Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Challenging Photo Shoot


Randall from New York wanted to spend a couple of days between business trips to do some photography as a “neophyte” birder (but superb photographer – check out his website here), so after he had spent a day at Martin Ranch, our plan was to focus on some areas where he might get some different birds.  We had several options, but finally settled on South Padre Island (where there’s always something to photograph J).  We were concerned about the weather, however, as it was drizzly and wet all the way over (although we managed to spot a beautiful White-tailed Hawk on SR 100), and remained rather “spitty” even as we headed out onto The Flats:  the wind (and consequently the rain) was coming straight out of the west, so I tried to position the car where we had the birds to our east and he could shoot out his window.  Dunlins were the most common shorebird, but we had cute little Piping Plovers right away, soon to be outnumbered by Semipalmated Plovers!  Thankfully the rain let up by the time we crawled over to where the larids and pelicans were lounging, so we got great looks and photos of the skimmers, gulls, and terns (including a single Sandwich), plus a handful of Black-bellied Plovers.  One Western Sandpiper joined the Sanderlings, allowing great comparative views.

A rare Piping Plover that escaped being "blinged"!

Semipalmated Plover - can you tell them apart?

White Pelicans putting some distance between us and them...

With Brown Pelicans - note the size difference!

Short-billed Dowitchers

Caspian Tern

Black Skimmer

Black-bellied Plover lacks the black belly in winter

Stretching Royal Tern (©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

After getting our fill, we headed straight to the Birding Center for a potty break and then to tackle the boardwalk.  It was spitting ever so slightly, so we bundled up and I at least tucked my little Powershot under my fleece jacket, but Randall’s setup had no choice but to get dripped on…  But the photo ops were still great:  Mottled Ducks, Coots, and Common Gallinules came rushing over (probably expecting to be fed, along with the pigeons), and several Great Blue Herons stood sentry in the wetlands.  The flock of Black-necked Stilts that were further out decided to fly in closer, and a couple of Clapper Rails sounded off as we made the turn to the north.  A Northern Waterthrush pinked unseen and a Tricolored Heron put on a good show, while three Kiskadees hopped around the dead end of the boardwalk!  Heading east, several Roseate Spoonbills gave great views while a Mottled Duck quacked incessantly.  We ran into fellow guide Michael Marsden taking returning Indiana birders Chuck and David out (they were on the separate Convention Center parallel boardwalk, so no hugs L) and had found a Western Kingbird at the Centre!  After we checked out some Blue-winged Teal near the end of the boardwalk (where a Sedge Wren also called), the wintering Belted Kingfisher making the rounds, and some Butterbutts in the parking lot, we opted to head straight to Estero Llano Grande SP for the afternoon.

Randall on the SPI BC Boardwalk

Great Egret

Black-necked Stilts

Shooting a Common Gallinule (note the hopeful pigeon...)

My version of the gallinule

Mottled Duck

Tricolored Heron with female Red-winged Blackbird

Fluffy view of the heron
Kiskadees playing at the dead end

Distant Belted Kingfisher
More photo ops (note the pigeon is still with us...)

Immature Roseate Spoonbills

Sleepy adult

Pied-billed Grebe

Blue-winged Teal

It was on and off rain all the way over there, but by the time we got there it was only mildly spitting.  Randall’s life Chachalacas were raiding a swinging tray feeder at the corner of the brick walkway (along with a Curve-billed Thrasher), so we spent a goodly amount of time on deck enjoying the hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks!  They pretty much dominated the bird life at the pond, but we did find some Shovelers and Gadwall to add as well.  After saying hello to Ranger Javier, we sat at the feeders for about 15 minutes and enjoyed an Orange-crowned Warbler that kept coming in to get the remnants out of the peanut butter feeder, but aside from Inca Doves and House Sparrows, they were the only takers.  Unfortunately the only Long-billed Thrasher of the day made an appearance while Randall was visiting the Little Boy’s Room…L

Randall shoots his life Chachalaca on the feeding tray (below)

(with Red-winged Blackbird...)

Once on deck, we're confronted with thousands of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (below)!

Randall used his Nikon D3S and Tamron 150-600mm lens to shoot these Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

In flight (©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

Having a spat (©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

My version of the more laid-back individuals...

Token Northern Shoveler

I think Randall and I may have shot this Orange-crowned Warbler at the exact same moment!  Notice the difference between my Canon 50SX Powershot (above) and his Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II  and 300mm lens (below)!  

(©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

Long-billed Thrasher

Inca Dove (©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

We went straight to Alligator Lake from there while it was reasonably clear, stopping to check out the three Fulvous Whistling Ducks that had joined the Blackbellies at Dowitcher Pond, plus several Green-winged Teal. Grebe Marsh was actually birdless, so we continued on and enjoyed the night heron show at Alligator Lake.  An Anhinga also posed, and I heard the Green Kingfisher, but he never showed… L  As we crept along the trail, I was thrilled to spot the Pauraque, and Randall actually spotted a second bird behind the first one!  After enjoying them we checked the owl box, but he was a no-show, so we decided to head on back before the rain came again.

Fulvous (left) and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Two Fulvouses

Black-crowned Night Heron all "tucked in"

Not tucked in...

Randall shoots one of the many Yellow-crowned Night Herons (below)

(©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

Again, compare the shot taken with the Olympus (Randall's) with the Powershot shot above.

Another of Randall's shots (©2018 Randall Rothenberg)


The advantage of a higher-end camera is that you can jack up the ISO pretty high in low light conditions while not sacrificing sharpness; again, compare the Powershot above with the Olympus below (both hand-held, BTW)!

(©2018 Randall Rothenberg)

We still had quite a bit of time left, so since a hike around the whole park was too risky weather wise, we decided to spend more quality time on deck so Randall could work with his second camera (the Nikon) and get some comparison shots.  We managed some interesting interaction between the whistling ducks and the trio of Green-winged Teal that were right off deck, but after awhile Randall had had enough of the rain and the cold and we decided to call it a day.  

One adult Black-bellied Whistling Duck with three youngsters; immatures are often mistaken for Fulvous Whistling Ducks due to their ochre coloration and gray bills, but they have the white wing stripe present at all ages.

(Note that some of them are also getting some black belly feathers...)

The "Generation Gap" apparently isn't limited to humans!

Green-winged Teal (males have the rusty head)


Even with the lousy weather we managed 80 species for the day!  Bird list:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 
Fulvous Whistling-Duck 
Blue-winged Teal 
Northern Shoveler 
Mottled Duck 
Northern Pintail 
Green-winged Teal 
Plain Chachalaca 
Pied-billed Grebe 
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 
Inca Dove 
Mourning Dove 
Common Pauraque 
Clapper Rail 
Common Gallinule 
American Coot 
Black-necked Stilt 
Black-bellied Plover 
Semipalmated Plover 
Piping Plover 
Ruddy Turnstone 
Western Sandpiper 
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull 
Ring-billed Gull 
Caspian Tern 
Royal Tern 
Sandwich Tern 
Black Skimmer 
Double-crested Cormorant 
American White Pelican 
Brown Pelican 
Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret 
Snowy Egret 
Little Blue Heron 
Tricolored Heron 
Cattle Egret 
Black-crowned Night-Heron 
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 
White Ibis 
Roseate Spoonbill 
Turkey Vulture 
Northern Harrier 
Harris's Hawk 
White-tailed Hawk 
Belted Kingfisher 
Green Kingfisher 
Ladder-backed Woodpecker 
Crested Caracara 
American Kestrel 
Great Kiskadee 
Loggerhead Shrike 
White-eyed Vireo 
Green Jay 
Black-crested Titmouse 
House Wren 
Sedge Wren 
Marsh Wren 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 
Curve-billed Thrasher 
Long-billed Thrasher 
Northern Mockingbird 
European Starling 
Lincoln's Sparrow 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Great-tailed Grackle 
Northern Waterthrush 
Orange-crowned Warbler 
Common Yellowthroat 
Yellow-rumped Warbler 
Northern Cardinal 
House Sparrow 

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