Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Smith Oaks Sanctuary: April 2016

This past Saturday I made my inaugural visit to High Island on the Texas Gulf Coast to catch the spring migration of neotropical birds heading north for the summer. My first stop was the Smith Oaks Audubon Sanctuary for a guided tour led by some extremely knowledgeable and friendly folks from Tropical Birding Tours.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
This was the last afternoon walk of the season, and one of the guides called it one of the top three they'd had in terms of the variety and number of birds.  This Eastern Wood-Pewee was one of the first we saw.

Philadelphia Vireo, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
There must have been at least 50 birders on the walk.  I still don't consider myself a birder -- I want photos, not just to see them through binoculars.  The best part about being with a group of birders is how much I learn.  Like that this is a Philadelphia Vireo.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
Lighting in the woods was tricky.  Most of my shots are absolute garbage.  I generally need good light on my subject to get anything decent, like I had with this Bay-breasted Warbler.

Swamp Rabbit, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
Another nice side effect of walking with a group of birders is that they typically only care about, well, the birds.  So when someone spotted this swamp rabbit, most folks were completely disinterested.  I was captivated at how large and somewhat bold it was.  With really low light in this heavily shaded area I needed to get fairly close for a decent shot, and was able to do so.

Swamp Rabbit, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
The rabbit was not at all immune from the mosquitos that persistently buzzed around us.  You can see two of them flying to the left of his ears.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
This shot breaks one of the guidelines I usually have for my images, with the subject being darker than the background.  But I love the Pewee's pose, the catch light on the eye, and the striking bokeh.

After the guided tour ended I spent a little time walking around some of the sanctuary's ponds. Another birder pointed out this Least Bittern to me sitting motionless in some reeds.

EDIT: I'd originally identified this as a Green Heron.  Many thanks to Phil Plank for the correction!

Spotted Sandpiper, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
Later I found a Spotted Sandpiper unexpectedly perched on some branches.  I've always thought of them as a shorebird and didn't realize they could also be found in marshy areas.  I went black and white to draw a little more attention to the pattern in the background water.

Unnecessary Sign, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
Talk about an unnecessary sign.  I wouldn't swim in the water after seeing a couple of alligators.  And given the condition of this sign, there is no way I would drink the water, either.

Sunset, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
I scouted out a decent spot for sunset, set up my tripod and waited.  I also kept a sharp eye out for any logs with two small bumps on one end floating in my direction.  The scene reminded me of something from the first season of True Detective.

Twilight, Smith Oaks Sanctuary
As I've learned, sticking around for about another 10 minutes after the sun had gone down resulted in some nice colors in the sky that also reflected in the still pond.  And the long shutter speed also yielded nice soft clouds.  And best of all, I didn't get eaten by an alligator.

Not a bad start, and that's not even including everything I saw at the rookery!  Check back for the first of those shots later in the week. :)

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