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The Amateur Birder's Journal - Stories & Photographs by J R Compton
All Contents © 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. DO NOT USE images without permission & payment.
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December 30 2007

Cormorant Flurry - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cormorant Flurry down White Rock Creek

We saw a flock of pelicans and cormorants and other speices in the lake just off shore along Garland Road on our way to Sunset Bay. Sunset had no pelicans or cormorants or much of anything else. So we went back toward the spillway, and they were gone.

Egrets Flock Down the Creek - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egrets Flock Down the Creek

Then we saw one pelican flying east toward I-30, over Garland Road toward where the creek goes through the golf course. I was trying to photograph it, but cars and windows were in the way. Then Anna noticed a bunch of big black and white birds floating in the creek.

We parked by the liquor stores and ran down a long path trying to find a place where trees didn't block our view of the creek full of birds.

Four Egrets - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Four Egrets

Where were all those birds heading? What was their hurry? Why did the four egrets just perch there watching?

December 28

Female Scaup - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Female Scaup — See male below.

Who is this beguiling bird? It's our first female Lesser Scaup. I saw only one today, and this is she. Note the brown chest and white patch behind her gray-blue bill. I also saw, but was not quick enough to photograph her dive.

Speedy Scaup - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Speedy Female Scaup

But I did get pix of her racing so fast I thought she might get up on the water and run like a coot. But she didn't. Not while I was watching, at least.

Goose Sex - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Aggressive Goose Sex through the weeds
Gets Everybody Involved.

I shot these yesterday at Sunset, then got caught up with the comedy of gooses diving and didn't have time to explicate gooses engaging in sex. Like with ducks, it's an aggressive and community-involvement activity. All the gooses gang together to keep the selected female subdued and usually submerged.

Goose Sex - A Male, A Female & A Community - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

A Male, A Female, A Community

It seems almost tame in these photos. But it was very aggressive with lots of splashing and her trying to escape all those wings and beaks. Often, when people see such aggression, they get agitated, worried and concerned. They sometimes even throw rocks at the "mean old ducks or gooses."

Goose Sex - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

It Takes A Village

When concerned witnesses learn that it's just sex, they are dismayed and amazed. The battle to subdue the female takes minutes. The act itself is over in a few seconds.

Goose Victory Flap - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Goose Victory Flap

Afterward, the male arches its back and flaps its wings as if in victory. (I've since noticed, that the male does the Victory Flap even when it does not succeed.)

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December 27

Pelican Fly-over - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Flies Over - Frame-filling Close

I never know what's going to happen. I pick a place, settle in and see what flies by or pops up. I've been at Sunset Bay way too often lately, so today I chose Boat House Lagoon, where I was rewarded with a close fly-over by an American White Pelican and a long, aerial romp by two egrets that started out perched in the trees on the far side of the lagoon. And ended in the drink, for some stand-in-the-water-and-wait egret variety fishing.

While they were circling around over the lagoon, their crisscrossing flight was marvelous.

Egret Flying Fun - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egrets Flying for Fun

Lest you think this day's entry is all about big white birds flying, here's more of today's mix:

Pelican Beak Wiggle - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Stretches its beak upward
and its throat in an S curve.

Pelicans doing strange things with their beaks is hardly novel. The one above is stretching — the pop-out neck, though, was a surprise. The next is rubbing lanolin down onto its back feathers to keep them waterproof. I like the way that big ole long beak sticks out in differing directions. More elegant and fascinating than funny.

Pelican Beak Slide - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Rubbing Lanolin

The last of today's sequences involves gooses, which are essentially large floatation devices with beaks, honks and attitude. Another first. Today I saw gooses diving.

Gooses Diving - Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Heads Down is the Easy Part

They tip forward, pushing their heads into the water, then flail about wildly till they splash and fight their way under the surface. Which they accomplish remarkably well, although their dive is a truly comical thing to see. They only stay down a few seconds, maybe five.

Goose Dive Attempt - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Real Battle is Getting Underwater

But that task is not automatic, unlike ducks and coots or even scaups. Gooses diving is not elegant. Sometimes it take more than just wanting to, and while getting the goose's head underwater is not difficult, getting the rest to follow doesn't always happen.

Often the push down leaves them in embarrassing positions on top of the water. Head submerged, yes, but ...

Gooses Trying to Dive - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Not Often An Easy Task

Once they do get down, and stay down, if only briefly, they tend to splash up with all the force and wonder it took to get them down, popping to the surface like giant corks or a rocketing submarine in the movies. Sploosh!

Undived Goose - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

An Undived Goose

Like I say, I never know what to expect.

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December 25

Birds on Poles - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cold Day Christmas - Cormorants on Poles

Cold, cold, cold. I was hoping for rain, because it'd be cold enough to snow. White Christmas doesn't phase me — sorry, Bing. But it'd make for great photo possibilities at the lake.

Solo Flyer with Noses - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Solo Flyer with Noses All Pointing in the Right Direction

Cold enough maybe the pelicans would be flying. They do that more when it's really cold and windy. I like it better when they fly toward me or full sidewise, so I can get their eyes and noses, but all these big white birds with black fringes took flight from this side of Sunset Bay to the other, where they huddled behind the brushy brake.

So I got lots of chances. I love the above shot for all those sharp noses pointing in one direction. Into the wind. There's something deeply funny about that.

Pelks Flying - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelicans Retreating to the Windlesser Other Side

Even low level, short-distance pelican flying is a wonder to watch. They got style and grace. Smooth, not all flappy like gulls. Powerful 12' wingspans with black fringes that don't show when their perched or swimming, come out.

I'd stand out in a cold, cold wind almost strong enough to blow me off the pier just on the off chance I'd get to photograph them doing it. Did it again today. Though I didn't stay long.

My Gray Bird - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Crepe Myrtle Unsub: my best guess is
that it's a Curved Bill Thrasher, but I
have no security in that identification.

Driving up my driveway, I noticed something move in the crape myrtle above. My camera was already out, so I quickly shot this UNknown SUBject through the sunroof and branches.

Smallish, overall light-colored body, slightly curved light beak, brown stippled head and neck. Some sort of cleft down its breast. Are those black feet or dark stripey? I've been looking through my bird books and watching my trees.

I thought only Grackles lived around here. Oh, and that hawk.

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December 23

Scaup Splash - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Scaup Looks Surprised (unlikely)
as its pal goes under with a splash

Really was too crowded, but Saturday or not, we went. Crowded with folks in hysterics when gulls picked wadded bread out of the air, who called Scaups and Coots ducks. Scaups are; coots aren't. Always amazes me people don't notice the difference. Both are sorta darkish. Many people can't discern. Or don't care.

Scaup Dive Arch - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Scaup Dive Arch

I was excited to see scaups (pronounced, my dictionary says, "scopes." Anna's says "skawp") dive. I've been watching these guys (apparently all males; females have a white splash behind their blue bills) and never before saw them dive. They arch up, dip head first, go under fast. Once one did, they all started doing it. How'd I miss that before?

Scaup Tail Going Down - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Tail Last

These Lesser Scaups only stayed under a few seconds. The first one I saw dive, dove under a quickly — and menacingly — approaching goose. Big goose. Later, they dove gooseless.

Up From Diving - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Up from Dive

In the shallow water around the Sunset pier, it was easy to see their bright stippled backs under the surface. My dictionary tells me they are fond of shellfish. Must be how they get them.

The second time I saw a goose veer into a scaup, the scaup won. Stood his ground. Ran the goose off. Feisty little fellow. Wish I'd got photos ...

Gull-Coot Altercation - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Chase is On

Today's other notable encounter was between Ring-billed Gulls (4) and Coots (1). Hard to say who won. Gulls chased the coots off. But there was an exchange, very quick, lots of flapping, some clawing, almost like fisticuffs.

Gull-Coot Fisticuffs - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Avian Altercation

Resulting in coots running away. On water. Always amazing. Usually an effective escape. Difficult to determine whether pain was inflicted. That coot was out of there fast.

Running On Water - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Escape Velocity

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December 22

Wingspread Cormorant - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cormorant Balancing in treetop along Cormorant Bay

Not sure what I was after today. I'd thought to catch cormorants speeding across the bay full throttle (and I did, but the results were just so predictable). Or capture them doing something interesting in the trees, though I hardly expected it.

Flappy Cormorant - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Flappy Cormorant almost landing in the tree top

It only occurred later that the pure shapes of them were more interesting than specific activities. Though treetops turned out to be an intelligent direction, after all. Lots of activity up there. Plenty of shape-shifting as they landed and jostled for a perch, which likely involved supplanting another cormorant already there.

T reed Corms - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

I'd never noticed all this activity. At the first dozen looks, cormorants seem to just perch up there, filling the entire arc of the bay I've named for them. They stand, watching, scatting, waiting their turn to swoop down and arch out into the sky.

Akward Cormorant - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Awkward Cormorant at Treetop

Today, I photographed lots of corms in normal cormorant behaviors, flying, perching, looking regal or goofy. Shapes you'd probably recognize. But I like these better.

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December 21

Pelican Wing Dry Mode - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Mysterious Pelican Wing-up Mode —
like holding their petticoats high.

We kept seeing pelicans floating around in this mysterious, wings-up, high ruffled, fuselage-exposing mode that seemed as elegant as it was strange. We couldn't figure out quite why they were doing it, but they got our attention.

Wing-dry Mode - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coming and Going — front and rear views

Coming and going, it seemed that most of the pelicans in Sunset Bay were affected by the mysterious condition.

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Head Down Bath Mode Duo - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Head-down Pelican Bathing Duo

Eventually, we noticed all the free-form bathing going on and put it together. Sun-shiny day, temperature in the middle 60s. Not hot like it can get here in Dallas even in late December.

Splash Up - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Splash Up

But not cold as maybe it should be this close to Christmas, either. Snow covering most of America, and our winter-resident American White Pelicans are taking baths. They summer in the northern Western states and southern Canada, so to them, this must be downright warm.

Wings Up Splashing - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wings-up Splashing

Warm enough to dunk all the way under and splash water every which way, wings flapping and water splattering and splooshing. A sight to see amid a fluttering sound like heavy wet applause.

Florrid Pelican Bathing - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wing Splattering Pelican Bath

Something else, I keep seeing in these photographs — I never noticed among the water-flinging flurry — is how slack their big lower jaw, made of thick but flexible skin, gets when they're in the throes of bathing.

Limp-jaw Spray - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Slack-jaw Bathers in Sunset Bay

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December 19

Pelican Line on the Far Side Mist - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Line in the Far Side Mist

Too cold and wet and misty to do anything but shoot what birds I could find out in the elements from the relative safety of my car driving along the shore. As the mist descended, my camera couldn't even find a focus. Gray fullness everywhere. Darned few birds anywhere.

December 15

Brown & White Gooses - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

White & Brown Gooses at Tilley's Point
Our favorite fiercely goose pair.

More old friends today. I drove nearly all round the lake. Had planned one stop, one shot. Was tired. But this is too much fun. Exhausted my recovering sick self, crashed four hours after. Worth every second just to see all my buddies.

New ones, too. Had been struck how handsome Lesser Scaups were the day I shot everything blue. Determined then to capture them in their own hues. Today. Another new species to discover. Gradually, I'll figure out what's special, how their parts work, what they're up to. It'll be fun.

Journal readers, this is a Lesser Scaup. They summer in most of Canada and winter here.

Lesser Scaup - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Dashing little Lesser Scaup — about
which I know almost nothing —
except this is a male. Females have
white patches behind their bills.

I'd swore off Sunset Bay — too easy. By the time I got there though, I'd been everywhere else, even walked Singing Bridge, so why not. I saw lots of pelicans out in the middle from Tilley's. Less than a dozen at Sunset but noticed some beginnings.

Pelican with Fin Start - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Note the little fin near the end of this guy's beak.
By spring it'll mark him as a breeding male.

And some more obvious — if quicker — changes. The Full Lower Lip Inversion might have taken three seconds. I'd heard the lip flapping gurgle like bad plumbing that often precedes a stretch, so I was paying apt attention. Then there this was. Ooof!

Hardly worth noting with evidence like this next image, but American White Pelican's upper beak is mostly stable, but that lower beak portion is amazingly malleable, like lips. I've seen them shake it like loose cloth and stretch it like. Well, this.

Full Pelk Lip Inversion - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Full Pelican Lower Lip Inversion

Then, while sitting on the pier watching the pelicans, this amazing, red-faced drake hove into view and passed within a few feet of me as I snapping away. Its eyes sparkling. I feel a close affinity with the wartoid Muscovies. It feels like family when they're near. Such gentle creatures, for all their weight and facial ungainliness.

Muscovy Swim-by - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Muscovy Drake Swim-by

Too many people at the lake on weekends, so I felt like I had to take it all in today, Friday. Probably won't do it again till Tuesday, if then. That's Solstice, then it's winter, for sure.

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December 14

Cormorant - The Usual View - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cormorant - The Usual View

Guess what I'm doing is visiting the usual haunts that have turned unusual for me the last few weeks of illness. Today's stop was The Boat House Lagoon. I'd hoped for herons and found lots, but most of them were shy — and nearly invisible.

Splash Dash Cormorant - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Splash - Dash Cormorant
getting up air speed

I didn't really expect a pelican, but was glad to see one working fish up and down, mostly along the far side. And me with a shorter than usual tele. But patience won out. It swam closer. Meanwhile, cormorants entertained center-ring.

Feathers Feathered Fly-by - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Low, Feathers Feathered Fly-by — Note Black-crowned
Night-Heron watching from the shadows on the far side.

I didn't get good shots of the Black-crowned Night-Heron flock — more than I've ever seen in one place, though nearly invisible. Larking, I photographed the thick bramble of trees on the far side of the lagoon. The resulting photos, though aesthetically dull, show at least a dozen, maybe more gray and brown herons of various ages blended so perfectly into their backgrounds they were invisible. I'll keep at that challenge but I might have to wait till after Christmas for a longer telephoto.

Beak Stretching Pelican - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.
Beak Stretching Pelican - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two of the Many Forms of Pelican Beak Stretching —
the partial Lower Lip Inversion and the Gaping Yaw

Meanwhile, my encounter with the lone American White Pelican in the Boat House Lagoon was rewarding. I guess I must have used that patience people keep attributing to with. I out-waited a gaggle of photogs all keen on capturing the Pelk up closer.

Just as I knew if I watch a pelk long enough, it would do something funny with its beak, I hoped it would find its way across the lagoon to nearly fill my frame. Eventually, about when my legendary patience had worn out, it did.

These are the highlights of the great Pelican Balance Beam Routine:

Pelk Balance Beam A - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

A: Attaining a tentative balance while
introducing the turtle judges at each end

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Pelk Beam Wings Up - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

B: Wings-out Balance at Beam's End

Pelk Beam Tippie Toes - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

C: Tippy-Toe Dismount

Pelk Beam Air Walking - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

D: Nailing the Three-
point Aquatic Landing

Yeah, a little silly. But an Olympic performance with no broken limbs. Hooray!

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December 13

Close Order Cormorant Fly By - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

First-winter Cormorant Fly-By

Frame-filling close fly-bys like this almost never work. They are the stuff of dreams. I am blessed when this big a bird fills my frame at speed. Focusing and exposure details usually don't work out, but I usually try anyway. This shot — unique in a series of five — is a treasure. Every feather delineated. That rich riot of color blurring behind.

Regal Cormorant Flyover - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Regal Cormorant Flyover — Easy to see why so many
governments use these birds on their seals and currencies

I'd rather it were a pelican or egret, but I've been wanting to get closer to the corms this winter, and that was about as close as I'll get. Older cormorants are darker, especially chest to beak. The lighter uppers on these mark them as first-winter one-year olds.

Egret Fly Over - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egret Flyover — close enough

I didn't want to drive all the way round to Sunset Bay while running errands today. So I stopped at The Spillway. For awhile, I sat on the rocks inside the big locked fence near the parking lot. If anything flew close enough over or by I shot it. I got lucky.

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Jaunty Tree-top Egret - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Jaunty Tree-top Dance

They're birds, of course, but I'm still not used to seeing these big, brilliant white egrets standing in trees, let alone jaunting off the top of the tallest pole in the forest. But there it was.

Abstract Landscape with Corm & Egret - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Abstract Landscape with Cormorant & Egret

My favorite, cheapo ($150) zoom lens jumped off a shelf yesterday and jammed itself into my floor. So I'm stuck with using the far superior IQ (Image Quality) lens I bought 17 years ago that still works well on my D200. All today's and tomorrow's shots are that lens. I miss zooming, and the zoom zoomed nearly twice as close, but the quality of the Nikkor 180/2.8 is still astounding.

Day Fishing Egrets - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egret Chaos Reveals Careful Fishing Procedure
with the last edge of dam spillway behind them.

Couldn't tell what these egrets were up to when I shot this melee, but any semi-organized eeg chaos is a sure sign of them fishing. Sure enough. Looking at the images on my monitor later revealed Great Egrets catching fish after fish and taking turns doing it.

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December 12

Pelk Conversation - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelk Conversation

A little late in the month or year to be starting again, but here I am, and I've got me and my camera moving, sometimes in the same direction. See November for why and what I'm recovering from lately. But I am, and I'm glad I can still shoot the birds at White Rock Lake.

Pelican Flyby - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelk Fly-by

I started at Sunset Bay, because that's where the widest diversity is, and the birds were there in splendor this fine, warm day in Dallas' December. Which species I most wanted to catch was, of course, my precious pelicans, and I was lucky to find them doing a variety of pelican things.

Best Gull Portrait - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Best Gull Portrait

But other species were there in their own splendors, too. I'm not a fan of greedy-gut gulls, but they have their own flashy style, if not much grace. I wish their splashy polkadotted tails showed better — that's their parts I like most, but those tiny eyeballs and dark ring around the beak and spotty head and breast have their flair, too. I suppose.

They are less shy than most birds.

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Gull-wing Flights - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Gull-wing Flight

I probably won't spend much time this winter on these turkey gulls — who, among many other sins, often attack my precious coots, so here's a flying shot showing off more detail.

THE Coot - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Elegant Coot in Swirling Water

Not often I can capture the vivie red eyes of the American Coot in such stylish, swirling water. Still managed to overexpose the subtle markings on its beak, but this gives us a tad of a notion of the variation of featheration from head to tail.

Best Grackle Wash Job - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Best Grackle Bird Wash

I always spend way too much silicon (temporary storage) on Grackles taking splashing baths, and I usually endeavor to render the bird recognizably. But that inevitably seems timid. This wild swirl of splash is more like the real thing. Yee-haw!

Urban Pelk Fly-by - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Urban Pelican Fly-by

My photography may be a tad timid this time out, but I went out, took photographs and will again and again and again. This journal is in gear and moving again. Watch this space.

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All text and photographs
copyright 2006 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved.

No reproduction without
specific written permission.

Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"


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