December 23 ~ 31 2007
Well, that major year-end project to earn big bucks didn't happen, because I got instead a serious bout of bronchitis. Slightly sick, I went home to the family for a much better Christmas than I'd dreamed of, got sicker, requiring a visit to the same Doc-in-the-Box who sent me to the horse pistol a little more than a year ago. This time, instead of spending a week there, I got better.
We had ample opportunities to do some serious LRGV (Lower Rio Grande Valley) bird-watching with family and seeing, sometimes up very close, many new species. Due to extreme exhaustion — another side of that patience I'm so well known for — I even managed to photograph Chachalacas engaging in what looked like a mating dance, although there were no loud vocalizations.
I'm posting a spare few teaser images from the trip. I'll finish wading through several the thousand or so shots and at least two major up-close-and-personal, hands-on experiences along the (high)way.
But mostly the first week of days in 2008 will be devoted to my upcoming exhibition of 20 prints of White Rock Lake birds at the White Rock Lake Museum in the Bath House. They're printed, need trimming, framing and hanging this Thursday.
Once those photographs are placed, I'll have energy and time for the several other projects that have been piling up, including this one and the 2007 Winter SolstiCelebration, and oh, that other site I do, too.
This story and all its accompanying photographs will form a new The Birds of the Rio Grande page. The last one is this site's most popular, having acquired more than 17,000 hits. Never know why. Whether it was the birds or the miniature horses, or what? But this new page will be birds, all birds.
Twice during our journey — once on the way down (a Great Horned) and again coming back up (a Barn Owl) Highway 281 north out of The Valley — we encountered owls killed by cars. We thought the first one was a hawk, because we'd been photographing lots of those just before. On the way back up we looked more carefully.
More info about Owl Roadkills on the web.
Hard to see or photograph with the light flooding down into the lens. A booger. But when I get a bird just right, it's glorious back-lit and still some detail. I stopped at the lagoon today, taking a day off from The Project (the last downtime for awhile) after sleeping nearly all day yester but not much before that. More sleeplessness coming, I'm afraid.
I didn't stray far enough to let Blue out of sight, been staying close to it wherever I go, stay in it whenever I'm near the lake, where I often see piles of pebbled car glass in big and little parking lots. If they can catch stoplight runners with cameras, you'd think they could slow the thieves who work the lake's lots, but it doesn't seem likely. Once burnt, learnt, however, and I'm more alert these days.
Though presented in my usual chronological order, these photographs are not all the same bird. Some are, but since they all wear the same clothes it's difficult to tell these kids apart. I saw at least five juveniles fly into the sun this early afternoon. Some escaped when I came close to the reeds up the lagoon from the walking bridge, although if I'd known they were there, I'd have been carefler. Others were playing musical trees across the creek in their ongoing game.
I'm going to miss the drama unfolding along the lagoon and in Sunset Bay, but I gotta make some money sometimes, and Christmas is as good as any. Ironically in the spirit of commerce, which unfortunately, is where the spirit is at for many at this glorified holiday. Everybody knows Jesus was born in April.
Except for one brief project that had some sunshine in it — and will probably outlast all this other clutter, this was one really truly lousy day. Two redeeming projects, if you count the better of these shots. The rest of this unenlightened Tuesday sucked. And, while I was taking these shots somebody smashed and grabbed my car, shattering the back window and getting away with — well, probably not much. He knows better than I what was in there worth taking. I'll probably miss something sooner or later.
So I'm off the lake for awhile. I need a vacation. I got another major project going I really need to spend time on, then Christmas, then more of the show, then the show. I'll come back to this just before the end of this year, maybe a tad sooner. But after today, I'm on hiatus.
I'd been thinking about Night-Herons after dark but I wasn't thinking about anything except that I'd missed shooting in the sunlight but still very much wanted to photograph some birds today. There was a little orange slant of sunset sun in Lakewood when I was running last-minute errands before I did today's (tonight's) birds.
But no light by the time I got to the lake. I tried flash, but this is regular, old, park the camera on the bridge when no runners are running by and go kah-lick, hoping for the best. Not bad. The heron looks sharp. I saw this one and another flying in the dark, and some other time on my step-up I'll stand tall in the dark and capture some real nocturnal heron behaviors.
For now, I'm amazed I got this much. ISO 2,500, bridge-held. And I'm staying away from my beloved lake for awhile. Too many creeps and thieves there now.
Standing pointing my big lens up into a tree trying to get the camera to focus on the bird, not the limbs and branches, four different people called to me, "What kind of bird is it?" A. I didn't know. B. I was struggling with equipment and a bird that was a tiny portion of a much larger frame, and didn't really have time nor inclination to stop and chat. C. Then along came a woman repeatedly asking me, "Is that a little eagle?" I didn't know how to respond to that. … Where to start.
Not till I saw that puffed out bird jump out of the tree and flash its stripy wings across the street to a lower tree. Then it was obvious. No, it's not a little eagle. I knew that. When it's classic wing stripes flashed I recognized the ubiquitous Northern Mockingbird.
Would that someday I'd get a mockingbird to back off the edge of the frame and fly big flapping stripes across the middle of the frame close and in focus as I panned it catching every wing up and down and had my choice. Dreams are important.
Most of today's times with this bird, however, it was too far and small, and when it did amazing things like pas de deux with another or fly straight up the picnic table or park itself on a branch with its tail nearly perpendicular, it went out of focus.
This one is clear, sharp with a soft out of focus background (They call the gentle fuzziness 'bokeh' [and pronounce it bouquet, I suppose.]). Interesting details nonetheless. Flashy petticoats. Would have been nice to have eyes and a beak.
This one was close. Maybe even close enough.
This, though partial again, is semi-spectacular. Semi, because half of it isn't there.
Even better. A characteristically sticking-up tail might have improved it, but after fifty or so shots at this "little eagle," not bad.
It's not a real cat. It never moved a whisker in all the time we watched and photographed it. It has to do with birds. I suspect it's there to stop them from crashing into the window.
Wandering around up from the Bath House, Anna found this little flicker flicking about in a low tree. Absolutely absorbed into its task and pecking away noisily, it paid us no heed. It was very intent upon hammering into beak the into tree, down and up and down, faster almost than we could watch. I kept my finger on the trigger, clackity-clackity-clack, hoping to catch it in an almost still motion.
Eventually, focus improved and I caught it for a few nanoseconds not moving a lot. Notice its finest white feathers sharp on its breast. Notice also those sharp little toes for defying gravity around branches. It was easy to identify. I know I'd seen them before, though not usually so well illuminated. Right about here, my battery died. Stopped short.
I'd decided leaving the house earlier that 60% battery power left should be more than enough since I had no real plans to be birding today, don't usually on Sundays. But there were so few people at the lake, the weather was delicious, not warm exactly, but not cold, either. And sun shine. So I walked back to my car hoping I'd left an extra battery there. Nope.
Anna kept at it, even capturing this split-second shot of its rapid escape.
Rainy and cold. Colder this afternoon when I was desperate for bird contact than this evening. I thought nights were supposed to be colder. The rainy part of today's cold was nasty enough, but it was a long time before I saw any birds.
So the first one I saw, I photographed, thinking maybe it'd be today's only. Two crows along Lawther from Garland Bridge looping around DeGoyler. Doing some sort of dance that involved forward and backing and a little kick in the middle of the routine with odd head tilts and bobs, all impossible to capture in a still photograph. Something to do with little morsels in the moist grass. I photographed but had no reason to believe this shot would be good enough for today's entry. Still not convinced.
Driving east toward the lake I noticed the only birds flying in any direction were cormorants, and they were flying in all directions. Some in long, neat lines and Vs. Many just melee any which way. Coming and going or criss-crossing each other. Just going. Never mind destinations. Who could tell anything anyway in all that gray?
The goose clan was already noisy on my way out to the pier and honking crazy by the time I got back. Feeling ornery I guessed, attacking each other with much flapping of wings. That's Wilbur, white wings spread, on the left. Not sure if the attacking African Brown was going up against boss goose (probably) or just ill-tempered, and I didn't notice who won, if anybody did. Probably Wilbur. His wattle is bigger — waddle, too.
As I escaped through the rain, several big white gooses came at me, long necks straight and low, inches off the ground, intent on ankle-biting, till I squatted to their level and poked my camera's long lens at them like some giant, black, king goose proboscis, and they backed off. They always do. Once upon a time, I let one bite, but it only got jeans. I'm told it doesn't hurt, but I'm not offerring skin for the test.
The one thing I know about the differences between white gooses and browns is that although the whites can swim pretty fast, as can the browns, the browns can actually fly, and the whites don't. Maybe flashing wings is a "Nyaaaah-nyaaaah, I can fly and all you can do is flap your silly little white wings" thing. Then again, maybe the whites wait for J Rs to leave before they fly. It is a lot of girth to get aloft, although Muscovy Ducks do it, albeit ponderously.
Egrets are usually out this time of winter — I remember photographing several dozen along a feeder creek on the residential side of the Lawther on New Year's Day, but this was the only egret I saw all day. Those other, darker lumps are various ages of Stinky Birds — Double-crested Cormorants.
Sunday's supposed to be brighter, but I'll be busy. I have a client Monday, so I'm hoping there's still shine from our local star on Tuesday.
Great to see sunshine, even through the fog. First all I could see were a small cloud of white pelicans over in Hidden Creek territory. Then some showed up fishing off Dreyfuss Point on the far side of the bay. Then, answering commands I could neither see, hear, feel or touch, the big white birds began to hop along the surface and sploosh into the the air.
As swimming cormorants watched, this small contingent began to rise over the lake.
Flying around Dreyfuss and Sunset Bay in big circles. Not a lot of flapping, but their wide gyres rose steadily.
Sometimes they flew close to and even high over the Sunset shore. The far edge of their orbit was out past Dreyfuss Point. Around and around, gyring higher with each full circle. This looks like they're flying so close they're drafting each other. But telephoto lenses tend to make objects appear compressed together, when they may be their usual lateral distances apart, only looking much closer because of the apparent compression.
Sometimes so close overhead, I had to dezoom, other times so far I've had to substantially enlarge those portions of the frame. Maybe it's just me, but it seems as if two pelicans stay relatively close while another hangs back a bit. If this is a behavior, it continues through all today's images of upward spiraling pelicans.
I often speculate about pairing among pelicans, but since there is no known (to me, at least, and that's what some books say) or discernable differences between males and females, I can only conject. Some pelks seem to hang out with others, be they friends or family or breeding pairs, I just don't know, but I'm fascinated and keep watching.
Round and round, upper and upper into the sky.
Till the sky behind them turned blue with only spotty fog.
Then no clouds.
Then all clouds, as the birds orbited the thermal, often flying flat out, absorbing every bit of rising air. I kept moving around on the ground, getting out from under one tree or three others till I could photograph the thermal riders without intervening branches. Eventually they rose so high they no longer needed to circle and flew away.
Cold and drizzly when I started at the lake today. Another round 'round the lake and the first non-Gracklish birds I saw were these cormorants at the Bath House.
Of course, soon as they saw me, they took to the water. Riding higher in the water than real snakes usually do. Cold?
Where they often gather. I've even seen Great Blue Heron out there.
You'd think birds would flock to these poles in the summer. But they don't mess with them, until fall or winter. Maybe spring, but hardly ever in summer. It (The White Rock Lake Water Theater by Frances Bagley and Tom Orr comprises those poles, that glow at night from luminescent paint.)
Once also were shorter round floaters supposedly for turtles, but turtles need a slant up to their perches and could not get up on the floating circles, which were then removed. I think it'd look better with them, but they'd be useless for turtles, and too rocky for birds.
At Sunset Bay there were way fewer pelicans than sometimes. They were all the way over on the Hidden Creek Woods, far side of the Bay's farthest reach. Most heads tucked deep into feathers and hunkered lower than I'd seen them before.
Between the two big, close clumps of chilled pelicans, a few freelancers scattered out with heads partially and all the way up, briefly. By then it was raining full-time, too wet to sling telephoto lenses around, and me without a plastic bag or the desire to stay till Indian Summer's next foray.
Once I've been hoping for herons this long, I was glad to find them. I thought about shooting photos blind of the far side of the lagoon, but didn't. I saw some of these herons (and one egret), but no way I could see all, what? eight of them? Ten? Who knows. Not me.
Fuzzy, dark, fog-laden day. Looked cold but was warm. Strangely warm. I drove all the way around the lake. Hoping for Buffleheads, but some think they want especially glass-smooth water. None of that around today. Everything gray. No smooth anywhere. I could find only two pelicans, stopped, spent time at the Lagoon, where I found herons hidden and not.
Nice to see as many herons as I actually could see again. The others were a bonus later. Here an adult Black-crown ejects a juvenile from its perch in the constant game of I'm bigger than you, so it's mine.
And the hapless juvenile flies off where nobody's staked branch claims already.
Further up the lagoon nearer the walking bridge, two fairly visible adults perched in trees. Trying to find just the right angle, so the fluffy, feathery shapes actually looked like birds eventually exposed another heron.
Hiding among the branches in what looks here like plain sight. But plain sight sometimes isn't when it comes to herons.
A juvenile Double-crested Cormorant make a perfect one-point, to be followed within a fraction of a second more, with two more points of landing.
The same a little later. No sun, so this one could not possibly be sunning off parasites on its wings. Must just be drying them. This is the first time in my short memory I remember photographing one directly into its face.
Being at the lake was lovely. Finding time to work up my images this close to Christmas is the trick. There may come a time of hiatus, but I'll build back the same schedule or more — 4 weekdays of birder journaling every week, maybe more, hardly ever less.
Watched Ring-billed Gulls again today. Hot out, about 84 degrees warm. These two dosey-doed, circling each other and wheeling around. At unknown and untimed intervals one gull (always the same one) would lean back like the gull on the left above, and gargle a call. My audio memory is lacking an accurate description. But I watched for about five minutes, and they never stopped.
When they weren't twirling around each other, they were paralleling. The left one is adult. The right one is a first-winter juvenile. Note the polka dot-like spots on their wings when they're folded back I mentioned yester.
I've counted as many as 14 Lesser Scaups at Sunset Bay this week, more than ever before (for me). All males, so far. That's more than I've ever counted there at one time. This is as many scaups as I've ever photographed in one shot. In formation, yet.
Smallish cormorant on a post with the yacht clubs behind. This cormorant is either drying its wings or exposing feather parasites to the sun, which tends to kill those bugs.
Every clan's got a boss. This is the gooses organizer and commander in chief. We've watched him many times organizing all the brown and white domestic and white gooses. Lining them up for their nightly trek out into the lake for safety — where most varmints can't get to them. He's the biggest with the biggest wattle. Note also his serrated beak, resembling teeth.
I knew they weren't grackles but till I got my pix on the monitor I wasn't sure what they were. Big on my screen, however, the red epaulets became apparent. These are Red-winged Blackbirds flying over the end of Sunset Bay from the Hidden Creek area to the trees along the shore.
I love flight shots for the variety of flight shapes different birds exhibit. Some bullets some up flaps, some down. These guys were flying by fast. I shot and hoped for focus.
Less than perfect focus, but great shape. Two males Red-wings bulleting by after having flapped a bit.
Today's pictures are about Ring-billed Gulls. Not my favorite birds, but they are often beautiful, and they are interesting, but I don't know much about them. Because I rarely just sit or stand back and watch them. These photographs may be a first step into that dimension, but they steal food from my friends the coots — and from everybody else.
When I was a car-struck kid, my favorite was the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gull-wing Coupe. I've seen them, rarely, but I've never got the opportunity to sit in one let alone raise open one of their gull-wing doors, that actually do look a lot like a gull's wings in the curve of them cupped over their heads.
Kinda like this one probably looked like, would have been inside this photograph, if I'd been a little quicker. Or if I'd settled for less detail by zooming not quite so far out into this gull.
And not at all like these wings.
They fly around a lot. And although Jonathan Livingston Seagull was written about their cousins, they're really not that much fun to watch flying. Turkey Vultures are much more serene, and Ravens are way ahead in creative flying.
When gulls are coming in from out in the bay, I sometimes think they might be pelicans. Then I pay them a lot of attention. Soon as I notice how much flapping they do, however, I lose interest. Pelicans flap, too, of course, but much less often. Turkey Vultures and American White Pelicans soar much more. If it's flappy, it's probably a gull. I rarely can tell the relative size at any great distance (I was cross-eyed as a kid, have trouble working both eyes together, tend to close one when I'm photographing.)
Juvenile Ring-billed Gulls' bills look dipped in dark ink, with just a smidgen of pink showing at the pointed end. Which is to say, they are not ring-billed. Yet. I prefer this first-winter plumage. It's more distinctive than the mostly bright, but I've always fancied adult gull's apparent polkadots on wingtips. Wish I could show that in a photograph again. Will.
Love all those spots and dark/light contrasts and squiggles and tones and the fluffy white in between. Very pretty. I still think Disney got it right. They are greedy, and that, more than anything, puts me off them. But I'll be watching more closely now. Maybe I'll get something more intimate, more revealing of who gulls really are. I keep remembering a photo from last winter of two gulls flying over Parrot Bay. One of them has just caught a large fish.
Moments earlier I watched a coot get mobbed by fellow coots and one gull when it got whatever is now in this gull's beak. Not even a quarell this time. Coot captures food item. Gull takes it away. Click-click. What gulls do. And the smaller, less fierce coots let them.
Dark when I got to the lake after picking up Blue at the fixit. But my Nikon has a built-in flash, so I set the ISO to 2,500 and popped the flash up. I know it's good for up to about a hundred feet, maybe more, so I tried it. That's why the pelicans above seem to have silver button eyes.
As if they were pearlescent. Other than the dark backgrounds, though. Everything looks about right. I'm always amazed when I manage to do that.
Sometimes, when there's not nearly enough light, it helps to pan with the moving objects.
Generally works better with a little practice.
But a flash works better, and at that high an ISO, it goes nearly forever.
My camera doesn't tell me how far it was focused on, but this is aa ways out there.
This looks a little closer. Not sure why else it would be here.
But it got darker. I thought this shot looked a little spooky. Especially like the duck entering from the left.
They're going night fishing.
Out somewhere else in the lake. Wonder where?
Cormorants, Double-crested variety, mob Sunset Bay like Grackles mob shopping centers. The noise more like a steady murmur of bullfrogs croaking than the din of Great Tailed Grackles. In the distance. But constant.
Juveniles, their grayish breasts shining overhead. I've begun thinking who are Phalacrocorax' natural enemies. The forest of tallish trees along Hidden Creek are getting thick with "Cormorant Snow," which stinks like scat often does.
As I left the lake today, past photographing the bright white dots crowding the flats below the dam, I noticed a half-mile long fishing party on the Duckfia Point far side. Cormorants — I assume that's where this sudden outflux of corms are headed — pelicans, gulls and ducks half across the lake.
The bright polkadot cloud of Ring-billed Gulls gathered under the dam either didn't know or didn't care about the fishing party in clear sight across the lake. Surprising for gulls.
Last year this time we were introduced to Buffleheads in this very place, along the now one-way Lawther Boulevard from Parrot Bay north to Mockingbird's dog park. Never seen them anywhere else. Must be something about this place, the wind, the sun, something they insist upon. What they eat grows or goes here. This extended clan was closer when Anna first spotted them, but when they saw us running toward them setting cameras and stuff, they swam quickly away.
Next time I'll park along that short part of the now extended no-parking zone, along the berm or something, and saunter subtly down there and maybe catch them in more detail. They won't stay more than a month, if that much. That portion of Lawther while they're building the "path" out over the water, hoping it won't push the shore further into the lake.
After what four years of drought we finally got a genuine autumn with colored (besides brown) leaves again this year. Picturesque and pretty, we like this vivid spectrum. If you look close just right of center under the boats, three cormorants fly left, making this a bird photo and eligible for placement on this avian blog.
I remember scaups from last winter. Do not remember, however, ever seeing — or noticing — both Lessers and Greaters, if that indeed, is what we have here. In Birds of Texas, Fred J. Alsop says Greaters facial gloss is green and Lessers are purple. Lessers are mostly light across the middle.
Except that all these guys' bills are uniformly bluish-gray, not the darker blue-gray of the Greater, I'd be more sure they are different species. Most everything else looks different. Lessers have peaked heads, Greaters are rounded.
No females in sight yet. Last year a few visited for a couple weeks then disappeared. We saw many more females 200 miles south in Austin, Texas. Haven't timed them yet, but none of the Scaups stayed all year long.
I later learned that Greater Scaup are rare here. Which leads me to believe all these birds above are Lessers. I may never see a Greater.
We've seen many corms with wings spread, drying, for what seems like hours. Every time this juvenile got its wings out for a few seconds, it'd pull back, fold in again. Their species-normal wing-drying pose has to do with the fact that their wings are not waterproof and Buffleheads and Coots' are. Cormorants are great for catching fish but less than ideal for flying or flying away immediately after. I'd been hoping for a close-up wing-dryer for several weeks. Glad I got the opportunity, even if its face is dark. Nice touch to have water dripping off its beak, though.
Cormorants also sometimes swim low in the water, and Anna and I had begun to call them "snakes."
What's a trip to the lake without a good pelk beak lower beak stretch.
Now I been doing this journal more than a year (be two years next June) I could go back and time-map the presence of Killdeer. Seems like they come and go twice a year, or maybe they go off and hide often. I didn't see this one till Anna pointed it out. Fairly close for a change, and sharp focus.
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Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"