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The Amateur Birder's Journal - Stories & Photographs by J R Compton
All Contents © 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. DO NOT USE images without permission & payment.
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March 30 2007

Cowbird? - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Hoping for herons (but finding none), I visited the Boat House Lagoon this afternoon after errands. This unsub I've been struggling to identify, and friends were around. Not lots. Maybe four in the vicinity. But they were not shy, let me get close, then flew off. Brighter this afternoon. More storms and tornado warnings and flash floods due later. This is the reviled cowbird. Like the hated grackles and the despised starlings, I have affection for them. Underdogs.

Fred J. Alsop, whose Smithsonian Handbook, Birds of Texas, is one of two I use for identification says, "Like all cowbirds, it is a brood parasite and lays its eggs in the nests of other birds." Leaving the chicks for other species to raise, I assume. Alsop continues, describing their song as "Gurgling liquid glug-glug-glee." I like his book because the images are color photographs, and he includes only birds found in Texas. Others of my bird books are on this journal's bibliography.

Odd Duck Couple - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Blue-winged Teal

Something else I sought was that Wood Duck couple I expect will raise a family along the lagoon soon. This is not they. Excuse me while I look these up. Ahh. That was easy. They are Blue-winged Teals, who summer and winter here, and here alone. Well, here down to about New Orleans. They were shy, and this is as close as I got, but I'll watch for them, for more details.

Wood Duck Couple - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Wood Duck Couple

This pair was not in the lagoon itself. Or under the bridge by the entrance. They were standing preening and scratching on the other side of that creek near the Lawther/Williamson Road entrance to the lake. I hadn't dared dream they'd be this close. Or paralleled like this. I on the Lawther side of the lagoon nearly in the shade of the bridge. They on the other. Beautiful pair. Their kids will be gorgeous.

Mrs. Wood Swimming - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Mrs. Wood Duck Swimming

Isn't she lovely? Not as clownishly colorful as he, nor as extravagant. I'd never seen that yellow eye-liner before or realized the gentle blues on her wings. Both he and she have variations of the polka-dot breast scheme and variously outlined bills.

Mr. Wood Swimming - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Mr. Wood Duck Swimming

Harlequin-like though he is, he's got subtleties, also. The medium blues in places like hers, the polka-dot breast, the multi-level stripes down the sides and the small reddish and yellow slant feathers near the tail. Very distinctive. Bright red eye-liner, white lines at neck, forehead, cheek and sides. Very nice indeed. My best photo yet of male wood duck in his high mating season finery.

Wood Duck Front - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Front View - Male Wood Duck

I'd never even seen one from the front before. Lots from behind, swimming away. But never this optically illusory view. Makes him look formidable, bigger than life. Scary, like an evil clown. Love the transitionally variegated breast dots, too. More illusion. Not the sort of character we'd want to meet in a dark lagoon.

Coot Running On Water - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Coot Running On Water to Escape

There were coots closer that were not running. These were three times farther when I first saw them. Running up the creek, away. They came back down it, and when they saw me again, got up on the water and sped toward me. That's when I got these. The coots who paid me no never mind continued about their business.

Two Coots Running - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Two Coots Running

Glad these didn't. I'd missed photographing them doing their big trick — their method for attaining escape velocity. Literally used to escape perceived (?) danger as well as to get going fast enough to fly, usually away. In this shot, we can see how they shape their feet, like running shoes, cupped for acceleration, released once behind them, then cupped again to splash off the next step, their trail a sequence of white vertical splooshes.

March 29

Red-winged Blackbird Epaulets - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Red-winged Blackbird Showing Off Its Epaulets

It was a dark and stormy night. And before that it was mostly dark all day. I set the Exposure Index ("film" speed) high and still blurred everything all afternoon.

Vivid Epaulets - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Vivid Epaulets

Plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds, too. Though not the masses of a couple weeks ago. Those were passing through. These may be our local residents.

Popping His Epaulets - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Popping His Epaulets

I'd be happier if we could see this guy's eyes, but that would take sunshine, which we were short on today. Pleasant cool though. Then it began to rain. Then it stormed. I liked these shots, despite their blurriness, for the way this male Red-winged Blackbirds epaulets seem to alternately glow with that vivid color (overcast skies make that happen) and nearly separate from his body when he chirps his territorial cry.

Also saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, so they're out in numbers now. Could be the same one, but I'm expecting lots of tree-top aerobatics as they attract mates and protect their nests. Should be fun to watch. It and the redwings were also the only times today I was pretty sure which bird I was watching.

Unsubs on a Wire - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Unsubs On A Wire — They're Purple Martins (my first photo of them)

Sure wish I knew for sure what birds these were. We had lots of them yesterday. Huge billowing flocks performing random compression visual tricks along the edge of the lake. I shot and shot and shot at them, never getting them sharp enough to identify accurately. I thought starlings, for sure, for awhile. But these beaks aren't long enough. Female red-wings flock like that sometimes, but these aren't striped like they are. Heads seem lighter than bodies. Color me confused. Again.

Betsy says they're Purple Martins, so they're Purple Martins. Nice to have an expert reading this. I don't call me Amateur for nothing...

Prancing Brown-headed Unsub - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Prancing Brown-headed Cowbird

Could this be a Brown-headed Cowbird? Looks too dark for its picture in Alsop's Birds of Texas, but it does have a brown head and dark body. Not sure about that light colored feather on its wings. In the Rio Grand Valley, I was led to believe cowbirds were evil for stealing other bird's oh-something. Nests? Eggs. Gotta someday get my stories straight. First I need learn more I.D.s. Every time I think I've pretty much caught up, more unsubs fly in.

Courting Hunch - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

These only may be the same birds, but what I don't know could fill whole universes. Pretty sure this is courting behavior, though. The dark guy did not seem to get the attention he wanted, but he was hunching up and walking with wings cupped, looking wounded. Or something.

Dark Flocks - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Dark Flock

Flocks more unsubs.

March 28

Scissor-tailed Flycattcher Flying - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Flying

I walked around Sunset Bay more than an hour before I saw this flycatcher. In fact, a few minutes earlier, I saw another bird I thought might be a scissortail but convinced myself they wouldn't come till later this summer. Then this one flew across my view. Click.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

It landed in the top of the tallest nearby tree. I've photographed them before. Not with this much detail. I'm getting better, and this lens is easier to hold still, even when pointing uncomfortably nearly straight up. I remember them jumping up off the top of a tree, flying straight up, straight down, flipping flop. It's spring.

Northern Shoveler Fly - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Northern Shoveler Flying

Often, I shoot ducks landing and taking off. Never know what I'll get. Usually, not much. This time, better than usual. It was just a duck in my viewfinder. Found out later it's a Northern Shoveler. Dark. When I brightened it, I found these.

Northern Shoveler Flying - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Northern Shoveler Flying

No idea this would be so nice. More focus might have been nice. But the eye is almost sharp. More contrast may have helped. But I'm liking the flutter blur of wings.

TV - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

TV

I don't remember the last TV (Turkey Vulture) I saw over Sunset Bay. This was one of at least two. They did not come closer. Wonderful, elegant flyers. Soothing to watch. In Austin once, high over Town Lake, I watched one float nearly an hour. Magic on thermals.

One-legged Duck - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

One-legged Duck

When I saw this, as when I am looking at it now, I have trouble believing it is possible. No leaning. Pure cantilever. Straight up. What about gravity and balance? Aren't there rules?

Betsy says there are rules, and this duck's obeying all of them: "He's got his foot positioned directly under the middle of his tummy, which means he's canted his body to the right -- just because he kept the bottom of his belly level doesn't mean he's defied the laws of gravity!"

Starling Behavior - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Starling Yap Behavior

I don't know what's going on here. This European Starling kept bending over and picking up (I assume) bugs., Bent over or standing up, its beak stayed wide open, like this. No sound I could hear.

Dead Duck As Abstract Art - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Dead Duck As Abstract

This mallard was killed by a bicycle. I didn't see it happen, but I talked to a guy who did. He was carrying the body to the trash in a plastic bag after many people walked by, looking, commenting, then walking on. I photographed it within minutes of its death. I cannot imagine a bicycle killing a duck, except I've seen bicyclers fly through those gates.

Dead Duck Head - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Dead Duck

Dead Duck - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Killed by a Bicyclist

For the first hour today I worried I wouldn't find anything worth photographing. Then all this.

March 27

The Last Two Pelicans - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

As Promised — The Last Two Pelicans — in Sunset Bay
from March 21 — Preening for a Long Flight North

Two weeks ago, the Fitchery was my favorite place on earth. Now spring's new green leaves are all in the way. I saw an owl today, but only a fluffy dark blur high in the trees. I tracked it once, found it again, lost it in the upper growth. Second-favorite was Sunset Bay's amazing bird diversity. Which seems seriously diminished now we've banned bread-feeding there.

Oh glory! Betsy says they have not gone. They've been seen as recently as March 29. Hope I can photograph more, later. The trick, apparently, is to be looking up.

Orange Butterfly - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Not a bird. What I could photograph in the Fitchery today.

I got some headless and total blur pix of a Red-bellied Woodpecker today. When I first saw him in deep shadow, I convinced myself he was rare, but when he broke out into the sun, I recognized an old friend. Oh, well.

March 26

Egret in the Gray - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Egret in The Gray

Dark gray today, and wet. I got out of the car for maybe ten minutes when it began to rain again. This egret from the dry safety of Blue, my trusty Honda. This is the only bird I got with any grace before Winfrey Point. And not much after. Even I (who usually eschews the silly things) got my stained and damaged umbrella out and waved my camera around under it in the rain hoping for something interesting. I don't mind the stuff. It's just wet. But my camera needs to stay dry.

Cormorants on Gray - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Cormorants in the Gray Absence of Pelicans

I don't mind the gulls leaving, but I already miss the pelicans. Don't blame them, though. It's been warm too long here already, a sure sign of them leaving. I think I still have the last shots of the last two pelicans after it was pretty obvious all the rest had left. Last year it was cooler longer, and they stayed till exactly April 15. Sigh...

March 25

Ringed-beat Gull - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Ring-billed Gull

Hard to imagine a lake without gulls. But it's nearly that now. This was the only one we saw at Sunset today. The only. Betsy says they pulled out late last week. I'm not a big fan, but they are attractive birds, mostly. And now they're gone. I remember when they filtered back in. Seems unlikely they've gone back north. But they have.

Vulner Duck - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Vulnera-Duck

It may have been injured. Ill or asleep, but it let us get within a few feet and never rose from this position, did not swim away. Domestic white duck. Odd. Maybe a little sad.

Two Woodpeckers - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Two Woodpeckers

The one on the right is a Downy Woodpecker. The bird on the left has me stymied. I can't find anything in my bird books that synchs up with it. And it looks like it's wearing a white mask. If it's hanging out with the downy, does that mean they're both something else?

Betsy answers: "Your two woodpeckers are a female and male Downy! Even though her facial pattern looks different at that angle from the way it's presented as a side view in field guides, the short bill, white breast, black line running back from the eye and what you can see of the pattern of white on black on her wings give her away."

Under Woodpecker - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Under Woodpecker

I'm pretty sure this is the same downy. We just can't see the red on its head from this angle. I barely noticed the white bird when I was shooting, except to include it in the composition. I would have taken many more shots, but the battery I'd been using all weekend, died in the middle of a woodpecker.

Betsy Baker: "Your Under Woodpecker, on the other hand, looks as though it may have a large enough bill to be a Hairy! Was it the same size as the Downys? If so, then it's a Downy as well. Hairys are noticeably larger (and much rarer around here). The females of either species don't have red on their heads."

Woodpecker Clutch - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Woodpecker Clutching Branch

Which is a shame, because these birds hardly noticed us they were so busy crawling under and over, sometimes backwards, on the branches not six feet from where we were standing. More courting behavior?

March 24

Muscovy Standing There - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Muscovy Drake

Muscovy Shake - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Muscovy Shake

Muscovy - Swirl Cycle - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Muscovy Spin Cycle

Muscovy Rinse - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Muscovy Rinse

Hadn't seen Muscovy Ducks at White Rock in a while, but we watched this colorful character bathing in Austin's Town Lake.

March 22

Northern Shoveler - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Northern Shoveler

New species sighting: Northern Shoveler, sighted along the muddy, leafy, and apparently, buggy extended shore at Sunset Bay. Sibley describes this species: "with strikingly long spatulate bill. Feeds by skimming water with its bill."

Northern Shoveler Pair - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Northern Shoveler Pair

He's colorfully contrasty with black head and back, white body, and she's overall brown with darker and lighter streaks and spots, like many, perhaps most duck species females. Both have that noticeably large beak. His black. Hers brown toward orange.

Killdeer Pair - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Killdeer Pair

Another pair sighting. Killdeer nearly blending into the bright light and dark background in the muck along the bay.

Best Killdeer Shot Yet - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

My Best Killdeer Shot Yet

I've probably made 250 shots of the elusive, speedy Killdeer. This one, pausing for a fraction of a second near a sleepy female duck, is my best shot yet. Good enough detail I can abandon this quest until they'll let me closer, or I find them actually engaged in birdly behavior. But I'll have to be awfully quick about it. This is a large enlargement of a small portion of the shot. Finally, we can see detail in its eye.

Great-tailed Grackle - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Great-tailed Grackle Showing Off His Great Tail

I spoke with someone earlier this week who hated grackles. Hated them. In the ten or so minutes I listened to this Grackle-hater, however, I did not learn why. I think a lot of people hate them. It seems to be a common, if somewhat inarticulate passion. There are a lot of grackles out there, but I think they are beautiful. Elegant. Proud.

This one was engaged in showing off, ruffling his tail just so, posing left, right and with his head held high, beak up in look-at-me pre-courting behavior. Love that purplish sheen.

March 21

Pigeon Goes A Courting - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Pigeons Courting

Never know what I'll catch. I was checking Killdeer colors, thinking I might have overdramatized them. I didn't.

Just up from where I was tracking that nearly invisible couple — incredible camouflage against the muddy strawy shoreline at Sunset Bay — were some pigeons courting. I thought those recent puff necked pigeons were into it, but they were tame by these standards.

Pigeon Courting - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Hopping for Lust

This is the real hot and heavy, as you will see. At least he is into it. Not so certain she is. Difficult to tell. She's there, hasn't flown off, yet. But I don't know the signs, nor do I see them here.

I was shooting these particular pigeons, because they looked interesting. His wings spread wide and tall was probably my tip off to focus in their direction. I didn't know exactly what was going on. Although I picked up on it pretty quick. Note the wide, dark tail feathers, lowered flat. And those beautiful wings. I'd read about hopping. This is it.

Pigeon Courting - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Pigeon Chase

When I saw that earlier pigeon puffing, I thought it was big. This, however, is big. Monster big. The male hardly looks like a pigeon anymore, so consumed with passion — the primordial urge — is he.

Pigeon Courting - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Just In Case That Last Shot was a Fluke.

Winges Out - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

And This!

This looks, in retrospect, like the act itself. Birds do it quick. Lotta flash.

Pigeon Sex? - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Or Is This It?

Then it's over.

Pigeon Court Run - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

The Chase Is Everything

Or maybe, the intended she doesn't take kindly to his advances, after all. Keeps running away, despite his impressive display and transformation. Which here seem to be dwindling somewhat. The puff is deflating. But he's still chasing. Though not for long.

Pig Courting Escape - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Escape

Maybe she just flies away.

March 20

Thick With Red-winged Blackbirds - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Teeming With Red-winged Blackbirds

Driving down the west side of the lake looking for something besides ducks, I noticed the reeds teemed with Red-winged Blackbirds. Between resting there, the nearby sky filled with them. Thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds. Mostly females with occasional first-year and more mature males flying along, changing directions at the slightest whim. Amazing to watch, difficult to focus or compose, they were going so fast.

Male Redwing - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.   Male Redwing Giving It Everything - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Squawk! — Male Red-wing Announcing His Territory

Males were nearby, usually separate from the females. I didn't see any mixing, but the reeds is where they'll do it when it happens. Sometimes a big, mature male perched and breathing normally, will suddenly put everything he has into one big squawk to let the ladies know. Above, we see how that territorial call affects almost every part of his body.

Busting His Epaulets - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Busting His Epaulets

Even though the lens focused on the reeds, we can still see his epaulets separate precipitously off his shoulders as he announces himself.

Male On Top - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Male On Top

Lots more females than males, fewer First-year males, and fewest of all fully mature males with their full-color, bright-red epaulets. The usually very independent females remained lower than or at some distance from the males, looking very regal perched atop tiny reeds. Momentarily so placid till they all jump into the sky and fly around a bit, perhaps to mix things up some.

First-year Male - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

First-year Male Red-winged Black Bird

I could watch redwings all day. Maybe by then they wouldn't shoot away every time I moved, although the joggers and walkers on that same path hardly phased them. Maybe I just think it's me.

March 19

Killdeer Flying - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Killdeer Flying Low

The latest lake visitors were a pair of Killdeeer, running and flying up the mud track at the wet edge of Sunset Bay. They ran, stopped, ran, stopped, then flew up and down, up and down, gathering bugs in the mud. I'd forgot how beautiful they are, that tail resplendent of sunset.

Killdeer Flying Again - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Impressionist Killdeer

I shot a couple hundred shots of this bird running and flying among the coots and ducks — and bugs I couldn't see. I never got closer than 20 feet, and usually not that. So I kept shooting, hoping to approximate focus in today's dark gray.

Killdeer Holding Still for a Moment

Killdeer Almost Holding Still for a Nanosecond

It flying was easier to capture than standing, because we were closer, and I could pan along with it. My first killdeer of the season, but there will be more and brighter skies. I don't think I've ever caught one so beautifully flying.

Duck Fight - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Male Mallards Fighting Over Females

Meanwhile, back up the hill, ducks were fighting for the opportunity to mate. These two went at it for several minutes, first dog-piling together like irate kindergartners, wrestling and snapping and lunging …

Duck Fight Vertical - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Duck Fight Continues

… and flapping and back-biting and quacking and thrusting and dodging. A serious duck fight like I'd never seen before. Tomorrow's the official first day of spring, so their timing is perfect.

She Squacks - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Object of Attention If Not Exactly Affection

Everybody was riled up and battling either directly like the sumos above or in more symbolic, still very much in-your-face, but not quite as fierce, all to determine pecking order.

Head Butting Ducks - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Head-butting Ducks

Not exactly seeing eye-to-eye, these guys (!) are engaged in battle of a different format. No flesh or feather shredding but nearly as ardent. I'd never seen them do these this, either, but Charles — who pours grain out every evening for any bird hungry enough to come up the hill and eat — whom I was talking with when all this started — knew all about it.

Head Butting Further Along - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Two Other Ducks Engaging in Breast-butting

After the face-off, shoving bills and heads together, they rammed breasts, pressing for dominance.

Man Among Gooses - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Charles, Man Among Gooses

Charles is who bought and brought many of the gooses we've been calling the Fifteen Gooses Running Clan. Their number has increased, but he says they're probably maxed. Many of these, both browns and whites, came from a feed store north of here. The guy he paid $35 bucks each for them wasn't taking good care of them, and Charles was happy to set them free at the lake.

In today's last moments, the sun burst out of the clouds, and for a few minutes we had sunlight. By then, Charles was pouring corn out on the upper meadow, and streams of ducks, coots, gooses and others were flocking to the spot.

Bruised Breast - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

This animated critter apparently has been engaging in breast bashing, more interested in mating than food. Note its rubbed chest feathers.

Ducks Flying Against The Setting Sun - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Low Flying Ducks

Charles told me about seeing owls and beaver in the neighborhood later in the evenings and in the bright of day a hawk landing to kill a pigeon, and I thought about staying into the setting darkness, but I was tired and hungry and ready for home.

March 18

Duck Raise Tail Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

She Raises Her Tail

He's just walked over her back and turned to face her. She's raising her tail. Within a few seconds, they are having sex. The first duck sex I've seen that was wholly consensual, fully participatory. Usually, it's scary. I've watched grown humans freak out, and kids cry when a gang of ducks "attack" a single female.

Duck Sex Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

He Climbs On Top

It was quick. But not as quick as previous episodes. It's spring — or almost — so it's all about procreation. Survival of the species. All those lofty notions. Pleasant to see her help initiate the event, although …

He Holds Her Down - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

He holds her under.

Bit of Bath - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

She Bathes

He circles while she bathes quickly — this the third time in just a few yards swimming. My first decent picture of it.

She Flaps Victory - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

She Flaps

Then flaps what I have been anthropomorphizing as the victory flap. Then again, maybe that's what it is.

A Whole Other Pair of Ducks - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

They Ruffle Up

Not the same duck pair as above, but who's to say that's not what they were doing, also. Now they're ruffling up and smoothing down. Putting everything in place.

Rubbin Lanolin - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

She Rubs Lanolin

Preening and rubbing lanolin over her back, so water will run off it like water off a …. Well, you know.

Mr. Mallard - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

He preens.

I think he's in there sorting feathers, but there wasn't much movement.

March 17

Mrs. Mallard Swimming - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Mrs. Mallard Swimming

Then there's this really nice female duck picture I also shot tomorrow.

Tail Draging Pigeon - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Tail Dragging Pigeon

Some time back I photographed — from a less than ideal angle — a pigeon with its tail dragging while courting. Actually, I wasn't sure whether it was wings or tail, really, but from my angle tail looked probable — though could've been something central I don't know about or understand yet.

Pigeon Dragging Feathers - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

I wondered. This proves it.

All part of the amazing neck-puffing, head bobbing, circle dancing and tail dragging pigeon courting behavior. This didn't really happen on St. Patrick's Day. It was part of tomorrow's shoot, but I liked too well how that ended. I didn't want to muck it up.

Don't Feed the Birds - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Oh, and The City finally installed the sign we talked about last year some time — Anna called the Parks Department last August to suggest, and they promised signs by last November. We've only seen one so far, and most of the people who visited Sunset Bay with us today didn't see it at all, because whoever posted it, posted it where most people wouldn't. However, far fewer folk were “feeding the ducks” today.

March 16

Checker-chested Brown-Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

The Checker-bibbed Browntop
[House Sparrow with full bib for mating season]

As you can tell from the captions, I don't know who these birds are. Though they look familiar. Too familiar. I am looking them up. I'll post their names in the captions, when they are identified. Neither this, nor any of the rest have the built-in excitement of screaming hawks or put-upon owls. But then I wasn't sure about those I.Ds, either.

Apparently I am more taken by the lovely little black & white arcing design on this one's bib than any of my bird books's authors. They'd rather talk about any other part. It's my favorite part.

Brown Crusted Mud Bird

I couldn't get to the lake today. So I stood in my front yard and tracked tiny chirps. Essentially shooting into the sun, so several of these have halos. They were in my trees, so I assume they're common LBBs (Little Brown Birds) Gray, too. I mostly like this one for its subtle halo and focus. Dirty brown under parts, tan swoop back from its eyes, short tail and vivid little orange toes. Getting the focus sharp was a major achievement among all that clutter of branchlets.

The Ermin-capped Silver FoxlCopyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

The Ermine-caped Fuzzball
[I'm guessing a House Sparrow looking fine for mating season]

I'm happy birds are finding my trees nice places to be. I hope they will likewise settle into my backyard, where I won't be so conspicuous (to my neighbors). Because all these were in dark shadow (and my camera shows what optically is, not electronically how it's exposed and will look later [like my Sony F707's electronic viewfinder live view always did]), I was shooting blind. These are today's pot-luck winners.

This one looks like it has an ermine cape wrapped with a mink ascot over a black striped kerchief. Very pretty in this photograph. Very ordinary in the tree.

Fuzy White - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Dark-headed Boink
[No doubt another House Sparrow. Perhaps not so interested in mating...]

Except that I chose birds I could actually see and were not hidden behind too many branches, I was not selective. I liked this one, because it was fuzzy and had nesting material in its beak as it hopped around the branches. At one point, it got caught in some white plastic bag remnants, but it finally escaped.

White-winged Dove - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

White-winged Dove

We'll finish with a bird I shoot almost every time I see one but almost never post on these pages, because there's just so many of them. But it's spring, and this is my tree, and, well, that's all just too special to pass up.

March 15

Unsub in the Trees - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Unsub Through the Trees

Almost as soon as we arrived in owl territory (OT) proper, we heard a screeching bird (or two; again I thought I saw two. Anna says one). High above. Racing toward us. Perhaps reflexively, I pulled up my camera. Click, click, click. I shot without knowing what or which way. This is my first. Next is an enlargement of its central area. Remarkably well exposed.

Unsub in the Trees (Enlarged) - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Enlarged Unsub with Wide Tail - Wish I could see its beak.
[Red-shouldered Hawk]

But blurry. But maybe someone can tell us a blurry what . Immediately, I thought owl(s), because that's what we were looking, hoping, for. Later, we convinced ourselves it was hawk(s). When I saw these images large, I leaned back toward owls again but continue to call it unsub (until Betsy officially I.Ded it/them as Red-shouldered Hawks possibly courting). Not the sort of behavior I expect from the owl I've been following these last few days. Aggressively loud and fast.

Unsub Flying Away - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Small-tailed Unsub Flying the Other Way

More what I'd expect from a hawk, although the hawks I've seen around the lake and up the White Rock Trail, have been docile, nearly gentle birds, perched or flying along looking for small mammals. Except, of course, that young one that tangled with the crows. Neither of us saw crows today. I doubt this loud, fast bird would have much trouble with crows.

Unsub Flying Furher - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Red-shouldered Hawks Flying Further

It doesn't have the patterns of my owl shots or the looseness of feathers. If I could only see its face. The colors seem wrong, too. But from these angles, this bird looks squat, owlish, not hawk long and lean.

More I look, I think these are two birds, but I need to stop worrying it. If one is a hawk, it looks enough like a Red-shouldered Hawk to go ahead and be one, but the tail-together shots have me confused.

Any hoot, we tromped through the woods following long enough to know we'd never catch up, so we went back into OT to find something else large and fluffy. What's still vivid is that screeching as they rocketed towards us high in the Fitchery canopy, 180-ed and screeched away. Maybe it was chasing. Or just showing off. We were impressed.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Probably that same Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

When we later heard, then saw this pretty lady clunking away at a tree nearby, we contented ourselves with woodpeckers of the Female Red-bellied variety. That same tree but more light, so it's better than the last time, but probably that same bird, about as far as it could be and still have any focus. We joked that it was subdividing apartments for starlings.

March 14

Bart The Barred Owl Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Best Photo Yet of this Barred Owl
As usual, shot from at least 60 feet away.
They don't appreciate close.

Went earlier this aft. No storm, more light. Didn't expect to see owls again, but I didn't want to pass on the chance, either. I wandered around listening to at least thirty bird calls but only saw a few and photographed fewer, mostly littler species, as you will see after today's improved owl shots.

Bart SideCopyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Barred Owl with Face in Branch

Was surprised to see a fluffy brown thing in a tall tree. About the size of a pillow, all fluffed up. And again, I only saw one at any time. Never two together. But I very distinctly heard two apart. A call and response across the Fitchery (Anna called it that. Shortens Fish Hatchery, The, Old and Area) forest. First barking (like a smallish dog), then a rhythmic hooting. One would call. The other responded.

Owl JumpCopyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Jump to Fly

No more than a couple hundred feet apart when I saw the crow entourage. No fighting. Both species just perched. Dark tuxedoed chaperones. Then the owl I was photographing flew off somewhere much less accessible (to inquiring photographers), though I did catch of it turning and flying.

Barred Flying Away Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Full Wingspread Owl (and branches)

Away.

Yellow-shaft Northern Flicker Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker
Look at that beefy beak!

Heading back when something flashed into a tree downed by last month's big wind. Bird flash. I assumed mockingbird but shot anyway. Hard to tell what it was, concentrating so on holding the camera still long enough to go click. From the LCD I knew it was a woodpecker. More than that had to wait for my bird books. Delighted to learn it was new to me, one of two distinct (to somebody) varieties of Northern Flicker. The flicker must have been the flash I saw.

Female Red-bellied WoodpeckerCopyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Earlier I'd tracked down another woodpecker's loud pecking to a tree with other bird motions. Eventually found this little thing hammering like a little hammer. The colors vary, but both woodpeckers have nearly the same pattern on their fronts, backs, heads and the same color on their napes.

Nesting Starling Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Starling with Nesting Material

The one other in-focus photo I got today, before I saw owls, was this European Starling gathering what may be nest material. No doubt to make some poor evicted woodpecker's home a little more comfortable.

March 13

Tree Fulla Herons - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

I Saw the Black-crowned Night Heron On The Left.
The others were a surprise for later.

Was going to bird with a friend, but didn't know where. He didn't go, so I stopped at the Boat House, thinking I'd bag bigger birds first, then continue my quest in the hatchery, where my luck's been low. I shot herons on the far side, not realizing that for every one I aimed at, there were at least two more in close proximity, often more or five.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

A couple times while I was watching, a half dozen or so would fly up the creek. I even managed to get a few of those in focus. Someday I'll afford a longer lens, so I can photograph every heron who roost on the far side of the lagoon and present detailed individual portraits. Till then, trust me, those trees are alive with the mutterings of herons waiting for the humans to go away, so they can catch fish unhindered.

Wood Duck Pair - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wood Duck Pair

Looking carefully at everything that flew or swam into the lagoon, I noticed a Wood Duck pair on a log in the middle of the lagoon. Don't know if it's exactly the same pair, but the lagoon's a favorite to raise Wood Duck families in the spring and early summer.

Wood Duck Male - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Male Wood Duck in Full Courting Colors

He's gorgeous. Like many ducks, she's less colorful but nonetheless striking, and their kids will have bright eye markings like neither. It's fun to watch families grow up before our eyes, and gaily marked beauties like Wood Ducks are a special treat.

Red-winged Blackbirds in a Tree - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Flock of Female Red-winged Blackbirds

I even watched a large flock of small birds swooping into the neighborhood, frolic in the tallest treetops on the far side, then swoop away en masse. Had no idea what they were till I got the photos enlarged on my screen then was surprised to see they were all female Red-winged Blackbirds.

Butter Butt Flying - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Flying

Okay, I figured, that was good enough for a journal entry. So I drove over to the Pump House, parked and walked into the Old Fish Hatchery area, a good walk. Already darkish from impending storms, but the light was diffuse, no glaring sun or major brightness except the sky but no deep shadows, either, except the undersides of birds flying. Cloudy-bright is what old photography books term it.

Butter Butt - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Butter Butt

Besides the dark invisibles that always fly across the path soon as I'm down the first hill, my first bird encounter was another Butter Butt. A Yellow-rumped Warbler. I've been seeing and photographing them for maybe a month but never quite figured out the term. I'd seen the yellow splotches on their sides and the tiny area on the upper portion of their lower backs from other angles, but it hadn't registered. Today, I saw one from directly behind, so I finally grocked the nickname.

The reason the BB in the branches is sharp and the one flying directly overhead is not, is because I manually focused on the branch-sitting bird and never had a chance with the one flying.

I also encountered a sag-bellied male Cardinal, a Tufted Titmouse, and ...

Owl Flying Through Trees - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Blurred Barred Owl
Flying Between Branches

What I was wandering in the darkening forest for was an owl. A Barred Owl Betsy (whom we'd met in these same woods about a month ago, and who'd invited us to the Audubon meeting) had told me about that had raised families here in past springs. Till I eed her about seeing it today, I thought it would set up house in a tree I'd been staking out, checking every couple of days, craning around looking for.

And not finding. Turns out that place has been taken over by raccoons (which I'd also love to photograph, so I'll continue the stake-out).

Owl Fly Blurr - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Barred Owl Flying

Today. Finally. My luck changed. I thought, at first, there were two owls, flying with some big black birds. And maybe there were. I'm not sure, but I only ever got photos of one at a time. Betsy explained that crows pester owls (like they fight with young hawks). I guess they're big enough to pick fights with anyone who enters their territory.

Crow and Owl - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Crow and Owl Showing Comparative Size
Does this owl seem put upon?

I had assumed they were flying together, didn't notice any animosity, though the owl did seem bothered and a little put out. Maybe crowded in the air. I followed them around as well as I could, staying on but hardly ever looking at the path way down below, as they flew through the branches in the upper parts of tall trees.

Owl Looking Down on Me - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Owl Looking Down on the Photographer

Eventually, I got some decent — if not spectacular — owl photos. The first I've ever photographed in the wild. I've shot the one The World of Birds brings to the Texas State Fair often, but there's no branches in the way, no crows and no freedom of owl movement in the band shell. That one swoops down from a big cage atop the Ferris Wheel, and I pan and go click, while it goes back stage into another cage.

Owl Peeking Between Branches - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Barred Owl Peeking Between Branches

Crows are noisy but It was amazing how quiet today's wild owl flew. A big, fluffy, loose sack of feathers hovering and flying slow. I felt blessed to have been in its visible vicinity, and headed home as the sky snapped, crackled and darkened. It began splattering when I first sighted the owl, then mercifully stopped while I chased around in the woods. On the way home, I had to use the wipers barely missing tonight's deluge.

March 9

Starling - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Noble Starling

With lowered expectations I ventured again to Sunset Bay, neatly ignoring the pelicans and the coots. I usually avoid starlings, too, but this one seemed way noble to brush off. In the grass where Lawther connects down hills from Barbec's and Winfrey, where I park to walk down into sunset. It's a straight shot from my house, so I don't have to drive all the way to Loop 12.

Yellow Brown Bird - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Yellow-splotched Gray Bird — Butter Butt

I started in the woods up by the apartments looking for whatever would spend a little time exploring me. After flitting about behind branches and just out of my tele's reach, this bird got closer and closer, finally settling in a deep, leaf-darkened branch not more than about eight feet away, where no intervening branches blocked my view. Befitting a true amateur, I didn't know what it was, except small and quick. Till I looked it up. I knew I'd seen it before, and should've remembered its name.

Yellowed Gray Bird Scratching - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Scratching its Chin

I always want unsubs to be something exotic, not seen much around here. But this is a regular. So regular it's got a colorful nick-name. "Butter Butt." I'm warming to the species. I especially like this one's apparent crest, visible when it scratches. Portraits of birds are fine — I'll take what I can get. And a nice one can be appealing, but a bird doing something — almost anything — is preferable to it just standing there or flying along looking amazing. I guess we all itch, and if we can, we scratch.

Universal behavior, but I like this warbler scratching. Gives it some "person"ality. "Warblality" doesn't sound as good.

More I look at this shot, the less I believe that is its leg up there scratching. Doesn't seem to be connected in the right place. Wouldn't it be leaning to balance the foot? I wonder if that might just be a branch, and I made the whole thing up...

Nope. Wrong again. Betsy Baker (the best expert I know) says that is a foot with toenail showing, and it is scratching its chin. The shot is up at an angle that belies the bird's lean to balance its tiny body. I'll quote what else she said:

"As for the apparent odd location of the scratching leg — another odd thing about birds is that they look as though their knees bend backwards, but they don't, any more than horses' hind knees do. They walk on their toes. Their foot bones are fused into one bone, the tarsometatarsus, and the shin bones are fused into one bone, the tibiotarsus. What looks like a backwards-bending knee is actually the ankle. The thigh is normally hidden under the breast and wing feathers. So, that's not an elbow or knee you're seeing in that photo, it's an ankle, and the bird is as agile and flexible as an acrobat or a dancer!"

Female Lesser Scaup - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Female Lesser Scaup

I mentioned I'd seen a female Scaup. Several, actually. Some visited earlier this winter, then disappeared, though we found plenty in Austin's Town Lake. They were back here early this or late last month. Seemed odd not to have females of the species around, so I kept watching. Now the sun shines nearly every day, I didn't want to miss photographing them in detail.

Female Scaup - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Female Scaup

While shooting, the subtle differences between Lesser and Greater Scaups spiraled around in my mind. That there are differences, not the differences. I'm still figuring what those are. I'm looking at these specimens more carefully, wondering which it is. Greaters are darker. They have that white feather along their back in slightly differing locations, and there a variance at the end of the bills.

Female Scaup - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Female Scaup

In different photographs these female scaups look lighter or darker by turn. I'm pretty sure this one is the same variety I saw December 28 and in Austin February 15, but which is it? Though I've found several images of Scaup bills in my bird books, none were shot from the front where I could tell the difference. Female Greater Scaups have a ear-shaped gray or white area on their heads right about where a ear would be, if they had ears, and these don't, so they must be Lesser Scaups.

Puffed-out Pigeon - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Iridescent But Not Puffed-out, Yet

Purple and green, but there's no female pigeons in the immediate vicinity, so this male's neck is almost slender. Notice how it puffs out in the image below, however.

Puffed-out Pigeon - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Puffier Trying to Interest a Female Pigeon

Showing a lot more interest, in her. But her not so interested in him. I didn't see any guy pigeons connecting today. Too warm? Too late in the season? Too something. Her head is turned, but then she turned back around and walked away.

Puffy & His Intended - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

When I shot this, I thought it was a male in front and a female behind. I don't think so anymore. It's two males, both with necks puffed (somewhat in back; a lot in front). Note the vivid iridescent greens and purples against the otherwise drabbish birds. Every male I saw out on the pier at sunset today was head-bobbing and dancing in circles and behaving oddly. Mating season is upon us.

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March 8

I expect to find birds worth photographing every time. If I go with nothing in mind, I always find something. Today, I had a particular bird in mind — Depak, etc. say we change reality simply by thinking about it (as in prayers, hopes, dreams and theoretical physics), and that usually works for me, but not today.

I went late, because that's when the father of the bird family I sought would be where I was looking. Sort of a secret where that was and who he is. A tip from someone who knows and expects him to come back and raise another family.

I don't want just everybody to know. He needs to feel comfy and confident. I'm told I'd need to crane around to find him. I craned, but I didn't see much. I've joked about bringing a lawn chair and settling in one spot to stare upward watching, not so much for birds as for movement. Motion brings birds like thinking about birds usually does.

I saw egrets, gulls, grackles, and several sizes — from very large to T tiny — of unsubs flying over, some way over, some perching briefly, but I never caught the notion of the bird. Won't stop looking, but I'll go early next time and find something else, too.

Oh, and I finally finished the Index of Pages for these pages. May we both find it useful.

March 7

Gull Wings - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

12 Wings

Normally, I don't pay gulls much mind. Not my favorite birds. Greedy guts. Besides, they pick on coots. But today, I photographed gulls. I didn't plan this wing extravaganza. Just what I got. Little surreal. Little reality. Could never have planned it.

Gulls with Fish- copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Kept seeing gulls out in Parrot Bay swooping down and pulling something out of the water. Rarely see what till I get my photos on the screen that night. Too small. This was big enough to notice. Once I got over being surprised at the size of that fish, I shot a half dozen shots very quickly. I liked this one, because the fish is obvious; they're all three in focus; and they're together. If you're a bird with a big fish, it's easy to find a friend. But it's hard to imagine a gull sharing.

First-year Red-winged Black Bird- copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

First Year Red-winged Black Bird
Colors just coming in.

Most of Parrot Bay (named for the Monk Parakeets that fly across it — I saw a small flock of about 7 today, flying close, undulating across the bay at some speed. If I hadn't been so busy watching, I might have got a photo) — is lined with tall, thick reeds. Mostly brown lately. Natural habitat for Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird Flying in the Reeds- copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Red-winged Blackbird Flying in the Reeds
More mature bird. Fuller red on shoulders.

Many of which were flying around, perching, flocking down into, or exploding up out of the reeds. Difficult to shoot birds in the thick of them. Hard to focus on the bird, not the reeds between us. A challenge to even find them in there. Or capture them composed, unlike this one. But I kept trying. Much easier to find a brave one up in a tree squawking his territorial claim.

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March 6

Broke Beak Mallard - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Mallard with Broken Beak

Today's oddity is a Mallard with a broken beak. Not sure how, but it was a clean clip off the upper. Though it didn't seem to bother him too much, it was painful to see. The closer I zoomed, the more I winced.

Broke Beak Duck - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

See What I Mean?

Which brought to mind the lady from the Dallas Zoo who spoke at my first Audubon meeting last month. She joked that they couldn't cut off a toe to identify salamanders, because, ha-ha, it would only grow back. The notion of zoo dorks wandering around cutting toes and fingers off critters makes me glad that PETA folk don't have nearly enough to do. I'd never thought that before.

She also spoke of tracking ocelots in Coastal Central Texas. They'd already concluded that the large (had to be constricting and uncomfortable) radio collars they put on those little cats — about a third larger than domestics — did not work, but they hoped to put more on more ocelots.

But enough of free association about missing critter parts.

Two Gulls and a Coot - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Gulls and a Coot

Once again, it's difficult to discern what is going on here, but the coot is getting the worst of it. All part of the process of feeding bread to "the ducks." The family perpetrating this fracas was having great fun crying gull-like "mine, mine, mine" and joyously misidentifying pelicans as egrets and gulls as pelicans.

Scaup Dribbling - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Male Scaup Dribbling  — Note large water beads on its back

This guy was dunking water, then tipped back and swallowed some and dribbled the rest. I was paying special attention to Scaups today, attempting to not pay special attention to coots, over which I'd got a little over-obsessed. Which is why I went to Sunset Bay, neatly forgetting that there's nearly as many of those there as Pelicans (I counted 80). I did sight three female scaups though. Way up from zero. There's either hope for the species here, or they got tired of Austin.

Pelican Flying - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

American White Pelican Flying Close

It may well be that I have more fun photographing pelicans flying by or near or over than almost anything I do. A camera that shoots five frames per second makes it gangbusters fun — till I get all those images home and have to choose among hundreds of them.

Pelican Flying Wide into Sunset Bay - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Landing Gear Down

The second most fun photographing is pelicans landing. This one is engaging in a little of both. A transition between flying in landing-gear-down stance and …

Pelican TouchdownThe second most fun photographing is pelicans landing. So I did some of that, too, today.

Pelican in Extended Splashdown Mode

Splashdown!

I'd apologize, except I hope I'll do it again and again. Our American White pelican flock will only be with us another month. They leave about Tax Day. And I pine for them for 6 months, then go crazy photographing them when they return. Perhaps this spring I'll put together a page of what I know about them, though that knowledge keeps expanding. I expect to surprise myself when I finally pixilate it.

Cormorants in a V - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cormorants Flying in an Informal <

As a slight change of scenery, I drove to Dreyfuss, hoping to photograph birds on their way across the bay. It worked. Lots of birds wending around the point. I saw cormorants and pelicans and ducks and gulls and others.

Pelicans Flying Over - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Resered.

Pelicans Flying Over - Full Telephoto High

The pelks flew high. Despite intervening tree branches, I got a couple sharp images. No wonder I could so rarely track them coming into the bay. From that high up they simply materialize this side of Dreyfuss. I also found out where the goose squad's been hanging out.

Two Ducks Flying - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Ducks

I called them The Nine Gooses Running Clan when there were only that many. Then their numbers grew. Last time I counted 13 big white and big brown gooses in Sunset Bay. I haven't seen the Canadian Goose pair (+/-) in awhile. They may have flown back north. I couldn't photograph the gooses today, because they were honking it up behind a major screen of shrub along Hidden Creek.

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March 4

Coot Feet - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in any Digital or Analog medium without speicif written permision.

Dead Coot Feet Close-up

On our lake trip yester, Anna pointed out, and I walked over to photograph a dead coot. Dissatisfied with those shots in dead by the side of the road situ, I wrapped the coot in a plastic bag and took it home to photograph. I was especially interested in its feet and beak.

Because many people don't like seeing — or thinking about — dead anythings, I've put the rest of the photos from today's shoot on a separate page.

When I visited the University in Boise, Idaho many years ago, I found thousands of dead bird bodies for study. More recently a bird lecturer in McAllen used some to show differences in similar species, their colors faded and their mass light. Using dead birds to study live birds is neither new nor horrific, except that my dead coot apparently had been run into by a car — not run over — so it was flatter than usual, though not frisbeed.

I squashed three slow, crunchy, fat, black bugs that crawled out of my coot during the shoot and deposited them into the garbage with one tiny, flat, yellow worm (maggot larvae?) that crawled out. My dead coot was in less-than-pristine condition, and some of those photographs might be considered grisly — or art.

Me, I'm utterly fascinated.

You've been warned. See the Dead Coot Page for more visual information.

March 3

Lunar Eclipse - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Lunar Eclipse

At the lake to see the lunar eclipse tonight. Usually too many people to go on weekends, but it was cold. Got there too early, so we looked around. Driving north on the along the lake, one pelican paralleled us, flying inches above the water at our 20 mph for a half mile. Took awhile before I stopped just staring and picked up my camera. Best of four shots give a gist of the widely spaced Ring-billed Gull activity across the lake and that one pelican on this side.

Pelican Racing Low - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Very Low-flying Pelican in a Lake of Gulls

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March 2

Little Brown Bird - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Little Brown Bird in My Tree
How appropriate, it's a House Sparrow,
its black beak ready for courting.

Saw this little brown bird in my tree as I backed out to meet Anna at the lake. I don't know little brown birds, so I checked later but didn't find it. Been wanting to photo birds in my own yard, so I didn't pass on the opportunity.

Little Brown Front - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Little Brown - Front

Penetrating stare, eh? "Look me up, Mr. Photographer, so next time you see me you'll know who I am."

I will track its identity. It's little, with a thick black beak, long pink fingers, dark thin reddish-brown mask, tan breast, darker cap, brownish wing, and that ruffle-ish doodad on its chest.

Coot with Full Fish - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coot With Full Fish

Back to the Spillway with hopes of finding little birds in the hatchery nearby later. But we got sidetracked watching coots with fishes. We were still perplexed at their fishing. The ponds were spotted with dead shad, that further piqued our interest. We walked down into the pond area to get closer and more detailed photographs of the coots and their catches.

Coot with Bloody FishBack to the Spillway with hopes to find little birds in the adjacent hatchery area. But again got sidetracked watching coots with fishes. We're still perplexed at their fisherbirdness. The ponds toward the hatchery were spotted with dead shad.

Coot with Bleeding Fish

We watched as they jerked, chewed and splattered their fish again, then paraded them up and down the ponds. We saw them peck at the fish, rend fish flesh, clean it off, then carry what we first thought was the whole fish to the spillway steps and, likely as not, let them go over, without further interest in the body.

Coot Thrashing & Deheading Fish - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coot Thrashing and De-heading Fish

Why? We wondered. And watched more carefully. What I've deduced from direct observation plus the detail in these photographs, is that coots like fish heads, but don't care for fish bodies — at least not these — which they do a neat job of separating from their prized fish heads when they thrash and splash them.

Coot With Half A Fish - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coot With De-headed Fish

We still saw some fights over fish, though it was difficult to tell what those squabbles were about. But coots getting fierce over anything was intriguing. I should note that no aggressor we saw ever separated a fish from the coot that caught it. So maybe that's all part of the deal. An aggravated sense of power. That at least some of the behaviors around coots catching fishes have to do with ritual, not just food. Or something …

Coot With Half A Fishes - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coot With Half A Fish and
a Friend Following Close

Conscientious citizens that coots are, they dutifully disposed of their remnants downstream.

Though we spent at least forty minutes in the "Old Fish Hatchery Area" in lovely late afternoon light and lilting warmth and while there heard dozens of bird calls, thunks and gurgles and even occasionally saw flutters of high and low over-flights, we did not photographically capture a single other bird in any detail whatsoever.

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March 1

Coot with Big Fish - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

American Coot with Fish

Guess I never thought about what coots were diving for. I assumed plants. When I saw a coot playing with its food today, I did a double take. Big fish. Almost bigger than it was — much bigger than the one above.

The coot carried it in its beak a while, then slapped it into the water, watched it sink, dove down to fetch it, chewed on it awhile, then did all of the above again, and again.

Coot with Floating FishI'd never even seen a coot-caught fish before.

Coot Playing with its Fish

I was amazed. I'd never even seen a coot with a fish. Then I saw another coot with another fish. Then another. All partaking in the same slap-em-around, drown-dive-chew routine. In the ponds around the steps at the bottom of the spillway. Lotta coots there today. Fishing and catching.

Two Coots With One Fish Each - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Coots With One Big Fish Each

They were not eating those fish, however. Looked like they were showing them off, parading back and forth with fishes in their mouths, so all the other coots could see. Seems absurd, but we didn't see any coots eating their catches today, and we watched.

Coot Fish Squabble - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Envious Coot on the Left Squabbles
with Fisher Coot on the Right

A coot with a fish gathered coots without fish. Swimming by and sometimes circling, but the only actual squabble we noted was this brief altercation. The envied fish is in the water. The aggressing coot is on the left and the successful fish-catcher on the right. The set-to lasted a few squacking, wing-flapping seconds. Then the coot without a fish swam off without the fish changing beaks.

Coots on The Steps - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coots On The Steps

One more coot first, then we'll go on to other birds this first day of this new month. I'd seen coots on the Spillway Steps before, but never this many and never this engaged in actually doing something, and never ever looking so cool doing it, strands of wild spilling water splashing and foaming all around. They'd stick their heads into the rush, then bob it back up. Over and over. Like egrets and herons, they'd watch and wait. And wait.

Kingfisher from the Back - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Today's Dark Blue
Unsub from the Back

Our first glimpse of this bird was from the back and partially through a tree. All we knew was it was dark, maybe blue and had white on its back. From the edge of the spillway, we couldn't see the crown in detail. I hoped the it would would turn, so I could get a better shot. While I was hoping, it rocketed down to the water, caught something, then disappeared.

Belted Kingfisher Flying Flat Out - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Blue Unsub
Flying Flat Out

I looked it up to discover my dark blue unsub was a Belted Kingfisher. The same species I remember hearing and watching atop a tree this side of Parrot Bay last autumn. I hoped then I'd get to shoot one diving and coming up with something. It's a good hope. I'll hang onto it.

Kingfisher Flap - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Belted Kingfisher Flapping

I followed its crazed flight haphazzardly, without composing, just hoping to keep up. I wanted to catch it in focus and all that, but all I could manage was to hold down the shutter and aim the lens at the wild chase. That bird flat out flying fast. Doing what he does in a serious hurtle.

Kinfisher Flying - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Almost in Focus, Almost Composed, But You
Can Still Tell What It Is and What It Is Doing

Of a dozen shots, this one is almost composed and sharp, enough. I want better, but that'll wait. At least I know the Kingfishers are back, and I'll have more chances.

Tufted Titmouse with Branches - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Tufted Titmouse with Branches

Uncomfortably cool out in the wind by the spillway and especially on the bouncing bridge over the steps, so we walked in to the Old Fish Hatchery Area, hoping to find littler birds. We heard plenty, but saw few, and those usually fleeing fast. This little bird and yet another cardinal got the closest.

I saw gray flapping, turned toward it, saw it on the other side of the tree I was this side of, brought the camera up and started clicking, thinking later I should have just held the button down and hoped, but most of them were too dark.

Tufted Titmous in the Cleardown

Tufted Titmouse without Branches

As it flitted through the maze of branches, I noticed it was gray, close and had a crest. Never saw one before, except in books, but I was already thinking "Titmouse." No idea why, but I kept shooting till it flew off. This is less well exposed or focused but gives a better idea what a Tufted Titmouse looks like without the branches.

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All text and photographs
copyright 2006 and 2007 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved.

No reproduction without
specific written permission.

Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"


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