Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

with 33 comments

After we all spent time at the Artist Boat Coastal Heritage Preserve on October 6th, Shannon and Scott went off on what proved a successful quest to find a rare bird that had been reported in the vicinity. Linda drove Eve and me off in the opposite direction so we could swing around and visit the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, where it turned out that we, too, had some avian encounters. This post shows you one of them.

Don’t you think someone should train each kind of bird to sit on a sign for its own species and not on one for a different species? That way the tourists wouldn’t get confused. Our mismatched bird wasn’t a roseate spoonbill but rather a double-crested cormorant, Phalacrorax auritus. It made up for not knowing its place by sitting docilely on the sign as I slowly got closer and closer with my 400mm lens. Linda and Eve, who were watching from the car, thought I’d soon be able to reach out and pet the cormorant. Well, not quite, but I did get much nearer than I thought I would, as you can confirm from the uncropped closeup below, which I took seven minutes after the first picture. (Click to enlarge each portrait.)

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 27, 2019 at 4:38 PM

33 Responses

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  1. I like the idea of birds being trained to sit on “their” signs–someone should really get that going! Congrats on getting so close to the cormorant. Patience really is a virtue. Great shots, both.


    October 27, 2019 at 5:07 PM

    • Isn’t it strange that no one had thought about training the birds to sit on their own signs?

      In a case like this I usually take at least one picture from wherever I start out, just to have something in case the subject quickly moves away. I advanced slowly, and even when I’d gotten pretty close the bird stayed put. After eight minutes of sporadic advances, even though I didn’t need to get any closer, I did, and finally the cormorant flew away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 27, 2019 at 7:01 PM

  2. what a wonderful capture. I have only seen them in my area at a distance


    October 27, 2019 at 6:29 PM

  3. Patience pays off. Very nice portraits, both.

    Michael Scandling

    October 27, 2019 at 7:15 PM

  4. That was extremely close approaching a wild bird with a camera (gun) pointed at it, Steve. You must have a special aura that made the cormorant feel safe.

    Peter Klopp

    October 27, 2019 at 10:03 PM

    • I don’t know why this bird stayed in place for so long. Once or twice is made movements as if to fly away, at which point I held still and waited for the cormorant to settle back down. I don’t know about possessing a special aura, because I’ve rarely been this lucky in approaching a bird.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2019 at 6:44 AM

  5. Perhaps the wicked cormorant intends to ‘deface’ the spoonbill 🙂

    Ms. Liz

    October 28, 2019 at 2:10 AM

  6. Oh that’s funny, Steve. Great find!


    October 28, 2019 at 6:59 AM

    • A funny find, indeed. If you spend time at Brazoria I bet you’ll find some other avian mismatches.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2019 at 7:02 AM

  7. Love the humor in the first image. It’s as if the cormorant is going to lead the next tour group. Well seen and captured!


    October 28, 2019 at 3:39 PM

    • Now that’s an idea: have the birds lead their own tour groups. If you can train them to do that, I’ll bet the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will take you up on it.

      I don’t remember which one of us first spotted the cormorant on the sign. Regardless, it was a good find.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2019 at 3:45 PM

  8. I know you’re kidding around, but they have birdhouses designed specifically for bluebirds, for example, so maybe someone really could design perches so they appeal to particular birds? Actually some cormorants live primarily on yellow perch, so we could start there! 🙂

    Robert Parker

    October 28, 2019 at 9:28 PM

    • So naturally the birdhouses for bluebirds are painted blue, right, and for cardinals red? And those for woodpeckers are made of wood. And the perches for birds that eat flounder should be designed to make those birds flounder around as they try to get a foothold.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2019 at 5:27 AM

      • The ones for cranes should be really tall, and designed to let them bend their necks in all directions. Crows should have a pedestal & microphone hooked to Fox News.

        Robert Parker

        October 29, 2019 at 5:59 AM

        • You got me wondering why a crowbar is called a crowbar. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

          The accepted etymology identifies the first component of the word crowbar with the bird-name “crow”, perhaps due to the crowbar’s resemblance to the feet or beak of a crow. The first attestation of the word is dated back to circa 1400. They also were called simply crows, or iron crows; William Shakespeare used the term iron crow in many places, including his play Romeo and Juliet, Act 5, Scene 2: “Get me an iron crow and bring it straight unto my cell.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 29, 2019 at 6:08 AM

  9. Charming!

    Regards Thom

    Thom Hickey

    October 29, 2019 at 4:00 AM

  10. Wonderful portraits of the cormorant, Steve. I like your idea of matching the birds with the signs. Just pass it on to the park employees, so they can start the birds’s training ASAP. 🙂


    October 29, 2019 at 9:50 PM

    • I wonder if any of the employees would take me seriously. When it comes to birds, could any of the employees be that gullible? I made the suggestion merely as a lark.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2019 at 6:39 AM

      • I knew that, Steve, but I also know that park employees receive many questions or suggestions from visitors that show how completely out of touch (some, of course, not you!) people are!


        October 30, 2019 at 9:11 AM

  11. Cormorants are majestic posers. Maybe it’s the sign creators’ job to see where each bird perches and make the signs accordingly.

    Steve Gingold

    October 30, 2019 at 5:06 AM

    • I wondered whether each sign is placed in a place where the depicted bird is likely to be found. With so many birds present, no place is exclusive to one species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2019 at 7:28 AM

  12. The photos turned out even better than I assumed they would. The first is especially amusing, given the nature of the sign, but I had to smile at the second. I suppose the bird was squinting against the sun, but it seems to be giving you a speculative side-eye. The feathers in that photo are especially nice. It’s generally easy to get the glossiness of their feathers, but the light and shadow reveal the texture of those shorter feathers really well.


    October 30, 2019 at 5:53 AM

    • I was pleased with the pictures, too. Looking at things objectively, if I hadn’t been able to get some good pictures of such a docile bird, I wouldn’t be much of a photographer.

      The cormorant did a lot of the squinting that you noted, which did double duty: limiting the amount of sunlight reaching its eye, while not closing all the way, which would’ve prevented it from keeping an eye on me.

      It’s hard to tell from the reduced size of the second picture, but even at f/20 I couldn’t keep both the feathers on the bird’s head and those at the bottom of the picture sharp. Naturally the head took precedence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2019 at 7:42 AM

  13. Clever! You AND the DC cormorant! 🙂


    November 3, 2019 at 12:22 PM

  14. I had that very thought~someone needs to tell that cormorant where his sign is! I’ve heard people complain about them, but I think they are pretty cool birds.


    November 18, 2019 at 8:18 AM

    • What complaints do people have about cormorants?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 18, 2019 at 8:52 AM

      • Some just find them too ubiquitous to be interesting, while some accuse them of taking too many fish. Because, it certainly couldn’t be the humans taking too many fish…


        November 19, 2019 at 8:06 AM

        • For me cormorants are a novelty, given that they live along the coast. Even the birds that are ubiquitous in Austin, like grackles and mockingbirds, still appeal on those occasions when one comes my way.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 19, 2019 at 8:19 AM

          • I agree, I quite like them. The only birds I don’t like are the english sparrows that are so aggressive toward our native birds. Well, and canada geese are getting ridiculous around here.


            November 19, 2019 at 8:58 AM

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