March 30 2009
American Coots both dabble and dive, cormorants dive, Mallards, like this pair and their cousins the shovelers, pintails and teals mostly dabble — move their bills around in shallow water while feeding.
Snow Goose? Ross's Goose? Ross's Lesser Snow Goose hybrid, Lesser Snow Goose? I dunno. A smallish critter, all white with orange feed and bell-shaped bill. I've seen them around before. I assumed it was a Snow Goose.
Anna says it's a Tufted Roman Goose whose name is Juliet. "The dark guy next to her" — I assume she means the brown goose in the lower right corner, not the Coot in the other corner — "is Romeo, who loves her dearly and is very protective of her." My bird identifying has gone steadily downhill lately. I mis-Ideed Sunday's Green Heron as a Little Blue, too.
I only saw maybe three pelicans today. Keep thinking what they were up to the other day swimming back and forth almost to the crowd of other pelicans on the dirt bar, then back out toward the Hidden Creeks area, was figuring out, when they were to fly north and west this week, who'd be next in each line.
I saw a couple pelicans flying when I drove in and wondered where everybody else was. Nearing April. They traditionally leave April 15, but this time they arrived, all 140-some-odd of them — enough for two full White Rock Lakes — mid-September instead of mid-October, so they've already been here a half month longer than usual.
Saw only one Wood Duck along the bright line of corn kernels on shore this evening. This guy duck walking back to the lake.
We visited Arlington and Fort Worth to be with friends and photograph Nature. We saw a lot of art, and eventually I'll get those pix online somewhere, but first things first. The friends live on Lake Arlington overlooking a small dirtbar where a Great Blue Heron lives/hangs out all day many days, maybe always.
I believe this is the Great Blue Heron (GBH) in question. When I woke up early (!) and stepped out into the back yard with my Nikon and Rocket Launcher, it was nowhere in sight. What I could see were cormorants a plenty, seven I think American White Pelicans, at least that many GBHs and some similarly heron shapes, scattered in many directions, usually way too far away to render intelligibly.
After photographing it land, it almost immediately got back into the air and flew away from its recently inundated 'island.' I assume it was not used to being photographed that early in the morning. Although I know the best time for birding is early on any day, I rarely make it to where they are till afternoon, since I'm a day-sleeper and/or night-worker. Today's top photo was snapped at 7:37:29. This shot was 7 seconds later.
I had no idea what time I was, only that I'd got knocked off my usual clock the last several days and was sleepy all of yesterday and conked out early, so waking early this time was no big deal. It's why I was where I was, and it was as much a surprise to me as any anyone who knows me that there I was.
I didn't expect much and shot at almost anything that flew by or landed nearby or anywhere else. Much of what I shot was so far away the resolution of my lens was significantly under the res of my camera, so most of those birds are impossible to identify. If I had a super-duper Nikon lens instead of a comparable cheapo by Sigma, it mighta helped, but this is what I can afford.
I shot this, my first Green Heron of the year, at precisely 7:52:37 AM today. I saw it land, but I could neither get it to focus nor identify it. This is the fourth shot down into the net of branches and roots on the GBH's 'island.' This was the only species to surprise me as I shot down into the lake from their back yard, and a delightful surprise at that. I'm a big fan of LBHs, and I'm happy to photograph them whenever possible.
I usually don't see Greens till it's hot and sweaty. Not that they're not out there till then, just I don't see them. It was really cold this ayem, so I hardly expected one to fly into my sight.
One of the more interesting aspects of shooting there then was that I was up at the same level as birds flying well above the surface of the lake. This one is very easily identified, and I knew it as soon as it jumped off the top of the GBH's tree.
Lots of these, of course.
People keep assuring me that the gulls are gone at White Rock Lake, but I keep seeing them there as I saw them at Lake Arlington this morning.
In typical elegant egret style, a Great Egret lands on GBH Island's northern extension.
Much later after saying our goodbyes to Dianne and Donald, we headed for the Arlington Drying Beds, and I passed out till we got there and again after we left not long later. Not so many birds today, but more water than we've ever seen there before. In fact, the stuff was splooshing out of a fountain-like protrusion in the first bed we encountered.
We did find these guys, however. A bunch of them. We were hoping for Cinnamon Teals, which we at first hoped these would be. But they're not. If they seem a lot clearer, it's probably because they were substantially closer.
Anna saw this one on a telephone pole, and I got up and out in time to see it jump into the air.
I assume it's a Red-tailed Hawk. They usually are.
Compare with the known Red-tailed hawk just below.
said I would but now I won't go back to all those American White Pelicans going back and forth from outer to inner Sunset Bay. I still don't know why they'd line up single file, come in, almost to the sandbar, then turn around and line up single-file to go out. Back and forth, with confusion in the changes. I'm not going to put those pictures here, because they're just a bunch of lovely pelicans filing back and forth.
Instead, I'm leading the day's shoot — it looked warm out there, and started out that way. But T-shirt and thin pants was not enough for the cold, hard winds that soon took over this afternoon — with this sympatico shot of a female grackle and her amazing feet.
Driving down Lawther along Yacht Club Row, I saw three hawks. I followed one for awhile then lost it in the trees of Big Thicket. Another was just a brief glimpse. This one was slower, only flew a couple trees toward Mockingbird after I photographed its back in one of the trees between shore and the street.
It stayed between the street and shore, so I was able to sidle Blue in a convenient parking lot and shoot up where it stood. I was able to move in and out, a little up, then a little down to get an open shot of it, because almost nobody else was at the lake today. It watched constantly, but I think it was looking for food.
This cormorant was bobbing up and down in the stormy lake waves carrying all those globs of water. It was remarkably close to shore, so I got a decent shot. In focus, too.
That was much less likely shooting Barn Swallows off the pier in Green Heron Park (Check our White Rock Map for strange place names.) In what has become an annual ritual, I panned back and forth, suddenly turning or shooting up, or diving down, attempting to capture these fast critters.
It's like practice. I'd got pretty good with my old 70-300mm zoom (105-450mm 35mm film equivalent, more or less), but the Rocket Launcher's 225-750mm equivalenc is a lot more difficult to follow tiny action with, so I was practicing till I couldn't stand the cold any more.
A few of my shots were in focus, but in most of those the bird was so far away it hardly mattered. I need more practice or a wire-frame image finder like I had on my Speed Graphic in the early 1960s. Two wire frames, smaller looking out through larger, so I could scope what the camera was seeing without looking at the ground glass when the subject moved, at all. I've never seen such a thing on a modern zoom lens, but I imagine it would be easier to follow something through some Hubbel tele like the Launcher.
We visited Joe Pool Lake today hoping to see some Brown Pelicans that have been seen there. But we didn't see any. We didn't even see this bird till it started cussing at us, grump, grump, grump, hoarsely, as it flew in a big circle first past some trees where we were — this moment magically between those, a minor miracle — then out over the inlet where the Joe Pool Marina on 1382 is, past a bunch more trees out into the lake.
The whole episode was a big surprise to us, and apparently, to the GBH.
Our second find did not fly away before we even saw it. It stayed on that post while we clicked and snapped away at it from a considerable distance.
Of all my shots of it, these are the sharpest. And they are not very. I've seen bluebirds at area lakes before, and I get all excited every time. This one is the same focus as the next one up, I just polished it a little more in Photoshop.
Everywhere we went in that today — Duncanville, Cedar Hill, Joe Pool and back, we saw crows. Some were better lighted than this one. But this is in the lush green along one of the roller coaster roads through the Joe Pool area, which we have an abundance of affection for.
Till this, everything we saw was easily identified. This isn't. It's almost like several birds in my big bird books, but not exactly any, so I'm giving up tonight, because I'm tired and getting cranky, and my blood sugar took a serious dive awhile ago, and I'm drinking OJ and eating peppermint candy and hoping I can sleep soon.
This one fits at least two categories of black-headed gulls, although I'm pretty sure it's not a Black-headed Gull. It may, however, be a Franklin's Gull, and that is the most likely I.D, since there are enough of those that I'd seen one before.
This is that first variety again. Or one of it's cousins. My camera and/or lens was acting odd today. It did not want to focus when birds were close — or far — and even when it would focus, it often would not take a photograph.
If this is really a second winter Laughing Gull, that probably makes the Second Variety of Ternish Gull one, too. Three, four.
After messing with looking it up for too long, I suspect what it is — can you see how ridiculous it is that people send me pictures of unsub birds and think I can identify them? — is a Franklin's Gull. They're common enough here that I've seen several, and now I think this is is either a First Winter or Adult nonbreeding Franklin's Gull. The only reason I'm not guessing it's a First summer one, too, is that it's not summer.
That their wing colors keep changing might have to do with them not all being the same bird, and those not same birds being differing ages — or species ...
I think this is my favorite shot of this variety. It's in focus, and that makes it good enough a shot to stop at. I took more pix later at the lake, but we'll get to those tomorrow, when I'm rested and healthy and happy. Or two out of three.
All that and it's hanging upside-down, too — Anna called it “the upside Downy” in the eternal quest for food. I'd got tired of shooting the same old pix of pelicans after deciding they are not yet on their way west north west into the upper U.S. and lower Canada just yet, since their numbers seem about normal lately.
When I happened to see something flitting about in the tree above. I shot and shot and shot at it as it flitted from branch to branch to branch to eat the tiniest little buds on the end of each new spring twig.
Light was lousy, night coming, had waited till four hoping it'd stop raining, and it finally did. Soon as it stopped, Bird Squad members started showing up, then Charles with bags of feed grain and a friendly fellow photographer.
So social a place suddenly that Stumpy, the goose I've photographed in other people's arms here couple times before, came up and started grooming me. Not a gentle action.
I'd give him my fingers, so he wouldn't bite anyplace important. Squadders told me to keep my knees together, although he only does that to guys. Eventually he got to agitating and I didn't know what else to do but pick him up. Seemed to be what he wanted. He'd never let me do that before, though I've petted him often. I guess we bonded. It was happy-making.
Nice goose, except for the biting. I've seen gooses doing this to each other, Bird Squadders call it grooming. Guess Stumpy thinks I needed some.
As always, whenever a pelican flies into the inner Sunset Bay, I follow it with the Rocket Launcher. For yet another ‘same old pelican shot,’ this is pretty good. Notice it has what appear to be three separate beak fins, a sign that it's a breeding adult of indeterminate sex. The sexes are outwardly identical.
While waiting for something to happen, I noticed many more than usual pelicans with their wings up. Not flapping, just in this drying off, wing-up position I usually observe when they're swimming. Made sense. It'd been raining awhile, and these guys were all wet.
Tonight they did the swim thing again, etc. Swimming out to the logs past the cormorants on sticks. Then out into the lake. They were probably hungry. Every pelican eats four pounds of fish a day. I've been fishing in the rain before, it's not much fun.
Three female Lesser Scaups with Three Male Lesser Scaups just swimming' around together.
Four female Lesser Scaups in one place at one time and swimming in more or less the same direction!
Male Mallard coming in for a landing.
They've just gone across the street to play in the puddle, now they're going back down the hill to the water.
In spring, Mallard males spend a lot of time bashing into each other's breasts and scuffing up something awful to prove to the females ... oh, something.
Breeding adult egrets have green lores like this one does.
Not a lot of time. I need sleep. But here's a few shots I made after work today. Anna told me about a Black-bellied Whistling Duck in Sunset Bay after dark yester, so I hung around in the last bits of daylight hoping. Got these instead.
Followed Mr. & Mrs. Wood Duck around very gingerly all evening. They're timid. I was careful. Got some other maybe, but this one's for sure.
Muscovy Drake doing the Muscovy Drake.
I counted 40 American White Pelicans still in Sunset Bay today. It may be true that others have gone back to northwestern U.S. and up into Canada for breeding. I'm not sure. Not the most elegant landing I've seen, but it worked.
Nice with coots.
Been wondering for months how the dozen or more male Lesser Scaups that hang out in Sunset Bay manage with only one (or two was the most I've ever seen there before) female scaup and those only briefly. Today I was amazed to count seven female scaups among the coots and ducks there.
Tuning in, I quickly learned that the females each looked different, sometimes distinctively. This was perhaps the most colorful of the new females. Are they just visiting? If so, where do they go to raise their young? Stay tuned.
Note the subtle differences in eye colors, spottedness in the white forward facial area — only females are white there, body textures, colors and body spottedness. Subtle mostly, but with still photographs, perhaps more noticeable.
Females seemed every bit as aggressive as the males, and they may be able to swim faster.
Later, a little more glued into finding and photographing as many females together as possible, I noticed two swimming, then bathing or diving or playing or something more or less together. I'd wondered if they'd be competitive. If so, I didn't see it.
I don't think I've seen a male scaup do this, although I've seen their big feet up above their bodies sometimes.
Male scaup shining purple head in the sun light.
I keep being amazed how different the females looked — I mean, look at the apparent variance in eye color of this and the next shot. I'd never noticed all that much difference among the males, but I'll be watching more carefully now.
I avoid giving birds names, but while trying to figure out one from another I developed certain code names. This is Spotty Beak. Note her comparatively smaller arcs of white behind her white-splotched dark bluish gray beaks with black tips.
Two profiles show, left to right, major color and shape differences between female and male scaups. I still could only count about a baker's dozen males.
Very much like the American Coots they generally swim with, scaups swim extremely fast — and look like they're surfing — to get up to running speed, then run on the water with large webbed feet to get up air speed, then sprint into the air.
I don't know what set them to running, and I missed it entirely the first time they did it, but once they got sped up, they flew low off toward the east end of the bay, where they stayed awhile, then came back and did it again.
The second time I saw this running and flying dance, I wondered whether it were some kind of mating ritual dance — see who's strong or fast enough to be worthy mates.
Though here she seems to be flying alone.
Today, we visited the Trinity River Audubon Center slightly south of Dallas, just under Loop 12 off CF Hawn Freeway. We thought the weather would be nice — it was beautiful, deliciously cool early then pleasantly warm when we left around 11.
And it is free on Thursdays, although we later realized it's only $4 each for us seniors, so maybe fewer carloads of loud, screaming kids and rumbling baby carts would join us along the trails if we came on a pay day instead.
Early on our circumnavigation of all their public trails, we only heard, then finally saw Northern Cardinals. As we figured out what we were doing, birds became more plentiful. A few even posed for us. Briefly. As I write this, I still don't know who all these guys are, but I knew this one soon as I saw it.
I don't see Brown Thrashers often (enough), but I know their Mockingbird-like songs, cheery and loud. We have them at the Lake, usually in the upper trails well back from the shore. In my limited experience, they're often in the trees up from the Bath House Cultural Center and left and right from there.
Actually, this is a Carolina Wren, a year-round resident of the eastern 2/3 to 3/4 of Texas, especially wooded habitats. Supposedly what they holler is tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, but I have such a lousy auditory memory, all I remember is its piercing little scream.
This may be a winter adult Harris's Sparrow. I like its lush streaky-spotted breast and the rich browns and oranges in its wings, not to even mention that full-face black beard with mottled dark, back over the top of its head. I know, I sound like an art critic writing about birds, and sure enough...
Like many beginning birders, I have on several occasions entirely dismissed "LBBs" — Little brown birds, of which there are so many that I cannot yet identify. I started with bigger birds I could see and easily photograph: egrets, herons, hawks, vultures and pelicans.
Gradually, slowly, I am beginning to learn to identify them. This one, however, is still just a cute LBB for me. Hmmm... I'm thinking a juvenile Brewer's or White-crowned Sparrow, maybe? ...
Today's birds were friendly enough. Some few of them even paused where they stood when they saw us seeing them. But darned few of them stayed long enough to focus in on. This is likely something common and every other birder in the known universe knows what it is. But I don't, and I'm still looking through my books and online sources to find out.
Okay, it's pretty sure a sparrow. Tree, Field, House... Sure looks a lot like the White-crowned Sparrow Anna photographed last month, too.
I know this one. I know this one. Teacher, call me, call me. Imagine my hand waving in the air. Yup. They were call and responsing their unique calls — whatever that was — all over the near-in grounds at the center this cool, breezy morning. Some few even stared back at us.
A young lady who looked like a forest ranger told us about this guy in one of the short trees on the other side of the fence from where we were, near in toward the center's sometimes startling new building. We've seen American Kestrels often at White Rock, even flying and hunting together from the high wires.
And this, of course, is a Killdeer. We assumed it was a female and that she was leading us in as direct a line as she could manage away from her nest. I'd dearly love to photograph some Downy young Killdeer, but I didn't want to frighten her. Only much later did I remember that a young photographer had been hunkered down right about there, photographing something down into the gully she led us away from.
The State of Birds Report
The just released, the first-ever Report on the State of Birds in the U.S. is available online. There's also a stirring but beautiful and instructive 8.5-minute video, along with a downloadable PDF of the full report.
Almost drove to Sunset Bay again today then remembered I'd not likely find new birds doing new bird things in the same old places. None of the pics I shot there yesterday — only about 30 shots — were worth keeping.
So I drove instead to my near side of the lake and walked around the Old Boat House, parking near what I'll probably call The Boat Storage Shed instead of the New Boat House, as it is now called here and on my White Rock Lake Map.
So I sidled up to where I found the Killdeer couple weeks ago, killed Blue's engine and waited, watching carefully. Whereupon I noticed a T-tiny little Sandpiper-looking bird I don't think I'd previously identified. Might have seen it but didn't know what it was. But most likely didn't even see it, it's so small.
It's called "Least" for its size, the smallest of the sandpipers. It's 5 to 6.5 inches long with a 13-inch wingspan. Robins and mockingbirds are 10 inches, nearly twice as long. Pelicans are 4.5 to 6 feet long with wingspans of nine feet.
I was just congratulating myself for getting away from this page's constant adulation of our winter visitor, the American White Pelicans, when one hove into view, dropped landing gear,
Locked it down in place, and ...
Skidded to a landing. I heard thrilled Spring Vacationers screaming about it first catching a fish, and then — "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay" — eating it. "That big bird is eating the fish," they screamed delightedly, having discovered an amazing sight. Yup. That's what they usually do with fish, but I missed photographing it entirely.
I found this guy near the new wood bridge by the Old Boat House. There were also several Northern Shovelers further up the creek.
I did not see the Wood Duck family I seem to watch every year about this time, but I'll keep watching.
I'd seen a Blue Jay earlier, went back, got the Rocket Launcher, hefted it up, and ... there's a House Sparrow.
More from Yesterday
I've been wondering where the pelicans go out to after the sun goes down and it's dark. So last night I watched and photographed.
First they went out to the logs. That made sense. Protection from the four-legged creatures who can't swim as fast as they can run and scare pelicans. Although motorcycles scare pelicans, too. But they're less likely out there, also.
Then from the logs they lined up again, and spread out ...
over the lake. Every time I looked out after them later, they were out there, floating, swimming, looking for food, whatever.
The first of these shots were at the usual low ISO of 320. As the pelicans moved out, I set it at higher and higher 'film' speed. I saw 800 on the LED through the viewfinder, but I didn't think that would be enough, and I was right. I couldn't even see more than a faint silhouette for this Great Blue Heron I hadn't seen at Sunset Bay in awhile.
So I just kept dialing. Somewhere near 1600, the Nikon reports ISO as letters that never made sense to me. Still don't. When I processed these later, Bridge (I've been shooting full RAW) reported ISO 5,000. My first shots as a professional photographer 45 years ago at the University of Dallas in 1964 were on 3,000 speed Polaroid, which I thought was pretty fast.
I talked about the aggression going on yesterday well before the sun went down, but only gave one example. Well, here are two more.
All different birds at differing times. I hope it doesn't mean they'll be flying north and west again. But that's inevitable now. The only question is. When?
Spirits were high on the first warm day in a winter while in Sunset Bay today. We'd just been talking about how the pelicans seemed to get along with everybody when we started noticing lots of pushing, shoving and beaking going on. It is spring, and when our American White Pelicans get back to the Northwestern United States and near Northwest Canada — not the Arctic, according to bird book maps, they'll continue their searches for ideal mates. Part of that choice has to do with aggression and aggressing, plenty of which was going on as we watched and photographed.
Something there is that's magical watching pelicans take their loud, wing-slapping, splashing, near-total-immersion baths.
All that water gone ballistic.
Then they have to beat their wings a bit, then carry them up their off their shoulders so they'll dry. Note that its wings seem to be rolled up shorter than usual, so it can raise and flap them more easily. The amazing roll-up wings.
There's lots more images on into the dark of night, but it's 5 ayem as I am finishing on Part I of today's extensive shoot, and I need sleep. I'll finish today off tomorrow while I'm finishing off several piled-up projects other, though I'll likely end up at the lake again, too.
C U L8r.
Found where the Sunset Bay contingent of our local pelican society's been hanging out till their island mud bar comes back, but that'll have to be when it finally stops raining. Weather guy says we're officially not in drought again, except when it stops raining another few months, and we're only 9 inches of rain behind normal as of today before it started raining again.
The party of about fifty pelicans — not sure where the other thirty or so of them are these days — had landed on the Dreyfuss side of Sunset Bay, where they were shooting Touch-and-Goes and flying way up high like they tend to do before they make the long journey back up north and west to Canada and the United States soon, soon, altogether too soon, and floating around with their wings held high and swimming and playing swords with their beaks, having a high old time.
Watching them take-off and land was about as fun as anything they could do, and I loved every cold, wet minute of it today.
So many ways to land, so many styles and formats.
And watching them fly over and around and gyre up and up and up, then come spiraling down and down and down again was a gas, gas, gas.
Buffle shots from this week
At the time, I didn't think these shots were quite good enough for this journal. I'm less certain of that now. They're mostly just interesting. Like the way a Bufflehead Duck gets up speed to fly.
Like a cormorant, hopping with both feet along its bunny trail, hop-hop-hop.
Slightly more detail than usual, but it's so dark, who could tell. Still, it shows how Buffleheads usually carry themselves.
In distinct contrast to this male, whose head is up — to see better, to stretch its neck, to something.
And maybe show off the seams on the back of his head.
This guy has just come up from a nice, long dive, propelled, in part, we assume, by that splashing tail that's usually not visible. In fact, it disappeared moments after this photograph.
Male Bufflehead showing off its wings held slightly over its body.
Turgid day. Nothin' about it easy. Clumpin' through mud that covered my shoes. Least it wasn't raining dogs and cats and Gila Monsters. But the spillway was plenty busy. The kind of water that attracted dozens of people standing by the side just watching and feeling the power of it — back when we had a spillway Peanut Gallery.
Three-hot Double-crested Cormorant take-off.
Gets its ground speed up hopping across the water.
Tip-toeing into the air.
Gains airspeed down low.
Then takes off into the wild gray yonder.
By now you know I'll shoot anything flying by. Think I knew it was a duck, had no idea it was a female Wood Duck flying by. Nice to see her quiet brown elegance.
I saw this one chasing a smaller bird that got away but just barely. Could not get the Rocket Launcher to focus on them. Just big blurs.
I know the hawk didn't catch it, because moments later it wasn't messing with it up in the tree. Then it flew away.
Wet and cold today. Been summer or at least spring. Now that it's officially almost spring, here comes winter. Winter in Texas is really Indian summer. It gives, then it takes away. I waited for the rain to stop, but it didn't, so I went to the lake to take pictures of birds.
Dark birds flying in big flocks in the meadow up from Sunset Bay. I drove near them hoping to catch them in full flying mode. This is as close as I got it.
When I look them up later, I'll tell you what these are. Then somebody will come by and tell me they're something else. A month and a half later, someone who really knows will refuse to tell me for my own good, so I'll become a better birder. Then an old friend will email saying those are female Red-winged Blackbirds, you idiot. And I'd have to agree.
I took the Rocket Launcher out for a rainy stroll today. Had it wrapped in a big trash bag for the first time. Taped to the business end and draped back over the camera and parts of me. So I point it at some birds flying in the rain, and it focuses on the rain.
After this shot, he leaned down and sipped some water.
That dark ridge in the water above the duck and coots was where the pelicans and gulls used to play and preen.
The curved log used to rest firmly on the mud bar. Today the mudbar was mostly underwater. Last time that happened, the mud bar moved toward shore, and the pelicans inched toward people and dogs.
Shore was wet today. I decided not to walk around much.
But if I had feet like these, I could have gone anywhere.
The pelicans meanwhile, were swimming around looking lost now their usual perch was submerged.
I thought I was photographing a handsome pelican. I saw the coots, but I entirely missed the Bufflehead Ducks in a row behind it. We can all see the rain.
We had hoped to spend some time at a big reserve near Austin, then found a much smaller and closer one very near the City Limits inside Austin, but we couldn't find a way in. It was wholly surrounded by residences, though it looked wild and wooly in there. Big, deep gulches, gobs of trees with treacherous places not to be able to walk where falling was more likely. So birding lost out to art this trip, but next time we'll allow more time.
These guys, meanwhile, don't look like the ostriches I found online nor emus neither. So I'm just not sure. Maybe it's the stripes and areas of black that's fooling me. More unlike an emu, maybe, than an ostrich. Good thing I cling to the amateur term for myself.
March 7 & 8
Might take some time to correctly identify these birds who visit our friends Steve & TJ in the foothills of the Hill Country somewhere outside of Austin or Waco or somewhere. They feed the birds and just watch and try to identify. We watcher her scatter seeds on the ground and helped try to I.D them and photographed them. Living the leisurely birder's life.
Wrong again. Found him on the first go-through of my favorite Texas birds book. That's what I thought I saw through my Rocket Launcher up and out into Steve and TJ's extended back yard.
I already knew who these guys were. The female's difficult until you see the male, then it's obvious who they are. We were reminded of their bad reputation — for laying eggs in other birds' nests, so those other birds would raise their young, but I figure it's just another in the long strange list of survival techniques. And one that works well.
These guys look familiar. I think Anna got especially good shots of them last month as we explored Haggerman Wildlife Refuge near Dennison, Texas. Yep, these are strikingly similar. So they must be White-crowned Sparrows, too. The one on the left looks even more juvenile than Anna's shot at Haggerman.
The ones Anna photographed were only a few feet from her lowered passenger-side window. These guys are out far enough they're dots on the larger frame of their photograph, but I love the sharp detail of this one's sharp little claws.
Brown-headed Cowbird and a Northern Cardinal chatting on a bed of birdseed.
I don't often get to be this close to a docile cardinal of either sex, but the female is especially fun for me, because usually, by the time I see one, then get out the Rocket Launcher, she's gone. The distraction of bird feed has its advantages, and I'm thinking maybe I should cross my long-held belief (Never bothers me to photograph birds at other people's feeders.) and feed me some birds in my own backyard to save trips to the lake.
I used my multi-website Google Search utility linked at the top right of almost all these pages to track down Eastern Phoebes, and sure enough, they look a lot like this bird. Might have been slightly easier if that branch weren't right across its eye in this photo, but I couldn't see it when I shot this.
I thought they were wild turkeys when Anna first pointed me at them on the side of the roller-coaster road through Austin somewhere, where we were to cover the Texas Biennial art show. Took awhile to figure out what they really were. Our old friends the Black Vultures.
They were having the devil of a time staying on the street long enough to suck out the innards of the traffic-killed squirrel without getting similarly blapped by a passing car when we pulled over to photograph them.
I got out and when more oncoming cars scared them back into the yard, I crossed over with a stick I found and pushed the carcass up into the right-of-way where they could get at it without becoming like it.
We heard and read more about Austin, Texas citizens who wanted to make the vultures presence in the city official, since they did a much more efficient job of cleaning the streets than the City departments. Cheaper, too.
Their feathers looked grease laden. They must have so much lanolin to keep any of the bleeding parts from rubbing off on their feathers and fouling up their escapes.
Today, I stood on the other side of Sunset Bay, looking back at it and whatever flew by. If I'd tried to catch a pelican with the skyline in the background, it would never have happened. This was a surprise.
Seemed to be a lot of going and coming at Sunset this afternoon. Catching the interesting stuff while photographing the too-far-away but first time I'd seen the Ruddy Ducks out from Dreyfuss instead of along Arboretum Drive was the challenge.
Lots of pelks flew me by before I had a chance to decide which to shoot.
But eventually I got the hang of it.
What's interesting here is that where the black lines come together in a V at what is normally considered the end of a pelican's wings is not the end of this pelican's wings in this condition of needing a little extra length to fly up off the water and into the hills over Sunset Bay. I wonder whether whoever measured the pelican's wings for those wingspan measurements knew how to get that extra couple of feet at the far end.
Lots of Double-crested Cormorants flying around, too.
Keeping it brief here on the page as I kept i t brief there on the ground. I walked — gingerly and with great care — around Sunset Bay, but I didn't do a lot of photography today. I keep promising myself and my readers that I'll do that, but wrenching my left ankle finally accomplished it.
I'm hoping to not go crazy shooting dozens of bird photos every day. The time I save not doing production on them will go to some projects that have ganged up on me lately. No way I will stop doing near-daily birding, but I'm working towards having fewer images, so the monthly pages load quicker. We'll see how that works out.
So here I am again photographing pelicans landing at Sunset Bay. I think I live through most of the rest of my life so I can do this. I love it so. Really a trick to get the images in focus, in some semblance of composition and interest despite all that.
Usually our 70 or so American White Pelicans arrive about mid-October and leave mid-April. This year they began arriving in mid September, a full month earlier. I don't yet know if they will consequently leave here a month early. That'd put them flying out mid this month, something I never look forward to.
But whatever timetable they're on takes zero interest in what I think. So I am accelerating my interest in these amazing big birds. Maybe I'll even finally put together a pelican page to go with my very popular Egrets, Herons and Herons vs. Egret pages. Surely I must know at least that much, although there's only this one pelican species I know anything about.
Of course, there's my Several Strange Things Pelicans Do with Their Beaks page. Perhaps I should add a page elucidating the not-so-strange things pelicans do with their amazing wings.
These remaining images from today follow the sequence of wing-flaps by one pelican today.
Don't know if you are, but I am amazed at these guys' wings, which have either the second widest wingspans or are tied with the bird with the widest wingspan in North America, our much-beloved California Condors, which we don't get to see much of here in Texas.
I'll miss the big white birds when they're gone and pay a lot more than usual attention to them while they're still here, hoping against hope they'll still be around by the time I finish my taxes midnight that day.
Stepped in a hole along the shore, fell down carefully not breaking my foot or wrenching it entirely. My camera worked after that, so I guess it was not injured any more than I was. I remember falling. I don't remember my camera falling with me. Wasn't far back to Blue, so after that I photographed strictly from my car.
After that, everything I shot I shot from my car. All these are from the relative safety and comfort of Blue. I guess at first, on Winfrey, I only thought I was safe. A constable who sat there in his Constable car, electronic beeped at me while I was photographing today's top Killdeer.
Not exactly sure why. I almost always — as then — am careful to leave lots of room for other cars to go by me wherever I stop along the way around the lake. There were no other cars in sight. I was not blocking the way. My ankle hurt. The constable beeped. I gave up photographing Killdeer, drove around to the other side of the lake.
On the New Boathouse side of the Old Boathouse Lagoon — about as far from the constable as I could get, I pulled down to the boat ramp and saw first, some Buffleheads, then a pair of Killdeer. I snuggled Blue closer and began about forty minutes of careful photography.
Happily, the constable did not find me. Several giggling girls with some little dogs from the new boat house approached, saw me with the Rocket Launcher out the window, and gave me wide berth. They understood what the constable did not.
Mostly I photographed whom I thought to be the male. He seemed more adventuresome, moved around more, seemed more confident. The female looked a lot like an egg, suggesting she might have one or more of those, that might — this is all conjecture. As is a lot of what I write here — be why she moved slower. If "she" really was a she.
Otherwise, the two sexes look identical. So this may be a female, maybe male. She didn't seem all that concerned about food, although she stopped pecked at some things on the ground for a little while. Mostly she sat low on her legs till her belly met the cobbled surface of the ramp while he shifted through his repertoire of shapes.
Most of the time I watched "he" looked pretty normal like a good Killdeer should. The rest of the time — the time when I really paid attention and clicked at him — he shifted shapes. He bathed, flapped, played in the surf, walked up and down and all around the ramp. I sat there and went click at opportune moments.
I read somewhere recently — or heard it on a video or TV — that birds can individually move any feather on their body, any time they want. Knowing that did not prepare me for the show I got this late afternoon along the shore of White Rock Lake while gulls flew over, coots gathered and two pair of Buffleheads swam or flew by out over the water.
While I watched he moved every feather, exposing his colors in ways I'd never seen before, although I guess I'd never paid that much attention before. Like I had to just see all those other Killdeer before I could really get into seeing this one.
I've seen and photographed them flying before. They're hardly unusual birds at White Rock.
I kept shooting through all this, but once I got the shots on my monitor is where the real discovery began. Beautiful tones and colors and splays of variegated colors. A real visual treat.
I had the camera set on High-speed and several times just left the button down as he went through every twitch he knew. But most of the time it was one click at a time, or two, which is what I get when I try for just one sometimes, it's so quick. I used to love to hear my D200 flutter through thirty or so shots till it had to stop to catch up writing data to the card.
Now I remember how long it'll take to go through all those shots, so I'm more careful about multi-shot runs. But some opportunities are too go to click singly through. I shot more than 400 images today. It took a lot more than an hour to sift through them all, and I still have to go back and delete at least three-quarters of them.
I especially remember seeing this contortion. It was scratching chin and couldn't get at it all the way, so he tucked the major portion of his right wing under and put his right leg and foot over it, holding it down, and scratched it good. Everybody itches, and sooner or later itches get scratched.
This was all after bathing, although most of those shots weren't as good as any of these, so you'll just have to imagine it. Flapping helps dry.
Which leads to momentary power poses like this. Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Killdeer for an amazing photo shoot.
text and photographs copyright 2009 by J
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My favorite answer is, "I don't know." I am, after all, an amateur. I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for less than three years, although I've been photographing for 45 years.
Thanks always to Anna.