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White Rock Lake
April 25 2011
Last time I dropped by the Purple Martin Houses, nobody was home. I thought our annual Martin visitation was short, but surely not that short. This time, plenty Martins were flitting about, flying in and out and over and around. I never know what I'll get, so planning makes little sense, but I like this little domestic scene. More detail than usual, because they stayed awhile.
Do Purple Martins scat purple? I don't know, but there's some evidence of something like that. Guess it depends upon what they've been eating.
Pretty garden in the neighborhood. We watched the wings slowly turn in the diffuse wind. Probably looks like it might fly away in a real gaie. I was going to hunt down more bird art around White Rock — I know it's out there; I've several times photographed David Hickman's big, propelling green parrots over that garden supply on Garland Road, but that's the sort of photography I did for The White Rock Journal, the suite of pages that preceded this one, more than five years ago in June.
That one was about everything White Rock, including a bird or two. This one is mostly about real birds.
Although I'm not sure this one qualifies. It's a so-called European Starling — even if they actually came from Eastern Europe or Western Asia originally — but now it's all American, even if most Americans hate them. I don't hate them. I think they're beautiful. But they are not purple and blue, although this one seems to be.
"The Big Hum" is what I call the electrical power station somewhere up the hill from the Old Pump House and Filter Building across from the Old Boat House. We stop there often, attempting to catch parakeets doing something interesting. From where I stood, I could not tell what this green Monk Parakeet was doing up there. But I like the heavy metal look of their neighborhood, contrasting so starkly with the organic stick piles of their massive and ever-growing nests there.
Back in January, I seriously updated The Feedback Page, however, I failed to load it onto the Internet. Now, finally, though three months behind, it actually works.
Reader Kathryn Jones emailed me asking what this is. Looked like an old friend. Or, at least, an old friend of the family. Me of the bird's family. I think it's a Muscovy Hen. Kathryn didn't say where she saw it, but I've seen similar Muscovies along The Big Thicket coast, though I had never seen one do a full rouse — quite a sight. See my extended page of other bird rouses.
The rouse shot came from KC Critters, Kathryn's bird blog. She sent the other two. From what little I understand about hybrid ducks, it's most likely that Mallards are in their family tree, since they are most predisposed to hybridize, and this bird and its extended family may have some of their markings. Muscovies are called that, because they were thought to have come from Moscow, but Moscow got them from South America, which is probably why they like Texas so much.
Muscovies tend to be friendly to humans, because fisher persons sometimes feed them, so they hang around.
And if this identification is correct, and it really could be …
… Does that make this another one, even if it doesn't match anything I could find in any of my books. It was hanging out with the White-crowned Sparrow above? I'm so happy, for a big change, that I managed to get them both in focus. Always a minor miracle.
When it flew away, it looked a lot like a gull or little shorebird, peep or something related. That longish orange beak has me flummoxed. Maybe it just borrowed the beak for a day … This was the only shot I managed. With spring cometh so many birds I don't know, but I love it for the diversity.
Very windy today. And with the wind, lots of splashing surf, row after row of it. Having fed itself, this grackle is about to let the splashing surf do a little job for it.
Step One: Get a little wet and all its feathers apart.
Do a little squirming and reshaping of a familiar bird till it's almost abstracted.
Do a little jump.
In a flashy, splashy Grackle V.
Splash, stretch, squirm and flap.
Today, I walked through the wind along Big Thicket down along Yacht-club way. I needed a change of scenery, and it seemed to help.
I always welcome the kingbirds, because they populate My Meadow down from Winfrey Point circle. Soon, these will be abundant there and wherever at the lake are tall, then colorful weeds and lots of flies and other bugs. Kingbirds are masterful flycatchers, and they'll have a big job soon. This one is in the shade of a big, top-of-a-telephone-pole.
Two males and one female taking advantage of the wind and the warmth.
Within seconds of this shot, it jumped into gorgeous flight (as usual) and disappeared up the road.
Saw this while driving down Greenville Avenue, stopped on the side of the road, kept adjusting what I saw in the electronic viewfinder till it maximized black-on-black detail in the crow, waited to it to do something vaguely interesting, then went click.
White Rock Lake
A little dark by the time I got to the lake today. May have been a little dark all day; I didn't see most of it. I followed this egret from place to place — for a change it was not I that caused to to keep skip jumping — along the edge of the lake, managing to almost miss every time it jumped.
I stayed far enough on the right side of the road down Arboretum Drive (what I call East Lawther there) in The Slider, being ever so quiet and slow, staying out of the way of traffic, and being so very careful and quiet, then along would come somebody holding several big dogs …
… And it would bolt again, and after several jumps, I just let it go.
Thanks to Bird Journal Reader D R Lange, I got to photograph this hawk today. And thanks to my asynchronous sleeping cycle, I got to photograph it in great light. D R pointed the way, and I made several dozen exposures, of which this is by far the best. Nice of the nest — D R says the green bits are new today — and comparatively sharp and detailed of the nest sitter.
Another set of blurry wings — I didn't manage any photographs, but we saw it blur in and out several times while we squinted into the distance to the nest. Yesterday, the other bird was seen delivering branches for the nest, which has grown a couple inches taller since then. I'll be checking on it, but I worry the leaves will thicken and eventually obscure this great view.
I should drag a tripod up there. We've been experimenting with tripods, got one, for about $160, that wasn't tall enough, but was extremely light, though not all that steady. The wind was blustery today and would have blown it away. I was huffing and puffing out to where we saw it, so my heavy metal tripod, though plenty sturdy for the stiff winds that blew, would have been a challenge to cart there.
I should probably note that the nest is a good deal farther away than they appear in these images. A curse for photographers and other viewers; a blessing for the hawk family.
Two juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks by whom
is believed to be this same, nesting pair, were featured on my July
I found an adult in a tree February a year ago, and there's a really great flyover shot of another juvenile Red-shouldered hawk in January 2009.
Others may, but as a rule I don't say exactly where nests are, because there are creeps out there who kill raptors. One such is reported to have been caught recently after killing both parents and all the chicks of an owl nest near the lake.
Photographing peeps on The Spillway from the dam side, showed lots of birds, at least several species' worth, but I'm really bad, so far, about identifying them. And I've spent quite a bit of time looking through my Bird IDentifying library. Usually, they are — what ever they turn out to be — quite common.
Great viewpoint, and plenty of light over there, better-than-average camera and great, long lens, but too darned little knowledge, I'm afraid.
I guess the Blue-wings really are common here, I've been seeing them all over the place (White Rock) for the last week or ten days. What I wonder now, is who is that above and behind this pair of them?
I know this one, because I saw and photographed it before it raised its wings to pull air down and fly away on it.
We were in horse and peacock country at the upper edges of the park called White Rock. We had hoped for peacock, and delighted to have actually found some, wandering in the neighborhood.
He's waiting for a female to saunter across the landscape. Stage right to stage left. I shot maybe a half dozen shots of the pas de deux, but they were all either out of focus or stupid. This is comparatively smart, and more than adequate. I don't think I've ever seen a peacock arrayed on the ground like this. He's showing off for her, I'm sure, and he looked good.
We'd seen them swooping in and out, under and over at the wood walking bridge by the Old Boat House, but I didn't see any flying slow, so one holding stillish on a wire was a welcome delight. Then, when it …
… went into a full wing stretch, it was delightful. Not altogether different from the female mallard a little down this page doing pretty much the same thing, though somewhat more diminutively.
Preliminary courtship display.
If he'd find a suitable mate, his display
would get considerably more complex, with chest puffed, wing spread and looking
either spectacular, formidable or huge. See Grackle Courtship Displays.
Walked around the dam from the other side, then down into the southern portion of the Fitchery behind the dam this afternoon. Thick with green growth and denser than I've ever seen it. Of course, I tend to overlook that area in summer, since there's so many new kinds of biting bugs there then and so many leaves to obscure my view. But I went anyway, because I hadn't in a while, and someone's offered to show me a nest, and I wanted to see what the place looked like, since I hadn't been for awhile.
This Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, my FOS (first of the season) was way far from where I stood overlooking one of the pans of water where fish used to be hatched and raised when that area was truly a Fish Hatchery Area, not just the Old one of those. Impressive job by my newish Panasonic G2 with 600mm equivalent lens to capture this bird in such green glory.
Along the edge of the lake I saw this bird flying and actually almost managed to get it sharp, though still flapping.
Yellow bill and dark everything else. Could be a Starling. I thought it might be a Red-winged Blackbird, but it's not. I liked how it balanced at the tippy top of that branch against that lovely, lilting, powder blue sky.
Pictures of them look soooo much better from the side than up their behind-sides. This one would jump straight up every few minutes, sky dance up there, with all its wings and tail spread wide, catch a bug, then come back to chew on it, but try as I might, I was not able to capture the moment of release and up or the bug when it returned repeatedly to almost the same place on the wire.
I'm getting much better at pointing my newish Panasonic Lumix G2 camera with the long telephoto zoom at birds flying. It helps to aim at large birds, of course, and Great Egrets are especially big and comparatively slow and ultimately beautiful, so altogether worth the effort. The reason its throat seems to be too thick, is because it's probably just swallowed a medium-sized fish, bones and all.
This Great Egret was standing on the slanted concrete on the near side of under the Walking Bridge over the Lower Spillway. It's waiting. Hard to say what for. Eventually, it started toward the bottom of the concrete where the water from recent storms was sluicing wildly and splashing along with gobs of fish for the spearing. But first, another Great Egret came by, the two big white birds played dodging and jumping-over games, then they both flew off before I could get focused. Or my camera, either.
Eventually, after some extended rainy night, I'll catch an egret in the exact, decisive moment, when it actually spears a fish flying by in the froth. For now, we'll have to settle for it just standing there waiting to engage.
Sometime soon, probably before mating season is over — I don't know for sure, but I think that's got a lot to do with Egret's dancing and flying around playing one-upsman games — I'll get shots of more than one bird flying around the Three-dimensional amphitheater the Lower Spillway is. Right now, I'm happy with one at a time.
Especially when I can capture them with a background of splattering and sudsing Lower Spillway fall and foam. This shredding effect may be caused by the 1/2,500th of a second shutter speed at f/10 with ISO 320.
Birds scat wherever they are. I've seen this wall — before the City refurbished the complete inner Spillway last year, the slanted wall this Great Egret is nonchalantly walking along was nearly white with the stuff, but this photograph is here today to remind us what big feet Great Egrets have. Eating fishes, bones and all, probably adds to the calcium content of their scat.
I've mis-labeled it "fluffing" in the past, but the real name for when birds shake all their feathers is "Rouse," and I have a full page of Birds Rousing. One of the strangest true facts about birds is that they can move any one of the hundreds of feathers on their body any time they want to, according to the guide at Blackland Prairie Raptor Center. Or shake them all about to get everything lined up and in their proper place.
I believe believe this was still in the Sunset Bay area, and those ducks behind this exquisite creature are more Blue-winged Teals, more of whom in just a few seconds …
This is the same bird as above and below. Landing gear down and ready to tiptoe onto land.
Sorting through this day's images, I almost threw this three away. The top one's okay, but the other two don't quite quality for my usually stringent rules about including only images with very nearly full tonalities — i.e., no showing of feathers so white it could blind you, without any subtle tonalities to prove it's really there, but it's too nice otherwise, to ignore.
In my front yard. I saw a flutter of dark wings, stopped in my tracks, got out the G2 with tele, snuck over behind a tree to diminish distance, slowly poked my head out from behind. Apparently focused on the stretching worm. Went click.
Another shot of our current Blue-winged Teal visitation at Sunset Bay.
I thought it was just two Mallards, thus a pair, but the more I look at this odd juxtaposition of duck shapes, the more inclined to believe that there are three Mallards in this extended front-on silhouette am I.
I could not get the male to hold still, but the female didn't seem to mind, as long as I didn't demand she turn around and face the camera.
I actually understand that they originated in Eastern Europe or Western Asia, so that European part of their moniker may be errant. And a lot of people all over the world hate them on sight. The do make amazing, random-compression bird clouds; they are utterly outstanding in their fields, and are, sometimes when the sun catches them and makes them glow, gorgeous.
I know he's not necessarily happy, just that it looks like a smile on his face, and he's doing spring things in the tops of trees, showing off for a nearby female, and all like that. I was where they were looking for The Lone Pelican, who must have left the building, when I heard a high-pitched tweedleedling way up above me. Took a long time to figure out what was making the chatter, then I recognized my old friends with the long tails.
The main problem with shooting directly up at birds is the view is sometimes a little strange. Kinda uglified. Not this one, this is almost okay, because I caught him at an angle. I could not see the bug then, and it's still difficult to discern even at this magnification, but it's got that going for it as a photograph, at least.
See what I mean? Not exactly the most aesthetic view.
But to get a decent side view, I'd have to be about fifty feet higher, and I can't fly.
I followed it with my camera. I started off standing straight up, but as it quickly flew, I didn't want to lose it by turning around, so I bent farther and farther over backwards, to get this. One side of it is almost in focus.
Everything hurt to much to keep standing thee shooting straight up, so eventually I stopped. I kept thinking a lawn lounge might be perfect for the situation. Then I wouldn't be hurting my head and my back, and shooting up so high would be much less a problem. I've had that notion before, but I've not yet tried carting a lawn chair to go birding, obvious as it seems like a good idea.
I almost went home, but driving by the lower spillway, I saw egrets, so I ducked into the parking lot across from the 7-11 and walked over the lower Dam and found this Black-crowned Night-Heron. It'd been awhile since I photographed one, so I stuck around awhile till he turned sideways, almost showing its long white occipital plume.
I remember thinking, I'll never get any of these in any sense of focus, but I'll click away at it, anyway.
So, with bigger birds, at least, I'm getting better at Birds in Flight with my new camera. These are almost lyrical, with portions of the birds in focus — or almost.
Bird Journal reader Kathyrn Jones emailed: "I, too, have been worried about the lone pelican. When I photographed it in full wing span on Saturday, it was obvious what the problem is...at least 1/4 (if not a little more) of his left underwing feathers are missing; and you can see gaps in the remaining ones. Bless its heart, I doubt that it can fly very far, if at all. I know it's all part of the circle of life, but I still feel badly for it; especially when our scorching summer gets here."
I asked if I could use one of her photographs. She sent two. I chose this one.
I looked for it twice today, and it was not there at mid-morning or late evening. I'm hoping it got up flight speed and altitude and dared the long flight home, but we'll be watching for it, just in case. I emailed Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation. Bad idea. They don't have the Internet, but they said to call Kathy. I haven't because I haven't seen The Lone Pelican since then. We hope it's doing well, wherever it is.
I've been paying attention to the treetops on the island in the middle of the Lower Spillway. Today, it was filled with white blots. I turned around, parked in the lower parking lot, and walked back to the Walking Bridge, taking pictures all along. Instead of crying over split pelicans, today I photographed egrets fishing.
I keep hoping to get some practice in, photographing egrets flying around in the amphitheater. I really enjoy that. Need it too, with the new camera. Need lots of practice, so someday I'll work it as good as I used to my Nikon. We'll see if that works. This is about as close as I got to Birds In Flight today, though. And I almost didn't get it, somewhat over-exposed, only half an egret is not enough.
They are handsome critters, and this one is beginning the green lores of a breeding adult. Might see it at the Rookery soon.
I kept watching one, then the other, catching fish after fish, but never one, each, together. That might have been an interesting shot. This, not so much, but I'll be back. Besides, the immense feeling of power as water sluices over the dam, down the spillway, around the newly built lower spillway, then on down the creek toward I-30. It's the first time I've seen Snowies being their cocky, aggressive selves, in a while. I've missed the egret action. I'll be back.
LONE PELICAN WATCH: Reader Kathryn says she's been worried about the lone pelican too, and when she photographed it "in full wing span on Saturday, it was obvious what the problem is. At least a quarter (if not a little more) of its left underwing feathers are missing; and you can see gaps in the remaining ones. Bless its heart, I doubt that it can fly very far, if at all."
I'm hoping something can be done to help it. But I've seen photographs of birds with more than half its wing feathers missing fly far enough to get away from would-be rescuers. I'm not sure what can be done, but I'll email Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation tonight, and maybe learn what might be done.
Male RWBBs (Red-winged Blackbirds) spend their life proclaiming, screaming their little lungs out at the top of trees and whatever they can get up on and proclaim. I can't pretend I know what this one is proclaiming here, but it might have something to do with whose water that is.
Push face into bowl of water and feel it sploosh through your feathers out out under wings and tail. We couldn't believe this little guy was willingly thrusting its head down into the bowl of water. But I suppose an instant bath is the semi-automatic answer, whatever the question might be.
At first we assumed it just wanted a drink. Then maybe a bath. Yep.
Sorry this isn't a little bit sharper, but that little guy was moving around pretty fast. Here we see all of what we usually only see a little sliver of the epaulets on its wings. Yellow and Orange-red!
The meadow belongs to everybody, so it's your meadow, too. I'm just delighted that after being uniformly beige for the last month or so, it's finally spiking with tall and green plants of various shapes. So it can be a place where birds feel at home in, where they'll pose for long minutes on this or that protrubance. It means it is already and will be for some time to come, a great place to photograph birds who chase and eat bugs.
Even a few flowers sneaking in. Soon it will be nearly filled with colorful birds and crawling with bugs. What could be better?
Lots of grackles, as usual.
This is a great moment in my photography of birds. I've been dutifully photographing Ruddy Ducks, who visit here in winter then leave sometime soon. While here they swim or float, usually with their heads turned round and beaks buried in their folded wing feathers. They have been enormously shy about being photographed. Now and then I rejoice at capturing a few details of one who's particularly close to shore, but they usually hang out in large groups well into the lake.
I most often see them along what I call Arboretum Drive — East Lawther off Garland Road toward Winfrey — (uh, they call it Winfrey Point, but thee's nothing pointed about it. It probably should be called Winfrey Round). Today's top image is the most I've ever seen of a Ruddy Duck. It is just about the end of a sequence that unfolded as I kept my finger pressed to the shutter button when I saw it splashing around out there:
The sequence that cumulates in the joyous expression at the top of today's story started with a surprise tail splash:
Which was quickly followed by another one, so I know how was accomplished.
Place bird on water, with some sub-marine action disturbing the water, tail flat out behind. Sibley, Arnold and Kennedy (authors of my precious Lone Pine edition of The Birds of Texas) all call that tail short, but it hardly looks short here.
And look for all the world like you're going to rise up and fly away, then sink back into the surface of the lake and do a little more recreational swimming. It was just another Victory Flap. Followed by swimming in circles and normal energy-level preening. The show was over. All three seconds of it. Glad I was there to document it in this much focus and … uh … color. Now that I know what energy expressions Ruddy Ducks are capable of, I will be expecting more of it. But maybe she was just practicing for the eventual fly off.
Anna and I joke about one good tern, that of course, deserves another. This was my first of a quick sequence of three shots and the sharpest of the bunch. You can tell what it is, but there's nothing really sharp about it. It was the only instance of this bird I saw on my several hour walk around Winfrey so-called Point today.
Then I learn, much to my concern, that it's not a tern at all, but a gull with a short black bill, white eyes and wing tips and feet black, except except I can't find anything in the books that matches all those criteria. A Laughing Gull? That might be ironic, since the jokes on yours truly. Nope, this bird does not exist, which means I'm wrong about something I plainly see. And I have the vague, distant feeling I've been here before. But where's here?
I finally found a First-summer Franklin's Gull, whom I have seen at the lake before, so that's likely who this is. Sigh.
Down the path to Sunset Bay, and I see many more egrets than have been out on the logs lately. They're far, so difficult to discern with my blurry far distance seeing, but a telephoto helps a little, and I think many of them are Cattle Egrets, which I see but rarely at the lake, although they'll be in abundance in rural areas and at the Medical Center Rookery in a few weeks.
Then a Northern Shoveler flashes by and I actually capture a BIF (bird in flight) shot with a modicum of resolution and sharpness. I may actually be getting better with this lens on this camera. Finally. Maybe.
Northern Shovelers are comparatively rare at White Rock Lake. At the Fort Worth Drying Beds in Arlington, they are far more numerous, often outnumbering all other species. Often thousands. Here, if's a big deal if we get a couple.
Then, just as I expected to launch into a mini-documentary on Blue-winged Teal, I see instead a female Gadwall swimming along behind a Pied-bill Grebe. The long and short of it. Grebes are normal there and considered Abundant to common at the lake, but though there aren't many of them, Gadwalls are considered common here in spring.
But nothing as common as all forms of egrets. Now that I'd walked closer toward Sunset Bay (though not there yet), I saw that at least the one on the right is certifiably a Cattle Egret. Assuming the other one is will only net me trouble. Walking still closer I again see that last hold-out American White Pelican on the logs with more and more egrets of various stripes and sizes. I've begun to worry there's something wrong with that lone pelican.
Then, as I rounded the bend into Sunset Bay proper, I saw Blue-wing Teal in ones, twos, then unprecedented dozens. Eventually, I counted four dozen of them. When I looked at the Loons & Ducks page of the North Central Texas Birds List, I see they are C for common, even though I've rarely seen them here. But then I'm only at the lake every other day now for six years.
More and more kept coming closer and closer.
Most interesting to me is the Blue-winged Teal at the far left. It's either a juvenile (not identified by Sibley or Peterson or National Geographic) or an even smaller female. As often, I don't know, but I've been noticing them lately. The out of focus bumps in the back (top above) are at least one American Coot and an unidentified duck with their heads underwater finding food). Another coot swims with the pack front right.
These are all dabblers, meaning they just tip over, head down into the water for food, rather than diving under and swimming around down there. The bird front and center is the one I am suspecting is a juvenile Blue-winged Teal, but none of the books I've looked through and not found them in, seem to agree.
She's swallowing and he's about to dip under for more food. Again according to the Lone Pine Birds of Texas, Blue-winged Teals "glean the water's surface for sedge and grass seeds, pondweeds, duckweeds and aquatic invertebrates."
The leftmore egret is a Cattle Egret, an infrequent lake visitor, except for a few weeks in, apparently, early spring, in Sunset Bay. The Bigger egret behind it, is a Great Egret. Cattle egrets have that distinctive red-brown cap and breast in breeding season, and we shall soon see many Cattle Egrets at the rookeries.
Because this is such a tiny portion of the full frame, and too far to see with my naked eyes and too tiny a portion to pick it up there, either, I have greatly overexposed both birds, rendering the whites of them blinding. But both these birds are in the big middle of bathing. And since I'd never shot either of them doing that before, getting both of them doing that in one shot is short of amazing.
Then, oh, why not. Bigger splashes and more vibrant energy thrown in.
Sometimes I think that, when there's a whole lot of birds I have not identified, I should just keep shooting and shooting and shooting. But I was already tired, and needing of sleep, so I missed this one mostly. Got this one shot, but do not see him in any of my other ten baker's dozens of shots today.
We'll finish this journal entry with a pretty common bird (here, at least) showing little details we rarely get to see. I've unnaturally masked her off from her background so we tell her from it. The image itself is already very sharp in the middle, softer at her head and tail. Her wings are amazing sharp, because they're in the middle of the picture, where the focus box was aimed at when I shot it.
Then, utterly startling me, she did this, after I'd already got her framed and focused. A full Wing Out And Left-leg Stretch. Amazing. Sometimes I get lucky. Shows how all those feathers are put together. Beautiful. And enough for the day. Good night. It is 5:29 A.M. as I type this.
This was one of the last shots of a long trip all the way around the lake, with a stop-off for frozen Chocolate Chocolate sugar-free yogurt, of course. Earlier, I fought the sun at Sunset Bay and other known stops on my trip around. It kept being in the wrong place and at the wrong angle. Always need something to blame, huh?
But these moments, communing with the ducks in the pond near the front 'gate' to White Rock Lake Park, everything was copacetic. I slid the slider along the wrong-side of the road, staying, mostly off it, quietly coming as close to the ducks as I could, then shot till I knew I had a couple good ones. These.
That name is Canada, not Canadian, although it might well be a resident up there in the summer. Maybe there they call them United Statsian Gooses.. They winter down here and spend the tween seasons along the northern United States. Twos and threes and maybe fours of them show fairly commonly in Sunset Bay. It helps that they're fed good corn grain here, as well as all that dreadful white bread people throw at them.
It was too fast during its run-and-stop foraging, but once it stopped to 'chew,' I got it. I'm always hoping for more than just three good shots, but I'll take what I can get …
Snset Bay deserves its reputation for species variety exceeded only by the Old Fish Hatchery Area. Plenty of that variety today, but nothing really new for a change. I first saw her, followed her up the hill to where corn gets poured out nightly, past altercations with much larger birds (mostly ducks), then back out into the lake, where she was quickly joined by a male Wood Duck.
Sooner or later, every year come spring, I shoot a photograph of a female Red-winged Blackbird in the Reeds. Nice to get it out of the way early.
And here's a new shot. Two cowbirds on one branch, and and third one flying over. Of course, it was an accident. I guess I could have planned it ahead, but those never work out as well as something by pure accident.
Handsome, ain't she?
FOS: My First Of Season Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. As every spring, my big challenge will be to capture the Scissortail doing his sky dance off the top of a tallish tree, showing off himself and his pretty colors to any available female.
I've had varying luck every spring, and this time I want to catch the whole dance and them flying, etc. But, of course, I'll take what is available. Next time I walk, it'll be 'round Winfrey Point, where they'll be in abundance as the mating season may already be upon us — and them. Note the flycatcher beard — all those feathers sticking out like whiskers under and around its beak that help snag flying bugs and guide them into its beak.Cormorant Bay is not empty yet, but the lake population of Double-crested Cormorants is, as usual for this time of year, way down from December/January, when there were corms every step of the way and many dozens of trees were white with not snow, but white corm scat.
The cormorant is a juvenile, and the pelican is one of the last pelicans still at the lake. Bird Squaders Charles and Annette say about 300 pelicans flew over and around Sunset Bay last weekend. I suspect they were beckoning others to come fly away with them, north and west back north for breeding and nesting and cool weather.
Speaking of weather, it was cold and blustery today. Surprised me, because it was warm and sunny inside my so-far uncooled and no longer warmed house. But it's 92 years old, so by now it must know what it's doing…
Sliding down East Lawther on East Lawther Drive at 14 MPH in The Slider this mid-afternoon, I noticed two pair of different-looking grebes close off the shore past the last outside curve well before Winfrey Point Drive. I pulled over and parked The Slider and went walking back to photograph them.
OK, I've extensively studied images of Horned Grebes and images of Eared Grebes, and though I originally misidentified these as Horned, I think now they are Eared, although I strongly suspect there's been some crossbreeding going on.
And they not only let me, they paraded back and forth, so I could get fairly decent shots. Sibley and Peterson both call the one without red-orange swaths nonbreeding.
I was curious what they're doing hanging out with breeding grebes, but after thinking that through, I've decided they're all members of the same family, and they're traveling together because they always have. I still think they're pairs, and I saw two pairs slurshing down the lake. According to North-Central Texas Birds Checklist, Horned Grebes here are Uncommon to Rare in spring, but Eared Grebes are Common to Uncommon, which I suspect we all are.
Looking quickly down that list, I see that Tricolored Herons are 'Rare,' but come another month or two I could lead you directly to at least one breeding, indeed, nesting pair, and probably a couple. Still rare, of course, but not Casual or Accidental, which apparently is rarer than rare.
Just for more confirmation, here's a shot of the colorful, breeding Eared Grebe, with that very distinctive flash of gold feathers.
Prairie Raptor Center
near Allen, Texas
We visited the prosaically-named Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, whose website calls it "Dallas/Fort Worth's Raptor Conservation & Education Center." It's in Allen, about a half hour north of Dallas, and it's yet young and barely fledged. I expected a place where I could photograph raptors, and I did, but I had hoped to find them wild, and that, I did not. Although I had earlier photographed some of their favorite food in the wild and just visiting.
Of course, this owl isn't really cross-eyed. These two photos were the best I made of the captive birds — they keep them in cages most of the time, but these birds are educational birds, who have been imprinted on humans or are otherwise unable to go back to the wild — because they're injured or something.
There weren't a lot of people attending this First Saturday orientation with captive live raptors. For a change, I didn't count them, but I doubt there were more than a baker's dozen not counting the birds or their handlers and/or center officials. This was the only shot of the Barn Owl that was even this sharp. The lighting wad dreadful, with full bright sunshine coming in usually directly behind the birds, who were usually in the dark shade of the covered group picnic-table space.
I'm sure the other visitors thought I was crazy to be shooting and shooting and shooting — clickity clickity click as long as the handlers handled and talked about the birds — two owls, a hawk, a kite and a falcon. But I got maybe one in a couple dozen shots where either the bird or the human didn't move or my camera was fast enough to catch them if they did. Nerve-wracking, but to the steadfast belong the spoils of keeping at it. Or something like that.
Although I should note that my newish Panasonic Lumix G2 camera is much quieter than my old Nikons. One bird educator was careful to note that raptors like these could hear our hearts beating and recognize individual's beats — or cameras clicking, but I don't know if the people across the 'stage' from me could hear it.
Anna and I had seen Mississippi Kites in the wild before. At least twice. Once in Clarendon, Texas — well out west of here in August 2008 and another time at the Arlington Drying Beds, only maybe twenty minutes west of Dallas — in May 2009. The bird handler told us they were rare this far south, but they've been seen more and more often around the Red River.
The kite was the least photogenic of the raptors we saw live today. It squirmed and flapped and generally managed to stay out of focus, although my live shots linked above show none of that elusiveness. We followed one Clarendon Mississippi Kite from pole to pole through town and had seen another out in the fields, just as happy to be where it was.
More or less at rest. I guess if the kite was the least photogenic, this falcon was the most, showing us many differing poses and activities we might think bezarre if we'd encountered them out there. We had earlier been told that if we were very quiet and gentle an audience, one of the birds might feel comfortable enough in our presence to rouse. Rousing is the correct term for what I've always called ruffling, and I have a page full of photographs of various birds rousing collected over the years. I've come to understand rousing is similar to humans stretching.
And I'll have to add this Peregrine Falcon to that list soon. The lesson was that these birds — and I understand all birds — can move every single feather on their body whenever they want to. The other story about peregrines is that they are the fastest bird or animal in the world, reaching 200 miles per hour when they "stoop," or swoop downward. They use those strong feet of theirs to thump animals — like their favorite ducks, at the bottom of that stoop, to knock the air out of them, so they are less a hassle to grab and carry off or eat.
I suspect Stoop rouses often. It may even be a tic. There was generally a din among the audience. Several small children were loud, there was a photographer who semmed to never quit clicking his camera. People moved around to get a better view. People arrived, etc. I'm leaning in favor of the tic theory, but I loved seeing Stoop doing its thing.
What separates raptors from the rest of the bird population are curved claws to grab and rip flesh and sharp beaks to do the same. I'd much rather show these objects — except the shades — on birds instead of shredded from them, but it was easier to see them this way, and they didn't move a millimeter while I photographed them.
If that falcon were on its own and there at the Raptor Center — not at all an unlikely occurrence; they'd seen an Osprey earlier that day and said that Bald-headed Eagles nest near the dam to the very large lake just over the horizon from the center.
From November through June, this appears to be an adult male breeding Blue-winged Teal.
Before I looked them up in The Sibleys Book of Birds, (Peterson didn't show variationss.) I thought maybe these were Blue-winged Teal young. But they are, Sibley shows, Adult females. I can just barely see green on the upper, probably wing feathers of the one on the right.
White Rock Lake
Cormorant flying up to partially cover a pelican's face. Interesting juxtaposition. Happened twice today. This is the better of the two. The pelican being partially obscured is one of the last five or nine or more (but have been invisible lately) pelicans left (or right or in the middle). I didn't think I'd participate in the foolishness today, but this remarkably resembles an April Fools photograph, so I guess I'll accept the mantle.
Now this one could easily qualify as an April Fools flapper. I believe it was the one who'd just chased several other gooses around the area fast and furious, and this is what I call the Victory Flap, although it didn't look like it caused any damage or implanted any seed.
This was about two seconds later, after it had flapped wings several more times, but not shown the fluffy whites. The goose on the left may well be in the goose aggression mode of charging around with their necks angled up slightly and often attacking anything in their vicinity, but I'm pretty confident the one on the right that had been flapping victory, is just relaxing from that elevated head position. I just liked the shot.
Meanwhile back at the logs, a fisher person interloper is beginning to make the pelicans nervous. The pelican on the left is especially so, flapping its wings nervously several time as the fisher-person got closer and closer. Not much else seemed to be happening out there, so I attempted to follow the path of a coot coming in.
I blurred the first two shots of its trajectory even more than this one, but I like the splash and sharp edge of its curled wings.
Then it did its own special version of either a coot victory flap or a wing stretch, before folding it up and swimming away.
When I looked back out at the logs, I noticed the one on the left had gone, so I scanned the sky, and found it long gone and far away.
Then farther ….
And farther away. Then gone, although the others stayed put. Eventually I adjusted the exposure almost enough, but by then it was so far away it didn't matter any more.
text and photographs copyright 2011 by J
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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 three years,
although I've been photographing professionally since 1964.
Thanks always to Anna.