january 31 2008
Powerful cold today. And fearsome windy. Gulls and cormorants, as here, comprised the majority population out and about — or flying around. Many lake areas showed no birds. Too cold. Too windy.
This may becoming one of my standard high-wind photographs. Gulls helping a pier fly into the wind.
Some parts of some birds misbehave in high-wind situations. There's no controlling them. These American Coots however, did not seem much concerned. They'd encountered this peculiarity before.
Or tail feathers, either.
More early spring behaviors from the egret crowd, about eighty of whom gathered in the residential park across from White Rock's main entrance off Williamson. More mix of food and sexual urges and they mix it up in a mostly just-standing-around "battle" for dominance and little fishies.
Instead of me jabbering on and on between all these photographs, I'm just running the photos down today's entry. I don't know what was going on, but these first 7 images (Egret Dance I ~ VI) were taken within a few seconds. My camera can shoot up to five times per second, although some of these were slower, and these are not all the shots.
Less than a second elapsed since the shot above.
Fascinating dance to watch.
45-50 mph winds today. Sunny but not warm. Most of the birds I saw down Lawther from Garland Bridge to Winfrey were flying, and all of those were either gulls or cormorants. In my favorite perch on the edge of Winfrey's back lot, looking down on the lake with Sunset Bay off to my right, I noticed a little critter swaying left and right, tail highing and lowing all over the place, having the devil of a time staying balanced on the high wire above.
He/she looked familiar, but I thought it might be a woodpecker. Or something. Eventually, looking at these pix magnified 10x on the LCD, I figured out — the little hooked black beak was a sign — it was a kestrel. Wish I'd been paying enough attention or could twist around backwards in my warmish front seat to photograph it tacking in and out of the wind down off to the left. But I can still see it sharp in my memory. Probably sharper than photos would be.
Got pretty good flying photographs of probably this same female kestrel last November 27.
Never saw scaups with such vivid purple head sheens before. That may be yet another reminder that spring is just around that cold cold corner. Usually looks black with a red splotch behind the eye, but in just the right light, that whole head and neck glows purple. Goes great with their little blue bills.
More peculiar behaviors spreading through the gooses today. That low head and neck pose they usually employ for low and inside attacks ending in bites if I'm not careful, here seem to be something different. No attacks, although they sometimes met another goose head down there. More like swooning.
Probably has a better name than swooning, and it may be best done in pairs, like what we assume will follow.
Not really many gulls out there today but countless cormorants flocking this way and that in huge random-compressing mobs. Many people still worry grackles would take over the world. But I think it'll be cormorants. It's still Stinky-bird Season.
They were too far out for sharp photos of them splashing and splooshing in a nice warm — the sun was shining and these guys apparently appreciate Texas winters — bath. Then they come back to Pelican Island proper to preen and repreen and rerepreen., the better to fly in 50 miles per hour winds.
Not White Rock Lake for a change. Mountain Creek Preserve off South Macarthur Boulevard in Irving. Bit of a drive. I saw this one down in the creek before we got to the preserve itself, if that's what it's calling itself.
Not much was preserved. Some nasty-looking white stuff floating on the creek. No birds in easy sight in what's really some sports fields. Guys playing soccer, wondering what we're looking for to photograph there.
We walked all around the fields, and around a fence at the end, over a bridge, off into the woods some. Kids playing down beyond the Do Not Enter signs. I saw these guys racing overhead, couldn't tell the red spots, only black, photographed them as much to find out who they were as any reason.
I'd been wondering when I'd see masses of Red-winged Blackbirds migrating through here. These are they. They often travel by sexes, here they're both. After huffing and puffing around and through some mud, then resting on the picnic tables, we drove off, seeing more birds off campus than on. Had passed an entry to the Land Fill on our way to, so stopped there on the way back.
Lots of these were there, flying low over the huge mound of trash that is the landfill like a sudden mountain. Close. Great opportunity to get a little more acquainted with my favorite flying bird. Well, I like eagles and hawks and pelicans and even egrets better. Pelicans fly amazing.
But Turkey Vultures are better flyers than any of them. Do it so effortlessly. Johnathan Livingston Turkey Vulture, indeed.
Wadn't doin' nothing wrong. Just minding its own business, like all birds most of the time, looking for food. And for that — and maybe a little curiosity, netted this nastiness. Another cause celebre? Call the Press Corps(e), we got another injured bird. Another bird stuck by the stupidities of man in a Throwaway Society.
There are, of course, women fisherpersons, but there's mostly men, and most fishermen, if the remnants of their stays I see along this lake's edges every day are evidence, are slobs, leaving sharp hooks and binding bits of plastic around for any inquisitive bird seeking food to get injured or ensnared by.
White Rock Lake abounds with dangerous little traps left by unthinking more-or-less humans. This one bit of dangling monstrosity most obviously is detritus from an unthinking fisherperson. I've seen these guys' nests of plastic and cans and tins and scraps left in place when they leave an area they've occupied a few hours. They don't even throw away their obvious trash.
For a long time, there was a big naugahyde recliner in the woods on a path along a hidden creek near Sunset By. Too many fisherperesons leave junk and chairs and lines and hooks and six-pack plastics. Nothing stops them. They are in no way regulated like they would be in many other fishing holes. This is their lake, and they'll do to it what they will. Potential and actual victims be damned, the fisherpersons must be thinking. If they are thinking.
This yet another example.
Egrets again. This time I parked on the other side of the road, same place, just outside the park, overlooking where the creek goes behind the bushes then under the bridge/culvert and across into that last little bit of park before it turns into neighborhood. And the egrets were a lot closer than yesterday. It's the closeness that drew me. That and the fact that they were all prettied up for the spring.
Wearing their nuptial plumes, which Sibley says in his Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, "they display prominently during courtship." Which sure seems like what is happening here. Another large reason I stopped. Don't often get them this close and so actively engaged. A treasure.
This is a particularly close, detailed shot of an egret who looks like it has both just eaten a fish that is descending his thickened throat, and who is entirely too eager to engage in confrontation. Or this is what happens when egrets engaging in heads-up behavior really get into it. I'm never certain. Am still very much the amateur in the title. So much I want to learn but so far, don't. I'm just watching and photographing, hoping that will help me figure it out.
One of what I learned today is that when Great Egrets do this, they almost always engage in a confrontation within a few seconds, and that usually results in a chase, usually around something or some where. I did not see the slow, symbolic flying Sibley describes, with exaggerated beating of wings. But I'd like to.
One of them (don't know which or why or who chooses) chases the other one away from wherever they start. I've seen them do this often in the watery amphitheater under the walking bridge over the lower Spillway, where the creek makes a right-angle turn left to flow through the golf club, over some picturesque but waterfalls and run off somewhere I have not followed.
Sometimes the chase dissipates within a few quick steps across a meadow. Other times it continues into a full flying chase, and those occasionally circle around the area.
These could be the same birds, but it's definitely not the same chase. Though it could have been. I keep wondering whether what they have on the side of their beaks are feathers from other birds. Does what appears to be an invigorating 'goose' in this shot sometimes get fierce enough to draw feathers or blood? Or are they doing something else more interesting with those things?
Usually birds fly away from me. So this is a very unusual photograph. Those that followed were way out of focus.
Meanwhile the same egrets involved in this dominance play would occasionally circle around over the creek I was parked over, looking down into, my camera hanging out the window (very cold today; I kept the engine running and heat on high). Three times when I attempted to climb up out of the sun roof, and shoot over the fence where I had clearer shots, the birds withered away, dropping back across the creek, up into the meadow. Then when I settled into the chair, barely able to photograph over and through the metal bars of the pipe fence along the edge of the bridge, they'd subtle back in, circle the creek bend, catch fish and carrying them back to the other side to eat.
The two processes — eating and establishing dominance — are intricately entwined. Both involve holding a certain amount of territory and protecting it against invaders. At least for a few seconds.
This photo is here because most of my pictures of egrets are more like the bird behind, showing off the long beak in profile. This shot emphasizes this bird's long straight neck. I especially like the frizzed bits on its upper neck, perhaps intentional display, perhaps feathers rippling in the cold wind.
Talk about emphasizing a long neck, this egret is combining head-up behavior with a wings-out show of — strength, I assume, I don't know why, exactly.
These guys are just flying around. Close, and I couldn't ask for more. Nice for a change to have the central fuselage all the way back — neck, face, beak and feet — in focus and everything else flapping and blurred in movement. A, the dark background look.
B, the light background look. A little more light. Toes and feet sharper. The little dangly feathers smarter against the blur of background. Guess I'll have to shoot something besides egrets next time. Wonder how ole Six-pack's doing.
And for those who insist I must have acres of patience, this whole shoot of 218 clicks (fewer than normal) took less than 35 minutes. I rarely spend more than an hour taking photographs at the lake, although I often spend several hours picking, choosing and preparing images and writing the tales that go in between them.
On the way to the lake, on top of the hill overlooking the lake, I was slowing for a School Zone and saw this bird flying slow and easy high overhead. Button the sunroof back, pull over to the side of the road, grab the camera off the floor and start shooting. First two were blotty blurs, then a series of in-focus circling overhead, then it got smaller east over I-30 and beyond.
Before I even entered the park, I noticed a couple dozen egrets lined along both sides of the creek there. At first it seemed their gathering was mostly about fishing.
But this close to spring, there was also a component of one-ups-bird-ship, as this business of Playing Chicken attests.
Neither flinched. They ran right into each other. Not sure who "won."
It's almost as if the one on the left has its arm around the other.
A few minutes later, and we get to see a little head-raising behavior that often, as here, precedes a bit of a scrap.
The two birds with their heads up, necks stretched upward, in the photo one up from this one, are in this one, flying after each other. This is engagement.
And the engagement continues.
As one gains a few feet on the other.
Some dancing, a lot of flapping, more than a little my-wings-are-bigger-than-yours outstretched wing displays.
Here's an egret intent on food splashing over what I'd assumed was a shallow creek to get a perch on the other side where it can get a good look into the water, then jump in.
Till I watched its body all the way under, only wings held over the surface.
Then a half second or so later, those are all bunched up — compressed — under the water. Splashed drops rising with bubbles from beneath.
Then, hopefully with fish, it rises up out of the water, gets its wings in shape to pull it up.
And up, up it rises out of the creek.
With a goodish-sized fish. Worth the plunge.
And heads for the side of the creek it started on. Lots of jockeying going on. Fishing, too. Some of it may have to do with fishing rights and territories, but I suspect it's all an ongoing "battle" for dominance in all birdly realms. Heading for spring and mating.
Anna is excited to report that she saw — and photographed — Six-pack, the rescued duck, dabbling for food with her companion on the far side of the Creek at Sunset Bay today. Charles, who feeds the birds there corn in the evenings, reports that Six-pack has been eating corn.
No one has reported seeing him open his beak, yet, however.
We have decided Six-pack is a male, Anna found this link online that indicates male ducks have curled tail feathers, like Six-pack's, lower center above.
Oil dropping through it faster than I could add the goo, Blue spent the night and near all day at White Rock Auto. I didn't get to the lake till after dark with what light there was failing fast. Both these are time exposures, but then aren't they all?
See the fin growing on top of the front far right pelican's beak? It's to remind other pelicans that this one is a breeding adult. Our flock has been developing their fins over the last couple weeks.
Doesn't take much to send all the ducks on land into the air then off into the water with much fluttering of wings. The headlights on the far side of the lake, like me and the camera, were moving. Panning the ducks. Into the night.
The west side of the lake is undergoing serious change. I won't say progress. Some places they're expanding the land out into the water. Probably because everything they've tried to ward off the water from inundating the land and taking it out to sea — or lake, has failed miserably. So they got this big project to expand the land.
Of course, they still won't let trees and reeds and other vegetation with long roots stand there holding the dirt in place. No, they gotta engineer it. Tow in huge rocks to hold down acres of wire mesh to hold down the ground, so it don't drip into the lake with every drop of rain. Or like they engineered the "retaining walls" along The Spillway by refilling it with dirt every time if filled with water, then were oh, so, very surprised when all that water un-retained the retaining walls, and they haven't fixed it in two years now.
Meanwhile in Gray World, where it's cold and hardly every this black and white, we watched crows play King of the Mountain, then flap away. Our opportunity to stay warm by staying in the car most of the time.
It was cold and dark and gray and brown out there today. Not a lake brim full with colorful birds, for a change. We hadda hunt them down.
Had to take what we could find and follow them down the road. The A-frame structures above are part of what, when it's covered in bright-colored plastic, and pumped out this side, keeps the lake out while they dig down and plant cement in yet another failed but fully engineered process to keep the water at bay.
Or seeing an American White Pelican flying by a great long line of nearly black cormorants taking over the world, one bay at a time in Sunset Bay.
Too dark really, but kind of interesting this long-range medium jet bomber accompanied by two jet fighters. Shot from Dreyfuss, that's Sunset Bay proper in the darkness behind.
Oh, and orange eyes. Blue is the bill. Brown and black and white and gray is the rest of this Lesser Scaup. I like the texture of the water, like it's ringed with barbed wire thrashing.
I'm sure they were fishing. Buncha ducks there doing that, also. Would have been friendlier if some of them had turned around and smiled or shown their longish beaks, but I suspect the wind was blowing where their beaks were pointing.
I've seen pelicans and cormorants sharing the same logs before. Lots of times. But I don't remember them sharing land together ever before. A study in black and white and orange and pinkish gray. One cold day at the lake.
The Great Six-pack Duck Rescue
Anna started it. She called Chris, the guy at Mariner Sails who leads the Thursday Night Paddles at White Rock. He put her in touch with Mike Stovall, who put her in touch with fellow kayaker Regina Cothran, and they scheduled today's meeting and invited Mike Swope, Joe Ing and Ben Gould. Most of them volunteer for For The Love of the Lake (FtLoTL).
Additional stories about Six-pack are all below on this page: The first sighting photographs; our first rescue attempt; a photo of Anna and her net; more photographs of Six-pack and the most recent report (January 24). Thanks to Mike Stovall, Anna Palmer and Regina Cothran for I.D and other corrections.
Regina was the first to get her kayak into the water. As she did that, all the ducks came out of hiding, and we saw Six-pack and his (We're sure it's a he.) faithful friend escaping toward Dreyfuss Point. Regina soon learned that herding ducks was nearly impossible with one kayak. Joe Ing put in and paddled across to help.
A few minutes later, Mike Swope joined in the rescue attempt. Corralling ducks is an unlikely event. As it continued to not happen, the kayakers learned how to do it better. Most of us had previously attempted to rescue this duck from his ruinous plastic six-pack wrap, but today was the first time we tried all together.
Luckily, the ducks either could not fly or could not fly very far. They'd run across the water flapping furiously, their wings flapping as much water as air. Though they flew furiously, they never flew far. Just enough to keep them from easy rescue.
Even only a couple arm's lenghts away, Six-pack and his unlikely goggles stayed free.
When the kayakers managed to herd the ducks past the pier, we didn't have a net. When we had a net, the ducks did not pass our way. We — Anna, the photographer, Ben Gould and Mike Stovall — practiced enough with the throwing net to realize we were not going to catch any ducks that way. Anna's other net was lost in the chase back and forth across the bay.
Thinking they might finally catch up with the duck, Joe Ing and Mike Swope raced to catch up and close in. The ducks did a quick 180-degree turn and left them behind. Again.
The duck is much further from Mike than he appears. We started looking for Six-pack at 12:15 PM. The first kayak went in at 12:27. Regina got behind the fleeing ducks at 12:31, and they chased the ever-escaping ducks around and around the bay for nearly an hour.
The kayak team "cornered" Six-pack in the reeds along the Hidden Creek area north of Sunset Bay at 1:05. Regina chased Six-pack with her paddle while Mike charged his kayak up into the reeds. Regina almost trapped the duck, who "escaped" into Mike's hands.
Mike Swope held tight as Joe Ing used the blunt-ended but thin children's scissors Anna has been carrying around the last week and cut off Six-pack's plastic muzzle. From across the bay I could see they had the duck, but I couldn't tell what they were doing. I just kept shooting. It was 1:14 PM.
They tried towing Mike and the bird, then Mike figured out how to hold the duck in one hand and paddle with the other, and that way brought Six-pack to the pier where we were standing and kibitzing. Anna lifted the duck onto the pier, and the kayakers paddled back to shore.
We inspected Six-pack's pretty blue eyes, which don't show nearly as blue here as they did by the lake this afternoon — and its wounded bill. Both upper and lower mandibles were sliced, and it looks like the outer shell could come apart. We've seen ducks with upper mandibles broken off, but they usually don't last long. While he was being held, "our" duck did not struggle. We assumed it was in deep shock, although it sometimes flinched when we reached toward it.
Birds with "hats" like this are Crested Ducks or "Crested Rouen, mongrel mallards, since most domestic duck breeds started with mallards." Various net sites claim this dominant mutation has only a million-to-one chance of occurring, but I've seen at least a half-dozen in Sunset Bay. Among breeders, an all-white crest is especially prized. Six-pack's crest is not all white.
Anna said she could feel the duck's heart pounding.
This photograph shows that the tight plastic band had lodged over Six-pack's left nostril and damaged that area, also. It was probably difficult for him to breathe with it on.
When we determined he could fend for himself, and there was nothing further we could do to help him, Anna took our rescued duck to the water and released him at 1:27.
The smile and wry look is an illusion, but Six-pack swam away quickly, hardly looking back.
Joe shows off the plastic he cut off Six-pack's head and beak. We all laughed and talked and thanked everyone for their help.
To protect inquisitive ducks and other critters, cut open all the circles along the outside edges before trashing these lethal devices.
We left, feeling we had accomplished something difficult and challenging but worth our while.
We've seen Six-pack often since, although no one's seen him with his beak open. It's usually female ducks who quack.
Two of photographs of Six-pack and a story linking this one are now on Lakewood-Now.Net with links to this story and their reader responses.
Nope. Can't say I particularly appreciate gulls. Disney got 'em right, constantly calling "mine, mine, mine."
They can get into a frey almost instantaneously.
We've seen these gull cyclones of greed from a distance.
See the one on the far right that's got a Cheeto in its beak. That's the cause of all this frenzy.
The older the gull, the more beak on the outside of the dark ring.
Which probably means these darkish spotted birds are showing off their First-winter plumage.
This one struggled to get free from that clinging feather, but it finally succeeded.
If we can't see the bill and its relatively positioned ring, we can probably notice that the juveniles don't have apparent polka-dots on their long, dark tails.
Here's that polka-dot tailed adult gull I mentioned above. Adults have fewer spots, more white, mostly gray wingtops and what looks like white polkadotted black tails. Except those are wingtips not tails, and the polka dots are more like daubs or spots.
Note comparative size of Juvenile Ring-nosed Gull and American Coot. Note also how big the coot's feet are, compared with the dinky webbed gull foots.
Cold today. I saw flakes of white flickering down from the sky. I did not want to get out of my car, so I didn't. I looked for birds, didn't find many. Saw these coots, wondered if they'd do anything interesting. Often, they do not. I watched and hoped.
We've seen this behavior before, but usually in the water. This is as close as I got to focusing a coot expressing aggression. Like gooses — and probably some other birds I don't know about yet (Gooses and coots are pretty far separated. It's not outrageous to think other birds might express themselves this way) show aggression by lowering their long necks close to the ground and charging.
When we saw coots doing that about a year ago, we first assumed one coot had had a bad day and was taking it out on its fellows. Spring is coming, and I now suspect it has something to do with the upcoming mating season.
I think I see seven Black-crowned Night Herons in this photograph. Six are obvious. All are in much need of a much longer telephoto lens, except I cannot figure out — yet — which one. There's about three I might could afford, some of which could be used with teleconverters to make them even more telephoto, and another Nikon tele zoom that's rumored to be updated this year. But when?
Meanwhile, only excuses. I might be able to sneak up on them some early morning as the sun peeks over Tee Pee hill, if it's warmish, and I'm awake. Neither of which has occurred lately.
Not sure what these guys are nibbling off the other one, but they continued nibbling away for many minutes while I watched, so there was definitely something there. They were not simply grooming the other goose. They'd dip and nibble, dip and nibble. Something in the water, because sometimes they'd just nibble the water.
More nibbling. The New Browns (my name for them) are new to Sunset Bay. The white one has probably been there awhile, although I'm never sure about those things. The browns do not have the Klingon faceplate most of the freed domestic gooses there have. They are probably wild, because they do not match any of the named geese on the fairly extensive Feathersite Geese pages. My favorite display includes the major varieties in an awkward click-fest presentation of simplified drawings.
Although the Cornell Bird site discusses hybridization of gooses and the differences among domestic and wild varieties (and even shows varieties similar to this), most of the sites I found were devoted to shooting and eating gooses and nearly all the responses to searches for "wild geese" brought pages of poetry and lyrics, not birds. Bird identification field guides don't seem to care about gooses. Probably because they're not wild, although they seem free to roam.
The Domestic Waterfowl Club of Great Britain shows a variety of goosss (links at bottom of page), none of which are matched by this pair. They present some characteristics of the so-called African varieties, but deviate in significant characteristics: necks are darker, heads white, beaks orange, no Klingon plates, wide white face stripes, etc.
When they first arrived, this pair kept separate from the other gooses, onlgy gradually began to associate with our mob of locals — much like previous years' visiting Canadian, Egyptian and Snow geese did. Lately, they don't mind sharing their parasites (above) with our established flock. We've had these two for at least a couple weeks now.
Now at a lake near you.
Note that immature Ring-billed gulls' bills are pink pink behind the dark area, which covers the pointy end of the bill, and the mature Ring-billed Gull's beak is yellow out to the ring, then beyond.
We're continuing to watch the Six-Pack Duck. I visited Sunset Bay today, hoping for more sharply focused pelican fly-ins, but my previous days luck floundered. I did get to watch Six-Pack's ablutions, however. It vigorously bathed, splashing water all about. Those shots were likewise soft.
Then it flapped wings standing and spread lanolin all over its body — with its beak, in typical duck fashion — to keep it afloat and water running off like. Well, you know. It seems to have adjusted to its handicap, though the plastic is apparently still attached to its beak and around the back of its head.
Meanwhile, other ducks were doing their ducky duties.
Late in the day we decided to go back to Arbor Hills Preserve, 6701 Parker Road in Plano where we had attended the Owl Prowl to maybe see some birds. What we did instead was get almost hopelessly lost. Although we got to see most of the preserve and actually hope to go back in spring. When there should be a few more birds.
What we saw — and heard — were a lot of crows. We knew when they're that noisy, they're usually annoying some hapless owl or hawk, so we drew as near as we could in our advanced weariness. This is as close as I got to the hawk. At least some of the branches are in focus. Actually, until I processed this shot, I thought it was a crow.
We hoped to de-plastic the Six-pack Duck today. Again. Anna brought Cheerios, and we distributed them liberally, hoping to draw ducks, including Six-pack, to us so we could wrap that net around it, and liberate it from its wrap.
Mostly, however, we only drew more Coots. We thought maybe their excitement would draw Six-pack and the other ducks from across the creek. But it did not.
While we were standing there hoping and wishing, an American White Pelican came in for a landing very near the gaggle of pelicans on the sand bar.
As fast as it was going and as close, I couldn't pass it up. These shots are actually nearly filling up their frames.
And, hey! look, they're actually in focus.
A moment later, it splashed down.
Anna and I were walking around Winfrey toward Duckfia and saw these guys submarining. While they were down, we got closer to get more detailed photographs. When they saw us that close, they stepped up to getting farther from us.
We'd never seen Buffleheads running on water like coots. It was briefly exciting. Below are pictures of what Bufflehead Ducks usually look like.
Then they were gone.
Almost finished with the massive Birds of the Lower Rio Grande Valley report. That's been getting most of my bird time and energy lately. I took a quick turn 'round the lake today and got what I could find on a short walk up the lagoon and drive up the west side.
I was slowly and carefully walking down the hill toward the lagoon from parking my car on the top of the hill, where I could watch it. Apparently, however, I wasn't walking as carefully as I could have. Two herons and a brilliant white Great Egret exploded from the reeds toward the other side. I managed to capture this bird trailing a minor galaxy of water droplets.
And this juvenile Night-Heron, who appears to be heading back to Mom or Dad in the trees on the far side of the lagoon, that I gradually realized was teeming with similar family units.
This was later. A perhaps older juvenile Black-crown flying into the safety of the dense copse of trees.
I thought I was sneaking up on this Wood Duck at the entrance end of the Lagoon. I followed it up the creek, then saw it turn a corner. What I realized later was that it had instead hid itself in the deep dark depression under a tree at water level. When I was just a few steps past where it hid, it jumped into the air and fled up the lagoon.
I got one more shot of the high-fashion male Wood Duck that's almost in sharp focus. Gorgeous swirl of golden splash and wake figure prominently.
Continuing my panning, this pair of dripping ducks turned out spectacularly.
I've been thinking a lot about the Six-pack Duck's plastic wrap around its beak and the likelihood it'd been left on the ground at a fisher person's place on the edge of the lake. Maybe even thrown into the water off the Sunset Bay pier. I've often seen the plastic and can-strewn nests left by fisher persons along the edge of my favorite lake. Reprehensible as that is, it pales in comparison to some ones who'd haul a couch halfway across the the walking bridge and heave it into the water.
Of course, couches don't wrap themselves around curiosity-filled domestic ducks' beaks. Don't slowly tighten on those fleshy beaks, till the duck who's got it around its mouth can't eat much, only sip water.
I'd just coded my camera to a new, somewhat experimental, bracketing setup and needed something to try it out on.
I'd noticed what looked like new white stripes on some male Great-tailed Grackles, but it may just be a play of light, although the stripes appeared in several birds and when those birds were in several places. This, however, is my only successful photo of thos tail stripes..
When this happened, and I shot one more time. Didn't see the shadow on the tree trunk till later. Then I noticed all those other grackle shadows flying around and under.
Every cold day the last week or two, I've seen a lively, brash, splashing fishing party livening up the middle of the lake. Involving rolling turns of cormorants, pelicans and gulls in a wild riot of flapping, flying, diving and feeding.
Every once in a while, the gulls would blend into a dog pile concentration of them in the air over, then down to the surface. A dense school of fish, no doubt, and engage in a brief but exciting feeding frenzy. Then they'd disperse as if nothing had happened.
Pelicans scoop fish. Cormorants dive for them. Gulls fight over them.
Then the cormorants shape shift into big black birds with brown edges into the late slant of sun. Hop to skip into flight, and race on to the next found batch of fish.
May-Lily Lee interviewed me this afternoon for a possible video feature. Somewhere sometime. Took most of the afternoon. About three hours. Most of the time at the Bath House, where she vidded me off the back porch and in the room with my show, pseudo photographing dark cormorants in the pool area behind . I actually was photographing birds, but May-Lily was videoing me doing that, instructing me, "plant your feet but gesture and move." "More to the left, aim at that far corner," etc.
Basically those shots aren't worth much. (Note the incredible wingspan and all that black feathered extension on the far ends of this pelican — don't see that often — later at Sunset Bay.)
Where I wanted to go all along. To check up on the "Six-pack Duck," whom I eventually found, standing asleep on the little island jutting from the Hidden Creek area. It didn't look much worse than last time. All the ducks were resting out there, somewhat out of a cold wind. Gooses were nearby, providing a wild and noisy soundtrack. Pelicans don't squawk much, but they were there in numbers, too. I quick-counted about fifty. A majority.
When we hove into view, the pelicans started swimming away. I promised them they'd be safe, "come on back," I remonstrated, and they startled me by coming back and calming, settling back on the island, lining up and continue to stretch beaks, swording with each other, preening. All very entertaining.
But the really fun part was when one after another, several small groups of pelicans, circled in and gyred down remarkably close to shore, then landed. It was as if they were blessing the interview. Or something. I was so happy to see them I was dancing in the cold wind. I was also photographing pelicans frame-filling close and almost personal.
This is a different bird, though the same progression of getting closer to the surface, skids about to flip forward to splashdown. The interview was gangbusters fun, despite all the "do it one more time" and "repeat what you just said." "What did I just say," and she'd tell me, and I'd say it again somewhat differently. At least one of us was paying attention.
She continued taping when we got to Sunset Bay, and I continued to take photographs. Much better photographs, because my baby pelicans were involved, and they much closer-than-usual and showing off flying.
Within seconds two, three and more of them were engaging in various forms of lower mandible stretching. As if they knew we were coming and had saved up. Note the second whole pelican from the left's expanded chin uplifted.
I didn't get any photographs of it, but Anna and I — plus several readers who happened to come by at the same time to — attempted to get the plastic binders off the Six-pack Duck. We configured a Blunt Boat Hook with a 7 or so-foot stick, Monster tape and a largish metal clothes hook. We're pretty sure that if we'd got it hooked into the six-pack plastic, it would have pulled the whole duck out flapping and cussing us all the way.
The water's only about two feet deep there. But the soft, gooey muck under it is at least another two-and-a-half feet deep of porous muck. I'd worn jeans thinking I wouldn't mind getting wet. But one step into that gook might be whoever tried — who could run on water — to catch this wary duck.
The duck can eat, and it can drink, so it'll manage for awhile. But it can only take small food bits. It's still interested in eating whatever gunk visitors are willing to throw at it, comes in closer to the pier when bread is on the water. But it can't chomp chunks large enough to sustain it. Only morsels. So it's still alive, and perhaps not in imminent danger. It did take a nap while we watched, urging it to come closer, on the marshy edge of the shore. A duck that looked a lot like Six-Pack stayed with it all the time, so it has companionship.
I've been out on that mush shore before, and it's at least several inches of slushy wet beneath what looks like solid. Dense enough to support light-weight ducks and even fat gooses or healthy pelicans. But not enough to hold even a smallish human. And I'm not smallish.
We'll keep trying. It came closer and closer to us while I tried to keep the gaffer as small as possible in its vision. But putting it out there near it hoping to be able to snag it without scaring it to death or bashing its weakened body was a sure way to make it and its pal swim much further away.
I'd rather not have to do this. I want to show pretty birds or interesting birds or birds behaving in ways that seem strange to us. I do not want to show ducks in trouble I can't do anything about. I'd never before thought about trying to catch one of the birds I photograph. Today, I wanted to catch this one and get that awful contraption off its beak and face, so it could go back about its duckly business.
Looking at these shots and at this bird today — it twice came within just a few feet of me standing on the pier with the two women who first pointed it out to me. I've developed a policy on nonintervention. I don't feed them. I can't fix them. But I want someone to go out to Sunset Bay to catch this bird and free it from this awful plastic trap it's got itself info. Please.
The device is tight around the duck's beak. He struggled with it several times while we watched in horror. Can someone help?
Back to the lake, finally. Puttering down and around Duckfia Point (We still call it that, even though the Duckfia's been gone several seasons now. Don't know who they're molesting now.) I noticed strange, but familiar shapes folded up floating not far from shore.
Intrigued, I stopped and started shooting. It took looking at a book to remember the Ruddy's i.d. When this duck hove into view, I didn't recognize her, either. Apparently, the males of the species were swimming underwater when I shot the above images.
Soon the more colorful, whiter male popped up. All I saw was black and white, but the camera, as often, saw more color.
I think I remember last time I saw Ruddys, there were Buffles there, too. The reason I didn't find Buffles again in the same place after we first sighted them last month, is because they tend to like smooth surfaced water. Probably helps them move around under it. I dunno.
I kept hoping the lot of them would come in a little closer as I leaned on the door inside Blue parked tight into the left side of Lawther toward Winfrey, but this is as close as they got.
This is the setup shot. I kept seeing Buffle males swimming serenely then suddenly disappear.
After the third or fourth Buffle Curl downward, however, I figured out approximately when they'd suddenly curl forward, up and over and down into the water to do some serious underwater swimming.
I did not notice the tail plunk splashing water up as the bird's shadow sank quickly, until I got the image up on the monitor. At the time, soon as I thought he might jump down, I started shooting. Got a lot of nuthin'. And this.
Another pair of Buffleheads, him curling into the drink.
With an even more elegant tail splash.
No time to go to the lake till tomorrow when I drag all the prints I've been framing these last two days to the Bath House to get placed on the walls of the museum there. You may have heard it on WRR. I've always wanted one of my shows publicized on WRR, and now I have. Pulled in from fetching bigger than I can print prints, looked up through my sunroof and saw this cute mockingbird, needed to show something to start this year off only one day late, and here it is.
Also there was this dove. Don't usually photograph doves, since there's so many of them, like pigeons, but maybe that's my new year resolution. Photograph more dove this year, and I've done it. Now I can load all my new pages and the update of the index and the start of the Rio Grande bird pix. While I was doing today's entry, Anna called with a new species discovery from Santa Ana park down in The Valley where we both photographed stilts but accidentally also got avocets, a name that kept going through my mind when we were photographing the Stilts, I had no idea why. Now I understand the Universe's whispering.
Now back to preping my prints for the show.
They're do tomorrow, so this is the beginning of a new year of bird journaling
while I catch up with last's.
text and photographs copyright 2008 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.
Thanks always to Anna.
No reproduction without specific written permission.
Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"