FEBRUARTY BEST PIXYoung Male Redwing up close; Goosey, the Biting Goose; a visit from a Nutria; white Eegs and Corm; Red-winged Blackbird Flash Mobs; On a Clear Day You Can See Pelicans
Later in February 2014
What Sunset Bay is mostly about is a place where, if the sun is visible, it sets pretty enough to be worth being there. There's lots of picnic space, some scattered tables, and several places where water runs through it or can be seen from it, including, at the end of the area called Sunset Bay, where this large, somewhat protected bay, where a lot of birds hang out. Some, like these American White Pelicans, are somewhat exotic.
All of today's photographs were taken in and of Sunset Bay.
I know it's March already as I type these captions, but it wasn't March yet when I shot these, and I don't really have anything particularly appropriate for March yet, so this is here now, and you'll see March when I get March pix worth something.
This is a Red-tailed Hawk, America's and this area's most common hawk, and I don't care. I still get thrilled when I can get a haw in focus. I was standing on my favorite Pier, looked up and saw this hawk, making lazy circles in the sky, I went click a bunch a times, and there are the best shots.
Coots are common at White Rock Lake all year long. Somebody reported to Bird Chat last autumn that he'd seen the first coot of the season, but they are here all year around. Only a few some of the time, but they're never far away, and they are always interesting. This one is in a hurry to get away from several gulls who want his morsel of food enough to take it away from the coot. Coots only win about half the time.
Grackles are anything but exotic. They are our most populous bird. They're everywhere in Dallas and its environs, where they are not always appreciated. But I love them. Grackles are not attacked by gulls, at least not very often.
I've shot shots like this so many times, I'm never sure I really need to take them again, then I see it again, and I like it enough to put it here.
I used this somewhere else, and I don't remember where, but I hadn't used it here already, and that strange.
Driving back from swimming this morning I asked myself where should I go at the lake for birds today, and I envisioned something along West Lawther in maybe Cormorant Bay, so I watched carefully as I drove by the Bent Bridge, and I saw an unfamiliar pattern of white and vivid red on some ducks, and some very familiar-looking other ducks with their tails sticking up at an angle. So I pulled up the nearest residential street, parked The Slider a little up the fairly steep street, and walked to the closer end of the bridge.
First, of course, I took lots of pix of all the water birds swimming north deep into Cormorant Bay, but most of those pix were really boring …
So I switched to some detail shots, instead. The Canvasbacks stayed in head-tucked into their wingfeathers-on-their-backs, rest mode most of the time.
But I waited them out and got this one, short series of real-action shots in all the time I watched. Luckily, I was already paying most of my attention when this one, active Canvasback stretched out, leaned back and tilted up. Something was working toward actuation, but what?
Wings flapping was a really good sign. Not sure what it was about, but it looked interesting and photogenic.
And this shot transitions us slowly back to Ruddy Ducks after the last three in much less than one second.
Sibley's Guide to Birds demarcates Ruddy Duck breeding season as starting in March — way next month — so I wasn't sure whether this guy qualified as a Breeding Male Ruddy or not, but it didn't seem very red. Then I saw this redder Ruddy:
This guy, however, is a lot redder, so likely he is a breeding male, and the other, well, probably not — unless he gets a lot redder in the next few weeks. One thing for sure, we'll never know.
This is us transitioning from Ruddies to the Grebe I might have mentioned earlier for a few shots.
Very handsome and quite dashing riding the waves in this overdramatic shot.
It's not upsidedown actually, Just leaned back and down at an odd angle. At first I thought it was right side up, it almost looks better this way, but there's something wrong nomatter how I look at it.
I took several photographs of all the birds I could get in one frame, and apparently, none of them turned out to be canvasbacks, so we're going to dispense with eloquent visual transitions and just jump back to the lesser shots of Canvasbacks. Its beak is thrust back into the white feathers to the left.
Just did a site search, and of the three instances of Canvasbacks I found there — all from much farther away and in less detail than these — two were in February, in 2007 and 2012, and once from November 2008 is a little more detail. Do a page search for canvasback to find them. I wanted to include this view, because I — in my extremely limited experience — had never seen a Canvasback from this angle before.
And so we'll end with this much more distinctive shot of him while she's being a bit more demure with beak in her feathers again. In fact, she's hardly moved since the last shot.
Just practicing. I noticed a single pelican taking off every few minutes as I slowly rolled into Sunset Bay today, so I hoped more would. When I got on the pier, I could see pelicans on the far side of the lake fishing in one of those flotillas. I watched the smaller contingent of pelicans off Sunset Beach gradually, taking their sweet time, stretching, preening, getting ready to fly out. I waited.
Really no species I'd rather practice with. I'm still fascinated by American White Pelicans, so it's handy to have them around till probably mid-April every year. Here, its wing-tips are especially elongated to catch the right angle on the wind as it hops into flight.
Each of today's shots involves a different wing extension pattern or shape. This is the most wing extension we see today. I like the arc of water drops off that left foot that's just off the surface from hopping.
I liked this pelican's rakish good looks once I saw the image. While following it past the pier, I was mostly concentrating on keeping the fast-flying bird in frame and focus. Only much later do I get any composition options. Pose is whatever I capture. No choices but to keep shooting. I shot just over 100 shots today. These five are the best of them. One in 20 ain't bad, really.
Can't see it here, but there's a fishing party going on on the far edge of the lake. These guys are probably hungry.
Watching this guy (!), I couldn't help thinking how young it must be — and inexperienced. But get a load of those huge epaulets blazing red bounding on its shoulder whether it was proclaiming at Red-winged Blackbird scream or not. Over and over and over again.
Neither birds nor humans need this much carbohydrate. They need protein, but white bread is cheap, and it's just so much fun to rile up a bunch of birds. Gotta be fun, huh?
Wasn't watching, so I didn't see who started it or for what — position is the usual culprit, and the pelican on the end looks like it's the last one aboard, so, even though there's plenty of room, whoever's awake and close enough, beaks the interloper.
Couple of them had been engaging in serious mutual biting — and splashing and thrashing, and either somebody won or nobody lost. Who cares about all that complexity, let's celebrate!
Two cormorants don't show heads. One pelican seems to have a gull's head on top of its own. And on the far right end, there's another couple of gulls who together look like just one or … something. Whatever; I was intrigued by having all those boats at one of the yacht clubs 'round the next bend showing in the background, so I took it anyway.
Charles brought his goose to Sunset Beach yesterday. The goose's name is Goosey, which Charles readily admitted is not a particularly original name, but it fits the goose very well. Children and adults — like me — were immediately and continuously drawn to Charles and his goose. It's wonderful to be able to just reach out and touch a bird that big and soft. Children kept asking if the goose would bite. Yes. And often, Charles and I and Anna and others would answer. But even getting bit by a young goose is no big thing. The first bite is usually a surprise. No doubt.
Because we aren't expecting it, we're in a little shock when it happens. I remember my first goose bite. I was surprised, and at first I thought I was hurt, but the hurt didn't hurt. Geese don't have teeth. They do have fairly strong jaws, though. And they can exert a bit of force when they bite something or someone. I know. To show that being bit by that soft but wary young goose did not hurt, I let him bite me at least a couple dozen times. Before and after and during the biting, he let me pet him easily. He didn't evade me; he just let it happen. He's used to that. Pretty much like me letting him bite me. It was okay. He was used to it, although that was the first time I'd ever seen this particular goose. But I was careful not to be at all aggressive. No sudden moves. He didn't have any such rules.
He bit me wherever he could. But not for no reason. I'm a big, tall (compared to him, at least) human, and he's a short, soft, feathery goose. I wanted to touch him and pet him, and he wanted to bite me. It was not, ever even once, painful when he bit. Just an interesting experience. At first he bit me on the shoe, which I could barely feel, though I knew something was happening. Then he bit me through my jeans on my ankles, and lower legs, then higher, then whatever he could reach. I put my hands in his range, and he repeatedly bit my hand. I'd give him one finger or another, and he'd obligingly bite that. I remember one time when he got the skin on the back of my hand that it hurt even less than it usually didn't. Meanwhile, I was telling big and little children gathered around that he might well bite them, too, if they got too close or frightened him. But that it didn't hurt.
But they were shy, and many more of them came to Goosey when he was in somebody's arms — usually Charles' — than when the Goose was on the Loose. But everybody wanted to touch the goose, and almost all of them that wanted to, did. I pet him on the neck and chest and back. The chest was the best, but I took what I could get. This goose, at least, is not a wild animal. Goosey didn't bite Charles that I saw, but I wouldn't put it past him.
I wish I had a photo of me getting bit by Goosey, but I was busy.
I had to back off considerably just to get this since I only had the one long telephoto, supposedly for birds, but the only birds we saw were the usual crowd we can see any day at White Rock. And this critter, whom I saw swim in low, then climb onto a partially-submerged rock to begin its daily ablutions. Lovely ain't it?
I noticed it right off, but most of the people within ten or so feet of me, did not even see it slither up onto its rock, probably because they were watching what they expected to watch, not some big rat rise out of the water and stand up on its hind legs and wash itself with its articulated fingers. They are also called Swamp Rats and Copyu. They are primarily vegetarian but will also eat snails and mussels.
According to Wikipedia: "Adults are typically 11–20 lb in weight, and 16–24 inches in body length, with a 12 to 18-inch tail. They have coarse, darkish brown outer fur with soft dense gray under fur, also called the nutria. Three distinguishing features are a white patch on the muzzle, webbed hind feet, and large, bright orange-yellow incisors. The nipples of female coypu are high on her flanks, to allow their young to feed while the female is in the water," and they can have five to seven young three times a year, so their population is exploding. They are often raised and sometimes trapped for their fur and are hunted by humans and alligators, though there's not many gators around here.
On land, they walk on all fours. At White Rock's Sunset Beach (not on the map, because only I call it that, but it's in Sunset Bay, which is on the map) the Bird Squad has named several nutria.
There's the very informative Wikipedia page on them and another, with sometimes contradictory info, on National Geographics.
Anna and I went to Bachman Lake hoping to find some different from the usual birds, but everything we saw there — except the airplanes landing — we'd already seen plenty of at White Rock Lake. But it was such a fine, warm, sun-shiny day, who cares. We photographed what we saw.
They're called Muscovy, because someone, somewhere, somewhen thought they were from Russia, not South America. Some have the warty faces, some don't. At White Rock, different colors of Muscovies tend to gather in different places.
Muscovies are large, goose-like ducks, who are very friendly with people. Could probably call them gregarious.
We'd hoped for something exotic, but all we found were the usual, which includes one swan. People who own swans often eventually drop them off at the nearest "wildlife area," where they are expected to feed themselves. At White Rock Lake, our one swan now hangs out with the gooses. We didn't see any geese at Bachman, but they're everywhere, so I'd be surprised if there's not some there. Although they are often poached.
Not really, of course. It's just that the receiving end of the runway is up the hill from the popular North-ish Dallas lake, and sometimes it looks like they're heading straight for the trees.
Standing on the busy pier at Sunset Bay, I watched seven then six Great Egrets join in widely separate fishing. Unlike pelicans who gather together, egrets gather apart. I watched awhile from the pier, then I walked over there, where fewer humans were — most of them with cameras.
Still Dripping but up, as it rises.
So nice now again photographing egrets. It's been awhile.
Odd, actually, to see egrets fishing in groups, those solitary types.
Double-crested Cormorants almost among the pelicans just off Sunset Beach.
When they weren't busy finding food, they played, usually in the air.
They're not dripping, so they must be landing. The coot's been there already awhile.
American White Pelican, Great Egret, Ring-billed Gull and standard issue American Coo.
And mindless of the photographer six-hundred millimeters away.
Pelican fishing is a togetherness thing. Egrets usually fish alone. Altogether odd when species mix and match fishing styles.
Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelicans and that Great Egret, all fish hungry, all striving, all to be disappointed.
I'd been watching it awhile. No idea, but I could sense a starting of something, and with nothing better to do I held rapt attention and clicked.
When they don't just jump immediately into the air, Pelicans and Cormorants hop to get up air speed.
Hops more, splashes more, begins to almost gain altitude, wings flapping, looking up.
Sometimes it takes awhile, but this cormorant was in no hurry. There must be a joy in slowly transitioning from hop to flying.
Just a few inches up, that last hop only barely connecting with the surface. Up, up, enough.
Driving my usual drive down the edge of the lake drive up toward Winfrey Point, I noticed what seemed like a big bird in the trees above me along the lake.
This is not it or me closer, just doubled the lens, so it looks like it. Then when I was checking my exposure, the bird flew away.
A couple hundred feet further down the road, I pulled over because I liked how the Pump House looked so handsome in red against the blue mist and one billowing white smoke.
Tried that one a little lower contrast, this a little higher. I like the house tops up the hill on the right. I've driven all over that area, and I could never tell where those houses are. Up there somewhere.
I have no idea, but for some reason unknown even to me, I photograph things like this, then almost never use them here. This one's sharp on a dull day, so why not. It's also another view of Sunset Bay, this time from near the top of Winfrey Point.
There were a lot of birds, gathering for dinner down on Sunset Beach, but not many of them flying over at first. I waited.
Doing the usual American White Pelican things.
Nice thing about using flash is that if everything goes right, we can see a lot more detail than usual. The drawback is that glossy things like bird's eyes reflect the bright flash. In my newspaper photographer days, we called the technique Synchro-Sunlight Flash. But it works pretty good even without a bright sun.
Then along flew the only returning pelican I saw that late afternoon. Another drawback of using on-camera flash is that it doesn't recharge quickly, so one cannot go click till it does.
Oh, yeah, another drawback is that especially on-camera flashes don't reach very far, and that using a telephoto makes it all the less likely it will reach as far as it can "see." But then it's difficult to tell what is lighting this bird.
Hundreds of coots had already gathered above Sunset Beach, and when Charles drove into view, everybody else swimming off the beach rushed up to where they expected to have grain corn for dinner. Meanwhile, these two coots needed a bit of conversation.
This may or may not involved flash. I don't know and am too lazy to look it up. It's 2:22 AM as I write this, and I'm still hoping to get some sleep tonight. Either way, it's the most mellow shot of birds in flight tonight. [I checked. No flash.]
IF = in flight. This is the second best one of those. This definitely involved flash. I never plan these things ahead. I was just there, and it was darker than I even imagined, so I tried the flash, and that was fun. When you get lemon weather and light, make lemonade.
The human is a runner. The birds are all, I believe, Red-winged Black Birds comprising another Flash Mob. They were on the ground feeding when I first saw them, so when they raised up to fly away, I followed them up clicking. I never even saw the runner till I worked these shots up around 4 ayem, which is why I rarely attend birds at the lake very early.
It's still amazing to me to get to see birds flying, up close. And to see that no, they do not always fly separate. Sometimes they fly almost as if two or even three of them were feather to feather as they flew.
Very large enlargement that still manages to show some flying details.
Again, I only got time for a couple shots, and they were gone.
I was trying to sneak up on the coots (ha!), but behind those nervous nellies was a Great Egret. The coots swam away. The Great Egret flew.
On the wrong side of the lake. Well, on the side I hardly expected them to be. I'm sure our recent, unrelenting cold, no doubt caused by Global Warming, may have done some sub-marine inverting of what's available for diving ducks like the Ruddies, to eat. The pelicans are out there often, so them being near the Garland Road end is no big deal.
But I've never seen the Ruddies at the Garland Road end of that part of the lake before. It's the route I usually take to see what's shaking at the lake. I go east of Garland Road to the Lawther left across traffic, then me and the Slider slide along the edge of the lake, then up onto Winfrey Point, go around the circle in front of the building, unless some idiot has parked themselves there, then coast down the back road (new name I haven't caught onto yet) down toward Sunset Bay, of which I get a nice overview from.
I did not expect many photographic opportunities this bone-chilling cold day, so I photographed just about any bird that presented itself.
I really didn't see many pelicans out there, and I was concentrating on this one and didn't notice the others, farther out, till later. Kinda a nice view of the Old Boat House.
I love that long, flat drive along the eastern edge of the lake past that place where they keep cutting down all the trees to build parking lots behind that fence, because it allows me to momentarily get all the way up to 100 (as high as the gauge goes) miles per gallon, and driving The Slider like that is smooth and quiet.
So all these shots are from the driver's seat of The Slider, although I usually slow down and stop at the edge of the one-lane road, and sometimes, when the angle is otherwise wrong, I notch The Slider at an angle, so I can shoot what might be considered straight-ahead.
Like when I saw these guys up ahead. Stopped the slider, stuck the blunderbuss out the driver's window and clicked off about five shots, hoping one would be sharp enough for this page, and this time I got two.
The experience was much briefer than I had any notion of when I made those what I assumed were preliminary shots. I pulled the camera back into the warm with me, checked the exposure, which was not bad, lifted it back up to shoot some more, maybe edge a little closer. And they were all gone. Like they had never been there. Not a bird in sight.
Then I usually drive around, up to Garland Road by Barbec's, down to Casa Linda, down the hill on Buckner (loop 12) and past the horse pistol into Sunset Bay. Doowah-doowah. Where there are generally some pelicans hunkered down against the cold. Wonder if they're thinking maybe they'll fly souther next autumn to Mexico or the Equator. Cold.
More egrets in the bay than for awhile. Nice to have them back, especially so I can photograph their elegance as they haplessly fly by.
Killdeer in the park area. Kinda their classic stance postures are heads-up.
And heads-down, which sometimes happens in rapid succession.
Love the egrets.
But more fun than anything right now is pelicans coming in from fishing out.
My trick is to contain them in the camera frame, so nothing is cropped out.
And keeping them in frame till they nearly max out the size.
It's practice for me.
When I don't do this every once in a while, I get out of practice, and I cannot keep any bird in frame as it comes closer.
So it's important practice with a skill.
And great fun besides.
This pelican is about to turn that final corner into landing.
And skid land.
Coast to a stop.
Turn and foot-paddle in, although here it almost looks like it might use its wings, although that's highly unlikely.
Oh, and I seem to have cured the issue of having way too many images on these pages by getting older and slower and going out in the cold, cold winter and shooting more pictures than I knew what to do with. Happy, happy for all.