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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

Texas Spring Shorebird Photography

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

As promised in last month's post, I'm going to be short of word and heavy on images this month. Enjoy!

Spring has sprung here in the Hill Country of Texas. While our wildflowers are starting to show themselves, nature in Texas pulls the photographer in a multitude of directions this time of year. Because of the extreme temperatures we had in February, the wildflowers have been a bit delayed, meaning I was a bit more free to revisit the coast.

March is the last month that you can reliably see the endangered whooping cranes still wintering down around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. By the last week of the month, we had already had several pairs leave for their breeding grounds in Canada. Lucky birds to be able to cross the boarder right now, right?

Our sandhills have already headed north leaving early March. They will be missed until next fall when they return.

That being said, as the cranes leave, a vast influx of migrants start returning from a winter in Central and South America. Returning shorebird migrants include such species as great egrets, rosette spoonbills, a variety of terns, and gulls.

Photo tip: Make sure when photographing birds in flight that you follow through with the bird even if you think you may have gotten an image you really like. Had I not continued to photograph this spoonbill after knowing I got the above top image, I would not have captured the image below which I actually like better because of the contrasting water in the background.

I, along with a good friend, chartered a boat out with Captain Lori of Aransas Bay Adventures again. If you are going to visit the area, I highly recommend hiring Captain Lori or her husband, Captain Kevin, to take you out. Each time is an experience and they know the waters, the wildlife, and - best yet - the light!

Fighting some rather windy conditions, Captain Lori was able to get us positioned close to one of the rookery islands where we would be able to watch the flurry of avian activity taking place. It was so hard to decide where to focus as there were birds just everywhere doing all sorts of things from courtship displays, settling territorial disputes, and building nests.

I was thrilled to see a pair of American oystercatchers had set up home on the island as well. After working with the black oystercatchers in California, I've kind of have fallen hard for oystercatchers in general. In this situation, I was able to capture the female (note the eye spot) sitting on her nest among wild Mexican poppies that has also found their way onto the island. Such a pretty nest spot what with fresh flowers and an ocean view.

Her mate was a bit more active, switching between defending the area from intruding gulls, resting, and even making a short forage trip to the end of the island we were concentrating on for a quick bite to eat.

By far, my favorite were the Caspian terns though. These elegant birds just have so much attitude during this season.

Photo tip: When photographing a bright subject in bright light, make sure to expose for that subject. The last thing you want is to blow out all the feather detail on a bird in flight. That being said, the bright light does make it much easier to photograph birds in flight as you can use a faster shutter speed, allowing you to freeze the action without issue. Terns are notoriously quick birds but, on bright days, they can be more easily captured in flight with full detail. I averaged a 1/3000 shutter speed when capturing these images of the terns.

The males of this small flock were also continuously doing courtship flybys with fish hanging out of their bills. I have long wanted to capture terns with fish so proceeded to spend several hours focused on just these birds and their fish offering courtship flights. Here is just a smattering of the collection I amassed during one visit.

Overall, it is wonderful to see life returning to the coast after the cold we had this past winter. Can't wait to see what other behavior I can capture from other species as the season progresses.

If you would like to photograph shorebirds next spring here in Texas, reach out and let me know. I'm working on putting a small group together for such an adventure and would love to have you join me!

Until next time, cheers!

Reddish egret in breeding plumage staying inconspicuous as other reddish egrets fight over territory on the island.

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