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White Rock Lake
Hawks always get first billing here. Well, almost always. Even if when I was shooting at it, I didn't know what it was or where it was going. Try to aim. Go clickity click at it. Figure out later what it is. Anna first sighted it, I stopped the car to try to follow it wherever it was going. This is where it went.
Nice when they hold still awhile, then jump into flight. But when they start flying soon as I aim the camera toward them, it becomes difficult to get eyes in focus — the great tip off that they're in there — when they're flying the other direction. Fast.
Up toward somebody's lawn chairs. Flying fast enough I can't get a bead on it. Fast enough I can't stop its action. Just keep shooting.
And hoping I get something vaguely identifiable.
Or at least with its head showing. Sometimes none of that happens. Oh, well. Almost a really handsome hawk. Anna said it might be a Red-shouldered Hawk. I thought it was something entirely different. She was right.
Later we heard crows mobbing somebody out of their territory around Dreyfuss. We suspect it was this same hawk, but when we saw it then, it was always way far away. Come to think of it later, I suspect it was one of the hawks raised in that nest around there that we could never manage to see up and over and down into. I can't shake the feeling we've seen this bird before. Like an old friend, being coy.
I photographed this guy flapping into shore past all the pelicans and coots in Sunset Bay. Because it was something different. Something interesting. I didn't know what till I looked it up later. I guessed it was a Sandpiper, because I wanted it to be something much more interesting. But it wasn't.
I don't know why, but sometimes pelicans look like something from another planet instead of Earth pelicans.
And sometimes other pelicans materialize out of thin air almost no distance away, swoop in at an angle.
Then land all crooked. But well enough to join the rest of the pelicans.
I thought about pretending this pelican was that last pelican, and maybe I could put together a little story of how it flew in from far away...
Circled around inside the bay.
Killed altitude and air speed.
And just kept dropping. But instead, I put all these separate pelicans — except the first two flyers and the last two were together — separate. Just getting to photograph pelicans flying is its own reward.
We didn't drive down the west side of the lake, but we pretty much hit all the other areas.
Christmas Eve 2010
Gray, rainy, cold, inhospitable, so where do I go for a little relaxation birding from my car? White Rock Lake, of course. Where I found one of those massive fishing parties floating to and fro and involving pelicans, cormorants, sea gulls and, of course, although you can't see them here, fish.
Cormorants and pelicans.
One Great-tailed Grackle with a great tail.
And on a warmer, dryer and much brighter day earlier this week, a Great-tailed Grackle splash bathing in Sunset Bay.
Another day, gray and cool.
I know this page is for the birds, not kitty-cats. But this is too delicious a sighting not to link.We all know they live here among us, but few have been so well-equipped to photograph them before. Bobcats living in harmony with humans for many years in Dallas. Great photographs by Gus. Ignore his "Fierce, aggressive, dangerous heading. These are just some of the more interesting and reclusive neighbors Gus has.
I Figured if they did this last night, they might just do this again this night, so I stood on the balmy banks of Loch White Rock this even waiting for them to do this, and I photographed them at it. I purposely set my camera on single shot only mode, so I couldn't burn up the digital space all so fast as to lay waste to so much silicone, and tonight, altogether, only shot 457 odd shots, most of which were a big mistake, but a few of which were small enough mistakes to be almost winners, like this.
Now that I'm pretty sure I know what I want now, I hope to come back later Tuesday as the goose are getting fed, and maybe a few pelicans will sluice in even closer, and I can capture snouts sucking in more fishies. I'll set cam to continuous shoot, but shoot only when they're coming in closer with heads and beaks toward me. I might even wear my longer tele.
I really want closer-ups of them sucking fish outta the wa-wa.
T-shirt wearing weather tonight probably won't obtain tomorrow night, but I'll wrap layers for whatever temp it is and try again. Might even standardize on an exposure and color.
Hadn't really expected to, and wasn't really ready for them when they suddenly bolted en masse, but I was there with cam in hand and clickity-click-click and away.
And then they were gone.
Went to the lake twice today. With my 70~300 Nikkor lens, which seemed about perfect for the prevailing bird conditions.
Had about a second after this guy landed in the reeds along the plank walk to the pier at Sunset Bay. I and my zoom, slipped right into the groove. Click. And it flew away.
Lots of gulls everywhere, because lots of people were feeding them whatever it is they eat.
Love that staring eye. Watching that I don't spring into attack, I suppose.
And plenty more in the trees all around.
We'd been watching the gooses rounding up, then lining into the water. This is the big goose boss, Wilbur (on the right) with another goose, also in the lean-forward goose aggressor mode.
I shot the ones above, and Anna shot these three:
I often wonder what our contingent of American White Pelicans are up to, sitting around preening and stretching wings and beaks and resting all day. Stay tuned down today's column of pictures to see what they're waiting for.
Anna thinks this looks like owl eyes. I just like it.
While we were standing together on the edge of the lake somewhat east of the pier, we heard the loud knocking of what we hoped was a woodpecker, but just about as easily could have been some kids playing with something hollow. We rushed under one tree, saw it fly to another, where we quickly gathered, shooting up.
This one of Anna's shows both Woodies in one tree. They perched together very briefly, but they separated about just as we figured out they were together. I assumed they were a pair, but they might have been two males. Difficult to determine without seeing the tops of their heads, which they were coy about showing. Then before we could get much of a bead on them, they each flew away in the same direction — out across the cove.
After close study of this shot and the next one, I now believe the bird on the left is the female, and the one on the right is the male Red-bellied Woodpecker.
The rest of today's shots are mine.
I got two shots of the first woodpecker, but neither was as good as Anna's, unless you ignore that bright out-of-focus branch in front of its face between my camera and it. The image does, however, make this bird a lot easier to identify. My other shot was of it looking up and away.
... ... ...
Then we went off to eat, came back as it was getting darker and darker and darker.
I didn't think I could get any photographs worth keeping. Wrong again. Just crank the ISO up to 1,250. Actually, I did it in dark so dark I couldn't tell what I was cranking it up to and didn't want to take the time to look at anything but the pelicans lined up for what the only reason they ever line up on the water for — fishing.
When they line up like that, I tune in. They've been waiting around, preening and sleeping all afternoon, waiting for everybody to get together, feel like it, and the fish to gather in the shallows, so they can go at it once again.
I've never perceived the signal to dip heads down, but maybe they've been doing so long and so often, they just feel the rhythm of it. Often everybody's together, sometimes not quite.
Sometimes, not even close. But the system works. Over and over again.
If you missed that first go-through, here it is again. Line up. Swim forward in a vertical or horizontal line with or flanking the school of fish being chased.
Dip beaks down into the water.
Fill up those flexible lower mandibles people call beaks, drain out the water, and swallow the fish.
I spoke today to the man who is testing my Sigma 150~500mm lens somewhere east of here. He said he could find nothing wrong with it. That's not really an outrageous claim. I myself have had it work for me many times. But that's not why I returned it to Sigma this second time. Why I returned it is all the times it does not work. Will not focus, "exposes," if that's the right word, blank frames instead of focusing or allowing an exposure.
I suspect they are not going to fix it again. So I'll have the opportunity to not have it work for me again many more times. I have tried a couple friends' long lenses, mostly on Canon cameras. And I have taken the time to check out the Sigma's results of lens tests. They're dismal. I really do need a faster, better quality lens that actually focuses on my camera. But it will probably cost a great deal more than the just-under-$1000 I paid for this turkey. Alas!
But I miss it terribly. Of course, even when I have it, I miss it terribly when it malfunctions, which it does often. I got along without it before I met it, and I suppose it's possible I could get along without it now, but I don't want to. But apparently, I pretty much have to.
I'm at the lake almost every day, and almost every day since the last entry to this journal, I've come up with nearly nothing. The winter blahs? Mercury Retrograde? I dunno. Just my bird luck has been down pretty far. These are the best of several days shooting.
This is what happens when a kayaker paddles into their territory. Doesn't take much to frighten a coot into running across the water, leaving splashes in their wake. Here, even the steady ole' pelicans are moving away from where the kayaker's heading.
It wasn't like the kayaker was there to mix things up with our shorebird population. He was just paddling back where he paddled in from. His car was probably close. I wasn't paying him much attention though. I was interested in the birds, as usual.
Most of my shots of them show dark dark black wings. These guys were nice enough to show a little detail in there. Thanks, guys.
When I get my Sigma back, I'll come back with it and get some head-and-shoulders portraits of these guys. I probably won't overexpose their necks and faces. It'll be fun photographing them a lot closer. I miss my lens.
I shot nearly straight up (shooting straight up is dangerous; the sidewalk was splattered white with their random scat) for nearly a half hour, and I never did catch anything terribly interesting. I miss my long long lens. Sigma must have received in Tuesday. I'm hoping they'll find what's wrong and fix it.
Canon turns fixed cameras around in less than a week. I wonder how long it'll take for Sigma. I haven't heard anything from them yet.
I think it's a kite or a jacket or something. From one side it looked dark and fabricky. From this side it looked vaguely like a cartoon of a bird. Badly drawn.
Tried out a friend's 400mm un-image-stabilized Canon lens today while my 150~500mm lens is in the shop at Sigma, with some good possibility of finally getting fixed, I hope, hope, hope. Turns out, however, that I do not have the plug-in that would allow me to see and mess with the images I shot on that Canon camera without updating to the latest version of Photoshop, which won't work on my current Macintosh Operating System, and I don't even want to mess with upgrading for awhile.
In fact, I'd be happy not to ever have to update to the latest version, latest OS, latest much of anything. But after about ten years of avoiding planned obsolescence, it looks like I won't get to much longer. Alas. I was hoping to make it till Apple finally relents and parks a Bluray burner on the Mac, but Jobs does not want to, even though they will have to eventually.
No idea whats. We both wondered. Neither of us had much a prayer of seeing close that far away, him with his 400, me with a lens a silly 100 millimeters shorter at 300 on the far end of my zoom. Birds, we were pretty sure. And storms coming, I can feel in my bones as I write this at 5 ayem the next morning, about to settle into my warm bed for the morning.
Plenty of gulls to choose from today. Close in and ornery as ever.
Cold and promise of colder. A couple layers too cold to be out photographing birds today, but there I was. I shot pix of a bunch of cormorants day before yesterday I need to show you. Not that they're unusual or anything. Nope, Stinky Bird Season is upon us, and those critters are thick around Cormorant Bay, sometimes called the Cormorant Hotel, smelly and crazy to walk through at night without an umbrella.
Fort Worth Drying Beds
I didn't really want to go. Too early. I'm up till late in the mornings, and leaving at 8 ayem doesn't fit into my idea of the best wake-time. More like sometime in the afternoon for me. But I was curious to see the Long-tailed Duck birders were abuzz about. And after we talked with other birders there to learn just where he was, we found it right away. Almost casually. He was the first distinctive looking bird we saw in that pan.
Another good reason to attend the Drying Beds is that there's generally a variety of birds available. Some that only later will visit White Rock Lake. Some that won't ever. Here we see Buffle-head Ducks and a female Northern Shoveler in the bottom right corner. Pretty amazing to have captured this many different forms of the Buffles in one place at one time.
With Pintailed Ducks nearby.
Don't know what those birds escaping in flight away from this place are, but those are Northern Shovelers in the middle in the pond. Not at all sure who that is with its wings up, small, almost tiny at the bottom of the photo. I'll assume that's a duck escaping upper right. Probably another Shoveler.
Normally, with my long telephoto zoom working, I'd focus in one one or two of these guys. Today with my longest lens about half that long, I had to settle for wider views. By now, I should know who these guys are, but I like the arrangement here.
Now this guy would stand out in almost any crowd. When it finally noticed us, and unlike all the other very local birds who did, it did not fly away. It fast-walked into the weeds at left and stayed it there as long as we stayed. Something around that little island was too good to fly away from.
Actually, I'm beginning to believe that being without my super-zoom might lead me back to understanding what's going on around the birds I usually hone in on. Not in this scene or the next couple, but in most of those above. I didn't think so at the time, but sitting here in my comfy office chair staring at the shots above, t's nice to notice the environment around the birds for awhile.
On our way out from the beds, I noticed one of the birds on the wire looked odd, odder than the others. No idea who they were, but this is an old friend. When we sidled up a little closer, so I could shoot up from Anna's sunroof, it flew away. I can't blame him. We were being pretty obvious.
Another old friend, but a new viewpoint for looking up at it. It was rocking along in the sky over the beds. Rocking is always the big visual giveaway. They have so much control in the air, they don't have to do a lot of flapping, they just slide into the winds. Good rocking It's a Turkey Vulture.
And this is my patron saint, the Great Blue Heron. One of whom is on my business card for the Amateur Birder's Journal. Anna saw it as we drove ever so slowly down the long straight road before the hill up into looking over all the beds. We took it as a good sign we'd see some interesting birds.
White Rock Lake
Today, I brought my oldest auto focus lens to the lake to photograph birds. It was a very conscious decision. I've been booing and hooing all week about my Rocket Launcher not working. Well, yesterday I packed it up and sent it back to Sigma, where a manager there took pity on me and said he'd fix it. I suspect by now, he's seen this behavior before. First time I sent it back, they said they couldn't find anything wrong. Maybe this time they can find it and fix it. That'd be great.
The lens I picked for shooting today, was my trusty 180mm f/2.8 tele It is reputed to be one of Nikon's best and sharpest lenses ever. It's also one of its slowest focusing. I took it perversely, because I thought I'd have the worst chance of getting good bird today than any of my other telephotos. Actually, I only had one other lens to choose among. The 70-300mm is pretty good itself, but I chose the 180, because I didn't think I'd have a chance to get close to any birds anywhere at the lake. I wanted a challenge.
The good thing about the 180 being so incredibly sharp is that I'd be able to blow up far-away birds and make it look almost like I had used a long tele. The Woodpecker shots above were like that. But this and the next couple birds, are much much closer. I'm always amazed when a bird chooses to land near me, especially this near, short inches farther than as close as it will focus. Rendered all the better by this amazing lens.
Guess I was wrong about the 180 not doing me good today. I might have to keep trying it. It was a tad short for reaching up into the tree for Woody, but for up close and personal or birdenal, it's (oh, gosh, he's going to say 'amazing' again), fabulous.
That's a sharp lens. I've been talking to fellow bird-ographers lately, and am sorting through the possibilities os spending gobs of money for a new long telephoto with a wide aperture that I can still carry. Must say the 180 fits some of those categories. So much lighter than either of my tele zooms, although all day I kept trying to twist it out to zoom. If I can just keep getting birds to come this close.
Sometimes my pelican friends come cross the transom low and fast and silent — well, they're usually pretty quiet, but this is only a couple seconds after I first laid eyes upon this one, and I followed it in, clicking all the way.
The 35mm equivalence of my 180 is 270mm, and I didn't think that would be near enough near to my 150-500mm Stigma, but it worked out spectacularly well today. Anna and I plan to do more birds tomorrow, so we'll see how this and my lowly 70-300 lenses fair. Should be interesting. Hope not frustrating. Lots of times only the 500's reach is good enough.
And it slides to a halt. Notice it's using its feet and legs as rudder.
I keep wanting to lighten this pelican, but he looks so good dark.
But these guys actually are a little bit darker. I've been trying to shoot this shot for several months. Finally got it today, with the 180. It's little red-eyed American Coots trying to stay close to where some human is throwing pieces of bread from the pier at Sunset Bay. Before the gulls can get take it away from them, alert in several differing directions for various possibilities.
Something spooked them. They're all standing up as if in anticipation of flying up and off next. But only two or three birds lifted off and flew off toward the other side of the lake. I was thankful for the action. And something to try to focus on. This seems to have worked, but a lot I shot today decidedly did not focus.
I miss being able to push the shutter button, and have my lens focus. So I keep testing it, and it keeps not working. And each time I more than half expect it to happen, then it dashes my hopes again. I especially like the challenge of focusing on a fast falling duck, everything out, cupping the air as it rapidly descends, a masterful job every time.
I don't ever have time to enjoy all the feathery bits hanging out while I'm struggling to match the little rectangle in my optical viewfinder on the duck falling out of the sky, but now that I don't have to align rectangle and fast-moving duck, it's neat how many different types of feathers are stuck out catching air down to a soft landing on water.
I especially enjoy trying to follow the ducks down because they're so small in my view and my viewfinder. This, oddly enough is a full frame shot. Nice thing about 500mm lenses when they do work for them to enlarge all my visions, even the unnamable dark ducks that fall out of the sky with style and tilt.
Had to switch to the mode that focuses on whatever's out there in that general direction that's closest for this pair of unlikely aerobats. Fun watching. Gangbusters fun trying to figure out how — as they are hurtling towards a wet landing — how I'm gonna get them both in one shot and then actually get that one to be in focus. But this time it happened.
One of five or six male Scaups that visit each year. Sometimes more, but usually just males for months at a time. A birding friend tells me she saw three females visit last week. Good for the Scuap guys, I suppose. But they were gone quickly. Maybe there's hundreds more males than females and the females get to pick and choose around the states. Or something.
I'm not usually a big fan of Ring-beaked Gulls, but they were right there in front of me as I encroached upon the pier at Sunset Bay, so as they left, I photographed their departures. THis one looks sharp here — nice thing about small versions used online — but it's not. If you saw the original, you'd agree. For here, now, this is just fine, though.
text and photographs copyright 2010 by J
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
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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.