March 30 2007
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
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.
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
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 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 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.
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 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
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.
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.
Plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds, too. Though not the masses
of a couple weeks ago. Those were passing through. These may be our local
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 — 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 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.
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.
Flocks more unsubs.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
Killed by a Bicyclist
For the first hour today I worried I wouldn't find
anything worth photographing. Then all this.
As Promised — The Last Two Pelicans — in
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.
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.
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 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...
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.
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.
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."
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 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?
Muscovy Spin Cycle
Hadn't seen Muscovy
Ducks at White Rock in a while, but we watched this colorful character bathing
in Austin's Town Lake.
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
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
Another pair sighting. Killdeer nearly blending into the
bright light and dark background in the muck along the bay.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just In Case That Last Shot was a Fluke.
This looks, in retrospect, like the
act itself. Birds do it quick.
Or Is This It?
Then it's over.
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.
Maybe she just flies away.
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 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
Even though the lens focused on the reeds, we can still
see his epaulets separate precipitously off his shoulders as he announces
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 Red-winged Black Bird
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
Two Other Ducks Engaging in Breast-butting
After the face-off, shoving bills and heads together,
they rammed breasts, pressing for dominance.
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.
This animated critter apparently
has been engaging in breast bashing, more interested in mating than food.
Note its rubbed chest feathers.
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.
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.
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 under.
He circles while she bathes quickly — this
the third time in just a few yards swimming. My first decent picture
Then flaps what I have been anthropomorphizing
as the victory flap. Then again, maybe that's what it is.
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.
She Rubs Lanolin
Preening and rubbing lanolin over her back, so water
will run off it like water off a …. Well, you know.
I think he's in there sorting feathers, but there wasn't
Mrs. Mallard Swimming
Then there's this really nice female duck picture
I also shot tomorrow.
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
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.
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
the ducks” today.
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 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.
[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.
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.
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.
Enlarged Unsub with Wide Tail - Wish I could see its
But blurry. But maybe someone can tell us a blurry what
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full Wingspread Owl (and branches)
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 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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 ...
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.
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).
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 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 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.
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.
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-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
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:
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
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
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.
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
in Austin February 15, but which is
it? Though I've found several images of Scaup bills in my bird
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 in Extended Splashdown Mode
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 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 - 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Very Low-flying Pelican in a Lake of Gulls
Little Brown Bird in My Tree
How appropriate, it's a House Sparrow,
its black beak ready for courting.
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.
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.
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
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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