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the Village Creek Drying Beds
I have watched a Little Blue Heron (not an altogether distant cousin of this Great Blue Heron) offering a Betrothal Branch to begin a nest with to its mate. At first, all I knew was there was a Great Blue just on the other side of that horizontal branch, and I could not, no matter where I moved laterally, get a better shot of it than this, framed by this tree.
Minutes later — it seemed longer — the Great Blue Heron emerged on the other side of the tree, jumped into the air and flew off with it.
More minutes passed as that Great Blue Heron arrives in one of the tall trees on the far side of the swamp, delivering the branch. Note an attended nest in the tall branch on the right, but none in the tree on the left.
So what we have here may well be the ritual — and practical — proffering of the initial branch. A gift of betrothal. The start of a nest and new life. Very auspicious. See how far down the bird on the right lowers it and its head to make the offer.
Meanwhile in a nearby tree, someone's coming for a visit or a stay.
I see it as a guy coming for a visit. The nest is built, and a nest-sitting is sitting it. Other members of the clan occupy adjacent branches with their own nest. Note the communal nature of nesting Great Blue Herons.
Very close to full landing, the Great Blue arranges its feet for the perfect landing.
Once the visitor has found a place to perch, the designated nest-sitter gets up and extend its neck far out into the divide between them. Hi. How're you doing? Ready to sit on this thing while I go round up some grub?
There ensues a class discussion of things pertinent, and everybody seems to be having a say in the matters.
Jason Hogle told me last year that we'd never seen Great Blue Herons nesting in the inner-city Dallas Medical Center Rookery, because GBHs like their privacy.
I was startled when I saw a little patch of blue gray in that field of brown on green on the humped edge between two pans of water. It must have moved in a coherent manner that could only have been a single organism spread impossibly wide in the grass well back and between those two ponds. I keep congratulating myself on seeing it at all. I'm contrasting it up here so we can all see it.
From there to here, it caught something in the grass and quickly swallowed it. So it was hiding from something besides me, then it ate whom it was hiding from. It's still got a bit of thick neck from that swallow. Do notice all the breeding season finery. This was anything but close, but it was as close as I got. Remember I'm shooting with the 35mm equivalent of a 750mm super zoom, with which far is closer.
Off for more food, I assumed.
White Rock Lake
Got to the lake as the sunset was forming pink streaks in the sky. I drove down Arboretum Drive more calming than hopeful of finding any interesting birds.
Fooled me, ha-ha. Found this little grebe within inches of shore, diving under for what seemed a long time. Then it'd pop up ten-to-twenty feet south. I'd back Blue up, feeling lucky I was where, along that road, the car road was closest to the lake.
But this is mostly what I got almost every time I aimed it its direction.
the fort worth drying beds
Couldn't stand another day of the same old same old birds at White Rock, so today early, I lit out for a part west, the Fort Worth Drying Beds in Arlington, to be specific. A.k.a. the Village Creek Drying Beds, where I believe sewage water is dried, and a sign at the gate that's opened at seven ayem if it hasn't rained or snowed lately, warns us that we're on our own there.
Not much light today, lots of birds, most of them far away, but fascinating and fun, despite the cold. Usually, there's more birds than I saw today, but I can't fault the variety.
Nice to have to look new birds up. No pelicans out there. Lots of coots, of course, they're wherever there's water. Didn't see any egrets. Saw four crows. No eagles or Northern Harriers, though. I had high hopes for one or the other of those. I've seen eagles before, but I've never seen a Harrier.
Diving ducks like the Ring-necked Duck, says Peterson's Field Guide to Birds of North America, "run and patter." My Macintosh dictionary says that means "run with quick light steps." Coots, it says "skitter on takeoff." That one's defined as "move lightly and quickly or hurriedly," all of which describe what these guys were doing to escape the long-black-nosed photographer. Dabbling ducks, Pete's says, "spring directly from the water" to fly. These guys needed a running start.
Northern Pintails are dabblers.
Which means they tip up, to get their heads down in the water.
Like these Pintails, Northern Shovelers are dabblers, too. But mostly they shovel ...
... a technique Peterson's does not mention on the picture pages ...
But it looks a lot like this. Northern Shovelers seem to come in a variety of color packages.
Now quoting the Lone Pine Birds of Texas by Keith A. ARnold and Gregory Kennedy, "Using its extra-large, spoon-like bill, the Northern Shoveler strains small invertebrates from the water and from the bottoms of ponds."
"This strangely handsome duck eats much smaller organisms than do most other water-fowl, and its intestines are elongated to prolong the digestion of these hard-bodied invertebrates." It doesn't say why their beaks are so big, but it mentions that all its "spatula bill is distinctive in all plumages." Of which we have a variety here.
From the length and breadth of that beak, these gotta be Northern Shovelers, but they do not seem to match the pictures on books, which seem to say these guys are about three months behind in their development. Not to say that books always get it right, or that I can entirely blame my miniscule bird knowledge or Global Cooling.
I had identified this as a female, but Jason M. Hogle, who knows better, says "The photo you have listed as a female — the individual with the gray around the base of the beak — is actually a male. All females are brown; only males will have a dark head and white on the breast," and he noted that, "The weird-looking birds are all nonbreeding males. I suspect they are juveniles, hence they won't breed until next year."
But these examples of N. Shoveler seem pretty far from standard.
Again, Jason M. Hogle, expert naturalist, says, "The real interesting bird is the last northern shoveler (the image called "But Then So Does This"). Notice the black bill: that's a sign of a male in breeding plumage. Otherwise their bills are mostly orange. Note how on that bird most of the colors bleed out to white--on the head, the flanks, the wings, under the tail. I strongly suspect that bird is partially leucistic. The bill color indicates it's in breeding plumage, and if you ignore the white it looks like breeding plumage, so it seems obvious the duck is missing a lot of its colors."
Here's a proper-colored breeding-adult male Northern Shoveler flying away, as they did almost every time I got close. It has all the right colors in all the right places.
Even if the blue and green seen here — that may or may not be entirely accurate or even real.
Although these colors seem right on.
And, of course, wherever I go hereabouts in winter time, there's always a long series of Red-winged Blackbirds proclaiming, though not always in such prosaic landscapes.
I've been watching for Bufflehead along the western shore of White Rock Lake this winter, but I haven't seen any. Here they were as shy as they nearly always are.
This one baffles me. More so after paging through those books and some others. Nice two-tone design. It looks Green-wing Teal-ish but could be anything and probably is something too common for me to admit, even if I don't know.
I'd called it "One of These." Jason M. Hogle, whose remarkable Xenogere site is beautiful and instructive, tells me this is a male Gadwall.
The one on the left looks a lot like the One of Those above. The other two look different.
Again, Jason M. Hogle to the rescue: "The "More Mystery Ducks" shows a male/female pair of American wigeons: the male is in the center of the image and the female is near the right edge. The duck on the left side facing away from the camera is a male gadwall."
Okay, one more bird today. Then end with two individuals of one animal variety. Tomorrow we'll explore some breeding habits of Great Blue Herons. But first a word or two about the little American Kestrels that were sparingly but widely distributed over the drying beds today. This shot is as lively as it is, because I used my on-camera, pop-up flash against that droll, darkness under prevailing dark clouds that's turned silver in these two shots.
This shot was without the flash. Way too far for that.
The only other person out there I actually spoke with today — I waved at three, I thingk — asked if I'd seen anything interesting. Everything there greatly interested me, but I didn't think that's what he meant. I suspect he meant 'unusual.' I told him 'no.' He told me about some "mole heads" he'd seen and told me exactly where they were. I have no idea what a mole head is. My dictionary site has moles, mole salamander, mole rats and moleskin, but this is as close I got to seeing mole heads today. I guess he was pulling my leg.
White Rock Lake
After awhile I gave up trying to find something more interesting. I'd driven nearly all around the lake. When I saw these guys in one of the parking lots along Yacht Club Row. The light was fading. I took my opportunity, coasted the Blue Beast in among them, turned it off, so its death-rattle wouldn't scare them.
I'm a big fan of our local variety of Grackles. Their iridescent blues and sometimes purples are amazing. In tonight's fading light, however, that sort of subtlety was nearly invisible. These guys, meanwhile, would try to eat anything. This one is pecking at that parking-lot lump. I know the feeling.
Theirs seemed a friendly mob. It was sometimes difficult to separate individuals from their talkative community.
Not so great great tail here. Handsome bird nonetheless.
But not nearly as winsome as this venturesome female. I worried she'd walk too close to focus. But she stopped right here.
Then another she walked across my field of view. I panned along. This was the sharpest I got her walking.
Such handsome birds.
I like it when they do this. I have no idea what it means, except this one needed to crouch down and look up.
Soon thereafter, in Cormorant Bay, I saw a couple things maybe worth watching as I almost drove by. Turned out it was another of the ordinary of ordinaries, Ring-billed Gulls instead of something more exotic. And something else I never saw again.
More out of rote than real interest, I followed panning along. What I got is a couple kinds of wonderful. Probably I should pay more attention to 'ring-noses.'
This one's almost completely blurred out. That's droplets of water splashing along its flight plan.
Then it was up a few more inches and away.
I watched the dozens of Great Egrets in the trees in Heron Lagoon, what I and my map calls The Old Boat House Lagoon, but Jason called it Heron, and I agree. There are generally more herons in the trees along the other side there than anyplace else at the lake.
My pix of the egrets in those trees are blobs of white in the branchy darkness. But while parked along the road into the boat house area, I noticed a fluffy gray flyover every few minutes. Down there I was too close to photograph up, so I drove up Tee Pee Hill, parked at the bottom of the top lot, and listened to tunes while waiting for more Black-crowned Night-Herons to fly over, left or right.
Most of my shots were terrible blurs. A few approached sharp. I need to go back with a real flash, although my D300's built-in flash acquitted itself well. Human can see it, but apparently, birds can not. Something about persistence of vision, which is how we can see movies and TV.
What I'm really curious about is where they were going and what they were going to do there. I suspect it had to do with finding food. It usually does, and they are not called night-herons for nothing. The bright eyes are caused by flash light bouncing off.
Kept hoping to see something unusual. An eagle would have been nice. Or a hawk. It's certainly hawk season. Guess there aren't enough telephone poles at the lake yet. So I kept driving. This pelican was in Sunset Bay.
I saw this one far away from the road to Dreyfuss.
This egret from along that same road.
None were on the ground because every hundred yard were more dogs. Mostly on leashes today.
I was collecting the usual crows black as coal shots when first one, then all of them began flying away. Since I was already focusing in on this one, I managed to track it across the road and off toward the bush.
With some detail.
I keep hearing about eagles from trusted sources. Not always, but often the report included crows chasing them. Sometimes in cahoots with Blue Jays.
More pelicans flying very far away. I suspect this bunch was spiraling down into Sunset Bay.
I found two Ruddy Ducks in Cormorant Bay. They were taking turns diving, so I took turns photographing them when they came up. I was walking back and forth on Bent Bridge, getting some walking in, keeping me just warm enough to keep walking. I always hope for more detail, which means I'm going to have to startle one really close someday.
Meanwhile I always feel lucky to get close enough to see their tails and reflections of their tails go under.
Patrick Fager got some nice shots of an American Bald Eagle at the Fort Worth Drying Beds in Arlington.
Oh, sorry, I did so like having that hood-up waxwing on the top of the page. Then I got altogether too busy with the rest of my life. Usually it suffers for this, now it's the other way round. How fascinating. This shot is fairly amazing itself. Here, two fast-flying Great Egrets nearly crash together — or so it seemed to those of us watching from the shore of Sunset Bay. Very likely the birds were never in any danger. I think they were just having a bunch of fun flying around, splash landing, then flying off together again. It was a surprise that it was in focus, since they were moving so fast, and I was reacting so slow.
Something we see a lot of in Dallas winter. A male Red-winged Blackbird proclaiming himself, his territory and his various needs.
Here's a remarkable example of the sort of synchronized group fishing that American White Pelicans. Oh, they do it all the time. Glide through the water in groups of up to a couple dozen pelicans. They don't always synchronize their movements. But at their most effective, they tend to follow certain precise steps all together, almost as if someone were calling off a cadence. Maybe some one of them is, just we can't hear it.
This is the beginning of the most important part. Their beaks, with that all-important expanding lower mandible slice into the water, sometimes with a little splash, as they look around down there for fish. Every pelican eats about four pounds of fish every day.
As the head goes further down, their wings tilt up to balance. If they've done the preliminary parts of the procedure right, they've chased a school of fish into ever shallower water, till they can just scoop them into their beaks.
Then the head and water- and fish-filled beaks dredge up with their heavy loads.
And finally, they drain the pouches and go back into the whole routine again. And again, until they fill their gullets. When they do catch something down their, they haul it up and tilt their beaks up and heads back till they swallow their catch.
And this is just the beginning of the sort of amazing pouch-expanding American White Pelicans are capable of.
I'm a big fan of The Fitchery (The Old Fish Hatchery Area), but I don't go there often. I try to remember to go in winter, which handily, this is, because then there's far fewer leaves, and likely fewer birds, too, but not terribly and not having so many leaves in the way is great.
Last time I photographed Cedar Waxwings with any clarity, they were besotted with berries in Sunset Forest, and I only had a 300mm telephoto end of a zoom to photograph them with. This time, I was almost too close and with a much longer telephoto. They were high above me, and they probably seem oddly foreshortened here, but if I had backed up, I would have been in one of the pans of cold water that hatched fish used to swim in many years ago.
Except for these top few, today's photos may all fall into that same category of photographic challenges. These are comparatively benign, adequately exposed and decently sharp, but as we shall see, all of today's Little Brown Birds are not.
The more I stare at this one trying to identify it, the more I want to just call it a Red-winged Blackbird of one gender or the other and get it over with.
The big trick for me with LBBs (Little Brown Birds) is always getting them identified. This bird's rather distinctive wing patterns, beak, eye and legs colors may give it away on the first go-through of one of my bird I.D books — probably Petersen's, because its pictures are comparatively large, though it doesn't have the variety Sibley's field guides offer. Well, not the first go-through. More like the fourth.
I'm pretty sure the colors shown in the photo below are more accurate than these are. What I'm not sure is if they are the same bird or species. There's so many possible causes for the variation, I don't know which to blame besides the photographer's errors, of course, which should be obvious in some of these shots, though perhaps less so in this one, till you look at the next one.
The right colors, more or less.
This one's in the same tree at about the same time, so it could be the same bird, a little too high contrast and with texture the original bird never had, but very very similar, which makes it a "Butter Butt,: I think.
Looks a lot like some Dark-eyed Juncos I saw two winters ago, in the same vicinity. Here and here, although this shot is both fuzzy and strangely exposed. Doesn't help that the bird is moving. It's especially nice to see old friends — and ones I've identified before. Says Jason, "The brown wash over the head and back and wings is how you can tell it's a female."
Among probably several other species this escaping blur might be, it might be a Red-bellied Woodpecker. It'd difficult enough for me to identify something I've captured sharp, in focus, and holding still. This one saw me seeing it and skeedaddled. I remember shooting anyway, but never expecting this much clarity. If one can call this clarity.
Jason M. Hogle identifies this blur as a female Red-bellied Woodpekcer. As he says, "That's a female red-bellied woodpecker. You can see the red doesn't go up and over her head, so that pins down her gender; the wing pattern and overall colors exclude sapsuckers, flickers and the smaller woodpeckers (like downy and hairy). Even a bit of motion blur can't hide who she is."
I'm pretty sure this is a hawk. I was standing in the woods with another birder whose paths we kept crossing and recrossing and finally we stopped and chatted a bit. He asked what I was looking for. I eventually admitted I was hoping for an eagle a friend had seen about an hour earlier on the other side of the lake, which I'd already hunted all over.
I know the odds were all wrong, but the Fitchery is where eagles have most often been reported, so I went here. While I was here I photographed mostly LBBs, but as I told my fellow birder, "I'll take anything." This hawk flew high over and then fast away when it sensed us. I never got close to focusing on it.
Then again, I was photographing crows, too, so it could be one of those. They don't call me "amateur" for nothing.
While it made me angry that the bird terrorist kayakers perpetrated all this havoc, it did make for some dramatic photographs, which a great long lens like the Rocket Launcher could make great use of.
I don't like to see any bird traumatized, especially my beloved pelicans, whom I want to keep coming back every autumn through early spring, and being traumatized by dogs, coyotes and idiot humans must be among their greater fears.
They probably don't interact with crazy humans very often, and that's a good thing. But I did not see any birds damaged in this stupid exercise.
Who knows about permanently traumatizing coots who start at any alteration in expectation. I've seen a lot of coot panic over the years, but never anything as frenzied as this extreme fright.
Today's shots are in as strict chronological order as I could manage. Our anit-eco-terrorists pause briefly to paddle after some more birds.
Scaring first a few birds.
Then all those pelicans who hoped to avoid the widespread panic from out on the logs.
And attacking till they'd cleared every bird in the bay.
We — gentle humans and birds alike — were happy to see the kayaker terrorists leave Sunset Bay Sunday.
Two kayakers paddled right through the middle of all the pelicans, cormorants, coots, ducks, egrets and other shorebirds at White Rock Lake's Sunset Bay Sunday afternoon. To the horror of about seventy people gathered around shore and the pier watching and photographing the birds. Certainly all kayakers are neither this rude nor stupid, but these butt-heads were malicious and mean-spirited.
If the Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect" species listed as threatened or endangered," is there any legal way to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, capture or collect these idiot humans?
The man and a woman, were clearly having great fun scaring every bird in sight and repeatedly circling back through the swimming and perching flocks just to scare some more. If anybody knows who these turkeys are, I'd love to know. I put them in the same classification as guys who sic their dogs on gooses, ducks and pelicans just to see them hurt.
I have lots more pictures, including birds not out in the idiot-instituted melee, but I don't have time to work them up yet. I'll probably do the kayak mayhem Tuesday and the Esther Williams Coordinated Swimming Style Pelican Fishing Wednesday this week. Stay tuned.
One of those great sweeping, not quite raining exactly, but everything everywhere is gray, gray, gray. And wet. And getting wetter. Gray enough to mute the colors, turn everything a muddy brown.
Wasn't really raining raining yet. Just that mist. Till I arrived at the lake. Then it started splattering. More than misting. Somewhere near a sprinkle. Reducing the visibility even more. And squashing more colors.
I've been watching pelicans all over the lake nearly every day. Usually, they're flying away, off to the other side of the lake from whatever side of the lake I'm on. Today, as I turned off Garland Road onto Lawther at Garland Bridge to drive past the Arboretum, I saw American White Pelicans flying toward me.
Hardly any traffic, so I stopped in the middle of the one-lane, one-way road around the lake, uncomfortably jockeyed my camera with that great long lumpy lens pointing out the only window that still works. Over at the lake and those magnificent white birds flying toward me, showing off all those beautiful feathers and pelicano form.
I tend toward military language to describe them when they fly fingers to fingers, wing on wing toward me. Always have. Something warrior-like about them then. Something I love to photograph, even stretched out across the front seat of my car, craning the camera out the passenger sid window, forgetting most of the time, any notion of straight or horizontal.
Then, almost as quickly as they were coming in, they were gone out, spaced out on the far side of the lake, where the water stops, slops over the edge of the spillway, down into the gully the City is busy concretizing, turn a quick, unnatural corner left, then out through one of the many White Rock Creeks through the golf course and on toward I-30.
The color, the mood, the singularity of individual pelicans, not lonely, but alone, way out there among so much gray, dark and drizzly.
I love the look of trees in what Anna calls the Fitchery (The Old Fish Hatchery Area) down, behind the un-spilled over dam stretching from nearly Garland Road, past the Old Pump House, The Filter Building, then ending somewhere this side of the new Boat House.
A dear friend told us about some Harriers in a field near a lake somewhere else but White Rock, and we went. Knew we should have gone early, but sleep interfered with that dream, and we got there noon:thirty instead. We walked around the pond, wandered off on a trail or two and saw darned few birds, and photographed even fewer.
We relaxed awhile at a table, then got in the car and drove off to a stable where Anna paused us to look at horses. Leaving that, I saw something in the sky and wondered aloud, "What's that!" Anna stopped, I photographed this guy flopping around up there, then stopping mid-air and hovering while twitching its wing and tail feathers, almost as if fingering the air to stay in place while he scanned the landscape below for insects and small vertebrates.
I photographed him hovering [video on another site] in one place or another up there for 23 seconds, 164% of the time I photographed that Bald Eagle at White Rock last winter.
All the way home, we kept bumping each other and gleefully declaring, "We got a Harrier." But when I got the images up on the monitor and looked in my bird books, I realized we did not. We got another American Kestrel. A really exciting 23 seconds worth of one hovering right over us. But not a Harrier. Exciting there for awhile, though, and I'm happy anytime I can find a bird, not posing, but engaging in one of its nearly uniquely characteristic behaviors.
Usually, I get my best shots of kestrel on wires, from whence they look down on the rest of reality looking for food. Usually, when they jump from the wire to dive down and pick up some live food, I lose them entirely from my telephoto view. We found this Kestrel down the road a bit from the first one.
This time I managed to keep it in my viewfinder while it jumped up...
...Twisted around mid-flight
...And fling off to happier hunting grounds.
We hadn't hung round Singing Bridge since about the time it quit singing. So today, we settled there. Sometimes I actually tire of Sunset Bay. Today I was up for something new.
Whom we found first was this happy little Muscovy Duck family. We saw Mom, then the kid, who looked strangely familiar. Then Pop came swimming slowly but with great authority and girth across the pond to let us know we shouldn't be messing with mom and the kid. We were very respectful.
Must have been late summer when we last saw junior. Actually, there were two of them we found first on September 11, then again nearly a month later October 11, 2009 when they were still fuzzy but taller. So it was a delight to see this one again, and we wondered where the other one was. Did the dad eat him?
Of course, I am not certain this is the same juvie Muscovy as either of the young. I knew they when I saw them again in October, but now? They could be anybody. But we had this feeling...
That's Junior, third from the left. Dad first. Mom or somebody second, Junior, and the other somebody or Mom.
From the bridge on this warmish and not terribly windy day, we got a little different view of some Ruddy Ducks, a few of whom were doing something beside sleep swimming. We were excited.
Especially at the opportunity to watch them in some detail, diving. I've seen them dive many times off from shore along Arboretum Drive, but never got to see what was going on under water.
A little tail-twisting action helps propel him down.
Another dive, maybe another breeding male Ruddy Duck splooshing under.
With a little water flip from the tail at the end.
Sometimes I take pictures and just hate them. Other times I work them up think, oh, well, maybe. Then I don't post them, because I just don't care all that much for them. Last night I was just tired.
Each time the guys bolted from shore where they were eating up grain spread by Charles in Sunset Bay, I shot. I'd hoped they'd group a little closer. It always look like air full of ducks, but as you can see, there's all these big spaces between them. Doesn't take much to spook them. Somebody talking loud. A photographer bringing up his camera. A dog in the same county.
Mallard flying over.
Gold in the setting sun.
Some days it's easier to just do a few photographs. Took me awhile to build up the courage — and warmth — to go out and look for some bird for today's entry. Not surprisingly, Sunset Bay was where I eventually settled. Despite one guy with a little dog, off leash, of course, who directed his dog to chase all the birds — coots mostly — away from their grain meal on shore, rushing headline into the cold soup.
That particular idiot walked rapidly away laughing as the birds still fluttered away. Then came a woman with a camera and a dog on a leash. As they edged closer to filling up her camera viewfinder with birds, the birds edged further away. I doubt she ever figured out the interaction of dog and bird distance. By that time, I left. It was cold, in the 20s Fahrenheit.
On the far side of the pond, was a clatch of big white birds with orange beaks. Took a little bit of squinting to see that the preeners were pelicans and the neck-stretchers were Great Egrets. Only with them, it's called "Heads-up Behavior," and has either to do with courtship, as I suspect is the case here, or as warning of a fight.
It's still very much winter for us — our high temperature was 27 and the low 16 — but for egrets, it's already the beginning of breeding season. Note the nuptial plumes that have recently begun to show their breeding status.
Then a bunch of shots I did not manage to focus, then a lone egret that I almost did.
Then what I first assumed was a cormorant. It's dark like one. But as it passed me, it looked oddly different from most of the cormorants I've known. Too rounded, or something. So, after it'd passed me, I photographed it, still wondering what it really was.
It's another Egret Fishing Party, except more than egrets are participating ...
... Which nixes the notion that it has much to do with selecting a mate in a few months. Not when ducks and cormorants and even a Great Blue Heron got involved.
I said I was trying to minimize pictures on this journal each day, but sometimes when I run into a golden opportunity, more images are called for. Today was an extravaganza.
We were driving around the bend toward Sunset Bay, where we tend to end up when no other birds are obvious anywhere we look. I was about to drive over the bridge, when I noticed a line-up of Egrets along the edge of Hidden Creek where it crosses under Lawther on its way under Buckner Boulevard.
I turned suddenly, parked as gently and subtly as I could, but one egret flew away anyway. I pulled out the long lens and started shooting.
And shooting and shooting. I was close to birds under the bridge and out a little way, like this one, but still a tad far from the others scattered out along both edges of the creek.
After awhile, when no egret occupied the under-the-bridge location, I pulled up a little closer to the others, while maintaining a close overview of the one-by-one egrets, apparently taking turns on the island under the bridge.
My view down the creek toward the lake. More light might have meant my ability to use smaller apertures to get longer depth of field, and more birds in focus farther down the creek. But more light probably would have meant the birds would go somewhere else for fish this last day before the bottom drops out of the thermometer.
Meanwhile, there was the usual bevy of activities in and on both sides of the creek.
Including some, mostly intra-species squabbles, especially at the very edge of the creeks.
Trouble is, it was difficult for this mostly human to figure out what they were fussing about. I used to think it had to do with picking mates. Mostly however, it seemed to be about fish.
There was also a lot of aerial jockeying going on. For position. For a slightly new fishing territory. Or just to get out of there.
Or to take what they've caught off somewhere without quite so many friends, neighbors and family to close to eat in comfort.
Notice all the long, mostly straight plumes off its back. Signs of a breeding adult Great Egret, which the books usually identify as (February through July), which may be a little conservative, since it's January, and I've been seeing plumes since last month/year.
Egrets, of course, but in the big middle there's a Great Blue Heron, who's as hungry as any of the others.
Plus, thee were Mallards and variously aged Double-crested Cormorants swimming and diving in the same area. Very ecumenical.
I heard the male emitting a frigid cry as I drove down Arboretum Drive. I figured it was a Red-winged Blackbird, but it sounded odd, so I got out, walked back past the fisher person getting warm in his car as three rods lined the edge of the lake opposite. Took awhile to find the bird making the sound, but I never got him without a lot of branches in front of him.
Then I saw her flitting nearby in the same tree. Shooting up at them, I photographed both often. He stayed behind branches, still making his peculiar calls. She flitted nearby, staying close, feathers bushed out slightly like this. I think he was asking, and she was interested. I left when I knew I'd got good ones of her and the best I could — none really worth much — of him.
I assumed this was another male Ruddy Duck, until I got it quite large on my monitor. Now I see that black mark on her upper cheek that may identify her as female. She was the closest Ruddy Duck along East Lawther today. Many hundreds more were much farther out. Dots, really, in the distance. This the only one who has glossy bits and fuzzy parts and glowing eyes.
Later, after I heard the stuttering cry of a Kingfisher in hidden creek. I watched it fly up from under the bridge, into a nearby tree. Then I got out of the car holding my camera and long lens. I stood there getting colder for maybe ten minutes. No return of the noisy Kingfisher. But we'll both be back, maybe even coinciding in time.
I've been attempting to make these journal entries simpler, with fewer birds and better quality. Of course, that's easier when I get good shots, and sometimes that doesn't happen. Guess I should just not even try those days, unless what I fail at capturing is interesting anyway. But I still tend to get all obsessed and shoot and shoot and shoot. I'm trying to be a little more succinct this year.
We were driving up onto West Lawther from Parrot Bay, when I saw what looked like a bunch of sticks sticking out of a log way up the hill overlooking the bay. We stopped, and I set about photographing the sticks with the Rocket Launcher. This shot is about as good as I could do from as far away as we were.
It'd been awhile since either of us had seen a Great Blue Heron, so we treated it like a little miracle. It was cold, so I stayed in the car and wrapped myself around to hold the lens still in the crotch of the window, both of us stopping breathing or bumping for a few seconds.
Only took maybe a hundred shots today. Most of them less than good. I liked this, because for awhile I didn't know who it was. Now, with that beak and color configuration, it's obviously a grackle and with that small a tail and body, it has to be a juvenile. It looks a little surprised. Maybe, considering how many grackles are at the lake, it was startled to have a photog taking its pic. Me, too.
Usually, unless they're being the bad guy to some coots by stealing their food. Or when they're playing drop and catch the ball with themselves, I don't much bother with our usual, rather ordinary — here — gulls, but today I couldn't get close enough to anybody else, and they were nice enough to pose.
Juvenile Double-crested Cormorant swimming down a feeder creek into Parrot Bay. I knew it was a pretty good shot, and that I wanted to do another one, maybe even better. So I clicked again.
Netting a semi-spectacular dive splash. When I next saw this cormorant, it was thirty feet down the creek.
This is as close as I've got to a Ruddy this season. Notice the slightly flaring dark down on its back where the face is tucked in. So I got detail. If only I could see his face.
Gradually, slowly, stumbling all along the way, I am figuring out who are these birds.
Then along comes some goof paddling a canoe and scaring every bird in the bay ...
Now I'm thinking this is a female Red-winged Blackbird. That tiny bit of reddish-orangish yellow on her wing may have finally given this one away. Why do I go through this every year. Will I ever learn, "oh, that's a female red-wing...,
Jason M. Hogle says this is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Not being able to see its head or side or front is a handicap. But I know I've seen this one before. I'm guessing it's a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. There's a much better shot of it a couple of clicks down November 2008. This is the best shot I got, though I tried half a dozen times.
This one, however, I know for certain. I've been wanting to get a good shot of a so-called European Starling. It's the European part that's so-called. They're actually from Eastern Asia. When this one started spreading its wings apart, I focused in.
And was slightly disappointed to see that it was defecating. Oh, well. Always nice to see what all those usually hidden feathers look like splayed out.
Later, we drove to Arlington to see what we could see at the Fort Worth solid waste Drying Beds. There were lots of Northern Shovelers there, plus we heard there was an American Kestrel that'd been seen dismembering a small something or nother, but not even bones were found where that happened.
Driving away, we saw the silhouette of a slightly-larger-than-usual bird on the top of a smallish tree overlooking everything there. I shot it as silhouette a couple times, then opened the lens up to overexpose the bird, and got this. One American Kestrel. Kinda far to go for one half-way decent shot of one bird. Especially one of a pair I see often at White Rock.
January 1 2010
We didn't get all dedicated today or expect lots of birds as late as we got out — after partying — on this year's first visit to the lake. And compared The Pelican Fly-a-thon two days ago, these shots of pelicans are lackluster, but there's a point, and that point needs a link to somebody else who knows what they are talking about.
What they are talking about is "ground effect." I've written many times about seeing, especially pelicans, but other birds as well, flying very very low. I've wondered about it. I've offered silly hypotheses. But not until today have I asked the Internet. When I typed, "Why do birds fly so low over water?" in the Google slot, the first response was Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye's eloquent reply:
Skimming: Why birds fly low over water, which succinctly and more than adequately explains the phenomenon. And that page — and each of those that link to it, offers another link to more fascinating information about birds. Nice way to start a year.
text and photographs copyright 2009 by J
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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.