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The LATEST Galveston
older Amateur Birder's Journal Stories and Pix are below.
Birds at White Rock Lake
May 24 2013
The way most "artists" who copy photographs find birds to copy is to Google some known bird name, then just pick and choose. I'd rather they didn't copy my photographs. It's illegal for them to copy a copyrighted image, but me finding out about it is massively difficult unless they ask permission. So sometimes I get on a streak of naming photographs I'm putting online without bird names, so The Goog doesn't find, list and link them.
It seems to make sense that if I don't name birds accurately, those copiers can't find bird pix to rip off. But I have other issues to deal with, and while it's likely I — and every other decent or semi-decent birdographer online — will get ripped off regularly, there's really not much we can do about it, except post a legible and legal statement of our ownership. Hence the "Copyright 2013 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved." notice shortened from "Photograph Copyright 2013 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission."
Some people who ask permission are sincere and honest. Some are not. I don't charge everybody. I've asked for payment in the form of one letter sheet color image of what they make out of my photographs, but so far in six years, I've got four of those and once CD package — some quite good — hanging on my walls, so most of the time I just ask for money. I don't get much of that, either.
Recently someone who wanted to copy one of my photographs in her painting promised she'd put my name on the back of her framed painting when she finished it. Like anybody would ever see my name or association with my copyrighted image as used in her painting. I told her, "No, thank-you."
Then there's the honest people out there who need other people's images and are willing to pay a fair price. Hooray for those people. They help me buy new cameras (Which I'm soon to do again.) so I can get better at this. And that's a good thing. I've only been working on becoming a good photographer for 50 years now.
Compared with all that travail, getting images in real focus doesn't rate very high. If the focus of this shot were better with my slow, small Panasonic G5, I might not have had to florid-up these guys so much. If the exposure were better, I wouldn't have had to play with it in Photoshop (which wants to charge me $20 a month forever, plus another twenty to use the dreaded Dreamweaver software I'm writing and parking photos on this page with.
Still, I love the pose, the action of those birds mock-fighting to determine who wins, rather than drawing blood. As if — like in gymnastics — their form mattered more than hurting the other bird. Plus, I wanted too much to use it, so I didn't ask their permission, I just used it as if I'd invented them. As if me photographing them created the art of it, when we all know birds do all that. I was just there to record the event.
Yes, something is bad wrong with this image, yet I really like it. Coasting down now from this rant, we now return to our regularly scheduled program.
Crop up, so this big white bird with yellow lores and feet and black legs and beak looks especially tall and forbidding, when in fact, it's much smaller and no competition whatsoever for the much larger Great Egrets. But then Snowy Egrets usually fight with each other or some species the same size. Wouldn't want to get in a fight with that, you'd think and you'd be right. They're truly feisty. But I've never seen a drop of blood from any of their battles.
One of the reasons I upgraded to the Panasonic G5 from my elderly G2 was that the G5 was supposed to be able to focus on vertical-shaped objects like this bird on a post. But today it just would not. So I had to aim focus at the post, then raise the lens to shoot the bird instead of the wood. Worked.
Like all today's pix, this was shot with the Panasonic G5, which is an inadequate camera for fast focusing on things that move fast. Like birds. I don't remember seeing another woodie bouncing around on the ground for years and years. Any one of my aging Nikons would have made short work of getting it sharp, but I wasn't packing a Nikon, because I'd got my little finger caught in something when I tripped in my messy office today, and it hurt, and carrying a big, heavy camera and big, heavy lens didn't sound like nearly as much fun as usual.
So I didn't get these as close to focus as I'd like to have,, although this ain't altogether awful. Maybe just part of that way.
I was so excited when I found the hopping red, black and white bird on the ground along the Park-a-retum, then I was dismayed, because focusing was such a challenge, but still, these are not so bad. Beautiful birds. Just need to shoot them with a beautiful camera — and I have one in mind.
I shot this with the kit zoom that came utterly free with the G5. It was at the lake, but I don't remember where or the circumstance, but that's the lens I had on the cam then, and it worked out well. It's full frame, too. I just zoomed in as far as I could, and went click.
Fierce little bird with a fierce-looking beak and fuzzy-looking feathers and an occipital plume we can't see here but will be prominent in the next shot of the other end of this particularly attractive and interesting bird.
Its crown and back look black here, and looking black got it its name, But with an occipital plume as jaunty as this one, you'd think they would have named it after that.
Call it a flying rat if you must. Rats have their dignity with all the rest of us. But this is a beautiful bird, and one that wasn't all that afraid of humans wielding dark cylinders at them.
Meanwhile, I'm still spending four to six
hours a night working up still more Galveston Trip pix, but sometimes it's nice
to keep a little newness in the Birder's Journal with a strange camera or place
or setup or something. I've got some newish pix of the two sets of three white
Easter ducks left unceremoniously in Sunset Bay, and they ain't doing half
More, older Amateur Birder's Journal Stories and Pix are below.
Birding Galveston Island
Wednesday May 8
These two bridges, the high, very tall road and the low road with its drawbridge physically connect Galveston Island with Mainland Texas southeast of Houston. I have no idea where I was when I photographed this, but I arrived on Galveston via the high road, although the more I think about it, the more appealing the low road has become.
I couldn't stop along the high way, but there's the very real possibility of an enforced gawk stop along the drawbridge route, which appeals to the ocean-looking and bird-watching parts of me. And visually, I love the notion of having both possibilities.
The dominant species, almost always visible in the sky over this long, thin island in singles or great long lines or Vs or in flocks from a few to fifty or more birds sometimes in the near or far distance.
On land, and in its aerial proximity, Brown Pelicans will often be accompanied by the other, less large but possibly even more numerous, dominant island species, the Laughing Gull, more about whose collaboration with the pelicans we will explore later.
Unusually for this Amateur Birder's Journal, I am creating one, long story of my short, essentially three-day vacation to Galveston in a visually chronological order not unlike the popular Birding South Texas page (And yes, eventually this will be its own page also.)
I say visually chronological, because I shot this shot the second or so day of my vacation and had not the prior planning to execute it when I first got over that high bridge, off to the right from which is the cheap motel I stayed at, and just finding it from the road that passes right by it was a major geographical feat for this directionally impaired photographer.
The Motel 6, which I enjoyed for the privacy and spacious room, if not for the bed comfort nor slow hot water, difficult-to-adjust AC or swimming pool and intra-room noise, offered refuge and a view of Galveston Bay in both directions along the narrow spit of land it occupies along I-45 at the north end of the island. I loved seeing all that water so close and beautiful in the changing weather, although the neighborhood was anything but luxurious.
More about my stay in Galveston this time — not my first — as this story unfolds. Unlike most stories on these Bird Journal pages, it will continue chronologically, because I think it needs some kind of order, and that's about all I can muster.
I shot 1,814 photos in during Wednesday afternoon, all days Thursday and Friday and a while on Saturday morning, and I've slowly winnowed them down to 1,522, and I fully expect to edit down to about twelve hundred or a thousand shots, because I still see lots of out-of-focus pix (always a problem with a new camera or this old photographer).
I love colorful little carnivals with rides, but I was there to photograph birds, so I left wandering around this pier and any leanings toward understanding the histories of this place to another vacation.
Unfortunately for the long-suffering reader of this journal, new pix from this trip will be added below in this temporarily ongoing story, rather than the usual and more navigable blog-style above, in the pursuit of eventual overall chronology and story cohesiveness. But I will provide a link at the top of the page to new pix and text, while this story lasts.
Then probably long after I tire of that ritual, I will just leave this first iteration of this bird-oriented travelogue in place on this May 2013 page and begin the Birding Galveston Island story on its own page. I'll correct grammar and spelling here to the extent I am able, but any literary corrections will be made only to that page, which I will mostly promote as its own page, not text lost on some blog page somewhere in late spring of this year.
This is here because I didn't expose it this well that first time in the lilting light near the Golden Hour toward sunset after I arrived on Galveston Island, and I always thought I should have. This shot was from my second day when I figured out how to expose all their delicious under details.
This shot and all its feather details is a dream come true for this photographer. It's too easy to underexpose these dark birds traveling over their dark shadows, but I kept shooting them, and they kept coming down the ocean-side sandy beach of the island, until I got it right.
The camera I borrowed for this trip is the Nikon D800E, my first full-frame (Nikon calls them FX) in more than 20 years. It's an adventure and an experiment and another education. I read reviews and tests and How-Tos about it before and after I got it, and it came with a fat manual, only a smidgen of which I accurately absorbed, so I was left to do what I usually do with a new camera — flail around for awhile, making mistake after mistake, so I could learn more and more and make some good pictures along the way.
So the sensor on this baby is 50% larger than the sensor on any of my other Nikon cameras and twice the size of my micro four-thirds cameras, which I brought along, just in case, but never found any use for, so concentrated upon using the D800E I was. At 1,814, I'm certain I shot too many shots, but if I don't I don't learn, and learn I did.
I think I shot this, then-unknown bird late on the Wednesday evening of the afternoon I arrived. I knew the weather-persons said it was going to rain all the time I was on the island, but it hadn't started yet — and did not until the day after the day after this day (I think. My sense of chronology is about as accurate as my absent sense of direction. Luckily, cameras keep track of chronology superbly, with actual numbers, which I, of course, mostly ignore. So I can find out, if I really need to, but I don't, so I probably won't.
I saw a lot of willets, doing all sorts of things. My early guess is that I saw this one on the east end of the island, where I'd birded before. I'd even driven off to the right from the end of Seawall Boulevard toward East Beach on the last bit of ocean-facing land on Galveston Island. The beach behind this bird is blue, because it was getting late in the day.
8:10 PM May 8 2013
Mainly what that end of the island does is to allow ships — big ships — to go from Galveston Bay out into the ocean and the world beyond. And because of the deep water there and all the fish in it, that end was dotted with fisher-persons every time I went there — a total four visits, all of which netted bird photographs and the inevitable scenic oceanic shots. I love the contrast of scale here in the lilting darkness.
And I love having a camera that with only minor tweaking, lets me shoot a shot like this even after what they used to call dark. Part of it doing that is because its files are much bigger than my usual little JPEG files. I did not shoot RAW, although I'll certainly try it when/if I get my own D800E, which after this trip has become a likelihood more than just a possibility.
THURSDAY May 9
7:52 AM May 9 2013
The glint of bright out on the ocean was the sign I had been hoping for that would tell me that it wouldn't be socko all day. No, there would be light, and there was light, and photography was good.
And it takes a lot longer for those big files to come up, let me work with them, save them, adjust them, etc. It takes a more disciplined attitude toward deleting all the excess shots I shoot just in case, and it'll take more storage to store the good ones. I hope you readers can tell there's more quality in these images. Years ago, I decided to standardize the 777 pixels wide image format, going to 555 pixels wide for tall images up to ten inches tall, which is about what 777 pixels is wide.
I have very little idea on what beach I found this cat. I do remember being startled and amazed by it slowly staring up at me as I attempted to focus and photograph it. I always think of black cats as extremely lucky, even if they aren't necessarily all black.
I can easily imagine what a cat might be doing on a beach, but like the torpor that overcomes birds after they've eaten a fish that's almost as big as they are or other birds or whatever they've got down their gullet — while they just stand out there digesting, is what I think this cat was down to when I photographed it, after it had been up to something else earlier. I have no real proof. I'm just guessing, which I do a lot of.
Throughout my little trip I kept seeing Willets, and when I saw Willets, I almost always had no idea what they were. Kinda a parallel with my directional skills. But I began to recognize this shape almost everywhere on the island I went to photograph birds. For those three days, my full-time occupation was to photograph birds, and it mattered very little which ones.
I only photographed a couple of grackles, and I passed on several opportunities to photograph Doves, because they are so ordinary and abundant they have their own season. But I really wanted to figure out if I would ever want to buy my own D800E, and by the end of my three-day "vacation," even though I was exhausted from carrying it and my big honker of a 300mm f2.8 lens, I knew that I did. But I had to test it thoroughly in the one-week-only borrow period. And boy, did I.
These guys only look like they're joined
at the hip. I didn't smoosh them together in Photoshop or anything. I just greatly
enlarged these guys from a much-wider shot of a bar ditch full of water and birds
I could see, and fishes I couldn't but the wild variety of birds in
the pond could, and they caught and ate and ate and ate those fish.
A Cornucopia of Birds
- 8:29 AM, May 9 2013
If you look carefully, you can see Push-Me and Pull-Me along the bottom edge of this photo.
I could have put on a wider-angle lens to show the whole pond-ditch in one shot, and I did have an elderly (I think I bought it in 1991, when auto-focus was still very new.) 180mm f2.8 lens that though painfully slow to focus is also incredibly sharp (so a good match for the D800E), but it never entered my mind to zoom back and show the whole water hole. If I had as sharp an even longer telephoto, I might have engaged it instead. But then I tend to think in telephoto most of the time when I'm photographing birds.
That ditch brought forth hundreds of photographs, only the best of which I am showing here.
I found this watering hole along a meandering road in the extended green area between Stewart Beach Park and East Beach (Apffel Park) at the east-most point of the island known as Galveston.
The depth of field is shallow with my 300mm lens doubled to 600mm, and though some of the birds in the back are out of focus, there were a remarkable variety of exotic birds fishing here — including Black-necked Stilts, White Ibis, Blue-winged Teal (brown duck with partial white face), then across the bottom: Black-necked Stilt, a White Ibis, a Willet flying, another Teal, Breeding Adult Snowy Egret, another couple stilts and another White Ibis. I believe the big brown ducks at the top right edge are American Black Ducks, which I'd never photographed before, and I didn't do a good job of it this time, either.
A woman who stopped her car when she saw me photographing these guys and I spoke briefly. When I called it a cornucopia, she asked if that was the official term for something like this. I said, "No, it's just what I'm calling it."
She wanted to look through my lens, but I told her I was using it. I hoped that wasn't rude, but I had it up high on my tripod, so I could look through it while standing about half way up my driver's door, so I could photograph over a small hill between me and the pond, and it would have been complicated to move it. Besides, I really was using it to all those birds.
Now, I wonder if regular birders have a name for something like this, where a variety of differing species show up to catch fish.
I'm calling these last two photos Left and Right, because they are each about a half of one full-frame shot. If I showed them as one, everything would look much smaller, and there's little sense having a 36-megapixel camera if I'm going to show dinky pictures. These are two adult Roseate Spoonbills and a Willet. This is not the closest I've ever got to the Rosies, but I got more detailed shots of them with the D800E than ever before. Gorgeous birds, until you consider those strange, bald greenish heads.
This species used to be rare in Dallas, but now there are Tricolored Herons breeding in Dallas — and I've seen their progeny along The Trinity River and at White Rock Lake, so I don't have to go to the South Texas Coast to see them anymore. But there's many more of them along the South Texas Coast.
Luckily, the D800 is hi-res enough that I can crop images of some of the more interesting characters in the mob scene doing more interesting things on their own, without turning them to smudgy blurs. There's plenty of resolution left in this shot of a Snowy Egret taking something fresh caught off to somewhere it won't have to share its bounty. Snowies are feisty, stingy and fight-oriented, so I think I understand their need to get away from the crowd.
When I first stopped The Slider and set up the tripod, several of the Roseates flew off to hide behind some taller plants farther away, but they all came back when it became obvious I was only a temporary nuisance, not likely to steal anybody's fishes.
And nearly no camera can render those pink legs anywhere near as pink as they really are. Big Pink.
I love this photograph. I remember taking this picture of the Ibis among a bunch of other birds in that ditch / pond, but I didn't know then how beautifully toned and detailed this small crop of that whole image would be.
That the bigger birds here are all three in focus means they're the same distance from the photographer, so the apparent size is correct, but the little one appears not to be a Willet, and it's got yellow legs. The center of attraction in this shot is a juvenile White Ibis (even though it's mostly brown), but not a Young Juvenile, because it's already got its orange bill.
The Sibley Guide to Birds notes that those white feathers begin to appear on young Ibis backs beginning in December.
Pretty much the draw for all these birds to this pond is all the fish immediately available. That's what the Snowy Egret behind these White Ibis is doing also. The Great Egret to the right and in front appears to be looking for a fish, and the mostly dark blue Tricolored Heron just seems to be there waiting for its chance.
Though only the Great Egret with its wings spread here is showing bright green lores (surface on each side of a bird's head between eyes and upper base of the beak) indicating it is ready to breed, this egret action might not be a mating ritual — or only for that one bird. But it does look like a dance, because I've seen these same moves before.
If it is not, then maybe this should be part of a ritual. It sure looks like one.
Clockwise around the big, white Great Egret
figure in this crop are: an American Black Duck, a Black-necked Stilt, two Snowy
Egrets, more stilts and a male
Blue-winged Teal with water dripping from its beak.
Along the Eastern Beach
Next stop was the beach along the eastern-most edge of the island, where were some fisher-persons and some cars whose drivers only stared at the sea, and me bumping around in The Slider angling for a couple more interesting shorebirds before the sun falls into the ocean.
Not at all expecting to find a juvenile Little Blue Heron perched on a shrub.
But there was a cormorant or three on every sign on the edge of the sandy beach. And where are I now know, at least during early May, hundreds of Ruddy Turnstones and only a few other smaller birds.
It looked like these guys were actually fighting, but there's no blood, so maybe they were just playing, like I've seen Mockingbirds and grackles and egrets play.
At first I thought these were Sanderlings or some sort of sandpiper or some other unsub, but I really wanted them to be more Turnstones, but me wanting them to be is not the same thing as them actually being turnstones, so maybe they're really Sanderlings or Sandpipers or something.. But as usual in bird I.D matters, I just don't know.
I was focusing in on the Red-winged Blackbird and didn't even see the Willet bird on the right that nearly blended into the background. It only began to be visible from the gray miasmas behind when I started dealing with the slightly mis-exposed shot. If it's a willet, they seemed to be following me everywhere I went.
Perhaps the island's most populous species — certainly the most obvious of those, the laughers are everywhere. Oddly enough, I didn't shoot many of the usual LG pix. But I'm pleased to have got this one.
Amazing detail. Wonderful camera.
Every time I looked around, there was a Willet, if that's really what this is.
This marks the end of the beginning of this Thursday's all-day birding.
I was in The Slider having slid over to the right lane over a little edge of a bump with no curb at the outer edge, where it suddenly drops off about 20-25 feet straight down into the bog. I'm always careful to put it into Park and usually to set the parking brake, too. I have enough acrophobia to remain vigilant along that shelf, but I need to be on the driver's side and that needs to be on the outside, looking down into the swampy and spring green area that is always more alive with birds that it first looks.
Often when I get out of the car, birds I want to photograph, scatter.
In the middle distance on the far edge of one of the ponds closest to me (but not this close; this is a great enlargement) I saw what I now understand was a pair of Willet wings gull-winged up and fluttering with a eerie, tittering bird scream.
This is the image I most remember. His wings up and flapping wildly. I could only see one bird wing (My far vision is terrible.) but it looked like something interesting might be going on, although I really had no idea what.
Thank goodness my rented D800E allowed me to enlarge faraway visions so spectacularly, or I could not have shown this series of images. If I'd shot it on my D300 or even my D7000, we'd have not much more than a blur. But here we can see him on top. That's usually the only time I know for sure which is the male and which the female.
The one bird I dearly hoped to see this trip was a Reddish Egret. And sure enough, while I sat on that concrete edge overlooking the extended swampy green wild area between Seawall Boulevard and The Gulf of Mexico, which I always think of simply as the ocean or even the Atlantic Ocean, I saw my first of the trip's several Reddish Egrets playing the waters just a few feet from where I'd seen the Willets mating.
This Reddish wasn't acting nearly as drunken as the first Reddish Egret Anna and I ever saw in the wide marsh near Matagorda Bay, which itself is near Port Lavaca maybe a hundred miles down along the coast toward Corpus Christi, Texas. So nice to have such a substantially better camera and lens for this trip.
Snapping its beak together splashes water out in two directions.
It's a lot less dangerous — no likelihood of falling off the edge, although it did seem precarious on that approximately 30-degree berm up, opposite the swamp drop-off on the lower side of Seawall Boulevard.
This was the last decent shot I got along the eastern-most edge of Galveston Island that Thursday morning.
I shot this Scissor-tail with its very distinctive profile about four hours later, in what I consider the next new chapter of my Galveston Island shooting spree. I must have gone for lunch, probably at the motel, since I brought makings for peanut butter and jelly and lunch meat sandwiches. Might even have taken a nap and driven around lost for awhile. My modus operendi.
Like Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee, it's our State Bird. This and the scissor-tail above were the first birds I photographed along the 8-mile Road / Anderson Ways,, which bumps continuously north to Galveston Bay..
Ever a sucker for brightly colored geometric machines, I took time off from birding to do a little craning.
Stewart Road, Anderson Ways & Sportsman Road
Along the barely two-lane wide blacktop, vestiges of the city or of urban civilization quickly faded into an extended green-way, where I saw lots of birds in the wetlands on either side of the road.
Sudden movements were especially difficult to follow, but even still, I got a pretty good shot out of this Yellow-crowned Night Heron scurrying away with its antenna-like occipital plume trailing. Love the abstract notion of landscape. Talk about bokeh.
Puffed all up drying every feather after a bout with the pond. I hope it caught what it was after.
Back off a little to photograph some more incidental and smaller birds.
Just north of Sportsman Road was a concrete pier-looking area that juts out into the West Bay, where one can see the mainland across the bay and flight after flight of Brown Pelicans lined-up or V-ing over to Galveston Island. Makes me glad I was right where I was and not over there. All that pollution can't be good for anybody. Nice of them to park it on the edge of the ocean.
At least that's where they seemed to be coming from, flight after flight after flight of them, slowly turning from the gray of the surrounding fog, to dark silhouettes, then back to gray Brown Pelicans as they flapped and soared their way to fly up the ocean edge of Galveston Island.
Not just to splash down for food, but to splash down for food right in front of my eyes. Ever since I saw them on the ocean-side horizon well off the coast, flying furiously into the water out there, disappear for a while, then fly away a little better fed — most details of which action we could only surmise standing well up the beach, I've been wanting to see that happen a little closer.
It sees what it wants.
It institutes a stall, stopping forward motion and begins to fall into the bay.
Since I never once managed to photograph any one pelican execute the entire sequence of flyover, look-down, stall, fall and splash in, I should probably note that except for this and the next image down, which are sequential and the same bird, the rest of the photographs in this sequence down this page are a composite of four separate actions.
Its wings are still up, but its body and especially that gaping beak with its flexible lower mandible stretching out to catch whatever it saw from above.
And here's a little better version of the same thing. I got better at shooting the splashdown with a little practice, but I never did manage that decisive moment as the bird turned from flying forward to dropping precipitously toward the water's surface, but I'll probably get more opportunities. The trick will be to be prepared and ready.
But it's not like they're alone out there. Not every time, but many of the times I followed them down and in, they were accompanied by a Laughing Gull.
These first three images are actually sequential.
I wonder what the gull is seeing and exactly what the pelican is doing.
When I'm shooting, I never really know exactly what I'm getting images of and what goes on between shots that I miss. This paralleling of poses is utterly amazing to me. Friends and lovers, it is said, parallel each other's form and pose to feel like they belong right thee.
But this is funny. Do these guys really want to be this close.
I don't know brown pelicans as well as I do American White Pelicans, but I think we can see its lower mandible dropped down to scoop in whatever fish its targeted. Not sure why the Laughing Gull is that close, when it doesn't seem to be accomplishing very much here. But I suspect these two species have been doing this sort of thing for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They're up to something.
That lower mandible seems stretched out, so there has been something a larger that a little fish in there stretching it out. Wish I could see what.
There was the inevitable gull in the picture, but I cropped it out, because the two birds were so far away from each other, and then the pic would have been much smaller. I'm reveling in all the detail that camera provides.
I never saw or knew that I had seen if I did, a laughing gull actually assist a Brown Pelican, but I sure have seen them occupy nearly the same space under very similar circumstances many times.
Standing on the concrete at the north end of Anderson Ways / 8-Mile Road, I could see miles and miles of white puffy nothing, with a few landmark structures and mainland Texas across the bay. I drove back down to Sporsman Road, turned right and drove very slowly west, stopping often along that two-lane blacktop, being careful not to fall into the bog but getting as close as I possibly could. Gangs Bayou on the left/south and not much land but a long line of really nice houses and Galveston Bay on the right.
Birds wereeverywhere. Not mobs,
but lots of singles and a few scattered groups.
Thanks to my newish book, Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson's The Shorebird Guide, I may now be right in calling this bird a Western Willet, who looks a lot like the pic of one in Texas in mid-April of some year, at the bottom of page 96 of that book. Except this one's head is boxier. But the legs, feathers, wings, underside, beak and face colors and tones look remarkably right.
This is (one of two essentially similar, dark chicks I saw) very close to the corner with Anderson ways and 8-Mile Road. But I would never have seen, let along identified, it without the help of a white van full of birdwatchers I followed for awhile on Sportsman Road, west of the city of Galveston and just short of Galveston Bay. One of them walked back to tell me what it was and exactly where to find it. All I did was drive closer to the edge of the narrow road and focus — always an amazing feat — down into the ditch where they were, then work it up when I got back to Dallas. Thank you, kind ladies.
This is another one of their discoveries they were willing to share with me, because I had "that big lens." But even with the 300mm lens doubled = 600mm full frame, I can barely see it here in this full-frame shot. Took me a lot longer than it will take you to find it out there ever so slightly south of Sportsman Road. It's the gray blob nearly in the center of the frame, in the middle of the grass just above the biggest mud splat. I was lucky it was moving around.
I am only now as I write this and work up these images realizing the value of a high-powered and high-resolution birder's scope. I didn't see the scopes they were using, but through them, they could see a great deal more detail than I could. Might have been using some binocs. I should check those out.
I've eshewed those encumbrances, because I'm already toting a ton of stuff, but being able to see tiny animate objects at great distances does seem to have it usefulnesses. Of course, my ace in the hole was that I could late enlarge what I could see to this.
I bet those fields were far fuller of flyers than I could even see out there. I'm always being surprised by birds in close when I'm concentrating on focusing and composing the ones I can see. Probably why I tend to favor larger species. I wonder how many other tiny birds they counted that day.
Not that there weren't plenty of exotic species walking, flying or swimming around the area.
And every time I'd start to get bored with one bunch I'd find out there, another would swoop in and join the frey.
Then suddenly swoop out again.
Something deeply calming about this picture. Kinda like I continually felt as I slowly drove westerly along Sportsmans Road. Eerily uncomplicated, despite the flurries of birds.
When I'd pull myself from overconcentrating on one fascinating species, look up, and I'd find yet another. Talk about a cornucopia of birds.
A Willet with breast feathers flapping in the wind.
Cattle with Cattle Egrets.
Egrets are everywhere, but since some where there, too, I photographed them there, also.
Luckily, Ihave much worse-focused shots of this same bird not jumping up in a plume of dripping water. In those, it looks a lot more like what it ireally is.
Much More To Come …
The Amateur Birder's Journal Continues …
Wet Birds at the Dry Beds
May 19 2013
Not a lot of water in the Fort Worth Drying Beds these days, which always causes us to worry when we get there, but we generally find some bodies of water there, and almost always lots of birds and other fauna and flora.
I was sure it was a flycatcher. The giveaway is all the hair and fur around its beak — for catching flies.
With its best feature behind it.
Willets been following me around lately. Is this another one of those?
I'll have to page slowly through my library of bird i.D books to figure out who this is, but I'm so glad I caught it proclaiming from the up end of the stick. Birds proclaiming from a stick seem to be a sub-species of today's Dry Beds shoot.
The Phalarope's breeding status is told by its dark black and reddish neck.
Adult Breeding Wilson's Phalarope (fall a rope) with three Blue-winged Teal
We can tell what it's about to do in this shot.
And sure enough, seconds later, that's exactly what it does do. Who these birds are is much more a challenge to figure out.
Mallard mom and nine of ten babies. Maybe only one or two of which will survive.
I'm certain about the duck being a Blue-winged Teal. The shorebird is much more mysterious.
The red and yellow coverlet (epaulet) is the dead giveaway, but I really wasn't at all sure.
Greater Yellowlegs and a smaller Sanderling? I never really know.
One of the more common birds in large bodies and small bodies of water around Texas, but it's always nice to catch one in focus. I love Great Egrets.
Unless they've been eating so much they're nearly slowed to stop, Phalaropes run or swim in tight circles like crazed speed freaks.
Never saw any of the rest of it.
The biggest trick with this series of photographs (This is the best of that bunch.) was waiting for the thistles and their passengers to stop bobbing in the wind.
Tall Trees in Somebody near the lake's Yard
May 17 2013
Looking down at the three of us looking up. Me with 600mm worth of lens. Amazing focus through all the branches of the several trees we must have annoyed the owl family following them and their still fluffy kits around in and through. Soon as I'd get a good bead on one, they'd get nervous and their neighbor birds — especially the noisy blue-jays — would get anxious and loud, and the neighbor birds would run them out or they'd escape to another tree, where it would take us a minute or so to locate, then get a fix on.
Kathy emailed me about them, and Chet helped us find them among the trees overhead, thick with leaves and branches and some other birds who figured this was their territory, not somewhere that belonged to some newbie bunch of owls. This owl has its protective nictitating lids down, but what I perceive to be its feathered eyelids at half mast. At the bottom of today's entry is a link to a link page full of owl faces, and none of them have anything like this going on.
I know I need to take a class on birds. I heard Jim Peterson talk at Trinity River Audubon Center about a recent class for Master Birders that's not altogether unlike a similar class for Master Naturalists. I thought I might be ripe to take the MB class, but its purpose is to develop volunteers, and I think I've got enough tasks working already, but I need to learn a lot more about birds, although maybe I need more bird people in my life, and I'm probably about ready to serve more.
I want to. There's a class in ornithology at my alma mater, the University of Dallas, and that may be the right match for me. But I don't really know. I've got a shelf full of books I haven't yet absorbed enough of the knowledge of to know this simple fact about owl eyelids. And there are so many others …
Whose eyes are red from a flash I was attempting to fill in some of the darkest shadows with. Like our eyes sometimes do, this very young Barred Owl's eyes reflect red. But at least we can see its eyes. Looking up, we might have seen some reflections in there, but it was mostly dark black in those deep, protected sockets that help owls see in the dark.
Looking down at me.
All today's shots were made with a doubled (2X telextender on a) 300mm lens on my very elderly (2005) Nikon D200 camera, hand-held, usually almost straight up into those trees around my dear friends' house and yard.
If you have or see an unusual bird, email me and if you're close to Elderly East Dallas, I'll come running.
Owl eyes and vision
Five avocets visit sunset Bay
May 14 2013
I have that borrowed camera one more day, and I was determined to photo birds on it till I had to give it back, so off to White Rock Lake I went this early afternoon, supposedly the worst time of the day for birds, but that advice is for the birds, because I got to see a bonanza of visiting birds.
The bather of the group is second beak from the left. It's twisting its body to flip off the water so fast its beak is twisting and separating. I was standing on the pier and Sunset Bay when I saw them come in. I thought I'd had the luck I was getting this day, and was about to go on home and catch more up on sleep. Instead, I bee-lined it back to the Beach at Sunset Bay, and began photographing the five new visitors. After a while, when I thought they'd stay long enough, I went up the hill and fetched a tripod to hold my cam and lens even stiller.
It wasn't the first time I'd photographed Avocets at White Rock. That was back awhile — September 2008. These might have been some of those, or somebody they told what a lovely place Sunset Bay was.
Glad to have them arrive in the middle of the day when I needed something interesting to photograph. Hooray!
They just stood out there past the peninsula and preened and preened and preened for the longest time. Resting, I assumed. Then one or the other or another would do what I'm calling flap hopping.
When I first noticed the behavior, I assumed that one was about to fly, but they flapped furiously and rose a little on those long legs but did not let go of the firmament, just seemed to get a little taller, then they settled back to their natural height.
I've seen a lot of birds stretched their wings by flapping them furiously. This was the avocets doing just that.
Great opportunity to photo a little wing action.
Mostly, during the forty minutes or so I was able to photograph them, they didn't do much, just rested, preened, and occasionally flapped.
Another Great Photo Opportunity. By this time I had the cam and honker of a lens on a tripod, so these came out pretty well.
I was sorry to see them go, but I'd got lots of pictures, so have at it, Avocets.
Bye, bye, nice birds. Thanks for the opportunity.
UT Medical Center Rookery
My bad eyesight, I thought they were Blue Jays. So I was careful to photograph them numerous times. Out of a bunch — er flock — of birds I enlarged this part, because these were the only ones in focus in this shot.
These are some stylin' birds. I need to get up extra close with one or two some day. They might have to be drunk first, which is something I've seen them do, and apparently they do often. As my Lone Pined edition of Birds of Texas — always a good source for particular bird information none of the other books seem to offer, "As flocks gorge on fermented berries in late winter and spring, birds will show definite signs of tipsiness." I found that several years ago, when I photographed some in Sunset Forest [link fixed], hanging upside-down and carrying on on like there's no tomorrow.
I recognized the pounce mode, so shot quickly. Not bad exposure, but I really like the sun filtering through her wings. Juveniles have dark, brown it looks like in Sibley's Guide to Birds.
Different bird species occupy different portions of the forest that is the UT Southwestern Medical Center Rookery, so we can't depend upon them being in the same places year to year, but now that I know some of the trees where the Anhinga hang out, and where those can be viewed from the asphalt sidewalk around parts of the area, I can keep going back hoping to get closer and more detail.
I had my tripod in the car, but I didn't lug it in. That's almost a sure-fire way to get more detail. But it's such a hassle.
I like this shot because even though it's not actually flying, it's got one wing and its tail both fully extended, and it's holding comparatively still, so we get to see some of the details therein. I thanked it for us.
I was a little thrown off by the interceding gray-frown branches that make this bird's long S-curved neck look gray instead of the black it actually is, but I've come to understand it is just who I say it is in the caption directly above. Appearances can be deceiving. Another bird showing us its wings, without jumping into the air and flying., but not much detail visible this time.
Red eyes, green lores, bright yellow beak and all that fine plumage. Not sure what else it could do to advertise its breeding condition. Maybe fly around with a branch in its beak…
Speaking of a nest stick, here's a relatively small one of those. This Black-crown spent quite some time trying to pull a much larger, fresh still with leaves on it, branch from this tree, but the tree wouldn't budge the branch, so the heron settled for a much smaller twig.
I especially like it's trailing occipital plume. Those things always remind me of swashbucklers and swordplay. Very dashing, and with those big red eyes, this bird looks fierce.
The previously cited Lone Pine Edition of Birds of Texas says they nest "from ground level up to 15 ft; nest is a platform of sticks, cordgrass or reeds; pair incubates 2-4 brown-splotched, buff or bluish eggs for 21-22 days; pair cares for the young." So there you have it.
I guess I need to scope out the Cattle Egret at the rookery and concentrate on them some future time. They are amazing when they poof out to show off their poof size and finery. Normally, such meek and mild little egrets that hang around cattle, but at breeding time, they can look like monsters at a moment's notice.
There's an image on my Courship Behaviors page that gets pretty close to how really fierce Cattle Egrets can get.
To round out today's collection of little and big birds at the rookery.
White Rock Lake
Driving past that place that used to have a lot of trees and was named after them, but now has mostly big steel structures and parking lots, I was photographing birds by the side of the road with my longest telephoto out of the driver's side window of The Slider.
The one on the far right is probably a Barn Swallow. Two of the others have yellow breasts, so might be one flycatcher or another, and I don't know who's out there behind all these others. Just I love that meadow now, even if the Scissor-tails seem to be gone from it. Maybe some years spring happens slow, but this year spring was really fast.
Looks like it's standing on something that might be delicious in a salad. It was taller than I am and along the line of tall weeds between the pier at Sunset Bay and the rest of the grassy area there. I'd attempted to photograph it at least a dozen times before this. Each time, he'd land, then when I acquired focus, he'd fly off. This time, I finally got him.
The barnyard was active today. It usually is, even when there's not mobs of birds there.
This is the male.
And this is the female. Like everybody else
along today's roads, they were finding and eating things.
The cycle of life. I read somewhere recently that only one of ten ducklings born this season will last till the next season.
I've captioned many photographs of male Red-winged Blackbirds proclaiming — giving their all in a scream-like call meant to gather females to mate with him. I think that's likely what's going on here. But I'm an amateur. I have seen many pairs of males grappling in the air with each other. It's spring. It's hardly surprising that they'd be fighting over females or the possibilities of females.
Which is what this one is doing, too. I was interested in each individual's specific form for proclaiming. Real birders probably call proclaiming by some other term.
Of, I believe the male sex — and gender, too, probably.
I don't remember whether it was complaining or shouting for joy.
The Bay Tri I last saw this day I called White-faced Ibis Day.
Essentially a rouse is when a bird shakes evertything up — all the feathers, at least — all over its body. I have a whole page of them to give you a more thorough understanding of that term. That page includes many species, so we fully realize all birds in all bird sizes rouse.
I know this is a mid-preen rouse, and I think I know where The Bay Tri's head is in this picture, but I'm really not sure about that.
Lake Ray Hubbard
We read in Bird Chat that a pair of Whooping Cranes have been being seen on Lake Ray Hubbard in Garland, so we drove out there in the cold cold winter spring and struggled to see or photograph them, they were so far away. But I kept the ISO as low as it would go in the gray dark light. This shot isn't even full frame, but most of today's shots of activity on the far shore are significantly enlarged.
The Fort Worth Audubon Society's counterpart for Dallas' Bird Chat is here. Audubon Fort Worth birders say there are more sightins listed on this forum.
Not terribly small like most of my shots of this pair today, but blown up more than I'd usually want to. Much larger than this, and the image would fall apart. I know I manually set the ISO to 200, but the camera set it back up to 800, which was probably just as well. No way even my chunky sturdy tripod would keep my exposures long enough to avoid camera shake in that wind…
I keep switching cameras, because I don't have one decent one right now, and neither does Nikon, unless I wanted to pay more than six thousand dollars for one that'd be outdated in a few short years. All the Nikons I might desire are snafu somehow. The full-frame D800 often does not focus on the left side — a major drawback to someone who actually composes images. The D600, which is a thousand dollars cheaper but still full frame, splatters oil all over the sensor from the mirror reflexing up and down with east shot. And the mighty D4, which I've read has clairvoyant fast focus, is only $6,000.
But as dark as it was today — deep charcoal gray with not a patch of blue or bright in sight, and the wind, it's probably just as well the camera was in control. A newer cam would have been fine at iso 800, my my five-year-old D300 was barely keeping its head above water. But it's not really going to get much better than this with sunshine's high contrast between bright white and shadows.
The egret flying away had been high in that tree in the foreground, then it swooped down to visit up close and birdenal (It can't be person-al.) with the Whooper Pair. They're reported to be stand-offish, but the egret got right in there with them, everybody hunting for their ongoing meal. Word is the cranes graze, hunt, preen and sleep their days on that far shore. They were very active during our hour-or-so visit.
When I could tear myself away from the impossibility of capturing quality images from the other side of the lake, I photographed just inside this side of it, and got fairly decent results. Not every time, but plenty often enough. The women we talked with there had a high-powered scope that clearly showed the color and shape of the bands on the Crane's legs.
I know the big duck second from the left is a male Northern Shoveler. There's another M N S fifth from the left, and a Mallard at top right. The others on the right side are Wilson's Phalaropes, but I haven't tracked down yet the I.D of the sylph of a bird on the far left.
I figured when I read about the Whoopers showing up last weekend, there wouldn't be a chance they'd still be hanging around by the time we got out there, but there was, and they did. This shot looks like at least three varieties of shorebirds, maybe more.
I'm beat as I write this. Sleepless too long and running around rural Garland well after that... I'll look up these guys in all those bird books tomorrow or the next day. I even have a The Shorebird Guide that might help me figure out which birds these are. I'm pretty sure this one is the same as all the flying birds in the next image up, but there's a little more detail here.
Unusually, it is the female of this species who colors up for breeding, not the males, who are drab and comparatively pale.
I want it to be a Yellow Legs, but those are definitely orange. And I'm fuzzy-eyed tonight. Hoping just to finish this page off, get some sleep and start thinking again tomorrow. Great pic for this side of the lake — still a significant distance. ISO 800 hurts much less in low contrast lighting.
The one on the left is the one in the shot just above. Same bright legs. No idea yet which the other one is.
If I can ID this one in front, I'll have several other pix mostly identified, too. One has little with black legs, and one's bigger with orange legs, but not the same as the orange-legs a couple shots above.
One of the women who'd already stopped on the edge of the lake that may have been the closest place with visual access to the Whooping Cranes wanted me to photograph this nest. I think she believed it was a Red-winged Blackbird's. She told of watching a Brown-headed Cowbird attempt to get into it — perhaps to lay eggs into it. Cowbirds play that trick, then have the other species bird mom raise her kits, but a male Red-winged Blackbird was going all out to keep her from it.
If that is what this is, it's the first one I've ever noticed. Quite an elaborate structure in an area we assumed would be too swampy muddy to cross to get closer to this side's shore, although they told us of a place further down that road that dirt-roaded to a parking lot and easy walk much closer to this side's shore, though it didn't make the cranes much bigger in our viewfinders.
Something else we discussed out on the marsh overlooking the lake and the far-away cranes, was the difference between sex and gender. The women who were so helpful in finding and photographing the big white birds on the other side of the world from us kept referring to various birds' gender, which may well be the preferred term in birding. I don't know. I'm still, as this page's banner proclaims in the biggest word on this page, an amateur.
So I looked it up, and found "Although the words gender and sex both have the sense 'the state of being male or female,' they are typically used in slightly different ways: sex tends to refer to biological differences, and gender to cultural or social ones." Thus a biological male of any species may perceive himself as or act as female, thus bending our understandings of gender, despite his male parts. I've often read about that in reference to bird and animal behaviors.
More selections from the menagerie. The bigger ones are ducks. Shovelers flying and Mallards on the water. No idea who the others are.
And a couple somethings else. I think those on the right bottom are just what's left of a tree. And two as yet unidentified species that I'm pretty sure I've seen before. Somewhere. I never got around to it, but I kept being amazed at the huge number of birds out on that faraway lake — and they were not all the same shapes or colors. Intriguing.
White Rock Lake
Today's shots are collected from the last week or so of frenzied bird photographing in gloroius spring, spring, spring. I had hoped for a bevy of Wood Ducks, and the Universe provided me with a bevy of Wood Ducks, so what else could I do?
All these shots utilized what they used to call "Synchro Sunlight Flash," which simply means I lifted my flash so it fired each time I clicked the shutter. It's magic. Looks almost like I didn't use flash, although there's certainly something strange about some of these shots.
For one thing, all of these images are in sharp focus...
It was at dinner time in Sunset Bay, when Charles arrives, usually with a big, friendly, mostly white dog in the front seat barking. Then he unloads big bags of corn grain and pours out long lines of the stuff, so all the ducks who've flown in to get what may be their most nutritious meal of the day. Especially if they've been around humans throwing white bread at them.
I haven't been back at dinner time, but I haven't seen this many Wood Ducks.
I don't think I've ever photographed a male Wood from this angle before. But isn't she beautiful? None of all that gaudy color.
See, they're not all the same. Sometimes Nature uses different colors or tones.
But still …
Sometimes it's difficult to believe they're of the same species.
I should probably mention that not all cameras and/or not all shutter speeds will allow this sort of synchronization. And that I set the camera to slightly underexpose the flash portion of our lighting, so it almost looks like there's no flash. At least there's no unsightly shadows under everybody's creases and chins and/or beaks.
This shot is down here more because I like it, than because it shows relative sizes. And because no flash was used in preparation of this image.
The Day Before That
One of the issues with Synchro-Sunlight exposures is that if the subject is too close to a wall-like structure like this tree stump, you get the dreaded chin, beak, chest or leg shadows.
This shot could have benefited from being closer to the camera with the flash if there's any flash involved.
They sometimes start with more than a dozen ducklings, but some father ducks eat their young. As do some other birds, and there's lots of things out there that will kill a duckling, including wolves, coyotes, bob- and feral domestic cats, dogs, hawks, owls, pelicans (ours have gone back north , etc. It's difficult to track an individual duck mom, and you'd have to be wherever they are all the time. And other things.
Or somebody like that. At first I thought it might be a summer eclipse molt, but now I'm pretty sure it's just weird, since there was no other duck like it in Sunset Bay, where all the mutants hang out. Only the mutants survive!
Crown? Crest? Poof? I know there's a proper term for those things, even when they're still incipient. Since Mallards will have sex with almost any duck, there are more Mallard hybrids than any other breed's. We know it's a male duck by its curly tail feathers, even if its color is subdued like most duck females.
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My favorite answer is, "I don't
am, after all, an amateur.
I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for six years,
although I've been photographing professionally since 1964.
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