White-faced Ibis – Birds of a Different Feather

June 23, 2020 ~ In the past two weeks, I’ve made several visits to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, 60 miles east of Houston. This 37,000 acre refuge is a very gently sloping coastal marshland extending 10 miles or more inland from the beach. It is networked by shallow ponds and creeping bayous which carry some 50 inches of rainfall per year slowly down to the Bay of Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico. It is part of a much larger National Wildlife Refuge system of reserved lands stretching along the coast all the way to the Mississippi River delta. And during this time, Shoveler Pond in Anahuac is alive with nesting birds.

Map
National Wildlife Refuges stretch along more than 200 miles of Texas and Louisiana coastline

I shared photos of the White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage in early January.  But now I was getting to see these wonderful birds in their breeding plumage. The White-faced Ibis has a white mask completely surrounding his face and eye, while the Glossy Ibis has less-well-defined mask that does not go completely around his eye. White-faced Ibis has a bright pink eye, pink lores (the skin between beak and eye), and pink legs; Glossy has a dark eye, grey lores and grey legs. Check out All About Birds for compared images of the two. As far as I can tell, all the photos here are of White-faced Ibis in breeding plumage.

The skies varied between dark rainy clouds, bright white overcast skies, and a Blinding Sunstorm. As you know, I prefer bright diffused light for bird photography, to eliminate the sharp shadows… but we shoot when we can, right?

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White-faced Ibis banking just above the reeds, May 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000 at 480mm
(Click any image to enlarge in a new window, then dismiss that window to return here.)

At just the right angle, the dark outer wing feathers change from almost black to blue-green.

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Circling around to avoid bird watchers along the road, May 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000 at 500mm

The reeds were crowded with pairs of birds, and single birds which had perhaps not yet paired up. They would swoop, circle and helicopter down between the reeds… and then, as in this case, sometimes be chased out because their selected spot was already claimed.

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White-faced Ibis looking for a friendlier locale, May 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000 at 480mm

The vibrant patches of color were flashing everywhere: copper, silver, lavender, olive, turquoise. I managed to keep this bird in focus for a handful of shots.

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Brilliant patchwork, May 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000 at 480mm

This bird is in the peak of breeding colors, showing bright pink lores and knees. The sun beating down cast sharp shadows across his body, but revealed an unexpected iridescent patch on the top of his head!

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White-faced Ibis in breeding plumage, May 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/2500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000 at 480mm

Later, a bright overcast sky allowed me see more subtle colors. Here is an adult in almost the same flight position as “Brilliant patchwork” above; notice how the softer light better shows the texture of his face and neck. The holes in his wings are wear from the constant travel in to and out of the reeds, feeding young.

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Copper, bronze, olive, teal and indigo, May 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/2000 sec f/5.6 ISO 1250 at 500mm

I was surprised to see an adult White-faced Ibis, in breeding plumage, carrying a giant stick across the water channel. By the time I got my camera engaged, he was wrestling it into the reeds building a nest. Most of the young in the Refuge are now “teenagers”, practicing short flights from their nests. It seems very late in the season to be just now assembling a nest.

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Wait till I show the ladies this STICK, June 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200 at 500MM

He continued working it down between the standing reeds until it was perfectly horizontal. I had decreased my shutter speed due to the lower light levels, so unfortunately you can see the motion blur in the tips of his wings in both shots.

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Working to get it right, June 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200 at 500mm

And here, the dilute late afternoon light caught the satiny plumage of this adult, while keeping the colors rich. The deep shadows along the edges of each wing feather highlight the iridescent nature of the plumage, and demonstrate how very different it can look at different angles.

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White-faced Ibis balancing act, June 2020
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR
1/1000 sec f/6.3 ISO 3200 at 500mm

Did you notice how most of these shots show birds facing to the left? From my vantage point on the eastern side of Shoveler Pond, the prevailing winds are blowing inland from the coast, from my left to my right. The birds tend to take off and land facing into the wind. Smart cookies.

6 thoughts on “White-faced Ibis – Birds of a Different Feather”

  1. We SEEM to have some variation of that genus here in the Russas area of the State of Ceará, Brasil. However Ornathology is not my strong point.

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  2. Gee whiz! They almost look metallic! It’s impressive to see their muscles highlighted by the gloss and colors of their feathers. Perhaps the nest building is in anticipation of a second brood??

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