cardinal

Three Weeks at Falcon Lake

Altamira Oriole
Altamira Oriole

It took two weeks to finally entice the Altamira Orioles to visit my campsite feeding setup, but I was never able to get them to drop down and let me get them feeding on the post, so this shot of one of the pair checking out the scene before dropping down to feed on one of the oranges I had impaled on a lower branch will have to do. When I was hosting at the Salineno Birding Site, these guys would eagerly feed on the peanut butter/lard/cornmeal mix ( as well as on oranges and nectar ), but not here this year for me.

Mockingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird
Mockingbird and Brown-headed Cowbird

This Brown-headed Cowbird ( a new arrival ) wandered in with the pesky Red-winged Blackbirds and was quickly discouraged from returning by the Northern Mockingbird.

Over three weeks, at my campsite, I was able to attract:

  •  House Sparrow
  •  Olive Sparrow
  •  Verdin
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Black-crested Titmouse
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Eurasian-collared Dove
  • Inca Dove
  • Roadrunner
  • Altamira Oriole
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Green Jay
  • Long-billed Thrasher
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Northern Bobwhites
  • Great-tailed Grackles

Not bad for a temporary feeding site!

Photo Setup
The Setup

And this is the final setup used to get my action shots of these colorful birds. The first few days here I set out multiple feeders, hung orange halves on the bushes, and spread cracked corn and sunflower seeds on the ground to let the birds know I was here and that there were easy pickings for them here at my campsite. Once they started coming in numbers I removed all the feeders but the feeder post to concentrate the action on just one spot. I did continue to put out smaller amounts of corn on the ground and left a couple of oranges up to attract the orioles.

The birds had no problem using only the post feeder and I had pretty consistent action any time I wanted to take shots from my covered picnic table patio. The post was located about 30 feet from where I was seated ( just the right distance for my Nikon 200-400mm lens ) and was just far enough away that my presence didn’t frighten the birds.

As I mentioned in a previous post the only way to capture these small birds in motion is by shooting at shutter speeds of 1/2000th of a second or faster. With limited light during most of my stay this meant shooting at an aperture of F4 almost all the time, meaning I only had a very narrow depth of field in which to catch the action. And that would be the reason for the two 2×2 posts you see on either side of my feeder post. I had to position the posts just a very small distance behind the feeder post in order to get the birds’ flight path down to the feeder within that very small area of my depth of field if I was to get them in focus. Autofocus simply does not work fast enough to capture this incredibly fast action so I was forced to manually focus of a specific spot, or area, that I assumed the birds would be in when I took the shot. These 2×2’s provided the birds with a convenient spot to perch while the feeder was occupied and more than 50% of the approaches to the feeder were from these two perches.

Now, why would someone dig a hole to place the feeder post in? Well, it turns out that the height of the feeder and the height of the two perching posts ended up being too close to the same height so that the birds were initially just hopping over to the feeder seldom needing to use their wings to to break their descent, thus yielding only shots with wings tucked to their sides. I didn’t have any other ( taller ) 2×2’s so I had to lower the height of my feeder post so that the birds would have to use their wings to slow their drop to the post, thus giving me the wings spread shots.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

This guy came in regularly to see if he could grab anyone for dinner.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

When I dug a spot for the post feeder, he had to check that out to try and figure out what that crazy photographer was doing to his hunting grounds. I never did see him grab anybody, though he did spend a considerable amount of time semi concealed, laying flat on his stomach just under the edge of the bushes around the feeder. Any time he was around, the action on the feeder was really slowed down, with only the Thrashers and the Green Jays daring to venture in.

I never had any aerial predators show up such as Sharp-shinned Hawks, but one morning all the birds present screamed out of the area as if one had come through and I did think I saw some movement in the bushes to my left, near the campground loop road. About a minute later, a Bobcat sauntered out of the bushes, only 20 feet away, and casually strolled across the road and through the occupied campsite across the road from me. It happened too quickly for me to get a shot since my camera was mounted on a fixed tripod, in manual focus, and aimed at the post feeder. Only would have been a Bobcat butt shot anyhow! Pretty surprising to see a Bobcat amongst all these people in broad daylight, but I guess he must be quite used to a human presence in his territory.

Great Kiskadee and Pyrrhuloxia
Great Kiskadee and Pyrrhuloxia

Over three weeks, I can’t even guess at the number of shots I must have taken … thousands for sure. But even with only a very small ( really tiny ) percentage of them being keepers, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of really nice shots I was able to come away with. Patience, practice, patience.

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

I never did get the Great Kiskadees to discover me until my final few days here. They are without doubt the most entertaining of the local birds, diving at the feeder post to grab, or, most often simply dislodging a chunk of food, whereupon they immediately circle back and pluck it out of midair or drop quickly to the ground to retrieve it. All the while screeching at every turn on the wing. Without question, they put on a very interesting aerial show.

Northern Bobwhite
Northern Bobwhite

A small flock of four pairs of Northern Bobwhites came in a few times a day to gobble up whatever was on the ground around the feeder post. I delight in listening to these very wary guys as that waddle around the feeding area clucking and peeping to each other. On my final day here this one female discovered where all that food on the ground was coming from when she hopped up on the feeder post and began gorging herself, with all the rest of her flock below gathered at the base of the post grabbing the seeds she was knocking out of the post as she fed.

Green Jay and Long-billed Thrasher
Green Jay and Long-billed Thrasher
Green Jay and Pyrrhuloxia
Green Jay and Pyrrhuloxia
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Green Jays
Green Jays

As I mentioned in a previous post, all the different species here were very territorial when it came to sharing time on the post, providing me with all the great action shots as they defended their position on the post or were driven off by a more aggressive bird. The only exception to this were the wonderfully colored Green Jays, often finding a way to crowd as many as four of their group on the post at the same time. But as the shot above shows, there were exceptions among them from time to time as to that sharing rule.

Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia
Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia

All told, I would have to chalk up my three weeks here at Falcon Lake as  one of the more enjoyable, and successful, stays I have had in my now five years of doing this full-time thing. Now it’s on north up the coast of Texas to Port Aransas.

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