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Learning my latest camera
The Emory Eagle Fest
January 28, 2012
On Saturday January 28 we visited Emory, Texas' annual Emory Eagle Fest, although there were no eagles directly related to either the crafts sale inside Rains High School or in the wild bird presentations inside or out of the building, and there was one lecture on the American Bald Eagle while we were off hunting eagles at nearby Lake Fork.
The Eagle Count in Emory in mid-January 2012 found 27 eagles. Two years ago, at an Eagle Fest in Vancouver, attendees counted 7,300 bald eagles. There are Eagle Fests all over the world [partial list below], though not all of them have anything to do with eagles as birds.
On our unheated schoolbus ride to the lake for our early-morning eagle hunt, I heard a festival volunteer say that "only one eagle "was available, and it [something-something] too much." Cost?
The two eagles we actually saw and photographed on the "Barge Tour" were very far away, more like dark lumps in distant trees to our naked eyes, although my long lens rendered them better than I thought they could be. Our exciting pontoon boat ride to capture those few eagle visions are included in this journal below, but first, this image from their brochure, then more live birds much closer and in greater (!) detail.
We loved the pair of eagles on the cover of the Emory Eagle Fest brochure, and we wondered whether anyone else knew the upper eagle (he) was mounting the lower eagle (she), and they were about to have sex, which would probably only take a few seconds. No one was credited for the photograph, and there was no indication where the pair was photographed, although it appears they were photographed in a sunset, although the tree they're in was not. Clip Art?
If it had been photographed near Emory, it was cause for celebration, and we heard that eagles are nesting in the area. Some years ago, the Texas Legislature declared Emory "the Eagle Capitol of Texas," but they don't investigate claims. The recent, mid-January, local Eagle Count found 27 eagles in the county.
We were on our way to hunt eagles when the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center had their Live Bird Presentation indoors, but we'd seen them in April, 2011 when they were new, and we were happy to be on the cold school bus driving toward Lake Fork for our great eagle hunt, when that demo was in the Rains County High School building where we'd boarded the bus.
As soon as the emcee of the Last Chance Forever donation bird show started talking about a species of raptor that used to only be found in South Texas but had recently spread to these parts of north central and eastern Texas, we knew he was talking about this gorgeous bird, which we had seen several of around Emory on our earlier trip to reconnoiter the area, hoping for eagles but we saw none then.
We're big fans of more avian aspects of the yearly World of Birds show in the Bandshell at Fair Park during the State Fair of Texas, but we draw the line at birds trained to fetch currency from audience-members, then fly back to deposit the money in a box near the front stage.
These traveling bird shows make their money by collecting it during their free shows "to help rehabilitate injured and sick birds," but it probably goes for everything else they do, too. It seems tawdry to employ supposedly wild birds to fetch money. These guys did exactly that, also. This hapless bird is teaching the audience where to put their coins and folded dollar bills — "Does anybody have a hundred dollar bill?" the emcee jokes.
There must be dozens of traveling shows that appear outside and inside various venues all over the country, and they're often free to attend and free for festival and fair organizers, so they get paid directly from their audiences. Some, like the one at the State Fair of Texas involve skits and play-acting that appear spontaneous, but we've seen their shtick too often to believe anymore, and except for the birds, those shows get really old, but they attract large crowds and lots of little bucks.
Red-tailed Hawks are also native to this area — and almost every other area in North America. Common as they are, however, they've still beautiful, especially up close, and I love the opportunity to photograph them easily.
There may be something wrong with teaching wild birds tricks — and we disliked asking the audience to applaud each one in the show — as if birds appreciated the sounds of hands clapping, but these birds have been imprinted on humans and can never be released into the wild, because they'd just find a likely human (their judgment may not be that good.) and beg for food. It might get them food or it might get them shot or imprisoned till they starve.
For us, these shows are marvelous opportunities to get close enough to show these species in the detail and real colors that they sometimes hide in the wild. And there's little likelihood one would feel territorial enough to attack us for doing that.
The emcee also called this a Bay-winged Hawk, a term we had not heard before. Wikipedia says it's what Harris's Hawks used to be called, but this emcee repeatedly called this one that.
These images may even help me identify birds in the wild, and as regular readers know, I need all the help I can get.
You probably should remember, however, that these were shot with a 300mm lens, so these birds are farther away than they appear here. Still, it takes quick shooting and fast focusing and composing, which keeps it sporting for us. I used to photograph dance for that same impulse when I worked for the Dallas Times Herald and didn't want to shoot Cowboy Football, but birds are much more beautiful and difficult to predict.
We'd rather photograph them out in the open than in cages.
To show off birds' special hunting skills, spikes were tapped in the ground as corners, then a sturdy strap wrapped loosely around them, then pulled, so a lure that looked — and may even have smelled and tasted — like a rabbit, rapidly scooted, turning corners and moving quickly over the ground enough like one that it triggered the expected response from these captive birds, who are usually fed more directly. Sport for the crowd as well as the bird, who carefully guarded its captive bag of flesh.
The fast-talking emcee kept emphasizing that they don't get their birds to do anything they don't want to do — although the state fair show may not have as strict rules, but there seems to be a lot of leeway in how they get these birds to do un-birdlike acts. This time out, this hawk quickly chased and caught its 'rabbit.'
Then the emcee made a careful show of 'trading' something the bird would probably not shred before our eyes, for an more quickly swallowed piece of meat, diverting it from the lure by offering the meat behind the bird's back, then quickly disappearing the meat into a fanny-pack.
The Lone Pine Birds of Texas cites Harris's Hawk's size as 17-24 inches long with wingspans of 3.5 feet.
Many of the birds, still fettered with straps and strings of various sorts, were allowed to fly free around the football field while they were "on."
It was very cold. We thought we'd watch a little while, since we've seen these things before, then go inside where it was warm. Instead, we were continuously intrigued by the photo opportunities and patter of information, and I stayed through the end, and am glad I stuck it out. I had two pairs of socks on, and my toes didn't get really cold till our drive home. We pulled into a Taco Mayo in Quinlan and slept for about a half hour, got awful BLT tacos, then drove the rest of the way home after the bird demo.
I'm already a big fan of vultures. No longer think of them as repulsive beasts, although they stick those long sharp beaks down into smelly carcasses to pull the juicy bits out and eat them. I have talked with some in big cages at Rogers Wildlife, and although I couldn't tell if they understood what I was saying, they did seem interested and very intelligent, and the MC said they were. I think they're a strange kind of handsome and, they and the more colorful Turkey Vultures, fly like the wind.
Handsome devil, huh?
Milliseconds after being released. I love my new lens, and I got lots of practice with it in Emory and its wetter environs.
Again, these open-air shows give photographers a great opportunity to photograph birds flying, very close and frame-filling without much danger of becoming prey. Note how warmly dressed people in the crowd were.
It's always amazing when I even got them in sharp focus. Though with the new lens, it's getting less amazing.
The emcee unfettered it, so it could show how a Black Vulture walks — a mix of a stumbling, aimless awkward bumbling and ambling like a dedicated drunk on a Saturday night, but it got right where it was instructed to go. Which was right here, so it could bite the lower pant leg of the emcee, which it did repeatedly.
This is the cleanest Black Vulture I've seen. In the wild, even the urban wild, they scat all over themselves and each other, white on black. Urohidrosis in the process by which they urinate on their own legs to foster evaporative cooling in the heat of summer. Unlike their more solitary Turkey Vulture cousins, Black Vultures usually find food by sight, not smell, and they fly higher than their red-headed cousins. Black Vultures vary from 22-27 inches long and weigh between 3-6 pounds. They tend to travel and consume in packs for mutual protection.
When we were in Austin, Texas a few years ago, their scavenging prowess had been officially approved as an adjunct City sanitation method, and they were not to be disturbed during carcass cleanups. The name vulture, from the Latin vulturus, means "tearer." Wikipedia's Black Vulture page is the single best source I've found for information.
The emcee had bits of meat in his closed fist, arranged so the vulture had to poke its beak down inside, as it prefers to do with carrion. Several of the birds were fed more or less constantly while they were held — probably to keep their attention on the food, so not be concerned about all those other people jockeying for position around them.
According to the festival brochure, "Last Chance Forever is a nonprofit, tax exempt organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned birds of pray — hawks, owls, eagles, falcons and vultures — scientific investigation and the education of the public. Each year the organization gets 150-300 birds for care, and 65-80% of cases are returned to nature."
Birds who are non-releasable and not suffering are used in propagation projects, natural science centers for educational purposes or humane research projects. And these shows.
We missed the one ornithologist who spoke about Bald Eagles, and we also did not attend the "Branson Style Country Music Live Entertainment" at the Cotton Pickin' Theatre that night, somewhat after we got back to Dallas.
Sorry I didn't get a full front shot of this tiny owl that, the emcee said, is often mistakenly identified as a "baby Great Horned Owl," because it kinda looks like it and is much smaller. Great Horned Owls are 21-22 inches long, and Screech Owls are 8 to 9 inches. According to my treasured Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas, Eastern Screech Owls hunt at dusk or at night, take small mammals, earthworms, fish, birds and insects, including moths in flight. I think they even look like moths.
Again, according to my Lone Pine Birds of Texas, male Prairie Falcons are 14-15 inches long with a wingspan of 3-3.5 feet and females are larger at 17-18 inches long with 3.5-feet wingspans. Fascinating details about all the stuff attached to this and other falcons can be found on Wikipedia's Falconry Training and Technique page. This bird even has its phone number on an attached leather strap. The hood keeps the bird calm.
According to my Birds of Texas, "The Prairie Falcon is a medium-sized falcon that commonly soars for long periods on updrafts or along ridge lines."
The yellow object above its tail is a telemetry transmitter that makes it easier to find, if it doesn't return. This bird seemed to have a wanderlust, and we all watched it fly farther away from the goalposts the show was near, than any other bird in the show. And it stayed gone longer, pausing for more than a minute on a distant shed roof as if pondering whether to return at all.
The emcee said falcons are the fastest animals on earth, and they kill prey by flying fast and hitting hard. Birds of Texas says they use "high-speed-strike-and-kill by diving swoops, low flights or chases on the wing." They eat squirrels, small birds, large vertebrates and big insects. Wikipedia says the fastest a falcon has been measured flying was 87 mph while a Golden Eagle has been timed at 198.83 mph. Peregrine Falcons are faster than Prairie Falcons.
We did not see this falcon get up to full-speed, or I would have photographed only a blur.
If I had that many antennae and strings attached, I'd be falling all over myself. Earlier that morning, I surprised myself by keeping my feet during the barge ride. Because our eagle hunt took so long, waiting for the wind to die down — which it never did, but we went anyway — before we got on the bus, we missed our later-scheduled bus tour of the lake, so I still don't know what that was all about. I had timed the two rides to neatly coincide. We'd get off one, I thought, then onto the other. Luckily, the bus ride was only a $5 loss each.
By the time the falcon performed, Anna had already sought warmth inside the high school, and after the falcon, so did I.
There are other Eagle Fests in Clarksville, Memphis and or Dover, Tennessee; Neosho and/or Stella, Missouri; Narrowsburg, Croton Point, Yorktown and Harrison, New York; Billings, Montana; Houston, Texas; Ash Flat and Vilonia Arkansas; Chicago, Illinois; Hawley, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Arlington, Washington; Vancouver, BC, Canada; Istanbul, Turkey; and probably many others that don't have websites.
Setting out for our great eagle hunt, I wondered if my doubled long telephoto was too high-powered for seeing eagles, but I needn't have worried. We didn't see anything but some American White Pelicans, three Common Loons (our first ever), lots of cormorants and a few Great Blue Herons anywhere near close up. I'm not sure why exactly Rains County is billed as the Eagle Capital of Texas.
We'd been warned that it would be, and it was very cold out on the water, and we sometimes got splashed. I'd brought a plastic bag to protect my camera and lens, and I usually kept it and me hunkered down behind the box that protected the midship 250-gallon tank for holding fish caught in at Lake Fork fishing competitions.
The festival brochure called Lake Fork "the bass fishing capital" and nearby Lake Tawakoni "the catfish capital," though it didn't say the capitals of what. I wish I remembered their names. They were good company, knew their territory and were very helpful. Emory is between the two lakes.
Till I got my images large on my monitor at home, I was never certain what I'd photographed actually was an eagle. My Birds of Texas says it's 30-43 inches tall with a wingspan of 5.5 to 8 feet.
It lists Bald Eagles as "threatened species (USFWS), locally uncommon resident on the coastal Plain and eastern third of the state, uncommon to locally common migrant and winter resident east of the Pecos River, and north of the Lower Rio Grande Valley." Our barge guides told us eagles used to only be migrants, but now they nest here and stay year-round.
I could see it jump into flight but didn't get the lens on it till it was flying away, and yes, I'm amazed that it's in focus. Pretty good lens. And this was a vaguely familiar site. See my fourteen seconds worth of being the only person to have photographed a Bald Eagle at White Rock Lake here.
We saw three Common Loons today in the water either side of the barge. Our guides slowed our choppy ride, so we could get photos. I thought they seemed large. But then, I'd never seen one before, so I was pleased at the opportunity to see them swimming along.
These guys were also mostly only bumps in trees far away to my eyes. I took this shot, so I could figure out what they were much later. We also mistook mistletoe and other bunches of leaves for possible eagle sighting along the way, and spent a lot of time navigating between submerged trees that, because of recent drought, were poking up through the water.
Another day of testing my new lens, this time with the gizmo that doubles its focal length, enlarging twice as big / pulling the birds in closer, depending upon how you look at it. I look at it as a way to wear out a good J R. I photographed birds and stuff all afternoon, and when I finally got home, I fell into bed and stayed rock-steady-still for many long, lovely minutes. The gizmo only adds another 11 ounces, but it was heavy before that, and that seemed impossible, till I tried it, then it got down to just being exorcize.
Not that I don't need it, and I now remember when I first got the Rocket Launcher I though it would be impossible, too. When I hoisted the Rocket Launcher / Blunderbuss, I grabbed it by its handle, and I flipped it over with one hand. This new telephoto nonzoom (although I reached up for the zoom ring about a dozen times today) is much more heavier, so I couldn't just flip it over with the tripod stand / handle with one hand.
Such much of today was took up with figuring how to hoist and heft the new lens. The Rocket Launcher weighs 4.2 pounds. This one weighs 6.4 pounds without the gizmo and 7.09 pounds with the gizmo, which I used all afternoon today. 2.89 pounds more. Oof!
Luckily, I've been hefting 10-pound dumbbells these last few weeks, or I'd be dead, or my arms would have fallen off today. Felt like they did, anyway.
I'd been wondering what I'd do when I could only get "too close" with the new 20% longer-that-the-Rocket-Launcher lens. I'd decided I'd keep shooting and just get parts. I mean why buy a new lens, then not shoot with it. I wasn't sure I could make sense with the details, but this one worked well.
Again, there's no zooming this new lens. It is what it is, and it ain't what it ain't. One of what it is is significantly sharper than the Rocket Launcher. Which you and I can both see in many of today's images. Gobs of distinct details, not all blurred together like that other lens always did. And look at the gorgeous skid-water splash. Yum~
I'm in love with the sharpness and the detail. Delicious!
I shot everything that moved or didn't move for a couple seconds. Coots are the devil to expose correctly but this is about perfect. See the sharp, water drizzling down its breast and bits of feathers on its head and neck? That's why I got this heavy new lens and gizmo, too.
A woman with a much lighter telephoto lens standing on the swayback pier (thanks to yesterday's flood) in Sunset Bay said she wished these guys would all turn around, so she could get them from the front. I told her there were a bunch more down on the island past where the peninsula would probably come back in another week or so, but she insisted those were all gooses. Gooses there were, but these were among them, and these ain't gooses.
When gooses go someplace, they generally go all in a more-or-less line. Wilbur (head goose with the biggest wattle) used to always lead them, but Wilbur's getting older, so now some other goose does the honors. I don't know its name yet. I like the way this adult Double-crested Cormorant is perched with its head slightly back as if it were mocking a rooster.
This is actually a bit of a crop, but look look look how sharp it is. Amazing sharp. I'll stop crowing about its sharpness in the next couple of days, but I am impressed!
See "The Things Pelicans do with their beaks" for more examples. Or just keep scrolling down. For many years on this journal, I lived for the few seconds during which selected pelicans would engage in the multi-step procedure of stretching out their pouch. Today, everybody seemed to be doing it.
There really isn't any prescribed order in this procedure to stretch out and make even more stretchable by stretching it out — very useful for dredging under water to fill with fish, but these are distinct steps in that endeavor.
I keep being surprised how different birds look through my new, sharper lens.
These two birds stayed fairly close together for at least a half dozen shots today. And it's remarkable how well both — they're probably at least six feet apart — both are rendered sharp. It helps that it was a bright, sunlit day.
Must have been all the stuff yesterday's rain and flood dredged up that attracted some species I hadn't seen and some that usually stay far away from photographers even with medium-sized telephoto lenses. But today, they were so busy hunting and finding food, my presence didn't seem to bother them much.
These ducks are usually especially shy, and they are usually found far from shore. Like the grebes, they don't spend much time on top of the water but would far prefer to be diving well under it and for quite a while. That's where their food hides. These last two shots were taken from Dreyfuss.
I needed practice photographing birds in flight (BIF), so I drove around to the Bent Bridge in Cormorant Bay, because this time of year, there are always plenty of corms flying in and out of there. I was surprised to see the Buffleheads there, and am not that good at capturing BIFs with the new lens yet, but this one was plenty sharp — except for the flock of cormorants well in the background.
I've been closing entries with shots of the
landscape lately. Many of the Journal's readers are here to check up on the lake,
and I like lakescapes, too.
My favorite place in the near world — where I imagine myself standing on a balmy day with a good breeze when doctors and nurses check my blood pressure — was a little under the weather today. These guys are standing on the posts that hold up the pier at Sunset Bay, and you can't even see the pier. I guess I've been avoiding Sunset Bay lately, so I could come photograph it today strange like this. Cold. Very cold. Pelican weather. Birds don't panic. They just adapt.
Only in this light they look mostly brown, which they really are. That's the pier in the empty space behind them and that one coot. The coot is probably got his drawing on the interpretive sign. I bet the dark ducks don't, but their progenitor Mallards certainly are.
I did not manage to focus my latest lens on any of the pelicans flying in the air past the pier at Sunset Bay today. I can barely figure out how to hold the strange and bulbous thing. It's heavier than the Rocket Launcher but shorter and more to the point. It'll take me awhile to figure out how best to hold and aim it. The biggest problem with focusing on flying pelicans today, was that when they flew in from wherever they've been out fishing, there was no dry place to stand out beyond the trees, because the bases of all the trees that used to bees out on the edge of shore were underwater, so I stayed high, dry and unable to capture birds flying in — which I usually accomplish by standing on the pier.
They're still gangbusters fun to photograph landing, I just had to pick my position more carefully today — and there weren't much to choose from. I'm sure they noticed the change in land patterns, but they didn't seem overly concerned about it. The many other Bay denizens were hanging out exactly where they would have been if there wasn't all that water all over the land on the edge. Just they were a foot of so up, on the water's surface, instead of walking around on the grass.
Jockeying for position on the pier. Same as always.
I was driving down between the new ocean along the inside of the curve around toward Stone Tables, and I saw this handsome young guy being dry, if not exactly warming in the sunshine. The new lens is much sharper, so let this be a dark precursor to more sharper images. I suspect this is what I've been calling a "dark duck," which is not a species. Actual, correctly capitalized Black Ducks have medium brown heads, so despite its (her?) color, it's not one of those.
And this handsome critter. Just out standing in their high and dry field.
Stone Tables was under water. These guys stayed on top of it.
Saw darned few birds in the betweens of the places where lots of birds gathered. Behind the BAth House, this elderly Lifeguard Stand, where dozens of cormorants often huddle, were no cormorants and nothing dry.
Water up to and including the floor of the basement under the Bath House. No concrete rim marking the beginning of the long-submerged swimming area showing. Flood stage. Probably brief and gone soon, but it'll be wet down there for awhile.
There's probably a bird in one of those branches.
These guys have all been fishing. The pelican is heading home. Never know about cormorants. Some are headed off to fish some more.
Many cormorants are staying on just in case more fish turn up — or down. Cormorants have a definite advantage, because they dive and go down where the fish are. Pelicans can only dip down as far as their heads and long beaks can reach.
A bit of autumnal splendor in the background as this pelican flaps its way back home.
Flying low and fast, maybe as much as a foot off the surface of the water.
I had this one figured for a female Red-winged Blackbird, mostly because that's what most striped-breast birds whom I cannot initially identify turn out to be, but female RWBBs' stripes go all the way down under them and don't stop, like this white-bottomed bird 's do. So it's something else I can't quite identify.
Called Great-tailed Grackle when they are called anything cooth at all, these magnificent birds irridesce in bright sunlight, giving them a bright purple they don't ordinarily possess.
Odd sight, this. I was very careful to go around to its bright side, so it wasn't just a bird-shaped chunk of shadow, though I probably needn't have been so careful. This bird had an injured leg or foot. It looked like it might be able to fly, but it had a lot of difficulty standing up. Which is probably why it was the only Grackle I've ever seen lying down on its front in the grass. Last year was the first time I've ever seen an egret lying down like this, but they got up and flew away easily.
Not really enough information for me to make an identification. People who can identify birds could probably do it, but not me. Unless, of course, it's another Gadwall.
Whatever it was, here is another one flying away. I was scrambling to get the exposure better and trying to sneak up toward the shore, so they would be bigger in the frame, but swimming birds often take such a photographer maneuver to be the opportunity to ske-daddle, so they did, and I only got the last, slowest one of the bunch.
Longing, because I am avoiding hanging out
in Sunset Bay, where I know many of the birds by their first names, I spend so
much time there. On the left and above are gulls. Probably mostly Ring-billed
Gulls. In the middle and to the far right just under the pier — and at the bottom
of this image — are American White Pelicans. The black dots to the left/front
of the pier are American Coots. This side of the biggest bunch of those are gooses.
I got an email this morning before I got up, from Lakehill Preparatory School Director of Environmental Education Melissa Carpenter who said, "I have a what I believe to be a red-shouldered hawk that is dead on our grounds near WRL. Do you have any interest in the feathers or looking at it close up? If so, let me know. A red tailed hawk has been perched on it and guarding it."
I left a message for her soon as I read her email, yes, of course I was interested. But by then the story had got considerably longer and the evidence shorter.
As Carpenter and students watched, the Red-tailed hawk attacked and killed the Red-shouldered hawk, knocking it to the ground at Lakehill. There, the victor ate the best parts, for awhile guarded its kill, then flew away, so students and faculty could study the remains more closely.
Carpenter and students gathered feathers and the wing section, which she called "fresh," from the initial attack site and brought the wings in to spread out on the exterior of a building there. Then they went about their business. Meanwhile, another varmint, apparently well-known to many at Lakehill, had caught the scent of fresh kill, reconnoitered the area, and found what it perceived to be food.
And ate everything but the feathers, and probably some of the more bloodied parts of those, too.
Special thanks to Melissa Carpenter, Joel
Rodriguez and the students of Lakehill Preparatory School, 2720 Hillside Drive,
Dallas, TX 75214.
At least that's what it'd been known as for decades. Now there's a sign that calls it "T.P. Hill," but you never know what the City is up to.
My good friend X, who', like almost everybody I know, is better at bird I.Ds than I am, says the above bird is a Red-tailed Hawk, anc learly different from the Red-shouldered Hawk below. She's right. I'm wrong again. You'd think I would have noticed the obvious differences, but no. I did not. Ooops, again. Thank you, X for helping keep me honest. I really appreciate it.
There are prettier birds, and there are more rare birds than hawks, but I go jelly when I see one and hope I can photograph it better than this. It's still in this tree, but when I got close enough to take this shot, it decided to leave, which it's in the process here. Leaned forward, wings up to catch air and push it down and itself up. It'd be a great shot without the tree.
One more image in comparative focus after this one.
Great detail here, but after this, it disappeared. Poof.
January 14 2012
I was watching the crew of about forty American White Pelicans perched on the big log just west of the pier at Sunset Bay and standing on the peninsula on the east side and farther away, when I saw one pelican flying around up there. I had watched one pelican split off from the gang on the peninsula, but didn't see where it went. I assumed it was going to flap around in a noisy bath, but instead, it disappeared. Then this one came flying it.
I assume it was the same one, but since I didn't see it take off, it could have been any pelican, not that it really matters. On the pier, I tend to lend my attention to whatever bird is engaging in the most interesting activity at the moment. It's easier to keep track when there are several photographers out there who are talking with each other. Some do, some don't. Part of why I stand on the pier in Sunset Bay is because it's away from a lot of people.
But I love talking with other photographers. There was a guy there taking pictures, and we exchanged a few sentences, but neither of us was calling out where specific birds were. We each seemed engaged in photographing mostly different birds. If we had been conversing more heavily, he might have seen this one before I did and told me about it, and versa visa, for that matter. Suffice to say, what we usually say about pelicans in the inner bay, "It came out of nowhere." But it didn't seem to be in any hurry. It was up there mostly coasting in big circles.
It didn't start with the huge altitude they sometimes flyover at, but it got closer, which indicated I might get to photograph it for awhile, and I was hoping to get to follow it down.
I don't think it was actually flying with the gulls, although both species were up there, it looked a lot like, having fun. If this looks farther away, it's probably because I backed the zoom off to show more birds up there, although I'm pretty sure these are not in strict chronological order, because I prefer to put the best shot of the day on top.
Although this particular action did come after it flew around up there for what seemed like quite a long, slow-motion time. And following an American White Pelican around in the sky then down to the lake's surface is one of my most favorite things to do. Tomorrow I'll show more birds bathing, then a quick interlude with a very local hawk, then I really don't know.
Crow snow-surfing roof
Friday January 13
About a week ago, somebody left this dead parrot on my porch. Or maybe it fell from the sky into my inner driveway. Of the possibilities, it seems more likely that they left it on my porch, and one of the neighborhood cats who spend time on my porch dragged it down to my driveway. Hardly matters which scenario actually happened. I really have no way of knowing.
I found it lying on the driveway very close to where I stand to get in my car. I promptly put it in a clear plastic bag and sealed it. I didn't want whatever killed it. I have no idea what killed it. It very probably was or had been a pet. I worry about people who "own" parrots. Because parrots are sentient like human beings are, can talk and make meaningful requests and know who they are and what's happening, owning a sentient being seems wrong.
I never met this parrot until after it had been dead for awhile. Then, I allowed someone whose olfactory sense is a lot keener than mine to decide that it was stuffed. Never mind that it had no stiff armature inside it holding it in some "parrot-like" position the way a taxidermist would have. It was floppy, and apparently fresh. But I allowed myself to accept that it was stuffed, so I left it in the bag for more than a week, till my life calmed down some, and I had time to deal with it.
I never knew what to do with it. In the past I have set out to bring dead birds back to photograph them under a lot of light, because I wanted to know something about them and needed to poke around in their feathers to find that out. But I had no such desires with this carcass. And then I kept it in the plastic bag way too long, and the next time I looked carefully at it — I'd moved it several times during the interval but never really looked at it — it was growing white fuzz.
You can see some of that in these pictures. I kinda wish I'd photographed it before the rot set in. Before it started stinking. By the time I did photograph it, it stunk, and I didn't want any of its feathers or to have anything to do with it. The right thing to do with it when I first saw it was to burry it. Or throw it in the trash, which is what I did right after I made these photographs.
I might have harvested some of its beautiful feathers. I might have had a sudden attack of intelligence. But I didn't.
The bit of rough feathers around its neck was where I washed off some white fuzz before I photographed it. It had been a beautiful bird. Wish I'd taken the time to document it before it fuzzed over and stunk.
White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas, USA
January 12 2012
Today's entry is about American White Pelican splash-baths. Yep, I went back to Sunset Bay and stayed about an hour, talked with a fellow photographer a little, but mostly I watched and waited and looked and photographed. These are among my favorites, but there'll be more of other species' baths in near-future journal entries.
When pelicans bathe, they move a lot of water with those big, powerful wings. Those are what move the most and move the most water.
More mild a bathing technique, but ain't those feathers gorgeous.
Lots of water splashing and wing and other feathers in exquisite disarray. Sometimes it's just water splashing.
The American White Pelican in the back with its flexible lower mandible stretched down somewhat is engaged in a splash bath. The one in the front with the contracted lower mandible has its wings up and slightly out in drying mode.
I've photographed pelicans splash-bathing before lots of times, but except for the one of one holding its wings straight-out horizontally, these are all new shots for me, and I think that's special enough to show you these shots today.
Wings still up, the air still wet, and that
lower mandible is still somewhat stretched. Wonder why.
Gray, gray day. Much darker than it appears here. Hadn't wanted to go out before, besides I was busy writing about art after a long lapse. Still need catching up on my sleep. Maybe by next week I'll be as normal as I get.
Took a while to figure out they do this neck and wing and tail stretch right before they take off. By "take off," I mean they swoop down to the water surface, bounce or hop up, and again, and again, until they reach air speed. Sometimes in thick or thin or whatever the air was today, that can take a little while of hopping.
Almost missed this one. I wasn't ready, but it sure was. Splasha-splasha, splasha …
Four days from my last bird photography and such a nasty cold and too-gray day, took me awhile to remember about sharp focus. Glad the camera was up to it, when aimed right. Because I was still way out of focus myself.
Off into the wild gray yonder.
It's egret season again.
Little explosion of little birds.
Buncha birds packing a tree on the other side of Garland Road from the Spillway.
Something happens and they explode.
Exit stage right!
I haven't caught a big crowd of them yet, but I've been looking.
So, for now, I'm happy enough just finding them in picturesque settings.
I clicked five times during its sudden startlement — I don't like to flush them, but I didn't even see her or her friends as I snuck along the trees out on the southwest edge of Parrot Bay carefully avoiding mud holes, hoping for something new. Female Mallards aren't exactly new but the experience of tracking it and hoping one (only one) would be in focus, was. They're a little less colorful than males, but I still think female mallards are the more beautiful.
Anna's nice shot here continues my notion that this, early winter time must be Woodpecker Season. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a woodpecker that, according to my treasured Lone Pine edition of The Birds of Texas, this species "hammers trees for insects; drills "wells" in live trees to collect sap and trap insects; also flycatches for insects." More woodpeckers just below.
According to Peterson's Field Guide to Birds, they're "fairly common," whatever that might mean. 8.5 inches long. My Lone Pine Birds of Texas says, "Sapsuckers do not actually "suck" sap — they lap it up with a tongue that resembles a paintbrush." I didn't see this one, but I photographed an obliging male hanging from a twig and other poses in February 2008.
Hard to imagine something that comes in a styrofoam bowl that grackles don't like, but there it is.
I was hoping for a little more detail. Heck, I was hoping it was something besides a starling. But I like the abstraction anyway.
Of course, I wanted some far more interesting bird, a lot closer up, but I'll settle for a Red-winged Blackbird any time.
The dots are, in order from left to right, pelicans, pelicans, gooses, ducks and coots, one guy standing on the pier, ducks and more gooses. I haven't stood on the pier in that bay anytime this year, so far. But I don't know how much longer I can avoid it.
Oh, and I found some pix I shot New Year's Day, below.
Tough day. Not a lot of time outside. Needed laxing, so I drove the loop down Arboretum Drive, up Winfrey Hill, down the other side past the parking lot that used to be the road down to Sunset Bay, then up to Barbec's. It always calms me. I wasn't so much looking for birds as for a gentle breath of fresh air. It always works.
I saw grackles, of course, and I heard the screams of Red-winged Blackbirds, though I didn't see any. I watched a mockingbird fly across the road and up into a tree. And there were plenty Mallards, coots and Ruddy Ducks far enough out in the water that I needn't bother capturing their images.
But these were the only birds I felt like photographing. They were wondering in the green grass strip between the road and the walking path, and because they're wary of people but not at all of cars, I just leaned the blunderbuss out the window and clicked.
Soon there'll be hidden nests, and all that subterfuge of parents peeping wildly and acting wounded to lead us away from those nests, then we'll be seeing fuzzy young who grow up in a matter of minutes. Quick get a shot.
Found these two black and white and red in some places woodpeckers in two trees next to each other along the Winfrey edge of Sunset Bay, about as far toward that place that I walked to around Winfrey today. I am trying to avoid Sunset Bay, because I go there too often, then I complain too much that I'm photographing the same birds over and over again. In the above shot I am aiming my blunderbuss of a telephoto zoom almost straight up into the tree, through branches at this small bird.
And right next tree was another species of little (6-7 inches long) woodpecker, known to appreciate peanut butter in bird feeders, again according to that Birds of Texas volume that I have cherished since I bought it in the Birding Center in south McAllen, Texas about four years ago. The trick to adequately photograph these woodpeckers today was to avoid them being lost in dark shadows and keeping up with their sometimes frantic pace.
Today, I'm either photographing new birds or photographing the same old birds a little differently. It feels good.
All I could see from the shore along Arboretum Dive was black & white in this odd, big buffalo-headed shape, but this photo clearly shows all the iridescent colors of his head. I shot at least thirty shots of him while he was above-water …
Tomorrow, I could well be back at Sunset Bay photographing pelicans coming in fast and low.
… But most of the time he was underwater
searching for aquatic crustaceans, insects, invertebrates, seeds, mollusks,
snails and plants. And they stay down for more than minutes., all according to
my treasured Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas by Keith A. Arnold and Gregory
Kennedy, who also list White Rock Lake first of the best places in Texas to find
This was the most egrets I've seen in one place yet this winger. Here they are occupying the copse of tall trees on the old Railroad Tracks side of The Old Boathouse Lagoon. It was bitter cold the day I shot these, and I only got out of the car a few minutes to photograph these guys, then back in The Slider for warmth.
I still hope to find them gathered on the ground somewhere close, perhaps in the park area across Williamson Road from the main entrance to the park, where I caught their reindeer games last year.
Always plenty of mockingbirds in the trees on both slopes up to Winfrey Point Hill Top.
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.