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White Rock Lake & Park
Remember back on January 19, when I promised I'd show you the pelican pictures I shot that day? Then kept promising that I would, and still I did not? Well, these are they, and I'm not sure it was worth waiting — should have posted them earlier, but I kept finding other birds to do, and they always seemed more important at that moment. Till now, and here they are.
One of the more interesting things American White Pelicans do with their beaks is a series of stretches and contractions that goes a little like this.
Stretch their malleable lower mandible out/up, then invert it over the protrusion of their breast.
Then hold their head way up, tilt back and open that yap wide as it will go.
The Old Boathouse Lagoon is not usually a place I think of a place pelicans work and play, but that day it certainly was.
And of course, wherever pelicans are, there's flying to be photographed, and I did.
Something else pelicans do with their beaks is to go fishing, all in unison, a practice I like to liken to an Esther Williams, synchronized swimming routine right out of the 1950s, like Busby Berkely
They don't always exactly synchronize their dipping and dragging those big beaks around down under water, but sometimes it looks like it. Here it looks more like they're a little out of synch.
While nearly everybody's got their heads under, a few have already come up and flexible pouches nearly hanging, are ready to dunk back down again. Meanwhile, the Great Egret forward left, is fishing in its own unique way. By standing there waiting for a fish to come into view.
Other times, pelicans don't look all that organized.
And when photographers least expect it, somebody jumps into the air and begins to fly away.
Today (January 19th)'s parting shot is a couple dozen American White Pelicans with their tails and wings up, dipping their beaks down below the surface to snag some food. Egrets fly overhead.
Trinity river audubon Center
Fairly early morning a trip to TRAC east of here on the Trinity River. Nice no-coat weather, and we never saw another birder, hiker or small child. Saw plenty birds, but mostly of the small to tiny range. And fast. Much faster than I was, although after panning around the area of the center building trying to catch two male cardinals roller-coaster blurring the air and near trees, I finally did capture this image of one jumping into flight.
I know I have identified this configuration of colors and shapes and that orange beak on a bird before. I searched "orange" and "beak" with my multi-site Google Searcher, but to no avail. I must not have mentioned the obvious. This is as still as it got while I tried to capture its essence. Not very still even here. But, if I knew what it was, I'd be able to recognize it. If only.
Harris Sparrow, maybe? Yep, that's it.
They didn't arrive together or leave together, but they were there together long enough for me to finally get them in focus. I'll have to track their identities down in the books I've been trying to find the orange beak bird above in. I seem to be getting worse at identifying birds. But more determined to find different birds than are at White Rock Lake.
The rule I've developed over these several years since I started the Bird Journal is that it's probably what you least want it to be and what is the most common bird in that configuration, which almost guarantees these are Red-tailed Hawk. If you see a hawk anywhere in the USA, it is very probably a Red-tailed Hawk. These guys might even be related.
A booger to get in focus among all those tiny little greenish twigs. Sure looks familiar. I simply do not know who this is, but I think it's a sparrow, which probably means it isn't. I've already gone through the simple images in the Lone Pine Birds of Texas, the big pictures in Peterson's, searching back trough some of my journal pages. Now I'm winnowing through the tiny images in Sibley's Guide to Birds.
Hmm. A Rufous-crowned Sparrow? I'll look those words up on the net and see what turns up.
Well, not enough. None of the online pix look quite like this one. Yet. Nope, nope and nope.
At White Rock, birds seem to think it's spring, or at least coming up on mating season — if that ever ends enough to have to restart.
White Rock Lake Park
Ducks chasing each other. I got into the fun of it, clicking away.
Images started looking pretty good, so I kept at it. Grand fun, really. I'd lowered the contrast on the camera earlier just to see what difference that'd make. I forgot to think about it again till just now. And I'd set it to maintain 1/125 second slowest shutter speed while resetting the ISO. Both worked well this trip. I like it. My newer Nikon goes to the shop soon. This is my old one, and it's been doing very very well lately.
This duck could have taken to the air at any time during the chase, but it did not. Round and round the shore-line area where Charles usually feeds the geese and ducks and coots and anybody else who shows up.
And through all that, this white duck chased this other white duck. I never thought to check which one had a curled tail. With Mallards, at least, the one with the curly tail is the male.
At about this point in the chase and getting caught, the true meaning of the chase began to reveal itself.
Then this hybrid Muscovy Duck sauntered in and got on top, did what he came for.
Then gradually got off.
We figured this is how hybrid Muscovies are generated.
Except, upon closer scrutiny, even the nearly all white ducks appear to be Muscovy hybrids — although that may be redundant, since what Muscovy ducks are almost always is the result of hybridization that has nothing whatsoever to do with Moscow.
Just enough time to do a quick trip down Arboretum Drive from Garland Road to Winfrey on my way to appointments and groceries. Needed confirmation that my old Nikon, the D200, not the D300 that's ailing, would handle exposure well enough to make it my go-to camera while the D300 is back in Nikon's hands.
According to my treasured Lone Pine Birds of Texas, "tiny Buffleheads are right at home in coastal bays and estuaries amid their larger relatives. During their winter stay in Texas, Bufflehads ride the waves, diving for mollusks, mostly snails. If you are lucky, you may even see a whole flock dive at the same time. ... "Bufflehead" is short for "buffalo0head."
White Rock Lake is listed in that book as the first of the "Best Sites" in Texas to see them, but we've seen many more — whole flocks — at the Arlington Drying Beds.
And, of course, the brief, but distinctive sign that a Bufflehead has just gone under. Most likely to look for food, although they tend to do that when something like a human or a habitat-destruction machine enters its angle of view. They stay down awhile, too. I was sitting in The Slider in the single-lane un-traffic hoping no one would come up behind me, when someone came up behind me, and I moved on down the road.
Where I found these guys. Note the stiff tails sticking up and out at about 45-degrees. I've learned to accept their shyness around humans, including photographers, and their ability or penchant to swim away from me when I sneak up on them from behind reeds or bushes along the shore. Only rarely do they escape with their heads up, usually they are snuggled into their back and wing feathers.
Per today's exposure test, once I got the color balance right and the exposure set so it did not blow out the highlights as pure white, the D200's continous exposures were right on the money, neither over-bright overexposures nor way-too-dark underexposures marring my experience. Hooray!
My Sigma Zoom's less than a week back from the fixit, and it's already up to its old tricks. Plus now my big Nikon's doing funny (un-ha-ha) things with exposure, which has become a major challenge. Guess I'll have to pony up the $300 and send it back to Nikon for five weeks. How fun.
I do have a backup Nikon and the Stigmata does work most of the time, so I'm not SOL, but it's been difficult to guide the exposure, let alone trying to control it and all the other aspects of my photography lately. Not that I'd ever use it for birds, but my Canon S90 is in the same sinking boat, and I hear other laker bird photogs have it even worse. Maybe I should just go hide.
I had to stop at the stop sign on Williamson to photo the Great Egret on the Rail across the street, then check exposure and zoom in, just as it twisted off the top rail and took flight back to the daily egret conclave.
Which looks a lot like this. Here comes a challenger swooping in.
Flashing past most of the crowd, looking all elegant and showing the best form.
Then nearly crash-landing into an egret standing down in the creek. This image is complicated by the accidental inclusion of The Slider's rear-view mirror at bottom left. Next the displaced egret ...
Takes wing and flies away, back whence came its challenger/displacer.
Little while later, another egret raises its head and thins out its long neck as challenge to the newly arrived 'gret in the soup.
Who flaps up with its head high.
Rising off the creek to properly challenge the other 'gret displaying Heads-up behavior.
A bit of ritual flapping — no birds hurt in this documentation — and the first challenger departs without anything ever touching.
I promised you pelicans days and days ago. Here's about what I got today. Maybe tomorrow. If my camera works and my lens works and I work, too. I talked to somebody today who said he only photographs pelicans. Not me, I photo any bird any time.
The Old Homestead
I'd been hoping for a chance to photograph Spike for about a week now. She's a hen, which is to say, she's a she — no comb, but has the girth of nearly a goose. I've often seen her in my front yard, just that till today, she's hid in the shadows and skedaddled when I aimed a camera at her.
I call her Spike. I suspect others call her what they call her. We don't have a chicken-lovers club, so we've not cross matched our names for her yet. She's a beaut, and has attempted nests in the leaves around my porch, but I'm told her eggs are not fertile and that she destroys them.
I followed her up my driveway without unduly alarming her. I was pretty obvious about it, and cut her off by leaning in one direction or the other, when she tried to bolt. First, I tried her with my little Canon S90, but that camera's getting more useless by the day. I figured I'd have time to track down my Nikon with a zoom lens, did, found her the fifth or sixth places I looked for her, and stayed at some distance so not to spook her for these shots.
The Trinity River Audubon Center
Today's under-photo quotes are from the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation website.
I know I promised pelican pictures today, but Thursnight we went to the Trinity River Audubon Center to see Kathy Rogers of Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation talk about what she does, and she does a lot for birds. Thousands of birds are brought to her facility near Hutchins, Texas (about 15 minutes south of Dallas off I-45) each year, and most of those birds survive thanks to Kathy and her dedicated staff, several of whom were present at the presentation.
"Bulbasaurous was brought to us as a two-week-old chick from the UTSW rookery. He had been brutally attacked by his nest mates and had fallen out of his nest. After many intense hours of rehabilitation, we decided to keep him as an educational bird. He now is a permanent resident at the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation facility.
Young Black-crowned Night-Herons often disgorge their stomach contents when disturbed. This habit makes it easy to study its diet. It may nest in the same tree with Ibises or other herons. Adults apparently do not distinguish between their own young and those from other nests, and will brood chicks not their own. "
Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation is the only full-service wildlife rehabilitation center of its kind in Texas, and it is, as Kathy Rogers repeatedly stressed, open every day of the year. Often, she said, especially in the spring and summer, there are lines of people with injured or ill birds out the front door, across the porch area, snaking out through the parking lot, and the staff will deal with every bird.
"Forest, the Barn Owl, was brought to us as a hatchling egg that someone found in their hunting blind. When he hatched, he had multiple abnormalities and was deemed unreleasable. He now is permanent resident at the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation facility. ...
The Barn Owl is one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica, and on many oceanic islands as well. The Barn Owl has excellent lowlight vision and can easily find prey at night by sight. But its ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal ever tested. It can catch mice in complete darkness in the lab, or hidden by vegetation or snow out in real world."
Rogers does everything but major surgery, which a veterinarian in Dallas does for them. They feed many baby birds every fifteen minutes all day long, perform quick triage, diagnose and repair all day every day. If I had recorded the evening's presentation, I could tell you much more, but I'd be writing all day and all night. If you ever get a chance to hear Kathy Rogers talk, take the opportunity, it will be a major education. It was for me, and I'd been to her center often.
Note the thick leather gloves. Owls and other birds of prey, including hawks, have sharp claws and strong, prehensile feet.
Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation releases many of the birds they get in. A few, who cannot be released back into the wild, either because they cannot hunt and feed themselves, or because they won't, become Education Birds. That's who these guys pictured in today's entry are. They are, of course, why I was there. I love photographing birds, and I cherish the opportunity to touch them.
"Pyro was brought to us as a two-week-old chick" that had been raised illegally since he hatched. He suffered from extreme malnourishment due to the wrong diet and had metabolic bone disease ... Rogers got him on the right track, and he is now a permanent Educational Bird there.
This is probably the most common hawk in North America. If you've got sharp eyes you'll see several individuals on almost any long car ride, anywhere. Red-tailed Hawks soar above open fields, slowly turning circles on their broad, rounded wings. Other times you'll see them atop telephone poles, eyes fixed on the ground to catch the movements of a rabbit, or simply waiting out cold weather before climbing a thermal updraft into the sky."
The opportunity to photograph close essentially wild birds and see how everything is connected and how it all works is a big deal to this still-amateur birder. Feeling the feathers on the owl at the top of today's journal entry was amazing. Luxuriating it its thick, soft feathers, and realizing that they are so much thicker than the nearly insubstantial flesh and bone below them was revealing.
"In 1988, Cindy was rescued from a landowner in Lancaster. Her cage was a window air conditioner shell. A broom handle was her only perch. The sheet metal floor pan was a one-inch thick mass of maggots, animal grease and rotting meat. Her wing and tail feathers were broken down to stubs."
We're touchy-feely people who like to touch animals, but getting close enough to touch — even pet — birds I often attempt to photograph, if only fleetingly, was an emotional experience I could not have done without.
Their website describes Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center as "a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization specializing in the rescue and rehabilitation of injured, sick or orphaned birds of all types. Our goal is to restore the health and independence of these precious creatures so they may be released back into their natural environment."
We've been there many times and look forward to many more visits. It's a bird photographer's dream. Birds of all types and colors and sizes and shapes. Rogers deals with an amazing variety of birds — in cage-like enclosures and birds wandering around the grounds wherever they like. Some of our visits include in April 2008 July 2009 April 2009 April 2010 June 2010 and others.
This suite of web pages has for many months linked to their "So you found a bird" hints about what to do with abandoned or injured birds you may find: http://www.rogerswildlife.org/rescue.html
Both volunteers and Education Birds come in all ages and sizes.
White rock lake
I went back to the gathering of the egret clan today. This shot shows them being by something behind them and flying headlong toward me. Usually, they fly the other way. Remember couple days ago I mentioned I'd go back if I could figure a new way of shooting? I had in mind getting my Rocket Launcher back finally, and early this morning I finally did.
This is what they looked like when they weren't being spooked. Not much going on, except them standing there waiting for something to happen. For long, intermittent minutes, nothing happened. I kept shooting anyway. I needed the practice. Dozens, maybe hundreds of shots today prove that. Lots of out-of-focus shots where it's not even apparent what should have been sharp.
I still call it a dance, even though not much movement occurs most of the time. I've been thinking it's like a mixer. Everybody stands around doing not much till the music gets going. The music affects different ones of us differently. Them, too, it seems. New egrets flew in every once in a while. I love photographing egrets taking off, flying and landing.
So whenever I got the chance I photographed some more. I had worried the finally returned lens didn't focus as well as before. This proves otherwise.
Every long once in awhile a lot of activity would commence suddenly. From my perch in The Slider, wherever we parked that moment, I'd scan the whole wide scene of white birds on the landscape. When one stuck its head up much higher than normal, I'd know something was up. That's a challenge. Generally, to fight. Settling who's top bird is, I think, what this dance, this mixer, is all about.
If there were any injuries inflicted, however, it was over quick. Mostly, today was birds facing off at one another, then stopping. There was some I-want-that-place-you're-standing-on, and who wants generally grabs. Not exactly violence. Just one-upping. Then there's some pyrotechnic flying.
Trouble is, with so many white birds all around all around, I could rarely tell at whom any specific behavior was aimed. Sometimes, I watched a heads-up followed by a challenge, but likely as not the challenger would immediately back off. I don't know why. I've never been an egret. Probably never will be.
This I understand. I caught several swoops today. I always tried to catch them. Sometimes I succeeded. That both these shots are egrets flying diagonally across the landscape is pure happenstance. Coinkidink.
I like this one. It's almost full frame. Meaning that 150-500mm zoom, racked all the way out to 500, like most of us who own such a thing generally have it zoomed out, was just enough this time. Often today, however, it was still too short. At least this one has a head and beak.
Here is what I assumed as I shot this part of it was an actual charge. The one on the left is obviously challenging. And the one on the right is charging it appears right toward it.
Then nothing. Who's that egret on the left aiming its heads-up at.
Then the charger just keeps charging, and the challenger is still challenging. Heads up! Non sequitur.
Every once in awhile, a Turkey Vulture swooped around and through the area. Following a scent, I suppose. Or just making its own display.
You can't really tell from this shot, but the bird whose wings and legs we can see behind the first bird with wings flashing and flapping is a charging egret. The big one in front of it flashing its wings is about to jump. I missed all that. All I got was this.
There was plenty of action. I caught some of it.
When I couldn't, I'd photograph those gorgeous egrets flying.
Or fighting. Notice how close both birds are to having their heads up. Fight brewing? I can never tell.
The Slider and I slid down the alley at the far edge of the park area when I photographed this. I kept trying to position myself so I could photograph right down into those deep creek beds that run through the area. That's one in the dark shadows behind and to the left of this prancing egret. That's where I think the real action was going on today. I'll keep trying to get down into one of those.
I shot 537 shots today. About half of these guys. The others of the 105 pelicans gathered in the Boat House Lagoon just up the hill and around the bend from here. I'm too tired to work up those shots tonight, so maybe the day after tomorrow.
Ever see a bilateral
gynandromorphic cardinal? Here's
one from several angles.
Half male, half female, and we don't know about the middle.
Since I almost always go to Sunset Bay nearly every day, today I went instead to the Old Boat House area, and found these guys. All total, I counted 40 pelicans. I couldn't tell if they were my old Dallas American Pelican friends or a new bunch, but Charles reported that he saw more pelicans at Sunset Bay than he'd ever seen before. I guess that bunch, plus this bunch. Maybe more from other places, too.
Gradually, I edged around the slope side of the lagoon to the new wood bridge, photographing pelicans near and far each step of the way.
Might be a couple egrets in the soup with the pelicans, but mostly it's egrets in the lagoon, and egrets upstairs in the trees.
In groups of three or four to five or six, the pelicans would move over to the left of the big group of pelicans, swim around, up and down, line up, then start hopping toward past the group.
Get up air speed and take off.
And begin their flight up.
And higher, around the bend and the end.
Then higher still.
Some of them flew almost directly over me on the bridge. Then while I was expecting more pelican flyovers, this pair of odd-looking goosish birds flew me over instead:
I figured they were just geese, but those bills are really strange. I supposed if I'd noticed that part, I would have paid more attention to focusing, although with auto focus that's pretty much up to the camera, and my camera has not been all that on the ball lately. Keeps giving me an "ERR" message. I've looked at spoonbills and other funny face birds in my books, but I haven't found anything anywhere near this yet.
It's not a Royal Spoonbill, Roseate Spoonbill, Ageing Eurasian Spoonill, Eurasian Spoonbill, African Spoonbill; but I suppose it could be a Yellow-billed Spoonbill, since its facial skin is edged with black in the breeding season, but yellow at other times; or a Black-faced Spoonbill except they're from Hong Kong, a tad far away from Dallas, Texas, USA.
Anybody out there have any ideas?
I met a woman on the bridge today who'd seen all the egrets in the park where I photographed them Friday. She said they're there every day by around noon:thirty. I might have to visit them again, if I can figure out how to do it a little differently.
My friend Kathy Boortz told me she saw a lot of egrets gathered in the park across from the main entrance to White Rock this morning, so I drove over there, and found these. I drove around all sides of the little park with a creek running through it and eventually parked and inched my way walking my most careful, calm walk in from the road to the left of this scene, across the field, to about fifty feet from where they were.
I realized last week it'd been awhile since I photographed egrets flying, so I was keen to get some of that action, too. It's been too cold lately to stand over the Spillway and photograph them out on the apron or down on the steps where the water turns to become yet another White Rock Creek. But anytime I can photograph bright them on a dark background, it makes images of them look better.
Following this same Great Egret down, lower and lower.
Notice the differing positions of its wings and feathers and angle of body as it gets closer to the ground.
Something else I saw several times today that I don't think I've ever seen before was Great Egrets lying down on the ground. I wonder whether they're tired of standing on those long, thin legs or if it's submission or something.
So this is a new Great Egret position for me and my photos of them. I've been watching and photographing egrets and the other birds of White Rock Lake, North Central Texas and other places where egrets are for four and a half years, and this is the first time I've ever seen Great Egrets doing this. I don't know why it's so new to me, but it is. They look great doing it.
Fishing games did not accompany today's gathering of the egret clan, and this was the only egret I saw near the creek. And it didn't seem to be catching any fish. Only hoping, I guess. Probably hungry.
I kept trying to get closer to the birds, since I still haven't got my Rocket Launcher back. Eventually, I just slowly and carefully, step-by-stopped out where they were. Inches at a time. There was even one Great Blue Heron I saw land not far from the alley, but when The Slider hove into view of where I saw it land, it wasn't thee anymore. Sometimes I pay attention to where I'm driving.
Note that the display of their long, splaying fine feathers seems an important visual manifestation of their presence in the glen. I can't help but believe whether they're catching fish together or not, this party has something to do with mating. Not sure what, though. By spring and early summer, many egrets will be paired off and raising families.
This bird is in sharp focus, but the ground is blurring under it as I pan along with the it flying through. There were about a dozen egrets in the trees overhead and a few outside the main group in the middle of the field. I counted just at 75 when I was at my closest point to them, but every once in a while, more would fly into view, and either land with the mob or fly off into the trees.
I've watched these mid-winter gatherings of egrets many times before. Several right here in this park along the creek at Williamson Road, but always before, they were much more active — and often it's been even colder. Then, some would be taking turns flying down into the creek bed to catch a fish, and others busied themselves chasing each other either on the ground or at low altitude through the air.
This time, landing and taking off was about as strenuous as they got. A few walked around a little, but most just stood there with their fine plumes blowing in the wind.
After I got home and was working on these images, Charles called Anna to tell her of the gathering. I appreciate any communications ever about bird goings on at the lake. Email is fine. Thanks, friends.
I'll probably go back tomorrow to see if they're still holding court.
This was the only interesting bird I saw today. And it was very interesting indeed, standing on one of the platforms out in the lake behind The Bath House Cultural Center. I was driving back up the hill from the Bath House, looked down and out there, saw a large gray lump I thought I recognized, got out of The Slider, braved the cold to the paved edge of the water — where the swimming pool once was, and the concrete's still there — and stood in the windy cold to take this shot. Over and over and over, hoping against home that I'd get it at least once sharp.
And sure enough, I did. Even if it was cold and so dark I had to raise the ISO significantly enough to make the big image above look kinda scratchy.
Once a year (usually, sometimes twice), Dallas gets cold. Really cold. Down in or below the 20-degree Fahrenheit level. That's around -6 Celsius. Cold. I keep going to the lake and not finding enough birds, and not wanting to spend much time outside the warm confines of my new-to-me car, that at least does not shudder violently when I'm stopped with the heater running and the window open with my 70-300mm tele out the window. Although I sometimes do when the wind hits.
My Rocket Launcher, made by and currently being stored by Sigma is still missing out of action. They've had it since the December 6. At first they said they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Then they finally did and reported they'd replaced the Image Stabilizing unit in the lens. What I've thought all long was the matter.
That was a couple weeks ago. They didn't volunteer any information. I have to write to them to get any communications whatsoever. Early last week (a week ago Sunday), they said they'd fixed it and would send it that day (Sunday). I didn't think that was very likely, and sure enough.
When I emailed Wednesday to get a tracking number, they said they were going to mail it the next day. I don't want to bother them further because they must be totally screwed up there, but they are being really, really annoying. When I sent my Canons in for repair — all three times for two cameras, Canon returned them repaired within one week from when I sent it. One week. Sigma is working on 5 now.
I've since received no tracking number, no notice, no word. I wonder if it still exists, and if it does, whether I'll ever see it again. It's not a great lens, just what I could afford, and this marks the second time Sigma has had it for repair — although they did not repair it the first time. I hope they fixed it this time, but I won't know till I get it back.
When this Kestrel did sight something and fly off toward it, it invariably flew in a great loop up, around to the right, down the hill, then sweeping back down and left, messed with something in the tall weeds, then flew back to the wire well over my head and landed somewhat left from its previous perch. I'd back up The Slider, and photograph it some more, wondering what it was chewing on.
I've been chewing on the notion of never, ever, ever buying another Sigma lens. I've heard that their Quality Control was iffy, but nobody ever told me about their repair facility being in total disarray.
If I'd had the Rocket Launcher today, I could have shown more detail in this bird. But I probably would have missed it even more when it jumped off the wire [above], although the distant, flying shots would have been better, too. For all its virtues, the Sigma 150~500mm lens is also optically soft and a lunk to carry.
I miss it.
I've been developing an unhealthy interest in what appears to be a family of strange ducks. Although now I've been studying these photographs, I think they are instead, the very goose-lick Muscovy Ducks. Not slender, but wartless.
Note the wartless but really interesting face that is almost duplicated in other members of the family. At first, I thought
Note the similarities: one neck, general body colors, white line around the eye, beak color. Girth.
A familial similarity?
And the white one has nearly the same beak — although everything else seems different. It looks like it has something in its beak, but I remember it was just quacking at something. Usually, in ducks, it's the females who do the aggressive quacking.
This is who tipped me to the identify of whom I initially thought was a species not in the books — even though we always think that. She got warts in the classic Muscovy style.
We have black muscovies along the the Big Thicket / upper Yacht Club bays, and I don't know where these guys stay/live, but the keep showing up at Sunset Bay. Odd how different colors and configurations of Muscovy ducks seem to settle in differing areas around our lake.
And on a different note. My favorite flyer, its own evenlope of speed.
Missed this guy's initial steps in prep for takeoff, but got 'im good doing it. My camera was stumbling and not always delivering the exposures I sought, but this is nice.
And the rest of his pattern into flight was clear also. Startlingly so. Photographing pelicans is why I go to the lake sometimes. Some other times it's to do anything but. But today, I was open for pelicans, and they seemed to oblige me.
Although this progression of flying pelicans makes a nice series, these are not the same pelicans. It just looks that way.
Each step getting a little more altitude.
Higher and higher.
I only got one flying pelican turning today. This was it. And I like it; I like it.
Standing right there through all the activity buzzing around it in Sunset Bay today was The Bay Gray, as I call it. It is probably several different Great Blue Herons. I have seen as many as three at one time there, but darned seldom. Usually there's just the one. Very difficult to see, because it moves so seldom, unless it's sighted a fish and after it.
A riot of water and feathers. And the hollow, cupped noise of wings splooshing into the surface. Fun to watch. Beautiful. Kind of amazing in several directions.
We saw dozens of Pintails at the Drying Beds last week, but White Rock rarely gathers more than a few. I've rarely been able to photograph his tail this well.
Grackles. Great-tail Grackles. There's always plenty of them, almost everywhere, but they rarely run screaming, "Take my picture. Take my picture." So I did. Dark version.
And light version.
Off Arboretum Drive I saw a huge gathering of cormorants, a bunch of gulls and one, single American White Pelican. Lots of splashing, thrashing and fishing.
An organized melee.
And plenty of landings and splash-hop takeoffs.
More cormorants arriving from points south to join the fray.
Near the Village Creek Drying Beds
Driving down the long hill from I-30, I saw looming black forms in the median, looped back another half mile down and found these guys doing a skunk, apparently killed by a car. It stunk, making that identification pungent even before we saw the white stripe as they tossed and turned the small mammal.
I'd developed a rapport with some Black Vultures at Kathy Roger's Wildlife Rehabilitation, where they were in large, flyable cages. I talked, it seemed to listen. I began liking them and imagined that they were somewhat human-like. Often while we watched today, we saw one or another vulture pick up the carcass and drag it out from under another bird digging around inside it. Big time competition for food in this group.
Here, in what passes for the wild, they stayed busy and intent upon their job, eviscerating a traffic victim. Not letting traffic flying by getting in their way. Hardly, it seemed, even noticing it. We parked up the curb on the opposite side, and they hardly seemed to notice us, either.
And snapped away at their strangeness. They hardly seemed to even notice us, went about their business. I didn't notice this bird's odd layering of feathers then. I was busy focusing and trying to catch the action.
The one on the left is an adult. Maybe all three are. Juveniles are dark faced (the one in the middle), but finding a photo or illustration of differing ages to go by online is difficult. Their Wikipedia page describes them as "a very large bird of prey, measuring 25.5 inches in length, with a five feet wingspan and a weight of 4.5-6 pounds." It also says they are "gregarious" and roost and forage in groups.
I don't know all the relative chronological ages of these birds, but the one on the left is the adult. The one in the middle is likely a juvenile, and the one on the right appears to be somewhere between, with the gray neck beginning to show (or else it's got it tucked in) seems to be some age between. I only noticed one other form factor while we photographed these guys.
Several of today's Black Vultures showed this white band around the head form, which I assume is intermediate between juvenile and adult, although I did not find either this or the form of the bird on the right in the image before this one in any of my reference books. After staring at these pictures much more, however, I think the cowling around their face is a matter of how long their necks are stretched out to at the moment.
Wikipedia does not mention the word "cooperative," and the ones we watched for about twenty minutes today, were competitive over the food available. The juvenile on the left is being careful, waiting its turn.
But when it sees an opportunity, it takes it. It's probably hungry. The adult bird, however, lets it know who's boss here.
There was lots of jostling and brief chases. And while those birds were running off or after, other birds took over the skunk.
Lots of action in the median across from a nice house with a great, brick fence.
The Sphynx-like adult pauses briefly while digging in the stinking carcass. Note the shape of their beaks, both young and old. Perfect for ripping and shredding bodies. Wikipedia says, "The species name, atratus, means "clothed in black," from the Latin ater 'black.' The genus name, Coragyps means "raven-vulture," from a contraction of the Greek corax/κ?ραξ and gyps/γ?ψ for the respective birds. The family name, Cathartidae, means "purifier" and is also derived from the Greek."
Wiki also discusses their habit of defecating on their feet to cool them down, but it does not mention letting other birds streak their bodies with the stuff. Several of the birds we watched and photographed there on the boulevard had conspicuous amounts of bird scat on their feathers. I guess if you're used to digging around in corpses for food a little bird dropping on your feathers is no big deal.
But that's not really what these shots are about. These are about feathers, and the various ways Black Vultures show and use them.
In the 70s I wrote a book about armadillos, and the way Black Vulture feathers are arranged and slicked down with [lanolin?] appears as if they are almost solid — probably to keep the slime of evisceration from penetrating feathers that need to remain flexible, so the vultures bearing them can still fly.
Would have been nicer if this had been in focus, but that's always true. I think those are wing feathers sticking out from wings. Not sure why or how. I thought I was photographing birds, and I got odd feather forms.
The fall-back position for the bunch we watched seemed to be on the roof of the house behind the fence. We'd seen this behavior on a recent trip to Austin, where the City had decided to let vultures do their clean-up routines inside the City Limits.
Eat still-warm mammal on the curb, escape to the front yard or the nearest roof if further evasion seems necessary. It was fun watching them fly, even if I didn't always capture the action in focus.
The roof was another stage for the unfolding action.
And the basic competition continued up there, too.
Counting the Black Vultures on the median, the ones across the brick fence out front and the several more that flew up to the roof, Anna added up to 13 big black birds.
White Rock Lake
Probably should have got there earlier or lighter, but it was already darking when I made it to the lake today.
Only a few pelicans were on the peninsula that comes and goes on the shore side of the lagoon.
Most were safer on the far side.
Only a dozen or so were on the peninsula with hundreds of coots. An inauspicious start for another year, and I was still tired from partying the weekend. Maybe next time I'll see some light.
text and photographs copyright 2011 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.