Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Texas City Dike (UTC074) On a Windy Day

Down on the Gulf Coast of Texas most residents and especially us transplants from cooler climes, welcome the first real cold front of the autumn/fall.  It is a blessed relief from the heat and humidity of the summer and a excuse to wear a jacket - even if its only for the first two hours of daylight.

Usually when a cold front blows through the next day is cool, clear, sunny and still, sometimes it's all the first three with a near gale force wind blowing.  Well, guess what I had when I took a drive down to Texas City Dike.  Yep, WIND.  It was so windy that as I was setting up my tripod and camera it nearly nearly blew over.  I managed to grab one of the legs just in time, it was a good job I caught it as it was standing on a concrete parking area.  I thought that a nice smooth flat surface was the best place to set up my gear, which of course it is.  Though it should be noted that concrete has a very low bounce factor.  I tried a few test shots to make sure everything was working, but even using the truck as a wind block wasn't working as I had hoped.  It was a real challenge trying to get decent shots with the amount of buffeting and vibration the wind was causing, so I decided that most of the photography today was going to be of the vehicular variety. I keep a soft, over padded cushion in the truck to for just such times.
I have seen various bean bags and mounts that fit on the door or window that are designed to provide support when shooting from a vehicle window, and I have no doubt that many of them do what is expected of them.  However, I often raise my window a little to get everything at the height I want.  I'm not sure I want the additional weight of anything more bearing down of my window glass and the winding mechanism, the lens and camera are plenty heavy enough.  So a light pillow is my choice.

Just after dawn at the base of the dike on a really windy day:

Texas City Dike was built in 1935 from granite blocks, much like those on Bolivar.  It runs out into Galveston Bay Southeast about 5 miles from it's base in Texas City.  Designed to prevent sediment build up it has shallower water on one side and much deeper water on the other.  The shallower side has numerous sandy and rocky beaches along it's length whilst the deeper side is granite boulders all the way down.

In winter it is as close as you can get to a banker to see Loons and Mergansers.  Common Loons are by far the most numerous but there are occasional reports of Pacifics being seen.  Red-breasted Mergansers and Hooded Mergansers are frequently present though not in good numbers. 

Red-breasted Merganser

Mixed flocks of Terns, Black Skimmers and Gulls can often be seen resting on the beaches.  This weekend there were several hundred resting from the wind in a dense flock.  Its a simple drive down on to the beach and the resting birds will allow moderately close driving to allow good looks.  Obviously it's wise not to push the envelope and see how close you can get.  The birds are resting for a reason they don't need to be continually disturbed by birders or photographers.  For that matter you can also add dog walkers.

Black Skimmers

Nice to see a Sandwich Tern today.  I was hoping to see one but without much optimism as they are not easy to find in the winter.  This one was by itself just a bit off from the large flock, alternately preening and standing half asleep.

Sandwich Tern

There were plenty of Royal Terns but no Caspians this time. 

Around the edges of the main flock of Black Skimmers were Ring-billed Gulls and Laughing Gulls in about equal numbers of around 75 of each.  These guys are not stupid, they were to the rear of the Skimmers and using the skimmers as a wind break.

A little further down the beach the smaller waders were much in evidence.  For the most part they kept a respectful distance from the much larger gulls and terns.  The difference is size is amazing, I certainly didn't fully appreciate the size difference until I was checking out this photo.  It seems that this first year Herring Gull could eat the Sanderling in one gulp.  They are probably well advised to keep their distance.

I was pleased to (at last), get some decent shots of some Snowy Plovers, one of which was ringed.

There were a good number of Black-bellied Plovers, one or two were on the beach, but mostly they were hanging out around the rocks.

Western Sandpipers were around but not in large numbers

Sanderlings were running around everywhere it was flat.

 After a couple of hours out there I was hoping that the weather would have settled down but if anything the wind was picking up so I decided to call it a day on the Dike and try one of the close by parks that had reports of Monk parakeets being seen.