February 29 2008
Don't get to type this date very often. I thought this was a bird, stopped in the middle of Lawther and focused close till I realized it was the big metal fuselage of a light pointed back at the Arboretum. Cool looking bird, though not as black as the next one.
I've been asking the Universe to see a Black Vulture since I realized there were such things when I bought my new favorite Birds of Texas book (There are many.) in McAllen earlier this winter. It's the Lone Pine one by Keith A. Arnold and Gregory Kennedy. Clean design. Like most birds, it's got a nice big picture of the Blacks. Standing and posing, not flying away with a friend.
That page also shows they're all through Texas all through the year, and I kept wondering why I'd never seen one before. Today I saw two (a pair?) cavorting over along the shore at Big Bird Bay (a.k.a. Sunset). It is spring. Or nearly so. At first, I assumed they were Turkey Vultures, who aren't all black with white primaries.
Would have been nice to see a little detail — its gray head, gray-black feathers, yellow tipped charcoal beak, gray feet — in this shot. But I underexposed, planning instead to photograph a big white bird, not a black one. But I got its white primaries in a nice, abstract-looking picture.
And those attributes are visible here. Barely. Black Vultures really are black.
Then these guys hove into view, and I exposed the clouds almost perfectly. Later got the birds right, too, but those were the same old shots I always show, and this time I'm only gonna show these next couple pelican pix.
This one of a nearly landed pelk and a log full of cormorants — is artish with the corms all fuzzy, and the pelican flying flat out two feet off the surface. Love to watch them do that. Feet tucked behind. Wings out but not all the way out — not necessary for gliding this simple. Fingers splayed and curled.
And this is soft and fluffy — the pelican fluffing poofing out after a splashy bath. An American White Pelican doing the big fluff.
I heard people on the radio up north getting excited when they saw their first robin of the season this week. When I saw this one — these two. I grabbed my camera. I'd just driven up my driveway, and these guys were standing there. On first sight and at some distance I assumed it was a bright red plastic cup. That stuff blows into my yard a lot.
This one (not the same bird, but they were hanging out moments before) escaped the photog with the big black camera tip-toeing up the driveway, perched briefly on what passes for a gate, then flew away. I consider any birds beside grackles, sparrows or doves hanging out in my yard a good sign. Especially Robins.
So I went back to Fitchery meadow. But first I stopped off in Big Bird Country. Sunset Bay. Pelicans landing are always fun to shoot, and they're big enough to get in focus and fill the frame, and all those photographic niceties that have otherwise escaped me lately.
I suspect they're getting aggressive on their way to figuring out pecking order before they go back north to breed. Note both of these birds have good-sized beak fins.
Serious pecking order deciding here. Fierce as I've ever seen.
Thought I'd learned this lesson already, but apparently not.
The Electric Company was running a big, noisy motor under the keets' home in the Big Hum (above) over by the Pump House, and they were flying around screaming. Think I would, too. Or call 911 for a noise complaint. I re-read the sign where they say they're following guidelines for coexisting with the keets, but I don't believe it for a second.
Nice thing about shooting parakeets is the photog usually gets ample warning when they're coming or passing by. It was a little challenging capturing them larger in the frame (this is a crop) since they fly fast. Very fast.
I panned along with a couple other birds.
But I only got one. It's as red as a Cardinal, but without seeing his face, it's hard to tell for sure. But it doesn't seem any other this-red bird is here now. Might have helped if I'd got it in focus, but I was really surprised I got it at all.
Some days are diamonds; some rust. Some days I guess I have to do something to keep from having to do it again. Today was oxidized red. For no reason except I hadn't been there in awhile, I went into the Fitchery (what Anna calls The Old Fish Hatchery Area).
Turned out, my camera couldn't see the birds for the trees. It would happily focus on the latter and ignore the former until the birds were too far away, out of sight or disappeared. I'm envious when spy shows make of a blurred photograph a gem of sharpness and coherence. Another case of I can't afford the technology. Maybe I should stick to large, easily photographed birds. I've done pretty well with them, but sometimes I yearn for the itty-bitties.
I shot a lot of trees today, and I didn't even get most of them in focus. I'll spare you proof. I might have avoided the issue if I had a longer telephoto or a place as full of birds in trees with fewer branches. Shooting straight up, there is no up, down, left or right, and of course, woodpeckers are not known for obeying the laws of gravity.
Failing to grasp my lesson with the hawk before I got into the Fitchery, I plunged into the nearly unpopulated (quiet, no people, nice) woods and settled with my back up on a berm around one of the pans where they once hatched fishes. I've often imagined taking a click-back aluminum recliner.
Resting my back and my camera arm, I thought I could capture something elegant, something I couldn't get in Sunset Bay and other big-bird haunts. This one is flipped vertically. Some few birds who wandered closer got rendered sharper, but I still can't identify them. Unfortunately, I'm too used to identifying birds from their stately portraits in books, none of which show birds, except flying, from beneath.
Hmm. Rust and black spots under, two rounded tail elements, a mask around eyes or a white throat... By now you may have noticed I haven't identified these birds. It's not my forte.
Toward the Pump House where the trees thin somewhat and shooting side-wise instead of up through a jillion branches improves focus opportunities (and I'll be back). This shot probably should be at the top of today's entry, but where's the fun in that.
The woodpecker (couple images up) may be a Golden-fronted Woodpecker (The colors help, but it'd be easier if I could see something besides its back.); I'm pretty sure the big blur is a Red-shouldered Hawk; and this guy could be a Kingbird or a flycatcher of one sort or another. I was thinking Phoebe thoughts when I first saw it. Might it be an Eastern Wood Peewee? But the yellow throws me off.
This should be easier, conforming so well with the portraits in the books, except I am lousy at identifying birds. Thus the A-word in the title of this journal. I'll keep looking in the books, however.
Thought it would be fun to go back in time a little, for a change. That plus that this shot is better than those below. Maybe.
Our subject here is a Killdeer. Bird of the today when I saw two plying the muddy edge of the lake in Sunset Bay.
They're so small and the landscape so large in my photos of them that I'm surprised I got any focus. Maybe all that wing brightness helped. I think it's about to flap down and jump up. But I don't know these things.
It wasn't pecking food — they eat insects, spiders, snails, worms and crayfish, it was just sticking its tail in the air. I don't know why. It didn't seem to be part of any ongoing ritual, but that's another of those things I don't know. Call me an amateur. I love birds, I just don't know nearly enough.
Most of the time they engaged in run-and-stop foraging. Run fast across the edge of the lake. Stop suddenly, and still. Beak something off the murky surface of mud. Then zip off again.
Then, in some situations I witnessed today, while standing still, it will rise, extending its neck and head up. Pause ever so quickly. Then return to normal position and, likely as not, zip across the landscape in its quick-walk run. More ritual? Looking for food? Many are the questions. Few the answers.
Most of the time, the two Killdeer were not together. They flashed by each other from time to time, but I had to be quick to catch even the blur of it. Reading more about them, I learned that Killdeer with longer tails are juveniles. So this pair is likely an adult with a juvie. Perhaps learning and teaching the ropes. The closer one is a juvenile. The other an adult.
At one point while photographing these guys, one stopped, looked at me, then turned in each direction, so we'd all know what it looks like from all angles.
This was either before or after, not the same time. One of few of the whole shoot dead-on in focus. With those stripes across their faces, I always think Killdeer are moping, not quite trusting, a little mopey, almost apologetic.
There is, however, no other reason to include a Mallard in the middle of today's entry, except it makes a nice transition.
I also photographed some pelicans. I like this one, because it shows the remarkable extension of their wings, even when used for the utterly simple act of jumping up to perch on a log, and it extends the transition.
I thought they were settled into Sunset Bay for the evening, but within about a minute of something (a scout returning with word of fish? a scent only they could smell?), a dozen or so pelicans were flying in one long horizontal line out toward the other side of the lake. One magnificent line. Very impressive, if distant.
Actually just as distant, zoomed in a little, so they're larger. I like this shot, because we've got some pelks sailing straight-winged, three with V wing configuration and one with black tips down. A variety of flying forms.
I remember in the Mid-50s (1950s) when American automobiles enjoyed (briefly) a proliferation of fins. Pelicans grow nose fins to advertise to other pelicans (and us) that they are breeding adults. Both sexes grow them. I've been watching them grow over the last couple months. I pay attention, because it means they won't be with us much longer.
Our pelicans arrived about a month earlier than usual last autumn. I'm wondering and worrying whether they might leave here for their annual trek back north early, too. Usual departure date is right around Tax Day April 15. I don't want them to go. I like photographing them. But I understand they don't breed here. They return to the frozen north for that, so they can/will come back next September (used to be mid-October).
I've never seen a pelican with two fins before. Looks like it used to be one big one, then broke. Ouch!
Lots of quality time with the Ks today. Kestrels, American variety. When I shot this one I thought it might be the same I've been photographing lately. I found him (!) in a tree while walking around Dreyfuss. I'd been thinking Kestrel thoughts last couple days shooting and posting but had forgot till I came upon him today. Distinctive, even from the back. Note those gray, almost blue-ish wings, not brown. Sign this is a male. Not the Mrs. I expected and saw before.
Here's one other images I'd skipped over February 22 that I noticed later:
I walked carefully around under the tree, so I could get a side view, not realizing how distinctive the back shot was. Nice to be close, for a change. Looking at the books later led me to realize today's first kestrel was male and the second, female. Which is amazing, because I've been asking to see a pair, and today I did, though separately.
The most obvious sex differences are males have grayish blue wings and their underside spots are black. Females are reddish brown with brown spots. It took awhile to figure out that my two kestrel sightings today were two distinct birds. One larger with gray wings and spots. One smaller all reddish brown.
That close, however, I spooked him. He jumped, fanning his tail wide like a rudder.
Turning sharp and quickly out of range. I went off, around Winfrey Point and down to the parking lot at the end of Arboretum Row. Along the way I photographed lots other birds, but not this close, this ongoing and in such detail.
I drove Blue back up the hill thinking I was finished for the day. When I saw this bird, I again assumed it the same I'd seen earlier and had been photographing this month. In the same place I've photographed her before. The wires down the hill from Dreyfuss' parking lot.
I eased Blue off the road and turned off the engine so no vibrations. When she moved, I panned with her, then followed back her up the hill. Luckily, she didn't go that far.
Only flew 30 or so yards back up the hill, so I backed up to stay close. She perched there what I thought might be a long, long time. Gusty wind today. Cold as the dickens. For a long time, she just stood there, leaning in and back, side to side in the rushing chill.
I figured I'd already seen enough, and the cold was something fierce with the window open. But my patented patience kicked in. I waited. Maybe ten slow minutes later — seemed longer, I noticed a new behavior. She jumped from the wire, but instead of flying off as she's done every other time I've photographed her up there, she stayed there, midair, flying in place.
Hovering, looking down, she kept pace with the wind, bobbing a little, between the two wires, no flapping wings full up or down, mostly fluttering in place. On Channel 13 Sunday evening I saw a show called Raptor Force that explained she was holding her eyes still, like image stabilization, so she could watch her tiny prey more easily and efficiently.
... as I watched in amazement and kept shooting.
After awhile, she soared off, higher in the stiff, cold wind. No doubt for a better view, higher angle.
Checking back to make sure her photographer was still photographing ...
Hovering flat out until just the right moment.
Then suddenly swooped down into the weeds on the edge of the hill. According to the Lone Tree Birds of Texas page on American Kestrels, "Feeding: swoops from a perch or hovers overhead, eats primarily insects and small vertebrates."
Here she drops into the weeds.
Hovers lower after flying insects.
And farther, along side of what used to be another permutation of Lawther Drive around the lake, now a wide walking and cycling and Kestrel hunting path.
Sleepless, after art and lunch with good friends, I crashed with shoes and jacket still on, did not feel like photographing birds. So I looked through the lately stash of seconds and found these firsts and a halfs. Says Sibley in his Guide to Birds, European Starlings nest "in any cavity, often in man-made structures..."
Remember the elusive hawk from the other day? The one I originally identified as a Swainson's Hawk? Well, I'm pretty sure now it's a Red-tailed Hawk instead. I'd discarded it because focus was soft, but isn't it amazing how well this handsome bird blends with its surroundings. Natural very camouflage, and all those branches made focusing difficult since my cam insisted on focusing on them instead.
While this is still the Red-tail seconds before it flew over me.
And I'm remembering there were two birds in that tree, and I had trouble telling them apart. Suppose there could have been two hawks in one tree? I also don't remember there being two big birds in the sky while I was concentrating on one of them, but I don't remember which of these two I saw and which I never did. I did ask for both of the pair of Kestrels at one time, so anything's possible. I'm sure they're not Kettrels. Might this be a pair?
These are the "other friends" I mentioned yesterday, from the dam, near the spillway just to the right, it was sarcasm. I'm not a huge fan of gulls, although I'm beginning to like them after catching them playing catch.
On the wings of a snow white dove.
Not sure why I didn't show off these fine coot wings when we tried to get them to run on water. Hardly ever get to see their wings unfurled, almost don't think of them as winged.
Was thinking sandpiper and/or plover thoughts when I first spied this quick-walking bird along the shore of the dam. It was certainly the most interesting bird I found today, although I got nice shot of other old friends, as well.
I spent serious time with my bird books trying to figure out what exactly this bird is. My best guess was some odd plumage (not in the books) of a Spotted Sandpiper, although it doesn't look much like one. Plump, white under with spots, same colors as in the book but its bill is black, legs and feet are Spotted Sandpiper orange. Wings have a white stripe out a brown field like a sandpiper, but there's those troubling striped white leading and solid white trailing edges spotteds don't appear to have.
Driving me nuts and awake too early in the morning, I checked with WhatBird.com but it wouldn't let me enter brown as the color, and this one sure looks brown. But the wing patterns and body colors and patterns, except around the eye and exact location of the mid-wing stripe are correct for a Common Sandpiper, except the map for a Common shows it only off the coast of Northern Alaska and not in the lower 48 at all. Oh, well. The common's beak is only black halfway back, then yellow. Clearly not this guy. Oh, darn.
This one, sadly, is slightly out of focus, but it shows its wings, which are often detailed in bird identification books, as if we'd often see them from above while they're flying. This one was flying low over the surface, and I was about 25 feet higher, standing on top of the dam as it hunted along the water's edge.
Now maybe I can go back to sleep.
One really lovely aspect of photographing on a gray, dull day is the abstract shape of the wave out there. Nice enough, I'll go back. Although except for the Unsub Sandpiper and zillions of gulls, there wasn't much to shoot up there, although I could hear lots of bird noise from The Fitchery, which looked awful muddy looking down from the dam.
Darned near forgot these. Shot them yesterday after all those others, from Sunset Bay. I was resting after walking a good way twice that day. When sometime spooked the pelican community.
Turned out it was two kayakers messing in the woods where Six-pack was caught. Soon as they hove in view — as is often the effect when boats enter the bay :: I'd love to ban boats from the bay, which would be helpful in my birding — the pelican community took wing.
I was standing this side of a tree from them or I'd got much closer shots. But I like the surreality of these. I sidestepped them yester, because they were so dark. I had the camera set dark to photograph something too white and didn't have time to circle the tree and change the settings, so i just shot and I'd figure it out later.
Today was later. This is a pretty good indication how bright it really was. I finally got around he tree and set the settings right. I prefer them wrong here.
Scattershot day today. Started out up on the ridge overlooking Sunset Bay (Too easy to find birds in the bay itself. No challenge.) Want to add the area to my my Map. Sunset Ridge? Not that many birds today. Till I noticed a brown shape slide into a not-that-distant tree.
I waited, watching the wrong tree when, finally, the fast, sleek brown bird flew up the hill toward the retirement home. I drove Blue to the next bunch of trees, hoping that's where I saw it alight. About when I found it in the jungle of twigs up there, it jumped again, flew off well away.
While I was thinking I'd probably scared it off, it flew back right over me, circled a couple times, then diminished into the trees past the baseball diamonds. I still think it had to be my elusive hawk — that Red-tailed I've been just missing all month.
Back along Sunset Ridge, I saw this guy flitting about the taller trees on the other side of the deep creek that runs by the little parking lot where Blue got broke into before Christmas. Way up. So far he (It's a male.) was very small indeed in the full image, and very blown-up here, why he may be a little fuzzy. He is a little fuzzy.
This pigeon came from somewhere else, somewhat earlier, when I still thought I might not get any birds in today's gray. My surmises today weren't worth much.
A cute little grebe down along what we used to call Duckfia Point's straight but now probably should instead be called DeGoyler Straight. Just off the coast. Close enough to see its eyes.
Same place these Ruddy Ducks were. Can't see their faces, buried in their feathers here as usual, but these are possibly of both sexes.
The much maligned so-called European Starling, America's only. The Lone Pine Birds of Texas says they forage on the ground (as here), eating invertebrates, berries, seeds and human food waste. In fact, somewhere back in time, I have photographs of several Starlings fighting over some of that last stuff.
Handsome little birds with sleek black bodies, long sharp beaks and a habit of living in other birds' homes.
Anna walked closer to them. I waited to photograph them running on water. Only they didn't.
I was telling the two gray gooses who moved into Sunset Bay (where Anna and I ended up on our round-the-lake tour later) that they should get in line as the other gooses lined up and headed out into the safety of the logs out in the middle of the bay for the night. Anna reminded me that these were the new gooses, who have not yet been accepted into the bay's domestic goose tribe. As we walked by them, the two grays and an all-white friend showed their disdain, fear and angry warning — by loudly hissing at us. We laughed and hissed back. Vivid audio and visual image. The loudest goose hissing I've ever heard.
We argued about this guy. One said it was something new. The other thought it was a plain old Mallard with a new coat. In the end, we decided it had acquired a new coat. Tres chic. In the not too distant future that breast will have noticeable buffs atop those subtle stripes after he plays duckish pecking-order breast-butting games with all the other males. This one seemed substantially larger than the other mallards, so maybe we were watching The Top Dog... er... Duck.
These gooses that I call Klingons, because of their forehead bumps and face plates. They are often confused with swans, which they most decidedly are not, but they are among the tribe who hides out in the lake every night. Largely comprising domestics who have been set free in Sunset Bay and have stayed there ever since.
Had to happen. Been wondering when. So many glorious bird days below. Amazing luck. No patience in sight. Birds flock (puns always intended) to me. Amazing. Beautiful birds. Fascinating critters. Then the skies fog over. Drizzle. Cold. Guy pulls up beside me, tells me my right front tire is nearly flat. The other three are bald. So I buy $260 worth of tires for nearly $400 at a place that calls itself Discount Tire. Then I remembered I didn't trust them anymore.
While I'm waiting, I wander down a tracks-gone railroad through trees under NW Highway. Looking for birds. Bracing chilly but no wind down the bed. What I found were five birds. Two doves. One larger bird with light-colored wings that slid into the top of a densely branched tree behind somebody's house, and two, too fast, small birds.
Back to 'Discount.' Blue's standing there all ready quicker than I thought. Doesn't pull like it did. Roads felt smoother. Maybe I should go someplace.
Drove to the lake. Didn't find many more birds there. Very gray. One cormorant. Probably more north, but I didn't want to get stuck on one-way West Lawther to Mockingbird past all the construction and closed parking lots. It's a pain to find south again through the ritzy cul de sacced neighborhoods. Egrets in The Lagoon. And a pair of Northern Shovelers. Lousy pic after lousy pic of them.
Low luck leads to better.
Didn't have much time, since I'd dallied up and planned Valentining with my honey this aft, go see some art and eat, tulips and chocolate [thanks, honey], so I didn't settle anywhere or get out of Blue, except to stand there hoping Mrs. Kestrel would come back after these first couple shots. She did. Twice.
Drove Blue down the hill behind Winfrey toward Sunset, looked up and assumed this was a pigeon — they are vaguely similar shapes — and started shooting when she jumped into the air, surprised when I saw she was the kestrel I've been photographing in that same area the last couple months.
This must be her hunting ground. Don't know how big those are, but Mrs. and Mr. Kestrels don't share. Wonder if they visit. Be amazing to photo both this sharp. Oof! how exciting that would be?
Helped that the sun shone bright and I'd had the sense to set the cam to a low ISO and could follow her the first few yards at least. Though I had it set on bracket, so some are dark and some are light. Still, these are the best pix I've got of her yet, and she's gorgeous.
Classic view, though I would have preferred a little more beak in the shot. She fast, too. All I could do to keep up, her circling down to the trees.
This was her leaving after her third and last return to the wire. Having just given up, I wasn't as ready as before. This a wing-and-a-prayer shot of her flying fast across the hill prallel the lake. She looped through the trees along the shore several times.
Earlier but less exciting, I'd got a closer and more detailed with another Mrs. — Mrs. Bufflehead — floating along Degoyler Estate, water a little choppier than she'd probably like, but she was diving for snails and staying under awhile. Looking sharp swimming along with a bunch of Ruddy Ducks.
Although her feathers got a little flappish sometimes.
Wish I could remember the sound the several gulls floating longwise like this were making. I look at this image and I remember seeing moaning groaning bull seals, my auditory memory giving up immediately and passing the baton to my visual memory. Why I'm useless at identifying most birds from their calls. I have learned many of the noises grackles make, but even with them and mockingbirds, I'm often at a loss. I am better remembering what I saw.
I think of "lazy circles in the sky" and what comes to mind are TVs. Turkey Vultures. This one farther that it appears, but close enough to watch it long minutes circling into the trees the cormorants have painted white. Eventually, it's spiraling descended into the trees all but disappearing.
Then I noticed this at about the altitude I last saw the TV. Not tele enough to see detail, but this is my first shot of a TV in a tree. Many years ago on a trip to the Davis Mountains, I saw 20-30 of these tearing the carcass on the side of the road. I drove alongside them and shot a lot of film. Wish I could find those slides. Lots of detail and gore. TVs doing what they do best. Cleaning up.
What I thought this one was going to do. But I only saw the one. Eventually, it flew across the bay and east.
Also visible high along Hidden Creek was this dark brown clump. At fuzz out extreme magnification I see furry little faces and movement but my longest lens isn't tele enough to get more detail. Someone (not Nikon) has finally announced a lens for Nikon with 67% more magnification, fast focusing and the anti-shake I need. Just it won't be ready for a couple months and nobody's tested it. I'd rather have a 600 or 800 mm prime (not zoom), but those cost arms, legs and torsos.
These pelicans are returning from fishing the other side of the lake. I could see white blots, but again my telephoto is not as tele as I'd need to render them this sharp. For this, I waited till they passed Dreyfuss Point. Pretty good shot of great birds flying spectacularly.
Spiralling in and landing close. By now you know photographing American White Pelicans doing nearly anything, but especially flying close, is among my absolute favorite things to do. It's nice when the images are worth sharing.
You'd be right. Our contingent of about 80 American White Pelicans usually stay about six months, arriving mid-October, leaving by Tax Day. Arrived September this time, so they won't stay much longer. While they're here, I'll photograph them often. Amazing birds.
The one whose band number I saw, photographed and sent off to the banding folks last fall — which email they lost but emailed back, and I resent my query this week — may finally tell us where they come from. North and west according to migration maps, either US or Canada. I'm eager to find out.
Not exactly why I love coots, but the fact they run on water and have those big, clunky but remarkably efficient unwebbed feet with lobed toes sure makes them interesting to watch and photograph.
Instead of leaving footprints in sand, they leave momentary splash steps on water. Sibley says they walk on ground but look uncomfortable, but I've seen them run on there as on water without difficulty.
They don't hop on water like cormorants or pelicans, they run, left-right-left-right across water till they're far from what's chasing them, they want to stop or they get air speed enough to fly. Note the determined head-down aggressor mode with neck parallel to the ground here and below.
They run fine and fast on land.
But more spectacularly on water. For a change, I know why these guys were running. The chaser was engaging in aggressive dominance behavior to establish him (probably) as at least a wrung above the chasee for during the coming mating season. He aggressed almost any coot that got close enough.
Deceleration after water run.
More (and sometimes better shots of) coots running on water are here, here, here, here, here or here. I've been photographing my coot buddies doing that ever since I saw they could.
Pie-billed Grebe's my guess, though the feather configuration along its side doesn't seem right, but the beak shape is close, though ringless, and there's a dark top and light side along its back. The dark below does not jibe with the grebes in my bird books, but they mention a miniscule tail, and that's remarkably well illustrated in this shot.
Nice of it to turn around for another view. About time I got acquainted with Grebes. I've seen them on lists of local birds and those plastic bird I.D plaques around the lake. I'll keep watching that area for more.
Another positive is there's always plenty more birds I won't be able to identify because I haven't seen them in a while or ever, though hese could be Starlings, so-called European, though they're well established here since someone decided all the birds Shakespeare mentioned should live in the US of A.
I extensively photographed the courting behaviors of pigeons last year, and especially their tail-dragging, but I didn't see this before. Tail-dragging and neck-ruff out-puffing are familiar. Unison prancing are also. But …
Him climbing on top, however …
Is new and more than odd.
And riding around up there is truly strange, although it begins to explain the tail-dragging as cover for the act.
I would have continued with the pigeon courting, except I noticed a flight of American White Pelicans rolling in from a fishing party out of sight. And I couldn't not photograph them. They're so gorgeous when they fly wing-tip to wing-tip, gliding on those great long wings. Looks so effortless. Such elegant flyers.
It gets a little ungainly when they go into a turn.
And landing en masse can be even less synchronized.
Near or far, them flying together, is a sight to behold. Sometimes I sit out on the pier — splotched white with gull poop — just waiting for one to fly me by. Even far out, it's such fun photographing. Especially when I'm in focus and there's light.
When pelicans swim drying wings like this I often think of synchronized fan-swimmer Esther Williams, but when I saw these I couldn't get my mind off Picasso's Pierrot, a Brush-stroke print of which I grew up with. Clown princes with showy ruffled collars.
This one was flapping. I chose this pose.
Pelicans are usually friendly, even gregarious, but sometimes cormorants (left, seeming small) and American White Pelicans (large and looking down long beaks at that combattant cormorant, who sped away the next second) don't get along. Cormorants bump cormorants when one wants to supplant another like pelicans bumps pelicans, but they're no match. Notice how much bigger the breeding adult pelicans' beak fins have grown lately, another sign of them migrating north soon.
A pelican jumping off a log is almost as exciting as a pelican flying, just less skid splash.
Visited the Southwestern Medical School Rookery hoping to find some breeding behaviors (none) and nesting (some) birds, all of whom were Great Egrets. Note this one's lime green lores, a sign of a breeding adult egret.
I didn't know they had tongues. Maybe everybody does.
The rookery has a lot of trees and a few spectacular feather displays going on up in them. Most of my shots had too many trees and not nearly enough feathers, but this shot of Anna's has just about the right amount.
Wandering back through Oak Lawn we found some familiar-looking goofs walking down the middle of the road no crosswalk in sight. Whether there's traffic or not. These four gooses go where they want when they want. Period.
We attempted to slow the card down through there to zero avail, then left when the gooses got back on the grass.
Upstairs at Anna's I saw this cardinal giving a sparrow what for.
Then the same cardinal facing off and sharing food with my first House Finch (also a male).
When I started shooting this gull and its strange, angular orange, red and white bauble it must think might be food, I'd seen a couple other gulls do much the same thing with other objects, so I tele followed the action. Not sure where it got it or why it's messing with it, but it seems to be a normal gull game.
But it was obviously fascinated with this thing, it must have assumed it was food (though it sure doesn't look like food to me). Drop it in the water from some height. Speed down, pick it up …
Carry it back up again, higher.
Drop it from altitude. Watch it fall.
Chase after it at each new drop.
Splash down and save it.
Then fly away with it.
Up off the surface, higher, higher.
Then drop it again. At this point, it's all I can do to follow this acrobattiness.
Speeding up then down so much faster.
It's a race. Amazing when I can get speeding, dropping gull and (about a half a) bauble, too.
Watch carefully, floating oddly in the sky.
This time, finally, maybe, our bird is realizing this policy ain't hacking it.
So either the gull 'let' it go, or it didn't dive fast enough this one last time, and flew away without it, looking a little glum.
Lot of noise coming from the copse of trees near where I park overlooking Sunset Bay (Same place Blue got broken into before Christmas, but I don't park dark at the lake anymore). Had planned to go down there and find something interesting. Instead heard a mockingbird going through its repertoire and some much smaller birds doing theirs, too. Took awhile to find the hopping, flitting little critters, then keeping up with them was even more difficult.
The first several shots caught them hanging from flimsy little limbs nearly upside-down, almost like the Cedar Waxwings from last year, and not far from where I found them. But these — I saw at least a dozen — weren't drunk on berries so overripe they'd fermented, they were just going about their sap-sucking and tree-hopping business.
This is a first sighting of this new-to-me species. Before today, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were always just a joke. Great name. Their puffy little bellies — it was cold today, so they were probably poofed out to keep warm — were a fine, subtle yellowish, and their throats brilliant red. With the high contrast blacks and whites of their face and heads, they are very distinctive. This one had been reaching out, arching its tiny frame toward that bundle of whatever on the right just before this shot. But I'd been still focusing.
Note the smallish, sharp beak on another of our sap sucking friends.
And here we can see its whiskers around its beak. On flycatchers, these are for catching flies. According to one of my favorite new bird reference books, the Lone Pine Birds of Texas by Keith A. Arnold and Gregory Kennedy, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker "hammers trees for insects; drills 'wells' in live trees to collect sap and trap insects; also flycatches for insects" through the air.
Actually, I shot this guy first. But my camera was set so badly I completely overexposed its flight across the top of Winfrey's parking lot, across the side of that hill and off into the distance toward the dam. It may well be the same hawk I've been just missing earlier this month.
47 degrees. Perfect day — with bright sunshine — for an American White Pelican or two to take baths.
Dunk down, rise up with a bathtub full of water.
Splash it all around.
Get those big wings in the act.
Big loud wallop every time those big strong, cupped wings slap the surface. Not just a bath. This is a shower.
Sling the water up, down, all around.
Lotsa water. And for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. Slap down, jump up a little.
Then drip dry.
Release the lanolin supply and rub it all over with that big long beak.
Different pelican. Different bath. Different, more elegant, style.
Well, sometimes more elegant.
After the hail storm in my neighborhood, I left for the lake. It'd been warm. Then sudden cold with that wind again. The weather guys said pea-size, but the hail in my front yard was more like marbles. Today, I wanted to avoid Egrets and Pelicans, so I started out at the Boat House Lagoon, where plenty of herons were very visible in the trees across the lagoon. Not much happened for many minutes, then this fracas started.
Not sure what it was about. Maybe mom or pop scolding junior. Maybe more complicated. I was interested, because it was action, and action trumps pretty birds standing for a portrait any day. Bird behavior is almost always more interesting that smart portraits, regardless of focus. Which sounds like an excuse, and probably is.
This is not a direct continuation of the above chase, but it looks good here. Almost always whatever the kids are doing is fascinating to this photographer, so I followed it down and around.
So hard not to anthropomorphize those cute little buck teeth, but ain't it cute, landing here in gooey marsh.
While its cousin just stands there staring.
I keep thinking how much like a little Pterodactyl this little BCNH seems.
Right about here, as it realizes it has not found solid ground to land upon ...
Junior gives the extra push (splash) and takes off again.
Showing lots of wing.
Then some beak as it leans into the wing flap.
And is off.
I've been counting scaups lately. I keep asking the guys (They've all be males till today.) how they can manage without any females. They don't say much. This, darker scaup with that similar blue bill, yellow eye, dark head and familiar body shape and configuration, just darker back there — and that outlined white splash across the front of her face.
They seem to hang out with the coots, but they — with their bright light backs and light blue bills — stand out visually from the coot pack. This photo may show the sex differences a little closer. Both species, coots and scaups, were noisily (sounded like a bunch of kids eating with their mouths open — lots of lip-smacking sounds) eating something just below the water's surface. Must have been charged up by the fierce wind or sudden temperature change.
That one female scaup was gone by the next time I counted scaups, and I haven't seen her or any other females of that species, since.
This is the normal swimming position cormorants assume when they're not dived under. From a distance, and especially with adults who are darker (see photo below), they look like snakes when they drop their backsides down further into the drink. This shot is especially noteworthy, because we can see not only its eyes but its sharp claws, too. Love that focus.
Too busy photoing art yester to photo birds. Driving east on Garland Road, we saw this fishing party stretching more than half-way across the lake. Like most of these large, multi-species fishing parties, it moved rapidly. Pelicans in the lead at this point, but everybody leapfrogging each other off toward Winfrey. I didn't actually see any pelican pouches full, but a lot of cormorants were diving, disappearing for a long time, then splooshing back to the surface.
Hoving into Sunset Bay, we saw these guys spiraling down into the pelican hangouts there. Then they disappeared. Or we did.
Looking for something worthy to photograph — and not finding much — I happened to notice a largish brown shape high-tailing it across the shoreline. I'd been thinking about hawks lately, wondering where they'd gone. Anna saw one in traffic near the lake recently — too quick to photograph it, but it's been awhile for me, and I've missed them. I wasn't quick enough on the uptake to see this one's head or catch it in a my dynamic sidewise pose, but I got this, then it disappeared for awhile. I rapid-walked over past the pier, keeping an eye out for it camouflaged in the winter brown trees, but did not see it ...
When it suddenly bolted from somewhere above me and to my left. I photographed several out of focus trees with it flying fast behind, then got this as it, too, disappeared off toward Winfrey Point. Next time I go to Sunset, I should settle into a lawn chair watching, watching the space along the shore where I've often seen probably this same hawk many times flying by.
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.
No reproduction without specific written permission.
Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"