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White Rock Lake
December 30 2009
Probably I've mentioned here a time or two before that photographing pelicans flying is one of my all-time favorite activities, and as I was just thinking last week, I hadn't done nearly enough of it lately. Nice of The Universe to offer just the right mix of circumstances today: good friends, fellow photographers and North American's Most Elegant flyers and landers.
Sometimes American White Pelicans are elegance bird-ified (hardly personified). Other times, they're a tad awkward. Your choice, which this is. Take note, if you will, of the little bits of rippling feathers on the top of this one's wings as it's about to touch the surface. So fine.
The camera did it. I try to keep it level, but sometimes we just get all the way into a pelican splash landing.
This afternoon, pelicans chose almost as many ways of entering the near-in Sunset Bay space along the sandbar full of pelicans as there were pelicans coming in. This one chose to bank hard down into the Hidden Creeks area, stall and slide into the shallows almost in front of our eyes.
Another pelican. Another entry form selection. So many birds, so many landings.
Often it was like ballet.
Sometimes they just barreled in.
Amazing pelican flying form.
Wing fairly dripping feathers, stretching down to catch the wind, slow wind speed...
... into another perfect landing.
I guess if we did our favorite things in the world every day, they'd stop being all that special. But today was a gas. Great friends, photographing together, talking and having fun.
Red Tag Special
Somewhere in the big middle of today's joy of photographing flying pelicans, Anna noticed a red tag on one pelican's wing. She pointed me at it, and I took a couple shots that showed the tag adequately, then I got this shot later. Not sure if I was even paying attention to the tag then, although I had been aware of its presence.
Anna did online research, discovering that:
In addition to the 600 pelicans marked this year, Fish and Game will continue to band and tag hundreds of young pelicans from both of Idaho's nesting colonies over the next 2-3 years. The birds from Blackfoot Reservoir colony will continue receiving black wing tags, and those from Lake Walcott will receive red wing tags. Both colors of tags will have white unique three digit codes and all tags are on the right wing near the "elbow."
It will be helpful to the project to receive reports of marked birds from the public. If you see one of the marked birds, please contact the Pocatello Fish and Game office ..."
Which Anna did, sending a much clearer photo of the tag and its number. We'll report back when we hear more info about that particular bird.
The agent [Anna] spoke with in Pocotello [told her] that the Pelican was tagged at the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in Southeast Idaho in the summer of 2008 before it could fly.
People often ask where the pelicans came from. My usual response is that they're from the Northwestern United States and up into Canada. It'll be neat to know that some of them came from southern Idaho, since I did, too.
We'd all seen them in great flocks way out on the lake in one fishing armada or another, but shots of those, even long telephoto shots rarely work out well. It was a treat to see them flying in after catching their limits out there. This is where they settled once they flew in. Once again, the camera was in charge of composition.
These shots came before all those flying pelican photographs, but I wanted a flyer on the top of this day, and this month and this year's journals of photos, so it's up there, and these are down here.
It was also one of the first pelican shots I made today. I threw away nearly five hundred less-than images, because photographing pelicans flying is such an iffy task, but I saved the best for here.
When I saw they were this close, I stopped, parked and walked fast to the edge. Not rushing to scare them, just fast. Click-click.
Great detail, just not much to see.
Plenty of water being splashed. A little less water might have helped me, not he.
The one on the left appears to be a female. Front and center is a non-breeding adult male. I don't think I've been this close before.
Appears to be a male adult Ruddy Duck splashing a bath.
At first I thought it was some special markings, but now I'm pretty sure it's sunlight streaking across its shoulder.
A better shot for identification. Now, let's see if I can find it in one of my books. Let's think this through: It's a sparrow with streaks on its breast and a swoop back from its eyes. Oh, the depth of my ignorance amazes me.
I am daring to guess it is a Swamp Sparrow, but it hasn't enough red, and it has white spectacles. So that's wrong. Maybe it's not a sparrow. None of them have the dark line between rounded tail segments this one has — and I've been looking under a lot of little bird's tails. It could be a "pink-nosed warbler," if there were such a thing. It's likely a common bird, but I don't even know what little tan birds are common.
I realize Killdeer are year-round residents in all of Texas, but I was still surprised to see so many of them running around so openly these last few, cold winter days. This one has just stood up as tall as it could, then popped its head up even farther. A common pose of these handsome, fast-walking little birds.
Feathers puffed to keep it warm. Amazing how different this one looks than the one popping up to look around. Suppose this one's a little more secure?
And here's one in its most natural habitat — fast walking along the dead winter grass just about as fast as its fast scissoring legs will carry it.
Now let's tune back in to our American White Pelican pals. Flying high overhead in close order.
Or racing a local Double-crested Cormorant for a fish far out on the lake.
Guess who got it first — again. I don't think I've ever captured photographs of a pelican catching a contested fish first.
Here's a rapidly descendent pelican, great wings flapping overhead, splash landing.
And joining some of its pals as they center in on a group of fish.
This one's definitely caught one. Note the fish tail sticking out, and the pouch full of ... something.
A little more obvious fish tail here.
Here we see the tail inside with the light shining through the pelican's pouch.
Sometimes, however, the fish fights its way from going down the tube.
I saw her from a distance and snuck up. I know she could see me, but I tried not to be a pain. I walked away, then zigged back crosswise from whence I'd come, then zagged a little closer without looking like I'd attack. Tacking back and forth like a beginner sailor This shot was my best of more than a dozen.
I was as slow and careful and non-threatening as I could manage. But this is an imperfect game I'm playing. I did not wish to scare her away. I wanted to be her friend. Someone she could trust. I attempted to be all that and get a good shot or two.
The first shot after she jumped from the tree was in fair focus, but the one after that was much less so. Still better than my usual Kestrel jump shots, but not terrible.
As she gained distance, I gained perspective but lost focus and exposure. I keep going back to today's top photo and thinking what handsome birds these Kestrels are. I could see her in her next tree down the path, but I chose not to follow. I got some nice shots, and I certainly did not wish to harass her further.
Today was an experiment. Instead of hauling the Rocket Launcher, I took instead the much lighter and less magnifying Nikon 70-300mm VR, which I used every day before I bought my first Sigma 150-500mm zoom that I call here "The Rocket Launcher," because it looks like one. I actually bought two of them. But the second one exhibited the same quirks the first one did, and I knew I couldn't afford a better lens from Nikon in that range, so I settle for the Sigma — and am glad I did, even if it still delivers black frames sometimes. The Nikon equivalent cost more than 5 grande.
This beak position is a stop-action shot of a rapidly moving beak flip-flopping left and right (to us) very quickly. It is accompanied by a fluttering, almost cartoon-like flippiddy-floppiddy sound like lips fluttering, which is basically what it is.
I argued with myself, and I came back and almost changed back to the Rocket Launcher twice before I left home today. Talked myself out of it both times, but it was a close debate. I wondered whether I'd find any birds close enough to make bringing the 70-300 instead of the 150-500mm lens. I knew, if I did, the Nikon lens is so much sharper than the Sigma, so it'd be worth it.
Habits are hard to break, though, and I've been shooting the new, longer lens for more than a year now. But when I carry a long lens I tend to see long-lens sights, and when I carry a shorter zoom, I tend to find sights worthy of a less zoomy zoom.
Turned out I could and did, but like any good habit, it took serious reconsideration. I just did not want to let go of my super-zoom, even though it's heavier and often too long. Telephotos tend to compress space, and longer teles seem to compress more.
Actually, if you shoot the same scene with a wide-angle lens and a telephoto, from the same distance, the same details will show the exact same 'compression' — none. But that's an ideal situation, and I do say "seems." This is shot at the shorter, 70mm end of the zoom, and it only seems compressed if you blow up small portions of it.
I lucked out, finding American White Pelicans within about twenty feet of where I ever-so-slowly snuck out to where the mud was boggy and gave slightly beneath my feet. From that closeness, the Rocket Launcher might have been a problem. Too close. But with the 70-300 it was great. Of course, I can always depend upon the pelicans for being where I think they might be, though usually not this close.
What about other species? I lucked out with a fairly close flyover by this Red-tailed Hawk and gull acquaintance. I mighta got more detail with the longer lens, but I've been having trouble getting it to focus lately. Another good reason to try the older lens again.
Lucky again. Though not spectacularly. It is a grackle, after all. And those guys are everywhere. This one did not, however, rush off soon as he saw me. Maybe he was curious. Maybe he just liked the perch so well, it didn't bother him that some photo squirt with a short lens was aiming it at him.
Then, while checking out Dreyfus Point, I noticed American White Pelicans in various V- and line-formations, circling high overhead. Click.
"The Dance" is what I call it, and they happen often in the winter. My first experience with them was on New Year's, so I thought they were celebrating, but of course they don't. Even though there's lots of chasing and flying up and back from the water surface. Some serious jostling. What I think it's probably about is food.
At any one time, most of the birds are watching.
Standing there in one pose or another. A few engage in the 'heads up' pose, which is often directly followed with a lunge or chase. It is how some birds get other birds' attention.
Not aimless flying as this picture may indicate, but that's just how I caught these egrets. The flyer has most likely been down to the water's surface, and may even have caught a fish. Fishing is the most common denominator in this activity.
I assume they are taking turns at fishing, and the running off of other egrets has to do with who's the top bird in this clatch. But at times it seemed like a real old-time dance.
With plenty of audience just watching and waiting their turns.
This bird either just chased somebody else somewhere or tried its luck with fishing. It's back and about to land and join its fellow starers.
After awhile of waiting, several birds would get the same idea at the same time.
Something else those long necks are good for.
A dog — a Retriever — accompanied these people. I'd been watching them for awhile through my long lens. The birds are only about to catch on.
Here we see the egret catching on to either a) the dog or b) the people. I believe it had hoped to get off from the crowd and enjoy its double catch. The dog is not on a leash, although the man will soon put it on the one he brought, just in case.
Note the two fishes still hanging from the top egret's beak. I know I can see one of them. Sometimes I think I can see both.
They fly off and land short.
From time to time throughout the party, one or two or several egrets would just up and leave. Only sometimes did they choose really pretty backgrounds.
Birds fly. Big, beautiful birds fly close just to excite photographers. It worked.
Then they'd land.
And continue the dance.
Maybe the party was over, maybe just a lot of birds had got their fill of the strange socializing and/or fish.
Several of them flew off in several directions.
Sometimes close enough to photograph in some detail.
Eventually, more and more egrets left. I never saw the invitation, but maybe it was over in the middle of the afternoon.
Eventually, they all flew away.
We used to celebrate winter solstice with a floor show in a big Christian church on the other side of town, but we wanted to keep it a little simpler and more symbolic, so we met the still-standing sun as it rose over the far side of the lake, photographed it and the birds it brought with it, which were many and varied.
While waiting for the sun rise, I walked down Tee Pee Hill to the Boat House Lagoon that Jason Hogle calls Heron Lagoon and found hulking white shapes of Great Egrets in the water. Of course, as I got closer — almost close enough to focus...
They dispersed rapidly in the direction of west. Still too dark, I captured them as blurs.
A single adult Double-crested Cormorant, pulling a great dark shadow of wake along with it, shaded the top of the lake with cormorant textures, not unlike a snake over golden sand.
Straightening that swirling wake in its hopping path, splashes exploded upward where each two-foot-fall fell.
Gold continued as the predominant color for some time. Much longer than I anticipated. But then, I didn't expect a pelican over there, either.
Although this time of year, cormorants are a given.
Everywhere we looked were more — although later trip up the west side of the lake did not give us acres and acres of them looming from all the trees, as I had expected. Cormorant Bay, of course, had plenty, and the north rim of it was white as if with snow. We did not slow down through there, but there is always that smell.
Something else I never expected to find on Solstice morning was a loudly (always) chattering Kingfisher, shown here in the brambles across the lagoon. One of my great hopes and challenges is to someday capture a Kingfisher flying rapidly down my side of some lagoon, in sharp focus. But, once again, not today
I've done better, and I've done worse. and someday I'll do much better. Someday I'll catch the chattering character flying low with its loud warning fully engage, on my side of some lagoon, with so much detail, people will wonder whether it's even real. Here, there's little doubt.
I was panning along with Mrs. Kingfisher, so I expected that one, but the other was a complete surprise when I pulled it up and saw another bird standing on the far edge of the lagoon, all the more blurred because I'd almost caught up with the kingfisher.
More, maybe tomorrow. We found egrets dancing their own mid-winter dance places around the lake, but I managed to mangle most of those shots, then I came back later and shot some again, and still managed not to capture the birds all that sharp. Maybe I should have stayed in the symbolism and let the birds fly their dances without me intruding, for a change.
Wasn't planning on working today, but I did, so I didn't get to go birding earlier, when there was more light. Grabbed my cam on the way home from work and headed for my usual drive down Arboretum Drive, up to Winfrey Point, down the hill and to Sunset Bay proper, where I found these guys and Charles and Gerit of Bird Squad fame.
Only problem was darkness had meanwhile fallen. I'd expected that. It happens almost every evening about this time, and I'd anticipated it. Last time I used that chunk of metal the Rocket Launcher was today attached to, I was trapped in an aging warehouse with no light or air or food...
and for that, I'd set my camera, so it would adjust itself to whatever ISO it so desired, as long as it set the shutter speed to at least 1/80th of a second. That's pretty slow for photographing birds flying or much of anything else birds do, but it seemed an adequate bottom point for the conditions, which were getting darker every moment I delayed.
I tried photographing the gulls stealing food from the coots, but all I got was 8oths of a second bird blurs. This worked out much better, and it shows the relative size of Ring-billed Gulls, American Coots, and incidentally, a Mallard and smoothing pinkish.
But this is really why I was staying into the darkness. In fact, this is a good deal darker than you can see. Darker than I could see, certainly. Doesn't usually take much of that stuff for that to happen, but I kept plugging away at these birds in this darkness.
I was aiming at the pelicans, but any semblance of framing was largely accidental. Where the frame happened to be when that click happened after I had held down on the shutter button hoping to get something, anything in the already dark bay.
While there was still light in the sky — though little on the lake — I watched a lot of pelicans fly out over the water. Most of them rounded Winfrey's rounded point and headed west. These guys did the Vertical Take Off routine. Briefly, till they leveled off and flew away.
I'd check every once in awhile, and see that the exposure was off or on, and I'd keep shooting. Follow another bunch of pelicans out to about where the logs — and that shopping cart are.
And gradually, all the pelicans in the bay. I'd guess there were at least 70, maybe a hundred. I counted 122 a few days ago, even though I still think only about 70 actually live around here.
I stood on the boggy edge near the Bird Squad's permanent bivouac. Then as more pelicans swam out to the shallow logs, where they started hopping and flying away tonight, I moved further and further toward the water's edge. It looked boggy but was mostly solid.
But I was still way too far away. Watching yet another bunch of pelicans swimming out to the edge of the world, I started running toward, then out onto the Sunset Bay Pier.
Where I could see a lot of pelicans a lot better. But by then it was much darker.
And getting darker still.
But still more action unfolding.
More pelicans in groups until we ran out of pelicans.
Until there was only one.
Most of today's shots were in the vicinity of iso 2,500 to 5,400. I could have polished them up, but they would have just looked silly. I tried. Thus the grain.
Not unusual, except they're close to shore. When I first saw them, they were very near the Garland Bridge at Garland Road and Arboretum Drive (See MAP.) I knew better than to park at the bridge itself (not that long ago installed as parking spaces, then taken back by the City as No Parking Spaces). So I parked down the drive some, and when I got back, they were all swimming out toward the middle of the lake near the dam. I'd hoped for closer, but I wasn't quick enough.
Since I was standing on the shore, there were gulls and terns available, and I photographed some of them. A few even in focus and fairly sharp.
And some birds close enough for some detail — the corm, not the coot.
First time I've photographed one this December. Certainly not the first one anybody's seen here this month. Orange beak and black legs gives it away as a Great Egret. If its beak were grayish green or pink, with those wing feathers dark on the outer edges, it could be a juvenile Little Blue Heron. But I suspect this is just a dirty Great Egret.
Juvenile Double-crested Cormorant lands splashing near two adults.
I know, I know, it's Stinky-bird Season again. That's why I've been avoiding the north west edges of the lake. Stinky birds (what I called cormorants before I knew their proper names) are all over that area, which is why the Bay at Bent Bridge just south of Singing Bridge (even if it no longer sings) is called Cormorant Bay on my map.
You know, I really work at holding the camera level, even use the optional grid on the viewfinder, but when I get excited enough to follow a bird across the sky, level goes out the window.
This is where the pelicans were swimming to and the cormorants were flying toward. It was the largest collection of pelicans, cormorants and gulls and terns I've ever seen. As you will see shortly.
Buncha birds together waiting for fishes to show themselves.
Then everybody takes their turns flying away. I'm serious. I watched a long time. First the birds on the far right took flight and flew off to the left. Then the ones in the middle, then everybody else. It was a wild sight. I had to photograph it, of course.
They're still taking turns. Just that by now, it's everybody's turn but the few corms and five pelicans still swimming around wondering what's really going on. Gradually, they all flew off toward the dam, again.
But I was on a one-way street going the other way, so I continued toward Winfrey Point.
Where I did several double-takes when I saw lots of fairly little birds flitting back and forth on the upper branches of the tree where I've so often found interesting birds — hawks, kestrels and other colorful birds. I hardly expected those same branches to hold ...
Cedar Waxwings, which I had not photographed for several years, since I saw them hanging all over some black berries in Sunset Forest, high above that Bay. Sometimes even upside-down. Maybe we'll track them down there again. That would be so much fun with the new, since then, Rocket Launcher lens.
This is my entry for today, December 14 2009 even though I shot it last Thursday on December 10. I was employed today. Or freelanced or whatever it's called. There were already too many birds that day, and since I worked today, there were none, so it fits here better than there.
When I saw a Killdeer I was startled and surprised. There's a lot I don't know about most birds. The map in the Lone Pine Birds of Texas shows they're here year-round, but I was still surprised. I thought there might be some significance that one has two thin stripes and the other has one thick and one thin, but I'm not all that surprised there's not.
I haven't visited Cormorant Bay lately, but I assume there's lots there as there are lots everywhere else, too.
Regular readers know I love photographing landing and take-off series. Here's another one.
Once the angle is set and maintained a few fast feet down, the wing extensions are folded out for more control. Then the wings are folded in to hold the air while they control a rapid descent.
After all that aerial foreplay, the landing itself was unspectacular. You know, feet flat, skid with splash, wings-in and stop. The usual. I sometimes have to force myself to follow through to the end. It's the airplane that excites me.
So here we go again, with more of that. This time it's an American White Pelican flying very low. So low a deep dip of the wings could stop its air speed all together and plow that prolonged prow into the deep. That'd be more spectacular, but I still like watching them fly.
Watching pelicans fly over the water this low is several times of amazing. I've followed them with my long lens out the window of a car (somebody else driving, oddly enough) for many hundreds of feet, often without even flapping their wings. Like I say, amazing. Worth the price of admission.
Oh, and after Jason's positive feedback, I added a couple new shots from that day's shoot, too.
One of the calmer moments of one of those great, panoramic gull, cormorant and pelican feasts I tend to call fishing armadas, knowing full well that an armada is all about arms. As in 'to arm.' so festooned with fish not cannon.
There's a lot I don't know about gulls. Sorry to not impart more gull info here, mostly only ignorance. But it's a specialty of the house...
What I think these two are up to, is skimming the surface for fish, portions of one of which I believe may be dangling out the beak of the forward gull. Or maybe it found a mustache.
Jason M. Hogle, whose own site, Xenogere is wonderful and covers more than birds, says "Oh my goodness! Your photo The image, one image up from this one, formerly called "Two Gulls, a Cormorant and a Pelican" actually shows a Forster's tern with fish dealing with a Bonaparte's gull competing for the food. Wow! Excellent catch! Again... Wow!"
I assume that's a fish wriggling in that bird's beak. Jason adds, "I'm so jealous! Catching the Bonaparte's gulls close enough for good photography has always been difficult. You not only accomplished that, but you did it with flair by catching one as it competes with a Forster's tern for food (above). And again with a Bonaparte's gull as it carries away its own meal. I say it one more time: Wow!"
Jason liked that one so much, I went back into the stacks and pulled a couple more from that series. Some involving a little more focus and action-stopping. Kinda arty but almost monochromatic black & white.
I wish I could take credit for photographing those two birds together. I did make the photographs. But I had no idea who they were. From as far away as I stood on the shore, they'd probably be accurately classified by most people as NOT close enough for good photography, although these last two shots may belie that claim. They are certainly very small portions of the full size frames shot at a supposed 35mm equivalent of 750mm telephoto. A long way from shore.
While the battling fishing fleets of several species duked it out on the water for fish more than half-way across the lake, I began to concentrate my attentions on the visiting gulls a little closer to this side. They were flying in wide circles and figure way-beyond-8s across the water, always watching out for more food.
The trick, as always, was to get them in focus. So I was standing out in the cold waving the Rocket Launcher around, picking first one bird then another I thought might fly closer, following along, hoping to get it separated from any background, so the camera would go ahead and bother to focus in on it, and click. And click and click.
The best of them are almost in focus. The wing will be but the fuselage won't or something like that. Even with the RL stopped down as much as it would in this gray light, all I could hope for a was a few inches of depth of field, if that. And not a speed blur. Took a long time shooting a lot of frames than greatly enlarging those to get these.
Here for contrast is the usual White Rock Lake gull, the Ring-billed Gulls I sometimes call Ring-noses.
I really wanted to call this twisting gull "Tern Turning," but since it is a gull, this is all I can call it.
More birds, luck and applied talent today. I even paid attention to what I was doing. Not lucky enough to find crows rooting a hawk out of their territory, but my exposures were close to ideal — or close enough, and I saw so many birds I don't have time to work them all up today. So the star of the moment is a pair of American Kestrels. Maybe even a pair pair, I believe I learned somewhere that they hunt separately but not so far away, and that's exactly where I found these two.
She was hunting around Winfrey Point, where I've seen them both over the years and in the last few months. They are not an uncommon sight at the lake. But then neither are several species of birds I almost never see — or if I see them, I don't manage photographs. She flew right by me on the way to this wire near the baseball field. No more than 25 feet away, before I'd got my window and the Rocket Launcher ready to shoot. I could see her clearly, and my visions not that great afar.
Most of my American Kestrel photographs are of them flying away. A little out of focus or a lot of movement, it's as difficult to discern as which of the pair this is without seeing that blue patch on their wings. I'm guessing this is the male, because it's facial markings are much more bold. But I'm rarely certain.
I found him a few later toward the Bath House from Dreyfuss Point. They say a private firm will build a replacement Dreyfuss Club building, but the only proof I've seen is that sometimes the City block entrance onto the hill overlooking Sunset Bay. If you look on my map, you'll see that Sunset Bay, Dreyfuss and Winfrey Points are almost adjacent. This guy's is puffed up to keep himself warm. It wasn't as cold as it has been here lately, but it was not warm, either.
Since it's what they tend to do when they see me photographing them, photographing them flying, usually away, is no great challenge. The real challenge will be someday, when I manage to photograph the step by step of them seeing something from their wire perch, their float down to get it, them getting it, then bringing fresh food back to the wire to devour it.
I watched helplessly as it dove from that high perch, helicoptered in, found something, jerked it out of the ground, took it back up to the safety of his wire, and ate it. Not at all sure what it is.
Not much sense trying to sneak up on something as bright and sharp-eyed as an American Kestrel, but I did inch forward some, and was rewarded by him flying away. Of course. But he'll be back, and I'll be back, and we'll encounter each other closer over the coming season.
One book says they're not shy of humans, but I have noticed they'd rather do their hunting without a photographer around. And who could blame him?
Just to show that I am capable of correctly exposing a crow. Whenever I photograph them with something in their beaks, it seems to be a ball-like object very like this one. Dunno what it is, but they sure must like them.
Some days I'm on fire, everything's exposed almost perfectly, and I catch birds doing amazing things I've never seen them do before or telling things that help explain who they are and what they're here for. Today, neither of those conditions obtained.
I was all excited because I'd seen crows playing in the air, cawing all the time. They may even have been chasing a hawk. I don't know because I managed to so far overexpose every single shot of them that they were barely recoverable, and even those are hardly recognizable.
I hurt since I bruised a rib or two in a laundry accident. Don't like to admit it, but I bruised rib or ribs walking fast into the laundry room with a big, remarkably well-constructed, plastic laundry basket. I misjudged how close I was to the edge of the door, crammed the basket into the sill, and fell to the floor in sudden, chest-crushing pain. At first I wasn't sure what had happened. But then I recognized the pain. I've broken ribs before. One of the more painful pains to have. I knew it too well.
Not my finest intellectual moment. Done in by a laundry basket. Ignominious as all heck. At first it hurt to do anything. Now it only hurts a little to walk. I haven't tried running or swimming yet. It happened Satty night after the opening reception for the art shows I've been working on for months. Most painful thing now to do is sit down and stand up from chairs or car seats.
American Crow Flying Over Bedraggled Red-tailed Hawk
My driver's side window, which has been recalcitrant but eventually operative, usually by pushing on it, won't budge past a certain point now, and it hurts too much to push on it. So when I saw the agitated or agitating crows, I struggled with it a bit, then just (painfully) got out and stood against the car in this evening's cold, cold wind.
Jason Hogle agrees, the bottom bird is a harried hawk. A harried and pecked upon Red-tailed Hawk.
Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras are only very recently getting Electronic View-Finders (EVFs) like almost every Point & Shoot camera has had for decades. More recently than my expensive Nikon. More recent than October of this year. Eventually, I'll get a camera with a EVF to look through instead of last century's optical viewfinder, as nice as those are.
The nice thing about EVFs is that we can look "through"/at them and tell immediately what we are doing wrong. With an optical viewfinder like on Single Lens Reflexes of both the digital and film kinds, all you can see is focus. I had focus on a few of these. What I did not have was correct exposure of the bird or the sky.
Either would have been a major improvement. But the neither I managed to get was, in some few examples — these — enough to have something to work with to get something approaching art, if not exactly science.
I didn't even imagine I'd caught anything but crows until much later when I began remembering which occasions I usually hear crows cawing like that. That happens when they're happy or when they're unhappy. What tends to make them unhappiest is when another bird, usually a predator of either the owl or hawk variety infringes upon what they consider their territory.
This image does not look much like a crow to me. But since what I thought I was photographing were crows, I assumed it was, too. It also does not much resemble a hawk. So I don't know what it is.
I get in trouble when I assume this or that bird is something I know. But I think this is a crow.
These are definitely doves. Bundled up for the cold. They are in focus and close to correctly exposed, and I'm thankful for the little things in life that go right sometimes.
Time I got to the lake tonight, it was already getting dark, and there was a huge dark cloud all the way across the lake I'd already seen five photographers staring at in wonder and snapping away at it. I saw it, too, and took my share of shots, well before I got where the pelicans were.
Any normal ISO was worthless, so I cranked the camera as high as it would go. H-something, EXIF (exposure information file) says 6,400. I don't remember shooting that high in a long, long time, so let's chalk this up to experimentation. The pelicans look bright, and they no doubt were, but the light was dark, and I could barely see them.
I'd often heard that the pelicans fly away at sunset. This was a little later, and only a few of them flew off while I was there. This was the one vertical take-off I witnessed and photographed. A couple other birds swam off. No hopping across the water to get away from something. Just a sudden take-off with only the rustling of bodies and feathers and whoosh! Off it goes.
With the pier in Sunset Bay at lower left, Sunset Bay filling the lower portions, and the sky above the darkened horizon.
Musta been earlier in the afternoon before the front covered up the sky and turned everything cold. Very cold. Got my art show up — it opens 7-9 this Saturday night at the Bath House. There's a bird or two in there, but none of mine. One large black raven by Kathy Boortz, whose work's been seen on this journal before.
Sometimes, like when battling a Ring-billed Gull for shreds of bread, Coots can be brave, even bold. But when there's a bunch of them together, they tend toward skittish, and they race to and fro, depending upon the latest change in their environment.
I can walk among gooses and sometimes ducks, but never among coots, who take the earliest opportunity to escape anything and everything. It would be easy to frighten them into rushing headlong, flying and running across the water — which is one of Nature's more entertaining possibilities, but I try not to.
There's much to appreciate and enjoy coots for, but those big clod-hopping feet may be the best bet in that comedy. I think I've seen them use a twisted foot like a propeller thrusting them under water where they find most of their non-human-provided food. They're not really blue, but in today's light, they became bluish.
I stood there in the cold and getting colder, kept hoping that thin line of cormorants and a few pelicans would swim this way, but they didn't, and it was too cold to show my legendary (and mostly fictitious) patience.
Gulls were easy. They loaded up piers, landed in singles, like this one who milliseconds later, caught wood like a aircraft carrier pilot landing, stooped over the edge, righted itself and jointed the huddled white masses.
Are they really sleeping or subtly swimming. Whenever I get closer, they get farther, sleep though they seem to be doing. Every year I keep trying to get closer with more detail, and each year I mostly fail. It's important to have difficult challenges in life. I suppose.
I say "non-breeding" with questions in my voice. Aren't most birds about now, as winter finally comes storming in to freeze us in our thoughts and actions, non-breeding?
Of course, the real story today was the changing sky. Here's a step-by-step as I drove around the lake today looking for birds.
The Rocket Launcher might have got part of downtown near the crack of dusk here, but it's useless for landscapes, here captured on my pocket Canon SD780, always there when I need it, though it does what it wants, not what I want it to.
Maybe fifteen minutes later from Sunset Bay across the bay to Winfrey Point and the sky beyond.
Later and closer, still not from the Rocket Launcher.
text and photographs copyright 2009 by J
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My favorite answer is, "I don't
am, after all, an amateur.
I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for three years,
although I've been photographing professionally since 1964.
Thanks always to Anna.