Monday, November 21, 2016

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

    After leaving Boddecker Road its only a short drive to the ferry terminal across to the Bolivar Peninsular.  As an added bonus the ferry crossing is free, unless you want to count paying your taxes that provides for this free service.  The crossing is brief, I'm thinking in the region on 15 to 20 mins in total.  There's a chance see gulls, terns, pelicans and possibly a Magnificent Frigatebird  from the ferry.  There's usually a good chance to photograph something, and this time did not disappoint..............

After disembarking its only another short drive to the 17th Street turn off and then it's down to the
jetty.  The jetty runs for more than a couple of miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.  The first part is a easy and wide concrete walkway but after that it's a jumble of large granite blocks and as you get further out they get less even and more slippery.  The creation of the jetty in the late 1800s has allowed silt and sediment to build up on the East side and has created about 1,000 acres of mudflats, saltmarsh and beach in a natural shallow lagoon much beloved by all kinds of shorebirds and waders.  At the right time of the year the sheer numbers of birds can be breath taking, vast flocks of American Avocets, Black Skimmers, Gulls, Dowitchers, Willets and other goodies allow for unbeatable photographic opportunities, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of birds make use of this sanctuary for resting, feeding and breeding annually.  Wilsons and Piping Plovers especially enjoy this habitat and the sanctuary is as good a place to see and photograph them that I know of.

The Sanctuary is currently owned and managed by the Houston Audubon Society.  It can get pretty busy on a weekend on the jetty in nice weather as local fisherman enjoy using it as well as birders and photographers.  The fisherman cast to the West into the deeper water, while for the most part the birders and photographers are busy looking East.  Having the fisherman around is not such a bad thing.  Naturally wary birds become relatively tame and unconcerned by human activity, this allows for closer looks than would otherwise be possible.  My only complaint is that some (not all), still leave their trash and discarded fishing line on the jetty when they leave.  Its not necessary, its dangerous to humans and wildlife, and not only is it disrespectful, it's downright inconsiderate.

On this visit the tide was just starting to drop as I arrived.  The whole area looked to be underwater at first glance but there were many birds out in the middle standing in shallow water.  There seemed to be Avocets everywhere.  I counted them in blocks of fifty and at a conservative estimate there had to be a minimum of three thousand and in all likelihood considerably more.

While walking along the concrete path along the top of the jetty a single Least Sandpiper was flitting from one rock to the next and staying almost next to me.  As I was walking directly into the sun I was anxious to get in front of it and then to get some shots looking back towards it with the sun behind me.

The area at the end of the concrete pathway was where the closest exposed mud flats were located and waders were congregated there in good numbers and they were not shy.  They seemed totally at ease with the coming and goings of the fishermen less than 20 yards away and when plonked myself down on the rocks less than 15 yards away they just carried on resting, feeding and preening.

Further out flocks of White and Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Terns and Ring-billed Gulls were resting on the now exposed mud flats.  Even further out along the edges of the reed beds were Roseate Spoonbills, Black-necked Stilts, both species of Yellowlegs and a whole bunch of peeps that were too far away to identify.

Close by to my feet were Dunlin

Western Sandpiper,

Lesser yellowlegs,

Black-necked Stilt,

Marbled Godwit,

American Avocets by the busload were everywhere

I still hadn't found a Reddish Egret.  I wandered further out along the jumble of rock boulders to an area of denser reed beds hoping to find one in a sheltered spot.  As I was moving along the boulders it occurred to me that one slip could be really expensive with either rock or water damage to the camera and lens.  It also entered my mind how easy it would be to break a leg or worse and be stuck out there.  Just then a fisherman who was coming towards me slipped and there was a horrendous cracking sound as he went down hard.  Fortunately, it was his fishing rod that snapped under his weight, but it goes to illustrates a point - be careful.  He was ok and escaped with a scrape and a few bruises but nothing too serious. There was a time I wouldn't have even have given safety out there a second thought, I guess that's what getting older and having responsibilities does to someone. I now find myself much more cautious than I used to be.  Alas after all that I still didn't find the Reddish Egret.  I made my way back to the parking lot stopping to chat to a few of the fishermen who all reported a very quiet day, when out in the middle mudflats all on it's own was the egret I wanted to find.  To be sure it was too far out even on a CMOS sensor and at 600mm, for anything other than an id confirming snap but at least I achieved one of my goals.  Next week I think I'll try one of my favorite winter coastal spots at Texas City Dyke - I hope its not going to be too windy.