When the cooler weather sets in, the Gulf of Mexico seems to change. The sky gets lower and always appears to be a bit overcast while the Gulf's water looks almost as if it were liquid pewter. To me, the island is almost a totally different place from that sunny beach playground of summer. We walk the beach; we tour the island; we look for birds.
One of the birds we looked for is the Sandhill Crane. Sandhills summer and breed in the north – mainly Canada and Alaska. Then they migrate across the Great Plains to winter in New Mexico and along the Texas coast. Unfortunately while these birds like open fields and can be easily seen, they also seem to like being far, far from the road. At the Galveston Airport Linda counted a group (called a construction) of 52 cranes! Alas, they were so far from the road that without binoculars we couldn't even be sure they were cranes. Oh well, photos will have to wait until next time.
A Busy Body of Water
We wandered up to East Beach, the absolute eastern tip of Galveston Island where you can see the ships moving in and out of Galveston Bay on their way to the Port of Houston. The port is the country's largest in foreign goods and second largest overall, and ships are continually moving through Galveston Bay and into the Houston Ship Channel.
Often you can see ships anchored in the Gulf all along the coast waiting for their time to move into the port. This day I counted more than a dozen ships crowded at the east end of Galveston Island, each waiting for their turn to enter the bay on their way to being shepherded into the port. The orange ship is empty and riding high, heading into the port. The blue ship is fully laden and riding low in the water, heading out into the Gulf to parts unknown.
While on our way out to East Beach, we stopped at a small lagoon that always seems to have some birds to check out. We were not disappointed. This day we were treated to a wonderful show by a Reddish Egret shopping for food. Unlike its cousins, the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron which are calm and composed hunters that wait patiently for prey to come to them, the reddish egret is a very pro-active hunter.
The reddish egret puts on a real show when hunting for food. It stalks. It staggers. It dances. It prances. It leaps in air. It spreads its wings – sometimes both, sometimes only one. When it locates a fish it will make a lightning quick stab. And in between its bizarre choreography it stands quietly studying the water. There is absolutely no pattern to its movements. You never know what you will see. But you do know you will be delighted.
Last spring I lay on my belly on a very wet sand bar for about an hour watching a reddish egret, waiting for the bird to perform its feeding gyrations. Unfortunately, that egret was apparently not very hungry and I managed only a few photos. This guy definitely wanted some lunch and showed us its every move – multiple times. Watching it was a sheer pleasure, and I came away with a slew of good images.
We are fortunate to have these reddish egrets on Galveston Island. According to the Audubon Field Guide there are only about 2,000 pair in the U.S. and they are all along the lower Florida coast and the coast of Texas. This gallery is just eight images from the over 120 I captured of this lovely bird. Be sure to click on one of the photos so you can see them in large-size.
The unphotographable cranes and the performing egret were not the only birds we saw. On the beach we enjoyed watching the Sandpipers and the Dunlins as well as the little Sanderlings running along with their legs moving so fast they were a blur. Of course there were the gulls and terns and the squadrons of pelicans flying out over the water.
We rode around to a few places we have visited while at the birding festival and were treated to a variety of egrets along with some ibises and spoonbills. In one field we saw a Roseate Spoonbill, a Snowy Egret, and a juvenile White Ibis all grouped together doing a bit of foraging.
As we slowly drove along a wetland we also saw a variety of herons, including the Great Blue, the Little Blue, the Tricolored, and the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. I managed a few photos you can see below. The photos of the dark brown adolescent white ibis and the juvenile and adult night herons clearly show how birds change their plumage as they mature. Just click on one photo to see it full size and then click again to move on to another picture. And when you finish with these photos, please see the beautiful snowy egret that posed for me on the Weekly Photos page. Thanks for visiting!