February 28 2009
Sunset Bay, Dreyfuss Point and finally to the top of Winfrey, where just after I gave up finding anything interesting today, I saw a little bird on the wire I wasn't sure what was.
Till I got out the Rocket Launcher and saw this male American Kestrel having the devil of a time standing up on the wire. A cold, cold wind was blowing fierce. I'd just decided I didn't need any more shots of this kestrel, coasted down a ways more and found his mate. I've got their pictures together last year, but today they never came close, though they were on the same wire a couple poles apart.
I thought I'd present them in chronological order, but I think it makes more sense to compare the sexes directly in their poses. She favored her left foot significantly, usually balancing on just her right. She's not really giving me the finger, of course. Just scratching her face.
Males have bluish-gray on their wings and back, where females are brownish. Both have the falcon's characteristic "mustache," black vertical marking on the sides of their heads (only kestrels have two) and another on the back of their heads. Both have reddish tails and rough bits of feather around their beaks, perhaps to improve catching bugs.
Each would balance up on the wire till they saw something worth fetching, then fly down quickly to the weeds below, grab that and bring it back to finish off. I know that, because I've photographed them doing that before.
I got both kestrels jumping off and flying down, but neither picking whatever out of the grass. Pretty, isn't he?
Note her plenty sharp claws, and there appears to be something in her beak. Not chewing on it exactly, maybe just a remnant of the latest kill.
Note that the male held both feet close to his body flying, tucked in.
While, even flying, she favors her left foot, not tucking it up like she has her right.
This happened yesterday, but I knew it would take awhile to work up this many images, so I didn't do it till today. I've been busy. Walked around my neighborhood where I knew I'd get a full mile in, then napped some before I came back to life. When I can walk without passing out, I'll go farther. Walk here, photo at the lake seems to make more sense.
These first two shots are as close as I got to two Muscovy Ducks having sex. He's standing a little off her in the first shot, but it was very close to the act. I've noticed other male ducks, just sprawling off the female after mating. I understand the feeling, but doesn't she seem drugged? He kept digging at the back of her head with his beak.
After careful study of each of the following shots, I'm pretty sure this is a battle between two Muscovy Drakes (male ducks). It's nearly spring, so perhaps it's safe to guess it has to do with mating, not food. This time of year, it often does. They were already splashing big-time when became aware of them and turned my camera to capture whatever was doing all that splashing.
In a way, it's like ballet, with them leaping almost into flight.
Then coming back to lay into each other again.
Lots of water splashing and strenuous motions...
But no real violence that I was able to see or capture.
Still, I don't think it was all just for show.
This is as brutal as it got.
Grabbing and splashing...
And a lot of what looks like dancing, if not exactly cheek-to-cheek.
And even though one is dark black and the other bright white, it was still difficult sometimes to tell who was who.
Lots of elegant posing...
And copious water-splashing.
Till the white one got away.
Today's themes are beaks and fine feathers. American White Pelican beaks as you have and have not seen here before, and Egret's finest feathers, the ones that come out at breeding time, usually associated with spring, but very much in operation right now. But first, pelican beaks. As we've mentioned before, those fins on their upper beaks are to show each other who's ready to breed, and it's on both sexes. All the books I've seen so far state that there's no visual difference between males and females pelicans.
This pelicans seemed to be sipping through its beak as if through a straw. It's the first I've ever seen any such thing. But fascinating.
Although this shot shows beaks, it's really about the halo lighting setting them off from the grayish background.
Whereas this shot is about foreshortening. It looks more like a camel than a pelican from this angle, except camels don't have fins.
An artsy shot that just happens to show two beaks in parallel.
They're watching and waiting their turn to swim out into the bay. I thought they'd go fishing, but upon reconsideration, I believe they are, in an orderly fashion, fleeing from a fishing boat that was intruding into their territory. Less dangerous to them than coyotes or dogs, but they're not social with humans, and don't usually care to be close to us.
Earlier this afternoon, we drove to the Medical School Rookery to see who's there so far. All we saw or photographed were egrets. Note their green lores and what David Sibley terms "stringy, shaggy plumes" marking adult breeding egrets. Surely there's a better name for that gossamer stuff.
Few egrets now in the rookery were visible behind all those branches that attempt to steal focus from birds. Here, I got birds soft, the main one's eyes, their gossamer feathers and the branchlets up there sharp.
Grandiose expectations seem to be today's theme. But first, let's introduce most of the main characters. The biggest and perhaps most inexperienced of the bunch is Bo. He belongs to neighbors down the street and is just visiting. I saw him jump their fence to get in, jump the fence back to get out before they brought out the food, then jump the fence to get back in.
We've met Pearl before. She's the little hen I held in my lap at Marty and Richard's party some time ago. She was gentle and soft and didn't seem to mind being held, stayed in my hands for about twenty minutes. I liked her, but I don't think she remembered me.
She was in several people's lap that party night. But she was right there, and this is a pretty good photo of her. Luckily, she doesn't figure very prominently in today's action.
Neither does this buxom lady.
Ah, but we'll be seeing plenty more of this guy, who seems to have a very high opinion of himself. Talk about being cocky. He's also loud up close. The neighbors say they never even hear him or any of his cadre.
Winston and his little brother Norman are Malaysian Serano roosters, known as the Dolly Partons and Arnold Schwartzeneggers of chickens, because of their large chests. Winston is the head chicken of Marty & Richard's chicken yard. The other big ball of white fuzz is Augustina, who has no tail.
This is a young, inexperience peacock. But he doesn't seem to know that. He spent almost all the time I watched him — Marty sat me on a chair in the chicken pen, so I wouldn't intimidate him — with his back (not tail; these grand feathers come up off their backs, although they do drag behind them sometimes).
All that time, Bo was busy showing off his feathers, which are a little bent up and missing end parts, because he spent too much of his even younger life in a too-small pen.
My favorite parts are the fluffy bundles of down behind all those feathers standing up. Over and over and over, Bo spread and shook his feathers while I visited and took photographs. Richard said it sounded like a rattlesnake.
I heard an eerie shuffling sound as he stood, sometimes backing up as if it was part of a dance, literally vibrating his feathers. I thought he was practicing, but all the birds seemed to be getting a little worked up.
Marty told me about Bo following, sneaking up on and jumping Winston, but first time it happened I wasn't ready for it. This is all I got of that one. I can see his head, lower wings, back feathers and ... not sure what all that rest is. The little white rooster seems snared.
Bo has a thing about challenging and pestering Winston, followed close after him all around the yard. The only place the rooster went without Bo was under the chicken house. Bo's just too tall for that. But soon as the rooster re-entered the yard, the peacock was on him. Again and again. But not always. Sometimes Winston was up to his own strange bird behaviors.
I forgot to introduce Blondie. The big hen our extremely confident little white rooster is hot for. When he jumped her, I started photographing. Cockily confident.
No way this little bird could reach all the way from his perch on her shoulders back, down and under to mate. But he could mount her, after a fashion, and apparently often does.
Though perhaps, not for long. Confidence outreaching ability.
Our randy little white rooster and the big feathery peacock have just faced each other off, again. Then suddenly, the peacock jumps high into the air.
Carrying the banty little rooster with him.
The peacock is still going up, but the rooster's on his way down. Did he escape? Is he afraid of heights? White's falling.
Lands flat in a puddle of feathers and flesh ...
And by the time Bo is back on earth, Winston's in position to kick the peacock's uh... oh, whatever he can reach.
Note: no birds were injured in today's fracas — not even their dignity, if they have any. And yes, Marty & Richard live near the lake.
Still up early, I drove to the Old Boat House Lagoon to catch the little herons in morning light, such as it was. I'd been trying to wake up that early, but being still up was so much easier. The challenge was to catch them sharp among all those branches my camera would rather have focused on.
Vivid greens and blues in beaks and lores (area around some birds' eyes) is usually indication of breeding status, but that's not a blue and green beak here. That bird's too young to breed yet. That's a branch.
Once this early spring there'd be Yellow-crowned Night Herons, too. Not just the black-crowns, but the very local — and smelly rookery — where they were raised, was destroyed by the homeowner on whose land they stunk. There's still Yellow-crowns who visit the lake, but their visits are far between and few.
Note the green lores and fin of trailing foot on this flying Great Egret.
Even earlier this morning I wandered down White Rock Creek toward I-30 from The Steps (above) below The Spillway looking and hoping for an eagle, as one was recently reported by a reader. Nice walk where eventually the Santa Fe Trail will wander down, though I don't know which side or when.
Standing a quarter mile down the creek, I carefully composed this shot, never once noticing the Great Egret standing on top of The Steps with plastic wrapped hills beyond. Glad to see those guys are still there, despite all the construction going on in that canyon of concrete.
One of those out of focus kind of days. My cam did not want to focus today. I know the feeling. Had it myself most of today. Was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When I left the lake I clunked the lens hood off again. Putting it back on, I noticed that the business end of the lens was filthy with dust.
Not sure that has direct relevance to the out of focus thing, but I'm sure the quality will improve now I've cleaned it. Lens that big I almost need to run it through a car wash.
Oh, yeah. This is the second in a sequence showing something I'd never noticed about American White Pelicans before. Today's top pic shows a normal landing with normal wing position. This shot shows its wings cupped slightly as the bird slows.
Not sure why the camera chose this moment to blur out, but look at those wings. Suddenly they've grown significantly. Like they've unfolded. I've noticed pelican wings extending laterally. Here, they're expanding vertically to provide more stopping power — or at least slowing for landing.
Here are two coots in a hurry. Focus again, is an issue here. But stay with me. The coot on the left who seems to be surfing headlong, is employing one of the coot techniques to get up speed to possibly get up on the surface and run like the other one already is. To get surfing prone, they use their amazing lobed feet to propeller them forward at speed.
Two steps in one picture. The other bird is already running on the water and leaving a growing vertical wake in its path.
Not a great shot, but this is the only one of my today's shots of a standing Black-crowned that you can see the eyes and beak of. Hard to tell that from across the Old Boat House Lagoon. All the other shots included more branches than bird. From all the way across the lagoon, it's difficult to even see whether they're facing me. I got a lot more BCNH butts than faces today.
And this is the only flying BCNH shot that's even close to being in focus.
Nice crow, though.
Over the bridge I was looking off of hoping for another heron to fly toward me — which didn't happen — I saw this gull. At least it's in focus.
Walking down the west side of the lake, I noticed a Ring-billed Gull struggling with a big fish. So big it could not pick it up and fly it away.
So it jumped into the air and attacked the still submerged big fish.
Then dived for it.
When none of that worked, he cussed at it.
Cormorant Bay (See map.) is still full of cormorants, and the trees and ground below them is still grayish white. It doesn't absolutely stink, but it's not minty fresh either.
One Double-crested Cormorant in one of the trees there.
I kept finding birds I usually don't get to get close to that today I could get closer to.
I still want to get closer to these guys, of course. And it would be nice to figure out what they're up to. I could always read Sibley's Guide to Bird Behavior, and I should and will, but watching them do their thing is always more memorable to my mind that book-learnin'.
I'm still hoping for a Little Gull, but this isn't one. I assume it's another Bonaparte's Gull.
I had seriously mis-over-estimated our success finding Little Gulls near The Old Boathouse, where we sat in the cold wind waiting, hoping to photograph even one of that species recently sighted there — reportedly feeding just off shore yesterday.
But they weren't there when we were, so we circled the lake to visit the friendly gooses and people of the Bird Squad at Sunset Bay, until it was dark enough to photograph other birds being picturesque that another birder told us about.
When I shot this first photo at twilight, I didn't see the four Great Egrets guarding each corner around the pelicans with their faces in the creek dredging for fish, while the egrets stared into the four directions like silent secret service guards.
We waited till dark — and colder, but I got this sequence. A fellow lake bird-ographer had mentioned that the pelicans fished right up into Sunset Bay's lagoon en masse last night, so I was hoping they'd be at it again tonight, and they were. Bird Squaders told us the pelicans had come right up to the near shore.
Here everybody's waiting, a few flexing their lower mandibles to keep them loose and supple.
You may not see it, but the photographs in this series were shot in what news photographers used to jokingly call "available darkness" (a pun on available light). With the sun down, the pelicans were synchronized swimming and fishing. This sequence involved about a dozen and a half American Night Pelicans, er... American White Pelicans, and there were similar trawling parties scattered around the inner bay. What they're doing is herding fish into the shallows, where scoop them up, tilt back and swallow them.
What's amazing is the pelicans do this in large groups and often in unison. Here, they are not quite all together. Pelicans swimming up front already have their big, flexible beaks down into the water while the rear echelon is pointing theirs down.
Gradually, everybody's faces, heads, then their long necks, too, are deep in the dark water watching the fish stampede.
Until everybody's head, neck and big, flexible beaks are all seining the water and filling pouches with fishes. Here's where the comparisons to famous 1950s swimmer Esther Williams and her synchronized swimming routines with feather fans seems especially apt.
Then they all come up for air, waggle the beaks a bit, break ranks briefly, then get it back together to do the whole sequence again and again, back and forth, up and down the narrow creek into the woods of Hidden Creek.
Ugly as they appear on land or logs sometimes, American White Pelicans are almost always beautiful, but when they combine synchronized swimming and fishing, they are fascinating. Usually, when I've seen them fishing like this, it's cold, often rainy. Sometimes dozens of them do it in large, spacious areas of the lake, sometimes just a few in the tight confines of one little feeder creek.
The apparent brightness of these scenes may be misleading. I cranked the camera up to ISO 6,400 (H 1.0 on the Nikon D300) to photo tonight's unusually disorderly fishing. We don't see the grain-like digital noise from such high "film speed," because these images are comparatively small, and I've used noise-reduction software. Before that, these pieces seriously resembled sandpaper.
Earlier we had hoped to photograph a Little Gull or two, but the gulls we saw were well out into what people keep calling "the middle of the lake," although that could mean almost anywhere. (See our annotated Map of White Rock Lake.) The middle where we saw gulls massing and flying sorties for food on the wing and in the water was off the coast of Tee Pee Hill.
We waited in the cold wind, watching every gullish bird shape that flew by for way too long. Only finally, eventually giving up the ghost to go around the lake. With their late-March to mid-April departure looming, I took every opportunity to photograph pelicans engaging in the more usual format of fishing.
I don't know what gull that is flying up behind it, but it would fit my understanding of irony if it were a Little Gull, although it looks more like another Bonaparte's [below].
We visited Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge near Sherman, Texas (about two hours north off Central Expressway) today not sure what to expect. We arrived mid-day, perhaps the worst time to find birds almost anywhere.
I expected "Snogies" (pronounced Snow Geeze), and there were a thousand or so of those, but I didn't know what else. Thought it might be an exploratory visit, to see where we could see come spring. My hopes weren't high for new species sightings, but we both thought it would be fun. And it was. We spent a little more than three hours driving and photographing.
These are Snow and Ross's Gooses (Way I understand it it's geese if they are of the same species, gooses if they are of different species.) The white ones are either Ross's Gooses or White Morph Snow Gooses. The dark ones with descending sharp triangles of white down to solid brown / black necks and white-outlined wing feathers are Blue Morph Snow Gooses (also called Dark), and the dark goose with a mottled black, white and gray face is a Dark adult Snow Goose.
Snow Geese have slightly longer bills (though you'd have to line them up close to discern the differences – compare with the slightly longer beak on the bird in the center below.) and slightly differing locations, shapes and sizes of black feathers on their wings from Ross's. White Ross's adult on the left and Dark adult Snow Goose right.
I'm not sure the wing feathers on the goose at left and the tail feathers on the gooses on the right are different, or indication of anything. I'm pretty sure the goose standing tall is a Dark adult Snow Goose. Betsy says the Snow Goose on the left has "relaxed" its black feathers.
Snogies and Ross's — including the various varieties — travel together baffling us amateur bird identifiers all along their annual treks from northern-most Canada to New Mexico and the Gulf Coast, carefully skipping West Texas (according to the maps in Sibley's Guide to Birds.)
Today they were flying from field to field. Geese's primary source of food are grasses. I know these are goose butts. Somebody who knows tells me they are Greater White-fronted Geese, who breed on the Arctic tundra and winter in the southern U.S. and in Mexico..
Several meadowlarks were sifting through the grass along one of the gravel roads that crisscrossed Hagerman — like fleas in thick hair. We'd seen them at the Arlington Drying Beds, but this one let us get closer for more details.
All these are Eastern Meadowlarks.
We've got pintails at White Rock, urban Irving and the Arlington Drying Beds and probably some others. But None of them were kind enough to show us the orange and black and white stripes of their wings.
A study in relative sizes. Greater Yellowlegs are 13-15 inches long with 28-inch wingspans, Lesser Yellowlegs are 10-11 inches with 24-inch spans, and Northern Pintails are 21 - 25 inches long with 34-inch wingspans.
We saw the snogies do this impressive sudden flock flying but from much farther away. Soon as I'd stop, they would turn much less photogenic. Ring-billed Gulls are easier to get.
To this adventuresome but really not very good bird identifier yet, this does not look like a Red-tailed Hawk. Except that it has a red tail. Frankly, I was hoping it was an eagle. It was very far away. Betsy says it's a dark Red-tailed Hawk.
This was the first bird we saw, but I didn't want to lead today's entry with an out of focus (oof) bird. It and other Black Vultures were dining on a carcass in the ditch, but by the time I got my camera ready, they dispersed. My camera chose to focus on the trees not the bird, but I liked the form so much, who cares?
We saw both these sparrows on a little bridge through one of the landscapes we visited at Hagerman.
They were low on Anna's side of Blue, so she photographed them. Very well indeed.
More of Anna's Hagerman shots are on the Dallas Audubon Chat.
This GBH flew right by us along one of those narrow roads through the huge — compared with abandoned pans at The Old Fish Hatchery at White Rock or the Arlington's Drying Beds — pans. This is one of the best photographs I've ever got of my spirit guide / alter ego (minus a few pounds). I just stare and stare at this photo. That fast, that close, it was all I could do to keep most of it in the frame, and that sharp, too. Wow!
Pretty sure this is a Red-tailed Hawk. We followed it from as it hunted from telephone pole the ground and back up to the next telephone pole along the side of the road leaving Hagerman. We will return.
Our local Bald Eagle has again been seen in the area around The Spillway. Perhaps we will encounter each other again. Maybe I'll get more than 14 seconds.
Think it's a fish, not sure. This is our local majority gull variety. I sometimes call them ring-noses. They're ubiquitous here in winter, then, eventually, they go away, and everything's quieter and not dotted with white blobs in the distance till they come back again. Coots' lives, for example, are easier when they're gone. This one's catching some food. I've seen them catch and carry much bigger fishes, so maybe this is just a snack.
A fellow bird photog recently told me they didn't much care about all those different species of gulls. I remember thinking that about ducks, before I started getting into all the variety there. Photographing something besides the ring-noses today was fun, but first I had to find some. For awhile, I photographed every gull who flew by, always hoping the next would be different, but it never was. I strained to see the details of each.
It wasn't till I realized that if gulls were doing pretty much the same thing at the same altitude — even though they were flying in all different directions — it's likely they were all the same species, and they were. So I started looking for something that looked like a gull doing something different. What I really wanted was a Little Gull, though I don't remember why.
I looked out in the middle of the lake — between me on the Arboretum Drive side and the dam on the other side, and saw maybe five or six gulls doing a whole other dance. They looked gray with leading white wing stripes, and they flew in long sweeps close to the surface of the lake, swooped up in big turns, then back along the surface again. I guess chasing bugs. I knew they were out there, because one was buzzing my ears till I shoed it away.
I followed them through the Rocket Launcher, and got a nice collection of shots. These are tiny portions of much larger image frames blown way up. Like it wasn't already gray enough out there — wall to wall fog today — these shots are a little soft from making them big from way small. Still not bad, still looks foggy. I'm showing them from as many angles as I got good enough shots for.
Interesting new species for me, but I'd still like to see that Little Gull I know hangs out along there these days, and more I look at the gull on the left, the more I wonder if it's really a Bonaparte's, too. That wing sure looks different, and none of the other shots show a black-tipped tail. Anna says the one on the left is a first-year Bonaparte's Gull.
I like what Sibley Says in his Guide to Birds about identifying gulls, "Gull identification represents one of the most challenging and subjective puzzles in birding and should be approached only with patient and methodical study. A casual or impatient approach will not be rewarded."
Easy to figure out who this one is, though. Black bird with red on its wings. Hmmm.
This one we know. It's just had a great wing-flapping bath, now it's drying its wings, and swimming away.
The inter-species competition is sometimes a little more competitive than others. Here a cormorant is very rapidly downing a fish this pelican seems to think belonged to her. This photograph was stuck down in today's journal entry, where it made more textual sense, but it's such an amazing shot — especially with the next one — that I ripped it from its original place and stuck it up here, where more people will see it.
Note the cormorant's thickened throat and continued advance in front of the much larger, though slower pelican avenger, who seems to have slowed somewhat now the fish is firmly down into the cormorant's gullet.
Is the corm smiling? Is the pelk glowering?
Driving past the Arboretum toward Winfrey and eventually Sunset Bay, I briefly watched the Ruddy Ducks swimming out in the lake wondering how many there are and trying to remember how long they've been there. I settled on the number, more than a thousand. The time is about three months.
As usual, mostly I saw males. Does each sub-tribe of Ruddies keep males out front? Or are there just mostly males out there? I wondered how many pages between Ruddy Ducks and Lesser Scaups, meaning how close they are related. Turns out five pages, so not all that close. I often count about an even dozen male scaups in Sunset Bay. And one female.
It seems like every male Mallard has at least one female. But scaups and ruddies run sparer than that. The duck at top right of this shot is the only female I know I shot today, though I suspect there were others. Males have white cheeks, and females have a dark line across their gray cheeks under their dark headtops.
I think all three of these are males, but their outfits are different. Left to right they are: brown and tan splotches; brown and white checkers; and mostly brown on the right.
Not solving any of the ruddy issues, we hereby transition directly into pelicans and cormorants sharing a fishing party. Inter-species cooperation up to a point.
Although there's species exclusion when the pelicans find a juicy bunch of fish, which they quickly mob from all sides. The books say pelicans each eat four pounds of fish a day, so there's serious competition.
Sometimes more energy and competition than other times.
The only feedback about birdwatcher vs. birder suggests I keep "Birder," and I think I will. I considered changing the logo on top but couldn't find the editable original, perhaps the Universe's way of saying, "Oh, just leave it alone." And since almost no one knows the difference [just below] and I seem to be practicing both — like perfect bird identifications, who cares?
A friend pointed out today that there are birdwatchers and birders. Birdwatchers watch birds, because birds are fascinating. Birders keep track of which birds they see, how many and the precise identify of each.
I may have misnamed this journal, but I knew even less then. These guys turn me on, and every time I see one going into "the procedure," it thrills me. If I have a camera, I start clicking. Sometimes, like this one, almost without knowing it.
Especially if I can get it, get it in focus and maybe even get the whole set of stretches on silicon. But I don't just watch birds.
Sunday was cool. I didn't think quite cold. Nice in the sun, especially when the wind wasn't blowing, but the wind was blowing. There were a variety of ways to deal with it. I had jeans, too, and a couple of shirts, with my arms covered. I could have used my jacket, but I left it in the car. I didn't even think of earmuffs or a hat. I keep daydreaming a lawn chair I can pack and settle into anywhere...
I was surprised to see five egrets in the same general area at Sunset. They've been few and far between for awhile — except along the creek near the stables (which may have been where this year's mating dance was). I know that eventually the cormorants will give up the logs out in the middle and go back wherever they go when most of them aren't here anymore. By then the pelicans will have gone back to the northwestern United States and Canada, and what's left of the logs will be left to the egrets again.
I get a peaceful, easy feeling when that happens, although I appreciate them more when they're close enough to get some of them in focus. For the moment, at least, they're just standing around out there.
I always get excited when I see a flight of American White Pelicans coming our way. They always seem so organized, so ordered, so evenly spaced and ...
I should have known my perception would need cracking sooner or later, when reality intruded. They must have fired their flight manager.
But they still look magnificent in the air.
Landing gear — bright blazing orange in the sun — down.
A big bird with nearly concentric circles. Its own fresnel screen. Wings spread and webbed feet flat into the wind to slow down.
Then a longish, splooshing skid.
Today was Sunday. I guarantee [above] at least three days a week photographing birds. But I'm generally here five or six days. Sometimes more. I like being at the lake, and I always need the exercise and the sunshine Vitamin D.
I sometimes misidentify birds I don't know well, and though I endeavor to get them right, it's hardly the most important part of what I do, though I strain for each new nugget of ornithological understanding. Sounds like I'm a birdwatcher, not a birder.
The noble House Sparrow. They flit about the scrub along the shore at Sunset Bay. Are known for being there doing that. They're quick. Soon as he feels my looking, he flits off somewhere more secluded, where I can't focus. This one stopped for a few seconds, and his portrait was made. Looking sharp and intent.
I shot at gulls flocking way out in the bay, over by Hidden Creeks, and here off toward Winfrey curve. These are in focus.
Do the Pelky Poky, and shake it all about.
Still haven't figured out why pelicans fly so low. Sometimes they're only inches off the surface. Hardly flapping. Sailing unpowered great long distances.
Some flapping, of course, but lots more coasting. Maybe using little thermals up off the water that's warmer than the sky over it, especially in winter when the pelicans are with us. I counted 80 in the extended area of Sunset Bay today. 70 yesterday on the mud bar this week's storm moved closer to shore.
When coots are with us, too. Lovely juxtaposition.
I've been hoping for the opportunity to photograph a cormorant. There's lots at the lake these days. Not as many in Cormorant Bay as during real Stinky Bird Season, but plenty still. This one flew close enough. And elegantly.
So busy with updating my Coyote page The Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blogs about and some pages in DallasArtsRevue today, I didn't get going till traffic time at the lake, so I stayed home and finally got pictures of a robin who's been tut-tut-tut and cheerily cheer-up cheerio-ing around the house the last few weeks.
I've been meaning to write a brief State of the Union blurb, reporting that after 2.5 years of doing this suite of pages (not quite the whole site, which is JRCompton.com), I can finally almost always correctly identify grackles, mockingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, various varieties of vultures and a couple species of hawks.
Pelicans are obvious. Egrets, Herons and the sames and differences between them are not quite so, but they all have great long, honking beaks, so they're easier to cite. I almost always have to look up anything smaller. Heck, I'm so busy getting birds in focus and in the picture, I usually don't worry about I.Ds until I'm at home among my burgeoning library of field guides and bird encyclopedia. Slowly, gradually, I am adding species I can readily identify, but it's still an uphill battle.
I saw a guy, Greg Lasley, who'd published a book of Texas birds, Texas Wildlife Portraits — many of them amazing and beautiful; some few of them I've done a better job of — talk at an Audubon Society meeting this week, and I was relieved to find out he'd been birding for 37 years, meaning I had some time to absorb more ornithology and get better at photographing our local dinosaurs.
Says Anna: A friend told me that a woman who lives north of White Rock Lake had seen what she thought might be an albino goldfinch at her backyard feeder. We missed it Wednesday, then went back this morning, and I photographed this leucistic American Goldfinch.
According to Wikipedia, "Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation in animals. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin."
The parking lot behind Winfrey has become one of my favorite search-from points at the lake. It'll be another couple years before they finish mauling The Spillway with hundreds of tons of concrete after destroying hundreds of trees, and I can once again stand on the side and photo birds there, where has been the other great lookout point. But it's not available, hasn't been available, and will not be available. So very odd that these two very peopled spaces are such a marvelous lookouts for wild life.
I saw it first as a lump in a faraway tree. The lump looked a lot like a big bird. Of course, I thought about eagles immediately, then quickly ratcheted back to hawks. It is a Red-tailed Hawk, and I'm usually not this ready to capture it in flight.
I remember leaning over so far nearly backwards I had to twist to keep photographing this stately, beautiful bird. Its tail is not red, so it's a juvenile.
Until I turned around to keep photographing it, hovering into the wind over, then slightly past the Winfrey building itself. Then it disappeared like the eagle did last month, and in the same direction.
Quickly after I first saw it, I got out of Blue and paced myself down the slope toward the lake, but more importantly toward this tree. Ten careful paces, stop, shoot a half dozen shots, ten more paces, etc. When I thought I was getting close enough to frighten it, I angled upslope and toward the west, shooting into the bird more from the front and without so many branches intervening. Look at those muscular toes and that handsome head. This was just moments before it took wing, flew over and away.
Hawks still thrill me, almost every time.
Down the hill, park overlooking Sunset Bay, walk down there and watch the pelicans awhile. I counted 70. 66 on the mud bar that's apparently got scooted toward shore by the storm yester. And four out into the bay toward the mouths of the Hidden Creeks.
Amazing light in Sunset Bay. This shot from shore, only a few dozen feet out into the water now. Hard to miss the action at that distance. Oh, and a Rocket Launcher.
Drove to the lake and walked a good ways in today's gathering darkness. I pocketed a large garbage bag to protect my camera and Rocket Launcher lens but didn't have to employ it till I was about 70 feet from Blue. Then the rain began pelting the earth — and me. I'm happy for the rain. We need lots more to defeat our drought.
Early on today's trek, I spied this lone Shoveler out off Winfrey Point. Shovelers are not uncommon in the area. We saw hundreds at the Arlington Drying Beds recently and more in urban Irving, and they're scattered elsewhere in the area, but I've rarely seen more than two at White Rock, and usually just one lone male, as here.
Shovelers are known for their long, black beaks that flair out at the far end, and which they generally keep slightly submerged as they filter through the water, straining plant and animal life. They have duckdom's largest bills, but are remarkably beautiful and colorful birds with hidden stashes of green and blue feathers that only show when they fly.
I also saw 37 pelicans fishing with cormorants
and gulls on the far side of the lake, along the dam.
My crazed, coyote concerns have moved to their own, separate page, Coyote Concerns, recently mentioned on The Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog. My Eagle page was featured in the Lakewood (and other neighborhoods) Now site, as well as the Dallas Audubon chat forums, and it has garnered more than 1,500 hits. As of this writing in mid-February, the coyote page is resting at under 100 hits.
Never know what to expect when we go someplace new. Well, not all that new actually, I've been there lots of times, and we together visited a Muscovy family there for more than an hour once. But today, we explored the Hidden Creeks area (See map.), which was more of an energetic hike than the birder's paradise we hoped for, and I still think it would be, with more light (awful dark gray today) and more stillness and patience.
We also explored some of the park north of Flag Pole Hill and Northwest Highway, and these photographs are from both places. This from north of the Hill. The eeg standing in the tree with long, spindly toes curled around the limb, is from Hidden Creeks.
This and some of the other flying egrets are from kids running up the creek along FPH park scaring egrets I was hoping to photograph fishing in the creek. I scared a couple from less than stealthy approach, myself today, though I was trying not to. This flyover surprised me completely, I was expecting them on the ground and further away. This is what I got.
This one's flying low over one of the Hidden Creeks. I frightened it, but too boldly approaching. I was hoping to find the annual Egret Dance I'd photographed a couple times before. Here's the 2008 Dance, where they were so occupied with each other, they hardly even noticed me. An enviable position for a serious birder.
And this one in that same area, too. Unless little birds were very close, they were lost in the bramble of branches, where auto-focus lenses never settle on anything except the trees.
Wish I knew who this is. Small, fast, probably not as brown as it seems. Grasshopper Sparrow, Smith's Longspur ... If I knew it was an unsub, I would have shot more. Oh, that's right. I did:
Wonder why I tried to throw this one out. Somewhat more helpful for identification, huh? Now I know it's got white spectacles, a brown head, with an extended tan throat and a light stripe over it. Then again, maybe it's just TMI. I'm still curious. We'll see what that gets me. Why can't I I.D this one; it's so very distinctive.
By now, I should know better and just classify anything in any way even close to a Butter Butt as a Butter Butt (Yellow-rumped Warbler, for you sticklers). I used to have great difficulty identifying Northern Mockingbird's remarkable visible identities. Before that it was grackles. I see a lot more of those than these. If only I could have seen its butt, which I know pretty well, I'd have got it right the first time. Watch for the Butt.
For those of us who remain confused, a bird's butt is on the upper and foreward portion of its tail, not down under where ours mostly are.
With this last photo, I can see a black horizontal through its eye, the light line between throat and breast is more distinctive, its tail is black, brown and white; its beak is definitely black, feet are black. I've trudged all the way through the North American Birds Photo Gallery by Peter LaTourrette, both my Birds of Texas books, National Geo, Sibley, and think I'm spending way too much time on this. Any suggestions?
Speaking of the Several Strange Things Pelicans Do with Their Beaks, here are closer-up views than usual of the sequence, which like the lower lip above, is often inverted. Of course, it's not really a lip, it's its remarkably flexible lower mandible that pelicans need to scoop water and fish, so it's important to keep it flexible with exorcizes like this.
It probably feels good, too. They do it often.
I've seen and photographed the stretch sequence often, but this one is one of the more lurid ones. Probably because of the new perspective the Rocket Launcher (Sigma 150-500mm zoom) offers. Which almost seems too much. Nice for getting closer to little birds. A little strange with quickly externalized portions of really big birds.
Never seen all that texture in a pelk pouch before, and there seems to be a glow about it.
Tip it back this far, and it smoothes out taut.
We're not sure what that hole is for. Some suggest it may be to drain salt water. I'm still the clueless amateur, but this may be the best shot I've got of it. It seems to connect to the smaller valve in the Pelk Top Flap two pix up. More than that I do not know. Yet.
I photographed this pelican for quite a while while it scissored its breast feathers, zippering them together and apart, cleaning.
Been talking about the missing female Scaup lately and the males in their breeding finery. I counted eleven males today, counting one in non-breeding colors. And one female again.
She's pretty. The female identifier, besides brownish feathers instead of the male's whitewalls and dominant color (this time, black), is that patch of white surrounding her bluish bill.
Then there has been being a long build-up of grackles lately. I'm wondering weather there are more gulls or grackles. The gooses are bigger than either, but much less populous. The three Gs.
Been wanting to check out Parkdale Lake ever since I saw it on Mapquest south of White Rock, but we couldn't get there from any of the wheres we tried. Twice big guys — both nice — one on a particularly loud motorcycle and another in a truck that tracked us down a long gravel road — explained that the road we were on was closed and we couldn't get to the lake from there anyway.
We finally gave up on Parkdale Lake after the last guy said it was pretty ugly, and the power station that it was built for (to catch effluviums?) was being torn down. It looked so pristine from the satellite. We saw it in the longer distance a couple times but never up close. Oh well. So we tried also without any success to find the nearest lake, which may have been called Franklin, but it too was too far.
Eventually, we found our way to being on the way to yet another lake we saw on the map we brought, somewhere south (I think) of South Dallas, only we never saw it, either. But we did find a nice long gravel and dirt road that eventually stopped in a woods. At first we didn't see any birds there. Then while watching our shadows in the scrub, they started showing themselves.
I thought this was a House Sparrow — because of the beard, but it wasn't. Sorting through my bird books, I found it's a Harris's Sparrow, which I don't think I'd seen before — or at least hadn't identified. It flew off seconds after I got this, so I didn't see it again, either, but it was a pleasant few moments.
We saw hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls high above mobbing the moon, a TV and other birds too quick to identify.
I'm not at all sure what this is, either. It flew away before I could get the lens to focus on the bird, not the branches, which is often a challenge. I claim not to even count birds till I get them in focus, but I don't really count birds, and I certainly couldn't count this one. I don't have a list of birds I've seen or photographed, or any I want to — although there'd be lots on that list.
I see the point, I just never bothered to list them. So far, this is my bird list, and I often photograph the same ones over and over till ... well, till I don't see them anymore. Nice to see something new. We still have the notion that if we go somewhere different, we'll see some new birds, and it seems to work.
Feel like I should raise my hand and flag down the teacher. I know this one, I know this one. Pick me, pick me. Soon as I saw it I knew it was a Kingbird. Not the one with a yellow breast but the one with white. The lighting's not perfect here but a little dramatic, and the focus is close enough I could count nose hairs ... er the feathers around its beak it uses to catch insects, it being a Flycatcher. Nice change both to get one in focus and to think I know what it is.
Doesn't look much like a crane, but we eventually found our way back through the meadows and fields, talked briefly with a real cowboy putting his (or somebody's) beautiful horse through its paces, which Anna adored. Then more cowboys, some dogs and a paved road we couldn't get to. No No Trespassing or No Entry or Private anything signs. No big guys chasing us down telling we couldn't get there. Not many birds, really, either but it is the dead of winter everywhere else but White Rock Lake, where we returned after pizza.
It was already well past sunset in Sunset Bay and dark — although it doesn't look it in these shots, but I cranked the ISO up to 1,000 then 3,200, rested the cam on a picnic table and shot these guys anyway. I may photo a pelican a day until they leave. I'll probably feel guilty if I don't.
Stare at American White Pelicans long enough and one of them will go into this portion of the quick sequence involved in keeping their very malleable mandibles flexible enough to seine for food. I have a page called "Several Strange Things Pelicans Do with Their Beaks," and this is one of them I've photographed many times, usually in better light and more sharpness.
ISO still cranked up but not thinking about it, I shot a couple of flash shots. First, nearly straight up into a nearby tree of a nest I was curious about. It seemed so obvious up there, but when I saw it the sky was light and the tree dark. Flash changes everything. Also under the trees were the Bird Squad conversing and feeding bread to gooses, one of which has a curled-up foot, and I don't remember its name.
It was human imprinted enough to it let several people hold her. Charles even carried it out to the pier and released her into the lake later. I didn't hold her, but I pet her — so very soft and remarkably gentle for such a big goose. I've been hissed and honked at so many times. I've even been bit by the toothless wonders who startle and surprise but rarely hurt or break skin.
So I'm driving down and around Arboretum Drive (See the newly updated White Rock Map I've added bird sightings to) and I'm wondering what today's bird of the moment (BirdMo) will be. Plenty species I keep wanting closer and sharper and more details of along the way.
Probably the nicest Female Bufflehead I've got, but they are there every time I drive down that part of Lawther these days, just depends how close and how quick I can get into position on the edge to photograph them before they see me and swim away.
RWBb announcing his territory among the reeds posed for me. Then nothing for a long time. Even attended Sunset Bay, but nothing new there and fewer and fewer pelicans in the afternoons lately. Several birders have been wondering when they'll leave, not wanting them to, but knowing they must.
Then nothing for a long time. Even attended Sunset Bay, but nothing new there and fewer pelicans in the afternoons lately. Several birders have been wondering when they'll leave, not wanting them to, but knowing they must.
When, over between Dreyfuss and the Bath House I see a familiar color and shape on a wire, and a bird who let me get fairly close, and I'm careful to stay fairly far from, so maybe I can catch it when ...
It suddenly leaves the wire to catch something down on the ground. Swoop off.
Swoop down, a lot faster than I was prepared for, but almost in focus, certainly in color.
But really fast.
Then do its chewing back to me in a farther tree I snuck up on tramping across the yellow winter meadow. This side almost as distinctive as the other.
Best of both sides here, richly colored and primly crossed primaries and tail feathers, his "mustache" (dark cheek markings) almost advertising who he is, and always appreciated, that sparkle in his eye. Beautiful bird.
I visited the beginnings of the annual Corazon show at the Bath House Cultural Center. I shot more pics of Kathy Boortz very realistic bird sculptures in the White Rock Lake Museum there (I'll show you some tomorrow.) then came back up the hill where I saw a familiar flash of colors from a tree near the trudging pathless track through the weeds back to my car.
Got a better angle and a closer, more detailed view, then left him to his hunting, always nice to see an old friend flapping around.
I'm still excited about having photographed the first Bald Eagle seen at White Rock Lake in ... a long time. But birds go on, and I saw some today, like almost every day — this bird has a long short bill fin that indicates it (he or she) is a breeding adult.
I keep promising myself I won't get so carried away I put dozens of bird shots on every day's journal entry, so that eventually it doesn't take eons to download each monthly page, but I still expect to get carried away sometimes.
Today that was easy. I found this pair on Arboretum Drive — that I've inexplicably been calling DeGoyler Drive. Well, explicable, I suppose, since the DeGoyler estate became the Arboretum, but I named it on this journal's map, and I should have been using the same name. Yada yada.
I was taken by this pair, because it's getting to be pairing season. Spring seems to come early for birds. Last entry we saw a couple of species in breeding and non-breeding presentations. Usually, when I see Buffleheads, females are in short supply or hiding all folded up floating. Today, she was openly there and female.
I'd never seen a male from this angle, with a yellow neck — sheening in the sun — looking like a white bird with dark stripe on the front of its head and over its back with wings.
Also, these are fairly close, so we get to see some detail. They were diving a lot. I got out of Blue while they were down, walked quickly to the shore, and was there when they came up. Immediately, of course, they lit out for deeper water away from me, but I keep wanting and getting and wanting again, more detailed shots of Bufleheads.
I've heard there's a movement ahead to make Sunset Bay into a bird sanctuary, perhaps banning dogs, but probably not coyotes. The big problem I see for this notion is that the domestic goose population is exploding. Not by them laying eggs. They lay plenty eggs, they just don't quite know what to do with them once they're laid. Gooses are good people, they're just not all that experienced in raising young, a chore taken on by farmers, I suspect.
Sunset Bay's now 50-something geese are taking over the resources. Whoever's delivering more and more geese to the area should be reined in, so more wild species can move in and take over.
Your picture of the "goose with a goiter" is none other than Jill, our resident mother African goose who raised the young goslings last spring. The "goiter" is actually a dewlap. Some show birds have dewlaps that reach almost to the ground, so a long dewlap is desirable.
As to the comment about the geese using up the resources — the geese eat primarily grass and the food humans give them. They are not in competition with the ducks and other waterfowl at the lake. The ducks tend to disperse around the lake while the geese hang out in the bay area. Their population is actually remaining stable, despite several being dumped at locations around the lake...coyotes have to eat, too! Two of the three that were dumped behind the arboretum moved to West Lawther some time ago and remain there.
Interesting about the osprey actually being an eagle.
When I started counting gooses, there were 9. Now there are fifty-something. They didn't fly in, they were domestic gooses bought locally, then brought in cages and released. - J R
Although I didn't see any here, I am often struck by the beauty of not just birds but their habitat. Amazing intricacy they fly through with ease. I was in the Afterimage Gallery earlier this afternoon and was wowed by an intricate photograph of trees and branches. I stood in front of it for a long time, admiring, wishing I could shoot that good. This is my homage to that spirit. The one at the Afterimage was by Eliot Porter.
February 1 2009
Finally got a little more detail in the hundreds, if not more than a thousand, Ruddy Ducks floating just off the east coast of White Rock Lake along DeGoyler today. Truly thousands of people, yet the Ruddies were not a huge distance out into the lake. Thought I might get a little more detail than I've been getting. This shot actually shows a bright eye-ball, a light-colored tail and a the characteristic gray bill of a breeding male.
Naturally, when they saw me with my Rocket Launcher, they swam toward the center of the lake. Then they'd come back and I'd shoot some more. This one looks like a separate species, with a red tail and black bill. Hope they stay long enough that their bodies go mostly red. But I've never noticed them here before, so I don't know how long they'll stay. Dark tails, as I mention later, show breeding adults. They have black bills, too, so this is definitely a breeding adult Ruddy Duck.
I'd like to be able to tell ya'll what all these variations are and mean, but of course I don't know much about these guys. This is as close as I've got to them all season. Gray bills indicate breeding adults, and spring coming soon.
No dark swath across any of these Ruddies' cheeks means they're all males. Females have been, maybe even are, more elusive. Maybe, like scaups, they're less populous, too.
I've got three books out and open to the Ruddy page. National Geographic, Sibley's and Lone Pine. Nat'l Geo shows that light tails indicate non-breeding Ruddies. I didn't know that till I got close enough to see this stuff, so among all those thousand or so Ruddy Ducks, I simply shot the ones that were closest. Keep thinking I should sit on the side, perhaps in the shadow of some reeds, until they think I'm part of the landscape. Then maybe I can get some female ruddies. Maybe.
When I shot this, I thought it was four (there's another off to the right) Male Lesser Scaups escorting one female. But that's not a female in the middle (second from right). What it is is a non-breeding male, surrounded by breeding males.
The guy on the left is a non-breeding adult male Lesser Scaup (I assume "Lesser," because that's the variety we have here; if it were a Greater Scaup, I would never know.) The guy on the right is a breeding adult male Lesser Scaup. Noticeably different, with the breeder brighter with white sidewalls, lighter wings and a darker breast, showing more contrast overall. More noticeable.
Haven't seen any females lately, but there was one last week.
Oh, and one more pelican shot. I keep thinking they'll only be around another 2.5 months, I should start paying a lot more attention to them, now, again.
text and photographs copyright 2009 by J
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.
Thanks always to Anna.