NOT USE photos without permission. Bird
from Rogers Rehabilitation
Bald Eagle Pelican Beaks Herons Egrets Herons & Egrets Feedback MAP Books & Links
White Rock Lake
Arrived at Dreyfuss Point in time to see the mass of pelicans and cormorants and gulls suddenly turn around and fly off in the opposite direction of the other side of the lake. I stood there in the wild buffeting wing and clicked and clicked and clicked as they all flew away.
The mood of what happens when I or you view a day's shooting is up to somebody else. Not me. I go. I shoot. I hope for focus and composition and sense. I'll take what I get. I don't direct. I accept.
Today's now seems somber. With all that gray, more than a little moody. With a big something on the other side, hopefully worth flapping like crazy to get over there before my buddies take it all.
Wind was fierce enough to make holding the camera anything near still, luckily the sky was bright, and these very long telephoto shots almost seem sharp.
Better yet, the sun played splashy sparkly games as spots of brightness freight-trained across the lake.
Since it's over there anyway, it's nice sometimes to throw a good skyline, especially one that's shadowed out in distant clouds, into almost any shot. I subscribe to The Lone Pelican Theory, anyway.
I thought this was in Sunset Bay, but now I'm not so sure. When people are feeding them, they're everywhere, and they own the place.
I was concentrating so much on the far, I almost missed this diving Double-crested Cormorant who was only twenty or so feet off the edge of Dreyfuss as I stood there hoping for a pelican to fly by. But none did.
Arlington Drying Beds
Rapid duck descents like these did not work with my new camera, but my elderly Nikon got it first time out. Colorful birds these Northern Shovelers, hundreds of whom we saw at the drying beds today shoveling their long beaks under water filtering food.
Today, I brought along both cameras and both long lenses. Close or fast action doesn't work well with the Panasonic G2, but the Nikon handles that with aplomb. Long distance detail with the Rocket Launcher (Stigma 150-500mm) is often iffy, especially in low light like today with the Great Blue Heron nests more about below. But the G2 is amazing with long-distance details.
Like this Greater Yellowlegs surfing a faraway pond from where about a dozen birders had gathered to watch. Nice enough full frame, but for real detail, notice the up close and personal feel of this long view greatly enlarged to become this:
A similar enlargement of the same bird at the same distance.
Or this, which is a lot close to semi-perfection, and it almost shows a little personality. Or something like it.
We all watched the first one play at catching food in the pond, then walk, then run across the landscape fast enough that those following with big binoculars had a hard time keeping up. Then slowly, gradually, they two Yellowlegs got closer and closer, and then the one on the right flew away.
Imagine hundreds of bright white and black
and red and tan and green males and brown mottled females sluicing their
big, honking beaks through the waste treatment facilities often greenish
water for fresh food. According to my Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas,
The Northern Shoveler "dabbles in shallow and often muddy water; strains
out plant and animal matter, especially aquatic crustaceans, insect larvae
and seeds, also takes small fish."
Several of whom are puffed up against the cold wind.
Haven't seen many Killdeer at the lake lately, but there was a lot of peeping going on at the beds today. Only this time did one venture close enough to be focused upon and photographed successfully. This is another G2 shot, and another tiny portion of a much larger frame. Looks sharp.
Supposedly was a Blue-winged Teal with the Cinnamon, but I never saw it. Or these headless wonders were it.
I had slightly better luck with the Northern Pintails, although I shot them with my Nikon and that less-than super telephoto, so they're rendered a little soft in the low light of today's over cloudy day.
There was lots of bird variety at the Drying Beds today, but some availed themselves more closely with passing photographers like this handsome young lady. I think I saw plenty of male Red-wings in silhouette, but this is the only one I saw up close and bright.
Easily visible from the entrance road past the swamp on the west side were a line of tall trees splotched with large Great Blue Heron nests, some of which were already laid with eggs patiently being sat upon. This shot with my Panasonic G2 and 100-300mm (200-600mm equivalent) zoom, shows some detail and a modicum of color despite being way far away.
He just flew in, hovered in place, mounted and stayed long seconds, then flew away after. More eggs on the way. Unfortunately, I only shot heron sex with my once-trusty Nikon, but I hope to go back, probably walk back on the levee and haul a tripod to document more nesting and family-making inter bird reactions later this week. You can bet I'll take my G2.
White Rock Lake
I just knew this was a Cinnamon Teal. But it's not. When I checked Sibley's and Peterson, they didn't look anything like Cinnamons. I sent these pix to Anna, who identified them as Gadwalls. I know we've seen them before, but I don't remember where.
These were swimming with a couple others along Arboretum Drive, on one of my routine daily coasts along that mostly flat scenic drive. Easy on, easy off. A little bit of lake and maybe birds for five or ten minutes investment. Calm, cool lake without a lot of navigational bother.
You'd think by now I'd know them — and everybody else I keep seeing year after year.
According to my go-to book about birds, the Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas, "… Gadwalls dive more often than others … These ducks feed equally during the day and night, a strategy that reduces the risk of predation, because the birds avoid spending long periods of time sleeping or feeding."
Along that same drive off from Garland Road, winding around The Arboretum, up Winfrey Point, down toward Sunset Bay, right turn up to Barbec's, was this guy. Closer than I usually see them, and I see them there often. This one spent most of the time I waited by the roadside for it, underwater. It would come up very briefly, I'd struggle to get it in focus, then it'd be down again just about when I'd find it and focus, and I'd be left with yet another sharp shot of the water spurt it'd leave on its way under. Must be deep water right along that edge.
Don't want to sound all gushy, but this is an amazing shot. I'm standing leaning on the rail on the Garland Road side of the spillway, and this lovely lass is perched on a branch sticking out of the far side of the the island in the middle of all that. So this was like maybe 1/40th or less of the full micro four thirds frame of my new Panasonic G2 camera, shooting at ISO 400. True, my other shots of this bird were not this sharp. But wow. The colors are vivid. The dimensionality is great. The exposure is on target.
Coots are skittish. They skitter away at the slightest provocation. But they don't look up, and they wouldn't have thought of me as something worrisome, anyway, as far away as I was.
I had hoped for egrets. Why I stopped at the Spillway today, even though I'd already shot birds and other stuff all day long on my new camera. But what the hey. Why not? Then all I could find on the lower Spillway was a few birds looking inelegant on the road side of the island. Then when I walked up the path toward the dam, I expected gobs of gulls, and found a couple dozen egrets waiting for whatever egrets usually wait for. Food probably, although maybe they just like standing together as their once-prized, wispy feathers were tousled in the slight breezes.
It's clear from the gull with its head in the drink upper left that's what the gulls were there for. Ours are usually Ring-billed Gulls. I liked the mix with egrets. There were hundreds of gulls, and I had planned to photograph them, too, but I managed not to get wonderful enough pix of them. Ah, but the egrets …
Only new aspect of this shot is that I didn't have to spend long minutes getting the exposure just right in Photoshop before I could show it to you here. My new G2 takes care of that before I shoot. Classic shot. One I've made for years and years for these pages. I'd hoped to capture them flying around in the extended amphitheater that is the lower steps down past the spillway, but they weren't doing much flying, and when they did, I mostly missed it.
Yeah, I noticed it wasn't in focus or sharp. I just liked it anyway. It's me attempting to follow a fast bird hunting along the road down from Winfrey toward Sunset Bay. And badly missing getting it in focus. The camera's supposed to do that if I get it in the frame. Obviously I got it in frame, but the camera did not keep up its end of the bargain. My Nikon's supposed to do that, too. But it doesn't, either.
This is him before the jump. Just like all the other before-the-jump pix I'd done of them all these years. Maybe a little sharper, nicer colors, but still less than perfect. I'm working on my pan and chase techniques with the new camera. I'm just not very good at it yet.
I never think these guys are close enough, but the new camera seems to render them some sort of magically. This is a very large enlargement of a very small area across about half of a frame. I like the action.
Lousy, overcast lighting, and they're far away. Probably some of the best action I've ever caught them at.
I kept joking with myself that I was spending a lot of time today "playing focus games with birds." More often than not, I won, although there were plenty of blurs, too.
For all its hurry and my inept panning, this male Northern Cardinal appears to be in focus as it flies through the branches. I think of that feat as some kind of minor miracle. Good camera.
Actually, I shot the next shot first, but this one identifies our tiny friend a lot better. Again, and as usually with tiny little birds on a big landscape, this is a very small portion of a much larger frame. But it still looks very good indeed. I am appreciating my new Panasonic G2 camera and 100-300mm zoom.
Somehow, the focus apparatus of this camera has ignored all those intervening branches and focused on the fleeing bird. Sometimes I can't get it to do that, and other times I can't get it to stop. I don't seem to be in charge, anymore, and that seems to be a good thing most of the time. I only wish I remembered what setting I had it on. I tried so many today.
I'll end today's entry with a photograph of a nest. I know who has and probably will again occupy this rambling, ramshackle future home and hearth. And I'll be watching it a little more closely than last year. Or the one before that.
The most colorful bird we saw at the lake today had to be one of three male Wood Ducks under the wood bridge over the Boathouse Lagoon. Mr. Rainbow come to earth. I'd forgot how beautiful they are.
The females are pretty, too.
Little cold windy out on the bridge shooting down at the Wood Ducks, I didn't want to leave, kept filling my camera with more colors. Spring soon, huh? But eventually we withdrew and moved on.
After I got a few more close-ups.
When I first saw The Hum where most of our Monk Parakeets live near the lake, we were all set to blame Oncor, who seems to be rebuilding the towers. We figured they'd knocked down all the keets' nests. Again. Upon closer inspection, however, we saw bits of nest clinging to the crossbars up there and a slow-flying army of parakeets — Anna's calling them "Monkeets," I like that — flying nest building sticks, one at a time, into where the nests are growing.
At first we thought the Monkeet below was a youngster. It does seem smaller, but I'm not sure the differences between adult Monk Parakeets and their kids. And none of my bird books shows juveniles or immatures I like thinking of this as a family unit. But it could just be three unrelated parakeets gathered.
I was having serious issues tracking flying parakeets with my new, long telephoto lens. I'd got used to the Stigma Rocket Launcher with its somewhat longer equivalent focal length of 750mm. But the Nikon has a much larger viewfinder, even if it is optical. I am struggling with the G2's much smaller viewfinder, but since what it takes to get used to it is lots of practice, I engaged in some of that. It's comparatively simple to photograph birds in trees.
And I was surprised how well the G2 focused on the bird, not the branches. Well, here, it's both, which is so much better than one or the other. My luck, it's the other. Does that mean the G2 has inherently more depth of field than the Nikons? I don't know, but I like the possibility.
Lots of keets flying into The Hum with nest pieces in their beaks. Serious pan practice involved trying to figure out where they'd start their incoming flight and where'd they'd go and what path they'd follow in between. I've done this before, with the Nikon. I practiced, got a lot of misses, eventually netted three fairly good pan alongs, and this, which is better than the others. I usually use only the best on these pages. Exposure is amazing, focus sharp, and though it's a crop of a somewhat larger frame, it looks great blown up. I still need lots of practice panning small birds.
I think I liked this one better before I fixed exposure on his head, which was black when I started with it. Almost, it looked better with it way too dark. Body sharp, head a little soft. I understand the condition and love the right leg stuck out, like it's about to skid around the corner in the water.
This would have been better without that forked stick in the middle of the shot. I could see it when I was shooting, but I kept hoping it wouldn't be so in the way that it would obscure their faces or bodies, and even if it almost did, that's not the worst that could happen. That would be rendering the male at just the wrong angle, so we don't recognize it as a male Bufflehead. It may be one of the best shots I've got of a female yet — in spite of the stick through her — and one of the least good ones of a male.
Trouble was, I was sitting in a car, not driving but we were dodging traffic and not close enough (If we were, the pair would have swum or flown away.) Even through the tree.
My Front Yard
This is the ninth bird picture taken with my new camera and brand new lens, delivered this morning, a Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Vario Apherical MEGA OIS Lens for Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Cameras. In one of my trees shot from my front porch, and not sharpened hardly at all in Photoshop. When I get it aimed right with the focus set right, it's amazing. I am way past pleased, I'm excited.
Might be the same mocker as above. Don't know. There were two swooping about from my tallest tree out front to the top of one neighbor's house to the top of the other neighbor (on the other side)'s house. Faster than I could follow with my new tele. Much faster, not mentioning all the trees and branches in the way anyway.
I underexposed this one, putting the mock in shadow, so in Photoshop I opened it up to its natural light gray colors. No telling what it's saying or why. Mocks do their — and everybody else's — calls largely because they can. I've heard from reputable sources, that they don't just copy other birds they've actually heard, they remember calls their grandparents taught them. Makes all that squawking all the more remarkable.
Enough of my yard birds. So now it's off to White Rock, where I saw pelicans and cormorants out in the middle of the lake looking for and finding fish to gobble down. A good test for a new telephoto lens. And I'm amazed how well it did at that great distance. In this and the much larger resolutioned original, you could almost count feathers along its breast. The fin growing on its fore beak is distinguishable. It shows that this is a mating adult pelican, although it probably won't be doing any of that till it gets back to Idaho or so next April, after it leaves Dallas.
And here's the same bird, enlarged significantly. ISO 400 f/8 at 1/1,250 second exposure. I'm amazed and very pleased. Being able to set exposure to match conditions by looking through an electronic viewfinder is so much better than guessing with my Nikons or your Canons. Because the EVF sees what the sensor sees, electronically instead of optically through the lens, I can set exposure as I'm photographing and changing with the next scene. I love it.
At ISO 400 with my Nikons I'm fighting digital noise. Here, that doesn't seem to be a major problem. Wow.
You know how much I love to photograph birds flap bathing in the lake. You probably don't know how many of my shots have been wasted, because the exposure was off, because the Nikon's sensors never really knew how to tell me the truth about that sort of thing. I had to guess, look, re-guess and look at the LCD again. Not with the Panasonc G2.
I had to mentally sort through an awful lot of contradictory chatter from various camera reviewers, early adopters (who sometimes swtich between cameras far more often than I do) and user members of Digital Photography Review's Micro Four-Thirds online Forum to decide this lens and this camera would be an obvious good thing for me to get into. So glad I bit the bullet and did it.
One more goose shot — this one manifesting the stereotypical goose aggression pose — then we'll get back to that other big white birds, my precious pelicans. Several gooses were afflicted with over and beyond the call for aggression today. Some maurading in the water around the pier at Sunset Bay, baffling the hoards of people there, others doing it on land. It must be almost spring.
Of course, this was an easy shot. Plenty of time to train the G2's wandering focus points onto the birds, adjust the exposure so all the fine lines it those masses of white show, and click. It helps that they were close enough to nearly fill the frame.
So here's a little more challenging setup. One I've photographed nearly to death. I wasn't altogether sure this time, either. I've yet to learn to control the focus point bouncing around in the frame. I'll look it up in the manual. I remember patiently running and rerunning the Nikon online tutorial for this sort of thing on their site. Panasonic does not seem to believe it's worth their while to follow suit. I wish they would. I need to know what are the various clicks on the top left focus dial. Guess I'll have to read the slightly translated manual some more. Oh, well.
Lucked out this time, and most today. But not all.this is about a half of the frame crop. Looks good.
A little bit of a blow-up. Adjusted slightly in Photoshop to lighten the dark mass of American Coots at the bottom of the frame. No more than about three minutes from start to finish. Nice thing about getting the exposure right in the camera is that I don't have to fuss much with the image in post production. Except for the coot just over this pelican's neck, I like this a lot. Gorgeous tonalities of white on white.
Not as sharp as many other shots today, though not immediately noticeable. I get an annoying (set on purpose, so I can figure out what I am doing, click by click) one-second preview after each shot. It's usually enough to tell if I've got it in good enough focus. This was good enough, but I improved it slightly in Photoshop. Ever so slightly. Nice shot, About an eighth of a full frame. Or a ninth.
Slight crop to the top guy's wings edge. Focus is somewhere between the guys in front and the one I thought I wanted all the focus on. Till I saw this on my monitor. Nice that we can see some pelican pouch action near the lander's left foot. Very nice contrast of landed pelicans and the lander. Overall kinda wonderful. I still need to learn how to direct focus, but nice job, really. Okay I promise, just this one last wow.
A few more birds, and way too much new-camera commentary's on My G2 Journal.
One of the best benefits of having the G2, especially with the smallish 100~300 lens is that nobody once told me what a great camera (meaning lens) I had. Not to fit in for a change. I assume they assumed I was just another Saturday Shooter with some little toy camera out for some bird pix. Me. Subtle. Hmmm.
Okay, I'm struggling. I've got a new camera. One I've wanted to try for about a year. Trouble is, working with its images is very different from working with my Nikon images. It needs new-to-me software I've never tried before, and that I am truly not very interested in learning — unless I have to. I like Photoshop just fine. SilkyPix is strange and obtuse to me, but my elderly version of Photoshop won't work with my G2 RAW images. So these shots — like most of mine, anyway — are less than perfect, but I cannot just pop them into Photoshop to make them better, because my elderly version doesn't even recognize their existence, let alone find them worth bothering with.
The G2 is several kinds of amazing, because even before I shoot an image, I can already tell in the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) exactly what the exposure will be. Using my Nikons, I can only guess, often too optimistically. Here, I knew I could just barely render some detail in those white duck bodies. I knew I wouldn't turn them all detail-less white. I knew the White Balance was real. I knew I wasn't going to blur them. I knew we would just barely see those orange feet underwater.
Knowing all that before I shoot is wonderful. Learning later that to fully render these images, I'll either have to learn new software or upgrade my whole system was disheartening. I've begun yet another camera-learning journal (this one came from just such a j, that time for my Nikon D200, which I am using again).
Another major problem with my new G2 is that it came with a dinky kit lens that renders an equivalent of 28mm (wide-ish angle) to 84mm (very short telephoto) zoom. Not nearly telephoto enough to adequately photograph those pelicans out there on Pelican Peninsula, let alone anything flying in from farther away. I wanted to make sure I liked the camera I've researched and read tests of and expert opinions, before I jumped in with big honking telephoto lenses.
I love it, and it needs a big honker — except that for this tiny camera (Anna kept calling it "adorable" because she loved its cute little sculpted lens hood.) even the telephoto-est of long zoom lenses will still be considerably smaller and lighter and easier to hold and use, than my failing (again) Rocket Launcher of a Stigma lens. It didn't help that most of today was very very gray from a solid block of clouds overhead.
I shot 137 images today. A lot of them at random out the window as we drove errands. Luckily, Anna was driving. These last two were shot with me standing on terra firma, near and around White Rock Lake. I'm in love with the camera, wish I'd bought it without a lens and had already bought the 100-300mm zoom (200mm-600mm equivalent). But I'll be able to use this lens for plenty of shooting, just not birds.
Later today, it got sunny for a little while. Then, of course, the sun went down.
While watching the sky gather and the sun slipping down under the horizon, I was making adjustments, so I could see lots of color and density and detail in the sunset sky. This is from the short loop in front of the building on Winfrey, out toward, well, of course, the west and the setting sun. Very realistic.
I'm keeping the G2, but will probably shoot my old Nikon next time I'm out for birds.
Been watching these guys and their extended Muscovy family for many months now. Until I talked with Elizabeth this afternoon I hadn't thought to give them names. They don't need them, but maybe we do. The last pair I'd begun names for, and Charles completed, were two Canada Geese, we respectively named Cancan and Cant cant, have migrated on from here. after a several month stay.
Fist names I spoke were "like Click and Clack," but since they are ducks, regardless that they look more like geese, there should be Qs in their names. Quick and Quack, I suggest. Though neither is fast either intellectually or physically, they are friendly and put up with humans well. A small child chased them out by the shore awhile today. Didn't seem to bother them any.
The rest of today's shots are of our band of American White Pelicans, and those always take more time to craft, what with their brilliant white feathers, honking big orange beaks and the fact they tend toward the shadows at the east end of Sunset Bay. It'll take time to sort them out. I really must hang out there in the middle of the day, so the lighting is more reliable.
When my back-up camera would actually acknowledge that the battery was in it and connected and had some juice left, it allowed me to take a fe pictures before going on strike again. I cursed and tried to figure out what was wrong. I didn't work it out till driving home. Both the Nikon D200 (this one) and the D300 have issues with connecting to the battery.
I had long ago experimented with the issue using layers of tape on the springy end of the battery compartment on the hinged door. That seems to push the battery all the way into its internal connector, so the camera can see and use battery power. What I thought was it forgetting it was it not being able to fully connect, because for some idiot reason I'd removed the tape. So I gave it new sticky-tape layers, and we'll see if that helps next time out.
This time out was hit or miss, with way too many misses. I was also not doing a great job with exposure. This shot, however, is pretty close to very good both of those issues. Plus it's full frame left to right, although I cropped the top off slightly to make it look long and lean and speedy. It was speedy.
Sometimes, with my telephoto I can see them heading in this direction from halfway across the lake, but I've learned those shots make lousy images, so I wait awhile. I didn't see these three till just before this shot, then followed them in. I always get excited when I see pelicans arranged like this. Seems so dramatic.
I often talk about "the logs" out in the middle of Sunset Bay. That's what the gulls and cormorants in the background here are perched on. The three American White Pelicans keep coming, though they've largely lost their formation.
And closer still. Notice how the shapes of their wings change from flapping to coasting.
I've seen them so close they could have been holding hands if they had any. Compared to that, this is fairly informal. They're just coming home from an extended fishing party. Probably tired and with a full belly.
From about here on down, these are not necessarily the same bird from shot to shot. If my camera were perfect — and I worked on it again the next day, so maybe it will next time out — I might have followed a single bird all the way in, but these are flying through several very distinct lighting areas. Well, light and darks.
Wings so compressed by the telephoto lens, you can hardly see them, except for the flailing black primaries. Note tucked-in feet and overall streamlined shape.
Which undergoes a slight tilting as it comes into clear sight of its planned landing area.
Then tilt in, fill wings with air to begin the major slow-down from flight speed to landing slowdown. Turn slightly to aim in.
Drop gear. I've even seen various birds tip a toe in to make slight trajectory changes. This one's reaching down.
Then, feet flat down, beginning a splash as it glides toward a stop.
Flaps all the way up, splash trail lengthening as it settles into the drink. Within a few seconds it will be swimming normally, looking like it had not just splooshed in. Looking utterly normal as it finds its perch with the gang.
Its beak is dirty, because it's been digging in the dirt for food. What it's doing for more food is shaking its right leg. I've seen a similar strategy in a Little Blue Heron shaking its leg in shallow water. I thought it might be peculiar to Little Blue Herons, but here's this much smaller shorebird on land shaking its leg, rustling the low vegetative growth, literally scaring something up.
Then when it sees something down their wiggling with fright or whatever, it goes in for it.
Clear one area of juicy bugs, move to another one close by, shake the leg, disturb the neighborhood vegetation, bugs come up to see what's going on and get eaten. Fascinating variation on the Little Blue Heron technique of doing pretty much the same thing in shallow water.
Of course, it wasn't just the leg and the grass shaking. The Killdeer's whole body shook along with each leg shake. That's what caught my attention initially. I've seen thm bob and stick their heads up, but never before have I noticed them vibrating their whole bodies like that. Except it was the leg shaking, and the body following. Interesting enough to pay close attention to, which I could do out the driver's window of The Red-eared Slider.
Then while I'm concentrating on what the Killdeer was doing to earn its daily grub, this large other shorebird flashes by somewhat off shore behind the killdeer feeding.
Then, while I'm again concentrating on what the Killdeer will do next, apparently walks by a large dog. I remember seeing the dog and worrying that it would scare the Killdeer off, and it wouldn't get to eat more grub, and I wouldn't get to photograph it doing that. But the dog walked by on its leash and neither dog nor human seemed to slow the Killdeer from its hunt any at all.
When I finally drove away (Birds let me get much closer when I'm in a car than if I'm walking.), the two Killdeer I'd been watching were still shaking their legs, digging their beaks underground and coming up with protein sources and getting their long, sharp beaks dirtier and dirtier.
For a couple minutes I pulled over into a parking area along Arboretum Drive and watched pelicans and cormorants halfway across the like engaging in the faraway excitement of a fishing party, then I continued my drive toward Winfrey Point and Sunset Bay.
Actually it's struggling to get the fish or other wiggly life form out in something of a line, so it can put it down its already widening throat and swallow it.
Which it eventually managed to do.
It was so close to shore, I dared not stop photographing it. Its neck and throat closed back up to normal.
It swam over to a favorite dive spot and disappeared.
Down by the park at the crotch of Winfrey Hill I watched a Northern Mockingbird just standing there. I watched.
When it finally sighted something moving in the grass, it hopped over to it and caught and swallowed it.
I parked at the bottom of the drive down from Barbecs and walked over to the pier at Sunset Bay. Along my way I saw so-called European Starlings high in one of those big trees. Click. Such pretty birds with such a mean-spirited reputation.
I got lots more pictures today. Mostly of American White Pelicans flying in from their various fishing parties and loners around the lake. I had a lot of trouble with my Nikon D200's battery. I checked it before I left, and it claimed to have 90% of a charge, but out there in the field and on the pier, it dropped down to nothing several times, and when pelicans came flying in (probably my favorite thing to photograph in the known world), it would often claim to be completely out of battery.
Worse, I had the exposures all wrong much of the time. There are several hundred to choose from, however, and I will. Tomorrow, when I've had some reading and some sleep. Good night for now. It's 2 ayem, and I'm too tired to continue.
A nictitating membrane is the "whitish or translucent membrane that forms an inner eyelid in birds, reptiles and some mammals. It can be drawn across the eye to protect it from dust and keep it moist." I like the way it looks on this crow.
I'd hoped to catch it jumping into flight, but I was hoping for more focus.
Today I hunted in the woods along the creek and the tall trees much closer to Stone Tables. It'd been a long long time since the last time I did that, but there were so many little and middle-sized birds, I have to go back and back. Nice long walk, too.
But then I'm always hoping for focus. If I was any good at all at identifying birds, I'd probably be a much less good photographer of them. Maybe. Nose looks like a crow, but no crow I've ever met had blue and orange and purple bits ...
I still think this was a crow, but I don't think crows have white feathers on their gray wings.
A low flying TV (Turkey Vulture) provided me with a little diversion. Took awhile to capture one shot with its face in sharp-enough focus. While I was doing that , I saw a much smaller bird fly toward it.
About this point in the aerial rendezvous, I was hoping that was a hawk on the left, and I just knew the one on the left was a crow. Wrong twice in a row quick.
Not very many crows have striped wings with spots. Just who does is gonna take some book-lookin'. Starling? Obviously, I have not a clue. Love the TV swan dive look.
More bird-book searching, and it's not even in focus. I googed "yellow crown," then stumbled on "Golden Crown" in Peterson's nice big pix. It's a Golden Crowned Kinglet.
I want to call this a chickadee, but I seriously doubt it will be when I finally find it. Then I didn't find it. Four bird guide books and five websites later, I still don't see it. Must be obvious, otherwise I'd 'a got it by now.
I saw a titmouse in the Fitchery. It looked a little like this. I think. Yep. Yep. It's a Tufted Titmouse. Peterson's calls it "very inquisitive and loudly vocal." I'm sure that's what drew me to it. Took awhile to set it up so I was shooting at the bird, not the branches and twigs. But I managed to get its face, beard, eyes and tuft on top in sharp focus. Pretty amazing considering it's a tiny 6.5 inches long.
Guess what? I don't know who this is, either. I know that surprises everybody.
But I know this one. For sure.
I'm pretty sure this was a hawk, and I'm pretty sure I can track down which one it was.
First not terribly cold day in a week, so Anna and I went to the lake to see who showed up. Grackles, of course, there's generally more of them than anything, pretty much anywhere in Dallas County, and probably all of North Central Texas, if not well beyond there, too. First avian activity we noted wee their multiple splash baths.
The only other bath format I've seen would be dust baths, which, oddly, work pretty well, too. I suppose. I've never tried one. But watching any bird splashing water for a bath is a quick delight. My camera shoots 3 frames per second, and some few of these are immediate next frames from others. They move fast, and they move a lot of water fast.
Sometimes, it's difficult to tell what exactly is making all that splashy-splash they're shaking and splashing and twisting and turning so fast. I've deleted all the really abstracted ones, because there's just no way to tell what they are. We've watched all sorts of birds do splash baths — probably the most impressive are pelicans, whose big wings make a lot of noise and crash water all over the place, pretty much in ratio to their largish size.
But even lowly grackles make enough noise and water scatter to make it a hoot to watch.
We were busy taking easy close-ups of this and some other gulls and grackles who'd landed just a few feet away from us on the right end of the pier, when a woman with a camera excused herself and got directly between us and the birds, all of which flew away. We were upset. I don't think she ever even noticed that there were birds directly on the pier in front of us and that we were busy photographing them. She aimed her camera off toward the pelicans.
That's when we moved on down east from the pier to see what else we could get close to. Pretty good "personal" portraits of these (or this, they kept replacing each other on the pier's verticals — no fighting, just every 20 seconds or so and a new one would attempt to land, and the old one would fly off. I'm pretty sure both these were the same bird, but ya never know.
Every once in a while while we watched birds from the pier at Sunset Bay today, a pelican would fly over. No sound, a flash of shadow if we were lucky. Just suddenly they were up there. Usually looking rather large by the time we twigged they were there. Some pelks come in flying low over the water. Others flying 30-40 feet up. Kinda a spooky feeling looking up at a sense of motion up there and seeing a big old pelican swooping across the skyscape.
I like showing you all series of events. Fractions of seconds of action that, in this case for example, took less than a couple seconds. Soon as I saw it coming down — it's much easier to sight them coming in low over the water than dropping down from nowhere without warning — I started shooting. It was right here in this position when my lens finally allowed me to be in focus. It, too.
Notice the minute and overt wing shape changes as it rapidly drops down to just where it wants to stand and preen for awhile out there on the narrow peninsula now quite some ways out from the shore, where we'd settled for awhile, and about just as far from the pier.
I like its cute little, tiny orange feet hovering just a few inches from touchdown. No longer any reason to hold air in the wings.
And an always well-balanced touchdown on the left foot anyway. The right looks like it's got a half inch or so yet to go. Wings stretched out for tiny alterations of balance.
Planted again on Mother Earth, the wings come down. The other birds seem to think nothing of all this aerial extravaganza. I am always amazed how spot-on their landings are.
Maybe a month ago a handful of female scaups visited White Rock and specifically Sunset Bay. Today, we saw one. She stayed very busy, and as usual for their visits, seemed to be paying the 6-8 male scaups no attention whatsoever.
What her mind was on had to be food. Soon as she'd come up, she'd swim to position herself for another dive.
Up slightly, arc down, splash and sploosh, she was under for about a minute. Then she'd come up and do it again.
My trusty Lone Pine Birds of Texas says what they're eating down there are "seeds, plant fibers and mollusks, crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates.."
The lone female scaup was hardly the only one diving in the murky waters just out from the White Rock shore today. Coots stayed at it for a long, long time. They also eat aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, one or the other of which must have been in abundance down there after being frozen over much of the week in the coldest spell Dallas has experienced in decades.
Sometimes my luck is incredible. Other times it just isn't. If I knew ahead of time which would obtain, I could just stay home on the down days. Just I never know when they were going to hit. Today's bugaboo is exposure, which of course, affects everything, especially color. I used to set the camera for Vivid colors. I still like that, even if Nikon's Vivid and my own vivid are only distant cousins.
I am fascinated by coot's feet, and this opportunity of one walking fairly slowly across a sheet of ice in Sunset Bay seemed a great opportunity to render at least one good coot foot. So here it is.
Probably could have been flailing more. I thought I remembered them flailing in every direction, and the probably did it in several directions while I watched through the Rocket Launcher, but as shown above, they only stuck out in one direction at a time. Not sharp focus, not sure why. Plenty of light. Almost got the exposure right. I guess as long as Kestrel hang out on wires in plain sight, I'll photograph them, always hoping for something a little different, and usually realizing, it ain't gonna happen.
He's got his feathers poofed out to insulate his body against the cold. The feathers are sticking out, I think, because of the wind.
Perhaps you've noticed, I'm saving the mediocre exposures for last. While preparing these images I kept thinking they were all overexposed, but some of them aren't. Or at least I was able to save some of them. I think they are standing on ice here.
I love it when the geese come tromping up the shore knowing full well that they're hungry, and that there are people around where they're usually fed, but they are wondering if Charles will show up today. Several days this week, getting to the lake was either dangerous or impossible. Today, however, shortly after this noisy picture — they were honking and cussing and complaining and attacking each other and nervous and everything.
So much noise, you could dance to it. I was. Quite a polyrhythmic percussion they've got going when the bleat, honk, etc. It's hilarious. I had to take their picture.
This guy was just one of at least a hundred ducks and coots and gooses and whoever else showed up in Sunset Bay this evening. I watch out for those who are just a little different. I suspect this is one of the mild Muscovy hybrids I've been watching.
Most ducks waddle along in a squatted-down position. A few stand and walk and run upright. This is one of those. It has to do with which ones dive or dabble, and I should remember the details of all that, but of course I don't. At least the focus and exposure was right. Those are booted people feet in the background, counter balancing the coots at lowest right. Charles called this guy an "Indian Runner."
There's a camera I've been lusting after for several months, but it's just not readily enough available in the US yet. With it, I'll be able to look, instead of through the actual lens optically like I do with my Nikons — which doesn't show me exposure, white balance, motion-stopping or blurring. All it shows is sort of focus at the widest aperture. I have to guess at the rest. But directly at what the sensor sees.
So, instead of clicking away because optically it looks like it might be in focus, I could actually see all those aspects that the sensor sees. I would, for example, know immediately if I seriously overexposed the bird and the snow. Like here. Or if I rendered it so dark I'd have to spend tens of minutes bringing it back from the darkness in Photoshop.
I was amazed and delighted to see them, although I'd been hearing their high-pitched peeps for a minute or so before I got to the Stone Tables. It was still pretty icy when I shot these — just after noon. I parked the renta-car in the middle of the road, so I wouldn't get it stuck in the ice that had not all yet melted into the much safer variety of slush.
Killdeer are cute. Especially when I get them in focus and exposed correctly. Neither of which happened in this fairly indecisive moment. Still nice to get the swift little legs stopped in mid stride. And the front one is almost sharp. And the back one has a bit of glint off its eye that reminds us it's alive. Not a dreadful shot, but not nearly what I thought I'd be rendering when I shot it. And EVF (electronic viewfinder would have shown me all this, and I would have known to adjust stuff to make it look better.) But my Nikon doesn't have an EVF.
Better focus, but by the fact that it is pink instead of real-looking, we know J R seriously overexposed it, and there are pure white areas I could not possibly bring tone back into without making it look like I painted it there. Handsome bird, nonetheless. And video would show what they do so much better. Yeah, that cam I'm lusting for does superb video, too.
Ducks on ice.
My friend Margie suggested I look out the window today, instead of driving around on the ice. I did that, then I watched out the door, then went out on the porch and kept staring out there long enough to decide I could drive in that, so I did. Probably the most interesting activity I saw all afternoon of tiptoeing around on the icy roads was this crow.
I've been trying to photograph crows doing something interesting for months, maybe years. I'm guessing what it takes to photograph something that dark is to let it snow, and use that lovely diffuse light to brighten parts of them against the dark dark dark rest.
Sorry if this is gruesome, but after all (usually) death is an important part of life. I looked up what they usually eat in the Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas and found that they are "very opportunistic; eats carrion, small vertebrates, other birds' eggs and nestlings, berries, seeds, invertebrates and human food waste [and] visits bird feeders." So dead doves is nothing new in a crow's very varied diet.
While I clicked away at the crow and its meal, it eventually tired of digging into frozen meat and flew away, off toward Winfrey Point. I was never quite sure what it had been eating, so I put my coat on, stepped ever so carefully out across the snow — and still managed to slip and fall slightly a couple times, to check it out. I used to enjoy learning about birds from my pictures of them dead. After all, that's how Audubon himself prepared his subjects for all those amazing drawings he did. But I felt a little strange about it this time.
The Ruddies that tend to float off the shore along Arboretum Drive looked much colder than usual. I saw one of them, a male, pull his head out of its warm, downy wing feathers once for a few seconds, but I didn't get a good shot of him.
The active water surface lifted them up and troughed them down, but they rarely broke from that insular, tuck-in position that is their norm.
It only looks gloomy. Actually, I thought of it as a very positive day. A tad cold (down into the single digits where rarely get to feel around here), but lots of birds to be found and photographed. I only got stuck once, and there my renta-car (while mine's in the shop getting unbent)'s amazing turning circle saved the day. When I couldn't back up a very slight incline of solid ice overlooking the Old Boat House, I fronted out and around. Luckily, there was hardly any traffic at the lake.
Beautiful out there. The weather guys say it's cold cold, but it didn't feel that way. After the temperature goes under thirty, it all just seems cold to me. It'd be hard for me to guess how cold. Too cold, generally. But it was too lovely a day to just sit at home and stare out the window.
I am so happy to discover that most of my recent issues with exposure were truly my other camera's fault. And I've accustomed myself to my Nikon D200 after using my D300 for so very long. I've re-remembered how to do most of the little things that once were normal. And if I don't exactly remember, my fingers seem to know what to do now.
Eventually, I send the D300 back to Nikon, but then I won't have it to use, even if I know it screws up every 4th, 12th, 37th or whatever frame. It's still okay in the betweens.
I was attempting to pan along with a Black-crowned Night-Heron when the second of my camera batteries today died. If it had waited five or six more shots, I probably would have had a nice, sharp Black-crown to show here. Moments later, the third one did the same. Those batteries usually last days, but apparently not in sub-sub-zero temps. I had just been thinking of some sort of mittens for my camera when the last one bit the dust.
text and photographs copyright 2011 by J
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from and payment to
the writer or photographer.
My favorite answer is, "I don't
am, after all, an amateur.
I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for three years,
although I've been photographing professionally since 1964.
Thanks always to Anna.