Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Anhinga at Brazos Bend

Yesterday was a day of gulf coast thunderstorms, heavy rains and spotty flooding.  It was the kind of day that beckons one to stay indoors if work and life allow.  And so the rick-man and I were out the door at an early hour, headed for a day trip into the great outdoors at Brazos Bend State Park.
This trip would be my first to Brazos Bend for the 2012 summer season.  We arrived just as the park was opening for day visitors, greeted by an empty parking lot, heavy clouds, seasonal humidity, and of course those Texas-sized mosquitoes.  It felt great to be putting on my rain jacket and slinging my daypack, binoculars and camera over my neck.  Wading boots and loose jeans completed an outfit that exposed only hands, neck and face to those pesky mosquitoes.  I hate using mosquito spray, but am thankful for its power over those flying, biting morsels of bird and bat food.

With an empty trail ahead of me and the rick-man some 50 yards behind, I immersed myself in a morning of birding photography.   The sky was dark with the threat of rain, and would darken as the morning progressed, not providing easy lighting conditions for shooting my camera at birds—but I couldn’t have been happier.  The on-and-off rain would make protecting my camera, lens and binoculars a challenge—but still, I couldn’t have been happier.  After all, “It Chanced to Rain” is one of my all-time favorite story and picture books.  I was in my element:

Brazos Bend ALWAYS provides a wealth of bird sightings; rainy days are no exception.  One of my favorite year-around park residents that rewards with reliable sightings is the magnificent Anhinga (of the Family Anhingdae, Order Pelecaniformes and Genus Darter).  The Anhinga is the only North American Darter.  A multitude of visits to Brazos Bend State Park have allowed me to watch the Anhinga and learn of reliable haunts to sight it from afar.  

I’ve watched this species perch on upper tree limbs, a distance away and over oxbow waters; they give an expert example to a watchful and patient fisherman that wants solitude along the bank of a quiet lake or river.  Any attempted approach toward the Anhinga’s perch and they fly away to another solitary fishing spot.  On occasion I’ve spotted an Anhinga flying surprisingly high in the sky; they soar with a beauty that challenges Raptors. And I’ve watched in wonder when an Anhinga swims the lake and oxbow waters.  It swims with its large body completely submerged; only its skinny neck and head are visible above water. 

This unusual swimming technique gives reason for the widely accepted common name for this Darter:  the snake-bird.   I’ve frequently stood on water’s edge and watched what appeared to be a snake magically dancing above the water, with a rhythmic movement that mimics a horse’s head pulling against its reins.  On closer inspection I realize it is a snake-bird, with skinny neck and long, pointed head swimming along much like a human’s dog-paddling swim style.
But this rainy day I was delighted to come upon a beautiful specimen of an Anhinga, perched low on a broken snag’s trunk, seemingly pondering the rainy day with a thoughtfulness that was lovely to watch: 

On occasion this Anhinga would turn to eye my watchfulness:

But mainly this Anhinga seemed lost in deep study of the oxbow, as the morning’s rain fell over it, producing lovely circles on the water’s surface.  I stayed very still and took multiple photos, varying my camera settings for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.  I felt rewarded by an almost studio-like sitting of this bird. I chose to work with the low lighting rather than fight it, increasing my shutter speed with a goal of paying homage to the contemplative pose of this beauty:

I won’t soon forget this day’s Anhinga, or the bond that we seemingly shared—a purposeful and solitary immersion into watchfulness.  Time spent to quietly observe this day’s gift from Mother Nature:  a good summer rain at Brazos Bend.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Well done. You must have been thrilled with this adventure as well as pleased with the pics



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