The Current Bird Journal is always here April's Bes Pix: Female Red-bellied Woodpecker Flying Flycatchers The Owlet Red-winged Blackbird murdering a Sparrow Gorgeous Eared Grebes Snowy Egret Dancing Grackles Fighting Pigeons Courting Birds at the Rookery Parakeets & Spotted Sandpiper Leftover Pelicans Fishing Sunset Bay's First Barred Owlet
The Current Bird Journal is always here. All Contents Copyright 2015 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. Cameras Used Ethics out-of-date Feedback page Bird Rescue Advice Herons Egrets Herons or Egrets? Books & Links Pelican Beak Weirdness Pelicans Playing Catch Bird Rouses Courtship Displays Duck Love Birding Galveston 2nd Lower Rio Grande Valley Birds & the 1st Bald Eagles at White Rock Lake Coyotes 800e Journal G5 Journal JRCompton.com Links My resumé Contact Me DallasArtsRevue Bird Banding Info So you want to use one of my photographs in your work? How to Photograph Birds Bird-annotated map of the SW Med School Rookery Even I use Site Search to find anything, but that gets art-related finds, too, because it includes DallasArtsRevue, my other website.
I Usually Wait a few Days to Start a New Month, but these are
newer than tomorrow, which is still yesterday as I type this,
so there's Still MOre leftover from April.
April 31 2015
And I know there isn't a 31st of April, but I ran out of dates that do exist, and didn't think you'd mind getting some of the pictures I hadn't caught up with yet.
Edge of the storm. Edge of the dam. The Edge of whatever and everything.
I was photographing a Great Egret in a whole 'nother part of the lake today (boring pix), and a woman bicycling by insisted to her unbelieving friend that it was a Crane. The friend was right. It wasn't a crane, but I love listening to experts. I wanted to show you pix of this Snowy actually catching the fish or whatever that is it caught, but when it stooped down to get it, it covered the action with its bright blazing white own self, and all I got was the white blot..
That long, thin thing that seems to be casting a more opaque shadow than the Snowy Egret. Must involve The New Physics, because I don't think the Old Physics would allow that sort of thing. Yes, yes. The reality is that the underside (and all the other sides) of this bird is bright white, perfect for reflecting light back into its shadow, and the nearly transparent-looking fishy hasn't much reflective power.
I always find interesting birds along this particular stretch, and I always enjoy finding them. There were two guys standing and talking, not fifteen feet from a bevy of White-crowns, and they never once turned around to look at anything, so they didn't discover that the hills were alive with the sight of sparows.
With only fingers protruding.
Least Sandpiper & Is that Mock Leucistic? No, not really.
April 30 2015
I'm above looking down into the middle Spillway. I didn't know, and I didn't know, and I still didn't know who these birds were, then I asked Kala King, and she told me she'd had the same experience with the same or very similar birds last week, and somebody else helped her.
Unsub Peep. Least Sandpiper.
This bird just happened to be among another bunch of those peeps I had in a group shot. I like the shadow.
And here's six more. No wonder. It's Peep Season.
And I think this is another one. I stared at at least three different ID books, and I still didn't know what these peeps were till I asked Kala. I was always futzing with the camera when they were flying, and that's what I really wanted to get pictures of, but I keep finding more pix of them flying, but what I wanted was all of them flying together like the pix that the PEEP SEASON link above links to from one year ago.
Oh, here it is again.
Like all the other piers at the lake, this one by the new, Leaky Boat House is fenced off, but it has been for more than a year, and gradually the fisherpersons who like to fish there are coming up — or down — with other ways. And he sure looks like somebody I photographed in the same outfit about a year ago.
I didn't know what this was when I first saw it, so I was very careful to photograph it well, even if it was on the other side of the street, and cars kept driving by between us, so I got several pix of cars blurring by.
When I got home and processed it to these images, I decided it might be a Leucistic Mockingbird — partially albino.
But when I got to this image, I wondered how I could have thought that. It's sure not that leucistic a Mockingbird.
Rainy Day Earlier This Week
April 29 2015
I've been busy working up one piece you've already seen right here, but much bigger for an invitational show at the Small Gallery in Valley View Mall. I like invitationals, because that means they wanted my piece. The theme is pop tunes. My choice of Belinda Carlisle's version of Radiohead's Creep, which I play several times a week at full volume and before that and since I played Radiohead's.
Probably I should mention it's a birds-only photo on this very page, only much bigger. If you scroll up or down from that anchor point, you'll see that whole story of a truly creepy bird doing his creepy thing.
When I saw this Spotted Sandpiper, whom I assume is the same Spotted Sandpiper I've photographed before. In the same place.
This time I thought I could get my definitive photographs of it. Not so sure now, but that's what I was thinking when I was photographing it again.
Its "King of the World" stance.
Adult is because it's that age. Breeding is shown by its spots. Oddly enough, the Spotted Sandpiper in nonbreeding plumage has no spots, so use amateurs can be forgiven for getting its species incorrectly. Now, I feel a lesson coming on.
According to the now out-of-print Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas, "It wasn't until 1972 that the unexpected truth about the "Spotted Sandpiper's breeding activities were realized. The female Spotted Sandpiper defends a territory and mates with more than one male in a single breeding season, leaving the male to tend the nest and eggs. This unusual nesting behavior, known as polyandry, is found in about one percent of all bird species."
I think of this composition as an abstract, but of course, it's ultimately real, with bright light peeking between tall plants and her leaving one and flying to another perch.
Very possibly the same bird as the picture above. I'm always amazed when I get a Scissortail in flight in focus. This pose is a lot easier to realize.
Only unusuality about this shot is that I got it and it's in focus.
Male on left is in head-back pose. I didn't see any female Great-tailed Grackles around, but maybe they did.
All there Grackles were, at one time or another in the few minutes I watched, engaged in the heads-up or head-back pose.
Dark birds on a dark landscape that kept getting darker.
And darker and darker.
A squall is a sudden violent gust of wind or a localized storm, especially one bringing rain, snow or sleet. Kinda like this. Glad I left the lake when I did. I've had a car nearly stall out in high water right where those cars are waiting for a light to change just past under the bridge on the way up the hill. Very wet!
Black Vultures Across the Street From
Where Mom's 94th Birthday Party Was
April 27 2015
I was driving around mostly lost but remarkably close to where I was going — somewhere in middle Texas, when I saw a flock of Black Vultures — my favorites — ripping apart a carcass of something I hoped to get details of. As I drove closer,, they moved farther into the shadows of the short trees they'd been in front of, and that made for a lot of tonal confusion.
One of the few Black Vultures I got sharp and in focus enough we can immediately tell exactly what it was doing — standing there looking back at us.
Anytime something moved — or especially flapped — I clicked. I wasn't analyzing what was going on or why they flapped or moved, I just kept clicking. The darker the shade they were in, the bluer they looked (because then they were illuminated by the blue sky, not the sun).
What the vulture on the left has in its beak is a part of the carcass — of what I don't know. It stunk, but more like a dead unknown animal than specific like a skunk, so I have no I.D. of the pelt. It was in long gut-like strings when i did see it.
But there was a lot of chasing and flapping. When they were at the carcass itself, they seemed to be taking turns. When they were away from it, they chased each other and tried to take bits of it away from others.
Them just walking was a treat, because they were easier to focus, and they didn't tone merge with shadows.
One Black Vulture is flying. The one on the left is on the ground flapping. Whenever one bunch stopped or tone merged or just stood there, I aimed at others.
I watched five or six vultures run or dance or fly up this roof of somebody's semi-rural house, then take off. Eventually, they all flew higher and higher and away.
I drove up and down the street, trying to get a better angle on wherever they were then.
When I moved away from them, they moved toward where I had been.
This is the best sequence I shot.
This Black Vulture seemed smaller than the others.
I'm guessing it's a juvenile, although it might just be smaller.
I actually did not crop the vulture on the right. It flew behind a clothes line pole that cropped its tail feathers, and I cropped the bright metal pole, because I liked the composition with the silhouetted vulture on the left and wanted the only brights in the pic to be on the flying vulture that's just about to touch down. The pole was bright metal.
Just guessing, but I assume they spread their wings to dry them of all the blood and gore.
Lots of flapping begat …
… lots of shutter clicking.
These Black Vultures may be taking off or chasing.
A Squirrel, A Red-bellied Woodpecker & Some Blue-winged Teal
April 25 2015
After I'd pretty much given up finding any birds to photograph on this balmy but wet Friday afternoon, I went for the cute squirrel eating a nut or something on one of those stone tables, and as I was focusing in on it, I noticed a familiar black and white and red bird bouncing along a table behind. I shot this, then …
I focused in on the woodie, had to put down my camera for half a minute or so to set my focus to pinpoint instead of spot area, because the woody kept fitzing in and out of focus, because the camera was focusing on the table and the bird, and while I futzed with the controls, I hoped it'd still be there, and it was. Then I followed it.
I don't think any of today's shots are full-frame.
I did not park on the grass in the park. I parked sidewise in the parking lot out front, so I could continue shooting from my car. These are blow-ups, not zoom-ins (because my lens is not a zoom.) I kept shooting. This one, in particular, is a blow-up of the previous shot. Same frame of silicon. See what I mean by a sharp lens?
Once I figured out how easy this is, I quit using my expensive Texextender that only made the lens seem less sharp. Sure wish I'd shot the eagle with just the lens and blown it up.
And shooting. What you see here are the best shots — the ones that are in strong focus and look like the bird(s) therein are actually doing something important. Like eating.
Or they just look pretty darned good. There are others. I shot 96 images today. That's down from my usual 150 – 300 shots average. But it was very nearly raining when it wasn't really really raining.
Ben called it something much more intelligent that "flood pond," but I can't remember what his term was.
I'm still miles away from this place, because I didn't get out of the car and set up my tripod and thereby scare away every bird in the county. I just shot out of The Slider's window and held the camera very still. I have taken to holding the lens hood with my left hand (fingers inside) when I shoot from The Slider, while my right hand holds the camera against the driver's side sill. It seems to work. For all these shots.
April 24 2015
It's sad that many photographer who sometimes use birds as their subjects, don't give a damn about the birds. It's just the pic they want. So what if they interrupt bird lives or parents from feeding cute little owlets or they need to teach their young to hunt. If photographers like the idiots mobbing Lawther Drive through Greater Sunset Bay would get their pix and leave, it'd be okay. But these guys are interfering with these birds' life.
For a change, I'm not the only one thinking photographers who mob very young birds and their fragile lives are idiots who don't give a damn about the birds. I had a long conversation with one of our better bird photographers, Neb Refidnas who is active in conservation at White Rock and The Trinity River, and we were both dismayed at all the idiocy down the street.
If you know any of these people, explain to them that owls, especially in the evening, need to be fed by their parents, who will be put off by all those idiots tramping around under them and pointing things at them and otherwise disrupting the young owls' feeding and living.
When I got photos of the baby owl [There were two of them then, but only one out of the nest yet.] [below] that all this frenzy is about, three days ago, I did it when there was plenty of light in the trees — much earlier than the 7:27 p.m. shots above, when I saw a much less frenzied group of about a half dozen photographers, many hand-holding telephotos. I walked over, found a decent place to shoot from, set up my tripod, shot about a dozen quick shots, then left the area, chuckling at the chuckleheads who were just standing there shooting picture after picture of a young owlet who wasn't moving much but his head.
But then I've photographed owls before (See my March 2007 shot of hoo-hoo whom was probably my most famous owl pic ever, that was republished in Steve Blow's column in the Dallas Morning News, (that instance of which, alas, is no longer online). I'm wondering if I should actively lie about where I see birds from now on. Send the idiot hoardes somewhere else — but where?
I drove by the next afternoon, and all the idiots were gone. But then it was raining.
Suds, Budding Young Ducks, Texas Spiny Softshell Turtles & a Crow
April 23 2015
Thought maybe it'd crawl right up onto shore and … Well, I don't know, but I watched it carefully for awhile till I was sure it wasn't growing. I saw plenty other suds this afternoon, and most of those were much uglier. Ben told me that the suds are often from effluvia dumped upstream.
Plenty of fish around there. And plenty of fisher persons, just they can't get up onto the fishing pier. So they'll stand on the rolling piers for kids (all I've ever seen there) putting their rowers into the water. Today there were half a dozen fisher persons — and, oh, look, something wiggling in the weeds growing on the raft — maybe not a Wonder of the World, but it's certainly unusual — so we'll zoom in a little on our view here.
I've seen Great Egrets there often. Or maybe just one. For a long time I thought that Great Egret must renting the place, it was there so often. These guys were certainly cute. If I could have found a Mom Duck around, I could tell you whether these were Mallards or Wood Ducks. I'll assume Mallards, since there's dozens of times more of them around here.
I so long for the time when I'll be able to find a variety of herons on the upper, middle and lower falls along the Spillway. This is the bend just below the Lower Steps, and I've been watching that Snow Egret often lately when I drive down Garland Road. Finally, today, I decided I needed the walk, and I walked up The Spillway to see what I could see. I was thinking of birds, but I found some other self-annimated creatures, too.
The slant in the title of these shots is the same slant you can see in the photo above this one, at the longitudinal end of The Spillway(s). I've seen young herons (which includes herons and egrets and probably some other birds I have yet to meet.) have trouble landing or even walking there (I remember a Little Blue, I think, trying to run on it, before he had walked there, and he fell over, and I don't think I've seen a heron fall over walking ever before), but eventually, everybody takes it in slanted stride.
These guys were big, and there were six to eight of them down below the Walking Bridge over the amphitheater that is the area down there. They'd move around a little, and when I came back there were even more. I don't remember ever seeing this species before, but there's a lot I don't remember.
And I only ever saw one other bird up there — good walk anyway — and that one I saw when I looked down from trying to line up a shot of some Red-eared Sliders, and that bird reminded me that all birds are dinosaurs, because it looked kinda like one, but when I looked for it later, I couldn't find it. Soon as I got the Sliders in focus, they splashed into the water.
Pestering Blue jay & Long-suffering Red-shouldered Hawk
April 21 2015
I didn't see any Flycatchers in Winfrey Meadow today. Maybe because I did see two guys with huge telephoto lens running and chasing birds and trying to get them to stop escaping from them. When I photograph birds there, I drive my car up the hill, sidling into the grass to avoid getting honked at — which also scares the birds, but not, I think, as much as stumbling humans. Many birds are much more afraid of humans than of cars, even bright white cars with yellow stains from where I unfavorably impacted a clutch of warning signs.
But I did watch a Blue Jay chasing a Red-shouldered Hawk into a tall tree in another part of the lake. I pulled over, turned on the flashers, locked The Slider down, and cranked up the window to help hold it still. The top of that tree was not particularly close.
I assume the jay's plan was to annoy the hawk out of what the Blue Jay assumed was the Blue Jay's very own territory. It didn't work. The jay flew about, up, down and all around, and the hawk just stayed there, I guess waiting for the jay to go away.
But it did not go away.
This is kinda the whole scene, complete with a grackle on top of the tree, the jay and the hawk. The grackle was up there most of the time, but I usually cropped closer to the birds, so they'd appear larger here, in this context.
While I was trying to get this image to behave with contrast and color, I noticed just how sharp it was.
So I tried isolating it, and making it bigger.
And another shot that looked pretty similar.
And I saved one shot with just the tree and the hawk.
First-hatched Owlet from Sunset Bay's Most public nest;
Scissortailed Flycatchers & Mockingbirds flying & a Killdeer
April 20 2015
Lines of photographers under the tree, so it was dangerously obvious what we were up to. We all had to get our shot of the Barred Owls' first-hatched owlet, so I took my turn, photographed this guy, wondered if I'd ever get a chance to photograph it flying, and left.
It's certainly cute. It's standing on one claw, while the other one's in his feathers, and it's staring down at the gathered photographers. Nice, too, that the sunlight provided a nice bit of glint in its left eye.
Not sure how anybody knows that. Maybe that's the usual number for Barred Owls. Sure hope nobody's been up in the tree bothering them.
And check out my pix of this owlet's parent in last months Birder's Journal.
I always want to photograph Scissor-tailed Flycatchers flying, because then they are at their most beautiful, and they're much more difficult to capture.
Sibley's Guide to Birds mentions "faint pink on belly," but I'm not sure I'd relegate that vivid color to being faint.
These flying pics of Scissortails are not just dumb luck, although there's a lot of flying flycatchers out there today in this early, still a little cool at night, spring. I've been practising for years, and I have a pretty good 300mm lens. Guy asked me yesterday how far I can see with it. I have told people I was limited to 93 million miles, but that's just rude. I thought awhile, then finally answered, it's 6X normal sight. He seemed happy with that.
But these are somewhat enlarged though never more than 100% size.
Even though his tail sure seems short.
I was just thinking about Killdeer this weekend, wondering why I hadn't seen any lately.
And years, but today I had several opportunities to capture those flashers.
You wouldn't believe how long I've been wanting to capture our local variety of Mockingbirds, the Northern Mockingbirds flying and catching stuff. Of course actually capturing the very moment the grab onto a bug would be very very difficult. But this one's already got a bug, and that's much, much easier to capture.
I was going to say that Mockingbirds catch flies, too. But I checked first, and they are not also Flycatchers. But I did catch them catching flies and other bugs today, so maybe just today they were catching flies.
I'm pretty sure that's a Mock on the left, and I'm almost certain the other one is a Scissortail.
Today was a truly amazing day, especially getting all those flapping birds to hold still that one second or so, so I could capture them sharp and in focus. Wow.
Katy, of course, FOS Eastern Kingbirds & That Duck
April 20 2015
I'm not a doctor or even a bird doctor, but it seems like her neck is thicker since she came back from Rogers than before the bulge showed up, and I was the first to see and note the bugled that sent her off to have her wild life rehabilitated. But she seems content.
There's quite suddenly a lot of tall plants for birds to stand on in Winfrey Meadow these lovely spring days. I at first thought this one was flying, but since it hasn't come detached from the plant, it's probably just rebalancing as it bends under its weight.
It threw me for awhile that the one on the left seemed to have a white stripe where I didn't expect one, but gradually I figured out that's another plant top having been whisked by the wind.
So maybe I could more definitively identify it. But, for a big change, I think this really is an Eastern Kingbird.
Like American White Pelicans do when they fish in groups;s, this one swam with its beak up normal, then …
… dips its beak into the water as it swims forward …
… till nearly its whole head and beak opened wide is underwater, and we suppose, catching little fishies.
It did this over and over and over, often obscured by the leaves on the trees along the spit. It seemed to be catching little fishies, because big fish would have shown distinctly in its pouch, ant they did not.
Not sure why, but I've become slightly fascinated by this brown duck. I've seen it around for a couple weeks, maybe much longer, and it's not nearly as beautiful as the Appleyard ducks we had last year, but it's interesting. So I keep taking pictures of it.
Notice its left shoulder, where we can see its wing feathers where they come out of its flesh. I think. Reminds me of unfledged birds at the rookery, whose feathers have grown in but not yet all the flesh and feathers that cover it.
My Favorite Boat Ramp Got Busy this Afternoon!
So were some other places I visited.
April 18 2015
I've only this spring ever seen one young Wood Duck family, and if this is it, they're down to just three downy young now. The most informative site I found on Wood Ducks today was Arkive, but it didn't tell me how long, on average, downy young Wood Ducks last.
I'd seen that statistic somewhere recently, but all I remember was "not very long." I remember being shocked about the percentage expected to live to adulthood.
Dark skies have their photographic purposes when I need a slightly dark background.
Fem Mals are still beautiful.
Nice of Nature to provide some different species for a change. I visited Sunset Bay early this ayem,, and I didn't see anything I couldn't have much later.
No Red-winged Blackbirds, thankfully, or we'd have murders on our hands.
They kept going and coming.
It's been very very seldom I've got close enough to our Monk Parakeets to get any great detail like this.
At least that's what I assume they are doing. Their nests are often trashed and detached by Oncor, whose signs around The Big Hum guarantee us otherwise, but those nests go down often, even when there are no windstorms.
Instead of buying a new Photoshop program every few years, now it comes via the Internet every month, often "updating" and thoroughly confusing me, because suddenly it doesn't work as easily or well as it used to. All in the name of progress. Yesterday and today, it's been particularly problematic, but eventually, I'll catch up. I hope.
Mocks look good with read and green.
I recognized the Sandpiper immediately. I've been expecting them, but I better check to be sure. This is, and the book confirms, a breeding adult Spotted Sandpiper. How very nice. I usually spot them along the front of the dam, but I haven't been there lately.
More size comparisons. The little black one looks kinda like a swallow, but maybe it's just a chunk of wood on the beach that just happens to look kinda like a bird.
I've rarely had birds who would provide profiles.
Showing just how small the sandpiper really is.
Up the hill somewhere.
Buncha Different Birds at WRL; It must Still Be Spring
April 15 2015
And it'll be back a couple more times today, so we'll have more views to be a little more certain — I'm not certain yet — exactly which species it is.
I spent three-quarters of an hour staring at sparrows in three I.D books, and I'm still not sure which bird these are.
But I'm fairly certain this is a whole 'nother species.
I can't help myself. Someday a really interesting bird will fly by, and I won't be able to stop myself from photographing it and all this 'practice' will have been worthwhile.
Maybe one of those so-called "Black Ducks" who've been hanging around Sunset Bay for the last couple years. Maybe somebody else entirely.
I keep telling people that the last of the pelicans are always gone by April 15, but these two are still here. Do you supposed Kathy Rogers released a couple pelicans when she released Katy, the swan? Last time she released rehabilitated pelicans at White Rock Lake, they stayed summer, fall, winter and spring two years running, before they finally flew off with all the other pelicans.
The grayer one looks like a male They may both be. I bet this position has a real, Birder nomenclature for it. I've seen Great Egrets do it at their gatherings around a creek around and after New Year's.
And near perfect exposures.
The closest and farthest are males, the brown one at the upper middle of this frame is a female.
One might even say she's glowing. But what's with the tilt-forward position?
April 15 2015
This all happened at my favorite boat ramp at the lake. Interesting things sometimes happen when I drive The Slider just up from the ramp. These birds are bathing on the beach.
Apparently led by the Red-winged Blackbird, they're swooping away. I missed the part that started the story that unfolds in today's journal entry.
I might have taken a quick look at the monitor to make sure my exposure was okay. This was happening when I looked up again.
I don't know why. I don't understand what preceded this action. I don't know what followed it. I just don't know, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity to capture the whole thing on silicone.
I just kept my finger on the shutter button.
I've always thought of House Sparrows as meek little birds. Never thought much about RWBBs.
Many of the actions captured in today's journal are ambiguous. This one certainly is not. I think that sparrow is running/flying for its life.
Do birds have napes?
A happy, healthy Red-winged Blackbird and a much-maligned, battered and torn House Sparrow.
Who took off, soon as it gathered the energy, and the RWBB just stands there looking innocent.
I asked members of Dallas Audubon's Bird Chat (Free to lurk; you have to register to post, but that's free, too.) Forum to learn why this RWBB went so wacko, and Kala King to the rescue, again. She said, "Apparently there was probably one or more of his nests near by. The males can have multiple females on nests in his territory. From the time the babies hatch until they fledge, these male birds go a bit nuts with the aggression. This was a really interesting page I found."
Wow, now that seems pretty logical. I was recently introduced at an art show that featured birds, as a "bird expert," which we all know I certainly am not. There's so many people who know more and better than I. I just grinned and nodded my head in a quiet thank-you. I am an amateur birder, but I have been a professional photographer, and I am getting lots practice photographing birds.
Centuries ago, when I was a Staff Photographer for the Dallas Times Herald, I once got an assignment to photograph Blue Jays who were landing on people's heads when they got too close to the jays' nests. A couple landed on my head, grabbed some hair, then took off again. And I was a great deal larger than the jays than the sparrow or blackbird.
Wandering Around Taking Pictures of Birds
April 13 2015
Of course, Winfrey has meadows on all sides of it, so that's hardly a definitive location. I sometimes tend to be a tad coy about just where I photograph a bird, but I'd just been thinking that The City makes it its special duty to mow this particular field down to the nub just before sprint every year, and they did it again this year. The result of that, I supposed, was that at least six species of spring birds would not be seen here, again. Yet this is one of those species, and there it was.
I'd like to show you some of those teal, but they were really far away.
And loaded for fish. He was far out in the bay and seemed to be being careful not to frighten and birds.
No idea what he was saying.
Not that its bright orange feet are forming fins to keep him speeding along in the same direction. Wet feet dripping.
It's very unusual for me to get this many shots of a bird coming this close this fast.
Pigeons get up off the ground and fly around in circles every once-in-awhile. I keep reading that they are smart birds, but they do this circle thing, fly around, figure out where they are, land, then do it again in again a little while.
I've long wanted to photograph them doing that, and today I caught myself doing just that. Except there were these trees in the way.
Sometimes it's every time I turn around, they're flying around.
Sometimes it's when they're frightened by something imperceptible.
Sometimes the coots get the wrong vibe, and they scare the pigeons.
New & Old Visitors at the Medical School Rookery
April 12 2015
Many more species besides just Great Egrets now at the Medical School Rookery.
But lots of Great Egrets and many more to come.
This one looked like it was going to do something, so I paid attention and kept the cam on a tripod aimed in this area.
Not more than three minutes previous, a woman told me there were BCNHs all the way on the other side of the rookery. Then I looked up and saw this handsome bird. If one holds still for awhile, it's amazing what one can see and photograph.
Blue trees, blue sky, for awhile there, peeking through the much closer trees, everything was blue.
Stormy sky all day, I think.
FOS Anhinga shot between a lot of vertical trees between where was and where it was. Right where I expected there to be Anhingas, and there was at least that one. Remarkably good shot considering.
The Thrasher appeared to be hunting with a young Mockingbird. They're probably related.
I think I understand that close proximity helps turn neighbors into enemies some times.
In your face.
But nothing physical ever seemed to happen once the upper bird was down to the humans.\
Nothing seemed to come of it. I had expected a fight.
Note red lores and feet on the one in front.
Anhinga flying in same sky as a Great Egret.
Good shot, good exposure, good lighting.
The whole frame: look, especially, at the white and black bird at the center of the frame.
Another Anhinga. I was told they weren't visible today, but I saw at least five of them, but only got good shots of three. But then I spent hours there. And, of course, I got dozens more pix of Great Egrets (GEs) doing nearly nothing.
I'll have to work up those gentle Wood Ducks later. Erin sent me another info bit online.
Coercive Copulation Among Wood Ducks
April 12 2015
But something's got the Wood Ducks agitated. I count four males and one female in this image. I tuned in soon as I perceived group action. I had no idea what was about to unfold just across the shallow water from Sunset Beach.
Moments later, on the narrow island some call "the spit," the recently-rescued Muscovy watches over as five male Wood Duck seem intent on crowding together like Mallards sometimes bash breasts in spring. But let's look a little closer here. That's a female caught in the middle of all those males, with her dappled big and plain brown sides.
A larger Mallard in the center background, a Northern Shoveler behind the gaggle of males and the only slightly less hemmed-in female and yet another male to the left. They've got her hemmed in, but not much else is happening. Yet. That's an awful lot of color in one small space.
But here, we can only barely see her yellow-rimmed dark eye and surrounding bright white supercilium amid the ruckus of dark brown bodies. Breeding does not seem to be happening, yet.
Can't see her here, but by now we can assume she's under that bevy of beaks pushing something down in the water on the left. The Internet is rife with tales of rape among ducks, and I've seen offended young women throwing rocks from the pier at ducks doing it in plain sight, but I've yet to see objective reporting on the subject. The closest data I've found to objective info are WebVet's fairly simple page; the more complex Wikipedia page on Sexual Coercion; and the much more intelligent CityPaper story that asks "Is Duck Rape "Rape Rape?"
Erin found this quote: "Forced copulation by unmated males occurs, but rarely, when mated male is overwhelmed by aggressors. A female drowned in one such attack." The citation given for that statement is Belrose, FC, and Holm, DJ. 1994. Ecology and Management of the Wood Duck. Stackpole Books; Harrisburg, PA on Birds of North America Online, a subscription-based site, but Errin says "the fee is very low. It has really great, comprehensive, in-depth information about tones of species. Here's the link with only the first page available, but wit the citation information at the bottom."
I've tried to avoid anthropomorphism in this journal, ever since I found out that applying human mores to bird behavior is usually just plain wrong.
But there's obviously a team working here. I've often seen gooses join in as guards for such a act as is occurring here, only with male Mallards in charge. Erin and I had just been talking about the comparatively combative way Mallards sometimes do it, but neither of us had ever seen Wood Ducks that close to violence. So this was all new to me, and I kept clicking away all during.
Note the smallish, partially submerged, dark gray duck head in front of the left-most Wood Duck on the front line. A dark left eye is barely above the roiling surface. The eyes aren't red, but white on gray, so it must be the female.
More like dazed. I've seen female Wood Ducks hopping mad and loudly scolding other ducks for some perceived injury or food theft, but that's not what's happening here.
Next time we'll see a much gentler approach to Wood Duck breeding. Today's spectacle was just what happened while I was looking for something to photograph. Erin and I were both startled, but we kept clicking.
Female Wood Duck with Five Downy Young
April 10 2015
(If you zoom in on this image, you can see a lot more detail, because in this one image, there's more detail to see.) That's control + (pc) or command + (Mac), and you can probably get away with two or three +s. Use a 0 to command back to normal view or - to do it incrementally. With my old eyes, I see a lot of the Internet at 2 or 3 +.
Not terrible, considering she probably started out within the last few days with 12 or 13, but the attrition is showing vividly. Erin said she'd seen a Mallard female with fluffy young ones. As did I, but I don't remember how many kits there were. It's time for baby ducks, and there should be four or five little flotillas of downy young very soon, if they're not already out there but hiding very, very well. I almost didn't see this bunch, until I saw the Mom. Then gradually I noticed a small bunch of wigglies behind her along the long, thin island across from Sunset Beach.
Kala saw the same brood, as identified by the adult female, with six young just a day or twe before this.
See Ducks Unlimited's Duckling Survival page for fairly scientific-substantiated info.
Male Great-tailed Grackles Showing their Stuff
April 9 2015
I've been attending the lake as often as twice a day lately, and almost all I can find are grackles. Not sure exactly which behavior this Male grackle is practicing. Maybe all of them at once.
No doubt, these common everywhere-around-here birds are fascinating and beautiful. At least I think so. Some call them "pests."
And they seem to be practicing their courtship displays lately. Or maybe I just couldn't see whom they were facing off with.
Except this one time. Do you suppose a female grackle would choose the puny young one with years to go.
Or the big puffed-out older grackle worth lots of experience?
The Last three American White Pelicans left,
Wood Duck Flapping, More Grackles Chasing,
Brown-headed Cowbirds, Ross's Goose &
Blue-winged Teal Feeding in a Pond
April 8 2015
This is another one of those journal entries devoted to all the various species I've been documenting in the last few days. Meanwhile, I'm gathering more Blue-winged Teal and some decent (I've got lots of not-great) shots of her — Katy the Swan, and I've begun to wonder if her neck is thicker than it used to be.
I think there are only three pelicans left in Sunset Bay. Not sure what they are waiting for, but this season, our 70 or so American White Pelicans left town while I wasn't looking — lost in Taos instead. Last year and in several years previous, they waited until just a day or so before April 15. That usually means the weather now till then will be lousy. We'll see. It was certainly dark and gloomish today.
We have several Wood Ducks and many more are on the way soon. I saw a female today towing five juveniles, and they usually hatch a dozen or more, so the attrition has begun.
The Male Wood Duck looks so different with its wings flapped all the way out. That shoulder ring looks like the lock for a spacesuit.
Not unlike my myriad shots of Red-winged Blackbirds doing almost this same exact action for the same reasons. The big difference, besides size, is that Great-tailed Grackles don't have bright red epaulets to raise during the most extreme portion of the proclaim — "I am here; where are you? I'm ready to mate; how 'bout you?" they say.
Looks like he's being jaunty, but he's just being kinda careful on the dock at Sunset Bay. One step at a time.
Must be the season for black birds to proclaim.
Saw these guys on the far, downhill side of the one-way street that humps the bump of Dreyfuss.
Popular for being hated for their survival skill of laying eggs in other species' nests, Cowbirds must be fun to hate.
If the one on the left could catch up with the one on the right, there'd probably be a fight.
if I remember, when I'm finished with these last two shots, I'll put them with my more recent collection of fighting grackles somewhere below.
I keep promising myself to photograph a long series of Great-tailed Grackles (our local variety) flying. They're amazing in flight. A long series, because they're so difficult to photograph flying, out of the expected, long series, I'll probably only get a couple good ones.
This one, lone Ross's Goose has been with us for — well, I don't know exactly. I could probably do a site search of Ross's Goose, but I mean really, do you care?
At the gallery I worked ten years at doing website and photos, I always shot each new tribal entity front, back, side and quarter front view, if not also look down from above and look up from below, too. Difficult to get any goose to comply.
I almost never photograph it flapping its wings, but oh, why not?
One of those times when I see some bird nearly silhouetted flying across my vision in Sunset Bay. Photograph it; if it's in focus, maybe I can identify it.
And in the 'back' yard of Stone Tables, we find a small flock of Blue-winged Teal feeding in one of the flood ponds.
In one of those flood ponds that show up after heavy rains.
Pigeons Courting (Continued)
April 6 2015
I got these additional pictures today at Sunset Bay, and Kala sent me some of the missing, courting, behaviors from last January below.
The female sitting is a new wrinkle in the courting behaviors. For me. They've probably been doing it for thousands of years.
But a bow is still a bow.
Like most birds, Pigeons court in steps. The chase is usually first. It's obvious. A male — bigger, often puffed up to look even bigger — chases a female to get her away from the other males.
The females seems amenable to being driven.
Tail-dragging really looks strange, and though it must work, I never saw it work yesterday, during Easter madness at the lake. Kids were throwing rocks at birds, and when I yelled at the not to throw rocks at the birds, I got evil stares from parental units obviously not used to coexisting with nature. I think there was just too much going on that had nothing to do with pigeon procreation.
Though I saw these three classic behaviors, I didn't see any billing or mating, the sure signs that female pigeons want to go the next steps toward laying eggs and raising babies. In fact, I did not see any willing female pigeons, at all. They ran, they got bowed to and tail-dragged at, but they did not engage in what looks like kissing (with beaks), and they did not mate or fly away after mating in Display Flight, although several of them flew away.
Kala did, however, last January, get some pictures of the missing behaviors, although neither of us have captured pigeons actually mating. Yet. But it's still spring. I have since remembered taking similar photos of this behavior, and I found them, in February 2007, which leads me to believe that Cornell may have one too many "courtship" behaviors on its list, and this 'kissing' actually happens in the dead of winter, well before mating season, not as a part of actual pigeon courtship. See my pix of Pigeons beaking from then.
For more info on pigeon courting, see Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's What's So Special About Pigeons that illustrates the other two behaviors.
Battling Grackles, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Shovelers
and A Great Blue Heron among red-eared Sliders
April 5 2015
I've often seen these mock battles but rarely succeeded at photographing them well. This shot was taken at Sunset Bay, a little toward Winfrey from the pier.
It was fast and furious, and I have only a few ideas what it was about — siring rights or rights to controlling a flock or just because it is spring and grackles are a feisty lot.
I don't believe either of these fighters were injured in any way except their pride. I saw no blood and no indication of actual physical injury. Like egrets' much more showy and large-scale mock battles, this must be about something humans may not fully understand, even if we do it, too.
Then they calmed down. Stared at each other awhile, then flew off into their separate directions. Lots of sound and fury, but what exactly it signified is elusive. They probably knew, but I'm just glad I saw them and finally got to photograph them doing it. These are my first three shots. The rest were all out of focus.
I heard a repeated clear whistle in the trees overhead through Greater Sunset Bay's extended owl country, and eventually tracked down (or up) this energetic bird who looks much more like Sibley's drawings than the ones in the Lone Pine Birds of Texas, but Keith A. Arnold and Gregory Kennedy's description is much more verbose and interesting:
"They are often the first to detect danger, which they scold with loud harsh notes that attract other birds to help mob the predator. A breeding pair ÷ will maintain their bond throughout the year. Young from one breeding season will often stay with their parents long enough to help them with nesting and feeding duties the following year."
"Forages on branches and occasionally on the ground for insects, spiders and seeds; also visits bird feeders."
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls this species "perhaps the most outwardly distinctive of the dabbling ducks" … Its elongated, spoon-shaped bill has comb-like projects along its edges, which filter out food from the water"
Wikipedia says, "It breeds in northern areas of Europe and Asia and across most of North America, wintering in southern Europe, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Central, and northern South America." In North America, it breeds along the southern edge of Hudson Bay" and as far south as the Great Lakes west to Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon."
Ducks.org: the Male's" bill is black in breeding plumage and the legs and feet are orange. During display, males with utter a repeated, liquid, hollow "g-dunk g-dunk g-dunk" in flight as well as from water."
After going faster and faster in a circle, this Shoveler pair continued the circular motion by pinwheeling around and around in a manner not dissimilar to Phalaropes, whose feeding is described in the Lone Pine Birds of Texas as whirling "in tight circles in water to stir up prey." Back to Shovelers but from the same book, "dabbles in shallow and often muddy water; strains out plant and animal matter, especially aquatic crustaceans, insect larvae and seed; also takes small fish."
They winter in California; coastal Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico; and the north and central highlands of Mexico. Wintering habitat includes fresh and brackish coastal marshes, and ponds. Saltwater wetlands are generally avoided. Northern shovelers are common winter visitors to Central America, the Caribbean and northern Colombia, and are found occasionally in Trinidad (Scott and Carbonell, 1986).
Well, it's not really hovering, it just sorta looks like it, because its feet are lost in shadows. But the turtles are real, and there's more on either side.
And this concludes my first Sunday wrap-up of all the birds and other beasts I've photographed this week but never quite found a place to show. Most Sundays I'll just take off.
April 4 2015
One of the great entertainments at Sunset Bay today was this Snowy Egret — probably my FOS — fishing. At least that's what the Snowy thought it was doing.
It probably doesn't know from dancing.
It caught at least a half dozen fish while I watched and photographed.
— and was remarkably sporting and amazing to watch.
But what it was really doing had to be dancing.
I have, for many decades, enjoyed photographing humans dancing — mostly modern, with ballet when I couldn't find something more interesting. Tap, folklorico, even engaged in a little stand-and-shake myself from time to time. Won a Twist contest when that was new.
But this was way more spontaneous without losing an ounce of goal-orientation.
So elegant, yet sometimes so raggedy.
And all through it, amazing fun to photograph and try to keep up with.
All these images are in my usual, chronological order, despite the Snow Dancing Numbers, which are in the order I picked and post-produced them.
But you hardly need a camera to dig this dancing display.
Started after I'd been standing on the pier at Sunset Bay awhile and noticed a flash of white motion not far to my right.
Click and chimp a couple times to get the exposure close — little white bird moving sudden and fast on a dark background. Then watch for awhile till it engaged in what I knew and hoped it would do soon and often.
Then, when I got most of these up, on this page, I realized they were all right-facing, so I added some lefties into the still chron-logical sequence.
Dancing like nobody's business.
I got about two hundred in all, which is always a mistake, 'cause the more I shoot, the more I have to sort through. But I just couldn't help myself.
April 3 2015
One Eared-Grebe is amazing. I've photographed singles of them right about this same spot before (must be something below the surface that attracts them; they kept diving, even before I showed up). Yes, those are large black feet under its posterior.
But five is some sort of miracle. I know I counted at least five. But there were more than that, I think.
I was too busy photographing to count more, but I got the impression there were seven. They didn't make it easy.
The water was highly active, and so was the wind. It felt springtime warm but with a nip of winter cold still. Nice mix.
Complete with surfer blonde hair — er … feathers. Feathers of course. But amazing feathers. But not really like ears.
Though I hardly posed them out there.
They didn't stay together or even dive together — although when one or two felt intimidated enough, they all did — and I would have needed a wide-angle lens to keep them all in the frame, and of course these are all at 300mm on my un-zoom.
When they weren't swimming away, they were diving deeper than I could see.
This one looks about as much like a cockroach as an adult breeding Eared Grebe diving. I love those squiggly splashes.
And I love this splash and the innie wet implosion with Eared Grebe parts showing.
Nice parallel comparison. I assume these birds are related.
And I may finally have learned how to spell DeGolyer.
Three Pairs of Wood Ducks; one Female Mallard & a Turtle
April 3 2015
Couldn't get into Sunset Bay, because they were having a race. Very nice cop at the bottom of Poppy Drive couldn't let me in. Well, I could come in, but I couldn't bring my car. Duh, no thanks, Officer. I drove around the lake and ended up in my, oh, second or third favorite hunting ground at White Rock. Maybe fourth… I'd hate to have to rank them. This one's easy. Closer than the other side, like Sunset Bay.
So, anyway, I ended up at The Old Boathouse Lagoon. I saw an egret even before I got out of the car, but I was hoping for something more colorful. Guy and his child was halfway across the bridge. He said that's a big lens, and I agreed. We chatted briefly while I began photographing whoever showed up. First one pair of Wood Ducks, then another and then still another. Total of three pairs. And later one female Mallard. I could still see the egret, but it was too far away.
I've read that it's usually the female duck who quacks. I've watched, and I know it's true that the males just swim around looking pretty, although the female Wood Ducks are gorgeous, just more subtle.
I keep remembering after I've photographed some birds that 'they' say that we should photograph birds at their own level. But we can see a lot more of the duck if we come at them from various angles. Specifically, we can see more differences among the three Wood Duck pairs in today's entry, although the same bird in different lightings can look entirely different.
So all of today's journal entry is about seven ducks. I also photographed some American Coots, but I didn't like those photographs. I say today's J is about the Woodies, but what today's Journal entry is really about is the ripples in the water, although I wasn't paying much attention to those. I was following every Woody who came close to the bridge. The closer the better.
I didn't really have anything in mind. Just documenting the birds who came to me.
Not at first, but what happened well into me photographing ducks this evening was the guy and his daughter throwing bread into the water near the ducks. Normally, I recoil at the notion of feeding bread to ducks. It just seems wrong. But today, I didn't want to mess with the nice humans. I just wanted to take some photographs of something more interesting than the flock of Great-tailed Grackles I'd seen along the DeGoyler Estate earlier. It felt wrong to pass them up, but I'd hoped I'd find something more interesting.
So these aren't the same ducks over and over. And there's at least three pairs of Wood Ducks in the Lagoon, both kinda positive news for that place, one of the two major places I watch the swift growth of baby Wood Ducks at White Rock. The other is the lagoon up the creek from Sunset Bay. Each pair can have as many as 15 ducklings, the vast majority of whom will never make it to the ripe old age of two or three months.
I'm not sure we need even more Wood Ducks in Sunset Bay, but if you'd like to have a hand in growing some in your neighborhood — or some other bird that might be attracted to it instead, here's instructions to Build a Duck Nest Box from the National Wildlife Foundation. Be forewarned, however, this is not a build it once and forget it project. Ongoing maintenance for Duck Nest Boxes is required.
One of a half-dozen to pop their heads up out of the water under the bridge this evening. They wanted some of that bread, too. But they seemed shy. They'd dive down when they saw me point my long lens at them. Then disappear altogether till thy popped up somewhere else close.
I'm trying to give both sexes more or less equal time on this page. But I've almost always liked the rather more subtle and far less clownish females more of my attentions. All the while sticking to my usual organizing principle — chronological order. Note the green patches on this femaleswings here. The other two females show only blue with the susual browns and tans.
I couldn't possibly keep track of which Wood Duck pair was in any photograph. Or when one pair arrived and another took over after that.
I don't remember seeing a male mallard this evening, but I usually notice the females. They're not anywhere near as interesting-looking as the Wood Duck females, but they have their style, their subtle colors and indigo wing stripes, and I tried to bring those colors out in this shot.
The water in this, the latest of these shots, seems so much more sunsettier.
All text and photographs Copyright 2015 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without specific written permission from and payment to Writer and Photographer J R Compton. I am an amateur. I've only been birding since 2006, and most of that is documented in this Journal. I've been photographing professionally and semi-professionally yet always amateurishly since 1964.
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