She's a rare winter visitor. I had counted eight male scaups in the water around the pier at Sunset Bay and asked them my usual question, how can you guys survive as a species without females? Because females are so rare here, although apparently plentiful in other places — we saw several on Austin, Texas' Town Lake winding through downtown. But here, I'm lucky to see them once or twice a year, and they usually don't stay long.
These two photos should show all the detail you need to discern the differences between the sexes. They are disarmingly similar, but she has those white patches around her darker bill, and darker canvas wings and back. In daylight, they're more difficult to separate, although it's never really easy. Often I confuse them with Coots, who are very dissimilar.
The males are a common sight in Sunset Bay. They arrive early and stay late, rarely far behind when white bread or crackers or anything else is on offer from the tourists on the pier or shore. I'd spent the afternoon photographing art by one of my favorite artists in the known world — including lots of her found wood and sculptured clay and metal birds that would look lovely on this page, so I didn't get to the lake till nearly dusk, only barely capturing anything in the light of day. So I consider myself lucky to have sighted and accurately photographed the lone female scaup.
We thought about Tawokoni and Lake something-else, but when birders need birds, they go to Irving or the Mid-cities. Arlington Drying Beds was our destination. We'd been hearing about it for months and finally went to see what we could see. Lots of space and species, some we'd never seen before. Great fun.
The Green-winged Teal's eye swash really is green, despite the blue in the photo at the top of today's journal. There were many Green-winged Teals there, though nothing like a majority, more in ones and twos — and probably lots other birds we did not identify. I want to go back and set up parking off the fairly busy (3 vehicles in 2 hours) dirt roads with a steady tripod and maybe even a tele-converter that'd give me double the telephoto and probably about half the resolution. And wait for birds to happen. Today we drove around frightening birds, but we got more that way.
The one (we think) resident Great Blue Heron seemed young and flew away almost as quickly as we paid attention to it. But by then, it was too far away to photograph well.
We saw more Northern Shovelers than we ever have in one place. They occupied many of the pans (drying beds). These were the most we saw gathered to do it, but all of them were intent on zigging and zagging across the ponds shoveling food. In the Lone Pine Birds of Texas, the authors say this species "dabbles in shallow and often muddy water, strains out plant and animal matter, especially aquatic crustaceans, insect larvae and seeds; also takes small fish."
I'd seen a small nutria mostly submerged at the lake, but today's couple dozen or more big, hairy rats were my first whole-body (yes, it does have long, thick, ratty-looking tail). This one was moving, uh..., well not exactly fast, more like leisurely, but it was partially hidden in the grass and weeds much of the time. They are known to destroy wetlands, like this one, utterly.
According to The Mammals of Texas, "They are almost entirely nocturnal," [Ha!] "consequently their presence in an area usually is revealed only by their trails, feces, and lengths of cut vegetation that have been left in their trails. ... Cattails, reeds, and sedges appear to be especially prized items of food. When established near gardens, they take cabbage readily; they are also fond of carrots and sweet potatoes. ..."
"The trouble is that once nutrias get established in a lake, their high reproductive capacity soon results in overpopulation. There are so many nutrias that the available food supply will not satisfy them, and then trouble begins. The animals move into places where ... they destroy vegetation that is valuable for such wildlife as waterfowl and muskrats."
"A case in point is Eagle Lake in Colorado County. There, a stocking of nutrias increased [and] the animals seriously damaged the waterfowl values of the lake. ... Currently, nutria populations in Texas are moderately high and on the increase [and] a serious and costly overpopulation problem is likely in the very near future."
For an easy example, see the Arlington Drying Beds. The best info I found online was at http://www.nutria.com/site5.php .
We have an occasional pintail at White Rock but nothing like the number at the Arlington Drying Beds.
Buffleheads, too. Since I'd never got decent photographs of them flying, I relished the opportunity.
Mrs. Buffle on the left and Mr. Buffle on the right, showing white primaries. Who knew?
Buffles and two Northern Shovelers. This shot may be as close as I got to documenting the drying beds' landscape.
Coots have big, honking feet. This doesn't, whatever it is.
At first they weren't at all shy, then they got shy and split.
Great feet. This could be a Western Meadowlark — except that Western Meadowlarks don't map near here in any of my bird books. I only this evening noticed that those maps aren't the same from book to book. It probably is an Eastern Meadowlark, another new species for Anna and me.
No clue how by simply swinging the camera around without really aiming and going click, I got this fast-flying bird near sharp, but it could be a meadowlark. Nothing else seems close in the several bird books I paged through looking.
But then I didn't recognize this one till we snuck up about as close as we could get to the wire it was perched on. It still looks like something besides an European Starling. Strong photo, though.
Had no idea what it was when I photographed it. Could not even see the beak from that distance. This being a small sliver of a larger photograph. I photographed it, because it looks a little different.
If I'd seen the beak and how long it is, I'd have stayed for better shots of it, although it did not get closer. Still, as many as four new species — depending on who are today's unsubs — for a few hours on a sunny, warmish afternoon. Nice.
Brilliant sunshine this morning; warm enough to walk through my neighborhood in jeans and a T-shirt; very windy. Cold the afternoon by the time we set out looking for birds. Anna found these, sidled up to the curb by the Bath House, and I shot from the window, so I didn't get out in the cold. Great acres of light on the lake top. Marvelous textures, and the usual suspects on the poles. One bird shot's enough on a weekend.
It's time for the annual American White Pelican Annual Splash Bath picture series. Not that pelicans only take baths once a year, like some humans. No, they do it often. If you're going to be some of the premier flyers of the avian world — and even if you have no such ambitions — you gotta keep those feathers clean and in order.
Bathing helps all that. Not sure which step in the many entailed in a proper pelican ablution this might be, but with a beak that long emanating from a lump of wet feathers, I had to shoot, even if there was a friendly neighborhood gull in the background.
When a pelican gets splash-happy, it's hard to stop. Whole lotta splashing going on.
Though there are some moments of calm involved, too.
Blow-dry feathers all awry.
So more splashing needed. Big pelican wings are useful for more than flying. Here they whip up a near lather of curling water.
And even more when those big wings go up.
I see beak orange nearly underwater on the left side, wet feathers flying in the big middle and water mimicking tail feathers on the right end.
This is much more recognizable as a white pelican.
This, too, though with large splats of water airborne.
And our pelican friend is still going at it as we leave. Tomorrow, or the next time I do one of these, I'll put in some of the aerial pelicaning I also captured today. Actually, pelicans bathe often, it's just that I now try to limit myself to one or two pelk bath series a year.
We actually saw it fly across the landscape briefly then land in this tree, so we knew — or thought we knew — from the start of this little episode, what it was up there. We were in the car when Anna pointed to it asking if that was a Great Blue, and it was, and we were both surprised when it landed in one of the trees it was flying by. I got out of the car and made my way across the meadow into under those trees.
I don't think I've ever photographed a Great Blue Heron in a tree before, certainly not as close as I eventually got, nor from as an extreme up angle as I got closer. The trick, as always when shooting birds in trees, is to get the lens to focus on the bird, not the trees. Takes a careful bit of placement away from or between intervening branches.
As I trudged through the thick leaves, I kept hoping with each step to get a closer than usual shot of this Great Blue Heron, which I later decided was probably the same I've photographed so often before in Sunset Bay, though like other herons and egrets, it's grown its "spring" finery bib lately, to show off to the opposite sex, whichever that might be. Handsome critter, eh?
Nice to get those big claws and that wispy bib in such sharp focus for a change. This view may be similar to the last thing many fish, snakes, amphibians and rodents ever see before they are grabbed and swallowed whole. This bird stayed there in my plain sight as long as I trained the Rocket Launcher up at it. Then when I backed off a dozen yards or so and looked back up, it was gone.
Beautiful day after so many foggy ones. And lots of birds. First thing I saw were two hawks cavorting over the Lawther entrance from Garland Road. I saw them while driving, but could never find them once I got out of Blue. They gone. What I did see next was a fishing armada that, unlike most, kept getting closer, instead of disappearing farther out.
This pelican has just landed to join in the fishing frey.
These guys have just landed or about it, hungry for fresh fish.
Converging on the spot.
Horned Grebes must be occasional winter visitors here, since here one was. I recognized the general grebe shape, but the colors were all wrong for our local Pied-billeds.
I could tell the back of its head was interesting, so I got it from that side, too. The Lone Pine Birds of Texas calls the Horned Grebe a "rare to uncommon migrant across the state; uncommon winter resident on the Coastal Plain and at scattered inland locations." I'd never seen one before, so doubt it's more than a migrant through here.
Always a thrill to accidentally discover a new species.
Pelicans flying over with their dinky feet pressed into their side feathers barely sticking out the back of a classic V-shape.
The caption says about all I know. I suspect it'd just taken off, but I'm not at all sure, so this is a Double-crested Cormorant flying low.
Another elegant shape from one of our winter visitors, often seen with dripping noses.
I seem to be getting better with my great honking Rocket Launcher of a 500mm lens. This is one of those coveted full-frame framings of one flying by close and fast.
I wonder if those who fly together are special friends or it just depends.
Pelicans fill the sky.
A regular visitor at White Rock Lake, The Northern Shoveler.
This angle shows off its huge, spreading beak even better.
And the Mrs. of course, with a similar shaped beak, just as big.
Female Cardinal perched on the other side of the lagoon by the Old Boat House. Difficult to tell its real colors silhouetted like this against a bright sky. One of those few times a fill flash would really help. But flashes tend to mark their territories with harsh, unreal shadows, and might not have gone this far before dissipating entirely into the ether. This is not a full frame shot but a small portion blown up.
That same bird flying with wings flapping.
Then coasting in the air awhile till she needs to flap some more. It's always odd to be photographing a bunch of birds flying and to have half of them wingless in flight in photographs. Seems odd they tuck in their wings (folded neatly here) and coast aerodynamically without those feathered arms flapping. And just when I finally got it in focus.
Those are birds on those white, glow-in-the-dark poles. Cormorants. Same as are waiting for the tram out in the middle. Beyond those and on the other side and all around is fog. I'm telling you about the cormorants, because this looks more like one of my atmospheric photographs like those I used to take of the lake before I started this journal.
Back when I photographed people and flowers and trees and sunsets and animals.
We went back to the lake tonight, loaded for bear ... er ... coyotes. Again. This time I brought that duper-super flash I bought earlier this year to photograph herons at dusk but never used because I never figured it out. Today, I figured it out well enough. Mostly it's automatic. I thought maybe I should bring a less telephoto telephoto but this seemed about the right long a lens for this situation. Longer might have helped.
We didn't see them where we saw them the last time. We only heard them after an ambulance or fire truck drove by with its siren screaming. They "sang" along and it was wild and beautiful. Plus we knew where to look for them. Then they disappeared into the trees and didn't come out while we were there, though we waited a long time.
Tomorrow, I'm going back to birds — and I'm going to learn how to use that flash. If I could fill in the shadows of landing pelicans it'd be worth the while.
First day of winter. Time for something a little different. Remember those coyotes I've been talking about lately? Anna and I drove around Sunset this evening at Coyote time, and there was plenty to see. Eventually we saw five. The only trouble was capturing them.
At first I had my camera set all wrong.
Gradually I discovered I couldn't focus automatically, and maybe the Rocket Launcher was just too telephoto, although slowly my manual focusing got better.
I sure hope the stupid City of Dallas Department of Parks and whatever doesn't decide to get rid of these beautiful and playful animals. They — The City — are probably the greatest single destroyer of bird and animal habitat at the lake. It'd be a travesty if those idiots used these photographs to "justify" killing or trapping these animals, but I wouldn't put it past them. I worry.
Surely they already know of the amazing and important diversity of life at the lake after all the people go home.
I was busy photographing, so I couldn't always tell what the dogs were doing, but Anna says they were playing and cavorting, although we were not the only car roaming the area watching them.
Jumping over each other, playing chase. I suspect it was a family out having fun.
Playing, cavorting, hunting?
A little earlier that evening we drove east we knew not where. I was thinking we should go off on the second lake we came to, wherever that might be, but it was getting darkish when we saw the first, so we took to exploring it.
The first shoreline we found was on the side of and eventually behind Bass Pro, which had more people on a Sunday evening than one of those huge suburban mega churches. Different gods, I guess.
Took awhile to find a way onto the actual coast this side of the long bridge over into too many lights on the other side, but in the back of the huge store, we found a drop down to deliver boats to the big lake, and a Great Blue Heron hunting there below us. He put up with us the couple minutes it took to get the Rocket Launcher out, pointed at it and snapping away. Then it jumped into flight over the darking water,
Flew elegantly low across the sunset purples ocean of lake.
And disappeared into the night.
First time I saw the hawk today it was perched on one of the trees down toward the lake from the Winfrey parking lot. I was coasting down toward Sunset Bay when I saw what I first thought might be that kite that's been fooling me the last couple weeks. It wasn't close, but it was close enough for the Rocket Launcher. Here, the feather-puffed-out (to keep warm; it was wicked windy cold) hawk is staring off over my left shoulder somewhere toward DeGoyler.
It flew past the brightly colored kite that's been caught in another tree down that slope for about a month now. That splotch of colors usually more resembles a blotch of dark bird, but making this hawk lighter so we could see colors instead of dark silhouette brings out its colors, too.
Usually, once a hawk leaves its tree, I lose it because they're fast, but the wind was blowing so hard this hawk, which I believe to be the same Redtail I photographed on a telephone pole in that area earlier this month (although possibly not that other hawk that I saw last week who looks younger) seemed to float up there. "Gliding" means sliding down in altitude. This bird was sailing slowly in the stiff wind blowing up Winfrey from the lake.
Gradually, it turned.
Swooped away, then disappeared out of my window-post occluded sight for a minute, maybe more. I quickly parked the car somewhere near a slot, clambered out and looked around.
And found it easily, because it was hang-gliding it seemed directly over the Winfrey building, but probably out more towards the point, kiting up there, hardly moving wings or location, not even tilting. A large, dark inkblot on a gray gray sky.
It was easy to photograph, except that getting the under, shadow side of the bird exposed correctly — which I had time to adjust for, because it just hung there for nearly a minute — left the gray sky beyond it nearly white, which it darkly was not.
Eventually, it turned again, flying fast toward Sunset Bay, closer over me, then down Lawther toward Sunset Bay.
By the time I got me and the Rocket Launcher turned around, all I could see was the usual — lately — crowd of grackles pick up en mass off the trees to dot the sky. Don't know if that was related to the hawk's exit or not.
Fog so thick I could not tell the lake from the sky. There is no lake. Only birds flying over – how can they tell where they're going? — and floating.
And perched on trees along the edge of where the ground stopped.
There was no horizon, no texture, the barest essence of reflections that I couldn't see.
Pea soup thick fog. I recognized some shapes, couldn't see anything but birds.
This is not from the Rocket Launcher. Its instructions insist not to take it where it might get wet. So I brought my oldest auto focus lens, a 180mm 2.8(35mm equivalent, more or less, of a 270mm) for that, for its wide aperture and because I hadn't shot it in a long long time.
No need to identify birds, no details visible, except small and lots. Starlings maybe?
These are grackles. There's some vague color visible here. Still no details, though.
No birds on the way around to Sunset Bay, but plenty fog.
It'd begun to lift when I arrived in the bay. Birds comparatively close seemed more real, more detailed. Color actually existed on birds. The 180's a slow, slow, slow focuser, but I'd followed this guy from out a ways in close.
The trees on Dreyfuss Point, invisible not long ago, could be seen against the nothingness of beyond. Gulls closer frenzied.
Somebody not Charles was feeding the gooses.
On KERA-FM's Everything You Ever Wanted to Know last week someone was desperate to learn why seagulls were this far inland. I don't know if they ever figured out that gulls are gulls, and we only call them seagulls because of Jonathan Livingston?
Still had Wood Ducks on the mind as I drove down Degoyler this gray afternoon. Very surprised to see about a dozen of them swimming near Garland Road. Too far for much definition. But enough to know they're "out there" in the wild. These my first shots of them doing something besides eating Farmer Charles' corn. I'd begun to wonder.
Around every bend were coots, of course, but around the next bend was a solitary Pied-billed Grebe. This season, at least, I've only ever seen one of them at a time.
Then a scattered mob of Ruddy Ducks. With a coot scooting through them. Like speed through sedentaries. Knew they were real Ruddies, because only they have those thin spatula tails sticking out at 45 degree angles while they sleep swim.
On the fence along the other side of Lawther Drive (I only call it DeGoyler as East Lawther bends around the DeGoyler Estate most call The Arboretum) i tried to sneak up on a too-wary pair of male Cardinals hunting together. I kept being amazed at the variety of birds I saw on this grayest day this year.
The doves on the wire over Winfrey's back parking lot were not at all shy, though they were puffed up against the incipient cold and gray.
I eschewed walking down into Sunset Bay thinking it was too cold. No wind but I didn't trust it not to start, chilling everything. A few roads were slightly slippery, most were fine, though I and everybody else drove slower than usual. Driving into Sunset Bay from Buckner, I saw a big white goose in a tree off to my right. By the time I got my lens aimed at it, it was in the air. An ungainly large blur.
"On the wings of a snow white goose," I sang to myself as it flapped while coasting inevitably downward into the creek.
Lotta birds in Sunset today, mostly cormorants flying over, coots swimming around, and ducks on the far side of the treed sandbar. The newly developing, wavy dirt bar seemed partially submerged. I guess that gray stuff is moisture, after all.
If there are pelicans flying, there's a J R photographing them. I liked the gray for neutral backgrounds and its oddly contradictive proclivity for increasing any color to be had, like this landing American White Pelican's feet and beak. Got one in about five in focus.
Which was enough to convey movement angling down into cove of Sunset Bay.
I love this sort of slow panning where certain parts seem sharp while everything else is moving hard.
Then a resounding long splash as the pelican skids into its coterie of pals snuggled up against the cove's far shore.
Then I looked around at what I perceived less gray, and I wondered if I'd overcompensated for the gray, it almost looked like spring there for a shining moment.
And was driving away when I noticed the White Winged Goose and all its buddies marching, then flapping and jostling toward the creek.
Where they joined coots and swam over where they probably expected Charles and fresh corn and lots of wheat bread and even crackers as dark rose.
Before December 15
The Wood Duck and Northern Pintail profiles are from Sunset Bay late yesterday evening. Closer, more detailed and sharper than last time and no flash or tail tip, but fuzz and head-up posture. Apparently, they don't hang out in Sunset Bay, except right before Charles pours corn for ducks and especially geese.
Again, it's the setting sun that makes the Pintail's colors off toward the red. Normally their lower parts are more neutral with black accents. That copper head is just too red. But it's a handsome duck, nonetheless. The inevitable coot for size ratio — and because I couldn't get it in any less a crowd. I'd arrived in plenty time the night before, but there were no Wood Ducks. I think they only come in time for the corn Charles pours for everybody who shows up. I've seen the pintail sleeping on the sandbar with trees.
The other sandbar (actually rippled dirt bar) — the one the pelicans and other species stay on daily — seems to be growing. If it continues, there'll be no protection from marauding dogs and coyotes (Some say wolves.), which will more easily cross that body of dirt. Gradually, if it continues, the portion of the bay off to the right of the Sunset Bay pier will be its own body of water — and perhaps immune from the coming draining of the lake "only by about 30 inches" the idiots who are rebuilding the Spillway anticipate now that construction is full underway after doing absolutely nothing for two years.
Today's, mostly duckly, birds were shot at various times over the last week or so. They are the catch-up pix I kept promising then finding more interesting birds to present here. We liked this one especially, because its feathers showing over its own horizon are so out of place, and I don't think I've ever seen that before. Anna saw it first, and pointed. Like what I first thought was a one-legged pelican coming in for a landing, I'm always up for anything a little — or a lot — different from the usual fare.
Nothing much different about a Northern Shoveler. We get them in Sunset Bay from time to time. I'll want to get closer next time. I like the stealth look of their upper parts, although the bright white breast and red sides look enough like (same colors but different places) a mallard to rarely warrant a second look — if you somehow can ignore that beak. As with the Wood Ducks, I'm hoping for a closer, sharper view in the coming days. Shovelers are really beautiful.
Floating with the bills under wing-feathers on their backs, these guys look enough like Ruddy Ducks — reddish breasts and dark heads — although the rest looks nothing like them — no narrow spatula tails sticking up behind. Nope, it's just where they've got their bills here and the fact they were floating/swimming while not looking where they seemed to be going, that made them appear like ruddies to me, always learning more about birds.
Other birds come close sometimes, but there's no breed's too much like too many grackles, mobbing the area on the other side of Garland Road from the Spillway Under Construction.
Not far away, I forget where exactly, were trees full of so-called European Starlings, another species known for massing.
Another pretty photo of an American White Pelican seconds from landing from a sequence I shoot nearly every time I'm there.
And a Killdeer whose companion — also in the same photo but cropped out here — was rendered utterly out of focus. This one's not perfect, but they're so pretty in flight, I couldn't exclude it entirely. Part of the ongoing challenge, I'm hoping to get more definitive shots of the Sunset Bay "Killdees." Till then, this'll do nicely.
Managed to visit the lake this evening, so I won't be using those other shots from yesterday today. Maybe later. Seemed almost bright when I got there, but it was already acutely slanted and it faded fast. As usual, I'm using my best or most interesting shots first, then getting down to the others. This guy's eye seems glazed over, because I used the camera's flash to fill in the light in the impending darkness as the duck swam into his own shadow.
I think this is my first sighting of Wood Ducks in awhile. Looks like the whole family is there in Sunset Bay. We counted about a half dozen. The lighting is reddish, so the bird is not entirely color correct, but you get the idea, and thanks to the fill flash, he's not far off, just slightly sunset amber.
Very distinctive eye treatments on both sexes. Remarkable lines, spots, striations and areas of colors. I checked The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, one of my larger bird tomes. First, Wood Ducks are classified as dabbling ducks. In the book, Sibley says, "Most male dabblers acquire a bright alternative plumage in the late fall or early winter; courtship usually is initiated at wintering or migration sites, and they retain this plumage until after they abandon nesting females during the wing molt."
So the males are bright and colorful for the usual reason, to be attractive to females. This one seems already to have done its dada duty.
This little goose was my first shot today. I'd heard that four small gooses had been released there by idiots who thought dumping defenseless little gooses at the lake would be good for them. Neatly forgetting that 'tis the season for wild dogs and coyotes — who have been seen traveling singly or in packs of up to a half dozen very near human beings along the shore in Sunset Bay the last few weeks.
This goose has had its wings ripped off by something bigger and badder. Nearby was a much larger, gray goose, who seemed to be helping protect the little white one. While I think there are too many gooses in the area — more than 50 mostly domestic gooses that've been released there — they do serve remarkable service sometimes, although they can be intrusive into other species' affairs — literally stopping ducks from having their often-looking violent sex.
Anna and I saw a very skinny Black Lab mix emerge from the Hidden Creek area just across from where the pelicans stay yesterday. The coots had already erupted from the shore this side, and with them ducks, pigeons and gooses. When the pelicans lined up and swam out, we knew something was up.
The dog swam to the sand bar, and walked down the rapidly emptied muddy area toward us. Only one pelican remained, either sick or sleeping, but it finally waddled off, too. The dog was swimming back to shore when an angry policeman walked out onto the pier and demanded to know if the dog belonged to us. We're very opposed to dogs off leashes, so we said we were on the pelican's sides.
Eventually the cop left, saying he was calling animal patrol. I laughed (well out of his earshot), because I've called Animal Control before, about a dog actually biting people in my neighborhood. It took several calls to convince them to send a "dogcatcher," and when they did, we had to show that idiot how to catch a dog ourselves. He had obviously never used a net.
We don't have much hope the abandoned black dog will be removed any time soon. Silly even thinking about it, when coyotes roam the area after dark these nights, except they might eat that poor, hungry black dog who was probably let go "into the wild." I doubt he could put up much fight.
After sundown, we watched the few pelicans left on the sandbar take turns flying out across the lake. I wondered if I could even photograph it, it was so dark.
But apparently I did get a few of them in focus and sorta sharp. It helped if they were close.
The further out they got, the more they blurred.
I rarely use flash except as fill, and almost never use it with a 150-500mm lens, although this was shot at the short end of that zoom. It still very clearly shows the compression effect telephoto lenses often exhibit. On a 35mm film camera, this would be approximately a 225mm lens, and see how it compresses all the ducks madly scarfing down corn that Charles has poured out along the shore. I can see one female Wood Duck near the lower right hand corner, although there's probably more in there though less obvious.
A guy asked me on the pier yesterday if I ever saw any Mallards around here. This may help prove that I've seen a few, since all those green headed, and curly tailed ducks are Mallard males and most of the brown spotted ones are mallard females. There was also at least one Pintail tonight, and a couple other odd ducks.
Looked like a pelican with just one foot when I first saw this while shooting — and hoping to shoot — flying pelicans today — one of my favorite things to do. A lot going on in the few long seconds as these big white birds come down out of the sky, sift further downish, near the surface, slow, drop landing gear and finally sploosh, skid across the water and swim in.
By about now I'd figured it had a right foot but it was favoring the other one. I was busy clicking the shutter when everything was just right and not just holding down the shutter going speeding clickety-click fast as possible — and wasting 2/3 of my shots.
Seems to slow down their speed when I pay this much attention to the millisecond by millisecond slices of exciting pelican landing time. Also seems to help my framing and composition.
Can't tell much about feet in this shot, but it's detailed and in focus, so why not. Now I'm looking at it, the primaries (wing feathers furthest out) on the far side are bent up into the wind while the ones this side are flat at an angle dragging back, maybe slowing air speed some.
Seems oh, so very close here, but when we remember this is the far end (why else have it) of the Rocket Launcher's 150-500mm zoom, it just seems close. Two different guys asked me today how long my lens was. I liked my answer to the first one so much I said the same to the next. Pulled up the camera, and took measure of the lens, saying "Oh, about this long."
Length, meaning focal length used to have some comparative meaning when most cameras used 35mm film (each frame of which was 24 x 36 millimeters). But now there are so very many, competing sensor sizes and formats, it's useless to even say what we think it is. On a 35mm film camera, my Rocket Launcher is the equivalent of a 500mm lens. However, on my camera, with its smaller sensor (than 35mm film. It's much larger than most Point & Shoot cameras), it's the angle of view equivalence of a 750mm lens on a 35mm film camera.
Unless you have a same-size sensor on your camera, however, knowing that mine is a 500mm lens or 750mm equivalence is a waste of knowing. So me saying it's as long as it is — 15.75 inches fully extended with lens hood; 12.5 inches without the hood; 13.5 with hood un-zoomed (at 150mm = a 225mm 35mm film equivalent — instead of rapping through all the above gobbledygook, makes sense, besides the laugh that line usually nets. The lens alone weighs 4.2 pounds. Along with the camera, that's about 6.4 pounds.
Still the one-legged-looking pelican with both the good and bad feet angled straight down, milliseconds away from splashdown.
And tilting its body — as most pelicans usually do when they land — to again favor that withered foot, which is where we'll have to leave it, because I stopped shooting after this. I did shoot some other birds today — and more of other pelicans flying, but those will have to wait till tomorrow. It's late now (3 ayem), and I have appointments to meet tomorrow and may not fit the lake into my schedule, so I'm saving back some of today's other shots. Although these were the best of them.
Sometimes time seems to stand still for the best shots.
I'd photographed a grackle in a tree-top already. Boring pictures, but I didn't know what it was till I focused in on it, then it jumped and I followed it across a ways. Same with this guy. I saw a lump in a not-close tree, told myself how absurd it was to think it was a hawk, trained the Rocket Launcher on it, and it was a hawk.
Then while still photographing it in the first tree I saw it perch on — backing up and inching forward on the hill till I got the bird clear of vertical branches in front of it, it flew to a nearby branch without such clutterances. This one. Unfortunately, this shot is a tad less sharp than the one above, but it is facing us, and this fuzzy look is just, well, cute.
When it spread wings and flew to another branch, I was ready and in focus.
That made it farther away, so this image of where it landed, briefly, is enlarged even more. But without a head, it just looks goofy. Obviously felt goofy, unbalanced, too. Because it only stayed a few seconds, then flew even farther away, ending my hopes of catching it doing anything more spectacular.
This is even a larger enlargement, but its right side and fuselage is in focus, so it's not so bad. I assume its left wing is flapping more.
This one is much less focused, but it does show the top of this hawk's wings and red red tail, as it swoops off parallel those apartments overlooking Sunset Bay. I wanted to get out of my car when I first saw it, but birds are much less afraid of automobiles than they are of people standing or walking, so I held back. Sat back and steadied the RL on it in the tree, then flying.
Any encounter with a hawk is amazing.
European and Eastern European countries put cormorants on their coins and bills, and I think this one was posing for a little more avant one of those. He's standing on one of the poles in a sculpture installation behind the Bath House Cultural Center.
Lots more cormorants on other poles and crowded together on the pier where the lifeguards used to stand when that still-concrete-bottomed area was still used as a swimming area before Dallas was Integrated, although the excuse for stopping swimming was Polio. Note the bright, back-lighted Ring-billed Gull upper center. Anna said it looks like" they're waiting for the ferry back to the Hoarfrost Hotel" in Cormorant Bay.
I'm less certain it was actually blue out there than that it was literally blue — cold, cold, cold — so the color seems natural, and probably was, because I didn't put it there.
No doubt about it, it was way too far across the lake to expect any kind of detail in the big white birds, especially at this overexposure. But we can see that they have long, pelican like beaks and they are joined by gulls flying over and the tiny slants of cormorants swimming all around. I thought it might be the only birds I'd see this cold, windy day. What autumn looks like in Dollars, Taxes.
I've been paying attention to our temporary visitation of Lesser Scaups the last few weeks. I see them, then the next time, they're gone. About a week ago, I got photos of maybe four of them, but all I got was of them going away. So I've been sneakier coming up on them.
It takes real sunlight to see a scaup's purple sheen, and there wasn't much of that today, so it's obvious this was shot a couple days ago. I was excited to get the purple and the blue beak. What I missed was exposure on its brightest flanks. I was more careful today (above), but it was so gray, everything was dull. This daylight (remember daylight) was brilliant.
Of course, I don't really know why many birds insert their beaks down under their folded wings, and I have seen them do it in warm and hot weather, too, so the likelihood it is some sort of down-filled nose warmer is ridiculous. But that's what it looks like. I think maybe it's just soft in there. Comfy. It was cold enough out there today, I would like to have tried my hand in it, too. But it was chore enough to get close enough to them to photograph them adequately. Note the subtle purplish sheen on this scaup's head.
Finally for scaups today, here is a shot showing their comparative size with coots, indicating that they're similar to slightly smaller than the little, nearly all-black birds. In a big crowd of coots, it's still difficult to pick out the scaups, despite their differing paint-jobs. I haven't seen a female yet. They usually only stay at White Rock Lake a few days later in the season.
Heard a ruckus going on among the gooses, turned from scaup-hunting to find this action among several loud honkers lowering their heads in unified, what I call "torpedo" pose, like a boxer bobbing and weaving their long, stiff-necked heads down low, then striking and, as you can see, biting somebody bigtime.
Did not set out to experiment. Got off early from work and wanted to photograph some birds. Had no idea that the most birds I could find were grackles, and that most of those were gathered on the lawns and fields around Winfrey. Seemed a fascinating mob of common birdness.
Almost everywhere I looked there were dozens and hundreds of Great-tailed Grackles, most I think, males. Pecking at something on the ground between the fading blades of recently-mown grass. Tthose are touted as natural prairies, but they're so carefully taken care of it's hard to see what's natural about that. My yard is more unprocessed.
Pretty easy to see the swoops and blots of grackles, however. By the time I'd got there, it was gray, overcast and the sky was studded with big, dark clouds. No sun to be seen.
Once I got the colors right, I did not check each shot for focus or composition. I just shot whenever I saw something that might be interesting. You know, the usual. Light that dark, it's not surprising the shutter was slow. Panning with the flyers rendered the standers blurred.
Here's a field of grackles disrupting themselves across a baseball field. I panned along with only some.
After awhile, I began focusing — as much as I could in the strong wind and darking light — on fewer and fewer birds.
And then there were two.
People who "feed the ducks" and never quite realize there are darned few ducks out there and lots of Ring-billed Gulls, American Coots, Scaups and various gooses instead, also do not realize the competition they feed.
All those birds usually get along remarkably well. Except when people feed them, Coots seem pretty greedy all by themselves. And so do gulls. Disney who sees them as yelling "mine, mine, mine," all the time isn't far wrong. This coot has got a bigger chunk of food than it would have been likely to keep from its fellow coots let alone the hovering banshee-brained gulls, who inflict physical damage on them when competing for human-thrown food that is not nutritious for either bird.
Notice which bird is bigger, faster and more greedy. Stronger, too. Then it's a safe bet the big white birds are generally going to win, and they do, repeatedly. Gulls may just wanna have fun, but the greedy guts don't mind inflicting pain to get what they want.
Once a gull chooses a coot that seems to be escaping with a large chunk of white bread "food," it chases, hovers over, then lands on top of the coot, grabs it (as above) or sidles up beside, and steals its food.
I saw a few coots dive at just this moment and get away with food intact, if soggy. But more often than not, the coot lets go, the gull gets it and flies off.
You'd think the coots would learn. Instead the gulls learn. And win, and win.
The raucous turkey-butt gulls nearly always win.
Apparently, gull's most common technique for stealing bread from coots is to sidle along side one, lean their beak up alongside the coot beak, and take it away. They do enjoy a significant size and meanness advantage.
We've seen these big vivid green birds twirling north of the east edge of the lake as seen from Garland Road for about the last week or less. We had brunch with their creator Sunday, made sure he's who made them, then photographed them for the top spot on this and my other site, first time that's ever happened. This close to that lake, they have to be Monk Parakeets, right?
I still get all excited when I see a hawk. Thrilled when I can photograph one well. Today, after photographing a multi-species fishing armada from way too far away, then finding a fairly close Bufflehead, I drove to the top of Winfrey Hill looking for kestrels or something when I saw what I first assumed was a tiny bird on top of the cruciform telephone pole.
I got the Rocket Launcher up to photo that little bird and was startled to see the top of the pole was a hawk, and the 'little bird' was its head. He just stared while I popped off several remarkably sharp photographs of it.
Then it jumped from the pole and flapped toward Sunset Bay. I lost it right away when it got outside my twist range from inside Blue. I'd just flipped the little lever from shoot one shot at a time to CH (continuous shooting, High-speed), and I'm glad I did so I could get this quick little sequence. Like I assume all gulls are Ring-billeds, I assume — till proven otherwise — that all hawks around here, anyway, are Red-tailed Hawks, which I think this might be one of. Note those big, sharp talons.
Here it's about retracted the talons in its headlong plunge off the pole about to gain horizontal flight, right were I couldn't see it anymore because I'd panned the lens almost into the front edge of the side window. Wonderful fun those exciting few seconds. Right about here I'll note that I should know which variety of hawk this is. Like gulls that I've recently learned I should always assume the first gull name that comes to mind, the first hawk variety that comes to my mind is Red-tailed Hawk. Not an adult, because adult Red-tailed Hawks actually have red tails, and this bird does not. Another reason to assume it's a RTH is that Red-tails are the most common hawk variety anywhere in North America.
So I've clicked over to my favorite new, photo-based American bird identification site, the North American Birds Photo Gallery by Peter LaTourrette. Not surprisingly, now I think about it, me trying to identify birds from colored drawings is a little silly, and probably why I like the Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas, which has big photographs of birds, though usually only one or two of them.
I've been a photographer for forty-four years now. I can draw but I'd rather not. I'm slow at it, and what I draw has never been worth the time. Clicking is so much more efficient, and I've got used to understanding photographs.
Which is all very nice, but I'm still not absolutely certain, although I'm fairly confident this was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, and though this encounter was not my best-ever (that prize goes to the amazing sequence I shot not far away on August 28, 2008), but it was still a momentary thrill.
Earlier, just before the crotch between DeGoyler and Winfrey — there's a little parking lot down there at the base of Winfrey, I saw this bird not all that distant off my left. I stopped Blue, backed up to the nearest parking slot, walked over, making my longer distance skip-hop runs while it was diving below, to the closest to him point of land. I thought I might be closer than I've got to one yet, and I clicked away one slow click at a time in the beautiful bright sunlight.
I shoot anyway, any chance I get that he's mostly in bright sunlight, but when he quickly spins around facing me, I shoot the most. This one's almost the sharp and close I've been hoping for, except of course, now I'm hoping for even closer and sharper.
But I also got to watch him dive some more. That's when I switched from CL to CH, so I could capture moments like this when it's flung its tiny self up and over in the air to dive down into the water. I was wrong about them just dropping suddenly down. They go like most ducks go, up, over and down, with a plunk. Watch here as the plunk grows.
Shooting much quicker than I could one button-push at time, I catch the butt down with tail feathers spread.
This last Buffle shot really isn't worth much. It's lousy of the two coots, and truly mediocre of the buffle. It's only redeeming quality is that it shows just how small Buffleheads really are. Coots are not large birds. Sibley says they average about 15.5 inches long. They're shown nearly full broadsides here, and the buffle is diagonal, making it look even smaller. Just for comparison, Mallards are about 23 inches long, and our elusive, mostly black & white (till you can see the details) brief winter visiting Buffleheads are 13.5 inches long. No wonder I've had so much trouble getting them closer. They're smaller, so always appear farther.
Meanwhile, back at Sunset Bay at the bottom of Winfrey hill — I really didn't think I needed any more birds today, but I definitely needed to walk more to get rid of the pain in my back I got from improperly moving a heavy chunk of sculpture earlier this week — I found these soldier-looking pelicans swooping low across the deck, coming back from that too-far flotilla across the lake near the dam.
Photographing flying American White Pelicans is one of my great pleasures every winter till they pack up and leave right around Tax Day in April. So I indulged myself a bit, walking up and down the shore to get them in the best light.
As usual, when there weren't pelicans to photograph, I'll shoot at anything in the air, and this pair of Mallards (I read recently that I'm not supposed to say "Mallard Ducks," because that's redundant somehow). Glad I did.
Amateur bird photographer Philip Todd, who offices near Eastfield College on I-30, called yesterday telling me about an imprint a bird had left on the front, reflecting double-doors to the building where he works. I called back, we set a time, and I drove out there this afternoon to see and, at his insistence, photograph it. The gray, grooved lines on the left of the image are parts of the door.
He'd emailed his photos of it, so I was prepared to be amazed, and I was. It keeps reminding me of the shroud of Turin. I met several co-workers, who have also visited these pages, and when I left, about a half hour later, I was smiling ear to ear. What fun!
One of my long-held fervent hopes has been that someday, when people discover amazing birds or bird happenings around Dallas, they'd call me to document it. This is the first time I've got to do that, and I'm jazzed.
Apparently, a bird flying full force in the direction of the door, noticed something wrong in the last moment, put out all its air-braking wings and feathers, but still hit it hard, leaving its imprint in dust, dander or something.
The art critic is me sees a cosmic image, complete with a universe of stars behind an avian cosmos of feather shapes and tones and that distinctive flying bird image. Wow!
Thanks so much to Philip and coworkers at DCCCD. I am delighted to have had the opportunity.
I probably shot thirty images of this imprint, trying differing angles and zooms, always trying to render as much tonality as possible. There were some fingerprint-like round shapes above and left of the main bird image, but they weren't in Philip's earlier shots, so I edited that out. This was the second exposure I made.
Later, at the lake: I keep getting closer. We drove up the west side today, hoping, ever hoping for closer, more detailed shots of Bufflehead. Haven't got that up-close-and-personal face full of details shot yet, but this is much better than before. Hope they stay long enough — and it gets warmer before they continue their winter migration.
We didn't see any females today. There were Ruddy Ducks of both sexes around the bend to the south, but only two male buffles, who seemed to be playing swimming tag and diving often — deep. They stayed down long enough for me to almost lose patience.
They seemed to be playing, swimming up close, paralleling, then disappearing down. Did I mention it was cold?
No discernable prep for the dive. Just a headlong tip and they disappeared into a puddle of disturbed water.
So I started photographing anyway, any movement at all. The buffles seemed self-contained, very efficient. They moved anything, I shot. Gradually, over many dives, I put together this sequence.
Tail up, Bufflehead down.
Then too much wasting silicone at Sunset Bay till these last two shots. Above is a true full-frame wingspan. Tiny primary feathers stretching from the left to right edges of this image, just barely filling the whole frame.
Milliseconds later, everything changes. Browns become greens, blues and the light white, not orangish. Inches to go.
Warm when I got free of my exhibition today. I got groceries, went home, put them up, rushed back to the lake. It was cold. Something about a front. I knew the pelks would like this sort of weather, so I visited Sunset Bay.
They were busy. I kept hoping preparing to fly, but they just preened and preened and preened until it was waaaay to cold to stand there any longer.
One thing bright sunny cold days with lots of wind is great for, futzy feathers. Each one beautifully outlilned and blown apart as that long beak preens, cleans and finesses them. Like shredded chiffon in a fairy tale.
Nothing new about pigeons flying in circles. They do it all over again every ten minutes or so. Every time they look up and don't remember where they are again. But today's crisp light made them beautiful. I don't usually photograph them, but today I couldn't stop myself.
Was so awful tired after hanging an exhibition most of this morning, i could barely think or see. Luckily the lens focuses automatically. Though not always. And I kept disagreeing with what else the camera was doing automatically.
But a few times this late afternoon, we actually worked together, and pulled it off.
A lot of the time, however, pretty much everything was out of focus. I was just photographing this bird flying across the spillway. Didn't snap to what as behind it here till I got it on the monitor, then wished I'd planned it all along.
Really not enough light out there too close to 6 pm. Guess it wasn't enough my camera kept changing my ISO to its own purposes, and I could not figure out how to fix it. Menu item somewhere deep in there, called something badly translated from the Japanese. But what?
These guys are on the Upper Spillway, where all the machines are. Tearing the whole thing up, so they can fill it all up with concrete. Nothing as green as concrete, everybody knows. Oh, yeah, they're destroying more than a hundred trees, too. But all the birds on today's page were there despite the racket. Dedicated, I guess.
Every time I see a gull I assume it's a Ring-billed until proven otherwise but sometimes shoot them anyway. This is the only shot I took of this bird and only later realized it was different. It is not a ring-bill. It's got black or dark legs and feet, a wobbly black stripe on a wide, white tail, a skinnier, curved upper and straightish lower bill without the black ring, and instead of stocky, it's almost slender and its wings are elongated. Wish I could see the top of its wings.
Except for the Heerman's, which it doesn't resemble in any real way and usually stays off the coast of California, and the Black-legged Kittiwake, which it doesn't look much like in any but one of the pictures in my main half dozen big bird books — and only rarely shows its face around here, the only gulls with black feet in the North American bird books are the Laughing Gull, which has been seen around here.
The Franklin's Gull is almost common here in the summer but not at all in winter and nearly always has either a partial or completely black head. Still, the Franklin's tail is the closest to this image of any in my library, and Sibley says it undergoes two complete molts every year, so maybe this is a mid-molt first-winter Franklin's who did not go northeast, east, west or southwest for the season.
Then there's the remarkably similar drawing of a standing and a floating Black-legged Kittiwake that my Lone Pine Birds of Texas says is a "rare and irregular winter visitor along the coast ond on inland reservoirs."
I just don't know. But I'll be fascinated to find out. If I do.
Well, it wasn't all that fascinating. I finally found a drawing of this exact bird in Sibley's Guide to Birds. It's a Second Winter Ring-billed Gull. Oh, drat! Guess I should go with my first guess for awhile, till proven otherwise.
Usually birds with this translucent wings end up being starlings, so I'll just pretend I know that's what they are, but I'm strictly amateur — love 'em but don't get those I.Ds every time.
Index of Pages
text and photographs copyright 2008 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.
Thanks always to Anna.