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White Rock Lake
February 29 2012
For several years now, one of my main goals in life has been to photograph a Ruddy Duck whose eyes are visible. I'm not sure I've ever accomplished this before. They usually hang well out from shore in groups of up to a hundred birds, with their beaks in their feathers on their back, but this one had wondered into a bunch of reeds on the lake side of Arboretum Drive [See our White Rock Map].
Another challenge is that their dark eyes are set among dark feathers on the top of their head. So even with their heads held erect, there's often no eyes visible.
Most of the photographs I've made of these guys over the last six years have been like the next image down. I like this one, because A) the bird is not just sitting on the water — or about to or just did — dive under the water. It's doing something all birds do, repairing feathers, seaming them back together, so it can fly well. B) because even if not everything is in the sharpest focus, a lot is pretty close. C) the colors are right.
But, just to show you what it looks like with its face and body visible and largely undistorted into preening position, here' s yet another one of the usual type of image I show here of these little divers.
Close to where I found the grebe and in the very same reeds the Ruddy Duck was just outside of when I photographed him, were these two Mallards. She's on the left. He's on the right.
Both of these are guys, and they've got their beaks buried in their wing feathers folded on their backs, pretty much like Ruddy Ducks seem to nearly always do.
I thought, from recent experience, that if a gull-like bird flopped around up there then fell like a rock, it had to be a Tern. But I was wrong. I was having the usual challenge and chagrin trying to follow focus on this bird, who'd just made one of those amazing erratic turns, so I focused best I could, and at that moment realized it's not a tern, it's our usual variety of Ring-billed Gull. Playing dropsy. Drop and object, either catch it on the way down or pick it up from the water, drop it, catch or fetch it, and do it again and again and again.
Looks like burnt wood, but it could be almost anything. It's something this bird was playing Dropsy with. I wasn't able to adequately capture the action of the game, but when it held still a little too close to the pier, I got it this good, at least.
On land or out in the water, when a goose lowers its lower neck but raises its head, it is about to attack some other goose — or at least try. I missed the fuss of this one chasing several other gooses, but I got the pose. I'm not convinced they're being mean. I've see the sometimes violent aggression in other birds, too. It might have something to do with mating season.
This guy has been variously identified as a Snow Goose or a White-Morph Ross's Goose, which have warted beaks, although this one's is smooth, so I'm believing it's the former — a Snow Goose.
We're in Sunset Bay now, and this was a goose I have not seen before. I don't pay as much attention to white gooses as The Bird Squad does. They assign names and know individual goose's proclivities and usefulness (if any). But the black lips and wingtip seemed new and different, so I photographed it. Most of our gooses are farm animals. I don't know who this one is.
I still love photographing American White Pelicans as they fly back to Sunset Bay after they've done some fishing elsewhere at the lake. I've been playing with my old camera and my new camera, trying to figure out which does a better job with focus and which with exposure. This lens — my Shillelagh (pronounced "shill lay lee." has an effective focal length of 900 mm, although I'm not convinced I believe in effective focal lengths. If you don't, either, it's still a 600mm lens with a smaller sensor.
This one was coming in fast, and I and my camera did not acquire sharp focus until it was way closer than just filling the frame.
I rarely know why any pelicans is doing whatever it's doing, and I do not know why this one's beak was under water, but I have often seen and photographed them with water dripping off the end of their beak, so this must be how they get that effect.
This is not a one-legged pelican. Very probably, this is the other side view of a pelican standing up on one leg, so it can use the other leg to scratch its head or something else that itches.
After dinner we wound around the west side of the lake, because while I don't mind all that much going to Sunset Bay every day, I draw the line at going there twice in one day. I know it's better for me and for the variety of birds I can photograph if I do not go to the same place every time. But there are few places on earth that I like as much as I do the pier at Sunset Bay, even if I am not packing a camera. So I insisted we go somewhere else, and Anna chose the west side and when we were driving out of the extensive Parrot Bay parking lot, I noticed a wild, avian din coming from the north shore among the weeds just past the porto-lets there.
I pulled The Slider along the edge of the road, and Anna recorded the wild squawking, peeping and general loudness of the place as I attempted to photograph the Red-winged Blackbirds who were making most of the noise. Later in the summer, that same place will be even louder with the sounds of bugs. Really amazing loud.
All that fluffy white wing-top feather detail is the stuff that I almost always missed with my old blunderbuss lens, but the new Shillelagh (I love that name for my new lens. Essentially, it's Irish for a short club or cudgel, which is what I've been calling it, although it's a great deal better than any club. I only wish I could remember how to spell it.) renders such incredible detail. Obviously, I was way too close to this bird to expect the sort of shot I wanted, but this is what I got, and I'm liking it.
Less detail, except in the splash kicked up by this pelican in the process of moving off from inner Sunset Bay to out in the middle of the lake to join another one of those fishing flotillas I so dearly love to photograph up close. The Shillelagh with the 2X tele-extender I've left on it for a couple weeks was a bit too long for most of the shooting I did today, but I really need to learn how to use it, so it'll probably stay awhile — even if it's 11 ounces I could shed easily enough. Except then it's only a 300mm lens instead of a 600.
Yesterday I couldn't get the time of day from a flying pelican (except once). Today I photographed about a dozen of them, all leaving and flying out thataway.
This is actually one of the best, classic photographs I shot today. Unlike too many others — I'm only relearning how to use a camera that got back from three months at the Nikon Fixit and before that its shutter had destroyed itself. Thom Hogan probably would sell me a manual for using the D300 like he did for my newer D7000, but Ken Rockwell has a D300 manual I already paid for, so I've been using it. Every day I fix something else in the menus.
Today's latest settings helped some. Tonight I figured some others that might help me out tomorrow. I keep working at it, and I keep learning. Nice the way that works out sometimes.
The big white birds are pelicans. In the air, they usually show their black wingtips. Maybe calling it the middle of the lake is incorrect. It looks more like it's closer to the far shore. Watching, and attempting to photograph the pelicans peel off toward there this afternoon, I wondered how they knew to leave just then. Then I followed some across the lake with the Shillelagh and saw what their keen eyes probably already saw, the fishing flotilla swimming and flying into view. Duh.
Either I got too close to this Great Egret — it does look pretty good, doesn't it — in the shallows over by the Hidden Creek Woods across from inner Sunset Bay. Or it had got its fill of fishes and was heading home for the evening. I shot several times, and even got some shots in focus, but this was the only one I got that shows its face and feet.
I also too the quick challenge of photographing the occasional mallard flying by.
Or landing. I couldn't have got this in focus yesterday or the day before. I know, because I tried. This time, today, it worked. If it's not snowing tomorrow, I'll try it again. My latest menu settings might just get that tad extra of focus that this bird's face needs.
But my challenge left over from yesterday was an erattic-flying Forster's Tern, and today I got several of it very close to being in focus. I don't know why they turned out brownish like an old photo, although there were more clouds than sky, and that often does it.
Before I got this shot down to size for this web page, I could see sparkle in its eye, even though it was facing away. At this size, however, the sparkle is gone, and all we got is Olde Timey Brown almost everything except for those exceptionally orange legs and feet. Oh, well …
As usual in winter here, there were way too many gulls — up to their usuals. Stealing food from coots and picking fights, dropping stuff, either catching it on the way down or not quite or carrying something bigger than they could carry. But in all that mess of white and gray were a couple terns, eminently distinguishable, because they flew erratically. Gulls are easy to pan along with. Today's Terns flew like riding a pogo stick on a roller coaster, very difficult for me to follow or focus.
Although I did get a few.
But this was the easiest of the bunch. I thought there was only one, but now I see this is another bird. I'm not very good at identifying terns any better than all those other birds, but this is my best guest.
Sometimes what I was interested in those few seconds was close up.
I saw them pick up and inevitably drop a lot of objects, but I never saw any other them catch it dropping down, although they tried.
But most of today's shooting was attempting to fit that humongous lens around what little I could fit into it. Except faraway birds. Those close were generally too close.
This, of course, was too good to pass up. Color in black & white.
Though sometimes it was just silly.
What I was waiting and constantly watching for were incoming pelicans. I'd seen a flotilla of them, cormorants and gulls out in the lake somewhere between the Arboretum and the Old Pump House, but all the time I waited on the pier in Sunset Bay, only one pelican flew in. The fin-like protrusion up from pelican beaks shows this bird to be an adult breeding pelicans. It does not indicate gender.
But there was a log full of them just off the pier.
One of the treats of hanging out on the pier at Sunset Bay so much — not many places I'd rather be — is that I get to know the locals. This is one of the bunch of what we called "Black Ducks," because they used to be black when a women left them off at the lake.
They slowly turned colors — and shape, and in the last couple months, some of their heads have turned bright green, like adult male mallards. We've often seen young mallards grow from furry young quickly into brown, patterned juveniles, then into adult Mallards, who are the usual source of all duckly mutations.
The Fort Worth Drying Beds in Arlington, Texas
February 24 2012
I'm beat, so I'll post a few of my favorite shots from today, then come back tomorrow after I've had some much-needed beauty sleep and maybe add a few more shots from today and a few days ago that I still like. I realize that if I called every hawk-like bird I ever saw a Red-tailed Hawk, I'd still be right more often than not, but I have my doubts about this white-tailed bird. Still, it matches up to the usual specifications for the usual suspects and looks enough like the pictures in three separate bird ID books that I'm calling it one despite my misgivings, but as usual, I wouldn't be surprised if someone else said it were something else. Let me know, and I'll change the text. But I love this photograph, more than I probably should.
I realize this is not an absolutely great shot of this fast-moving bird, but that I got it in focus at all is a minor miracle, and this is the first harrier we've ever seen, so we're counting ourselves lucky.
It took a while to get this bird in a semblance of focus as I was turned uncomfortably around almost backwards photographing out my driver's window on The Slider and my Nikon D7000 was being recalcitrant about focusing on anything, although just before this particular jump, it did finally manage to focus on the compost pile this harrier has just jumped off of into the sky.
It was intent on getting away from that white car full of people pointing long black tubes at it, so it flew away rapidly, and I was again lucky to get it in this good focus, although the lens, at least, is capable of doing much better than this. It didn't help that, while handling it normally, I kept moving the dials on the outside of the camera and access to menus on the inside were much less readily available. Of course, I wasn't handling it as delicately as it seemed today to need. But, boy! am I glad to have these three shots.
As killdeer go, they don't go all that fast, but they do go loud and flappy, so I'm mostly pleased I got this one, if only to remind me that my camera and lens can focus birds, if I hold it real still and aim it in the right direction. I had a lot of issues with aiming it today, but maybe tomorrow I won't. Pretty bird — and sharp.
I always want to call them a pair, but I really don't know these birds or how they've been relating lately, and I didn't pry, so we'll just leave it at that. Two of them. The only two we saw, so they are at least crossing state lines, but what they have done or plan is beyond my ken. I just love seeing and photographing them.
Fact is, my exposures weren't all that terrific, either. And it didn't help that I kept molesting the dial that might have helped that more if I hadn't kept sliding my thumb over it, but these are Ruddy Ducks and I'm not sure who that is on the far left sure looks familiar. I kept calling it a Gadwall, but then decided it didn't come close enough to the image in whichever bird book I picked up first. Now, however, I think it is a Gadwall, so that's what I'm calling it for now.
Thing about Ruddy Ducks is that at White Rock Lake, they almost always have their beaks turned back behind them and fluffed into the wing feathers folded back there, so having these fresh birds flaunting their faces was irresistible today.
We'll end today's foray into the Drying Beds with this photograph of Great Blue Herons standing next in the tall trees on the far side of the swamp that's nearly taken over the area on the left as we came down the entrance straightaway. They look close in this very long telephoto image, but they'll be a longish trek, maybe through some mud, to get back close enough to be closer than this and render more detail — and for me to actually be able to see what I'm documenting them doing. But that that, too, will be for another day.
I think the GBH on the left has its beak
in and under feathers or wing doing preening or just hiding. I suspect it does
actually have a head, we just can't see it.
White Rock Lake
Could not get him to turn around and show his face and bright eyes. Not that I talked to him. I was quiet, although if he had turned around at any point — except at the end, when he did — he would have seen me pretty easily. I'm the one hovering down there aiming The Club up at him. Biggest trouble was that he stayed in the dark undershadow of that tree, which I've considerably brightened here
He was way too busy eating to even notice me down there. He held still often, but this was the only shot I got in focus when he was showing full profile. I'd been hoping to find a woodpecker to photo with The Club. But I was kinda hoping to catch that glint on his dark eyes.
Twice, I think, today, I photographed ducks flying by. They were, generally in focus but not very interesting visually. But this one was all of those things. I just shoot at them out of habit, really. A little adventure / experiment, never really expecting anything, just something I do. Then this — wow. The full-size version is even sharper. Amazing lens.
And by the time I actually got a bead on it, it was about to disappear into the woods. I miss seeing "the Bay Gray" in Sunset Bay. This was shot from the Dreyfuss side of the bay.
Usually, when gulls gather like this, they are mobbing some goofy humans who are feeding them un-nutritious white bread, but these guys are after something in the water. I've seen a couple of them flying off hauling a large fish. Although I didn't see any of these guys picking up anything bigger than their beaks.
I keep hoping that somehow I will be able to photograph "the inner log" in Sunset Bay from another view. The view from the pier is slightly different, and I've shot at it from back on the pier, but this, finally, is it. Troubles is there's not much details. Just white blobs of pelican on the log itself, and gray and white and brown gooses beyond, back with the woman feeding something to someone.
The biggest challenge photographing this little guy was the fact that it was very small, well up into a tree that had hundreds of intervening branches that usually stayed in my way as I attempted to photograph it. Miracle of miracles, however, I knew who he was soon as I got him big on my monitor. Before that, in the field, he was just some tiny little bird in the forest of branches up there that mostly refused to be focused and turning himself nearly inside-out and upside-down.
Of course, I thought both of these titmice (tit-mouses?) were the same bird, but unless they changed head markings and hairdo mid tree-hopping, I don't think so. If I am reading Sibley's correctly, there's a Mexican variety and a Northern variety. Northern meaning United Statesian, I suppose. There doesn't appear to be a Mexican Titmouse in Peterson, although there's a Bridled Titmouse with somewhat different facial markings, although it maps to southern Arizona, New Mexico and down into Northern Mexico. This one, fairly obviously, lives in Texas at the moment.
I believe this is the same bird as the shot immediately above. Looking very much like what Peterson calls a Tufted Titmouse. I like it when authorities disagree. Probably happens more often than we think. Maybe nobody really agrees. I was happier when I assumed this was the female of the pair hopping around that tree. Interesting turn on my usual inability to identify anything, huh?
It was a treat to photograph little birds, for a change. All because I did not want to go back to Sunset Bay again today.
Quite a chase. This one did not just stay in mostly the same place like the woodpecker, it hopped and flew and tumbled and hung upside-down and nearly tied itself in knots. My Lone Pine Birds of Texas calls these acrobatics, "amusing feeding antics and insatiable appetite," and I'd have to agree. I was amused and challenged.
This one only held this still once. The rest of the time, it very busy moving and tree-hopping and getting involved.
No sense making a big "Lake Ray Hubbard" banner over this, although I might still. We were there in hopes of seeing a Snowy Owl, but it had been on Channels 4 and 5 the day before, and there were a smallish mob of birders from all over there also hoping to see it. It wasn't to be seen by any of us that day or the next.
In addition to a bunch of mallards, there were two gooses. A gray, I believe, and this goose, who spent a great deal of its time and energy viciously biting the gray.
Here's some video shot of our local visit
by the Snowy Owl, and an interesting page on a Snowy
Owl vs. a Peregrine Falcon. We talked to some Lake Ray Hubbard residents
while wandering around looking for the owl anywhere else on but where all the
other photogs were gathered, we learned that up to three Snowy Owls had been
seen in the area. But not photographed. I would have loved to have photographed
her, but there are other interesting birds around the area.
I still have a pile of pelican pictures to show, but Friday I took off from swimming to do a few errands, some of which took me right by the lake, and since I was packing [you know, I must come up with a better and more descriptive name for this longish telephoto I've been packing than] the club.
Although I saw her three different times during my wide circle walk around the Winfrey Building on top of Winfrey Point today, I never once got her very close. My sharp new lens blows up birds pretty good, so we see lots of details hitherto unknown to this photographer, who is still in the very early stage of figuring out what he can do with this lens.
Several times today — and for the first time in years, really — I began to seriously consider the benefits of a light, portable, yet sturdy tripod. In bright light, I can usually depend on a low-enough ISO but plenty of light. Today, under cloudy gray skies, I could not. A couple times I braced myself on a nearby tree, and for the last couple days, I've been resting the kaboodle on a handy trash can or picnic table, but as many of those as there are at the lake, there's not always one where I want it when I need it. So I've been entertaining tripod dreams.
This is a large enlargement of the image I shot just before I shot this image — at pretty much the same angle and the same magnification, although the kestrel moved. Nice that the lens doesn't noise-up feathers like it does extended areas of metal and sometimes sky, but still this is a startling good blow-up of a bird that far up and away. I'd seen it much closer, perched on one of the short fences around the baseball field these lights illuminate at night, but I couldn't stop and get out of my car, and when I slid The Slider into a shallow ditch, this kestrel took off for the light towers.
I could not see the bird with my bare eyes this time. I could only see a blur up there. I always look for motion more than birds. If I have my glasses on, I can see pretty well at a distance. They're a great help when I'm driving. But if I have my glasses on, I cannot aim or focus my camera, which is a major drawback I am stuck with. I can look at the optical viewfinder, but not really put it to good use. Part of why I need a long telephoto lens, I guess.
I still like to put what I momentarily think of as the best shot of the bunch on the top of the page, but there's so little difference between that and this, I felt I should separate them, and now I think that only makes it more difficult. We can almost see the bug, and we can almost see the kestrel's beak, into which she is about to put the bug. But it's the tree limb the lens saw this time, so it's sharp, but she is not quite.
Most of the time, from where I was, at considerable distance from the Kestrel, I could not really tell what she was up to — or even that she was a she. That these shots show her eating a bug is pure lucky happenstance. I shot a lot of shots of her, sometimes blurry, mostly in-focus, but often her head is facing the other direction. I just kept shooting and hoping something would work out. It often does. But not always.
I was hoping to catch somebody flitting in the trees down the hill from the parking lot behind the Winfrey Building, but I couldn't see them to even aim at them, although there was a lot of twittering and tweeting coming from those big bushy trees.
Later, somewhere else around the lake, I found some crows, and since the sky was so dark, I knew it would be a good time to capture some of their usually too-dark bits, like their eyes and the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins.
Not sure there's enough difference between these two to show them both, but I think I just did.
Then, of course, with me getting it in remarkable focus for me getting a crow, it flew off. They all did.
As readers can guess by now, I am eternally fascinated by American White Pelicans. You've also noticed I tend to take the same photographs of these amazing birds over and over again. Part of it's because I can't help myself. They come flying in like they do, and I'm glued to the shutter button. Clickity-click. I never know quite what I can expect or get, so I just keep shooting. My Nikon D7000 doesn't allow more than 12 shots in rapid succession — sometimes no more than three. I don't know why three, but I know why 12 (It has to do with having a very small buffer. Shots come in, there's not room for more, so the camera stops while it thinks about those already in). Lately, I've taken to taking as few shots as possible and to pick my moments.
But with a digital SLR camera, what I see is never precisely what I get. In fact, what I see has pretty much already happened, and milliseconds after I push the button is when the picture is taken, and in those fractions of a second I don't see anything. It's quick enough I hardly notice that when the shutter actually opened and exposed the sensor, thus creating the image, the mirror is up, and my view disappears for that fraction of a second, then it flips back, and I can see.
Here's one of the great things about that
lens — and one of the issues involved in not getting to see exactly what's
being shot in a fast-moving situation. I would have far preferred not to have
that swimming pelican growing out of this flying pelk's breast. Nice there's
that slight bit of halo lighting along the bottom of the flying bird, and I would
have liked to see the entire bird, toes, wingtips and all. But I can't always
get what I want.
Essentially, I have to hope that what I see
when I decide to click, is pretty close to what I actually capture when I do
click. Experience counts and thinking ahead may help. But of course, the bird
or birds, go a few more inches, flap up or down or in between, etc, pass something
else on the ground or surface. So I only get what I didn't see, which means I
just hope something visually interesting comes of it. I can't really pick my
visual juxtapositions or composition, except in a hopish way. I'm lucky if I
get or keep focus for fast-moving action.
I've attempted this comparison of pelican wingspans previously, and I'll probably keep at it well into the future. The fact is, like some high-tech fighter jets, American White Pelicans can actually alter the shape and length of their wings as they fly. When they need more control, they make their wings longer, holding more air, which their experience has taught them how to control. The pelican landing with its short wings up, one image up, may not be the same bird, but all these birds can alter the shape of their wings minutely as they fly along. And I find that fascinating.
Same bird, neighboring seconds, wings flapping up, still very low to the ground and flying fast. Not about to "land," or its landing gear would be down. Just taking careful advantage of the "ground effect," which I've discussed previously — fly very low and there's much less air resistance to slow you down. It looks to me like this bird is not only varying the length of its wings plural, but making its left wing shorter than its right wing.
They like to do things together, whether that's sitting on a log preening, swimming for fish Esther Williams synchronized-swimming style or flying. Since I'm learning how to use my new lens, I've kept it at the full 600mm extension all this week and some of last, even if that makes it 11 ounces heavier. At 300mm it's a nice lens — actually it's a fabulous lens, but I have other lenses that are that long. In fact, I have another 600mm lens too, but the camera that uses it, won't focus fast enough to make images like these. And that other 600mm lens is only just that. This is actually — if you believe in 35mm equivalences, and I have finally come down on the side of definitely not believing it — a 900mm lens. And I don't have anything else that's close.
What I was going to say before I got lost in equivalencies and shutter blindnesses, was that I tried today, to show only photographs that I haven't shown here before. And with my favorite White Rock subjects, that's extremely difficult and unlikely, because I'd rather photograph anything a pelican wants to do than almost any other bird. It helps that I get to do it in my favorite spot in the universe — the pitching and yawing (thanks to the big flood of a couple weeks ago) pier at Sunset Bay.
I'm finally over the urge to "zoom" in a little when I'm using this lens. It don't zoom. It just is. But I didn't think of that fact as a handicap. Just a way to see differently, and for a photographer who has photographed pelicans for many years, that's a blessing. If I can't shoot better, at least I can shoot closer …
Sometimes maybe a little too close. And nearly no detail, but there are areas of interest exposed here. Love that distorted lower mandible with its veins showing.
February 16 2012
Over there near the shore at that little inlet where the creek comes into the lake. Not a big creek, just a little crack of a creek. Never figured out what the fuss was about. Ya' hear a bunch of gooses honking, and I mostly ignore it, 'cause that's what gooses do, but when I looked up and saw gooses awry and splashing, well something was going on, no telling what.
These are fairly rapid-succession clickity-click shots, obviously, now, hours later, whatever's splashing is off to the left, but I'm shooting goose reactions, not having found anything that far away that looked like cause, only effect. Splashy, splash.
Gooses are always getting into one ruckus or another. They tend to mind other birds own business as a way of life. Two ducks having the strange, wild, push-the-female-under-the-water kind of sex they have, and the gooses will be all over the scene trying to break it up, as if only they get to cause any serious ruckuses around here. Gooses seem to think they are the interceders of everybody else's business, but nobody's big enough or well, busybody enough to get in on theirs.
So after not very long, humans tend to ignore them..
But something's got the gooses in alarm mode, in their wing-flapping, tongue wagging hissy fit mode like only gooses can do.
They were even quiet for a long time after that.
Oodles of pelican pix tomorrow, I promise, but sometimes I just gotta do something besides pelks.
As a general rule — and we all know what rules are best for — I don't photograph gulls very often. I'm not a fan of them. I love coots, and gulls are often horrible to coots — stealing their food, picking useless fights with them, and injuring them. Today, I watched as just such a Ring-billed Gull (our usual sort) dropped a black stick on top of one — though I'm not sure the gull did it on purpose. It missed.
But sometimes, like when they are doing incomprehensible things, like these sequences illustrate, I just have to tune in.
I don't think this gull is the same gull or with the same stick as the gull above, but it is the same gull with the same stick predilections as the ones that follow, although this stick does not seem like the same stick. Maybe which stick doesn't matter to this or other gulls this afternoon.
This was hardly the only gull playing the drop the stick and pick it up again game this lovely warm afternoon in Sunset Bay.
Gull without one, seeks stick, and it seems to know right where it can find one.
And when it has it, it flies up and away with its stick.
Then drops it again, and flies down to the surface …
Picks it up again — well, by now you know how the game is played.
My next half dozen images are out of focus. One of the games I was playing today had to do with focus settings. I was never completely satisfied with how the D7000 was acting and reacting with regard to focus, but a lot of the more than four hundred shots today had to do with pelicans, and I just wanted to show you a little something else for a change.
Tomorrow, I might show you some of the goose shots I made today. And after that, I will be chomping at the bit to show the better shots I made of pelicans, who are, of course, the reason I keep going back to Sunset Bay.
I wanted to try the 300mm today, because it's 11 ounces lighter and easier to aim. Instead, I brought the full kaboodle all the way out to 600mm. I'm not going to learn it by not taking it out to play, and I need to learn in. For this shot, I'm standing on the shore, just east of the Garland Road Bridge, just onto East Lawther from Garland Road. I don't think there are any people in this shot. Those are all birds.
Or so it seems. Probably it was more like several hundred little black, snake birds to each large white pelican with a bright orange bill. I saw the fishing party come close to the Garland Bridge, parked in the first legal spot, and walked very fast (almost like running) back to where the fishing party was dispersing away from toward the dam side of the lake.
Going away faster than I could move in closer.
Once they ever-so-slowly escaped my immediate vicinity, they joined together along the rise up to Garland Road, herding fishes only they could see, info the weeded shore.
Into the shore, then out along the road.
Eventually all going in the same direction, in parallel.
Briefly. Then goes again the multi-directional wind over the water.
I'd hoisted The Club and aimed at some ducks I hoped were Gadwalls, and I was holding the lens in place till the birds arranged themselves close together, so each bird would be comparatively large in the frame, and neither one riding in its own shadow, so it wouldn't be rendered utterly black.
Then wait as they turn and scoot around in the cold water, till they parallel each other and show off their colors and patterns. Holding the Club just so is a chore, but it's probably the best exorcize I can perform, so I can hold it even longer the next time. Not a bad shot.
Decent composition made almost extraordinary by that coot who wandered through.
Enlarged even more, this feathery clot of pelican clouds kept their eyes out for intruders.
And around the lake, behind the Bath House
Cultural Center, Cormorants and maybe a grackle or gull or two, perched on the
rusting poles that once comprised 3-D art.
February 10 2012
Carting the lead weight 600mm lens and extender around reminds me to not do that to myself again, but getting the pictures back reminds me to "Oh, go ahead. It's heavy, but OMG the images that are provided."
These shots are just what I had in mind when I bought a lens that could be doubled but still remain sharp, and I love the doubling.
In fact, these 600mm lens shots offer a new perspective and a new beauty. Yuma!
I may be settling into chunking the Club around with me just for these sorts of long perspective photographs.
I like the looking and the seeing. So I've got my mind around the chore of lifting and holding it steady. I just haven't got my muscles around it yet.
Though when I do manage to manage the muscles, the resulting images are amazing. It seems to help that today, I used my Nikon D7000, whose own peculiar focus trips sometimes drive me toward insanity, but it actually does seem to be a better camera overall, than my comparatively inexpensively revived and resurrected D300.
It's a perspective I've long longed for. Now I have to learn how to heft it and use it better for artistic purposes.
Driving by this mess close is ugly. Photographing it from across the lake is ugly. The Arboretum, long known for its beauty, is just pain (!) ugly, ugly, ugly these days. Put our bamboo curtain back up, City of Dallas. Please. For The Love of The Lake (FTLOTL) tries to keep the lake free of portable toilets, which we diabetics find helpful and necessary, but what have they done about this egregious eye- and ear-sore?
Really, too far to photograph a line of cormorants, but just close enough to render a yacht club.
I've been hoping and trying to photograph
Grackles flying for years now. So did it take a long telephoto lens to accomplish
this task or quick responses? Well, I was trying to photograph one just standing
there, when it jumped. So the telephoto lens in question was all set to photograph
one standing, and it was my slow response accomplished it.
Today's images are all about focus and an elderly camera. Sure, I got a newer one, but this is me trying to prove to myself that my elderly Nikon D300 (not only no longer made or sold, but since supplanted by a newer model that may itself go out of manufacture pretty soon. In fact, I've been waiting for the model (D400) that (I hope) will follow that one (D300S).
Meanwhile, my nearly four-year-old D300 just got back from three months (the usual span) in an official Nikon repair facility in Mellville, New York and cost me [insert smiley face here] $224 to have a bunch of major and minor parts replaced, including the shutter and aperture mechanisms and its external rubber skin — well more than a year after I gave it up for dead.
More info on my D7k Journal about learning that camera.
I've been wondering and engaging in conjecture about whether it was worth it to have replaced my dead D300 camera with the D7000 last October, after Nikon endured a long enough string of bad luck (nuclear fallout near the factory in Japan and inundating floods near their factories in Thailand) to keep the D400 from being built. So now that I've got both the D7000 (generally considered an enthusiastic amateur's camera) and my resurrected D300 (semi-pro), I've been testing them against each other.
They both have their superiorities and their failings. The d7k (D7000) has lousy battery life but you can leave it on and it won't wear out the battery, whereas the D300 has fabulous battery life — if one remembers to turn the darned thing off. I relearned that today after shooting these wonderful pelican and gull pix. The d7k only shoots 12 rapid-fire shots then pauses while it catches up. The D300 shoots and shoots and shoots, I think I remember.
Etc. Et cetera Et cetera. Ad infinitum. So I've been mostly shooting the same old birds, but I've been having a lot more fun doing it, and I'm reluctant to try a lot of the same things on my d7k, because I've been waiting three months for it to come back from the shop, and before that I'd given it up for dead. I want to play with my old toy for awhile.
But then I start missing my d7k. If you want more of this nonsense, tune into my d7k Journal, while I get back to the birds.
I'll save the few other sharp-looking pelican pictures from this morning for later. What I want to show now, is something I haven't done much photographing of lately. I think this is a Ring-billed Gull. That would be our usual variety. I've just taken my Sibley Guide to Birds, which I usually don't use much, because the Peterson's Field Guide to Birds has bigger pictures and except for the index at the end, which I always stumble over the several other indices to find,
Sibley's images are smaller and less colorful,
but usually show more varieties. [… pause … while I page through
that book] But nope, none of those look like the fluffy white one, either. Personally,
I'd love for any of these to be a Black-legged Kittiwake, if only because I'm
wondering how, exactly, that species is pronounced, and once I know that, it'd
be fun saying it.
I keep being amazed at the image quality (IQ) of my new lens. Sharp and contrasty from a third of the way across the lake.
Maybe because all those dark Double-crested Cormorants are so close together in today's fishing party, this full view doesn't seem as sharp, but it would print well in a print 30 or 40 inches wide, if I were so inclined. I'm not. I'd much rather show my images online. Prints cost way too much.
Cormorants have the distinct advantage of being able to dive down beneath the surface to catch their daily fish. Pelicans have to reach and drag their stretchable lower mandible (lower jaw). Unlike the Brown Pelicans usually found along the coast, American White Pelicans don't dive, and they certainly do not dive from great height as if they were Kamikaze pilots.
I kept circling Arboretum Drive (See my map of White Rock Lake) to catch more views of this party, when it looked like these might have been the only birds I'd see in today's gray gray landscape.
But it turned out that, as I explored the lake more extensively on this cold, February day, I saw more and more and more species. Hooray!
If you want to photograph a crow, the best way is to wait for a gray day. In sunlight, they're deep, dark, black, sometimes even a little iridescent. But on a day like today, they show their secret details loud and clear.
It wasn't invisible to me; I saw it several times. Just it stayed behind a lot of brambly trees and branches whenever I aimed the Club at it. Or it blurred when I thought I'd get a quick, motion-stopping shot of it. My newer Nikon D7000 lets me set it so the camera decides what ISO it needs to set in order to stop the action. My elderly Nikon D300, which I finally got back from Nikon's fixit yesterday, does not. I have to decide before shooting just how high the ISO should be, and when the camera and lens is faced with a difficult exposing situation, it's up to me to have had the foresight to have included this possibility. Which I did not do.
I don't know Brown Pelicans well enough — only seen them on several trips down to the South Texas Coast — to know if they stretch their lower mandibles, too. They must. They catch fish with them, usually under water. Keeping those portions of their anatomy is one of the more important things American White Pelicans do, repeatedly
I could hear these guys braying like donkeys when I turned into the Old Boat House loop this morning. Yes I was up that early. And as I moved gingerly across the bridge, they stayed right where they were, didn't even stop croaking.
Which meant I could get about as close as I cared to to some cormorants. Luckily the wires they were on were not directly overhead. So I got about as much detail in them as is visible in their dark coats.
My Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas says they are "generally quiet away from breeding colonies," so that must be what these corms were hanging around over the old Boat House's new wooden bridge for today. It is almost spring, and many birds think this is spring, and it just gets warmer later in the season. They probably don't acknowledge calendars.
Lots of wires crisscross the area around the Old Boathouse and its newish wooden bridge. This is yet another example of just how sharp my new lens is, especially compared with my old, nearly retired (What shall I do with the) Rocket Launcher that zoomed longer but never had a chance to be this sharp or contrasty.
At least I think that's the correct spelling. I'm about as good a speller as I am a bird-identifier. Offshoot of the ubiquitous and opportunistic Mallards and somebody, these ducks have cute little poofy crowns on their heads, although this one's is down at the moment. I think he's sleeping, feet up and tail curly. Many of today's shots are seriously cropped. This is nearly full frame, thus that creamy smooth rendering by a lens I'm trying not to call The Club, even though it's still a little too heavy for me, even without the 2X telextender that closes it down two more stops, so I rarely bring it with, on gray days like this.
Something's telling me this is a hen, not a drake, but I'm rarely sure except when their bouffant, and that may really shine in the coming spring. Most Muscovies are shaped pretty much like this lump of duck. They look and waddle like gooses, and when they get into the air — yes, they can actually get all that girth off the ground — they sound like a wheezing freight train, but they are definitely ducks.
On retrospect, I am surprised just how many different bird species were gathered around the Old Boathouse today.
Surprisingly close, although when she saw me watching her, she swam away, though not directly, and not quickly.
Today's real startlement, however, was, not this female. She's a regular, ordinary, female Mallard.
I assumed she — if indeed she is a she —
was a female mallard till I got these images up on the monitor, and then I realized,
"That's not no female Mallard, J R. Who is this?" I tried looking her up in some
bird books, but I did not find anything that looked like this. I only got one
shot of her face, and even that from the back. Her beak, like her feet are, is
Downtown Dallas, Texas, USA
February 6 2012
I hadn't really planned to photograph birds in downtown Dallas, although it was a ripe possibility all along. But once I was there, birds, as almost always, were inevitable. They're everywhere. They're everywhere! Then when I saw the pigeon fright a little later, I was happy to be right where I was, although a little closer, and I might have figured out quicker what was going on right before my eyes.
These guys fought about the Cheetos bag, taking turns, almost, pecking at it. In the end, one grackle got one Cheeto, and the rest flew away.
I'd long heard that falcons nested in the tall buildings downtown, and of course I knew the movied story of Pale Male in New York City's Central Park, but I hadn't actually seen any in downtown Dallas. And if I had been looking for one this time, I might have missed this Red-tailed Hawk flying over the West Side of downtown.
Normally, I tend to agree with many people's assessment of pigeons as not altogether smart and their reputation for being "flying rats." Downtown is full of them, however, and it would be hard not to notice them.
I didn't notice the bird, who had been farther left on that ledge, till after I sighted tis free-standing ladder on a ledge somewhere.
And I didn't see these little guys till I'd posted this picture among my other downtown abstracts on another web page somewhere.
Then when I saw these pigeons frantically flying left and right and left and right behind a building I was photographing, I couldn't help but pan along with them past the sliver of free-flight space between the tall buildings. I know pigeons fly around whenever they get nervous about where they are, so they can figure out where to go next, but these seemed just a hair too harried, but I had not yet a clue why.
Flying every which-a-way, up, down, sideways and around. Pigeon panic.
At least I think that might be a hawk approximately slightly high and in the centr of the knot of six birds in the lower central portion of this image.
I couldn't see the hawk most of the frenzied back-and-forth of pigeons, but I eventually picked it out.
And then, of course, it flew away. I'll be back downtown for more photographs, so I'll have my eyes peeled for more, non-pigeon birds.
White Rock Lake, Dallas, Texas, USA
February 3 2012
The second biggest drawback of having a sharp 600mm telephoto lens is that sometimes it's just a little — or a lot — too powerful. The first big drawback is that it's so heavy and difficult to wrangle. But the images from it can be amazing. This, I think, approaches both conditions.
I liked this one every run-through I did, just thought it wouldn't work here, because, well, we can't see its wingtips. Now I just don't care. Love the back-lighted and glowing tail feathers. Someday I'm going to have to watch those carefully during flights, to see if, like feet, they do a lot for bird flight stabilization.
At first, I didn't like this shot. On my third run-through, however, I started thinking, hey, this might be worth posting. Maybe.
I followed this pelican in from way out. I managed to keep it in the frame almost all the way in, but never quite catching focus on it, but follow, follow. I wasn't on the pier, or I would have had a clear shot. I was on solid ground behind some weeds, trees, people and other obstructions. I finally managed full focus when it had touched down and was skidding in for a stop. But I need the practice.
The pier is no longer stable. I'm worried a crowd is going to be out there rocking and rolling, and it's going to tumble into the shallow dreck of all rotting that white bread and sugared pastry, getting everybody wet and probably hurting some of them. The pier at Sunset Bay's twists and turns change almost every day lately.
It's not unexpected, since I've broken me in on a few other telephoto lenses over the years, and I expect this one might take even longer, because it's heavier and more difficult to handle. But eventually, I hope to be able to find little dots of birds high in the sky, pull them into sharp focus and capture them that way. These shots are the results of keeping trying without usually succeeding. They'd bob in and out of focus up there like a turtle playing with a fisherperson's float.
These guys were much easier to focus on, probably because they're all over the place. The pelicans above kept totally blurring out till the view looked just like all the other sky up there, then they'd unblur back into a semblance of sharpness, then blur out again while I struggled to hold the heavy thing up and get something in focus.
This one worked out pretty good. I'd like to have had more darkness behind and more detail under those wings, but photography is always a compromise or two or …
It's hard to discern since the telephoto tends to make depth look compressed, but this wing-flapping pelican did the usual five or six hops on the water before it finally got up into the air.
It's always a surprise to me when I can follow a sequence of action
So it flew over the rest of the fishing party, landed toward the front middle of it,
But when it landed, it didn't catch any fish,
but at least it was closer to the front of the pack.
So I took the longer version of the lens today. For some things, it's great and wonderful and amazing …
Like these two pelicans sharing a space well out into Sunset Bay.
Or getting a little closer and more detailed with pelicans, cormorants and the occasional gull well out across the lake.
But especially when the fishing party comes a little closer — only halfway across the lake — so we can get a little better understanding of what all is going on out there. These guys are all up in arms — or wings — about finding them some fish. Kinda the whole purpose in being in a fishing party.
Well, maybe. Sometimes I just stare and stare, and I can't figure out much. It must be a situation of coalescing understandings and time spent.
Twenty of the 38 American White Pelicans I counted in this day's fishing party. A guy came up to me on the pier at Sunset Bay the other day, insisting that there were only 35 pelicans in the bay at any time. I told him I had counted up to 70 there.
As you can see, when I'm behind the camera I tend to focus on birds taking off and sometimes landing, because I didn't see many fishes out there, just a lot of fishing action.
Although that must be what's going on amid all the splashing and thrashing in this shot. I hope it got it, but I don't know.
More Fishing Party action.
Nice to have a 600mm lens when some birds this interesting skirt the perimeter.
But we've seen them — if not this exact same bird — plenty before. Canadian Gooses seem to like Sunset Bay, and they often hang out with the more-or-less domestic gooses that live their year-round.
Big, built like our regular gooses but with a slightly different head and neck shape and color configuration, these distinctive birds are not at all uncommon this time of every year. Especially in Sunset Bay.
I love it when these dark, shiny black birds show up as iridescent blue.
Grackles point their beaks up like this when they're challenging another male for — oh, whatever they usually fight about — breeding rights or territory.
One of my major goals lately is to capture images of the first few seconds of a American White Pelican take-off, so I've been watching the Peninsula Pelican Flock for any visual tip-offs that broadcast their readiness to fly off, and I think this is it. Kinda obvious, really. They step up into the very shallow water and line up in front of their compatriots in this position of alert readiness. Then the ones who are actually lined up front are the only ones who take off.
Not that I figured it out until after I'd shot this readiness shot, then watched kinda stupidly as they splashed hopping across the water in front of me, and took off. Maybe next time I'll figure it out before I see them hop into the air. Goals are important.
I realize that many of you are tired of seeing pretty much the same shots of these superb flying birds, but they're still exciting for me to shoot, and I keep trying to get better at it. The new lens is a big help, since it's so much sharper than my old telephoto lens. Remarkably so.
This pelican is coming in for a landing and needs to know exactly how close it is to the surface, or that's just what happens when wing feathers get that close.
I'd never noticed this before. Its tiny, little feet forming dual rudders to keep it straight as it settled quickly into the water.
Then quickly turned 180 degrees and flattened out, so the bird could …
… splash-skid in till all that energy dissipated …
… and the pelican sloshed in to join the flock.
After a loud-wing-slapping-the-water bath, American White Pelicans tend to raise their wings, so the wind can get in their and dry out all their wet wing and other feathers.
They sometimes look like floats that have escaped the nearest flower parade.
Where there are brilliant white pelicans, there usually are jet-black coots.
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.