Tales from the Isle of Galveston

Roseate spoonbills preening and moving nesting material around; High Island's Smith Woods rookery, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through a dinky Nikon field scope to great amusement from the Guys with the Giant Camera Lenses. 8 1/2" x 11, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

Roseate spoonbills preening and moving nesting material around; High Island’s Smith Woods rookery, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through a teeny Nikon field scope to the great amusement of the Guys with the Big Lenses. 8 1/2″ x 11, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

There’s a species of birder that birds through the long lens of a high-caliber camera. These birders are usually male, although more women join the band every year. I call them the Big Lens Guys. They appear to be an army unit clothed in camo and khaki and multi-pocketed vests. As a rule, they are strong and silent, patient and intense. When a warbler alights, bazooka lenses swing to aim, focus, and fire off motorized clips of imagery. It sounds (and looks) like a battlefront. It’s awesome.

Birding the Starbucks way. Antman, far right, knows how to watch warblers over a cup of Pike Place. Lafitte's Cover Nature Preserve, Galveston, TX.

The Big Lens Guys on warbler watch. Artificial water features are staged to attract birds, and roped off to hold back the paparazzi. Ant Man, far right, expertly birdwatches and drinks coffee in one smooth motion. Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve, Galveston Island, TX.

A pair of artificial water features were in operation at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve, a jungly copse of hardwood and vine on Galveston Island. A weary songbird making landfall after crossing the broad Gulf of Mexico would spot this patch of greenery and come in for a drink, lured by splashing water. In migration, anything feathered can drop down and birders will be right there to catch them. Blue winged warblers, Baltimore orioles, painted and indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, waves of Tennessees. One day I stopped by and a McGillivray’s warbler did, too.

Common nighthawk on a post near the beach condo tower, Galveston Island. Pencil, 8" x 10"

Common nighthawk on a post near condo towers, Galveston Island. Pencil, 8″ x 10″

Here’s where the story gets a little dark. Of the two water features, one was under intense scrutiny, while the other feature, tucked away in deeper vegetation, was oddly devoid of birders. When things got quiet at Feature #1, I walked over to #2, a short distance away.

Tricolored heron studies, watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series 8 1/2" x 11". Fishing for teeny minnows in a Bolivar Peninsula inlet on an incoming tide.

Tricolored heron studies, watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series 8 1/2″ x 11″. Fishing for teeny minnows in a Bolivar inlet on an incoming tide.

Where I saw something small and misshapen twisting in the gloom. Raising binoculars, I peered into the shadows.

In the water feature, a snake makes a kill. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series, 8 1/2" x 11"

In the pool, a water moccasin takes a warbler. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series, 8 1/2″ x 11″

A water moccasin of enormous size was gulping down a warbler. From the head and upper body of the bird, I could tell it was a female black and white. I was about to sketch the drama, but first I hurried back to relay the news (common courtesy, I guess). The Big Lens Guys uprooted and made a beeline for the second feature. With their long lenses and tripod legs they erected a barrier that shut me out as they fired off their cannons. As I struggled to see, a nice birder got indignant on my behalf (bless you, whoever you are) and pushed me to the front of the crowd, where I sat on the ground cross-legged and drew. The snake worked its jaws around the struggling warbler as photographic pandemonium exploded behind me. One Big Lens Guy even balanced his lens on my head. For a brief moment the water moccasin wore the suggestion of a mustache, gray primaries being the last to go down the throat. Then they, too, disappeared, and the snake slid backward into the mire.

White ibis and dunlin, Galveston East End marsh. Watercolor over pencil.

White ibis and dunlin, Galveston East End marsh. Watercolor over pencil.

On our last night in Galveston, Ant Man and I ate dinner by the beach and took a long sunset walk on the darkening sand. Exhausted birds shot past us across the curling waves of the Gulf, flying low and tired. Warblers and buntings and grosbeaks, they skimmed the beach, rose up at the seawall, and disappeared into the night.

Back home again, I rigged up my own artificial dripper out of black tubing wrapped around the branches of our holly tree and attached to the faucet outside. Water dribbles into the bird bath below. Birds come from blocks around to splash in the little concrete basin. And there’s nary a snake in sight.

Happy Tuesday.

 

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About zeladoniac

Debby Kaspari travels the world with sketchbook and binoculars, drawing and painting in wild and not-so-wild landscapes. Norman, Oklahoma is her home base, and she lives there with her tropical ecologist husband and a mackerel tabby named Gizmo.
This entry was posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Drawing, Environment, field sketching, natural history, Nature, nature journaling, Sketching, travel, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Tales from the Isle of Galveston

  1. dinahmow says:

    That was a lovely read to accompany my coffee.Sorry for the warbler, but snakes have to eat, too, son’t they.
    Also sorry about the bad manners of some of The Big lens Guys.

    Down here? I seem to be spending a lot of time looking at and for spiders.Currently, #1 is a Golden Orb Weaver.

  2. zeladoniac says:

    The Big Lens Guys are alright…just a little obsessive, like anyone with a keen interest. I enjoyed them and their interesting ways. Golden Orb Weaver- would love to see one. We have a species here and it’s beautiful and huge.

  3. Beautiful sketches and lots of high drama! Isn’t nature wonderful? I had an encounter with the Big Lens Guys last winter when a Northern Hawk owl showed up in an unusual place near my home. I felt dwarfed by their size( both my camera and myself as I’m rather petite) but I got in the last laugh. When the hawk owl flew to within just a few feet of us I was the only one able to focus. The big guys all had to back up. Thanks for sharing your lovely sketches and adventures!

  4. zeladoniac says:

    What a hoot! I mean, very cool story, and the lucky hawk owl closeup.

  5. suisiadh says:

    Beautiful sketches

  6. Erin Libby says:

    Fabulous! The picyutres, the writing the transferred experience. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  7. Pingback: Tales from the Isle of Galveston

  8. Corienne Cotter says:

    Wow! That was a wonderful story. Would like to see a picture of your fountain tho. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.

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