May 31 2008
Sometimes I like to experiment with this photography stuff. Sometimes there's not enough light to do anything else but.
I wish I could tell you what kind of bird this is or why that thing — whatever it is — is leaning like that or if I was. But I don't even remember taking this picture. I kinda like that about this shot.
It's not really flying backwards, of course. But for the longest time I struggled with the shape of the bird I thought was flying right, when it's really flying left. Once that registered, everything seemed okay again. Lilting sunset. Maybe a Redwinged Blackbird. Maybe a Pterodactyl.
I never know how to place photographs when some of them's lighting doesn't match the others. The Mockingbird is the best of this bunch, so it went on top. This is nice and dreamy and disobeying most of the rules of composition — no white at the edges, because it distracts from the subject, bright lights and color in the distance, nothing really in focus, bird is near dead center of the frame. Rules.
Too dark to identify. The ittybitties are silhouettes. Momma bird, Daddy bird, three baby birds and their wicked uncle
And them flying off into the sunset. I have software that usually polishes off grain (actually color noise, but it's effectively the same thing), but at ISO 1600, not really much will take the edge off that stuff.
Back at the Lower Steps again. Whenever I feel the need for a challenge for photographing birds who are faster than I can think, let alone photograph, I stand on my gray and black tool stool and wait out of the jogglers to photograph my egrets and herons catching their livelihoods.
All these guys are at lots of places around the lake, but they fly right by me as if I weren't even there under and up to and up over the walking bridge over the Lower Steps down from the Spillway.
Great Egrets have big long black feet and orange beaks (See below.). Snowies (above) have not nearly so long black legs and orange feet and lores (area around their eyes) with black beaks. See the recently updated Egrets page, Heron page and Egrets vs. Herons — How to Tell Them Apart, which are probably the most complete bird pages on this site.
Doesn't it look a little like a jet airliner bee-lining it up into the sky? Those long, trailing feathers, often orange, sometimes crimson, mark these birds as breeding age.
Wonderful local birds flying up, down, all around, sometimes even in focus, is what I love about shooting from that bridge.
And just to round out the local egrets, here's a lone Cattle Egret who's just caught a snake or lizard of something along the trees that hide the swamp along Lawther at Northwest Highway.
Waited too long for the weather to calm down and get cooler, and too many people gathered at my lake. I saw this scissor-tail land on that bump, stopped Blue, carefully and quietly got out of the car, aimed and got one shot off, before a gang of skaters rammed into the area, and the scissor-tail flew away before I could pick and choose more shots. Then I looked up and saw something going on above me, leaned against Blue and fired away at...
Only birds didn't seem phased by all those people were two pigeons on a wire feeling amorous. Do I see tongue? Jillions of people ever which way all around this shore up Yacht Club Row and there's these two pigeons going at it. He's just scooted down the wire toward her about ten times, and she scooted away each time, but not very far. Then this.
I've seen those "kisses" before and I should probably look them up. But they definitely led to this.
He lands on top of her, but I think I missed the moment by milliseconds. It's quick, and by here, it's over.
And they're both flying away.
I have been and will be spending a lot of time on the walking bridge over the Lower Steps along the Spillway. Till October, at least, when the City begins reconstruction of the "retaining walls" along the trough that we know as The Spillways and destroys all the trees along the edges of the pond formed by water running off the spillway —
except the trees lucky enough to grow on the island in the middle of the spillway and all the new construction, which will take nearly two more years — after The City stared at the problem hoping it would go away for the first two years.
My favorite perches over the lower spillway (The Steps) are the two spots on that bridge that bounces unmercifully every time a jogger jogs across it that bounces least, where the guard rails stop for a few inches. My favorite perches along the upper spillway will be the new cantilevered look-out points that are being built for just us watchers. Bicyclers and walkers will have a separate and less hilly path.
If I have any sense when I'm on the walking bridge over The Steps — as I did today — I'll have brought my little plastic workbench / tool chest that raises me those few important inches high enough over the guard rail to aim my lens at almost any bird anywhere in that natural amphitheater, out, over, down or up.
whether it's shooting touch-and-goes on the deep slanting concrete under either end of the walking bridge like this lithe Black-Crowned Night-Heron, flying around inside or up and over the area or standing on the steps or slants poking their long beaks into the rushing or slowed water pulling out fish.
Both of those breaks in the guard rail are good places to stand and watch and photograph, depending upon which bird is where. Joggers and sometimes even bicyclers still shake or rattle the rest of the bridge — and there some, too, but it's more stable there. Much more stable.
Was dark when I got home, so I thought it might be interesting at the lake. Indeed. Don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this before, and I'm a long-time cloud-watcher. It went on and on across the sky, all the way across the lake, but this lump was the best of it, the most interesting. Nice it coincided with the downtown skyline.
Driving by Degoyler, I saw this guy going through his repertoire of preening, wing-ups and downs and shakes. Unfortunately, this is the only one that's actually in any focus. Oh, well. I was hoping for a repeat of the Barn Swallow chronicles [below on this page.
I was in shorts and a T-shirt, and it was cold. The lake was wrinkled with sharp ripples all the way across as the dark cloud sped over. This side of downtown is the Old Pumphouse on the left and the new Boat House — as in rowing clubs and rowers — on the right. This shot taken from the lower crotch of Winfrey, the little parking lot before Lawther climbs up to Winfrey House, then on toward Sunset Bay.
Up the road toward Barbec's on Garland Road I saw these guys playing on the road. I was pretty sure I hadn't seen these particular birds before, so I put some serious effort into getting them exposed correctly and in focus, and lo and behold, it worked out pretty well. Especially this next shot.
My favorite part of this bird's blurb in The Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas is "The color of his head and breast can vary from red to yellow, but females prefer the reddest-plumaged males."
Nice of him to turn sideways for our more complete education and identification.
The intelligence of crows
Can't do a page of new photos today because I'm busy thanks to the three-day weekend, despite it being a joy of bridging and almost bridging some important gaps. But I was exploring through some April shoots hoping to delete several gigs of photos I don't need to archive. Checking every image, I found these two of grackles flying with their tails held vertically.
I'd been hoping to capture just this sort of picture, then I realized I already had. Back a little more than a month ago, April 3, 2008.
It has been determined that of the three gooses loosed two days ago, one young and the adult were related by birth. Mom's on the right, teaching the young dog on the left many new tricks. Obligingly, it constantly paralleled the parent swimming, waddling around the lake's apron, eating. Oh, everything. I watched them many long minutes. As Charles noted, she's protective, but not overbearingly. Her little one was allowed to wander off, get separated, all those learning things. She was there if needed.
The gosling that got taken to human home for the night and most of the day arrived in a cage, hung mostly with humans, though not always with the same ones what brought her. Somewhat adventuresome, it wandered the grounds making friends with anyone who'd feed it.
Wouldn't eat bread. Only crackers. Took those from big or little hands or ate them off the ground. Ate a lot of grass, too. That's goose's primary food, and the geese keep it closely mowed all across the bay.
Eventually Wilbur and Priscilla waddled up the hill to again attempt to lure the Take-Home-Gosling down to the wild side of the lake. They honked eloquently and were persistent, but the little one wouldn't go. And why would it? It's got its own swimming pool — drank from it first, eventually dipped in to get stuff off the bottom, is easy to pick up and cuddle — and it only has to put up with a visit from the Goose Committee every day or so. Several Bird Squadders told me it already thinks it's a human.
Meanwhile, its former cage-mate is learning how to be a goose.
Tonight, I got to watch a goose release. I'd heard about them for the last couple years, and it sounded like fun.
The cage was pretty beat up, with holes big enough to put a goose neck through. One goose's head was way out the far corner, apparently eager to get out.
Soon as Charles opened the cage, they escaped. Not a moment's dalliance. They headed for the lake, then the Goose Clan came up to meet them. Much honking and crowding of big white and gray and brown gooses occurred. Hard to tell exactly what was going on but the Bird Squad voiced plenty of theories, not quite as loud as the Goose Clan's.
The Goose Clan — gooses already in residence in and around Sunset Bay — didn't seem all that friendly, they nipped and crowded and honked at the newly released gooses, en masse. It was very loud. Both them and the Bird Squad — people who gather there in the evenings to feed the birds, watch and name and comment on the minute behaviors of all the gooses — wanted the new young gooses to do something, though it probably wasn't clear to the youngsters exactly what. Humans pointed. Members of the Goose Clan honked.
Not sure what I would have done were I a freshly loosed goose. To choose suddenly between the relative safety and security and gentle appreciation of people sitting in lawn chairs up the hill from shore — or Who Knows What all from those big, cacophonous, older and seemingly mean gooses in the Goose Clan, who repeatedly mobbed and honked and nipped at the youngsters and seemed — to this human, at least — desperate to get them to join their clan out into the dark water for the night's safety against natural and unnatural enemies.
Meanwhile, Bird Squadders repeatedly picked up and put down the cute little just-freed critters, who were released, picked up again, and re-released amid gales of human honking, sometimes quite loud. I didn't pick one up, myself, but only because I couldn't catch one amid all the competition. I did feel one's soft back feathers, so I understand the appeal. I'd hate to have had to decide, and while I was there, they didn't.
I'd seen Barn Swallows fitting after bugs earlier and almost stopped to spend a half hour and hundreds of slices of silicon chasing after these amazing birds. A moment later I decided. No. Waste of time.
I didn't know what, but surely I could find something more fun. Then I found this. For awhile there were two other Barn Swallows on that wire. I shot the same old boring shots (like the top one) of all three for a little while.They flitted away. Leaving this one. Then it began what was the longest, most varied repertoire of stretches and tweaks I've ever had the pleasure to watch and photograph. Half the time I had no idea what it was doing.
It seemed to be on full automatic as it went through each new shape. Quickly.
I caught a lot of them, but by no means all. Click-click.
Gradually, slowly, after looking at all these images trying to decide which ones to use, I began to develop a theory.
Anything that can reconfigure itself in so many different shapes second by second…
Maybe all this instant changeability has something to do with the Barn Swallow's remarkable ability to stop suddenly mid-air and go off the exact opposite direction.
To stop on an integrated-circuit. Zip around, down and up, like a changeling on steroids.
A roller coaster car past ever the knowledge of tracks.
First place I went today was the Lower Spillway Stairs area. Spent Monday evening listening to a slick presentation of the City's notion of how that area — damaged a couple years ago in our "100 Year Flood" incident that cracked the walls and blew out one "retaining" wall in two places and knocked over the opposite one — was going to be "fixed."
What they're going to do is what they always do, pour a bunch of concrete all over the area and call it progress. They have not, of course, studied the wildlife in the area. They say they talked to one woman who said she was a birder. But she didn't seem to mind that they're going to destroy about a hundred trees in the area, including some right down on the edge of the area where flood waters turn to spill out into White Rock Creek.
No wildlife impact study. No investigation of any sort about how the lake's birds and animals will be impacted by these proposed changes and the nearly two-years of construction around the Spillway. The trees in the area where I have often seen and photographed the comparatively rare Little Blue Herons will be utterly destroyed. All those big trees along the west end of the spillway overflow area will be taken out. May already be being taken out. A bunch of recently felled trees now blocks the view of the hatchery side of the spillway.
We were sitting in the front row and I booed when they announced the trees' destruction. The presenter's immediate response was, "Good." They're in his way. They're coming out. A city's gotta do what a city's good at. Habitat destruction is the name of the game, although adding all that concrete does solve some of the problems they actually dealt with.
Bicyclists and walkers' path will be separate from the fence along the cliff over the Spillway, so people can meander without incurring the wrath of bicyclists. The whole area will be raised, so bicyclists don't garner the high rate of speed from that sudden drop down next to the dam — and less water will be able to seep under the concrete and blow the retaining walls out again (Like it did in two places two years ago and at least once before, a history the presenter was unaware of.)
Unfortunately, the wall on the far side from Garland Road will still be too high to watch birds over. Someone in the audience suggested birders bring a stool, and the ever magnanimous presenter latched onto the idea immediately. I already have one I use to photograph over the walking bridge there. That bridge will be closed and the path that leads to it will be rerouted down Garland Road (protected by fences) to install the concrete. Path followers will be routed around all the construction for the new parking lot near the current Winstead lot while all those trees get destroyed.
The deconstruction and reconstruction will require lowering the lake level and closing all the paths on the Spillway end of the Old Fish Hatchery Area, so no one can watch birds from either side of the spillway, which will probably be dry most of the time anyway. And that little wood bridge over the creek just inside the woods off the Winstead parking lot will be removed and later replaced.
Today's photographs of a wiley Great Blue Heron catching a snake were taken in the lagoon up the creek from the Old Boat House (A new one is coming.) I really hadn't planned the snake-in-the-grass metaphor, but it does seem natural. Interesting that the birds win.
The City's view.
Even More from Yesterday
I know there are still fans of Mr. Fluffy out there. Here he is, not quite in action here, but close to some action with his dander up. The windswept look.
If you don't know Mr. Fluffy, we spent a lot of space on him last couple years. It's not just one bird. He's many aggressive Snowy Egrets. That go around picking fights with whatever bird's around. Not particularly discriminative, but always aggressive. Sometimes more aggressive than others.
I missed him. Glad to see him back again. A window into some of the more mysterious bird behaviors to a guy who likes to take action pictures.
The natural look.
Driving back from the grocery, I noticed a large black and white bird flying over Garland Road and the houses. I quickly changed lanes, then realized I'd purposely left my camera at home, so I wouldn't be tempted to stop with a load of groceries unfreezing in the sunshine while I tracked down some bird. Drove home, put away the food, went back to the lake, parked close to where the big flew. Just hoping.
I looked but never saw anything like that first glimmer. But I was there, so I wandered down the hill to the dam. There was one small egret way too far out to be capturing its soul on silicon, but I did anyway. Click-click for awhile, trying to make myself believe any image I got could be miracled into something interesting. Into my periphery, I saw something flying from further down the hill.
It was a Great Blue Heron, and one of my favorite birds. Calmly flapping by close enough to know I got it in sharp focus. Flap, flap, and it was gone out over the lake.
Thanked my lucky stars and preceded down to where I thought it flew up from.
Instead, I saw one, then two, eventually a whole bunch of egrets. One or two Greats and several snowies, fishing at the swirling edge of water sluicing under the Garland Road car bridge parallel the walking bridge I was on without my step-stool that could have got me up over the bridge guard.
I was pointing my lens through the bridge and tippy-toeing up to shoot over it at the flying circus of egrets below. They strutted after fish on the slant concrete down into the frothing watere. Then Mr. Fluffy came into view and chased a few egrets off but never fished himself.
The Fluff would rake back his pompadour, looking like any other strutting Snowy, hang out with his eeg peeps awhile, then he or the wind would flip up his crown and go chasing off whoever was hanging near. Mr. Petty Aggression.
For the last three or four months, every time I drove east on Garland Road, I'd sneak over into the far right lane and after the Spillway stop light, slow and slower down to the bridge and look down at the steps for egrets and herons fishing.
If they were down there, they'd be up to their usual tricks well worth photographing.
Tricks like flying up and down and around in that outdoor amphitheater box canyoned into walking bridge, trees and all those so-called retaining walls, and I could photograph them ...
them chasing each other around in that mini vast auditorium, me up in the peanut gallery, them all about.
Taking wild chances on focus and composition, sweeping my lens after them flying far and close aerobatics, sometimes no more than a few feet away or faster than I could see, clicking away.
A flying circus.
Most of March, all of April and this far into May I slowed past the hollow down through the bridges seeing not much or flat nothing but water, cars behind honking to get on with it, so they could speed around up Winstead.
Till today suddenly, every big white bird and its mother's out there looking for fish, a fight or some aggression letting. Maybe show off flying.
And I'm standing there wishing I'd brought my step stool but knowing — for a change really knowing — I was getting images solid.
And not just egrets, a lovely slow-down motion flight from I know not, out across that little canyon, this little magnificent Black-crowned Night Heron flap by elegant flap-ping across the gulch, me following along into a perfect two point landing, its long white plume trailing up the draft.
I had thought, well, no big black and white bird, I wonder if I'll see anything at all, when the cowbirds appeared on the suncatching fence.
Instead of nothing, I'm awarded a triple of Great Blue Heron, two varieties of egret and a wonderous golden Black-crown in the sun.
Feeling so amazing lucky seeing all my birds flying focused.
And into the future.
Been busy as a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher chasing bugs making studio visits for the Fierce show coming up in for most of JUly. Still, I took some time between visits today to photograph some birds at the lake. Main birds were Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and some frolicking Red-winged Blackbirds, both species photographed in the wild meadows down and around Winfrey Hill.
When I shot the shot up one I did not see the bug. They appear sometimes in the air beyond the birds I'm usually desperate to get in focus. It's a little easier when they're settled on something more or less solid.
Getting closer helps a lot. Though it's nicer to see a bird at eye level, too get really close to a bird on a wire, the photographer needs to shoot up.
Which, for some birds, gets their tails in sharper focus than the rest of them. Handy for a Scissor-tail.
I got this one even closer. However after a few quick clunka-clunka-clunks of the shutter.
And it was away to quieter digs.
While I was shooting Red-winged Blackbird across the meadow, there seemed to be a lot of socialization going on. I shot when birds flapped their wings with others around. I saw the male but didn't have a clue to the presence of two females in the bush.
More rapid-fire photographing netted me this series and those that follow.
The lady on the left that had been staring off into the sky, now is paying attention to the just-arrived male. The female red-wing in the middle seems nonplused. I wish I knew what happened next.
Not having seen the females, I clicked after other redwings flying.
Ever attempting to capture birds behaving, I followed the action.
More redwing action in the meadow that has just in the last few days exploded with half dome sprays of white flowers among the bright spring green.
Lots of black and red action across the meadows today.
From the Rookery
Sometimes when I shoot a lot of pictures in one day, I tend to skip some good ones when I go through that many shots. I knew I'd probably done that after our most recent trip to the rookery, so I've been saving up going back through them. Not for a time when I was laxed out and free of other things. Of course not. More like when I got time crawling through me, too busy to pause. Like today. Now.
Mr. or Mrs. Fluffy pristine white with full fluff.
This is one of those shots I told you I tried to avoid.
Great to see LBHs flying again. Sorry I missed most of rookery season.
Probably too dark, but this is about behavior, not a lovely portrait. Curved branch for nest.
More rookery photographs below.
We saw KeKe when we visited the Dallas Zoo last month. She died today of conjestive heart failure. We only met her once, but we liked her a lot — a lot to like. I usually don't do mammals, but since we liked her so much, and I had a decent photo, why not a little tribute. She was 39.
Somebody said there was "a Spoonbill" off the pier at Sunset, and so at least two serious photographers hied us over there to check it out. What it was, however, was a Northern Shoveler, a gorgeous creature with a big bill. I waited it out through lots of shoveling through the shallows, head submerged for minutes at a time. A Spoonbill would have been an improbable visitor this far inland, but we had to look.
According to Keith A. Arnold and Gregory Kennedy, authors of my treasured Lone Pine Birds of Texas, "Using its extra-large, spoonlike bill, the Northern Shoveler strains small invertebrates from the water and from the bottoms of ponds." Which is just what this one is doing, head and long bill down into the ooze around the pier.
Despite their proportionally larger bills, Northern Shovelers are beautiful birds.
Female Wood Ducks are a different sort of beautiful. Not as colorful as the males, yet distinctive. I kept looking for the smaller members of her family, but didn't find any this late evening as all the ducks and gooses gathered for grain from Charles.
I only saw the one female, but there were at least four males swimming around and coming up on shore to battle so many other combative ducks to the pour of grain there.
I've said it before. I'll say it again. Formidable red, tan, white and dark brown stripes. Dig the quadrupled reflection of Wood Duck eye in the dark water below.
I hadn't seen herons in awhile. When I looked up to see a gray shape flapping toward me, I thought it must be a hawk. But it was the red-eyed Black-crowned dusk heron, my old friends.
Hope I'll be seeing many more in the coming months.
I hadn't expected to be photographing birds this evening, just doing a bit of socializing with the Bird Squad. Then there were all those beautiful birds.
My first Snowy Egret of the season was wiggle-foot fishing in the shallows at Sunset Bay when someone parked and got out, and it was too much for the Snowy. Wiggle footing involves standing and wiggling one foot or the other in the water, hoping the fish or whatever will go for it. I've seen it happen, but this one took flight too quick.
Not the next two shots, but most of these today are about feathers. More than usual, they stand out in these images. Not individual ones, but whole wings and bodies full.
I followed these three across the meadow, them braying and looking dangerous and attacking anything that came close. Kept that long, straight-neck pose all the time.
Not sure what they were about. It looked like goose sex. Might have been. Just never saw who on who. The Bird Squad has names for most of them, but I rarely remember names — humans or birds. I love the parallel of the stiff upper lip necks atop columns look all about the wild, splashing whatever.
Not the first female to duck to try to get away from one — usually more — aggressive male(s) today. This one flew by close, purple stripes subtle but beautiful against the sweeping green of the Hidden Creek area behind. Feathers in dire getaway action.
We were amazed how close many birds came to us today as we sat in the shade during the heat of the afternoon. This quiet lady stayed close nearly all that time. We had grackles come close enough to almost eat out of our hands. The two oddly shaped Easter Duckies (out of three released and re-released there since — whose names escape me now, of course) came up and let us touch. Anna held one in her lap for awhile.
The duck whose beak is broken ate out of my hand. They call her Georgette. She aims where her beak used to be about an inch longer than it is now for whatever eat-worthy she sees. Misses most of the time, so I'd cup my hand full of sunflower seeds, then when I felt her nibble an inch long, I'd push it in and she'd get some of it inside.
Feathers again. Aren't they gorgeous?
These, too. Nice thing about when they come that close, feel that safe with us in the middle of bright daylight, I can focus. I know I write too much about that quality, but without it, these photos would just be blurs. Not nearly as fun.
My initial view of something apparently writhing on the ground. When I see something like that that looks like it might have feathers, I shoot from that distance, click-click. Then take ten steps closer. I included this just to show how little they were in the whole frame..
Then shoot at that distance a couple more times and take ten more strides, stop and shoot. This is still a long way away. Long enough my camera's not even sure what I want to focus on, so it doesn't.
Ten more steps and I begin to get details and an approximation of focus. This close (far) I'm pretty sure we're dealing with Starlings. And that their either fighting or having mad passionate sex.
Probably the former, because their positions change.
But it could still be either or something else entirely. Interesting that the head at the left seems separate from all the feathers in the cairn on the right.
Finally we see faces, beaks, necks and get a better idea of what's happening. Maybe. They're moving too fast for my shutter speed. I keep thinking of wrestling on TV when I was a early teen.
Wish I remembered more wrestling move names.
But maybe "flying leap" is more descriptive. I photographed starlings fighting only once before, long ago, early in this journal's history. That time they were definitely arguing about food, although even with food in their beaks they may have intensely disliked each other.
They wrestled a few more seconds down and dirty on the ground, then with me taking another ten paces or so closer, they are about to notice their shenanigans are being noticed and first one escaped, and then then the other, racing across the meadow.
But not without further comment.
When I first sighted these two flying around well above me, I assumed the big one was chasing the littler one. I knew the larger was a Black Vulture. I've seen them there before, and even had direct contact (!) with one at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center couple weeks ago.
I did not notice the color on the forewings of the littler one till I got these shots on my monitor. I'd seen before and photographed to some little success crows chasing hawks. That's what I assumed at first. But there was only one little bird.
While I was shooting, however, I didn't think about much but maybe getting something of what was unfolding high above me — in great gyring but irregular circles — in focus. Composition was for later when I'd have to crop the larger frames. I spent a lot of time finding the right place to stand where I could see these guys as close as possible while tracking them when I couldn't see them — an obvious intersection of unlikelihoods. I still don't know what they were doing or why.
Later, a little closer to my level and at a much worse action-stopping shutter speed and focus, I saw a redwing flashing across a nearby meadow. Of course, I photographed it — in a series of blurs. Sometimes I know what shutter speed I'm shooting. Sometimes I can figure out if there's animosity going on or Jonathan Livingston Black Vulture Games while I'm rapid-succession picture taking. Usually I just shoot.
Had about 45 minutes to spare, so despite cloudy skies and clinging clammy heat, I drove to the lake, which happened to be close to my last errand. Stood most of my time on the cloudy-bright pier trying to catch one of the speedy Barn Swallows swallowing bugs up, down and all around the bay. Without much luck. However, this brave bird flew out to the pier, landed, walked around, almost too close to me and within a few feet of someone on the end of the pier.
I assumed it were a particularly bold female with all those stripes, thinking this was the closest I've been to a fem red-wing in a long time. So close I can see her little red-wing coverlet I didn't even know she had. So I looked "her" up in Sibley's, who calls him a "First-summer variation." Just when I thought I had this bird, at least's identification patterns down.
Not always, but usually when a Grack flies this close, I photograph panning along, or trying to. The first shot's a little spooky.
A little more definitive a shot, better focus, so many feathers.
I like the one one up better, but this shows actual feathers, still a little blurred by fast flapping and low swooping. What I keep hoping to get is a definitive shot of that tail gone vertical, as here nearly invisible, as it swoops. Then when I went to upload today's entry, as usual, somewhere after Midnight, Time-Warner's RoadRunner Cable was down "for scheculed maintenance," so with no internet or email for the last six-and-a-half hours ("Zero Down Time" my butt), I'm going back to sleep.
Just in case we might have forgot, here's a real GBH prancing down to shore to do some fishing at White Rock Lake. Please note that despite its colorful name, in this light anyway, this Great Blue Heron is anything but blue. Compare this with what I at first thought might be a GBH at the Rookery last weekend to see why I was confused.
At least that was the plan before the evil photographer shot a long series of loud kerplunks at it, and it flew away off toward the dam.
It's fluffy and yellowish and looks a little goofy, but it's definitely a Mockingbird.
The same mockingbird again.
And again. The yellow is a trick of nature.
Bird of the Day is the Little Blue Heron, which this, despite these obvious colors to the contrary, is one. Others of its various color and plumage disguises follow down today's entry. [If you look too closely, you'll notice where I got a little carried away in Photoshop.]
Reddish Egrets have similarly reddish heads, and earlier in my apprenticeship (which continues), I often thought I was looking at those when I was really looking at these. Reddish Egrets are mostly seen on The Coast, not this far inland. Note what appears to be the usually mostly black body sporting an extra especially bright red occipital plumes. Dashing.
I like using words like "breeding" and "nesting" in captions. Makes it official. How I know this is a nesting Little Blue Heron is that it's in a nest. There's probably eggs in there, too. Just as the way I know the birds I describe as "breeding" is because they are in a rookery, where birds go to breed. Although it could be that some have dropped by just to check on their growing family. With birds, "breeding" usually describes some change from their usual look, usually a configuration of feathers or colors or visually interesting behaviors having to do with attracting a mate.
Likewise, I have no idea if these two are actually a pair. They are two. That's the extent of my certain knowledge. As much as I am honored to photograph them, they are among my most easily misidentified species. These may be the kin I typed about above. The Blue on the right has just congratulated its fuzzed up and fritzed out cousin on the left about their growing family.
Little Blue Herons appear as different colors in differing light — dark, iridescent blue, almost black in sunlight; a rich, medium blue in open shade; dead black like this away from the sun — and their feather configurations can alter from moment to moment. This one in the deep shade of the rookery against bright sunlit trees looks black with a subtly reddish head. Then, like Dr. Jeckle transforming into Mr. Hyde (beginning at 25:23) as I watched and photographed:
The same bird transforms itself into a showier, more attractive (if you're a Little Blue Heron), poofed out and coifed up dandy in a few seconds.
I had typed that "I'd only got one decent shot of a Great Blue Heron (GBH) while we were at the rookery today," but while spell-checking this page, I did a double-take, recognizing this is not a GBH or another Little Blue Heron looking more magnificent than usual. That white fluffy body and underwing threw me. The blue beak looks Little Blue-iish but neither GBH's nor Little Blues have white plumes.
It's got gray legs like Little and Great Blue Herons and Reddish Egrets; an orange throat and white occipital plume (the dashing feathers off the back of its head) like an adult Tricolored Heron (who — in the books — has orange or brown legs); reddish shoulders like a Tri-colored or Little Blue Heron; and white undersides like only the Tri-colored Heron. Of all the look-alikes, only the Tricolor has bulging amber eyes. So color me confused, but my best guess is a Tricolored Heron.
If so, it's my first, and I only saw it long enough to land in this tree, then fly away. Six shots in seven seconds.
The tangle is visual only, and entirely my problem but not really my fault, since the bird in question chose to land there, nearly filling my digital frame. Still, once we visually separate tree from bird, it looks magnificent and in focus. Always a startlement through that many trees, though it is in bright sunlight. At least fifty times today my camera chose to focus on leaves and branches instead of birds.
I had especially hoped to get good photographs of Anhingas. I got this. It's wingtips are not red. They and the white riming tail feathers are the only parts of this stately bird that lets the light shine through. I'm happy I got one out of about a hundred tries. I was hoping for something a little more detailed.
I shot 699 photographs today. After the rookery, we visited the Bird Squad at Sunset Bay to catch up on friends of both human and avian varieties, so those shots count into that total, too. Nonetheless, I was able to eliminate all but 293 within the first few minutes of culling, and there's another hundred resisting culling now. For awhile I didn't think I'd have enough good shots to make this entry worthwhile.
Another attraction transformation. First, a Cattle Egret, the carefully-brushed but normal look.
Then a whole 'nother bird with poofed-out finery designed to catch a mate.
I got plenty of the usual magnificent Great Egret flyovers. I always want to call these big birds Great White Egrets, paralleling the Great Blue Herons I so like to photograph. Although I did not, for a change, shoot every single egret that flew into in my telephoto sight. This one is especially interesting because of its thick upper throat/neck and the flaming red tail feathers waving in the breeze.
And this, well I had to have at least one unsub among so many old friends. I photographed a quick succession of shots of this bird from the fifth floor of the Rookery's friendly neighborhood drive-around parking garage, handily nearly empty on a Saturday afternoon. Of course, what I especially like about this shot — besides the fact that it's in focus — is that its shadow is so full. Might it be a Western Kingbird?
The meadow that that aprons to the water in several directions down from the Winfrey building is not always kept wild but is now, weeks already, unmown and, starting today, wild with birds we have not seen in recent days nor weeks. I'm there every day this week, and often before, wondering when it was going to pop.
Today, it popped. I saw Eastern and Western Kingbirds, Red-wing Blackbirds, Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Scissor-tail Flycatchers, Mockingbirds in almost every tree along the roads up and down, Killdeer, a Great Blue Heron and a fluffy white bird I did not recognize. I photographed all of them today. 327 frames (hardly a record) and getting a remarkable percentage right.
Starting with the baby mockingbird on top of last month's journal, I'm sticking with one or two stories a day. Not so many birds, perhaps more organized. I'm curating an art show for July this month, so I'm making it easy by shooting lots of different birds when there are lots of different birds, then framing them up into more specialized stories.
By now you've probably twigged that today's bird is the Eastern Kingbird. Most bird books are arranged by species, so that close cousins are on nearby pages. The Eastern Kingbird is sandwiched by the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and the Western Kingbird. So they're kissing cousins. And not surprising they're all here together now. I've seen a few Western Kingbirds in the last week or so. Scissor-tails have been here awhile. But these are the first Eastern Kingbirds I've noticed. I am, of course, no expert. Yet.
All three are flycatchers, and that's pretty much what I saw them doing this afternoon. Catching bugs that fly. When they catch flies, I can't see the flies, because they're too small and too fast. But I can rarely see these bugs, either. I'm photographing flycatchers, and they are catching flies. Sometimes I luck out and when these birds are flying up and down, left and right, over and around, what they are often doing that for, is to catch bugs that fly that way, also.
The Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas shines especially with short, pithy descriptions of Texas birds. It usually only shows one bird from one angle, unlike Sibley's more complete volumes, and if there's any subtlety in identifying something, I head for Sibley instead. But the short bird blurbs by Keith A. Arnold and/or Gregory Kennedy are some sort of wonderful.
They say, "This brawler [Tyrannus tyrannus] fearlessly attacks crows, hawks and even humans that pass through its territory. Intruders are often vigorously pursued, pecked and plucked for some distance until the kingbird is satisfied that they pose no further threat." One more sentence some distance from the last, then you'll have to buy the book. I won't steal whole paragraphs: "Kingbirds rarely walk or hop on the ground — they prefer to fly, even for very short distances."
It goes on, but I should note I never felt anything but "oh, you're there, but so what?" from them today or before. Perhaps they know I'm on their side.
Next time, the Great Blue Heron and the fluffy white unsub. After that others in today's story of spring's sudden budding and bugging that I'll keep writing for awhile, intersticing with today's shots.
I suppose there will come a time when I am not so fascinated by every bird flying by that I have to have to have to photograph every one possible. This guy (or these guys) made it easy, by flying into a strong headwind and getting almost nowhere with all their flapping, although I still managed to misfocus them dozens of times. Shoot enough I can cover the odds.
Although it would seem this one must have been flying with the wind. Perhaps why it is gliding, not furiously flapping. I've often shot redwings flying and will probably continue the tradition, but I try not to duplicate myself. The series this one is from is the only time I've rendered them brown. They are blackbirds, after all. And one of the few times I've photographed them from above. Usually, they're full, detailess black. Here we can even see spots on his fuselage, yet my camera and I deem the exposure correct.
Back the other way — and full flapping. Always the orange showing. Else how could we — and all the female Red-winged Blackbirds in sight — tell it's a redwing?
Here's a little more traditional shot. Red, a trace of yellow and dead dark black. Sometimes I straighten out horizons. Sometimes it looks too good to.
Usually I skip the other animals at the lake, concentrating instead on birds. But it's spring, and this is as close as I've got to several turtles in a long long time. There were more turtles not far away, but these were more interessting, a lot closer and inured to people walking by.
This was only slightly wary. I walked slowly by, clicking from several angles. I think it was as curious about me as I about it. Big rabbit with big ears. Thunder Thumper. If I knew my wascally wabbits as well as I know my birds, it would remain unidentified. A furry unsub.
Anna, who took these two photographs, reports: "Two of the three that were released are alive and doing very well. Named Bonnie and Clyde. Annette and Charles (separately) have been keeping them at night and bringing them back to the Lake for adaptation, and the geese are leaving them alone now. We think they may be Muscovy blends. Will be interesting to watch them grow up."
At first, the much-larger geese mercilessly messed with the fuzzy trio. I remember helping fend off the marauding beasts bent on bullying the newcomers late that evening while sitting and talking with the Bird Squad into the dark.
Then one disappeared. We assumed they'd been Easter Duckies till they got too big to stay cute. Then, like so many other once-cute birds, they were released "into the wild" to live happily ever after, even though ill-equipped to face real life. When I saw them the evening they were released, they were very easy to pick up. Too imprinted by humans.
Anna says, "Annette had a pet carrier
with a baby bird in it, that we think is a grackle. A man brought it
there earlier to release because he didn't know what else to do with it,
When Annette told him to
take it to the Vet nearby, he refused, so she kept it. I guess Charles will
take it to Rogers."
text and photographs copyright 2008 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.
Thanks always to Anna.