Birds This Month Osprey with Fish Hawk vs. Hawk Pintail Duck Assertive Female Wood Duck Crows v. Hawk Canada Gooses Redhead Duck Blue-winged Teal Appleyard Duck Top of the Rookery Barred Owl Eared Grebe Red-bellied Woodpecker Cedar Waxwings Really Great Egrets at the Spillway
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March 28 2014
These pix actually happened a couple days ago, and I nearly forgot. Sometimes I shoot cold. That day, I was so hot I can hardly believe it. Nice light helped. Over the edge under and behind this bird, the water falls a bit, so it looks a little shreddy here, and I like that look.
Were probably several dozen Great Egrets gathered at the Spillway and Lower Steps that day. I figured they'd be there awhile, but they weren't the next day or the day after that, so I'm so glad I shot these when I did. Never can tell with Egrets.
The spillway and the unnatural amphitheater created by the Lower Steps at said spillway may be the best places at the lake to photograph Great Egrets — or Great Blue Herons or Little Blue Herons or Snowy Egrets or Tricolored Herons — when those species are present in numbers, which happens rarely enough to make it really special when they do.
Green lores ( the surface on each side of a bird's head between the eye and the upper base of the beak.) indicate a Great Egret is about ready to breed. The Rookery should be overflowing with them about now. That flaring bit of long, shimmering feathers off its tail has something to do with that, too.
So nice to have a good viewpoint when egrets are flying. I think I was on the Garland Road side of the Spillway for these. It's a nice little walk lugging my chunky cam and lens up the hill. Did I mention the light?
Hadn't seen such a bright white bunch of large birds in awhile or since.
There was a time when I could remember the name of the island in the middle of the upper Spillway area that got a gajillion tons of concrete poured all around it a few years ago when the "retaining walls" quit retaining their walls, and it all fall down. Even then, the never messed with that island, so the egrets, who seemed not to terribly mind all the noise of construction, still hung out there. It belongs to them. I'd not known its name before that, but at the prelim meetings and at the grand reopening of the spillway, they kept using that name. Anybody else out there remember it?
Actually, it's a perfectly normally flying egret, just at an odd angle from the photographer so the elegant bird seems to look less so than usual.
This may well be the exact same bird as just up the page. It only happened a few seconds later, but I was photographing whomever seemed to be exhibiting particularly elegant flights.
In a tree overlooking the lower spillway from that unnamed island and looking ma vell us.
Vertical Take-off a little farther back around the island. I'm pretty sure this is me photographing from that jutting-out semi circle of concrete not that far from the parking lot near the creek entrance to the Fitchery. Or some such place.
Scaups are divers. According to my now out-of-print Lone Pine Birds of Texas, "A member of the Althea genus of diving ducks, the Lesser Scaup leaps up neatly before diving underwater, where it propels itself with powerful strokes of its feet. ... "Scaup" might refer to a preferred winter food of this duck — shellfish beds are called "scalps' in Scotland — or it might be a phonetic imitation of one of its calls. "
If you'd like to see the whole thing, there's two scaups a bit down this page.
First of Season. I've seen Cattle Egrets in Sunset Bay before, but usually only once a season, perhaps early in spring, although it feels like winter still. Spring's usually a tad warmer, but guess that'll catch up with us entirely too soon, and I should enjoy it.
Cattle eegs, as I shorten their names, often hang around cattle. As the aforementioned Lone Pine Birds of Texas points out, "…The Cattle Egret's diet consists of mostly terrestrial invertebrates found around ungulates." An ungulate is a hoofed mammal. That book also points out that Cattle eegs sometimes engage in a "leapfrog" feeding strategy in which birds leap over one another, stirring up insects for the birds that follow."
Both these birds have their left feet raised, and the one on the right has its safely and almost completely — we can still see some black toes nearly surrounded by feathers — in the full upright position. When I've seen Cattle eegs in the past, it's usually been around the swamp that I imagine is just under Northwest Highway at Buckner Boulevard. Which area is a happy hunting ground for several species including kestrel and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, although lately, it is mostly occupied by piles of dirt and a bridge that will soon (may already) go over some body of water in or around the lake.
Although it looks more like a Horned Grebe to my uneducated eyes, I think it really is an Eared. Not sure what's going on with its beak. Looks maybe like lip damage, but grebes don't really have lips.
Defending his territory from rivals is what that screaming sound the males emit when they pause, deep breath and let it out.
Red-winged Blackbird females often flock together without males, and I — and other birders — often confuse them with sparrows.
Not sure why he'd have his red and yellow covered, but he is certainly sleeker looking and svelte that way.
Was taking pix of the suddenly very controversial White Rock Lake Water Theatre sculpture behind the Bath House Cultural Center when I saw this guy bobbing and weaving in and out along the coast north of the center.
Took awhile to get it to turn around so I could see its beautiful "ears," but worth it.
It hardly seemed to notice me running up and down the shore pointing my camera at it. Seems like previous Eared Grebes were much more wary This one was busy doing whatever it was doing, and rarely wandered farther than twenty feet from shore.
When Anna and I visited the Fitchery the other day we saw lots of tiny, little birds mostly far away. These were high in a nearby tree — I'm guessing fifty feet from us on the ground, maybe farther.
I never know whether to make the bird large in the frame or frame it so we know where he is. This one's on a tree working very hard on staying invisible. You can see the tree for all the cedar waxwings above. Here you can see the bird.
More of him, but a little softer.
Saw a silhouette of somebody angling a big lens on a tripod up into the trees, so I stopped, walked over, engaged the photographer in slight conversation, then went back to get my camera. I suspect this is the same owl I photographed there last year and may well photograph again next year. I think my lens was already better last year, but my technique is cleaner and I have a better command of Photoshop now, so I am better able to render it in its proper colors and textures, and I just love looking at owls.
I'm a big fan of repeating patterns and these guys give it a classic twist. The light-flanked ducks here are official mallards. The ones with dark flanks are classified as "Mallard domestic variants" in the latest edition of David Allen Sibley's The Sibley Guide to Birds.
The egret's green lores indicates it is in Breeding Plumage.
My now apparently out-of-print Lone Pine Birds of Texas says of these waterfowl, " Renowned for its aviation skills, the speedy Blue-winged Teal can be identified by its small size, sharp twists and precisely executed turns." I'll have to pay a lot more attention next time I see one fly.
I've been seeing a lot of Pied-billed Grebes on the lake lately. Not sure what the affinity with shovelers might be. Grebes dive deep and long. When they're not engaged in inter-species socializing, they're often difficult to photograph, because they dive at a moment's notice, then come up a minute or so later some distance from where they submerged.
Called Shovelers for their very large beaks and that they seem to shovel it in with their beaks just under the water. Here, they appear to be going to a party.
Actually, this was a Redwing Flash Mob in action. I'd hoped to follow them from weeds and reeds on the lake's edge to greenways along Lawther, but all they did was fly up, fly across and disappear. Nice my new camera and old lens can capture them so well and detailed.
The flying position I enjoy most is the wings-closed in bullet, when largish birds turn tiny and jet across the sky.
I'm calling these Lesser, because usually our Sunset Bay visitors of which there are usually four, are Lessers, but the main differences are that Lessers have mottled flanks and purplish brown necks and heads, and Greaters have bright white flanks and greenish necks and heads. It's difficult to expose correctly enough so their flanks are rendered accurately while not letting their heads go too dark to determine color, since that color is mostly sheen.
No idea why the biter has that firm beak grip on the other pelican, but they may be getting a little riled up since it's about mating season, most of which action will take place well north and east and west of north of here. Their annual escape from Dallas is soon. They'll fly to from western Minnesota to eastern Idaho and sometimes up to British Columbia, Canada from here, do their mating and raising of young, then they'll come back mid next September (rarely) or mid-Octobe (usually)r. I'll miss them, because I love photographing them.
At a public meeting tonight I heard some guy who wants to destroy and remove Tom Orr and Frances Bagley's White Rock Lake Water Theater sculpture from behind the Bath House Cultural Center, because of "the invasive species" that "aren't from around here" and whom stink up the area and whose scat kills plants. I'm not a big fan of either the Double-crested or Neotropic Cormorants, because the former species mobs what I call "Cormorant Bay" on my White Rock Lake Map, since the part of it that humans sometimes dare to walk is sometimes dangerous and usually, especially in autumn and winter, stinky. But if their scat killed vegetation, that whole area around the bay would be dead, and it is not.
The breed was developed by Reginald Appleyard near Bury St. Edmund, England.
And they are renowned for their fine meat and should be for their beauty, although they are rather girthy.
posted March 23
Weird times lately. I thought my computer was dying and was hopeful I could use the hard drive to back everything up, but it was the hard drive that was failing, and it failed, and thanks to Mactracks, I got some of the stuff back, including most of my text, images and web pages, major software, but not all the little utilities that made life easy.
It was a gray gray day at the rookery, and these nearly colorless birds were by far the best of the the shoot.
At first I didn't take more bird pix, because I knew I couldn't do anything with them until I got my computer back, then I desperately missed photographing birds, so I've been photographing birds and just letting them accumulate.
These are some of those, and it'd be way too big a waste of time to figure out when I shot each one.
I'm calling it a Red-winged Blackbird, because it was in the thick of a flock of those in the reeds on the edge of the lake, and it's an unsub, because I don't know what stage it's in exactly. I know I've seen them before, but I cannot find this particular specification of RWBB in any of my books, including the brand-new Sibley's Guide to Birds with its slightly larger drawings and maidenly light gray text and my seasoned Crossley's I.D. Guide that uses photographs not drawings. So I'm calling it an adult female Red-winged Blackbird with really, no proof whatsoever.
I'm equally certain these, too, are RWBBs.
This one I have no doubt about. I've seen its pictures in all those bird identification books.
And I've got lots more recent images to go.
And yeah, as usual I spent an inordinate amount of time photographing the pelicans. Such beautiful and fascinating birds.
I used to assume that pigeons are really dumb, but they are still pretty.
Longtime reader Jennifer wrote saying, "We went for a walk at City Lake Park in Mesquite and we saw six Canada geese I had never seen there before and also about eight lesser scaup, a wood duck, shovellers, cormorants and all the usual mallard and Muscovy residents — amazing to see so many birds on a small suburban lake." So Anna and I went there to visit, and got these, starting with Canada Gooses, which are quite large. 21 to 48 inches with wingspans from 3.5 to five feet. They mate for life and are said to be devoted parents.
The left one is chewing white bread or has been. Probably very recently, although it could have been yesterday. While we were there, we saw a woman actually kicking Canada Gooses to keep them from competing with home-grown gooses for white bread.
Long, long necks. My treasured, and now apparently out-of-print Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas, says Canada Gooses (saying geese would indicate including more than one species) "graze on new sprouts, aquatic vegetation, grass and roots; tips up for aquatic roots and tubers," but it doesn't say anything about them taking white bread.
That Birds of Texas also says, "Thousands of Canada Geese" (there goes my theory of plurals) "descend on Texas each winter to enjoy the abundant food supply found in agricultural fields and coastal marshes. Few people realize that at one time Canada Geese were hunted almost to extinction. Populations have since been reestablished and, in recent decades, these large, bold gees have inundated urban waterfronts, picnic sites, golf courses and city parks. Today, many people even consider them pests."
The brand new Sibley's shows one and one-only variety of Muscovy Ducks. That's just weird. I know he's been around here lately. Did a book-signing at Hagerman not long ago. Surely he's seen Muscovies that weren't mostly black with white on their wings and maybe a dab on their beaks. I haven't seen many Muscovies at White Rock Lake lately, but used to be different colors and color schemes of Muscovies all around the lake.
Yet another variation.
I looked everywhere for Mom or Dad, but all I saw was this, a bunch of mallards and whom I've shown you here.
Going around in circles like Phalaropes, only at a considerably slower speed. Proper name: Northern Shovelers, and you really can't see here, but their main distinction is their very large beaks, which here are all underwater. This active grouping consists of colorful males, darker juveniles and females. I just looked them up in my brand new, Second Edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds, and it shows an adult breeding male with a white head swash, back from just forward of and above his eyes, then following the curve of the back of his head to a point about where his neck is. I have never seen one of those. Sibley says, and I quote (Feb - May), so I'll keep my eyes peeled next time I see some snorkers.
Still testing lens gizmos, and it seems to be working well. I won't bore you with the details, but shooting these, I'm standing in very nearly the same place as when I was shooting from that hill yesterday. I'm not convinced this grackle is out of focus. It may just be moving too fast. The grass is remarkably well detailed.
I always promise myself that someday I'll just concentrate on grackles flying. Not like there's never enough grackles around. Didn't really intend to do that today, just these are who flew by me. Since the camera didn't remember when I turned the VR off or on yester, today I just kept it off all the time, and it seems to have helped, although it would help if I panned better.
There's a mansion of some sort beyond the parking lot I keep parking in. Anna was conjecturing it might be Ray Hubbard's place. Anyway, so this bird is a lot closer than the grackles or other birds in today's journal. Which helps it be sharp.
But with a little less focus and in duller light. I'm pretty sure this is a White-throated Sparrow. I wasn't so sure about the shot one up, but with this, I'm pretty sure. Wow. I'm sure. That even impresses me.
The one they named the town across the lake after? Near as I can figure, no.
But just an ordinary, commonest gull we got. Nice to have a landscape behind it all soft in focus.
Now this is the sharpness I was hoping for. Where's that Osprey now that I can finally render it sharp?
March 10 2013
I was looking for birds flying over Lake Ray Hubbard that I could test what Nikon calls Vibration Reduction, and everybody else calls Image Stabilization on my long lens. Anna sighted it and told me about a "big black bird flying" across our view of sky, lake and city beyond, so I shot about a half dozen images, and this is the best of the bunch.
Same exact Osprey, just a little further along its way. This bird was way far away, just a speck in this very full frame, flying all the way across our vision, till he disappeared behind Ray's house, but I got the focus pretty close, considering. And I was shooting with a looong telephoto, so it was very far away, indeed.
I think this is only the second time I've ever photographed an osprey. At first we thought it might be an eagle. That would have been pretty amazing, but it was still too far away.
In an enlarged detail shot of this, you could see heat waves shimmering the white birds on the water/sky blue background, so they still only approximate American White Pelicans, which they are.
I was testing whether I needed to turn off the VR when using the lens on a camera set at a shutter speed faster than 1/500th second, and I assumed the camera would keep track of whether it was on or off, but it didn't so now I don't know which shots were and which weren't, so my experiment was a failure, except I think I should only use VR when I need it, and see how that goes. Nice of Lake Ray Hubbard to have lots of interesting birds flying over or by.
I think we saw this bird on the way to Lake Ray Hubbard, although we wandered around with me driving and Anna navigating without me having the slightest idea where I was (which is actually my preferred philosophy of travel, but it makes it difficult to get somewhere specific). The bird and the tree are nearly silhouetted, but there's a splash of sunlight on its shoulder, and no light anywhere else on it, so I'm only guessing about the crow part.
We stopped in a lot of places, but this was my favorite. I always like looking at the columns that hold up major highways, free and toll. And to have some boy children out fishing in the lake under all that concrete was just too good a photo opportunity to pass up.
March 9 2014
We saw hawks flying over mid-Sunset Bay, a little too far to get a good bead on, but even though I couldn't tell what exactly they were doing up there, I started photographing away. As usual, I did not know what kind of hawks they were, and I certainly didn't know they were of two different species, so they were not happily flying along together, and there was, instead, some antipathy up there. As luck would have it, I was almost focused on both hawks. I like that the Red tailed Hawk is looking up — I've always admired birds who can fly along looking backwards or up. I wish we could see the look on its face.
Don't think I could identify this as the upper bird in today's top image. But it could have been. I was very surprised to see it alight in the tree — it was the first bird I saw when I entered Sunset Bay walking from the parking lot all the way down the hill from Winfrey and further down to the left. I hate the idea of having to drive all the way down to Buckner, wait at that light a couple lights' worth, then down the hill to Poppy Drive, etc. etc. But sometimes I'm lazy and drive it, anyway, just to have my car close. This time I didn't, because I needed the exercise.
I walked around the tree counter-clockwise, hoping to get more of a front view, but there were a lot of branches to photo through.
A goose on shore had its wings spread out over its body preening, so I photographed it. Might bake a nice visual transition.
No telling why I shot this. I guess I perk up anytime any bird flaps widely, but I missed the full flap out position, but I kinda like this one, not the least for its abstract quality.
There's a congregation of Northern Shovelers gathered on the far side of the lagoon from Sunset Beach, but they're really to far for me (bad far vision) to see or focus, so my best chance at them is when they fly over. Of course, I had no idea who these ducks were when I photograph them. When I'm standing on the pier at Sunset Bay, I'll photograph just about anything that moves that I might have a chance at. And many I don't, because I need the practice. The one outstanding feature that separates Shovelers from all other species is those big, honking beaks. Otherwise, they look a lot like Mallards with the colors in the wrong places.
Hadn't seen any Scaups for quite awhile. I'd assumed they'd gone off to wherever they go in spring and summer. But there were the usual four swimming around and mostly under the pier today. I would have got more bird in the shot if I'd had a shorter telephoto.
See the fin forward on its upper beak? That's a signal that this is a breeding age pelican, and both sexes get them. Smaller pelicans with pinker beaks are juveniles, and they stay juvies for several years. But this is a breeding adult American White Pelican.
In a way, it's sad to have to show you these pix is such small size and smoothed-over detail, but this pelk's band is easily read when it's blow-up substantially.
Same action, just a different bird from a different direction in a different place.
Ditto, ditto, ditto. With great form.
I watched the male Mallard (being held under by two other males) chasing the closer here tan and white duck all around the inner Sunset Bay, thither and yon, forth and back. It was fun watching. I've attempted photographing such chases so many times without success, I just enjoy watching. Imagine my surprise when the chasee and a couple other male ducks caught the former chaser and held him under for much longer than I can hold my breath, then held him down there some more. Duck justice.
Between pouring oodles of corn grain for
all the birds but his gooses, Charles told me to watch out for "the new Muscovy.
This was the only one I saw, so it must be he.
What the Mallards and Wood Ducks and coots and swan and various other birds and ducks are there for is to eat. They mob the shoreline each time Charles pours long lines of corn. There are little spats, big fights, wrangling and shoving, but mostly they all just eat.
We've been seeing a Pintail Duck in Sunset Bay for the evening feeding on and off for many months. Probably somebody remembers just when he joined the merry band, but he still shows up, off and on, and it's always pleasant to see him. For awhile, last year — or before that horrid winter we keep hoping is just past — there was a female stopped there briefly, but only briefly.
They are truly beautiful birds, and since I could, today I wanted to show you them from nearly all sides.
Sometimes something spooks them and they all head out to water — and safety. Then after they calm down their fluttering hears, they swim back, come up the hill to the newly poured corn and eat some more till something spooks them.
Some call her Katy. One photographer insists upon calling it The Lady Catherine, but so far, nobody we know knows what sex it is, but it's so elegantly beautiful, many assume it's female, although there must be about as many males as female Mute Swans.
I was pretty sure it was my First of Season Wood Duck, then Charles told me ha hadn't seen any before this male, and I told him about the female who wasn't really hanging out with the male, but she'd got in on the corn line earlier.
Female Wood Ducks are feisty — not at all as demure as Mallards and other fem ducks tend. The males are overly colorful in my way of thinking, but the white outlined females are subtly beautiful.
Sometime in the last century, there was a restaurant called the Sunset Restaurant, or something like that. Now there's just sunsets sometimes, but at least the place came by the name honestly.
Okay, same deal as last time, but a whole lot different outcome. Above we see eager American White Pelicans hoping for fish; a bunch of cormorants hoping for fish; and one cormorant diving for fish. Just because they're hungry, doesn't mean they'll find anything.
But at least one cormorant has something silvery flapping in its beak.
And the chase is on again.
Till they get to where they thought they just had to be.
Where they land and look and look.
And one pelican finds something worth filling its expandable lower mandible. And the others keep looking.
And looking. Look carefully, and you'll see the second cormorant swimming this side of the two pelicans got a fish. And so does the second one from the right.
But not everybody all the time. Still it's worth looking and hoping.
Jumping on each new opportunity.
It's pretty obvious when pelicans catch a fish. They make a great showing of tilting back and draining down. Cormorants are quicker, and the only remaining sign is that thickened throat.
But nobody gives up hope.
Anybody know who this is? I should, I suppose. It didn't seem the least concerned about my and The Slider's presence in its world. I wanted to call it a sparrow, but I'm not even convinced of that.
Driving down Garland Road toward the lake, I noticed one of those fishing parties I so love. Except nobody appeared to be having any fun or catching any fish. Not for lack of trying or critical mass.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the dam, the Ring-billed gulls who form the massive white bumps along the upper spillway suddenly became aware of "the fishing party," sprang into flight, then flew over to join it, where they also did not catch any fish. Those of us who believe that gulls are merely along for the excitement, should know that I have seen them carry large fish off, where, presumably, they eat them. But not this time.
Looking fragile and strange, vertical sheets of frozen water protected the fragile shore.
I only stood on the hill overlooking the lake at Garland Road for about 20 minutes. It was fairly cold this morning, so am not certain, they never found any fish. But while I watched, I never saw a single bird with a single fish.
As I watched, more and more birds joined the "party," that swept up and down, back and forth from the dam to the entrance to the part off Garland Road and back.
Plenty of action. Just no catching fish — although maybe the cormorants, who dive under the surface, were finding fish down there. Pelicans tend to herd their prey into smaller and shallower schools, then dip in and eat them, but I didn't see any of that.
Just as I finally figured out where the focus was on the male American Kestrel on the wire behind the Winfrey Building well east of Garland Road, he turned around to show me his butt.
Then he flew away, and I found him again, and he just stared at me. I always wonder whether they can see me or do they even bother looking, but this one sure looks like he's as curious about me as I am about him.
This bird paid me so little heed, I had to stop The Slider, when it crossed the road in front of me.
Eventually, I settled on the pier in Sunset Bay, where I often end up, with seven rather resplendent Rock Pigeons, several of whom were head-bobbing and tail-dragging for anybody who almost noticed them. It's breeding season for them, at least, hence the luscious colors.
I was especially taken with this one's Aztec feather on feather back design.
Tried Sunset Bay without much bird success. It was plenty cold; I figured some bird would show up, but nobody did. So I gave Dreyfuss a try. Not much there. Wherever birds go when they're cold, they were, not there. Then I saw the hawk in a tree along the shore after I was coming down the road from the top of Dreyfuss. Pulled the slider over, set up the camera, and by then, the hawk was gone from the tree, because the crows had latched onto it, too.
Crows think that area is their territory, because they used to eat a lot of the stuff they threw away at the Dreyfuss Club (before it burned down.) I know this is a lousy shot, but the trees are sharp, and you can kinda tell what's going on. The crows are skedaddling the hawk. Happens all the time there. Over and over. Hawks don't learn, and crows never give up.
I think the hawk is sharp-ish and the crow is not completely out of, but this is the essence of the action. Crow chases. Hawk escapes.
To the victor belongs the tree. Reminds me a lot of my first Crow Vs. Hawk experience.