August 31 2007
Today we walked from Dreyfuss to the Yacht Clubs and back, no hawks in mind. Lovely morning, slight breeze, warm, but cool over our sweating selves. We shot what we saw and didn't yearn for the better beyond. For a change. All the images are in the order I shot them.
I suppressed pixel grain on a few but the [name withheld] software I bought doesn't work from the switched at birth package they sent. The demo worked great, when it wasn't crashing my system. Something there is about sometimes getting to see the crystaline littlest pieces of light that make photographs. Taking what I got seems more efficient. Today. And I'm really pleased how well these worked in this simpler, more efficient process. Opened them as raw because they are but processed them as JPEGs because that's how I do them best.
I always appreciate bigger birds because they're so much easier to photograph. But the little ones have their joy about them, too. I heard this little one chirping — never once perceived any tap-tapping — well before Anna picked it out on the tree above us and pointed. But I shot and shot and finally clicked to manual focus and almost pegged it.
We'd just been talking about two Snowy Egrets who were getting along fine along the rim behind the Bath House — about how they weren't fighting over territory but sharing in their back-and-forthing arcs along the rim. When a big fuzzy Testosterone-crazed male flew in and ran them both off.
He's a colorful character worthy of photograpy but a nuisance whose purpose in the scheme is iffy.
What he did for me, at least, was impel the Snowies into short curves around us, out around through the White Rock Lake Water Theatre sculpture where seldom is seen a bird on any of all those glowing vertical perches all summer.
An easy pan the short fast flight with this photographer its lucky center of the arc. Click-click all the way. Beautiful creature. Take special note of those big, sharp black claws trailing the streamlined shape. Better for shredding flesh of fishes and crustaceans.
Nice to catch the fluttering primaries — wing feathers furthest out — in long lean sailing flat through the early morning air. Don't know whether to redo all these "grainy" shots in the last few days of my deFine demo.
Eschewing my recent grandiose expectations, today I only wanted to get up close and personal with one handsome bird. Didn't much care which or where or up to what. I stumbled upon this quiet Great Egret along the shore back past the Bath House nearing Dreyfuss again. I was looking for whatever I could find but still startled to see this, probably most common large bird on the lake. It stood its ground as I clicked and snapped. Then, as I stepped back into the world, it'd had enough and grumped away, flying down the shore, croaking hoarsely like a disgruntled bullfrog.
I agree completely.
Another of those times when I was shooting to be shooting without much idea what I was shooting, only why. I was hoping for a hawk while paying too little attention to what I was actually shooting. Here, for example, is a family of Little Blue Herons. I've known they were out there early in the mornings, and I'd paid a lot of attention to them to no effect whatsoever last week. Today, I got them all together without knowing I was or did. Until I got images on the monitor.
And yes, another of those times when I lead with a photograph I shot much later, after the sun was higher in the sky, if still mostly hidden by a sky ocean of clouds.
A certain amount of unconscious action seems important. But this is ridiculous. I'm looking for one bird (hawk), finding other birds (Little Blue Herons) and didn't even notice what I was doing. Something's wrong here, but I'm not sure I know how to apply what I think I'm learning. Especially when the way I'm doing this seems to be working awfully well, albeit stupidly.
The reason the adult Little Blue Herons are escaping is the approaching noise of a Parks Department Habitat Destruction Machine (Some people insist on calling them lawn mowers.) The adult Little Blues knew to split.
The (nearly all white) juvenile Little Blue Heron didn't, so it just stood there looking a little lost. Apparently, nobody told him about big noisy machines.
Other visual characteristics of a little Little Blue Heron are pale, dull green legs and a thick, tapered bill that's darker at the pointy end. When they're flying, a bit of black sometimes shows near the tips of their wings.
Wish I could say I knew what these were when I was photographing them. That'd be nice. Make me seem so much more intelligent and self-aware.
I often stand right there shooting out over the bay, wondering what next will come in over the bay at me.
I spent a lot of this slimy hot humid morning shooting birds and flocks of birds speeding across the sky, especially since I didn't find anything but the same old ducks close enough to photograph closer. Except this crow.
First bird I paid attention to today was crows, for the obvious reason that where crows are often are hawks. This was close, just taking off one of the picnic tables on top of the hill that The Dreyfuss Club once occupied the other side of. At that time, I still had hopes of hawks. May actually have seen one — a spotted tan sylph of one swooping away before I was ready.
So I tended to stay ready nearly all the time that followed, panning everything that flew by, one direction or the other.
One Great Blue Heron. Probably the Great Blue Heron. Likely the same one we see nearly every time we visit Sunset Bay. It looks better at lower ISO and with its chest wisps combed back, but early this morning it was nice to be able to not blur the bird altogether (ISO 1250. Try that with your dinky Point & Shoot).
Not a bad bunch of unsub birds, but they're definitely not hawks.
This, however, very well could be a hawk. If I'd shot it at something besides the sandstormish ISO 1250, I might have got more detail. Probably what I would have got, how some ever, would have been a bigger blur. Not sure which is worse. The detail I did manage is so alluring.
As usual, I kept shooting. This is a detailed shot, magnified somewhat and showing the distinct mottled texture of the underneath of a unnamed, uh... raptor? Face is too long for an owl, I think. But a Red-shouldered Hawk doesn't look like this. What does, he wonders...
The one flying in the fuzzy grainy photo captioned "Much More Like a Hawk" looks to me like a juvenile Cooper's Hawk — I can make out a white terminal band on the tail and can even barely make out the wide bands on the long tail. Best I can do with that photo.
I'm still paging through bird books wondering.
Meanwhile, shooting everything that moves, especially in great numbers. When I got the hawk-like bird above, I didn't know I had. It was just one of those birds that flew me by while I was standing around Dreyfuss Point hoping for a hawk.
These are ducks.
And the most ducks I saw at once. Or wanted to.
Cheating here a little, because today's main plot involves three or four crows. And a hawk that I only saw once but didn't photograph. Then photographed three times, but didn't see it. I didn't shoot the Snowy striking the teensy-tiniest bug or fish or whatever till much later. Not knowing then what I'd actually caught, I thought this shot would have to be today's big photo. And, so far, it is. But the story is more complex than this.
Walking toward Dreyfuss earlier, Anna pointed out this vignette from the road. I walked over to try to photograph the bird closer, but between seeing it through the trees and me arriving in the swam area, it disappeared. The second image (below) is an enlargement of this.
While I was in the swamp area, I heard an owl but didn't see it or any hergrets (We've been needing a word combining the so similar herons and egrets that we can't always tell apart from a distance. Egrons doesn't sound as good.), and a half hour later this early, coolish breezy morning, I went back to Dreyfuss developing the notion, without real evidence — I'd seen crows but no hint of hawks but somehow got it in my mind that I'd find a hawk, though we saw only four crow and zero hawk.
So I decided when I saw crows again, I'd shoot whatever moved. Focus not an issue. It's nice when I can get it, but I should plug away no matter what, just in hope of a hawk. Nice shot of early light on the varicolored leaves. I'm pretty sure that no-tail bird shape is crow. But I didn't know that when I was shooting. I was just shooting.
Here I not only got some duo tone in the crow, I got both it and the tree it's heading toward, in a condition approaching focus. A minor miracle. Otherwise ho-hum so what.
This is a little more exciting but not visually. Yet.
Before the darting Snowy, I initially had no confidence in what I'd shot — all the early, dark, morning shots were shot at the absurdly high ISO ("film" speed) of 1250, so any chunks of grain you see are in their natural habitat. Later, I brought the ISO down to 800.
These are me shooting out my car window. The subject was a crow. It had been on the ground holding still just as I started shooting, but it got in the air before I got enough view of it as I edged my car forward. After it was flying I was shooting. Not in and not expecting to get in focus.
This the tenth shot in the series. About the sharpest of the bunch. Shooting for the sake of mindless shooting. No real expectations, just shooting away.
Following the crow and thinking how out of focus my shots were, I didn't see the Red-shouldered Hawk on the right till I got these images on the monitor. I think I'd seen the hawk on an upper branch earlier. Kept telling myself it was a dove — "dub," I call them, and I rarely think dubs are worth photographing.
Except it didn't fly up there like a dub, and it was more reddish than gray and didn't squeak when it flapped. In fact, it didn't flap up there. More like just swooped up. Just as I was raising the camera and take a shot, it melted into another dimension.
I didn't expect to see that hawk again today. Didn't till pixels. So I was pleasantly astounded. I'd actually shot what I'd wanted to shoot, even though I didn't see it or know I'd got it. Maybe if I had seen it, I'd've shot it better. But, because I thought I was shooting the crow, I quit shooting when the crow split.
Driving home, I thought about the relationship of crows and hawks. There must be something in it for both birds. It can't just be crows annoying hawks, although they do it often and well. The hawk must be getting something out of this relationship. But what?
My most intresting shots ever of crows vs. a hawk was about this time last year.
Never know what I'm going to find — or learn — on one of my wild goose chases after I can't find any interesting birds where I'm expecting or hoping to. Not sure what exactly I was hoping for today, but I didn't find it not all that early this morning. I did see a Kingfisher, twice very briefly, in the lagoon and much too quickly to get the camera ready and shooting.
Tame, domestic gooses are easy to find at Sunset Bay, where there are now 29. A year ago there were less than half of that.
I saw some egrets at the lake, of course, but they weren't catching anything, just standing there looking like they'd like to. So I wandered north of Mockingbird and even north of Northwest Highway. Just around, really, remembering vaguely that coyote I'd seen one evening maybe ten years ago in the residential area by the riding stables in the extended green area north along one of the northern White Rock creeks. I guess I was looking for something wild.
When I first saw one of the White Peacocks at about the same distance and approximately the same place I'd seen the Coyote, I thought it was an egret. I stopped, backed up, got the camera out, turned off the engine so the car wouldn't vibrate, and started shooting. Without much effect, as it turned out, but that's how it started. Only gradually did I notice its bottom-heaviness and that protrusion on top.
I saw another White Peacock in the stables one of the times I turned around up there, and figured out that's where they belong, though they were freely wandering the neighborhood. I saw several people give them no attention. So it must be a common occurrence. I saw two varieties, Blue India and White. That much should be fairly obvious in these photographs. What's less obvious is what sex they are.
Adult male Peafowl are more colorful and do not, as I learned at East Texas State University in 1976, fan their feathers out in the stereotypical pose often. The big deal at the end of one Photojournalism class there was an impromptu thematic shoot. I drew the peacocks assignment and was supposed to shoot, I'm forgetting the precise wording, something like "a beauty with peacock feathers spread."
I waited and waited that cloudy day, and the peacock, which was easy to find at a neighboring farm everybody (but me) knew about, never did fan its tail. Eventually, I managed to get some feathers and fan them behind a pretty little girl, which fit the letter of the assignment, saving the grade — and my reputation as a semi-big-time staff photog at a major metropolitan newspaper (The Dallas Times Herald) the year before.
I later learned they only spread their finery in bright sunlight, although I didn't see any of that this bright, sunny day. I've also experienced peacocks as guard dogs who let out piercing screams — Sibley calls them "very loud, wailing cries" — when strangers wander near. And I suspect that's why the stables keep them.
The two India Blue peacocks wandering around together were the most peacocks I saw in one place, but I don't think they're a pair, despite the lighter feather load of the one on the left, which may be a young male. At first I assumed the white ones were females, and the files names of these images show that.
I was a lot less confused then, but the white ones are a different species, called White peacocks. Pea hens and pea cocks are collectively called peacocks. And there are other varieties available. Both sexes have crowns.
The visual difference is that female's feathers are a lighter load and don't extend much. Like other bird species, pea hens are generally less colorful, but it's hard to tell when they're young. Mature adults pack a lot more feathers, and when the mood strikes, their fan is striking.
According to the first peacock website I found (Peacock Information), "The India Blue Peacock is commonly kept and bred in captivity by people across America and around the world. They are not expensive and thousands of them are bought and sold each year." The next good site (Animals National Geographic) was also informative, but the prizes for figuring out who and which these peacocks are, were "My Peacock Web Page," which includes eggs, reproduction and peachicks, and Feathersite's India Peafowl page, which continues that theme.
Anna & I walked thisayem, without cameras. Then we grabbed each of ours and shot birds for a few minutes before breakfast. I've been watching this Great Blue Heron for weeks now, whenever I was in Sunset Bay I'd see it flying away, because I was either too quick to get out on the pier, or too noisy or unsubtle. Today, we snuck out together, carefully, our attention stuck on this coiffed breasted Great Blue fashion plate.
When I got home, I saw this Northern Mockingbird just the other side of my windshield in my dripping magenta Crepe Myrtle tree, again proving the efficacy of using an automobile as a mobile bird blind. Those birds seem blind to cars, ignoring us when we're sitting inside them, when they'd be in the next county soon as we step out.
I hadda work a project Monday, so I didn't have time to put together a whole Monday extravaganza, but I got the Mocks and these two super egret fly-overs I came across from last week's shoot (runneth over) that I really wanted to work up. Once worked up what else would I do with them but show here.
As common as the Great Egret is around here, I still get excited when one flies me over or I see a photo of one doing that.
Decided not to photo birds today, but I needed to walk, and I wanted to do that at the lake, and why not bring my camera, and, and... Well, you know how it goes. Gobs of people there on a Satty ayem. Too many, except they were all on the concrete "path" and grounds beyond. I did not encounter a single human being more than three feet on the lake side off the path. Out there was still no person's land. Birds only. Which is alright with me.
Must be Unsubs Day at the Lake. I wouldn't be surprised if someone emails in and tells me these are Miniature Mallards or some such. I poured through Sibley's Guide to Birds and Alsop's Birds of Texas, paying very careful attention to the ducks. I know better now than say they're not in those books. The fact is I could not find them there, using the light blue patch obvious on the little ones on top of today's entry.
Speaking of Unsubs, that's what I thought these were when I sighted them on a wire over the Spillway proper that day last week. Tuesday. I shot the ducks today.
Thought I was sneaking up on a Great Blue Heron not far off the pier at Sunset Bay when I got distracted by what I quickly assumed was an egret flying across from the far shore. Click-click, of course. It was barely in range, but I can always throw out the shots if they're useless, and I always need the practice. Despite less than ideal conditions, I panned across the bay with it till it turned and flew away.
No heron it. I didn't notice bill or legs color, relative size or the dark outlines on the far edge of its primaries while photographing it. But it's a juvenile Little Blue Heron, and I may go back Tuesday when the crowds are gone again and stake it out with a lower ISO and hope for brighter sunlight. Today, I shot at 320, because that's what the camera was set on, and later 640. These two are at 320, and would probably have been better at double that. The rest of today's shoot was at 640, although I've decided not to get so technical for awhile.
When my attention circled back to the Great Blue, it was gone. Way out in the bay where all those logs are. By then I was concentrating on a dark heron shape on the even closer branches. A Green Heron? Or a Little Blue? The latter I decided, shot a half dozen times but the Little Blue moved into the vertical branches throwing off my alignment, so I very quietly moved off to the left end, stood there briefly, then sat back leaning on the pier pole.
I could tell my angle was better, didn't notice till it was on my monitor that the background was darker, so the Little Blue stood out better and was easier to see. Much later I also noticed how raggedy was its coat with its feathers awry — as if it had just engaged in a ruffle that I'd missed.
Just when I was getting comfortable shooting it, it probably tired of my loud camera clack-clack-clacking and bolted for the far side, off in the Hidden Creek area. I'd put the cam in exposure bracket mode to make sure at least some of my shots were correctly exposed — whatever setting that might be, so I got a light, dark, right; light, dark right series of exposures, but fast enough to get good shots of it getting away. Five frames per second has its advantages.
So I'm struggling with panning with the bird, because I'm sitting and don't have the physical freedom of standing up and pivoting, knowing only every third shot's gonna be good, clumsily following the bird low over the water and hoping something will come of the experience. And this is nice. Real-life Little Blue, sharp beak, eye, a few feathers and feet. Wings doing what wings sometimes do.
This one's less focused but I love the flared thin feathers, unflared fat feathered wings crosshatching it across the bright water.
A whole different flying form nearly every flap of the wings. Classic Ardeidae flying form, long legs trailing, feet not yet tightly packaged for optimum streamlined aerodynamic; even this short a neck S-curve compressed back with long beak piercing the air. Very much like its heron and egret cousins. By this time, my focus has caught up, feet sharp. Beak not quite so. Never did get that Great Blue.
But here's another blue, unlike the above-illustrated Blues — the dark rust Little Blue or the mostly white even littler juvenile Little Blue I shot today. This one is the blue bird (not Bluebird) I promised for today. I shot this even more elusive (than a Little Blue and certainly more elusive than a Great Blue) blue bird at the Lower Steps when I shot all those others, way back three days ago, last Tuesday, August 21.
That I got it at all is a minor miracle. When they're still in our current, shared dimension, they fly fast. And when they're still, they're far and shy.
As usual, and as I keep preaching, we don't watch for birds, we watch for movement. Some of that where nothing ought to be moving that way, is often a bird.
This guy is a stocky little but hardly tiny stump of a blue bird that makes sudden changes of not just up, down, left, right direction but changes of dimension. Way beyond roller-coasting, Belted Kingfishers defy the laws of gravity and physics. It was that bizarre up, down, zing around movement that made me think Kingfisher way before I identified its color or shape. And it flew right by me on the bridge. More miraculous than that, I got it in focus! All the way that first shot, then partially and sometimes, thereafter.
August 23 pm
Because I photograph these guys so often, every couple of days, weeks in, months out, I begin to think I know pretty much what they'll always look like. Then, suddenly, one hot afternoon that could bake a hamster in her tracks, I'm standing there leaning on a steaming rust red guard wall on my favorite walking bridge when one of these all-too-familiar birds lets fly and transforms itself instantly into something new and very very strange.
I've often seen egrets flying along croaking like a bullfrog, mouth open grunting across the lake. Didn't hear this one, nor did I see that strangely pebble-wrinkled neck.
I think I'm detecting now a trend back toward normalcy. When these two Great Egret jumped into the air (separately and unequally) I was only vaguely paying any attention. Each time. Waiting for a Black-crowned to do something to show off its tassel or something. Soon as they got going, I was riveted, desperate to keep the little center rectangle of my traveling frame that focuses on the bird, which is moving much faster than I was, magnified somewhat by its proximity, in itself an unusual occurrence.
I could not have picked a stranger lighting situation that skims the top of the bird's head but not its beak or eyes. I've rarely caught a 'gret with both that blue a sky and those white some clouds. I'm thinking my experiment in lower ISO, de-noising and, oh yeah, these last few days are the first times I've used what Nikon calls NEF and everybody else calls raw, is working out well.
I only late this afternoon in the middle another of my very recent obsesso-compulsive 8 or 9-hour Photoshop binges realized I may be juggling too many What-Ifs at once with all these variables jumping-bean bouncing around in my noggin as I raced through more than 500 images yester and earlier today. Too many new experiments. On too many spinning axes.
No local vertical to steady my vertiginous mind. I probably should watch some Lynda.com lessons on these wares, but it's so exciting learning by doing, even if I mess up significantly often enough to have to entirely redo way too almost enough images, and I don't know what half the buttons and sliders in the softwares mean or do. Yet.
But I'm fiddling and twiddling and learning by trying and failing and trying twenty more times. It's gangbusters fun, and I've been grandiosely lucky to have got so remarkably many good, better and best images two days ago to keep me at it for most of the last 48 hours. Then this afternoon I wandered out to the absolute closest part of my chosen lake and shot these in rapid succession.
This then, finally, is why I was following this Black-crown around. I loved its long trailing occipital plumes. I'd shot them in so many ever so slightly differing positions earlier, always waiting for something distinctive, never quite getting how I wanted them to shine. A couple times everything else on the bird blurred beyond recognition with that seeming one bright white plume sticking straight up out of the back of its head. Till this shot, though, it never occurred that what I needed was a post-ruffle partial rest part C.
More blue. The Great Blue Heron. Another of those birds called blue that only rarely ever are. When I saw this 'Great' standing up there and thought I could get a decent shot of it, I got excited, got closer, dialed down the ISO to 320, steadied the cam, and fired away. Doesn't he look magnificent up there?
I've been running the best photograph on the top of each new daily entry, because it's so cool to have the nicest on top (On the web, the bottom line is always on the top, where everybody always starts.) when I or you open this page each time.
But that got confusing when I linked specific birds from the index page to the top of a daily entry. There'd be one of that species on the top, then none for many paragraphs and pictures down. So, for awhile at least, from here and up, I'm back to running images in as chronological an order as I can manage.
This dam-standing Great "Blue" for example. An amazing elegant creature most of the time. I guess everybody needs a little imperfection to keep our humble-idity level up. I don't think I've ever got one of these quite like this before.
I didn't go out this morning. Instead, I spent the time dealing with more — and some of the same — of the 500+ images I shot the other day. It was a remarkable day of shooting. I keep going back through them winnowing through, trashing the also-rans and outright lousy shots. And finding new pretty-good ones. My average is usually much lower than that. Nice every once-in-a-while to outshine my expectations.
I've been replacing more mediocre versions of already shot and placed images with improved versions below (A, B [B shows both versions. Can you tell which is "grainier?], C and D) and adding images I heretofore was unable to render adequately, and they look so much better now. Mostly Black-crowned Night Herons, so far, but some Egrets and others to come soon, though I don't know where I'll put them. Then again, maybe right here would be good.
These shots of the Great "Blue" Heron were exposed at ISO 320, which has become my new standard. This week.
Except when the light's lousy, which it often is. Most of the time I've been been one (since 1964) I've considered myself an "available darkness" photographer, often "pushing" film (exposing it less and processing it longer) to get adequate images in any light.
I didn't post this or the next image before, because they were so grainy-looking and sand-paperish. [expletives deleted; i tried some software which i initially liked; then it crashed my system and took other software with it; eventually settled into great helper-ware.
This space needs words to separate the above and below 'new' shots, but I've said everything needing saying a couple times already, so this one time, I won't.
I like that colorful tree that this junior Black-crowned Night Heron is about to land up into. Hadn't noticed all that color there before.
I'm always curious where these things will end. I figure a Juvie BCNH ruffle might be just such a place. It was yet another of those images I wouldn't have shown before that software. By the way, there's a whole page now of Ruffles I just added this one to.
Next time, one more blue bird. Not even called that, so of course, it is blue. It's been an elusive species for me lately. Nice to finally get some decent flying shots of it.
Today's entry is brought to you by the color blue. Unfortunately, some birds called "blue" aren't. Little Blue Herons like the one above, for example, usually are not blue. Rarely are. In fact, this may be as close as one of my photographs has come to their true colors. If they even have true colors. Everything looks different in different light. Without light they're dark, and we can't see them. I never quite realized that simple fact till I became a photographer. I was a camera long before that.
This is the second bluest Little Blue I've seen. Like the other one, the reason this one looks so blue — when they usually look black with reddish necks (purple in the shot above) — is because it is illuminated by the blue sky and not the really really blue sun (which shines at 6000 degrees Kelvin — blue hot). It's all a matter of degrees.
I got mine in English Literature, which is why I'm here typing and saying things about birds. I wanted a degree in photography. Always thought that'd make more sense, since that's what I've always identified myself as. Been since college. I sometimes think about getting a degree in birds — visiting the U in Boise, Idaho may have been what set me into photographing birds. They offer one. But I can't imagine why I'd want to, except I like birds so much.
Again, the culprit is sky-lighted deep shade, with sunlit bright foam right behind, giving me the devil of a time trying to make this Little Blue look like it's in a natural environment. I love that all those feathers on its back are sticking out as it flaps forward.
Shooting, I was concentrating on the Little Blue, so was surprised when the baby Black-crown sauntered into view at the far left of the Spillway Steps. If I could have got them to stand a little closer together on the edge of the concrete, this would be an amazing size comparison photograph.
Another blue bird next time. It's a lot bigger, great even. But still a heron.
The bird for today is the Black-crowned Night Heron. I shot too many photographs and could spend many more hours working up way too many more for this, but I should be working on an art review for DallasArtsRevue, so I'll show my pictures of the bird for today today, continue with a bird for tomorrow tomorrow and maybe add one more bird & page the next day, so I can spend time on that review (although I'd rather do this).
The lower spillway steps were splendid this early morning (early for me — I get up, go take pix at the lake, come home and crash for a few more hours, then wake up and deal the mornings 'catch,' post them here with words, then do what all else I should be doing), splendid, that is, with herons and egrets.
By now you probably know I love to catch birds flying. It's nice when everything is sharp, but when birds fly they move almost everything, and if they're flying fast, a lot of the bird is blurring pretty good. Especially if the photographer isn't so glued in he doesn't keep track of all the dials and arrows and hasn't realized yet (he will later) that the shutter speed was slow.
I spoke with someone at the Heard photo club whose submission to a recent competition was downgraded because the feathers at the outer edges of the flying bird's wings were not sharp. Guess I shouldn't enter these there.
Not nearly enough excuse here, except it was dark. Too early for the sun to shine down into the pit below the Walking Bridge (Next time I'll go later when there's more sunlight, but it'll be hotter.) This shot got grain, so it was likely shot at ISO (When there was still film, we called it ASA or "film speed." ISO is the International Standards Organization. Back in the film days there was the American Standards Association.) oh, probably 640 or 800, and this is a smallish portion of a larger, grainy shot. I like the effect that the Black-crown is speeding around a curve. Which, of course, it is.
Today, I experimented with a lot of different ISO settings. When there's enough light (unlike above), it's very nice to set the ISO low. My favorite setting today was 320. This shot was probably at ISO 640 or 800. Still, I like the way its wings are cupped forward, showing off more feathers than usual, and it's almost in focus.
It does look like a chase. Like the sort of chases that happen often in the disputed territories in the the lower steps. This however, is actually two cousin species flying the same direction.
As evidence by this pass. The egret is bigger, has bigger wings, seems to have more acceleration in the early, jump stage of flying. But it wasn't really a race, so we still don't know who's faster.
Turns out the Black-crown wasn't going as far as the egret or decided it would be best not to get in a fight until it was more prepared, or never had any notion of doing anything but hopping up a few steps.
Always nice to see active young critters out learning their craft. This one materialized out of almost nowhere, fished awhile, may actually have caught a morsel or two, then set about flying around like all the adults were.
Beautiful wings spread and heading thataway.
Then, later, coming back thisaway and flying very low along the concrete apron on the far side of the Lower Steps of the White Rock Lake Spillway.
Tomorrow, herons of different colors.
After visiting the Crow Collection of Asian Art downtown on the last day of an exhibition of cool articulating Korean sculpture, we found this vociferous juvenile Grackle on Anna's car. He squawked constantly and continued squawking as he flew away. We didn't see any other Grackles nearby. Normally, a beak-open bird, especially a grack, means it's hungry and wants a parental unit to feed it. Now!
Birds. Everywhere I go. Sometimes.
When I saw a half dozen flocks — most much larger than these stragglers — of egrets flying east all along my drive to the lake this morning, I wanted to take it at a good sign. Except, of course, here were my always-good-for-backup birds all going somewhere else. I did see a couple egrets left but I kept hoping for something else maybe a little more interesting.
Unfortunately, I didn't find anything but ducks, and those ducks weren't doing much interesting. This one is stepping off the floating pier the all-White rowers don't seem inclined toward towing back into the old Boat House the lake side of The Lagoon.
Coming back through my neighborhood, I saw these guys strutting their stuff on the sidewalk across the street from the Carnival. After a lovely dark-sky walk through the neighborhood, they snuck back in their fenced-in back yard. What startled me was how similar they are to the formerly unsub "Churkey" that was living in the clump of trees by the parking lot down from Winfrey, overlooking Sunset Bay. I assumed someone saw her there and had her for dinner.
You know I'm hard up for birds when I feature chickens in my neighborhood on this journal, although they were attempting to be free-range chickens at the time.
No juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. No Belted Kingfisher. Not much of anything up the Boat House Lagoon this morning except ducks, one adult Black-crowned Night Heron just standing there, the barest essence of a breeze and temperatures lower than 90 degrees F, not nearly the 100 degrees of the last few days. There was one egret and one duck on the escaped, free-floating pier out in the way of coming and going rowing traffic. But that's about it.
The duck's on the other end. This egret had strutted, crouched, stretched up tall, got down low into stealth mode, then jutted its head under water after something it saw or thought it saw or something. When it came up, it came up with nothing. Though few beings look this elegant with their face underwater and their butt in the air.
This red-shirted rower approached the short, bird boardwalk very slowly and gently, and she's not as close as she looks, but I envied her her closeness and identified with her conversation with the smallish (juvenile?) Great Egret. I've long wished I had a camera I wouldn't mind rowing around in a boat. A waterproof bag for my old, painfully slow but quiet Sony F707 would cost $150. One for my new Nikon would cost more than the camera. I don't have a boat because I don't have a waterproof setup, but these objects float in my daydreams.
Today's sub-theme (so far) seems to be egrets and close human-egret encounters. This one has just been got entirely too close to by a woman who parked her car sideways out in the middle of the Tilley's Point parking lot (See map.) and was walking boldly closer and closer, when it assumed the escape velocity jump position, jumped into the air and was heading low and fast out of there. Great light.
I drove all the way around the lake looking, hoping, for something, preferably something new or different. Or even something I've been shooting every day lately but keep hoping for better. I was concentrating on one Great Egret and one Snowy Egret on paralleling on branch perches close to the pier in Sunset Bay...
When large black birds with long wings crisscrossed over the area in wide arcing sweeps. I kept hoping they'd come back, then they'd come back when I wasn't quite ready. Or my blankety-blank camera would not focus on them as they whizzed by, and I'd have to wait till the next time they got the urge to fly me over again. Or go ahead and shoot them out over the middle of the bay.
Then suddenly they'd be flying by close again, and I'd be hope-hope-hoping that my not always entirely trustworthy lens would catch them, sorta like this. Such the treat when things work well together.
I've sighted cormorants intermittently since winter, when we have thousands of them, usually hold up around Cormorant Bay (See map). Before I knew their true names, I called them "Stinky Birds," becayse they stand for hours in the trees around their bay and scat what looks like snow sizzling down onto the lake, the ground, people or dogs. Still, I'm glad to see them being so visible now. Before i saw detail, I wondered whether they might be Anhingas. But they're not. They're our common, ordinary Double-crested Cormorants. And oddly enough, I was happy to see them, especially in focus.
I apologize for my stupid web host, DreamHost, for not keeping my sites online today. No telling what's up. Or down with those geeks.
May finally be getting better at this. But it's a steep learning curve. Today, for better and for worse, I shot at ISO 800, about right for a low contrast bird with significant portions of bright white in a low-contrast environment till the sun burns through the morning fog. And of course I still ned a longer telephoto for a proportionally larger image in the high-speed grainy frame. The 500mm or so lens I've been lusting after seems smallish for shooting small birds like the Belted Kingfisher, though it may be what I can afford.
I guess it'll be awhile till I capture him actually catching something or diving in the moment before he hits the water, but I've got his early-morning territory mapped and know to expect that rapid chattering call — like a Monk Parakeet with the vibrato turned way up — echoing down the lagoon as he makes another run. I'll hope for foglessness and try one more time with the Kingfisher.
Basically, there was less light this morning, so using the higher ISO ("film speed") was necessary, even though it causes this exaggerated clumpiness that masquerades as grain. There's no grain because it's all digital, but it looks enough like grainy that we might as well call it that. I've been going earlier each day but may lax back a bit tomorrow and just hope the Kingfisher's still plying the water there. More light means using lower ISO, getting lower 'grain,' and better pictures, except early ayem sunlight tends to be reddish, and this light wasn't.
So many variables. In this shot, I should have racked the ISO down, closed down the aperture and got smooth instead of sandpaper texture overall.
The light's brighter here, but the ISO's the same, so I'm less sure what the overall lesson might be. More light is the best part. Somehow I need to coax that Kingfisher to come closer in brighter light. And keep the bugs from biting.
Obsessively checking back through today's shoot, I noticed this, what I originally thought might be the Kingfisher moving around in the trees along the far side of the lagoon. Only it's not a Kingfisher. In fact, it looks more like a Red-shouldered Hawk.
I've been meaning to show you one of my Big Picture - Little Picture comparisons. This is the sort of magnification I deal with often with on this page. Which may explain how some of my Kingfisher photos turn out so soft and raggedy. They're often t-tiny portions of much bigger exposures. Either I am moving the camera and lens (causes more soft photographs than any other cause) or the whole world out there is moving. Or we'd be able to see this bird's body and face a lot better. But it closely resembles a Red-shouldered Hawk in this birder's limited experience.
Guess I have to go back again tomorrow, fog or no rain, for another chance at this beautiful bird.
Can you see the difference? This heron is alive, so it moves, changes position. Other than that, I can't, either. Maybe we both could if I printed a Super A3 (used to seem so big, now it looks small, 13 x 19 inches) print at considerably more than this 72 dots per inch. That's as big as I can print. These images look good here at a mere 72 dpi. I've adjusted the contrast of each image to what Photoshop tells me and what I know is white and black.
The one difference I can see is that I can see this heron's right eye in the bottom, ISO 400 shot, probably because we can see the side of the bird's face better. Otherwise, in this lighting with this subject in this place, it's hardly worth lowering the ISO.
Testing ISOs was part of my plan for today's shoot. But the real reason for showing up at the lagoon was to find that Belted Kingfisher again and maybe get an in-focus shot of it at work, diving into the lagoon. If not that, I really expected to at least capture it perched on that bundle of branches from yesterday. That didn't work, either.
This is about as sharp as that last shot, shot milliseconds earlier. The deal with mentioning "reddish morning light" has to do with the fact that the color of that light with the bluish color of Belted Kingfishers renders them dark brown in these photographs when in reality they are bluish. Unfortunately, the early morning reddish light renders the green of trees a yucky yellow. It doesn't help that the bird isn't sharp, but it's sort of informal and shows how these guys fly.
Some of these last three shots are lower ISO than the others. The lower ISO images show white slightly better, but none of them are sharp enough to consider. Tomorrow, I'll show up earlier, sneak down the lagoon slower and quieter and maybe catch a Kingfisher in its real colors and sharp. I can still dream.
Before this week, I last saw a Kingfisher in August and September 06 and March 07
Xperimental everything today. A little overboard. Almost all of these were shot at very low ISO. As low as 100, which is very strange to me, and as low as my D200 will go. I usually shoot 400 or 800 or more. Because I can, and because it fits my shooting and post processing style.
At 400, it's easy. And in most circumstances good enough. Once I get something shot that fast, I can crease up the wrinkles and sharpen images unnaturally or lower it. Over the years, I've learned how to deal with those nice, low contrast images. Show them here at 72 dpi and get away with murder.
Today, I shot at a lot of different ISO, none of them as fast as 400, where I expect low con and a little sandpaper in flat, open areas, even when I don't blow it up much. Today, however, I got major contrast. So much I hardly know what to do with it all. A little scary till I figure out what exactly I'm doing with these low "film speeds." But about time I tried it. A whole 'nother world.
I hardly recognize this shot. So incredibly much detail, smooth tones and if it hadn't been such low ISO, I probably would have got the Snowy's eyes and feathers sharper by using a much higher shutter speed. Strange to be fussing about too much detail and tonality.
Same deal here. 1/250th of a second is not quite quick enough to capture a bird jumping into the air through the long end of a longish zoom that does much better resolution at the shorter end. Great gray background goes on forever. Bright orange feet, legs so sharp they could cut ice, but movement steals the details that would have held everything together in all those white feathers. Weird.
Purposely no detail here. Everything looks sharp but we can still hardly tell what these lumps are. Mystery bumps dunking.
One of those birds, like the Forster's Terns, tend to stay far from shore, so I have no idea what this is. I've paged the pages in Sibley and National Geo. Sandpiperish in its carriage aloft, especially that tight leg drag-behind, but not findable so far by this amateur.
My audio memory is less-than or I'd try to say phonetically how it got my attention even before it flew toward shore. High simple one or two-note whistle flying all around Sunset Bay. Insisted I take its picture. I think all these down from the dunking ducks are the same bird, although the next image introduces a surprise tailfeather extension not in any of these other shots.
None of these are particularly sharp, but this most interesting shot is particularly fuzzy. I didn't know the bird had deployed that white fantail, I just shot and shot and shot as it flew around the bay, closer to shore, then back out and disappeared. Its wings here seem swept back, not the short straight wings of the shot next up. I always seek something new and different, then when I get them, I'm baffled awhile till its identity extends my experience, then I go seekig something else new again. I guess that's how we learn.
More too-much contrast, and I love the water's weird colors and tones. The Juvenile Grackles seem too light, and I'm pretty sure so is the adult on the left (molting?). I darkened the ground or it would have appeared bright red. So strange...
This is a tiny portion of an image. I should show you just how sliver of a shot it is. But I recognized it as a Kingfisher from all the way across the lagoon and down to the bridge where I can generally escape the biting bugs. I stood on the bridge. It perched on a bright branch about half way down the creek. Seemed hopeless for detail till I planted the camera on the steady bridge (long as no runners, walkers or bicylers vibrated by). I gotta gotta gotta get a longer lens. Gotta. But which one?
Not sure how I managed to see that far away that acutely. I need my glasses to check out anything close but the farther the better. But soon as I saw this lump of blue and white feathers, I knew it was a Belted Kingfisher. I've photographed them slightly more unsuccessfully before. Now I know where it hangs out, maybe I can use a significantly higher ISO later and get stop it in mid-air a little better. Especially catch it diving down to the surface or skimming out across the lagoon.
Since with a professional dSLR, I cannot monitor the results of ISO or any other changes except color temperature and general overall exposure (maybe) with the way-too-contrasty (makes every shot look sharp) LCD, I never think about that stuff any more then I go and change all the parameters by dropping ISO, so I have to rethink everything — having to think about it is why I bought the Nikon, after all. I thought it'd be exciting to have to think. Now I wonder whether I might enjoy more success if I didn't have to think. NOT.
I've learned over the year and a half I've had this camera to expect what I usually get. Chances for greatness. Maybe not every time. But every once in a while, a chance of superlative photography. Not at this slow a go, though. Not quite yet, till I fold it, too, into my experience and understanding and post production procedures.
Bigger, this image disintegrates. I created 3 versions of it. This is the best of the bunch, and it basically sucks. Someday I'll will capture the elusive Kingfisher fishing is somehing besides a blue blur.
And no, I didn't mess with the color on this shot. I added a sub-tull edge of blue to some of the above images of this so far so elusive bird. But this shot, that's inherently way too cyan-y blue, I didn't.
Finally added the Bird Ruffles Page I'd been thinking about for months, spoke briefly about at the Heard last Satty. Various species shaking and stirring, stretching and fluffing. Interesting in an offbeat way. It's not finished — probably never will be — but there's a bunch of different species now, and I'm on the watch for more.
Oh, and there's a Green Heron ruffle there I didn't post on Green Heron Day's entry below, and that and another Green Heron shot on the updated Feedback page, and I'll be adding more.
It'll be awhile but I'm also working on a Pelican Page and one for American Coots. My Heron v Egret Page (How to tell the differences) and my Egret Page and Heron Page are pretty popular.
Just a quick trip after dinner, but I had my camera. First thing we saw rounding the curve into Sunset Bay was a dark silhouette of an egret or heron or something. I wasn't sure till we stopped, lathered up with deet and ventured into the much darker evening than this photo shows. Relying heavily on the VR (vibration reduction) at the equivalent of 450mm or so, I snuck slowly closer as it shuffled along the muddy bottom, a silvery wake wrinkling forward and sparkling back.
I left the GBH shuffling, never once gone into stealth mode or looking like it might catch anything and walked back to the Goose crowd — gooses and the people who've released them, feed them and talk about them, a regular gathering and another part of the ongoing Sunset Bay social scene. Instead of photographing people or gooses, I shot duck silhouettes. Uncharacteristically, I did a couple flash shots, too, but those just look silly with brilliant flaming eyes and dark everything else.
Earlier, somewhat distant from the lake we were awed by this splendiferous sunset.
Enormous hot on the trail at The Heard this morning. The grounds don't open — even in summer — till 9 and by then this August Saturday was near 100 with darned little breeze. Two hours earlier would have been cooler, but there we were, and I was determined to find something I hadn't seen before.
Just before I took off my sweat-soaked shirt, this gorgeous bird flew past. I saw the flash of iridescent blue and hoped he'd stop. I knew I'd never seen this species before. Shape, bill and pointed crown at first looked cardinal-ish. Oh but that intense blue blue blue!
The Turkey Vultures Sibley describes in his Guide to Birds, is not the Turkey Vultures I've come to know and love — in the air. Sib says, "wingbeats clumsy slow, body moves up and down, flight unsteady, rocking." I especially don't appreciate the clumsy and unsteady parts. These birds are magnificent in the air. Solid, steady, gorgeous. I found out after my talk at the Heard that I was not the only one who had early on mistaken them in the air for eagles.
Up close, they're ugly. Worse, if you see them up close, they're likely up to their necks in ripe carrion. I pulled over to the side of the road in the high desert this side of Big Bend once to watch a group of these red-headed flesh-rippers. Fascinating and full into their task, they paid me no attention as they gutted a cow. In the air, however, they are Jonathan Livingston Turkey Vultures.
Lazy circles of a half dozen were the first birds we saw at the Heard. A good sign.
The guy who told us about the trail said there were both Blue and Great White Herrings and Cattle Angrets around their lake. A little mispronunciation is not a problem, but this was egregious for a guide at a Nature Sanctuary. The big white birds are Great Egrets, and herrings are silvery fish not likely to be found flying around rural Texas ponds.
Besides, herons are usually not white. We knew what he meant, and if it hadn't been so awful hot — or if we'd snuck in at 6:30 or 7 — the birding would have been worth hanging around instead of escaping nearly dying.
We'd seen Anhingas at the Southwestern Medical Center Rookery but those pictures were mostly black. I would liked sharper images including heads, but I was especially keen for feather deliniations. I got some Anhinga feather details but not much head and face detail. These Anhingas were roosting in the rookery of mostly Cattle Egrets, though they tended toward the higher branches of the taller trees and the Cattle Egrets were packed in below.
I didn't put much energy — I didn't have much energy out there — into Cattle Egrets, because we've seen them often in Dallas. The nicest thing about the Heard Rookery is that it is lined up along the edge of one of the narrower branches of the lake/pond.
I'd still need a much longer telephoto to capture anything in good detail. Nikon has a 600mm lens I've always wanted to try, except I'd have to lug a tripod, which I almost never do, and my zero grav carry-unit hasn't come back from the future yet. Except for the ocassional flyby on our side — like the obliging Little Blue above, these were too far away for my 70-300mm.
There had been a semi-shaded 'blind' with two chairs along the unnaturally straight coast closest to the rookery, but it was de-integrated pvc pipes we had neither the energy nor desire to put back together or hoist. It could have been a major blessing in that blazing sun.
I'm spending most of my bird time these days organizing and eliminating images. My talk at the Heard Nature Photography Club in the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas will be at 1:30 pm Saturday August 11. Anyone who wants may attend. It's free. I'll be as surprised as anyone what I'll say.
What I'll show is the big deal now. I've got the images down from all to 74. I'm having the devil bringing that to a more manageable 50. In fact, I just added one — I see a context, I always want to show one more aspect. My exhibition at the White Rock Lake Museum next January till April will show only 20, and I do not look forward to that edit. By then I will have shot many many more birds.
When John Yates of the Heard Nature Photo Club invited me, I suggested they could see all my best photographs and words right here in their natural habitat. But he insisted I show & tell, and so I shall. Talking will be easy. Getting the images down to a number I can deal with is the challenge.
I shot these terns yesterday before I finally found the Green Herons. A fellow birder and I both were having difficulty identifying them, so I concentrated on shooting in bright early light, realizing they were way far beyond my telephoto's reach, why they're a little fuzzy. I'll usually mention it's full frame when that's true. These are tiny slivers of the full frame. I panned carefully and used the fastest shutter speeds and best depth-of-field aperture combinations hoping these would be clear enough.
Was a long time when anyone thanked me for my patience, usually on the phone when I wasn't of a mood to show any, I'd reply, "Whoever thanks me for my patience is gravely mistaken." I didn't have much. Later, after I started this, people would insist the reason I was as good a bird photographer was my patience. Couldn't be skill or effort, had to be patience. I wasn't convinced.
Today, not for the first time, I sought Green Herons. I looked in three places. At the last, I stayed long after I had plenty other bird shots. I didn't give up. No reason to stay. But I waited. In the lagoon already very photogenic were a Great Blue Heron slow fishing (great poses), some Wood Duck teens and one bright white Great Egret. I dutifully photographed them all. But what I wanted was more elusive.
While I refused to take what I'd got as enough, I saw and quickly photographed something, not completely recognizing what it was, flapping around out there.
One of the bigger issues with using single lens reflex (SLR) cameras is that at every moment of exposure — what Cartier Bresson called "The Decisive Moment", especially in long, wild series of them, the camera blinds the photog, each time, rendering us unseeing at the precise moments we most need seeing. What we see flutters like a bird.
The mirror that lets us look down through the lens flaps up to let the light hit the sensor making the "exposure." Unlike most digital cameras that show our eyes what we've just shot, SLRs don't, unless we stop the pan to chimp — new word, as in chimpanzee, chin down oggling the LCD. We're almost always left wondering whether we got it. Chimping can confirm but interrupts the flow.
In a rapid succession of exposures like following this dark critter flittering around, I almost always did not know what fluttered out there. What color? What configuration? Did I get it? Was it really there? Then, when I had time to focus on it, it was gone.
All while shooting I was only vaguely aware it might be what I was looking for helicoptering out from the shadows on the far side where the Great Blue stood, flapping clumsily like a just-hatched dragonfly, out over the lagoon and around the grassy island, visiting plant tops like a goofy hummingbird, then back. Each of those several click-click pans, mostly shot at too slow shutter speeds and in those exact moments when I might have seen and identified, the camera's mirror flopped and hid my view, five frames per second.
While I was still wondering if I'd got what I thought I saw, a reader of this blog stopped on the bridge to chat what I sought and found. Green Herons, I repeated, as I have repeated here often lately. I told him about the shape I'd seen like a old-time movie around the islands, convincing myself I had seen it. After he left, I waited for more blue black anything-but-greens flapping from the far side. And waited.
Eventually, the heron exposed itself to be the who I hoped, flapped down the far shore, more movement than shape or color. Stopped to dart across two logs and eventually alighted on this split-post treelet, where it paused to look, find this bluish bug we saw about the same time, turned up, back...
Sprang sprawling after, caught quickly, retracted bowlegged goofy.
Lined it up in its beak and swallowed. I was click-click-clicking all along, ever wondering whether I was getting it. Turns out I did, but I didn't know till I got it big on my monitor. On non SLRs, we see it almost as it happens, what we got — or didn't get — right away but that continuing confirmation interrupts getting the next shot, again and again. Now, I know. Only thing I saw it catch all that time.
I've been looking for Green Herons awhile, and today, finally, I got em. Once while I panning one veering off toward the weeds I stood behind, the one I thought I was panning suddenly split in two directions. Took me startled seconds to realize I'd seen two. Possibly the same two I first saw when Steve Blow interviewed me last month.
When it happened, me clicking along being as usual minutely baffled anyway, I was so surprised I put the camera down. Watched with my own unfluttering eyes. One toward me but behind the weeds then into a dark tree, the other on a log then into the marshy woods. I followed each till they disappeared.
Didn't get much closer — this Great Blue Heron is about 5% of the size of my full frame — but, thanks to bright morning light and luck, I got more detail. Actually, however, I was looking for a Green Heron. Again.
I'm pretty sure this is the same Great Blue I've kept missing this week. I still hope I'll get to photograph it up close. But as always, I'll take what I can get.
More or less stumbled on two young adolescent Wood Ducks in the creek. One was very shy and lit out before I managed to get a bead on.
This is the other one even farther away. Not sure whether they're built this way or if this is some trick of perspective, but this duck looks short.
Up close was zero problem with this pair. Standing on the outer edge of the walking bridge by the Boat House, these two birds are probably used to people walking, running, bicycling and maybe even standing there pointing a big long lens at them. This is nearly frame filling. So much so that I got eyes in sharp focus and feet a little blurry. Nice feather detail, though.
This bird may be slightly smaller but not as much as it seems here. This one was farther away, on the next wood jut out. Notice that more of it is sharp, even almost the feet. That gray is lake — or more properly — lagoon. Normally, Barn Swallows are roller coasting around the bridge — I call them Bridge Swallows, because that's where I usually see them. They're fast, obviously having great fun flitting about catching bugs mid-air. Amazing to watch in action. Surprising today to see them holding still.
Handsome couple, eh?
I thought today's entry was going to be about Little Blue Herons, because I saw some on the upper spillway. But they didn't do anything but stand there, so I reluctantly came back to the Lower Spillway's steps and hit the jackpot for flying pictures.
I'd been standing on the walking bridge on top my plastic tool chest for weeks now, hoping for just such series of fly-bys. Turns out it's good on the fence-in walk up toward the dam, too. Never'd thought about that before today. Just wandered up there with it, hoping.
Without the toolbox these sorts of series were invisible to me, all the good stuff flashing past the metal slats of the bridge's guard wall. With it, me higher up, looking further down, I can follow the whole spiraling up, down, back and forth of it. Pretty good for a plastic toolbox.
And when I can't see them coming, when they fly by this close up into my view, it's hopeless.
The Black-crowned Nigh Heron was further down, only coming up to the steps from the far side pool. Smaller, he might have flown faster past me, though I've never seen them fly that high. This shot has the single distinction of showing its head and face, but watch those knuckles.
This is my fave of all these photographs. Not altogether in focus, but close enough. The reflection looks like another bird altogether (but it does supply the face missing in the upper image), all those blurs and the annoyingly bright corner of water splashing over the steps at bottom left. Despite all that, or maybe because of it, I love this picture. The wet sparks flying from its knuckles, the drips off the wings. That deep green. The amber blurs. Lovely. Maybe even artsy.
Meanwhile, back at the dam. The usual suspects hanging out. If they were catching any fish, I missed it. What I saw was a lot of standing around and preening. Almost as if they were posing.
All lined up, and for this brief moment at least, not preening. But just for a second.
Oh, and I nearly forgot. The Little Blue Herons. One here and two...
Here. Mostly by accident, but I was hoping the flying one would fly over to the fence and say hello. Not exactly sharp, but my fave of the Little Blue shots. Somehow, I have to get closer. Stupid City for fencing off the area when they engineered the retaining wall fall. Now they're dead set on parking cars there again, and no way they'll ever get the "retaining walls" to retain anything but water, which is how we lost access to the best birding perches on the whole lake.
Usually, I don't do birds on the weekend. Mostly because the lake is way too popular then. In the winter maybe it's okay, because except for the dedicated runners and bicyclers, the place is generally deserted when it's cold. Not that it's been cold much lately. It is August and this is Dallas.
I picked up two photographs from the Salon du FIT show at the Bath House, parked those in the car, got my camera and walked down the hill, where I saw this guy hunt and fishing along the edge of what was until Integration in the 50s, the White Rock Lake Swimming Pool.
Those concrete and metal poles out behind the Bath House are Tom Orr and Frances Bagley's White Rock Lake Water Theatre, and it's rare in August that any birds use the many perches. Great Egrets, however, are special.
After fishing successfully, this Great flew out to a farther perch and preened feathers for a long time. I saw it pluck one big one, kept track of it slanting in toward shore, abandoned the egret for the feather, which took its own sweet time ebb and flow floating toward shore, where I eventually plucked it out of the water and went home with it.
One bird. One Great Blue Heron fishing in the Lagoon. Possibly the same one I caught in silhouette yesterday. Not today's only bird, but I watched and photographed this one for a long time, wondering what the bikers and runners wiggling the bridge where I stood might have thought. "How many photos does he need of one bird?"
Many, as it turns out. This stealth mode gets the mighty hunter/fisher down, close to the surface under which fish swim. A large bird making itself seem smaller? Or just getting close to its targets?
Either quicker than I can follow or in slow careful motion, once it sees a fish, the beak goes into the water, spearing toward the fish, taking into full account refraction of the image and the speed and direction of the target fish.
If it's lucky this time, it pulls out its prey. Tiny morsels or huge, food.
Consciously or not, the bird's neck and throat thickens noticeably within seconds of catching something.
Notice the slight thickening of its neck here. I watched it struggle this out of the water. I'm still not sure what it was, don't think the bird knew, either. It seemed startled. There's always that potential of food, until there's just not anymore. At this moment, there's not. No more adventure, no possibility of getting this mass down its gullet. It dropped it a few seconds later, went on fishing.
Plunge, angle up and drain the beak, plunge again. Creep around the pond looking like skating, forelegs and feet skimming along the boottom unseen. Slow to stop, watching ever so carefully every moment, plugged-in, fully engaged.
Sploosh! Big splash. Lots of splash. Water scattering out. Intense, sudden, immersion.
Stay under long enough to get a firmly beaked prey.
Then, of course, throat thickens, head tilts, swallow. Sooner or later, the bird is back at it, looking for more food, always seeking more sustenance. I once watched a Great Blue empty an absent fisher person's string of caught fish.
At least eight of them. Keepers. Good-sized catches. Gobbled each in succession till they were all down, flew over to a floating wood island and stood there for a long time.
I don't know the full psychology of the fluffing ruffle. I know it is often like a stretch, followed by a good shake. I've done it myself. Feels good. I don't have feathers attached, but it must be a relief to puff them all out like this. I've seen the Mr. Fluffies puff out to look formidable, others to to keep warm and some just to puff out.
It's an amazing sight, usually brief. 251
Car trouble kept me from the lake. Two whole days I missed being with the birds. When I got back early this morning, I shot nearly 500 images, not for the first time. But not neither the best time, either. Back, I managed to mess up nearly all of those. Darned few are sharp. For a long time after I saw them on my monitor I worried my precious zoom lens musta got messed up.
But not. I loved the great glowing mist as I drove toward the lake this overbright morn. Sun gleaming off it nearly silver on the shimmering rainsmog. Took landscapes of the haze after hazy view. Much later, I finally figured the mist probably covered the business end of my lens much of that time, too. Not just like taking a lens from cold air-conditioning to a muggy lake, that's exactly what I did. Maybe I didn't even need the AC, it was so humid thick.
At least that's the best excuse I've come up with so far. You can bet I'll be testing this zoom over nover today before I go back to my lake. Last several days life has kept me thinking of the John Steinbeck quote from Pipin IV that "Everything in life is 5:3 against." So this non sequitur fits right in. Coulda woulda shoulda.
This is as close as I got in an extraordinary close Great Blue Heron flyby to getting it sharp or correctly exposed. Not bad in that last category. It's not really focus that doesn't happen. It's sharpness that's major missing in these images. I sure hope my lens is okay. These photographs soytenly aren't. I've saved the worst for last.
So sad I seriously underexposed this fabulous bird passing so very close (this image is nearly full-frame), up from the far side peninsula opposite the walking bridge over the Spillways Steps, past me and up the creek toward the dam. Damn! Better tomorrow, this one hopes.
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Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"