Anywhere you go along the Texas Gulf coast one of the most impressive birds you'll see is the brown pelican. These beautiful and common large water birds can be seen flying in groups up and down the beach or over the breaking waves, occasionally diving into the water and catching fish in their large beaks. (check out the hook at the end of the beak to help the bird hold on to the fish) When they're not flying, they sit at the water's edge on rocks or pilings and preen like the one seen in this photo. Here's a picture of three of them flying over some rough waves on a cloudy and windy day at a Galveston Texas beach.
These two flew overhead the following day when it was sunny and a blue sky...
Next time we'll take a closer look at another beautiful Texas shorebird...
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is located in southeast Texas about 50 miles east of Houston, just north of High Island and just south of Winnie. So, for fun and easy birding, first go to Boy Scout Woods in High Island, walk through the woods and look for migrating songbirds, then drive a few miles north and be in Anahuac where you'll find all kinds of shorebirds, waterbirds, songbirds and snakes and alligators. There are roads that go through the refuge so it's easy to just drive through and see what's there. These pictures of the Glossy Ibis,White Ibis and alligator were taken from the car window. More on Anahuac and High Island bird species and sightings next time-
Here are a couple of bright red songbird migrants that visit the southeast Texas gulf coast. Shown above is the Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), a neon red medium size songbird. This bird was seen in April in Boy Scout Woods in High Island Texas - southeast of Houston and east of Galveston. It was hanging out high in the trees and not paying attention to the group of people below staring, pointing and taking pictures. The colors in this photo are not enhanced - the bird is extremely red.
The next bird is a Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), a small bright red songbird. This bird was seen at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Texas which is just north of High Island last January as it was wintering in our area. They like open spaces and apparently don't mind people as this one was hanging out in front of the visitor center and posing for pictures. It's always a thrill and a privilege to see these beautiful birds out in nature, and it's even more fun to be able to take their pictures!
Here's an unusual bird identification story I'll share with you. Looking through my photos from earlier in the year recently, I came across some pictures of a hawk that I couldn't identify. The pictures were taken on the east end of Galveston Island on the bay side near the ferry. The weather was chilly, cloudy and lightly raining, and driving around I saw the hawk in the distance sitting on a structure of some sort. Being too far away to see it clearly, I decided to take some photos from the car and look at them later just for id purposes. After cropping the photos and looking through every bird book I own and searching the internet, I wasn't able to determine what the hawk was - as you can see it's rather light in color and has mottled brown and white feathers and a white face. When all else fails, I contact my ornithologist friend Jim Stevenson from the Galveston Ornithological Society (GOS) and get his opinion. He was quick to tell me that this is a first year Red-tailed Hawk with a mix of Krideri genes in him, which makes him a lighter color. The Krideri type Red-tailed hawk is a light colored variation that lives in the Northern Great Plains and winters in Tx and Oklahoma, and can be found near the water on the Tx gulf coast - which accounts for the location and his unusual appearance. I'm just glad to get a positive id and have a few pictures of a great looking bird!
Taking pictures of birds in flight is one of the most fun and challenging types of photography there is. This is a photo of a roseate spoonbill that was building a nest at the rookery at High Island Texas just east of Galveston. He or she was flying back and forth in front of me gathering nesting material which made this shot relatively easy. Since the flight path was at my eye level and was predictable, I just set up my tripod and left the ball head on a loose swivel setting, took a few test shots to get the exposure right, and got quite a few "keepers". Since these birds are large and don't fly very fast it was relatively easy to focus and keep it in the viewfinder. To me the interesting part is seeing the photos afterwards and seeing all the different poses and wing positions birds have when flying that you can't normally see since they move so fast.
The hawk picture below was taken out in a field near Georgetown Texas where I was trying to take photos of meadowlarks. The meadowlarks weren't cooperating, but this hawk decided to check me out and was circling pretty close overhead, which resulted in a few nice shots. For successful bird in flight shots, it's important to have the sun low in the sky in the morning or evening, to have the bird flying in the right direction relative to the sun so it's head is not in shadow, and to at least have the eye in sharp focus. For a fast flying bird that means a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 or higher. More on the technical details next time...