Riding the Wave @ Galveston’s FeatherFest
Took this photo during my first Galveston FeatherFest field trip to Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. I led four trips to Bolivar Flats again this year in April with this one being challenging with the weather that morning. The wind was blowing at 25 – 30 mph with heavy surf for this area. If it wasn’t for FeatherFest, I typically would have stayed home in those conditions, which makes me wonder how many great photo ops that I’ve missed over the years by not going in adverse conditions. This outing was unique as only one participant, Peggy, showed up for this trip.
In this photo, a group of dunlins and one ruddy turnstone were hanging out on a batch of seaweed that was bobbing up and down with the waves. A small wave came in that made the first dunlin launch up into the air. This group would then feed off of the material that washed up on the mound of seaweed.
I finally made the dive into mirrorless cameras with a Canon R3, which I’ll provide some more information on in a future post.
Taken with Canon R3 with 500mm F4 IS II lens, 1.4X teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/1000 @ F11, ISO 4000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
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.
Took a couple of vacation days this past week and headed to the Gulf coast for some quality social distancing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary. Was well worth the time and effort.
Saw these 3 brown pelicans flying close to each other at a distance and started tracking them with my camera. Got about 80 shots of them just waiting for this photo when they were side by side, coming right at me with their wings outstretched.
Pre-visualized this shot as I’ve gotten some similar pelican photos probably 10 years ago and have been waiting to recreate it ever since. Was very pleased on how this one turned out.
Taken with Canon 1DX mark III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II and 1.4X III telconverter, mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/800 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, aperture priority, + 2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod
Clapper Rail After Downpour
After taking photos of wood storks in the rain, found this clapper rail in the middle of the dirt road at Brazoria NWR. As soon as my car moved, he ran into the grass next to the road. Slowly moved forward while watching the spot where he went in. Pulled closer and turned my car perpendicular to the road to be able to photograph him out my window. Changed to a small single focus point while trying to spot him in the grass with no luck.
Waited patiently for a few minutes when he started moving through the grass towards the road. He eventually came out onto the road to dry off from the rain. Was very cool to see as they are usually hanging out in the weeds and not in the open.
1/2500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
Wood Storks in the Rain
I’m usually not out taking photos when it rains but may have to start doing it more often. Was taking wood stork photos at Brazoria NWR when I got a text alert from one of my weather apps that it was going to rain. Looked to my right and saw the rain coming. Reached for my lens raincoat and it started pouring. Through the raincoat on the seat and stuck my 500mm out the window to start shooting the storks in the rain.
Wasn’t sure what shutter speed would be optimal to emphasize the rain so pretty much tried them all from 1/60 to 1/1250 sec. Having a clean background would have helped to see the rain but didn’t have that luxury.
The gully washer lasted about 8 minutes. Hoped that they would flap their wings to dry them off when it stopped but they just stood there. Turned around to drive away and found a much better target standing in the road…
1/250 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
I always get excited when seeing shorebirds take a bath as they almost always jump up and flap their wings to dry off. Usually a good chance for a great photo op.
Took these shots a couple of weeks ago at Bolivar Flats Audubon shorebird sanctuary along the Texas gulf coast. Cranked the ISO up to 3200 to get a decent shutter speed to freeze the action.
Taken with Canon 1DX III and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/2500 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
1/2000 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
Reddish Egret in Flight
Hope that everyone out there is well and staying safe. It’s a very strange/surreal world that we are currently living in. I have been working from home for awhile now so nothing new there, just less travel these days. My day job work has actually picked up lately with more projects so that’s a good thing. Have been spending my off-hours backing up my photos and entering some photo contests. I’ll post more later about my updated back-up strategy that I’ve just completed implementing.
Since almost all of my favorite areas for wildlife photography around Houston are shut down, I’ll dig up some of my photos from my newly archived storage unit.
Here is a reddish egret in flight from last year’s July 4.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head – handheld
Great Blue Heron Golden Silhouette
My first trip to Bolivar Flats along the Texas gulf coast in 2020 was magical. One of the rare times when the Gulf of Mexico was very calm and the pre-dawn light was amazing. Caught this great blue heron coming in for a landing and was able to get some decent shots with very slow shutter speeds @ 1/100 & 1/80 sec. Had to crank my ISO up to 6400 and use 1 2/3 exposure compensation as it was before the sun came up. Wish that I would have used ISO 10,000.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wilberley II gimbal head
1/100 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, from ground pod
1/80 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, from ground pod
Caracara in Flight
Got buzzed by this Caracara while walking back to my car along the shoreline at Bolivar Flats on the Texas Gulf Coast last weekend. Picked up my camera with the ground pod/gimbal head still attached and started shooting away. Had to eventually take the camera off so that it was lighter to handhold.
It’s fun to see the migrating raptors back in SE Texas. Lots of photo op’s this time of year.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500MM F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/4000 sec @ F 5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation
Reddish Egret Scores!
This reddish egret scored after going after this fish. This is why I’m always telling my classes at FeatherFest to start shooting when their head starts to go down towards the water as you never know what they may come up with and it happens very fast. Had to crank up the ISO to get a decent shutter speed on this one.
1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation
White Morph Reddish Egret
Spent some quality time on July 4th at Bolivar Flats along the Gulf Coast taking photos of reddish egrets at high tide. They weren’t as active as my previous trip but they finally came out to play as we were ending our morning trip. I’m not a major fan of taking photos at the beach with cloudy skies but it was still fun.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/1600 sec @ F7.1, ISO 1600, +2 exposure compensation
Reddish Egret – Wings Up
Reddish Egret raising his wings while fishing. They are the best egret at catching fish in my opinion. Always fun to watch them dance around.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter, mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/640 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation
Back to Bolivar Flats
Made my first trip to Bolivar Flats along the Gulf Coast since April and it was epic. Saw on Jim Strough’s post that there were lots of reddish egrets in the area and that was enough to convince me to get back out there.
With high tide, there weren’t any exposed sandbars off shore, which concentrated the birds along the shoreline. Luckily for me, they were accessible and not out of reach around the corner or just near the jetty, which can also happen.
When driving on the beach to get to the parking area, it become very evident that I was going to be sharing the beach with several wade fisherman. Total of 10 trucks plus my car. Most of the fisherman were already out in the water with a few still getting ready. Knew from experience that bird photography and wade fishing don’t exactly mix so I decided to hang back and let the fisherman walk past me. On cue, one of them walked right through the flock of birds that were in my sights and scattered them in all directions. This gave me an opening to get to the spot that I wanted to lay down while the birds returned.
Had 16 reddish egrets to choose from including 9 red and 7 white morph’s. The highlight was when the tide started to come in. I was shooting away and saw the water getting closer so had to keep pushing myself backwards up the beach. Looked up and saw 12 reddish egrets moving in with the tide and they were all converging on my location. Wish that I would have had a wide-angle lens or my iPhone as it would have made a great video.
Ended up leaving early when thunder started rumbling in the distance. Didn’t want to leave but decided that it wasn’t a good idea to be walking on the beach in a thunderstorm while carrying a hunk of metal. A great morning that will need to be recreated, very soon.
1/640 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation
Snowy Egret Portrait
Found this Snowy Egret on the Texas City dike a few weeks ago. Was too close to get a full body shot so went vertical and got this portrait photo. Had to go negative on the exposure compensation to keep from blowing out the whites. Flashing highlight alerts, aka “blinkies”, works very well to show when the photos are over exposed. Just remember on your histogram, expose to the right side but don’t climb the wall.
Was using my back-up camera, Canon 7D Mark II as my 1DX was back at Canon getting a new shutter installed. Started to get a bright line at the top of my photos which led to some research on the web that indicated my shutter was likely starting to fail. Canon confirmed it and got it replaced. Had over 423,000 shutter actuations and it was rated for 400,000. I’ve worn out several shutters on my other cameras so not surprising that this one would go one of these days. Glad that it didn’t happen during my last Yellowstone trip.
Took about 7 days after they received it for the repair so it was time to break-out the back-up camera. My 7D II worked well but it’s not the same as the pro body. It felt like a toy in comparison without a grip attached, but it took good photos.
Taken with Canon 7D II with Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens with 1.4X III teleconverter, 700mm, hand held out the car window.
1/1600 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, – 1/3 exposure compensation
Mentioned to my FeatherFest group before we hit the beach on Saturday morning that one of my target birds for this field trip was avocets. Score!
Low tide turned into high tide with the winds from the south due to the storm system. The high tide drove all of the birds near the shoreline and luckily most of them were along the beach facing south before you go around the bend. We started with a small group of avocets and worked our way down the beach until we hit the jackpot with thousands of them that just kept flying into the same area.
The legs have it in this full frame shot from my ground pod with only cropping to pano format. If you look close, had some light rain going on at this time. Also a photo bomber flying in.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4XIII teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/200 sec @ F 5.6, ISO 800, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, aperture priority, 700mm