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White Rock Lake
Seems to be a duck day today. They were the most interesting and the least likely to be correctly identified. Dressed out in their summer finery — resplendent in browns — against rippling clouds and blue skies, they seemed much more amazing than regular old ducks.
I want to call these Mottled Ducks, but they don't look like Mottled Ducks anymore than they resemble Mallards, which they might be also. Fairly distinctive for all that with brown where I'd expect blue — although it is their summer molt — and speckles on the tails, where I'd expect white. Or something.
No doubt about them being Mallard males.
And I'm pretty sure she's a female. Anna and I call them adolescent when they're past being juvenile and on their way to acquiring the markings of an adult. We used to call these specifically aged ducks "teenagers," because they were gawky and not fully — oh, grown, colored, decked out, etc.
There's more common birds certainly, but Great Egrets are bigger than grackles and starlings and mockingbirds. So we remember seeing them better. It helps that they are bright, blazing, brilliant white. Tall, slender with that snake-like neck and long and sharp orange beak. Standouts in any field or reeds near the edge of the lake.
This neck. This beak.
Usually I don't let me put flowers on these pages, but I might start putting humans in, too.
Though flowers are generally more beautiful, and they don't shy away when I come in closer for details.
I love the color contrasts among Monarch orange, summer plant green and purple, purple and purple.
The Goose Mob's been hanging out at the Bath House lately, and a lot of various ducks have gathered there. Either because it's nicer there for swimmers, or because Charles feed geese there. Although the gooses decide where they go, and tend to wander, en masse, back and forth between the Bath House and Sunset Bay. On some evenings and probably more often toward actual autumn, the Bird Squad follows suit.
Took me awhile to accustom eyes and the camera to the darkness. The reason I drove to the lake this evening is that the pool was closed (due to dark skies and loud thunder), and I knew I would have to forgo swimming for the day. I scrambled back to get my camera, drove down Arboretum Drive (Lawther East), then around and down into Sunset Bay. The temperature was down to the low 90s, and I was thinking a Blue Norther like that has to bring some birds out.
A bunch of egrets had set up shop on the logs out in the middle of the bay, and many more — including some high-strung Snowy Egrets — were fishing in much closer. The dark clouds made everything under them too dark too early, but I just racked up the ISO and kept shooting. A little blur never hurt anybody.
Good thing, then, when the dominant Snowy Egret began chasing off all its competitors, one by one.
Snowies are known for their belligerence and take-command attitude.
Snowies are chargers. They charge at each other and they charge at fish. I'm glad the one Snowy who chose to come the closest to me on my squat-down perch on the pier, was so remarkably active. Not that in that low light I could have stopped its action, but it made for some pleasant fishing pix.
Meanwhile, Great Egrets were flying around on the far side of the lagoon.
I thought maybe I might get a little blurring here, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
I may have seen a couple Little Blue Herons together before, but I don't remember seeing three anywhere except maybe a long way off along the Spillway. When the third one arrived, I wasn't really ready for action — having slowed my shutter speed and set the Rocket Launcher on one of the pier's piers for solidity in liu of a tripod, which I never think about bringing, even in the semi-darkness of a rain-prone evening.
In some of today's images one or another of the Little Blues looks smaller than the others, then by the next shot, they all look the same size. I kept trying to figure out if this was a family or just a bunch of Little Blue Herons gathered to show off in front of me.
I knew that egrets have been gathering in Sunset Bay in the evenings lately, but I had not expected a gathering of Little Blues. I was, however, in quiet awe and struggled with the Rocket Launcher to get some images with all three birds in fairly sharp — at least recognizable — focus.
It was fun watching the sun go down this evening. That's apparently what all those people were waiting for. After that, as the light got darker and darker, I'd adjust my ISO down for the Little Blues, then back up for everybody else moving. This started out life as a much darker shot.
But this was the darkest. Of course, the egrets were not really blue, just that they were illuminated by then, not by the sun, which had already gone down, but by the blue sky overhead. Gives them a distinctive hue, nes pas?
Friday the Thirteenth
The juvenile Cooper's Hawk returned this morning, and gave me enough flying time straight in at me for awhile, then left toward the trees just east of the Sunset Bay pier to get my camera up and running. In the few seconds before it disappeared into the trees, I managed 14 rapid-fire shots, with several right on focus sharp.
This time, I got the exposure correct, so these are actual Juvenile Cooper's Hawk colors — unlike the first time [below] when it just flew by in brighter sunlight against the sky.
Fierce-looking little critter. So glad to have had another chance at it. I was hoping for a glimpse of "The Twins," too, but got none.
Many gooses there. For awhile, till I spied the Little Blue Heron in the distance and counted all those egrets off in the distance on the logs, I worried I might only get goose shots today.
I was sitting on the right end of the pier, when this lady alighted on the left end, then proceeded closer. When I was photographing her from my low-profile position, I did not see the bug in her beak. When I first saw it on the LCD I worried it was some fishing-line attachment. But no, it's food, she was slowly crunching up and putting away.
I know the focus is soft here, but I wanted to show more of the green and yellow bug. I tried to find it in my insect book, but it looks like a grasshopper, cricket or a katydid.
Floating by the pier just out of reach, and elegant little downy feather.
Too far away to accurately focus on or hold the Rocket Launcher still enough, and here blown up into smithereens, here's that Little Blue Heron fishing along the edge of the Isthmus that threatens to block the upper end of the creek. Not sure what it's caught, but right after this, it caught something else that looked like a tiny fish. Or maybe this is that all splashy and loose.
When I saw it, I thought it was a Little Blue Heron. Now I'm less sure. It could still be a Great Egret with shadows, here shot into the light. It flew by. I had to photograph it. Maybe figure out what it is later.
Great Egret coming in for a landing.
Legs pointing straight down, wind speed greatly decelerating, touchdown on a log within a second or two.
Not, as usual, my laziness for getting to the lake late this ayem. But by the time I did, it was already blistering, sweaty, Dallas August hot. At nearly 8:30, the temperature was scorching toward more than a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. How 'bout some snow? Or at least, a Snowy Egret crisscrossing the lake from where I parked down the hill on the Arboretum side of Winfrey Point.
Sometimes Red-winged Blackbirds all fly together, but often the females fly and go all on their own. Like here.
Looking for bugs to catch and eat.
She's got herself tangled in something that looks like fishing line.
Very likely the same Snowy Egret back and forth and back and forth, looking for food.
Fabulous perch just off the pier in Sunset Bay. I figured since most of today's birds are pretty common, I'd make one last stab at it in dear old Sunset Bay.
Where life was humming, as usual.
Hums and Squawks.
Then this guy flew by. Was in full silhouette to my sleep-starved eyes, but I've lightened it a little here, so I could see who it was.
Only some of the birds it flew past cleared its way. Others went on about their business. My Birds of Texas by Keith A. Arnold and Gregory Kennedy says they chase or dive "at medium-sized land birds, often following the target bird into vegetation," but I didn't see it chase anything, just flew by.
Village Creek Drying Beds
Way too early this morning, before it got oppressively hot, we visited the Village Creek Drying Beds to see what we could see. I shot 843 shots. Way too many to go through and select the best, except I spent this afternoon and evening doing just that. These are the first best images. There likely will be more as I identify them and find more good ones.
Regular readers by now know how much I am enamored of Green Herons, which look immense in some of my more dramatic photographs but are actually quite small — about 18 inches long.
Killdeer are about ten inches long, so this is a fairly close-up shot. There were hundreds or thousands of Killdeer at the beds today, peeping all the way.
Black-necked Stilts are not unknown around North Central Texas, but it's always a joy to see their elegant long bodies — about 14 inches long with long thin legs darting about some swamp or pond.
And many more species. This will send me running to my bird I.D books. Left to right: a Killdeer, Yellowlegs and unknown other shorebirds and peeps.
Remarkably close — the nice thing about the drying beds.
I'm pretty sure we last saw the guys on the left on South Padre Island last August, so I hope I'll find other pix there to identify these. On the right is a Black-necked Stilt and a Mallard.
As usual, my identification here may be faulty. I am getting steadily better as a photographer of birds, but alas, my identification skills are not progressing at the same speed.
Sometimes, when I achieve less than optimal focus or exposure, it's fun to play with the image some. These are those.
A little dark, but Little Blues often are.
The big Thicket
Never know what to expect. I got up late at about 7:30, didn't make it to the lake till nearly 8. It was warm. Already in the mid-80s. I'm attempting to go places I haven't been lately, and there's lots of those, since I tend to return to Sunset Bay, Dreyfuss and the Old Boat House over and over and over.
I settled into Big Thicket, which I used to think had not nearly enough birds to bother with, but today, I found lots of interesting birds, some even doing interesting things. I've seen Great Egrets twist their necks plenty times before, but the jumble of yacht clubbery in the background and the dark, bony forward edge of this birds wings seemed intriguing.
I'd hoped to get a lot closer to this bird, drove Blue around to the next parking lot, saunter out to the end of walkable grass, being careful not to step further into the reeds in slosh.
Suddenly, while I was still trying to figure out what to do next, a large, stripey gray bird suddenly broke from the reeds less than twenty feet off to my right, and began a long, noisy escape to somewhere past the yacht club out there somewhere.
Through the view of my long telephoto lens, I concentrated on getting the big gray bird in focus, with all the wrong settings making it difficult, but impossible to change and think and focus all at the same time. No way I could figure where it was heading — not that I'd want to piss it off any more.
I already felt like a major klutz. I would so much rather have photographed it standing still and close than zooming away croaking and all pissed off at me.
I focused along, getting the bird sharper the farther it flew away. Not surprising as startled as I was and upset with myself — though nowhere as near as upset with me as it was.
My first impression of this bird as it broke from the green reeds, way before I saw it, and continuing all across the bay, was the deep, gutteral croak, as it complained about me startling it. Of course, I would never have injured anything but its pride at hiding from the likes of me. But no way either of us could have explained all that.
Great-tailed Grackle female's summer do.
Handsome mallard female.
Late summer colors.
Muscovy Ducks are friendly. This one came waddling over to me, expecting — something. But never aggressive about anything. Just calmly waiting there. When I reached down to touch it, it pulled back, but it did not run off.
No adults around, but this was another, sudden startlement. It burst into the water, churning up water and bubbles in its wake.
Heron Lagoon by the Old BOathouse
Had to go somewhere besides Sunset Bay for a change. Glad I chose Heron Lagoon — although I suspect there are several other lush places at the lake where many birds gather — this early, semi-cool morning, I walked back and forth around the Old Boat House area.
I missed this guy along my first walk up toward the creek that goes under the old railroad trestle that is White Rock Lake Park's official opening — and where the warning signs sit in semi-obscurity. Then it became obvious when I walked back, having found nothing further up the creek.
It took looking at this image right here on this page for me to finally snap to the fact that this is one of those elusive Yellow-crowned Night Herons, not the usual, normal, everyday, much more common at White Rock Black-crown that I just assumed I was photographing through my long lens.
I've gone back and changed all mentions as Black-crowned. I wasn't when I was in full, stupid assumption mode, but now I am getting, thrilled that I got all these detail shots of this bird minding its own business of catching food in Heron Lagoon, as my friend Jason Hogle calls it, and will be on the next version of my White Rock Lake Map, whenever that happens.
And then, of course, having got its wings all properly extended before exercising them, it flew away, but all of my shots of that sudden action are complete blurs.
Like this one.
So I checked the juvenile Night-Heron working the far shore more carefully than usual, but it is a Black-cronwed Night-Heron just as should be assumed. Handsome critter nonetheless.
Oddly, today, I never once was tempted to attempt to capture one of these fast-flying, sudden 180-degree turn mid-air birds, and was perfectly happy to photograph several mending, stretching, preening and just plain resting on the wires over the new wood bridge. But my heron-photographing luck had not yet run out.
My next heron discovery in Heron Lagoon was whom I'd been hoping for all along, another elusive, a Green Heron, who of course is nearly not at all green, but mostly red-brown and black — and much smaller than it nearly always appears.
But look how it can stretch that short, stocky neck when it needs to take a sip of water or catch a not-altogether-close fish.
Green Heron are another of those special few species who, when they show themselves, I'm more than willing to shoot and shoot and shoot, even if I've already got every shot I need. Then shoot some more.
When the Green Heron started acting a little antsy, I was ready, and when it suddenly swooped up, I managed to get a shot fairly sharp, although the next half-dozen were not.
Till it landed in the trees on the far side of the lagoon, hiding in plain sight. I doubt even I could have detected it then — if I hadn't been following it for several minutes already. Those colors seem — like all heron colors always seem — perfectly suited for hiding them in the aforementioned plain sight.
Less than a full minute later, after I'd shot several frames of a nearby, yet largely undistinguished Great Egret, I saw a small, very compact gray bird fly up the lagoon. Of course I photographed it, even if at that moment, I had no idea what bird it was — it looked a little heronish. I can't claim it was the same Green Heron, but it does look a lot like it.
Planned to visit the old Boat House this cool early morning that would turn into a 100-degree scorcher, but they had that and Lawther along the lake to Sunset Bay blocked for a bicycle race. I tried parking down the slope toward Sunset from Barbec's, too, but that was clogged with cars already parked all around the road down from Winfrey.
Too many people.
Then I remembered I could park just up into Big Forest Hills, close enough to see the lake. Parked there by that mansion I've been parking by for years, walked down to the dam, Spillway and Lower Steps looking for birds I hadn't seen too often already. Snowy Egrets, stylin' and aggressive as they are, did not quite qualify.
But it's always nice to see them. Snowy Egrets are 24 inches long, so qualify as big birds.
Along the Spillway proper and with even a better shot of them on the Lower Steps, I found Spotted Sandpipers galore. Especially on the Spillway, where there were hundreds of them. They were too far away for me to see clearly, but I kept photographing, using much lower than usual ISOs, so the grain (visual noise) would not get in the way.
What's going on in this series is two Spotted Sandpipers flying in great circles around the other one, then flying right up and almost into the other, at which point the other, hops or quickly flies away, then it becomes the great circler, who does the same to the first one.
Amusing to watch, though of little overall consequence. Exciting to photograph. The whole sequence takes several minutes and is not always obvious that's what they're up to. Soon as my attention would lapse, another one would fly into the stander again. I wouldn't have liked to capture the near collision, but I did not manage that feat.
They rarely held still, but when they did, it was an opportunity to zoom in close with some detail. Spotted Sandpipers are 7.5 inches long, though this photo makes it look larger.
About the closest I got with the birds out on about the middle of the Spillway, close to where it butts into the island.
I'm assuming this is another sandpiper, although exactly which one is escaping me. Maybe I'll figure it out tomorrow or the next day. It seemed smaller than the Spotted Sandpiper above.
I'd assumed this shot showing it flying would help me a lot toward identifying it. Ha!
I really really wanted to go down there and flip this guy up onto its feet. But, it's illegal, and dangerous to be down there, and I couldn't see how I could get close enough without soaking my shoes, then slipping into the murk, which would then have made it almost impossible to scale back up the slanted concrete. No way, even though I feel a closeness to turtles.
I assume this one bumped down the step, got tilted over, then just couldn't get back on its feet. Last I saw it, it'd all but given up.
This Little Blue was probably right there when I earlier photographed the Snowy Egrets and everybody down the Spillway and to the Lower Steps. But I only finally saw it as I was leaving back up the hill toward my car. Like almost everything else I photographed today, it was a little too far away. But I tried, anyway.
Little Blue Herons are usually 24 inches long.
text and photographs copyright 2010 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.