One of the highlights of our trip was exploring the nearby National Wildlife Refuge. We were about a mile down the road from it, and while route 180 is fast, there are wide margins so that it is eminantly walkable.
I have a birding life list into the hundreds and was still able to identify five new species without serious birding. (Just walking with binocculars in hand.) We walked there three times: first, late in the afternoon to the junction of the Gator Lake trail and the Pine Branch trail (4 miles round trip), second, to the shore on the Pine Branch trail (6 miles round trip), and lastly to the Gator Lake trail returning via Mobile street, the shore, and the Pine Branch trail (8 miles round trip).
Since pets (dogs) are not allowed in the refuge and there are not that many people who visit, the birds are quite tame. The Sandriling walked within two feet of me.
There were mosquitos, even at the winter solstice, so a summer visit should include insect repellent and quite possibly a face net.
Without trying, we saw:
Great Blue Heron
Double Crested Cormorant
There were gulls (of course) and crows, as well as several varieties of sparrow, that we didn’t identify. Not to mention these guys, who scared off the plover.
The sandhill cranes have returned. We saw the first few birds a couple of weeks ago, but now they are there in flocks. When we drove through today, they were a tad more spread out than usual. These ones (above) were hunting the early wood frogs. I could hear the frogs while I took the pictures.
These were across the street from the others. During the summer this hill is a cotton field, so I’m not sure what critters there are now.
However, there must be something because the flocks were spread out over several fields. These were the closest to the road where there was a convenient place to pull over and take pictures. I used a 600mm sigma lens. I’m not thoroughly happy about the sharpness.
This map shows where to look if you’re interested in seeing them yourselves. Remember they are protected birds. If you continue to Centre there are some half-decent places to eat and the petrol is about 30 cents cheaper than in Atlanta.
The Sandhill Cranes overwinter in northern Alabama near Weiss Lake. The flocks have been getting bigger as the word seems to be spreading among them. They concentrate on damp/flooded cotton and soybean fields where they can find various small creatures to eat.
While we were parked and taking photographs several flocks flew in to join the main one. They spread out in the morning and then gather together. The next few shots show the process.
They aren’t spooked by cars, so you can quietly pull off the road, turn off your engine and take pictures. These were with a relatively inexpensive 500mm mirror lens.
They’re back, they’re bold, and they’re native.
The turkeys are forming up into mixed flocks with several toms and a larger number of hens. In the next month they’ll partition into individual flocks with just one tom each. After the eggs hatch, we’ll see flocks of the chicks accompanying their father.
Playing with my long (500mm) cheap mirror lens again. I set the shutter speed to 1/4000 (as fast as the Nikon will go) and let the auto-ISO handle the rest. It has a relatively fast f5.6 that cannot be changed. The other caution to watch for is the T-mount. It can unscrew a little and loosen while the lens is on the camera if it isn’t in tight. That will cause difficulty with focusing.
We have resident pelicans. They are supposed to be rare. Ours aren’t.
The herons perch on stumps out in our little branch of Lake Weiss.
The image quality isn’t perfect, but it could be a lot worse. Not sure how much is the lens and how much is the ISO/low light.