J R's Images & Ideas
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J R learns the D200 - Page 34

Avian Courtship Rituals, Battles
— Sex, Love, Strife and Violence

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Grackles    Ducks    Egrets    Great Blue Heron   European Starling

G R A C K L E   C O U R T S H I P   a n d   F I G H T S

Grackle Bill Up Display - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

   1/500 @ f/11  240mm iso400 FF-high HH  pattern

Grackle Bill Up Display - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

   1/400 @ f/11  300mm iso400 FF-high HH  pattern

Two grackles showing bill up courting display

The day after I read about bill up courting behaviors and wished I could see something like that, I not only got to see it, I got to photograph it. I even got a too-dark photo of one puffing his feathers out making it look about 50% larger. What I did not expect were the battles that ensued within minutes — even seconds — after this bill up routine.

As usual with photographing new types of bird behavior, it took me a few shots to figure out how to do it. The first shots are badly exposed, out of focus and the photographer moved the camera too much.

As you'll see, I did not always manage to keep the birds in frame. They were flying, flopping, flailing and falling fast. Much faster action than I'm used to capturing. I used to photograph dancing to get up to speed, now I have birds.

Grackle Fight - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserrved.

Grackle Battle   1/400 @ f/11  300mm iso400 8% of full frame (FF) HH (hand held)  pattern

These are the few frames that were nearly in focus, in frame and you can still tell what's going on. Several times during the battles, one or the other would be knocked down onto the ground, struggle back up and go at it again.

In a way, I'm glad they took their time, because it took me awhile to figure out what was going on, where it might happen and what I could do about it. Still, I was surprised that I got this many decent shots. Many were not.

Grack to the Death - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Fiercely Gracks   1/400 @ f/11  300mm iso400 8% crop HH  pattern

The exposure on the dark birds was pretty good, but the background tended toward overexposure. It took several tries at masking — nearly impossible with that many fine feathers — before I realized I could just burn down (darken) the wood and weeds under and behind them, then rough mask the birds to sharpen them back up when I reduced the file sizes for the web.

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Grack Attack - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Grack Attack   1/400 @ f/11  300mm iso400 8% crop HH  pattern

Doesn't the upper Grack here look evil? It's just a trick of lighting, eye placement and luck.
 

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D U C K   “ L O V E ”

Ducks Into The Sunset - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Ducks Into The Sunset   1/640/ @ f/14  300mm iso400 10% of FF HH  pattern

Ducks and especially mallards are, according to all my growing number of bird books, monogamous for life. But as the following photographs indicate, monogamy may not be all it's cracked up to be.

Unruly Mob - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Unruly Mob with Guard Ducks   1/30 @ f/5  mm iso400 FF HH  pattern

I have such good (?) photographs of this event, because much of it played out a few feet in front of us as we sat on a park bench in Sunset Bay, watching birds. We heard the squabble start a couple dozen feet off to our right as a woman walked near a gaggle of ducks up to no good.

The mob moved a dozen yards off to our left as it dawned on us what was going on. I'd told Anna that duck sex is sometimes more like gang rape than anything romantic. I've photographed brief snippets of that sort of action a couple of times previously.

We were talking about that when the mob of mallards moved about 8 feet in front of our perch and continued as if no humans were around. These guys clearly have acclimated themselves to humans wandering through their lives, even taking pictures.

When the first few shots were blurry (In the descending dark of evening, I can see the camera's LCD pretty clearly, when I had a few seconds to reconnoiter my earlier results.) I upped the ISO to the figures past 1600, even added flash when I thought that might help. As shown in this shot.

Duck Rape - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

   1/60 @ f/5.6  270mm iso1600 FF HH  pattern  flash

All of these males chased that one spotted female. When they'd catch her, several males would hold her head down with their bills while they took turns mounting her. When one would finish, he'd fall to the side, sometimes with his feet in the air as if completely winded, still for a few seconds, then jump up as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, another male would mount the defeated female.

Sometimes she'd escape briefly with the gang of them waddling along right behind and all around her. While one did his thing, the other males walked around in random patterns, nearly oblivious. I waited for several to get out of the way of the camera.

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Ducks Doing It - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Ducks Doing It   1/60 @ f/5.6 180mm iso1600 FF-high HH  patterns

Their technique barely varied. Each new male would climb on top from behind, enfold her with his wings and push her down from the back from the back of her head. At least this lady duck was on land. I've seen them nearly drowned a hapless female they finally caught off shore.

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Mom Duck and Five Ducklings - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

   1/320 @ f/9.5  mm iso400 50% of FF HH  pattern

Yeah, this is the result. Probably mallards, too, although the lady above was hanging out around the lake with a bright white domestic (I say that because I don't know what else to call them. They're everywhere but in my bird books. How can that be? They're everywhere...) But then they were also swimming with an American Coot, and I'm pretty sure the kids are not coots.

I don't know my ducks very well yet. But I'm learning.

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E G R E T   C O U R T I N G   a n d   F I G H T S

Egrets Bill Up Display - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Bill Up Display   1/800 @ f/13  300mm iso560 FF-high HH  pattern

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I'd never noticed or remembered seeing egrets courtship displays before, although I've been seeing them for years. This spring I've been watching and photographing. And reading the Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, which discusses various species, including those on this page. I read about it the night before I shot these egret photographs.

Holding their heads high, with their bills pointing nearly straight up signals readiness for mating — and the strange shenanigans that ensue.

Egret Attack - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egret Attack?   1/800 @ f/13  300mm iso560 FF-high HH  pattern

These first three images are a pretty quick succession. Taking only a few seconds.

Winged Aggression - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Winged Aggression   1/800 @ f/13  300mm iso560 FF-high HH  pattern

The next two shots actually precede the three above and may be entirely different birds. Keeping count of which is which is nearly impossible when my purpose is photography, not identification. Still, I like the implied bill-up then attack sequence, which is not unlike that of the grackles above, although these birds are a lot more elegant.

Crossing Egrets - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Crossing Egrets   1/750 @ f/13  100mm iso560 FF-high HH  pattern

I know they are a teensy bit pink here — and they weren't in real life, so it's the photographs. And I was going to fix it before I posted this page (finally), but since I promised to show even the bad ones, consider these those. Except, of course, they're some of my best work to date. But they're still too pink, and I should fix that.

Egret Chase - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egret Chase   1/800 @ f/13  100mm iso560 FF-high HH  pattern

This is my favorite image of the series, maybe of this entire page. They're so close to me I couldn't even keep them all in the frame. I thought about Photoshopping the little heron out, to concentrate our attention on the big, white winged action across the scat striped concrete ramp that slants down to the stepped spillway below. But it's all real.

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E U R O P E A N   S T A R L I N G S

European Starlings fighting over food, not sex.

While sitting on a park bench about thirty feet from these trash cans, I watched a Mockingbird land on the cans, sniff around a bit, then drop down to the ground and begin eating some soft, orange fruit that was rotting.

Within a minute, the Mockingbird was joined by three European Starlings that picked a fight, and chased the mocker away. I'm sorry I missed that fight, but I had to sit there and be careful not to raise the camera too quickly as they jumped into the air to fight, and I wish I'd upped the ISO, although the blurs are nice in these shots. After a half dozen interchanges, I got my bird-fight technique down well enough to catch these guys in the frame, somewhat in focus and stopping their raucous motion enough to see what was going on.

I didn't have time to study my results. I hardly expected the starlings to stick around to pose. So I kept shooting and hoped.

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M O R E   E G R E T S ,   A   G R A C K L E   a n d  
A   G R E A T   B L U E   H E R O N

Wingspread Egret - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wingspread Standing Egret   1/800 @ f/13  100mm iso560 FF-high HH  pattern

These guys and gals are random shots I like. They're here because I didn't know where else to put them. And, I suppose, to show that birds don't spend all their time fighting over sex or food. Or just to have them seen.

More Than Full Frame - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

More Than Full Frame   1/640 @ f/11 300mm iso560 FF HH  pattern

This is about as close to an egret as I should get with this lens zoomed all the way out. Sort of an intimate portrait in action. I wish I'd got the long toes of his long feet, too. But I was lucky to get anything as fast as he was going.

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Bird with Crippled Foot - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Female Great-tailed Grackle with Crippled Foot   1/350 @ f/9.5  250mm iso400 FF HH  pattern

These last two — Mrs. Grackle above and the Great Blue Heron below, were shot within a few feet of each other. I was within a few feet both times. Anna, who is my ace spotter, sighted the heron flying over the lake towards us. We'd been missing them flying along the far shore behind crowds of people at Sunset Bay and camouflaged on the dark side of the channel up the feeder creek near the Boat House. So we were watching out for them. At least Anna was.

This guy (below) was low enough to photograph, making not much headway in a stiff offshore wind, flapping its big wings, heading off to the right, but getting closer to the point opposite the Bath House where we were. I was hoping he'd get close enough to fill the frame. Instead he disappeared into the trees overhead.

The closer he got, however, the lousier was my focus.

This is how it begins. A couple of chance meetings missed, a hope expressed, then a clear sighting and some good pictures. Then, if I'm really lucky, I'll get to watch more Great Blues a little closer. This is me expressing such a hope, hoping too, I don't get obsesses like I got on the egrets.

Which I have not photographed at all in the past three days as I've been preparing this page as it grew and grew. I even worked in a little art crit over on the main site, in between prepping this long page of birds and flowers in spring.

Great Blue Heron Flyover - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Great Blue Heron Flyover   1/640 @ f/13  250mm iso400 5% of FF HH  pattern

If you look carefully you can see this bird photo was what we call "overprocessed." The original was slightly fuzzily out of focus. Like I said, the farther away shots were in good focus, but they were farther away. This was closer, but soft. So I finally figured out how to use Unsharp Mask. Or at least get an inkling toward its use.

Unsharp Mask can be used subtly or badly, as here. Still, we figured a flyover by the elusive, but according to the bird books, common Great Blue Heron was a blessing. It was certainly a joy. I'm hoping we get to see more of the Greats. Soon.

 

Total images expended, so far = no telling. I racked the counter back to zero again, wrapping around
from the counter max of 10,000. As of this writing, but not just after any of the above shots, the counter
stands at 1,187 again. Counting the about a thousand that I lost before I figured how to correctly set
the D200's counter that means just at
12,187 shots, so far. And counting. In the 2-1/2 months I've
had my new camera.

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