I’ve always been a backyard birdwatcher; building birdhouses and putting up feeders to see what I can attract. Just recently photography has become a hobby de jour. I see an event called Featherfest in Galveston which combines the two. This seems right up my alley.
Galveston Island is one of the top locations in the country for birding. The island has a rich variety of natural habitats within its 32 miles. The beaches, wetlands, grasslands, woods, ponds, and bays are home to many common year-round bird species. The area is truly one of the best places in the country to bird watch because the Texas coast is on the Central Flyway, a broad, migratory flight path that extends from Alaska to South America. More than four hundred species of birds stop here on their way south or north, and the best months to see them are March and April.
I arrive at the FeatherFest HQ and soon realize these people are serious about their birds and their cameras.
I spot $1,000 pair of binoculars and spotting scopes and cameras with the lens the size of a cheerleaders megaphone. Equipped only with an old repurposed backpack and beer can size lens, I immediately feel inadequate.
The event features numerous birding and photography workshops and field trips. I am most interested in the photo field trips but they are mostly booked by the time I get around to registering. I do, however, make it on the field trip to Bolivar Point.
To the Point
Boliver Point has several jutties and ponds that are home to many prized waterfowl. The trip to the Point requires a bus ride and a ferry ride. I’m sure in the company of such purist that throwing bread to the Laughing Gulls off the back of the ferry is frowned upon. However, It’s a simple pleasure I have enjoyed since childhood and I proceed on feeding and laughing along with the swarming gulls.
I admit I have had an inordinate number of hobbies. Photography just being the latest. But one thing I’ve learned through these hobbies, is there are people that get into them way more than I do. And I attract these hobby geeks. The hour-long bus ride is permeated by the constant droning of a megaphone lens touting camera junkie. I hear more f-stop this and aperture that with some ISO thrown in for good measure. I’m ready to scream “For the love of god just take a picture out the window, you could probably capture the International Space Station with that lens your carrying. I hope there’s not some kind of reverse reflection off his lens that will pulverize any poor unsuspecting Whimbrel that we might stumble upon.
We arrive at fowl bearing pond and lo and behold there is a Dowitcher AND a Stilted Sandpiper. I know!, I had to contain myself too. We are instructed to exit the bus one by one in a crouched position and assume a position along the pond’s edge. I appreciate finding and photoing birds, my Facebook and Instagram feed is loaded with them. However, this whole group love thing was just too much for me. I slink out of the bus and up the road to take pictures of a perfectly photo worthy lighthouse that seems to go unnoticed by others.
Oh, okay, I had to snap a photo just like the others were doing. Here is what all the fuss was about. I present the Short-Billed Dowitcher and Stilt Sandpiper.
To the Rookery Birdman
During the Bolivar bus trip, the leader was very knowledgeable and helpful and I thoroughly enjoyed learning from her. I express my desire to find and photo the large pink Roseate Spoonspill. I have spotted them in the Everglades and on the Creole Nature Trail, but never close enough to get a decent photo. She directs me to a rookery on High Island, about 2-hours away, where they are breeding and nesting. Excitedly, I head to Smith Oaks Rookery the next day.
The place is in the middle of nowhere and I pass very few cars but the parking area there is overloaded. I thought I had an insider tip that no one else knew about; no such luck. I proceed down a trail and come across one of 5 viewing platforms. There is a menagerie of folks in position to view the goings on of hundreds of; elusive Roseates, Egrets, Cormorants, and Herons.
It is a spectacular display of nature, the views are stunning and the various calls, chortles, and gurglings from the birds are captivating. I move from platform to platform snapping pictures here and there and decide on the one that gives me the best chance to see and capture some birds while in flight.
Here we go again
I position myself and I be damn there is another camera jabber mouth right beside me. Nikon better than Canon and the Mark IID has four SDRAM slots and capable of 4K movies and on and on and on. Before us is: a mother egret feeding her young, a pair of Roseates’ courting with a display of spooning; rubbing the bills together, a pair who have had enough foreplay and were getting down to business and sadly down below it all an opportunist alligator that was smacking his lips finishing off a fledgling that had fallen from the nest. It’s a real-life National Geographic episode right before our eyes and the guy never stops talking. Hell, he never even took a picture.
Hats Off to the Audubon Society
Rookeries such as this have allowed the Roseates and Egrets make a remarkable comeback since protections were placed on them the 1890’s. The women’s fashion of the day featured feathered hats. The colorful feathers came to represent status and some woman had a tendency to exaggerate their social status (imagine that) and would have extreme feathery display atop their heads. The bird’s feathers are prized by milliners (hatmakers) in the Victorian age. Along with the Flamingo, these birds are nearly hunted to extinction for their feathers.
After the death of game warden by plume hunters, a group of Boston women formed to reign in the harvesting of the colorful birds. This group is to later become the Audobon Society, and their nationwide crusade is credited with saving these majestic birds. Hats off Gals!
And even bigger featherless hats off to the organizers of Featherfest. It is a one of a kind event that offers a little something for everyone. And I got my much sought after Roseate Spoonbill photos.