July 29 2007 2007
A good walk is what I needed. I had in mind finding a Green Heron on this over-warm sultry swampy humid day. Not much sun when I got there, but an abundance of soup disguised as air. Of course I brought my camera, but my highest expectation was a good long sweaty walk. Which was more easily attained than Green Herons.
Kept my eyes glued on the green reeds most of the way down Lawther from Duckfia Point (more like a protrusion) to Winfrey, but I never saw anything resembling a heron, although I did startle a Killdeer — so pretty flying, even away. Two Mallards — he appeared to be guarding her as she munched away at the shore. I heard many Red-winged Blackbirds, could only see this one.
Been watching the birds out on that big log in Sunset Bay for years. Seems like bird species take seasonal turns on it. Sometimes it's all egrets, especially at night. From mid-October through mid-April it's likely to be pelicans. Cormorants take their turn. A Great Blue Heron has been a regular out there since at least April. I photographed it directly overhead heading and standing there. I should tripod the camera to keep from wiggling this much or wait for a bright sun day and use a low E.I. (like July 25-27) for full, rich texture and abundant contrast.
To see a version of this image big enough to actually see, drag your browser window as big as it can possibly get, then open this link (and scroll right) — although the smaller image above looks sharper, and the detail shots below show everything but the egrets and ducks. Amazing the diversity out there, far from meddling humans, dogs, coyotes, bobcats and other varmints. Almost safe.
I'm counting 2 duck-like blobs either standing on the end of the log under water, on a sandbar or the bottom. It's not deep out there. I've seen herons stand off from the logs. Sailboats avoid the area but it's easy for kayaks. On the log sticking up at the bottom left is a small white unsub, another larger mostly white bird against a brown duck, a brown Mallard, and another unsub.
This last unsub''s feet seem largish but probably instead merge into a broken limb, and a large black cap and darkish tail. He and his kind are why this image is here. There's several scattered across the log. As we'll see as we scan left to right along the big log behind. 5 Mallards, a tallish egret, 2 bumps, another Black-capped shorebird (Do they allow shorebirds that far from shore?) and a much shorter egret (?) whose feet merge into a duck.
2 standing ducks, 1 small white bird, a brown bump, another black-cap in the open triangle of broken branches, 1 duck with 1 foot up, I'm guessing a Snowy Egret (but then what's that little white one we just passed?), 2 more brown ducks Mallard style, 2 or 3 duck bumps, 3 snowies interrupted by more brown duck bumps, and 2 more ducks on the end.
I don't much care about the ducks. Or even the egrets. I am strong curious what is that duck-sized white blob on the big log, just right of the first black-cap is. Then again, it might be a regular-sized egret leaning over.
What are the black-caps? Too small for gulls, too far from home to be Oystercatchers (not to mention a serious lack of oysters around here). Terns have caps like that, but these seem to have orange bills. Or is that another illusion in my long series of unanswered questions?
I have so many.
May be Common Terns. My second Tern species ever. One good one deserves another, but these look like cousins, not sibs. The Left 2 — with a confusion of twigs I took for tail; the other backed by a duck bump — are different — maybe nonbreeding adults or juveniles or first years. The other 3 are essentially similar. Longish orange bills, black caps, gray wings and slightly darker gray tails.
Ah, there it is! At the bottom of 'The Big Sibley' (National Audubon Society - The Sibley Guide to Birds) page on Common Terns. "Adult breeding (Apr-Nov) Orange red bill with dark tip." Now, of course, I want to see them up closer, or with a much longer telephoto. Maybe I should start an early letter to Santa
Wood Ducks are some of my favorites. The males are vividly colorful during mating season (spring), and the females look good, too. I've never seen the eggs or hatchlings, but the young families of Mom — there's always Mom right there to protect and guide — and cute furry ducklings (and another) swimming around, eating anything they can get into their beaks, venturing onto land and staying with all their sibs for what seems like ever.
Then they grow, phase through their teen days, eventually becoming juveniles, learn their place in the herd... flock... family? species. There's still obvious differences between them and adult Wood Ducks (even if the adults are going through their own plumage changes), but those differences can't last much longer.
Their eye treatments remain their species' most obvious identifier. Great to have something that obvious to track their progress.
Today's story focuses on two kids. I never know what to call them. Juveniles is a correct term, but it covers a spectrum of ages. These are too big to still be chicks. Fledglings means they're flying but not feeding themselves yet. I didn't see any of the Black-crowns catch a fish today, these two included. I think they were there to learn how. This young'un seems awkward aloft, but it's just an off-moment in the flow of flying in for a landing on the dam. The next two shots shows some grace.
These first three are of the same bird, but today's entry probably comprises two separate juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons. I know I saw two. I just don't know which shots are which bird. I was pleased pink (or blue — I can't tell that about even adult herons) about having two Black-crown babies this close. The great thing about my usual perch on the walking bridge over the Lower Spillway Steps is that the birds are close and often engaged in interesting activity.
It's closer than almost anywhere at the lake, and the action happens in a mostly protected arena. Fisher persons get down in there sometimes despite big signs with lots of all-capital letters prohibiting it, and cops pedaling by who must ignore them. Fisher persons prefer fish bigger than these guys will usually take, but the birds don't leave a trail of trash. I wouldn't bet against some inter-species, human vs. bird activity down there, but the birds, who delight sometimes in stealing fish, can usually fly away.
Except that the SRO section isn't very comfortable; the guard wall (thanks for the word suggestion, Betsy) is too tall, and the whole bridge jiggles queasily every time a jogger or walker steps across it (photography is usually impossible then), it's a near-perfect observation point with lots of drama playing out below. Like watching a multi-ring circus from the nose-bleed cheap seats, looking nearly straight down sometimes when they fly.
The perspective's odd, but the action has been plenty. Like the next generation growing up below our eyes. Handsome tyke, in't ee? Not small, either. Cute little plug shape. Big yellow feet. Bulging bright red eyes and a beak the size of Toledo.
The Upper Spillway was much better for viewing till the City closed it down and fenced it off after the two sink holes they had let collect water for several years finally burst out the brick walls attached to the dirt cliffs. Those brick stacks on both sides were called "retaininig walls," but they washed away, and the cliffs stayed in place, except where the sink-holes were.
This handsome young bird is going places, and it's fun to watch.
Keeping it simple today. Drove down the west side of the lake for a change. Shot what I could find without leaving the air-conditioned car. It's hot in Dallas today. That used to be a given. After the longest, wettest, coolest spring anyone can remember — more flood warnings than 100+ degree days, it's finally remembered what July in Dallas, Texas, USA is supposed to be like. I'd say that calls for a drink. Apparently this House Sparrow agrees.
A juvenile Great Tailed Grackle, mouth open, waiting for a parental unit to stuff it full of food. I watched this grack and two sibs stumble and fall around in the reeds for five minutes till I got a clear shot of this one. The mouths stayed open. The young birds stayed klutzes. Past time they learn to feed themselves.
Otherwise empty piers seemed to be the choice perch of the day for egrets. This is a Great.
And this is a Snowy. The distances between me and them are different, but there's still an obvious comparison of sizes. The Snowy's a tad more than half the height of the Great.
When people ask me to identify a bird they don't have photos of, I recommend buying The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which is generally available in book store bargain bins. Mine cost $7.99. That way they can look at all the possibilities and match their bird. I have 11 books, most listed on my Bibliography page. I'll probably get more. Bigger pictures might help.
That field guide is not the best book, just the cheapest that's good. The best is probably The National Audubon Society's The Sibley Guide to Birds, $35 in the US of A. Beautiful book. Mine was a gift from dear friends (thanks Linda and David). It's a treasure. For bird behavior the Audubon's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior - $45, is wonderful.
Please remember the A word in the title of this page. I can barely identify unfamiliar birds, and I still get common species wrong. As many of them there are and as much as I like them, Grackles confuse me. Maybe always will. American Robins baffled me — at first. And I almost always work from photographs. I use my books often, and even that doesn't always help. Thanks to Saint Audubon, unamateur birder Betsy Baker helps straighten out my I.Ds. I hate to disseminate incorrect info just because I don't know better.
I thought I had the differences among North Central Texas egrets and herons down. I've got a very popular picture page full of them and carefully explaining the differences. But I'm not convinced this bird is an egret. Big, long fingered feet are Great Egret-like. But even immature Greats have yellow-orange bills. Snowy Egrets have black bills and yellow feet. Both's beaks are long. This one's seems short and gray.
Closest I've come — till Betsy tunes in and tells me the obvious truth — is an immature Little Blue. I know they're white with black wing tips and gray feet. This so-far unsub's feet seem dark but in the right light might be gray. And its eyes are sparkling tan.
Betsy writes: "Your intermediate amateur
birder friend weighing in here.
Juvenile birds can be tricky. I rely on the big Sibley more than anything else for these. Your white egret with the black bill and legs and feet is a juvenile Cattle Egret. Those black bits are what tell you that, given the white plumage. Also, it's just a stockier, shorter-necked shape. Juvenile Little Blues have gray-greenish legs and feet and their bills are longer, pointier and two-toned. The tip is black, but the rest of it is a pale grayish, green or even pink. That two-toned bill is a good field mark to remember for them, 'cause the adults have two-toned bills also."
Then comes this red-eyed, partially red-beaked duck. This is a duck, right? Looks like a Wood Duck — especially the crimson eye and those vertical white lower face bands. But otherwise not. I've paged through my books. I'm not finding it. I do know that the reptile sharing its log is a turtle. A big turtle.
Betsy says, "That duck that looks rather like a Wood Duck to you is a Wood Duck! He's an adult male in his drabber eclipse plumage so he can take a rest from having to compete with other males for the favors of females. Note that white "bridle" under his chin? It's a washed-out version of the one he gets in breeding plumage. The red eye and the red on the bill are other useful clues to his identity. I refer you to the big Sibley for a helpful illustration of this plumage, too."
The books are pretty clear about this being a Breeding Adult Great Blue Heron. I lowered the EI, closed down the aperture, slightly underexposed and held the lens/camera combo very still for this. Handsome bird. Bright bib. Very distinctive.
And this is a Northern Mockingbird in flight, flashing that big, white wing patch.
My first choice was the Fitchery. Once I got in past no return, I realized the weeds were too tall for shorts, my summer uniform. So I paid special attention to anything with tree leaves together. Last time I wandered through that pathlessness, I got nasty poison ivy for three weeks. I didn't go charging through today, picked my way carefull through the tall vegetation.
Too thick to see into the former fish-hatching pans I'd gone to hoping to capture Whistling Ducklings. See my mother's photo of a whole family last summer to see why. I'd got to feeling sorry for the lone whistler at Sunset Bay, but now maybe think it was not alone but of several. I startled one unsub brown duck while tripping past in thick weeds down a tilted path I had to pay more attention to than photoing birds just then. I heard it before I shot it haphazardly— never did see it — but the partial I netted wasn't a whistler.
The Fitchery was rife with avian life but except brief flutters, I saw no birds but one splotchy dark woodpecker who saw me raise my camera and disappeared before I got it to my eye. I heard many, of course, but their corporeal selves stayed invisible in the thick foliage. I wasn't lost down there, just needed out, clear of the hot, sticky jungle of heat trapped there. I trudged up the dam, resting only once. Puff-puff. Expecting a breeze and maybe some birds along the top. Neither obtained. Walked sweating back to my car, drove all the way around the lake looking for birds worth watching.
I avoided Sunset as I had avoided The Spillway, been both too much lately. Slowed through Dreyfuss where I saw ducks and an egret too far. If I'd got out, they'd flown off. I needed captive subjects. So instead of straight up the hill to home and cool and rest, I made the last-minute right, parked in the gravel lot, walked the short walk to The Steps, approaching slowly, and was in my element except I'd left the toolbox in the trunk, not expecting this many birds.
More herons than egrets for awhile. Everyone chasing everyone around, so there was lots of flying, great angles for landings, but I kept missing the battles. Seen those enough already, I guess. Did not see a single bird catch a fish.
Just a lot of standing around, sudden jockeying in the fresh rush of foam, then everybody fly awhile.
Back to the The Design District to take more photos of another wrong building. Looked up, as I always do, to see mobs of big white birds back and forth across the sky. Eventually, we figured out they were back and forthing the Southwestern Medical School Rookery. A storm was heaving in from Irving, so those white birds against the dark sky made an amazing sight.
Everywhere but west, skies were blue and clouds white, although Anna and I did get splattered before we left. This exposure is lousy, but look at the beaks. Most are straight egret variety. But one standout has a much longer, more curved leading edge, and its wing tips are black. What it is is a White Ibis that looks better close up and white.
Wandering around in what used to be called The Trinity Industrial Area looking for The Dallas Center for Contemporary Art's next space, I found a lot of buildings and these birds. Pretty sure these are not martins, but I never really know. What I think they are is European Starlings, including adults and chicks (and Betsy agrees). I also saw several flocks of egrets, but when I tried to follow where it looked like they were going, I couldn't. My friend @rt, who lives along the Trinity, says they have all the birds White Rock has, and then some. If I had a waterproof camera, I'd love to reconnoiter the area. Someday.
Too many people at my lake on summer weekends. Autumn, winter and spring are much more palatable.
Hooray! Unamateur Birder Betsy Baker is back, her computer up and running again, and I've just corrected a bunch of interlinked July entries guided by her latest updates and corrections, making it easy to skip down this page to each of her corrections and amplifications by starting here. Betsy's comments are always in this gold/brown type.
Okay, enough of this place. I do love towering over the bridge on my plastic toolbox, so I can angle my lens any direction, now including straight down, up or sidewise. But it's sweaty hot, and worse, I'm taking the same photographs over. And over. Scrawled signs around my house remind, "Perfection Is Unlikely." Direct overhead solar noon doesn't help. That shadow-free bright zone arching over this air-speed-slowing egret's back is minor here, but a bother. I may be improving, but it may be too subtle to notice.
I've had enough of the steps. For awhile. I always come back. There's only so many places I can expect to find birds at the lake, and I keep returning. I'll try to remember that 4 in the p m is about the best time. But not for awhile. Meanwhile ...
A good chase scene is hard to ignore. Up the Spillway is ample evidence a weather change is underway. Looks like summer might finally be here. Less water over the dam now. Maybe this many eegs won't stay on the Steps. When I drive back the right lane on Garland Road, I peek over the car bridge (I've needed the word for bridge fence months now. Neither of two visual dictionaries tell me what it is. Anybody help with that?) and look down into this area, so I'll be checking often. But some place, any place first. Betsy recommends "guard wall" among other more complicated suggestions. I go with that.
That flat, bright wing top filled with noon sun was a challenge. Photo books warn against shooting 10-2, but any caveat that wide is goofy. Like burb art clubs prohibiting digital manipulation in competitive photos. Guess they've forgot we wait till the right light, use the right camera, lens, aperture and shutter speed, over and under expose, burn, dodge, alter contrast, exposure and composition. But changes after all that are disallowed?
Nonsense. God gave us Photoshop. I use it to keep my photos looking like what I saw, or better. Painters change everything. Photographers work with what they capture. This egret's wing feather details were embedded in my image but didn't show. At first. Pshop helped me bring them back. Those big rusty-looking feet, lost in their long-neck shadow would take much longer. This much was easy, almost trivial.
Normally I don't include bugs on this blog, but this one insisted I take its picture, kept parking on the hot top of the bridge thingy, within inches of my scorching elbow there to help hold my camera steady. I backed across the bridge twice. — my tele won't shoot closer than 5 feet — to take its photograph. This is the only of about a dozen that's nearly sharp. Pleasant little guy. Didn't talk much but hung in there, stayed with me maybe ten minutes. Very friendly. Only baked off a few inches when I held my hand near it, just to see.
This guy is not injured. I've seen the behavior cross species. It is stretching. After stretching awhile, it shook slightly, then brought the wing back up. I have seen herons catch fish. But much more often, I've watched minutes to hours them waiting for, I guess the perfect fish. I know the feeling. But I shoot and shoot and shoot. Today, I shot more than 400. Most of course, were significantly less than perfect. It's a lot easier to trash digital unperfects than it was for expensive old slides.
With that beak, it's a grackle. And with that tail, it's a Great-tailed Grackle. Black, it'd be an adult. Mottled like this, it's a juvenile. Lot of birders don't bother with grackles. I love them. Any bird can gather that bad a rap is worth knowing. My favorite people are always a little odd. Like me.
Little brown birds never used to get my attention. I don't remember big brown birds past summers, but there's plenty now, so I must have seen them. Paying attention takes longer. These kids are beautiful.
Everybody loves a good ruffle.
The Little Blue Heron was probably the most exotic, though brief, visitor at the Steps this evening. It got chased off in classic style by what we are calling "Mr. Fluffy," the current hyper-aggressive Snowy Egret. But there was plenty going on to keep me, my camera and my plastic step-on toolbox busy. Note the difference between the indigo of the Little Blue Heron in bright sunlight below and the medium blue it shows in open shade, illuminated by the deep blue sky — the bluest blue I've ever seen a Little Blue be.
The toolbox works, may even be too tall. But it's light, sturdy, and when I'm carrying it to and from the day's bridge photo site, keeps the bicyclists from clipping too close as they whiz by on my side of the yellow line.
See more, distinctive photographs of Little Blue Herons on my Heron and Herons vs. Egrets identification pages.
Today's error — isn't there always at least one? — was forgetting and keeping my E I too low (from shooting art yester), so shutter speeds were, too. Especially action scenes in evening shade. I don't usually revisit the same spot twice, let alone thrice, but I'll be back tomorrow, in mid-day sunlight, with higher E I and toolbox.
Meanwhile this is from today's floorshow. A fuzzed out Snowy Egret and a freaked out dominant Great Egret kept everybody moving from wherever they were hanging out previously. The only time neither of them charged who was around them was when they'd chased everybody else and ended up next to each other. Then neither of them did anything, both suddenly looking demur and uninterested.
As they twisted around to peck themselves on the back or leaned down, head upside down to arrange the feathers in their wings, I wished I were a little more agile.
Not sure I'd want to carry around all that floss. Usually, they flip it up when they need it up, then let it press back into the rest of their feathers. This one stayed fully fritzed all the time we watched. Its duty, apparently, was to run off any other bird that got close. It's nice to have a job, but...
Shooting with lower EI also increases contrast. I do check my LCD often, but like most of those, it's high contrast and tends to be brighter than the actual images. I think what I was missing was my usual contrast range I get at EI 400, which is too high for most cameras, especially Point & Shoots where it gets way too grainy/pixelly, but good on a Nikon D200. At that speed I might see a little digital noise in areas of flat color, like a plain blue sky, but hardly noticeable in a nice blurred out busy background like this one.
Large areas of shade, like those cast by the trees west of the pool behind the steps, are inherently low contrast anyway. Bright sunlight beefs up contrast something terrific. Like here. Amazing high tech wing feathers, pointing in differing directions, creating differing planes. Even the highest tech contemporary computer-operated military jets have nothing on this bundle of feathers.
You'll even see feathers stuck out of its shoulders, not far enough back to be on its wings, creating carefully controlled air flow as it descends.
I'm guessing it was a Black-crowned Night Heron, but I can't see the upper portions of its head or back, so I'm not sure. What surprised me was that I not only saw it coming and got a dozen shots off as it flew overhead, but that I got it in focus and opened up the aperture enough that we could see details in its underside that's usually in deep shadow during a flyover.
BB update: "Yup,
the night-heron you weren't sure about is a Black-crowned — besides the
very pale breast you have the larger head and the paler wing coverts on the
underside. Yellow-crowneds would be a much darker gray color.
That photo of the intensely blue Little Blue is quite special!
Next BB update below.
This is definitely a Black-cronwed Night Heron in classic form. Flying away, of course, but great form and a tiny target.
I watched this Great Egret chase all its friends and cousins off the lower steps where it'd decided to fish. Then I saw why. For many minutes, it'd catch one of these little fish every couple of seconds. Dip, catch, dip, catch. I didn't see any of the smaller Snowy Egrets or the Black-cronwed Night Heron in the vicinity catch one. They stood there, staring off into space while this much bigger Great gobbled down at least 20. Once, while I was clicking away, it put its beak into the water and pulled up two.
Two fish in one beak. The eeg seemed as surprised as I, didn't quite know what to do with two. Briefly. Then it flipped one into the air, still gripping the other, swallowed, dipped back down into the water to pick up the other, and swallowed it, too. That bit of fish acrobatics was as surprising as its amazing fishing prowess. Notice how thick its neck is above, ready to swallow a fish or two, and how slender it is below, when it wasn't.
Betsy Bake update: "Interesting observations about the great fisher egret. I wonder if it fishes better than the other birds because its beak is longer, its eyesight is better (or having its eyes up higher gives it a better view), or if it's just more skilled. Even more interesting about the apparent compressibility/stretchability of its neck, which goes beyond the mere crooking/bending of it."
BB's next update below.
I was too busy to go out yester. Sometimes I just gotta work, so I dredged back, pulled up and briefly posted some older, more mediocre images. Then thought better and took 'em down, planting the seed, for going back to the lower Spillway Steps and finding these guys today, hoping what I'd shoot wouldn't qualify as the the same old.
Note the yellow-orange feet and lores (area around eyes out to the beginning of beak) and black beak of Snowy Egrets. Great Egrets are bigger, the same white overall, with black feet and yellow beaks. Pre-breeding, parts of Great Egrets' beaks turn green and dark blue toward black.
Lotta competitive behavior around this fishing territory today, and these guys weren't doing nearly the quality fishing the Great was.
Note the puffed out look on the Snowy at left. Clearly the aggressor. Looking large and ferocious. Feathers standing up and out, crown in full upright position. Clearly perceived as intimidating by the Snowy that's just jumped into flight. Fast, fun to photograph, especially when I kept up with the action.
Which lotsa times today I didn't. Difficult to see a bird flying then catch the lens up, so I tried shooting as I caught up, watching through the lens, madly scanning for the all but invisible. Mixed results, but I'll keep at it. That big blur eeg the other day taught me to work up something new for next time that happens. I got this that way. The four before and two after were not exactly blurry, but less than ideal. This some kind of minor magic as it arcs through the air over the Steps' pool.
Same with this heron flapping into the trees, orange toes curled behind. Better would perhaps be to remember my plastic toolchest step-up to raise eye and camera over the bridge sides and not lose escaping birds' through the rusting iron slats. Some dare call it progress.
Another dark night we finally got to the lake. Busy summer day, Mex with friends, then lake. Drove all over, finally knew there'd be birds at Sunset 'most nomatterwhat. I maxed out the exposure index somewhere pas 3200 EI, set about photographing what I could find, often panning to match slow shutter speeds with moving ducks. It's fuzzy with pixelized color noise, but ain't that some gorgeous rippling sheen on the water holding that molting Mallard up.
Here's another duck pan. This is a diving duck, so its propellers (feet to you and me) are attached at the end, and it walks funny. Upright a lot like us.
BB says, "What you thought was a diving duck is actually one of those domestic breeds bred from Mallards, which are dabbling ducks. A Rouen, I think. For some reason they were bred to stand and walk tall.
BB's next update below.
We consider this sort of walk, with feet glued on underneath, normal. The duck up one probably thinks its weird. It's all a matter of prospective and usage. Illuminated by the just-set sun, like all these shots, it's already very dark around there. I'm lucky to catch sharpness one in a dozen shots but all I can say to that is click-click-click, etc.
Of course, any trip to Sunset Bay is an automatic visit to Goose Farm, and these are its leading characters. All 24 of them now, which may be pushing the limits. I suppose as long as humans feed them every night, they'll be okay till they suddenly have to leave, and then they'll be lost without a clue how to feed themselves. Meanwhile, they're colorful critters clearly in charge.
This is them, mostly having finished dinner — one still straggles grabbing a few more beaksful — heading for the edge of the lake. I wanted to watch from up close to see what they do down by the waterside until they single file out into the lake. Persnickitishly, I stood in what I perceived to be their path.
They apparently perceived it that way, too. While we exchanged honks, they out their young toughs to give me a hard time. Coming in low and inside, I'd stoop down, parrying bill thrusts with my lens hood, which always seems to work. That's what they did about my presence. It was a simple lesson. So I backed away and watched from a few more yards away.
As I waited and watched, a mink romp past me. I'd heard about them but never seen one before. Charles and friends were up hill watching all this, yelled something between a joke and a warning while I was trying to get my flash to fire, but it wouldn't. Would love to have had a good photo of it. Even a mediocre photo would have been amazing. Maybe 8-10 inches long, dark, furry, couldn't see its face. Fast but enjoying the ride. It angled toward me, then arced around and hid among the short leafy plants on the water's edge, probably went swimming right after that. Charles said later he'd seen a dozen or more of them frolicking near the water after dark.
What the Goose Farm Goofs were doing was waiting for that last big gray goose to quit eating and get in its proper place in the single file to the sea. Little bit of gossiping, some jockeying, gulping water to help the grain go down, then out to sea where they'll be comparatively safe from marauding predators for the night.
I'm a major fan of these immense, gentle, not shy, ugly as sin but in an endearing way, Muscovies. I told them I almost always want to reach out and pet them, they're so pleasant, but I don't want to push the bird/human line. I've had long conversations with Muscovies. And usually only quizzical, POed and rhythmic honks with gooses.
Quick trip, more walking than birding, Sunday afternoon. Nicer weekdays with fewer folk and more birds around. Though there were lots of Barn Swallows mobbing the wires and big lamps. Quite a sight. Guess those lamps hold heat when not illuminated or maybe they hum.
I assumed this was a House Sparrow, since it was flittering in a big tree with a big bunch of those. Although it does not look exactly like the one in my field guide. It was the only one I got several clear shots of. The others were too timid and fast. Didn't notice till I'd had them on my monitor several times that this bird had two distrinct forms. Puffed and unpuffed. I was mostly looking at its head, trying to decide which pic was better when I finally realized the puff factor.
Betsy Baker's update: "Your female House Sparrow is actually a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. At no age do House Sparrows have such speckled breasts, whereas juvie cowbirds do. As for why a cowbird would fluff up its feathers — generally that's to trap body-warmed air. Works just like a down comforter or down vest. Juvenile birds aren't as well able to regulate their body temperatures as adults are. In this case, though, it might have just been practicing the technique — or it might have happened as it sat down after standing tall (in the first photo) — maybe it doesn't know how to control that sort of thing yet — who knows? Hard to tell with juveniles.
BB's next update below.
I checked it with my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America I keep recommending to people who ask me what bird is up in their tree. Mine cost $7.99 in the bargain bin at my friendly neighborhood book store, where there were lots more. Sometimes I know what birds I'm watching. Often I don't. I'm still an amateur, and I'm thinking I should stay that way.
What that book did not tell me, however, is why this sparrow puffs itself up. To make it seem more formidable? Part of a sprarrow ruffle I missed most of? So many questions.
We've been seeing keets in Sunset Bay for months now, but getting a shot of them up there has been a challenge. This was a challenge. The sun was in my eyes almost every shot of about a dozen. Expected them to fly away while I lined them up against the tree, so my camera would render them correctly exposed. Against the sky is either impossible or 1 2/3 overexposed. Others of these images show happy enough birds on branches, but here this one is doing something. Not sure what — preening probably — but something.
Couldn't help notice this young Great-tailed Grackle, since it kept doing exactly the same thing, over and over. Wings out, big old beak wide. The essentially similar bird on the right did not seem impressed.
Betsy's Update: "The young grackle is demanding food. Wings out like that or wings partly out and fluttering are typical of food begging behavior in many, or possibly most, species of perching birds. You'll even see adult female birds of some species do that in the spring to see if a male will supply them — it's a way of testing the male's fitness to be a mate in species where the female does all the incubation and/or the male helps feed the nestlings. Mom's trying to wean it from its expectation of being fed all its life by turning her back on it and ignoring it."
Betsy's next update below.
After dinner 'na movie we headed for the lake, well past sundown. Awesome cool for Dallas, Texas July. Bit of breeze, not many people. Nice. One plug-shaped heron flew us over the bridge but came out of darkness, then my trusty camera would only shoot one-click.
Homeward over the bridge, saw this Yellow-crown dark against dark water. Almost invisible. Waiting. Another flew right by as I set the camera against the bridge waiting for joggers to jog off so the span would stop jerking long enough for a half-second exposure. The water was darker. Everything was.
Earlier, three ducks flew over, I hammered focus, blurred with them across the sky. I saw art like that recently looked like these, amazing how artists catch the real abstractions. I promise I'll come back from blur mode, just not yet.
It's true in darking moments. Airy, abstract, blue.
Looking (again) for the Green Herons — I have seen greens there before and hope to again soon. I'd just shot the same old pix of a Black-crowned Night Heron, a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret on the Spillway Steps. Pretty and all that. But the same old birds doing the same old things. Hardly needed more photographing, although there were three of us there snapping away.
So there I was standing on the little wood and metal bridge over the creek just inside (The Old Fish Hatchery Area, a mouthful of name Anna shortened to) The Fitchery. This Great Egret is flying back toward the Steps I'd just come from. Soon as I arrived, I saw it standing upstream looking tres elegant. In the seconds till I got my camera aimed and ready, the bird was flying toward me, accelerating. The image atop today's entry is the first time I got the majority of it in the frame. One of few.
By the time it was up the creek almost into the open, I finally got it in focus. Every step of the way from my first sighting to this final escape, I was 3 - 40 feet behind. Sometimes it's hard to see and follow through a telephoto lens.
I didn't get faster, although I did get a fair shot of this giant Great Blue Heron flying leisurely over the Fitchery, toward the Pump House, only a few feet above the tops of the trees. I was standing on the dam attempting to make more boring pictures of egrets, from the other side.
Admittedly, this seems a fairly boring picture of a Great Blue flyover, and grainy to boot. But even from that distance, this guys seemed immense. A dark shape blotting the gray sky. Exciting. Cool.
Anna pointed at these ducks in the lake beyond the dam. I'd seen them but hadn't noticed their strange behavior — head bobbing. Stretch up, tuck in down. Looking at the pictures in rapid succession is funny. Wish I could show animation. Goofy bobbing, like an Egyptian in a 30s cartoon.
By this time, their bobbing heads were up-and-downing in unison. I was about to state the obvious, that this closely resembled pre coital behavior in many birds, when they engaged each other in classic duck mode: she submissive; he on top, dominant.
They did it as ducks usually do — on land or in the water. Quickly. Her looking like she's going to drown any second. Him pushing her under with his beak. Then it's over.
She washes herself over and over and over, sloshing just under the surface like birds bathe. Then one or the other, or both, do what I call the Victory Flap. I know that's anthropomorphizing, not what the duck is actually thinking. Like anybody knows what the duck is actually thinking. It's a release of pent up energy, moving every muscle in their feathery bodies.
Anna and I met back at the Boat House hoping to photograph the Green Herons I saw during the interview yester. Nowhere. In fact, not much was. Two brown blurs. One Eastern Kingbird happily posed on a wire, two female Red-winged Blackbirds in a shrub by the water and a male hidden in a tree. Smatterings of Monk Parakeets played on the grass and flew around noisfully.
More killdeer at the bottom of today's entry.
Don't see most, but this morning had an amber haze, not yet hot, but fixin' to. Was even a breeze, and after awhile the clouds evaporated and sunshine brightened the lagoon. I'd forgot how nice early daylight could be.
I'm supposed to know these things. I'm sure this bird is nothing exotic, but more than just a brown blur. I wonder if it's even that color. Maybe too much red here. Lessee. Not a grack, not red enough for a cardinal. I could spend hours paging through my bird guides, might anyway, but later. Right now, I'm just letting go. Amateur Birder, indeed.
For awhile at least, it'll stay a reddish little bird I actually panned well enough to almost tell what it was. That's much easier with bigger birds.
In general, I've learned, that if it looks vaguely like a grackle, and I can't figure out what it is, it's a grackle.
Betsy Baker corrects, "Your blurry brown bird's bill looks like the shape of a tanager bill — it might just be a red male Summer Tanager. The wing shape looks good for that — in fact, the overall shape of the bird looks good for that, and that species does summer around here, although it's reportedly rare in summer at White Rock Lake. My best guess for the moment. Don't know if I'll come up with a better one.
Next BB update below.
Steve pointed out this bird — or one like it — diving near vertical off a tree on the far side yester. I was surprised he could see that far, then when it moved, in sudden darts, mid-air changes, corkscrewing and did not touch the water's surface, I knew it was an Eastern Kingbird. It's black and white, not blue and. Probably the one I've often seen debugging the lagoon.
After Anna headed off to sit with Alice June, I wandered around looking for birds. Except for a dark heron — probably the Green I was seeking — that I startled off soon as I got to the lower Spillway Steps fence. I heard a female voice mutter, "Idiot." I'd have to agree. Sounded like something I'd say. I shoulda snuck up slowly, worn a medium green shirt..
I headed back, short arc-ing across the lake, ended up across the bay from the Boat House, where I encountered three Killdeer who made my day. While I watched, they ruffled, ran and stood in the sunshine. Hard to ask for more. I stayed in my car, coasting closer when they moved, leaning camera and lens in their direction.
Weddy I asked the Universe to get closer to a Killdeer — I've heard them called "Kildies" around here. An approximation of their cry, I think. Today I got my wish. Perhaps I should remind it about that Green Heron pair. Would be amazing to get both in one photo. I have got close to a Green Heron before, but I always want closer and more interesting shots.
Watching Killdeer walk is an odd occupation. The one on the left seems to be walking sideways and could well be. They scoot, those long thin, pinkish legs appearing to flutter they're moving so fast. This one is just getting going.
Supposedly, the more black on their face, the more likely they're male, but it's an inexact science. This bird has a taller, more rounded crown than the others with flatter tops. i couldn't get them to stand together to study relative sizes. But the breast rings, their most distinctive feature, seem barely separated here. So it's probably a young one, since downy young Killdeer have only one black "ring." Although this is hardly downy any more. Its orbital ring (around its eye) is bright orange-red, more easily seen in the sunshine.
Two flew away at the same time, and I was watching the third closely when a dear friend came up to congrat me on the interview, so this is as close as I got to seeing wings. I have seen them fly, though, and they are gorgeous in the air, red-orange parts not seen standing, shine aloft, where they look mostly golden brown, not white.
If I'd been thinking straight, I would have lowered my exposure index (film speed) as the dark gray skies turned brighter this early ayem, so I'd have clearer, sharper, less digitally noisy (With film it was grain.) shots on this rather special day. But I was doing several somethings I usually don't do while shooting birds for the day's blog. I was being interviewed by Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow and photographed by freelance photographer Rex Curry, who is also not a morning person.
Steve's story is now online, where the pictures look even better than in the paper, although they cropped them funny.
Betsy corrects, "I think your first photo is really a photo of a Great Blue Heron — the neck looks way too skinny for its length to be a Yellow-crowned Night-heron and the colors aren't right for a YCNH, but they are for a Great Blue.
Next BB update below.
I'd heard the Keets squabbling and was already thinking Monk Parakeet thoughts, but the first thing I saw almost close enough to photograph while I waited for the guys to arrive was this Killdeer. I'd like to have got closer, but when I tried, it scurried farther fast, those stiltish skinny legs fluttering. I had to wait for it to pause briefly twice. This standing here. And...
It stopping in this puddle, longer. I show the previous picture to remind us their usual posture. Killdeer generally do not squat halfway down in shallow water. At least to my limited knowledge. Of course I have no idea why, but it seemed an odd enough behavior to read up on later or ask non-amateur birders what's up with the part-way down Killdeer? This pic is fuzzy, because it was still early and darkish with clouds hiding where I'd hoped the sun would be by 7 when The News was to arrive. The killdie was not squatting still. And I probably wasn't either. I tried to get more perpendicular to it but the species are skittish, and just when I got where I wanted to be I looked up and it wasn't anymore.
I got this as the only keet to come down to my level struggled with a leaf almost as big and as green as it. It probably cut that leaf off at the stem in the big noisy tree full of squawking keets at the lake end of the lot. I'd seen them cut down and carry off much bigger branches before.
This keet must have thought it was flying off with this large leaf to Electric Hum Land over the bay and up the hill. But it was too un-aerodynamic and heavy besides. The keet dragged it, turned it over, shoved it with its foot and tried several times to fly it away. Failed every time. Finally, it just flew off in an even bigger green blur.
I was early, and had predescribed my precise usual trajectory through the area, so I wandered to where the ducks always are with a mind to graduate up the bridge and the lagoon beyond after I made my usual cute duck shot. This a serious, full twist ruffle with stationary tail feathers awry and every long black feather out of place. Didn't notice the bright orange spurs till much later. I'm thinking, eventually, when I've gathered ruffles from several more species, I should have a page of only avian ruffles. Egrets are always the best, but all birds got to ruffle.
Was still considering the bridge and ruffles when I saw a greatly bemused Steve Blow hoving into view down the nearest grassy knoll. He waved. I waved back. I only had the telephoto, so I shot two quick pix medium shots, more for my memory than for this page, but why not? He thought I thought he was yet another bird to photo, and his smile set the pace for the next good while, and every moment that followed till we all three drove away was grand fun.
I was able to think and talk about photographing birds and why I do it and how I came to do it and what I did before I did it and that other — the purpose of the on-site interview, after all — and miles more after we three met and exchanged brief initial pleasantries and equipment commentaries. But putting anywhere near the usual deep thought into the remarkable birdiversity in the lagoon right in front of my amazed eyes as I answered questions, tried to tell long bumpy stories I'd get lost in the middles of, and at least get these images. More than that was clearly beyond all the questions.
I have to go back, later this week, as early this morning. With a tripod if the sky is dark as today and even more deet on my slowly itching post-poison-ivy legs. With no questioning and clicking entourage along and a fully-operating brain (the biggest if of all). To capture the Green Herons — I saw two (2) of them suddenly materialize out there, as if Nature were birthing them into this dimension as I wished I could watch and photograph. And the Yellow-crowned Night Heron I saw immediately bright against the greenscape soon as we climbed the bridge, looking out into the long green lagoon.
Photographing these, I also saw the dark smudge of a Black-crowned Night Heron on the far side under overhanging foliage, and probably there were more nobody ever sees till we hold still and don't talk. And even then we have to remember we cannot look for birds, really. We can only open our selves to the possibilities of sensing movement that's not grass blowing or water rippling, and slowly, quietly wait for birds to emerge from the dense landscape.
I didn't get any sleep before the interview. I'm not sleepy now, and I promised Steve I don't do this for many people (usually just one), but I'll leave my bedroom phone turned on when sleep slams into me soon soon, just in case he needs a quick answer before deadline late this afternoon.
Of course it's not a bird. But first time I saw those big pink wings sticking up out of the shadow of the trash can along the walking path paralleling Lawther to Winfrey, I thought what I'd seen was a pinkish bird — with its wings up. I backed up and saw this hiding in the shadow instead. When it saw me seeing it after four rapid-fire photographs to get the deep-shade exposure right, The rabbit lit out for taller grass where I could no longer see it, except for that heavy-breathing lump of brownish shadow.
I was taking it easy. Spending no longer than 20 minutes in the sun. Hot today, up to the mid 90s. But there was a breeze, and after all day in AC, even in the car, the sun felt good. Till I started sweating. Then I split.
This is a much better shot of a male Brown-headed Cowbird than last time. Still, I was snatching at figments. I followed a noisy Red-winged Blackbird most of the time I was out there, with nothing much to show for the effort. I figured a cowbird and a rabbit was all I was getting till...
I discovered this sparrow doing I wasn't exactly sure at first. Groveling in the dirt. Scrunching up its little body, writhing around in the fine gravel along the side of the road. But why?
Rapidly, however, it became obvious. It was bathing. No water in sight. This was one delicious dust bath this bird was thoroughly enjoying for several minutes. I liked it, too. Click-click-click. Actual bird behavior to show on the journal today.
And my first-ever close up dust bath. Great!
I know less about trees than I know about birds. I'm only pretty sure this is a young grackle. I have no idea what it's doing in that tree, or what tree that is. Doing push-ups? Eyeing the fuzzy balls. Or just happened to be there. No idea. My subtle continuity's down. I'm just glad I got some birds in focus today. A lot of others weren't. It's not my camera, it's my brain. I've been a little fuzzy since I slammed my head into the door frame when I got in Anna's car Satty night to go see the art show showing both our photographs — and a lot of other artists' work at the Bath House. I've felt like this bird looks.
Betsy says the "Ball Tree" is Juniperus virginiana, aka Eastern Red Cedar. See www.cnr.vt.edu/DENDRO/DENDROLOGY/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=97
See next BB update below.
The Mayo Clinic site shows my symptoms aren't bad enough to see an M.D., but it hurts enough that birding and photographing is iffy. I had way more than usual blurred shots today. So I'm laying low, resting, minimizing sun time and hoping it rains more, to dampen the temp again. Upper 80s when I shot these and feeling too much like the long procrastinated Texas summer. I love that we've had the longest springtime in memory. Usually my AC goes into constant use by June 1. This year it took till July 7.
I've often seen gooses lower their heads for attack. They bite but don't have teeth. I watched this molting Mallard male chasing females and males alike through the gooses today. His were the most exciting and interesting behaviors I saw — really on a tear, terrorizing any duck in his path.
Most ran away. This guy stood his ground and engaged the brat in mutual brutish breast bashing.
Round and round, meaner and pushier, bump, bump, bump, till both tired of the aggression and just walked away.
Noticed this bright white dove early in our visit to Sunset Bay today, and followed it around the grounds and around the sky, till I got it close and sharp and interesting. All finally accomplished in this stirring image. Wing tips are dark. Of the rest, only the shadows are dark.
Betsy Baker corrects, "Your "snow white dove" is actually a Ring-billed Gull! (Kinda messes up your nifty caption, doesn't it!) The wing shapes of doves and gulls are very different. Gull wings longer and narrower as befits long-distance migrants. Dove wings shorter and wider. Also, the heads of doves are quite small compared to their bodies, whereas the heads of gulls look more in proportion.
Next BB update below.
Completely contrasting pure white is Grackle dark shadow swooping in. I've been after a serious flight shot of the much-hated grackle's strange shapes aloft, and I will continue, but I like the dark malevolence of this image.
And back to white. Less than gorgeous or shapely or beautiful flyers or much else, these birds did not scatter when I hove into view in my own version of full stealth mode. Not sure how stealthy a big guy in muddy and muddier shoes with a long lensed big black camera dangling from my neck can be, but I make the attempt not to frighten ducks — the flightiest of birds, whom everybody else tends to follow in sudden flight away. And always appreciate the docile, gentle Muscovy.
Not sure which variety this is. I like the halo backlighting but not the muddied middle and grainy spots up front. Maybe a cross between the black and the white of it, still dripping water from whence it came.
Doesn't look much like one, but that's a Black-crowned Night Heron flying up the dam white with foam. Looks brown, but that's the shadow, like the sparkling water, backlit by the setting sun. It and a bunch of Great and Snowy Egrets are fishing out there, usually somewhat equidistant, each in their own territory, watching and waiting for glistening fish sliding down The Spillway.
These are they. Well as I can see, the egret's feet are black, not yellow like a Snowy Egret, so it's probably a Great Egret. Both are overall white. That it's substantially larger than the herons is another clue to who it is. It's easy to render all that rushing rough water sluicing by sharp like the egret with the fish below. All pebbly, with thousands of points of light. But because JPEG employs a strict horizontal compression, full-quality pictures like today's top image, could take forever to download, even with high-speed. For that, and because it isolates and separates the birds, I sometimes let it blur. Brings down the download time. Looks better if nobody moves, especially me.
[Couple days later: Now I'm noticing the difference in the form factors of the above two Black-crowned Night Herons. I've seen them in both varieties but never much thought about it before. Now I'm really curious. Is maybe one an adult and the other young? Male and female?
To which Betsy says, "I think it's more likely to be that they're at different angles to the camera. Notice that the one on the right has its legs completely perpendicular to you so one leg hides the other? And the other is turned so that both legs show and more of its butt is presented to you. Could also be that that particular bird has its belly feathers fluffed out more — birds change their profiles by fluffing or sleeking their feathers all the time. The plumage patterns say that both birds are adults. They're not sexually dimorphic to our eyes, though they might look different in the ultraviolet (which birds can see and we can't).
Next BB update below.
I don't think the egret is showing off. Catching fish is how these birds survive, not a one-upsbirdship game. I've seen egrets and herons chase each other round the Spillway Steps, fighting over even potential fishing territories. And I've seen them fighting over a fish another bird caught. I don't think that's not what's happening here. The Black-crowned Night Heron on the left continues to stare off into space as the egret flips the fish for position, drops it into the water to wash it off. Etc. The egret is bigger, has caught a fish and is wandering through the heron's staked-out fishing space. That's all I know.
Notice the thickness of the egret's neck just before it swallows that fish. Its eyes seem to have disappeared in all the bushy feathers.
There was another species close by. Another Black-crowned Night Heron. I'm not convinced the ruffle is anything more than stretching every bone, every muscle, flat out. But it seems to occur when there's another species around to be formidded at. I'm only practicing to be an expert. So far, I'm what the banner across the top of this page says I am. Observant, but mostly ignorant.
Snowy casts a bigger shadow than it is. On the side of the Steps. Slimmed down from a few moments previous when it performed the major shake & stretch above.
Later, having walked down into Sunset Bay proper, we encountered ducks and gooses and Charles and other familiar folk who feed them and release them and watch the sunsets and talk about familiar birds.
Gooses in the setting sun, here forming the Cosmic Goose-andala. The next one more like ballet. But the same gooses you have to watch out for sometimes, they'll go low and inside and bite your ankle. Won't hurt much, but the surprise, as they say on TV, is priceless.
Hard to tell what they were up to, but I think this was their victory dance after they broke up the duck sex, which they often do. Nobody interrupts goose sex, but these gooses commonly honk away horny ducks so imbued with the spirit of sex they come back —
— all the way around the circle and back right where the gooses are, forgetting, I suppose what happened last time, not three minutes ago, and trying it again,
right under the Moral Indignation Committee's collective beaks, and getting honked out of the mood once again hardly no matter what. Four times they tried, four times the MIC honked them out of their need.
In an experimental mood, and because the sun had set, and it was getting too dark for conventional photography, and 'cause it seemed like a good idea. Only a little like that other duck-filled sunset shot from so long ago we still had pelicans, ducks all aslosh in the air thick with them suddenly in the loud flapping.
That same, we all agreed, very large Great Blue Heron, out in the bay, looked like catching something new every couple of seconds, as I watched through the telephoto laid out still on the picnic table as Anna and Charles and I talked about our friends the birds.
The bunch we spoke most of were playing out their nightly ritual, long necks against the sunset reflected in the water out on the edge as they committeed and discussed, considered and reconsidered all the interrelated concepts — they probably were not just standing around appreciating the set sun, though they might have been discussing the eventual single-file order they would adopt, who's 3rd and 5th and cetera, in line —
of leaving land to venture out on the lake for the night and its relative safety from dogs off leashes, coyotes that've been seen lately, bobcats and lynx. We also talked about recent sightings of hawks and owls. Into the night.
Eventually, we joined the loose crowd back up the hill watching fireworks across the lake, right between us and the downtown skyline, first skyline I've shown in a while, having long since graduated from skylines and sunsets to birds. The first several fireworks shows we saw were silent at that distance. This one had full audio. Not loud, it was all the way across the lake (probably Lakewood Country Club, which was still jammed when Anna drove through on the way home later) but with thuds and reverberating booms, pops and sizzles. Made it a real 4th for me.
. . . July 4
More than 500 shots today and into the night, some birds, lotta fireworks. So I'll continue today tomorrow. Keep it a little simple today. May be stretching this one-bird thing, but one species maybe. Party at Joe's, great mix of people and food. Oak Cliff, then back to The Lake toward evening where we saw gazillions of birds on every inch of wire in hundreds of yards around.
Starlings was our first guess though wrong. What they were doing, how they were preening, made me think they had to be swallows, maybe a martin or two, too, but mostly Tree Swallows. When the Tree Swallows came back to White Rock Lake doesn't have the rhythm of The Swallows of San Juan Capistrano, but we got birds.
Wrong. Betsy says they're martins. One earlier letter writer asserted that, and I didn't think so. But I was wrong, again.
Next BB update below.
Everywhere you looked, more and more. Then of a sudden, the word spreads quickly, and they …
Swoop into the sky for a bit of inspired melee, then back to the wires again and again.
I love this July 3rd line about the swallows! Your original thought that they're Purple Martins is accurate, though — this time of year Purple Martins congregate in groups to feed, pass the time of day, and roost at night. (The juveniles have pale breasts.) There are some huge Purple Martin pre-migration roosts (20,000 - 30,000 birds!!!) not far from here — one in Garland (that I just learned about but have not yet been to) and one in Lewisville (which I visited a few years ago).
They're truly impressive. The sleeping roost sites are different from the feeding sites. Martins gather at the sleeping roost sites in the evening and swirl around in the sky for perhaps an hour before settling into trees. Very crowded!! See this page and the linked page for locations: www.audubondallas.org/forum/showthread.php?t=340
BB's next update below.
First we saw a pair of Cattle Egrets, who'd fly away every time we drove close enough for photography. Hard to shoot them in the tall grass but relatively easier in the air, where they kept being, hopping across the meadow along the northern edge of the White Rock Swamps.
Astoundingly, many of my photos of them flying are sharp. See their bright eyes and little toeses? That's not Photoshop magic (No way I could draw egret toes). Then, when they landed along the edge of Lawther, we discovered another species.
Three Scissor-tailed Flycatchers frolicking in the air, then returning to the posts along the road. They'd move another ten or 20 posts up when we'd creep too close. None of yester's shots were from the back, so this one's here. Note the long tail it's holding together now.
We've seen them turning in the air before but not doing the mid-air twist. They'd fly out over and into the long weeded meadow — I assume they can't cut the meadows lately because of all the rain — then back to the post. In the air, they are amazing, pretzeling, nearly flying inside-out. Like this.
Betsy Baker corrects: "Under a Scissortail photo in the July 3 entry you wrote "I assume they can't cut the meadows lately because of all the rain." — Hmm — I've been assuming they've been deliberately refraining from cutting the meadows because (a) they provide habitat for the insects that many of the birds need to feed either their youngsters or themselves (or both) as well as (b) habitat for some of the species of birds themselves, because (c) they need to let the wildflowers get mature enough to sow seed for next year, and perhaps because (d) they're trying to restore some of the bits of remnant blackland prairie (with its rich variety of plant types) that used to be here. I certainly WANT them to leave the meadows unmowed for all those reasons. But I did notice (around the time of your entry) that some of the merely grassy meadows were uncut and that the ground under those grasses was extremely soggy — perhaps those are the sorts of meadows you meant.
Next BB update below.
So we watched the Scissor-tails flying for awhile, when we suddenly realized a third species was wading out in the tall weeds, heads only above the surface. A species we hadn't seen much of lately. Though I'd been watching out for them. Odd to find them here, quite unannounced.
They were hardly moving, no doubt tracking something through the weeds, often crouched down with just their heads above the surface of the waving green. First we saw one, then another, then yet another. We figured it was a whole family, because they seemed to each be slightly taller than the other. Mom, Dad and the teen-aged kid stealth-mode in the weeds. For a change, their crowns actually seemed yellow in the deep green meadow.
Usually by this time of summer (if you can call this a Dallas summer what with all the rain) there's bunches of Yellow and Black crowns along the far side of the Boat House Lagoon. But not lately. So we were delighted to see all three of these in one largish area. "Fishing" the high grass.
Two miscellaneous sightings from last week. One cute. One an odd return. Cute first, because it's a better photograph. Note their not quite fully formed eye lids patched across their big brown sleepy eyes. This just south of Singing Bridge on the Big Thicket side.
Not much further south was this, the only gull I've seen in more than a month. I'm hoping it's not portentious. I'd appreciate gulls more — I used to — if they did not randomly attack my friends the American Coots, whose numbers have recently thinned considerably.
One bird a day is my goal. Today, I got three varieties, two actually doing something interesting. Trying to keep entries simpler, so I'll have time to write more about art. Maybe. I noticed each time a new bird arrived on the scene, those already on the wire would flap their wings very rapidly, like hummingbirds. More mass in motion, so instead of delicate twitter, they created major flutter.
Looks more intense than just 'hi,' though. Maybe more of a warning, maybe.
[ Nope — wrong again, J R. ...
[On a lark, looking through my images to trash (July 7 as I add this picture) I noticed this shot. Double-took, had to scrutinize it magnified to be certain that adult Barn Swallow has its beak inside the opened yap of the presumably much younger Barn Swallow, and it wasn't an optical illusion like the Redwinged Blackbirds (just below).
These flapping birds on a wire are wanting — even demanding — to be fed, like the baby Mockingbird (2 months ago). Bird beaks open that big usually mean baby birds demanding food, J R. Try to remember that.
Maybe I'd've figured it out earlier if they were in a nest instead of on a wire. Maybe.]
I did a brown Gracklish unsub last month I never figured out. (And now I see it barely resembles these.) Beak in the air looks like a male. The more roundish on the right might be female, but guesses like that are often off. I don't call me amateur for nothing. Been a while since I looked a bird up, so I tried with these. Lefty seems to be a male juvenile Great-tailed Grackle. Righty is probably a female G-t G.
I was still trying to get both birds in the same sharpness when a bicycler hove into view down the hill. I clicked quickly before and during the jump into flight I fully expected. Actually, I pan with the pair over to the trees nearby, but not a single one of those pan shots were anything near as sharp as this one was.
Been following these kids for so long, even when they're not all that cute, they're still interesting almost no matter what they do. Reminds me of a much younger (and cuter) Wood Duck doing much the same thing. I saw this guy and his sister by the Boat House and swimming under the bridge. But no mom in sight, so they must be on their own. This a graduation photo of sorts. I haven't actually seen them fly yet, but probably will soon, if they haven't already.
Think optical illusion. The two Red-wings are further apart than it first appears. I think. I have two photographs of this same beak-in-beak juxtaposition. They could be up to something here. I'm thinking Kukla & Ollie but I don't know. Kukla, Fran & Ollie was early TV. Kukla was just goofy with a big fuzzy round nose that Ollie the Dragon liked to bite. Fran was the human.
Betsy Baker corrects, "these are (1) a juvenile being fed by a female (no, it's not an optoical illusion as you apparently decided the next day — see your comment under the Barn Swallow photos) and (2) a juvenile complaining that it's still hungry to an apparently indifferent mom. Note the differences in breast and bill colors between the juvie and the adult.
glad you got shots of that juvenile, because when I saw one on the
Sunset Bay dock in late June (when I had left my field guide in the
car) I thought it might be a female Dickcissel. No such luck. Today
I saw one of these juvies in the top of a tree while I was walking
along the shore under Winfrey Point and decided it might be a juvenile
RWBB — your photos confirm that, which is helpful because Sibley
doesn't illustrate them. (The designation "1st
his illustrations means a bird the year after it hatches!)
You could get shots of Eastern Kingbird youngsters being fed by an adult on the walk I took this morning (July 20) — saw a group of three juvies clustered in the bare dead twigs/branches of a mostly still living tree near the water being fed by an adult. The juvies alert you to their presence by their begging noises.
You've got a few days left for getting that sort of photo I think. Also, on the lower utility wires that run along the finger of lake from West Lawther to the boathouses — before you reach the stop signs for the pedestrian/bike path — I saw a single juvie Western Kingbird being fed by an adult, so both species are fledged by now, as are the Scissortails.
BB update below.
All of today's photographs were shot out Anna's passenger side window. So much easier to maneuver in something birds aren't afraid of. Easier, too, to cover more territory. And not get bug bit. This scene was in upper Big Thicket.
This bird had been posing on the pavement. But it didn't wait for me to focus. By the time I had, it was in the air and in the act of retracting landing gear.
This one stayed on that pole till I got good focus, then even longer till it...
Turned sideways so I could get its forked tail sharp and long.
Another Scissor-tail who had been perched on the second twig, where I'd been photographing it, suddenly bolted into the sky while I attempted to pan fast enough to capture all of him. At least I got its most distinctive parts.
We paused a few minutes by the Martin Houses looking down the slope toward the Bath House Cultural Center, where we'd both dropped off photographs for the Salon du FIT art show that opens 7-9 pm Saturday July 7 and stays there through August 4 in the public facility with the nicest bathrooms on the lake, open noon till 6 Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Usually, there's only been a few birds in the area of the Martin Houses along Lawther Boulevard. Today must be High Season. The place was packed, with birds barely hanging on and flapping off.
There were male Brown-headed Cowbirds near by. Not so much shy as busy doing something else.
Driving just a few feet further, we encountered this bird, who was not bothered by our presence. Same shape, same beak and eyes, just different colors. A cowbird, female. Cowbirds have poor reputations, because they lay their eggs in other birds' nests and leave raising their young to the host parents.
Betsy notes: "This character looks more like a juvenile male cowbird — note the rather black bill (says male), the pale feathers around the eye and the more mottled look of the back and shoulder (says juvenile).
All text and photographs
copyright 2007 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved.
No reproduction without
specific written permission.
Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"