…morning light is magic…

One With the Flock

Have to share some details and photos about my unique adventure on Sunday (3/7/21) at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast in search of American Avocets.  Needless to say, I found just a few. 

While walking along the beach as the sun came up, there were a couple of flocks of avocets off shore but they wouldn’t have been worth the effort to photograph so decided to keep going to see what was around the corner.  Found a group of white pelicans with some avocets feeding around them.  Took the first photo with handholding my rig with ground pod/Wimberley head attached while deciding where to lay down. 

The avocets were working their way to my right but couldn’t get upstream without spooking them so decided to lay down in the opposite direction in anticipation that they would eventually move that way.  Laid down at the water’s edge of a sandbar and focused on flight shots as more and more avocets were coming in to join what soon became a feeding frenzy.

The enlarging flock eventually reversed course and headed in my direction.  During that time, the tide was starting to come in and my sandbar ended up under water and I felt water getting into my waders.  At 53 deg F air temp, 15 to 20 mph winds and 59 deg water temperature, it got really cold really fast.  Tried to back up a few feet to find dry ground but looked behind me and there was no sandbar in site for over 50 ft.

With a flock of several hundred avocets heading my way, had to make the decision to get up to save my frozen body parts or grin and bare it.  As my ground pod filled with water, figured that it couldn’t get much worse so stayed put as the flock was nearly upon me.  When avocets feed, they put their head in the water and use their long bills to rake across the sand to find invertebrates.  They just kept feeding and getting closer and closer. 

Eventually they were within 20 ft of me and just moved around me and kept feeding.  Was very cool to be surrounded 360 deg. by one of my favorite birds.  Don’t know if it helped but I was in full camo with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled over my head.  One of the major advantages of photography using a ground pod is that the birds don’t recognize you as a person.

At this point, I became “one with the flock”, which was an amazing experience.  I’ve had avocets all around me before but it was a handful, not a full flock.  Got a couple of photos that may be photo contest worthy but would have loved this experience if I didn’t get any photos. 

It was challenging to photograph them that close as I couldn’t shift my position without moving too much in fear of spooking them.  Eventually switched to F16 for more depth of field but it didn’t help much at that distance.  The white pelicans also joined the fray and flew about 10 ft over me with one landing very close.  Slowly rotated my ground pod around to get a couple of shots of him.

Was so focused and in the zone that I didn’t realize my ground pod was floating in the water and had shifted so that the back end was down into the sand under the water with the front end up resting on the bottom of my 500mm lens.  With my gimbal head adjustments being loose for shooting, it just floated up in the water.  Pulled it back down and locked it into place for a few seconds to stabilize it when I realized that the salt water was lapping at the bottom of my camera.  Shifted the camera up slightly to get it out of the water and then my lens raincoat was in the water. 

Didn’t take a rocket scientist to say it was time to get up quickly, which was easier said than done with my waders/clothing full of water and my desire to not dunk my gear.  Usually grab the base of my ground pod to help get up but in this case, didn’t want to move/splash my camera/lens so got up next to my gear as water poured out of my jacket.  Slowly made my way back to my car while water was squishing in my wader boots.  Water just poured out of my waders when taking them off.  Removed my camera raincoat and put my camera in the passenger seat for the drive back to the ferry. 

After getting on the ferry, noticed that there was water dripping out of my lens hood.  Removed the hood and saw that the bottom part had been in the water.  Took off the Lenscoat neoprene covers on my lens to dry it off.  Took a couple of hours to clean up myself and my gear but was well worth it.

All photos were taken with Canon 1DXIII, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III, Skimmer ground pod (now a designated floaty) with Wimberley II gimbal head.

10 responses

  1. Wow! Great story and great images!

    March 10, 2021 at 6:01 am

  2. Joe Benzenhoefer

    Wow, great story and pictures.

    March 10, 2021 at 6:58 am

  3. I enjoyed the story more than the photos. But you are right. Some award winners there! Glad the camera survived unscathed.

    March 10, 2021 at 7:32 am

  4. Diane

    I was holding my breath as you were being surrounded by water……and amazing birds!! Glad you wereOK and the equipment hopefully will be as well. Wonderful photos ..what beautiful birds! Thanks for sharing that experience and your photos….I would have been out of that water long before you!!

    March 10, 2021 at 9:37 am

  5. Thank you very much Willem! Appreciate it.

    March 10, 2021 at 11:34 am

  6. Thank you very much Joe! Always fun at Bolivar with some challenges along the way.

    March 10, 2021 at 11:35 am

  7. Thank you very much Shannon! Realized then photographing the avocets that most of my pictures weren’t going to be off the charts as the flock was so tightly packed but wanted to document the experience. I did get two unique photos that will be entered into photo contests but they aren’t included here. I typically don’t post my best photos as they are being saved for the contests.

    March 10, 2021 at 11:41 am

  8. Thank you very much Diane! Very much appreciated. I’ve gotten wet out there before but this one took it to a new level. Looking forward to me next trip.

    March 10, 2021 at 11:45 am

  9. leasafley

    Sounds like an experience for your next Featherfest group to experience. NOT! Glad you and your gear survived the “3 Hour Tour” and got some great shots.

    March 12, 2021 at 7:19 pm

  10. Thanks Lea! Hopefully won’t have to drown the group at Featherfest this year.

    March 13, 2021 at 6:15 am

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