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Eagle Flying in Sunset Bay.
A story of American White Pelicans and a video of a Newly-hatched Pelican Chick
Listen to or download KERA-FM's podcast of Welcome to Subirdia
Author John Marzluff on how to help our winged neighbors.
Even Pelicans Sometimes Need a Friend to Lean on
October 18 2014
As gregarious a bunch as pelicans often are, tending to gather great numbers of them in one place, they get pretty testy when one pelican gets too close to another. A bump like this one could net the bumper with a beak-sworded hole through its lower mandible or at least a good beak-thrust or shove, but none of that was forthcoming in this close-proximity touching.
The reasons become quickly obvious. The pelican on the right has a bum foot that does not support it on the ground or on a perching log. Notice how firm the footing is on the leaned-on pelican friend, and how insubstantial the foundation is under the pelican on the right.
With wings flapping, pelicans become "lighter" and this one can almost manage to walk up the log.
What I needed was a little distance or to zoom back to include all of the bird at once, but that's only possible with a zoom lens, and contrary to remarkably popular local beliefs, all birders don't use zooms, which, though perhaps sometimes more versatile, are inherently less sharp than prime (non-zooms) like my Blunderbuss (300mm with a 1.7X telextender).
This pelican apparently wanted to, but it didn't get far up the log before it realized it couldn't go farther. So it turned around, with help from wide-wingspan flapping.
While still flapping, it slowly manoeuvered back down the log floating a little too-close-in in Sunset Bay today.
It slowly made it back to its lean-on friend, who doesn't seem to mind, even though it was otherwise busy preening, as all pelicans must.
To a position very near standing up on its own two feet.
And with its wing over its friend, who hardly even moves, when if anyone else did that much leaning — and didn't need to — it'd get a poke, a bump or a fight.
It's not always easy for handicapped birds to get around, but if your bad foot can still pivot and hold your body in place, that's a plus.
This water entrance has style but forces a head-dunking, but even then it is not at all unsuccessful. It got into the water. Pelicans are used to having their heads under when searching or grabbing for fish, so they must know how to hold their breath. And…
It quickly bobs to the surface and begins to swim back to the main party of pelicans well out in the bay, where it's much safer to stay for a pelican who needs a little time to get going, but can still manage.
With a little wing muscle to help it build some fluid motion momentum.
And paddling safely away. Leaving me to wonder if a hospital stay at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation might help. Probably would. But catching it, when it very likely doesn't want to be captured or know why, would in most likelihoods damage it farther, and we don't want that.
We all need a friend to lean on sometimes.
Spent a few Minutes at Sunset Bay Today
These aren't in any particular order except this is the most interesting of the bunch, so it's on top. I don't think the order matters on any of the others... This pelican seemed to be catching something, but I could never see what, so it was probably not fish. But these same actions are used
I noticed that there were many American White Pelicans in closer than I'd seen them this year. Apparently that fact-finding committee [below] did finally present their findings, and that section of the flock joined them at that log.
Meanwhile, I saw two pelican actions worth photographing to try to figure out what the two individuals I saw doing those behaviors were doing and why.
I surmise that this one was stretching its lower mandible in a way I hadn't noticed before — by using self-produced hydraulic pressure.
When American White Pelicans (the pelicans usually seen well into the interior from the coastlines, where the Brown Pelicans settle) fish cooperatively, they do many of these same actions. It could be this pelican was just practicing. Or maybe even just foolin' around.
I don't think it was catching any fish. It tipped its beak back only that once that I saw, and I watched carefully but didn't see anything in there, though there was plenty of light to see something if it were in there.
Eventually, this one just swam away looking like any other pelican swimming from here to there and not any longer looking like it was catching fish.
I didn't catch it hop, hop, hopping across the water, but I caught it doing exactly this. Then it flew farther and farther, then it disappeared.
And then it either came back or somebody else pelicannish did.
We can see all the cormorants and pelicans under its landing path, but ...
Gulp! It's gone. Well, not really, of course, that it, about even with the line of pelican heads on the next log back. I kept hoping it would land to one side or the other of the lower-mandible-stretching-in-the-setting-sun pelican, but nope.
Watching A Spectacular Wide Sunset and
where do pelicans fly to at Night?
After Lovers Pizza we watched the sunset from several places along the lake, ending down at The Little Thicket for this.
Then from somewhere in view of the bottom of the yacht clubs, I noticed familiar bird shapes in the dark.
It really was dark, but I tried these shots anyway, with my little Panasonic G2 with a short, sharp, zoom, and this, like the sunset that proceeded it, was truly a wide-angle shot.
So where do "our" pelicans go at night. North, I guess. At least some of them.
Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation in Hutchins, Texas
I dropped some donation items off at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Monday, apparently while everybody was having lunch, well into the afternoon. The office was locked with a big sign with a number to call, but I don't have a cellphone, so I didn't, and I shot this with The Blunderbuss leaning on the window to hold it still. Luckily the probably recuperated but human-acclimated Cattle Egret wasn't moving around much. And I kinda doubt it was this pale, too. I didn't adjust for the fluorescent lights inside.
I asked the one guy I saw a couple times while I was there, if I could go on back to take pictures — there was a sign over the access door to the effect that nobody should enter — and he said, sure. So I, wearing my big Nikon D800e and my Little Panasonic G5 walked the rounds of the big cages in what I think of as "the front," being careful not to transgress the one yellow (I think) ribbon warning me away from several cages., clicking and snapping the amazing collection of birds being rehabilitated.
I was greeted by this gentle pelican, and bit by her (female, according to what the few volunteers/work persons I saw called it) repeatedly. She was a a very friendly and inquisitive American White Pelican. I don't remember its name, and although she probably recognizes it, but probably doesn't call herself that. I could tell it was enclosing my hand in its beak with an ever-so-small snap, but there was so little pressure, I barely noticed it, except that it was a pleasant experience, although it soon bored with the idea, and wandered off, although I caught up with her again later.
It's a big cage, with several species who apparently get along well, although this is about as far away from me as it could get in that large cage. I was careful to walk my Rogers walk, slowly and carefully, with an emphasis on the slow. I tried to make no sudden motions, and if I spoke — it's kinda hard to stop me — I spoke gently and reassuringly. I'm sorry they're in rehabilitation, but I love being around them and being able t photograph them in some detail.
One of the reasons I'm only posting maybe a dozen or so pix today, is that I have not identified most of these birds, and I want to, so after I post this first dozen, I'll hit the I.D books again, and try to name everybody, which is always a challenge.
Sometimes I learn why these birds are in rehabilitation, and sometimes not. Not, today. Although I got several pix of this one, who was calm enough to follow with my big camera.
Almost got this one in focus.
I'll figure out who this is after seven more trips through my extensive collection of bird I.D books — two dozen and counting, and sometimes it seems I'm still lost in the bird I.D biz.
There were a couple varieties of peacocks today, just this was the only who'd pose for me. Captions in all lower case, as usual on the bird journal, indicate I don't know its proper name.
It was too close to the cage grid to separate them, so I photographed what I could. I appreciate the wire grid, just not for photography.
I only saw a couple GBHs wandering around campus today. Usually there's been dozens.
This pix has more head and neck and shoulder detail than any photo I've ever taken of one of these handsome birds who do the world a marvelous service.
Handsome critter, and this, like all but the birds-wandering-around-the-Rogers-campus birds, was photographed through the grid of the cages. Just sometimes I figured it out and got all the relative distances — cage wire to bird — well, and often not so. Lots more pix soon — soon as I can identify more birds.
A Small Park well inside Irving
So I went to the Center for Art in JC Park distinctly interior to Irving, Texas to pick up my large photo of three Black Vultures out for adventure that I shot at Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area and got in the Irving Arts Association Wildlife Show there, and I brought along the Blunderbuss, just in case I saw some birds, which seemed unlikely, but I was ever hopeful. And my hope fullness was rewarded with two birds I hadn't seen much of at White Rock.
The Black Vulture piece is the second of a series of four pics, of which I prefer the first, called “Who's Up for a Little Action?” which didn't even get in this show or the other show I entered somewhere west of here. I'd hoped the three (max three entries) would at least get in this largely amateur competition, even if they didn't win any prizes, because they belong together and don't really make much sense alone. But I wasn't the judge, who selected a slick image of a pet dog for the winner and didn't seem to know much about photography, at all — from the other photographs she chose, not just mine.
I have not seen any wigeons at White Rock Lake this year, so it was a delight to see these at that little neighborhood park just off 183 past MacArthur.
(October - June)
Also present were a number — I didn't count them — of Canada Gooses.
Not sure why, but I usually avoid pix showing that nictating membrane. But there it is, and it's part of this and many others — all? — birds.
A Little Bit of A Lot
Photographed October 10
First, I made sure it was busy up there. Then I turned on my on-camera flash, focused and shot. As usual, everything here is in the order I shot them. Kelley said the Pelicans were being "fun." Minutes later, so did Shirley, but by the time I got there, their fun had worn out, and they were just there.
But not hardly the last. I have no idea who they are, but there were a lot of them.
These were, I think, bigger birds. They look like herons maybe — sorta, a little, maybe.
Or maybe something entirely else.
With wings spread, so positive ID is much easier than usual.
Now you see why getting any identifiable photo of a Spotted Sandpiper can be difficult.
I've been seeing Wood Ducks in Sunset Bay again recently.
Slowly, gradually, the sky got bluer and the sun almost began to shine.
Except for the patterns, it sure looks like a male mallard. I don't remember seeing this sort of a molt before.
Splashing and dripping water all the way. No sign of that molt on these Mallards. Birds flying rapidly into Sunset Bay is one of my favorite practice targets.
In beautiful sunlight.
A lot more interesting with some shadows and trees to frame them.
Despite the careful calculations of the Fact Finding Committee, many of the newer pelican arrivals are settling on a log somewhere near the middle of the logs strewn by nature in Sunset Bay. They apparently voted against settling close in.
Not doing much, really, standing, squatting and preening, although I didn't notice any mandible, wing or leg stretching.
Notice the odd bits of black and white checked feathers under there.
Fishing Pelicans are Not always Cooperative
Most of the time, American White Pelicans are not in a rush or easily upset by other pelicans. They are known for their gregarious nature and cooperative fishing methods, but there are times when it's every pelicans for itself. They usually proceed slowly and get it done. Sometimes, however, a very competitive streak shows, and everybody's in a big hurry. They are probably hungry.
It looked like they'd calmed down after they'd had their fill as the headed in an orderly fashion back home to the logs.
Although there were exceptions.
Then when they found more fish right under those logs, they really got excited.
Though there was a unison about it.
But after awhile, everybody just wanted to go back to the perch.
Although there was a little competition for the best spot. There always is among American White Pelicans, gregarious as they often seem.
At Last, Pelicans Flying and Cooperatively Fishing
Photographed October 7
First of Season — Pelican in Flight. So glad to see one in the air. One of those joys I wait from about April 15th every year till sometime in October the next year.. Hooray!
Then it landed behind a bunch of other pelicans on one of those logs out there, and my pelican season had officially begun at last.
Not, perhaps, as exciting as getting to photograph a Bald Eagle the other day, since there's lots of pelicans now — more than thirty at my last count — and as far as I or anybody I know knows, there's only one local eagle, and seeing it in flight was so exciting I could hardly hold my camera/lens still to focus in on it.
I knew where they were going, and I'd been hoping for an opportunity to photograph them cooperatively fishing ever since the first American Pelican arrived in Sunset Bay on September 13.
It's almost always a treat, because once they get used to fishing with each other this autumn / winter / spring, it's like watching synchronized swimming at the Olympics or that sport's perhaps most famous synchro-swimming athlete in history, Esther Williams. I remember her swimming; you younger pups may never have heard of her.
These birds are obviously a little out of practice. Perhaps they are from several differing northern flocks, and they hadn't had the pleasure, but as I watched they got more and more synchronized.
As their heads go down into the water, their wings semi-automatically come up in counterbalance.
Till everybody's heads are well under water, groping around down there, and catching some fish. Pelicans each need four pounds of fish a day.
After groping, if they're used to fishing together, they come up for air and get back together to chase a school of fish into the shallows to scoop more of them up.
Since where they put those fishes is in their remarkably flexible lower mandibles, those amazing purposes need to be stretched a bit, so they'll be thoroughly flexible next time they're needed, too.
Here's another shot from the same bunch a little while later, when they're a little more synchronized, though not yet perfect.
They need practice.
And finally, everybody's heads in and wings up.
Fact-Finding Pelicans, Coots scooting & Poofy Top Ducks
I think they were on a fact-finding mission, and I didn't care why, but very pleased they were coming into the inner-bay to do it, which meant instead of vague pelicano shapes far out in Sunset Bay, I'd have a chance to photograph them in great detail and full color. I'd hoped they'd go communal fishing, but I think what they were up to was investigating one log, that's not much closer than other gathering logs the flock has used in past years, to stay just a little out in the water away from the idiot humans, their sometimes crazed dogs, the little big cats who sometimes wander around Sunset and, of course, the coyotes, whose mating season will soon be upon us all.
I thought it was an opportunity. As long as the pelicans had been here, they had not — in my sight — come this close into Sunset Bay before. Other photographers had told me about seeing them coming in, to look around, to fish together, etc. But so far, I'd misse that close-in action.
Of course, I didn't know what they were up to till they arrived at one of the inner-more logs, not far distant from the pier. Then, we slowy figured it out.
And though I managed to overexpose every shot, because I wasn't paying nearly enough attention to the birds' images on my LCD, so they required some work, but still look pretty good.
The Snowy Egret was already there, and it was probably as intrigued by the fact-finding visitors as I was.
They stopped swimming for what seemed like a long time, just to stare at that one log.
Of course, by far the best way to test out a new log is to flap up on top of it, carefully excluding the co-fact-checker. Log-mounting, as always among American White Pelicans, is a competitive sport, and as there is always a winner, there is inevitably a looser.
I kept hoping the latter would flap itself up onto the log, also.
But no. A part of the Sunset Bay Pelican Flock has since moved significantly closer to the pier, but not as close to the inspected log, which the day aftre the inspection "sank" several inches due to a heavy rain that filled water under the pier and out along the east and western coasts from the pier. The log they moved to is much longer than this one they inspected.
Actually, American Coots' proclivity to get up speed fast enough to run across the water is called skittering. Once they get their speed up, they go remarkably fast, and sometimes use the technique to gain enough air speed to take off, although usually it's just a quick way to go where going needs.
In various stages of getting up and skittering across the water's surface.
That feather growth makes them look distinctive, but it's actually a brain growth that will eventually kill birds who have it.
These two ducks seem to be hanging out together. They probably don't know about their curse, but have found true friends.
And, of course, I only had the one camera with that one lens, so I had to back off somewhat, use the on-camera flash to fill in this side's darkness and hope.
Eagle in Flight at White Rock Lake Saturday Morning
A friend and I were talking not long ago about how difficult it is to select one's own best work. I had no idea, even when I was working on this, after I'd already done what I thought were the day's best catches and run my usual mindless chatter between and among them, that no, those weren't, but yes, this — or maybe this [three clicks down] — was. It wasn't exactly an afterthought, but I kept finding more pix of it flying.
I expected to fold this one in a little later, because it was probably too far away to render well with my lens, which is known for its high resolution but also for its inability to render after about 300 yards out, but I don't know how far this is, although it gets better as the bird flies closer. So please excuse text that may appear to be going in several directions today. I have been, also.
In my first, very blurry photo of it, the eagle was flying much higher, but as it neared the far edge, it flew closer to the water.
I keep hearing that Eagles' favorite White Rock Lake menu item is the American Coot, whose population has, in the last week, increased more than 15-fold, counting only their constant presence in Sunset Bay proper. You suppose after I shot this image, it did a quick circle around and picked up a tender young coot or a luscious large catfish, flayed it on the spot or in the air, then carried it across to its new favorite dining area to devour?
I usually rely on chronological order of images to tell their own stories. Here I am backing up, to show the moment when the Bald Eagle entered our consciousness. I say our because I was with an eagle-eyed bird photographer whose name, I believe, is Amole.
Amole saw the eagle just before he announced it was entering our space (White Rock Lake) just as he had the Cooper's Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawks who proceeded it, and whose photographs follow below. I thanked him aloud for the first one, and he continued. We enjoyed great conversation. He said he lived an hour's drive from here, but visited often, and he spoke knowledgeably about this lake and its wildlife, where he, his wife and child often visit together.
Note that between the last two photographs, the eagle appears to have picked up some baggage. I'm still not utterly convinced it was a fish, to me, and I'm wondering if I managed to miss it snagging a coot, which even at this distance, could have been amazing, and I'll keep one eye on that far shore every time I visit Sunset Bay.
* In Bird Chat, the Dallas Audubon website's birders forum, Ben Sandifer has pointed out, "The most important thing [I] have documented is that the bird is actively feeding at the lake. In the past, everyone thought the eagles were just passing through. Documenting the feeding is a huge leap in why the bird is there hanging out." Although I should point out that several other photographers have photographed the (assuming there's just one) Bald Eagle eating something it had caught [somewhere] on its favorite, far perch inSunset Bay.
The top picture was at least twice the size of this eagle in this photo when I photographed it, and it enlarged much better than this, because, I assume, it was close enough for the lens to do its dada duty.
Then only on the Monday following did I go back among my eagle blurs once again to find this pic.
Do you suppose that after doing this for eight and a quarter years, I'm actually getting better at this bird photography thing? Or maybe I'm just getting better models….
The Wylie eagle did not just fly straight into where it planned to enjoy its meal, it circled in and around clutching its bounty behind it.
Pelicans, I'm told, are too big for an eagle in normal circumstances to bother eating. Coots and cormorants, may be.
Well after it landed and had been eating awhile, Amole and I conjectured whether it would be closer — and less pelican cluttered — if we moved west along the Sunset coast to where there's a break in the trees, but neither of us moved. We just kept shooting. I later photographed the far-out logs from across the bay at Dreyfuss, and it's a lot farther than it appears in these photos, so once it's landed, I may well trek out into that boggy place and try it.
Fuzzy because they're rendered out of focus, all of which was centered on the Bald Eagle Landing with a "Big Fish," though it might well not be a fish at all.
Facing away from prying human eyes and cameras, the eagle would eat awhile, then quickly bring its head up to look around in case there was somebody big enough to grab it and make off with it. Old habits die hard. I had my camera on a tripod for a change, which made stationary shots like this one easier, and birds flying shots like many others up and down this page, more difficult. After looking silver, gray and/or black, its prey now appears to be white with maybe some black feathers — although most of the catfish I have eaten over the years was also white. It doesn't look like a fish, although it's had several large, eagle-sized bites taken out of it, but it's had its life squeezed out of it by those big, strong talons.
My first shot of the eagle across the lake was taken at 11:42:05 and the last at 11:54:22, when it was still eating lunch. If I'd been thinking straight, I would have waited for it to fly away, but I thought I was in a hurry.
According to Wikipedia, this bird was named after the naturalist William Cooper, one of the founders of the New York Lyceum of Natural History … Other common names: big blue darter, chicken hawk, hen hawk, Mexican hawk, quail hawk, striker and swift hawk," although it doesn't eat many chickens. My last encounter with a Cooper's Hawk graces the very top [link fixed] of last month's Bird Journal.
From the first image of this Cooper's Hawk on down the page we are again following that strict chronological order I do so like to engage. The problem was readers and photographers get more excited about eagles than about hawks, so even though I shot them all when they got there, I ran eagles first, thus discontinuing the chron.
I wanted this duck to be one of the Blue-winged Teal that kept flying through the space before the pier at Sunset Bay, but it's got a Mallard butt with those cute Mallard spots, so I suspect that's who it is. I usually think of female Wood Ducks as beautiful and the rest of most duck species as just, there. But this is a comely female Mallard.
Many of the parts of our (fellow United States-ians') most common hawk are translucent, because they're very thin. Their heads, however, are somewhat opaque, so light doesn't shine through, and so we can't see much detail in this one's face. I want us to be able to see those details, but it's so close to ideal otherwise, I don't care. Perhaps you can see why it's called a Red-tailed Hawk.
Kinda the same thing here, but we got a little glint off its beak and right eyebrow, so we know just where that is.
I don't know our left-off-at-the-side-of-the-road ducks as well as some in the regular Bird Squad (I'm strictly an irregular), so I don't know if this one just showed up here one day, or if someone left him off. We get a lot of both at Sunset Bay. It's cold enough now. I suspect we'll be seeing — and hearing — pelicans taking baths similar to this splashing, except for the amounts of water agitated and the volume of sound it makes. The water splashes, but most of the sound from pelicans bathing comes from their big wings slapping the surface.
Probably my favorite of all birds, but a lot of birds are in close running. Lucky of me to have as a favorite bird a species of which many live close. There are now two Great Blue Herons living — or at least hunting — in Sunset Bay these days, but I don't know if they are a pair or just pals.
That last Wikipedia story was so interesting, to me at least, I thought I'd try another: "Other names of this grebe include American dabchick, dabchick, Carolina grebe, devil-diver, dive-dapper, dipper, hell-diver, pied-billed dabchick, thick-billed grebe, and water witch." This photo is better than my earlier one from last month, and the next one will be better still, or I won't show it here unless it's doing something much more interesting than swimming along then diving and staying down long enough that I forget it's there.
I linked on to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds page for the Pied-billed Grebe, but I still didn't find what a pied-bill was.
And I know it hasn't acquired its spots yet, but a bird that looks a lot like this one, and was very close to where I photographed this one sometime last week or the week before, landed with its wings spread, showing me its outstretched undersides, and that seemed a perfect match for a Spotted Sandpiper, of which we see a few every year at about this time.
Well… I checked back, and I confirmed that my Spotted Sandpiper from last month has a white line over each eye, not a white circle around them, and for awhile I thought then it couldn't possibly be a Spotted, so I asked Kala King, who identified my last unsub, what- and when- ever it was. She said, "this is a spotted sandpiper in non-breeding plumage," then I looked in my Lone Pine Birds of Texas, which shows this exact same bird as a non-breeding Spotted Sandpiper, so two out of two is the truth. Three out of three if you count my original "definitive" identification.
They only need their spots to attract a mate.
All text and photographs Copyright 2014 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without specific written permission from and payment to the writer or photographer.
I am an amateur. I've only been birding since 2006 — most of my birding anywhere is documented in this Bird Journal, and indexed on the Index page. Lately I've been indexing the better or more interesting images for that month on the top of each new page.
I've been photographing professionally and semi-professionally yet always amateurishly since 1964.
counter stays with monthly content.