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White Rock Lake
May 30 2011
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron
Here we are looking down on the Lower Steps down the long sluice from the dam. We were looking for Green Herons, a notion I'd held in my mind since I saw one — briefly — at, of all places, Green Heron Park (See it in the upper left of my own version of a White Rock Lake Map.) along the upper west side of the lake earlier this week. It got away almost soon as it felt my attentions. I turned around on Lawther Drive just as it took flight. I've been thinking about Green Herons a lot since then.
Snowy in a Hurry
We love watching Snowy Egrets do their stuff, although they didn't seem all that combative this early morning, after we'd already tried the pier at Sunset Bay. You can't always, but today you can easily see that we were shooting down on the birds on and around the steps. They were hungry and looking for food or they'd never be in as public a place as that. They were all in a hurry. The other birds I tried to photograph running, blurred. Beep-beep.
A Matched Set — Two Adult Black-crowned Night Herons
By this point — after conglomerating error after error after error, as you shall see only a little of, I was shooting much higher ISO, and there was a lot more light. More birds, too. We were still hoping for Green Herons, but I was pretty sure we weren't going to find any. Sometimes, in early summer, they can be seen and photographed in the weeds around Sunset Bay pier. But not today. All we saw there was cute ducklings, on which I wasted about a hundred shots and some too-far-away Wood Ducks.
Juvenile Night Heron
I've had it in my mind (that place again) for some time that juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Herons had red eyes, and juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons had yellow eyes, and that's the way I could tell them apart. But I believe this is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron for several reasons. Mostly that there were only Black-crowned Night-Herons around this morning. It is possible for one of the former to be alone with adults of the latter, but it's not likely. Here, I managed to blur its body yet keep sharp its head. Quite an accomplishment.
Black-crowned Night Herons in Action
The adult (below) seems to be chasing the juvenile off. That kept happening this morning. One or another adult would come flying or running into where a juvenile was standing, sending the juvenile off to the island across the way. Hungry, I suppose. Maybe they were showing the youngsters how to fish, although I didn't see any of the herons gathered along The Steps catch anything all the while I was watching. Maybe the adults were planning to feed the kids themselves. Yes, it is not sharp.
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron
One more sharp image, just to prove I can do it sometimes, before we jump off with the Mockingbirds.
I'll start this series with one of the shots that looks almost in focus. This series was the first bunch I photographed early this morning. I was waiting for Anna to arrive and willing to kill a little time hoping to catch one or more shots of a male Northern Mockingbird — our State Bird and about 1/3 of the whole country's other states' State Bird, too.
It was doing what male Northern Mockingbirds do all across the country at about this time of the year. It had posted itself on the topmost branch at the top of just about the tallest nearby tree. And it was doing its repertoire of songs it had learned from other birds, them of course, as well as its parents and grandparents. Then while I kept my telephoto lens trained on it, it would fly straight up about ten feet, then straight down again to the branch and do the whole routine over and over and over again.
I probably could have saved a lot of staring up with my telephoto time if I'd timed the event. Just pointing up within the last few seconds of the long series of jumping. It was still jumping when we gave up on Green Herons at Sunset Bay. It may still be jumping. It's the Mockingbird way of attracting a mate, and it takes them thousands, if not millions of years to learn new methods.
It certainly got my attention. I don't know how any female mocker in the territories could have missed this little guy's energetic singing and jumping. But, like I say, it was still at it when we gave up on cute little ducklings and too-far Wood Ducks at least a half hour later.
I will be paying closer attention in the coming weeks. Maybe I will be able to find one doing the same jump routine in bright sunlight instead of on a cloudy, cloudy morning. It might also help if I were to find one facing the sun, instead of flying in its own shadow. Up and down, up and down, for many long minutes, I kept documenting the jumping.
I love living in the hope of capturing a sharp image of a mockingbird flying. You'd think it'd be a whole lot easier, considering how many mockingbirds there are all across the U.S. as well as all across White Rock Lake and Dallas and Texas. As you can see, I was not dissuaded by failure.
Okay, this is almost the last one for today. I promise. You've probably noticed that some of these have color and some just don't. The ones without were either over processed, attempting to put sharpness where it wasn't, or started out so dark, flying in its own shadow (back-lit) that color was never part of the equation.
On the Branch
I was probably shooting too low ISO, into the light, and not nearly close enough. We went off to capture the elusive Green Heron, and our noisy, jumping and flashing little friend was still at it when we came back.
My One Good Duckling Shot of the Day
I shot 316 exposures of cute, furry, little ducklings in, around and under the pier at Sunset Bay this morning, and this is the only one worth showing you. Not as good as I'd hoped, but cute. It was one of nine ducklings being mostly ignored by an adult, female Mallard, who looked exhausted. They were eating everything in sight.
Another Mourning Duck
I usually don't bother with doves — we call them 'dubs.' But this one was so enticingly close to my car window as The Slider, Anna and I passed it by. And holding still and showing us its important details — feet, eye ring, beak, color and shape, that I photographed it, anyway. We probably should have gone to Green Heron Park, but it always seems so far away.
Ft. Worth Drying Beds in ARlington
Great Blue Heron Flyover
Went to Fort Worth to see Braque and Picasso at the Kimbell Museum, so we got to the Drying Beds later in the day than we've ever been there before, and we found darned few birds anywhere close, though we did find dragonflies and some exquisite butterflies. Darned near did not get any shots of this particular Great Blue Heron. I didn't think I had, but this exposure proves otherwise. Shooting out of a car window — even The Slider's — is an iffy business at best, since it so limits the view and the angle.
Red-tailed Hawk Flyover
This bird appeared to like hiding from us in the brilliance of the direct sun. Another booger to capture well, but I stuck at it. Times like this, it's hard to have expectations of finding any birds at all. Besides, a Red-tailed Hawk, even if it is America's most common hawk, is always a treat. This one was considerably farther away that the Great Blue Heron at the top of today's entry.
Black Vulture Watch-over
From quite far away, Anna noticed this dark hulk atop a telephone pole. I slowly and gently pulled The Slider right under the pole and got this sharp portrait. My best and closest association with Black Vultures has been at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation, where I've found them amiable and not particularly shy. Then while we were talking or I was messing with camera settings, it began to stretch its wings …
Black Vulture Stretch
… and get into this odd position. Of course, most of the stretching is hid behind the pole's top cross bar, so this image just looks strange. But it's in focus, so it's here.
I usually don't even bother with doves unless they're being spectacular. This one obviously is not, but I liked the detail, so I kept the shot.
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Thistle Bloom
I'm a fan of butterflies, of course, and don't mind photographing them when birds are far or few between. I also love thistles, and especially liked the contrast of white (dead) blossoms and the vivid purple, live ones. These guys are reported to be a big pain for citrus growers, like my father used to be. The upper, often more colorful, side of its wings are a near reverse of this black and white pattern.
Then there's this, less successful butterfly shot. The body is sharp but not its rapidly fluttering wings. Eventually I found my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders - North America and was startled there are so few species, found both these, then followed through via Google Image Search and confirmed my initial guesses. I think. I guess they all like thistles.
White Rock Lake
May 23 2011
Early in this journal's history, a prominent Dallas birder thanked me for photographing common birds — in that case, pigeons and their mating rituals. I thanked them, but I had to laugh. I photograph what birds I can find. I rarely get to choose what I'll be seeing. I take them as I find them. Today, once again, I took very common birds in and around White Rock Lake.
European Starling on a Fence
Neither of these starlings are adequately illustrated in my newest bird I.D book, The Crossley ID Guide. Maybe because CRossley never came upon any Springtime starlings, maybe because he insists upon photographing every bird in his book himself. Maybe because many of his illustrations are printed so dark and/or low contrast I just can't see well enough to truly identify what stage of life this EUST, as he calls it.
It's an interesting book, each page of which shows a variety of ages, sexes (usually just two), and stages of development. But all those birds on one page often adds up to abject confusion. I find I have to use a strong reading light, because his illustrations are so low contrast. None of the EUSTs on his page look like either of these birds.
handsome brown bird = Juvenile European Starling
I initially assumed this was a female or juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird, but not according to any of the mess of Crossley photos on his BHCO page, although maybe, like his Red-winged Blackbird page, he just couldn't manage the vivid colors available in so many redwings. I did not, however, have the feeling that I know this bird. Not that I know even most of them out there.
Now, thanks to a birding buddy, I know it is what it now says in the caption under the handsome brown bird with the swivel head above.
Such a relief to go back to Sibley's or Peterson's field guides, where I can depend upon several flavors arranged on bright white, so I can find the bird ever so much more quickly. Used to be I'd get excited when I found a bird I could not identify. But it happens so often nowadays, it hardly seems special.
If it's a juvenile or female, I might not be able to find it anywhere among Peterson's colored drawings, but they're so nice, high-contrast and large, I'd rather look and not find there than endlessly search in Sibley's or Crossley's newer ID book (See description on the Birder Journal's Links & Bibliography page). Then I thought about my iTouch, and after endlessly entering color and shape classifications in iBird Explorer, I am exactly where I started. Which could well mean it's a female or juvenile of something they don't bother with including in their databases.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
Despite the bird one up's overall brown color and stripedness, I knew it wasn't one of these, because it didn't have that eye-line. And it's beak is black and longer. I may never find out what it is, but I hope I will.
Male Red-winged Blackbird
RWBBs are one of our and the lake's most common species. I have seen the western shores of White Rock Lake stripy dark with huge flocks of them flying from marsh to marsh. I love them, and I love photographing them. Which is a really good thing, because often that's all I can find. They are simplicity itself to locate, because they scream constantly.
I watched her find it in the tall (compared to her) grass, then proceed to thrash it about, eventually pulling pieces of it off the ground and eating it morsel by morsel. Great-tailed Grackles is what we often see at shopping centers scatting on our cars and seeming to create a nuisance. I'm a fan of them, actually, but then they are birds. Hard to tell, in this shot, where beak ends and bug begins.
Now, we've done male Wood Ducks too many times already. Besides the adult male of this group stayed much farther away. I have shots in focus, but they're just too far out for other-than-focus clarity. Besides I've always though female Wood Ducks were plenty gorgeous on their own. As you can see.
Males are nearly harlequin colored. But I like the rich browns, soft white stripes and that blue bit of wing only just hinted at above. Shots of this other side of her show not nearly as much blue but more brown and green tones. I would liked to have photographed her and her young much more, but every time she got them closer to the new Boat House wood bridge, she turned them around into the other direction, so I could not see nor photograph them up close.
After several double takes at the shot one up above, I realized that her tail seemed huge. I looked back through my images, and found this and others that showed that extended tail. I just don't know why it was.
I saw one Green Heron on the east side of the lake today, but as I got closer, it flew away. I saw several killdeer, but they were much quicker than I.
Resplendent Coloration of a Juvenile Great Blue Heron
Today, I stopped at the lower spillway, because I thought I'd seen a Black-crowned Night-Heron down there as I drove by. And sure enough, I had. But I also found a juvenile Great Blue Heron, which took most of my attention. Probably the same one I thought I saw a week ago. That time it disappeared before I made it down and around, parked and got back with my camera. This time, I suspect, it was hungrier. They always see us, of course. But I walk slowly with no sudden anything that could be construed as threatening moves, and I am sometimes rewarded with getting closer than I expected.
I should note that this is a slightly exaggerated version of this bird's colors. Sometimes they shone like this. More often, they seemed much more subdued, as in the image below.
Juvenile Great Blue Heron in the Falls
Nice as it was to find so many herons running loose, it was a dull, dark day. I'd already turned down an opportunity to drive much farther to see probably more, and more diverse birds because it was so very dark. Sunshine makes for bright details. Cloudy and overcast like today makes for shadowless blurs, no matter the aperture, shutter speed or bird selection.
But I stopped anyway, oblivious of all dullness. I knew, if I were careful — and lucky, I would capture better color on a day like this. So I shot way too many images, most of which I've trashed, and studiously observed the little and large herons stabbing their daily fish. I used low ISO, usually a guarantor of higher contrast, but not today. And high ISO, usually good for better action-stopping, and some few times today I caught a break and got a decent image of this specific, elusive bird I've been hoping to capture.
Not sure what there is that so fascinates me about rousing. Maybe that some of the feathers that we normally do not see are exposed briefly. Maybe it's because I yawn and shake sometimes, too, and just identify. Maybe because they generally produce unguarded moments. I'm not sure, except that I love a good rouse. And Great Blue Heron rouses are rare. I have a whole page of various bird species rousing.
I did see it catch some fish, but on those few occasions, I was usually adjusting settings, so I could only watch. I did get it together quick enough after it caught then began juggling these two tiny fishies. After awhile, I decided to let the birds get their fish without me hovering over them, so they could concentrate on finding food. I always want to photograph Great Blues in flight, but sometimes they need to hunker down and find some grub.
But it's not like I concentrated on that one bird all the time. It was Black-crowned Night-Herons that drew me, so I spent time capturing them, too. Here, I've fiddled the settings, so the water blurred, and, — I hoped — the bird looked motionless. I shot about a dozen like that at various ISOs and shutter speeds. This one looks pretty good. Probably 1/20th of a second at f something silly. In micro four-thirds cameras like my Panasonic G3 especially, smaller apertures diffract too much light, so it scatters all over the sensor, producing comparatively low quality shots. I did it anyway. Art over technology.
Here's pretty much the same shot at normal shutter-speed. No blur. Not, I think, as interesting. But not bad. A little sharper, overall.
This one may even be better. I hoped for more blur, but we see its red eye bright, and there's tone everywhere there should be tone, and none where there shouldn't. I like it better when the occipital plume (out of the back of their heads) dashes about a bit more, but not bad.
I'm still working on my Birds in Flight shots, so when this Great Egret took to the air, I was there and hoping my camera would bother to focus this time, and it did. All today's images are long telephoto shots, so images may appear closer than they were. I love the sharp bird and fuzzy flapping wings. That little bit of motion would get this tossed out of many photo club competitions, which is just goofy.
Several years ago, I had to turn down a [free] job judging bird shots, because they insisted on weaning out misfocused shots before I saw them. One of their members had complained about wing-flap being considered out of focus.
A new record for this camera; I got two nice flying shots in one short flight. Notice the flaps up as it guides in for a controlled landing in the shallow surf.
A much bigger fish than the little Great Blue caught all the time I watched. I suspect the young Great Blue is still learning the skill. In my experience Little Blue Herons are the best, fastest fish-catchers I've ever seen. Followed by Snowy Egrets. I don't know who comes next or who last.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Chasing Bugs
These first few shots aren't they, but I've been photographing — I don't like to say "shooting" around birds — a lot of ordinary birds lately. Well, normally Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are not ordinary, but there's sure a lot of them at the lake these days. Not everywhere one looks, but on the tops of tall trees and utility lines in many places around the lake.
Another Scissor-tail After Other Flyers
I saw these in the big parking lot behind the Winfrey Building atop Winfrey Point. But find a field full of bugs (aren't they all?) and watch for them. They don't just catch flies, but they're hyperactive these days late in summer. And there's an abundance.
Scissor-tail Line Jump
When I saw that many Scissor tails on the wires, I coasted The Slider down the hill and parked in the grass with my longer lens pointed nearly straight up, hoping to catch one or two or more of them in technicolor flight. I'm beginning to think I might actually be capable of photographing birds in flight (BIF) with my Panasonic Lumix G2 after all. Maybe what I needed was lots more practice.
Juvenile Barn Swallow
Same technique. Somewhat less colorful a bird. So far.
Juvenile House Sparrow
When I was a staff photographer for the Dallas Times Herald, I didn't much care for sports, but for my fast-action fix, I'd take assignments to photograph dance. Now I get my kicks trying to stop these little birds as they sometimes flit faster than I can see. Certainly faster than I care to see through my eye-lever Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). If you waggle your fingers in front of a TV set, you'll get an idea of the sort of video flutter I fight to captured one of these speedy little birds. Even standing still, because they don't stay any one where long.
The Beauty of an Adult Male House Sparrow
No doubt House Sparrows qualify as ordinary birds. They truly are everywhere. They're all through the U.S., up into Canada and down into Mexico. I like the unordinary view of one from above, showing its gorgeous wing feathers. A shy and lightning-fast bright of them were very interested in a bunch of white bread someone had left in the swamp along the side of the pier at Sunset Bay, even though it's not any better for them than for us.
Female Red-winged Blackbirds Feeding Along the Shore
This was a ways west of the pier. When I first saw these redwings, they were dark shapes moving quickly through the wood piled along the shore. I photographed them anyway, and pulled their light from the darkness later in Photoshop.
I read — and remembered — from somewhere that it is improper to say both Mallard and Duck, meaning we shouldn't call them Mallard Ducks, that being redundant, I guess. They didn't say why, just that it was so. So I'm not sure whether I should call these scraggly fluffy ducklings what I captioned them above, but I did.
Our Lady of the Lake Rookery in San Antonio
Little Blue Heron Puffed Up and in Full Breeding Plumage
Seems like every summer we go to the rookery in the creek behind Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, Texas. We go primarily to visit my parents, but we take the opportunity to see what's happening at the rookery. Each time we seem to arrive at a different time when different species dominate the view. This may be our earliest summer visit.
Little Blue Heron with Some Feathers Relaxed
This human wants to say this Little Blue Heron has relaxed some of its feathers, but I'm not sure 'relaxed' is a word that can be used to describe how this bird looks. Behind is a Adult Breeding Cattle Egret.
Little Blue Heron with Feathers Down
And here's another Little Blue Heron with nearly no feathers puffed out in mating display. If I hadn't seen the poofed out birds do their poofing, I might not believe they were the same birds as the ones that look like this.
Little Blue Heron on Nest
This Little Blue seems to be caught somewhere in between display and non-display, with many feathers in somewhat extended positions.
Little Blue Heron Jumps Into Flight
Little Blue Herons are actually quite small — only about 24 inches long, compared to 39 inches for a Great Heron.
Similar in many ways to Little Blue Herons, Tricolors have white undersides and underwings, although I have several times misidentified them as Great Blue Herons. Adult Tricolors are usually about 26 inches long, more Little Blue Heron size than the 48 inches of a Great Blue Heron.
Adult Breeding Cattle Egret
Distinctive red legs, lores and most of their beaks, along with reddish patches of feathers in front, back and on top. Breeding Cattle Egrets are very distinctive.
Neotropic Cormorant on a Nest
We have a few Neotropic Cormorant visitors at White Rock Lake, but I don't remember any at other rookeries, but every time I say something like that I look around and find more. Always an intriguing mix of species at Our Lady of the Lake. The new Crossley ID Guide - Eastern Birds, which features a remarkable variety of views, plumages, variations and viewing distances, describes Neotropics as "smaller than Double-crested Cormorants with thinner neck, smaller head and longer tail."
Chick Showing Tongue
I was about to ms-identify these chicks as Great Egrets, but with all that black marbling running through their feathers, I wonder whether they might instead be Little Blue Herons. Although in the past I've been disconcerted by having it pointed out that Cattle Egret and Little Blue Heron chicks at this age are remarkably difficult to differentiate. So I'll just leave it at "I just don't know" who these are.
More about the new Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds on our Links and Bibliography page
White Rock Lake
Driving down Garland Road toward home, I sidled up in the far right lane to check out the action in the lower spillway, see who's down there, what they were doing. I saw what I thought might be a juvenile Great Blue Heron, maybe even a Tricolored Heron, although that would have been very unusual and unlikely.
I'd been photographing very ordinary birds — starlings, grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds — in one of my most ordinary places atop Dreyfuss Point. I wasn't looking for anything exciting, although a Tri might have pretty amazing. I figured maybe I'd catch them catching some fish.
Which is all to say, I wasn't there to photograph more egret fights, as startling and photographic as those aerial imbroglios may be. I wasn't even particularly interested in egrets. By the time I'd parked and hiked up the hill, however, the human crowd on the outside of the fence over the lower spillway had grown to three people, including me, and the flighty gray heron, whoever it might have been, was gone.
So I photographed egrets — Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets — for awhile. After one caught a pretty substantial fish, about twenty other egrets had flown across the divide from the island, and they were all lined up along the slanting concrete that turns the flow of then very dynamic, splashing, frothing water a hard left turn to go under the walking and driving bridges there and head off in White Rock Creek.
With the suddenly increased traffic along that narrow strip of acutely angled concrete came the usual give and take as some birds insisted that prime bit of fishing real estate was theirs and theirs alone. Lots of little skirmishes were occurring, especially among the smaller and more traditionally feisty Snowy Egrets, their crown feathers rising with each new challenge.
But when the big egrets — called Great Egrets — started going at it, I started paying a lot more attention. Capturing Snowies on silicon is something of a challenge to me, because they're small and really fast. Their skirmishes are usually over by the time I tune in. I was much closer than the last time I'd photographed these aerial ballets of battles [below], and this time my challenge was zooming back far enough to get all the action, rather than zooming in to center on the birds when they were so far away.
Which, of course, wasn't always possible. But I did manage to capture a lot of the action amid the froth and variously disrupted and splashing water down there. I didn't think about it much then, but now I see how relatively easy it was to photograph them from the far side, and much more challenging up this close.
Elapsed time: 15 seconds
Petty Snowy Squabble
This was the setting before the Great Egrets above went at it. Just a couple of feisty Snowy Egrets having it out about some real or perceived slight.
Plenty More Fights
And the greats were still fighting and squabbling and jumping high into the air to challenge and attack their fellow birds, when I got tired of it all and went back to my car and drove home. They may still be at it.
The Fish That Started It All
In my limited, human, view, this is the fish that started the gold rush — er … fish rush, that started all the ruckus. I've always wondered whether it was really true that herons — including egrets — really did spear their prey, but looking at this image up close and very large on my monitor, I can see the blood trickling out as this fish hangs securely from the long, sharp upper beak of this Snowy Egret.
Tried photographing several birds in flight today — chasing each other, chasing bugs, chasing the wind. I even tried to photograph Red-winged Blackbirds on the ground huffing and puffing and blowing their epaulet-flipping plaintive cry — for territory or a female. But only this shot of a red-wing was in focus and stopped the action. I'll probably never stop photographing them doing this, but this is the best one in a long time.
Medical Center Rookery
Nest Dance 1
I'd been wondering how big birds like Great Egrets manage with two adults and usually three chicks in one comparatively small nest. How do they get around each other up there. Today at the Medical Center Rookery I got an opportunity to photograph just such a dance.
Nest Dance 2
If you look carefully, you can just make out the fuzzy white heads of a chick or two at the bottom of the nest. We'll be seeing them in a little more detail as the dance continues.
Nest Dance 3
I have no idea which is the male and which is the female, although I have my suspicions, probably based on human gender stereotypes. In Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, David Allen Sibley says once the males stake out a territory that diminishes as other male Great Egrets join in, "the male usually collects sticks and passes them to the female, who does most of the nest building."
Nest Dance 4
They often rebuild old nests, which can become quite large, but this one is not yet. Other times, old nests provide sticks for new ones. Nests don't have to be large to hold the 3 - 5 eggs, which hatch naked young who need food immediately. Both parents keep busy finding and partially pre-digesting food — egrets are almost always carnivorous — and flying it back to the nest.
Nest Dance 5
Where, as we shall soon enough see, in another short sequence below, food is regurgitated into chick's beaks, and down their throats. Here we see one fuzzy white head tilted back and up toward the feeding parent. The dominant sibling gets the most food and grows largest. Siblicide, Sibley says, is common, and we've seen the forest floor of the rookery littered with bodies of smaller, weaker birds — especially in hot, dry weather.
Nest Dance 6
All of which is fascinating, but my goal here was to document the careful edging around the nest both parents perform as the tend the nest and the chicks, feed them and get ready to fly off for more food.
Nest Dance 7
Within seconds of finally circling this nest, the standing bird flew away.
Nest Dance 8
Leaving the other parent to keep the chicks and nest together and warm.
As mentioned previously, the most aggressive chick lives, and especially in lean, hot or dry times, any past two are are in danger of starving or being bumped out of the nest.
So it's a race to to the finish.
Anna found this and pointed me to it. She knows how well I love to photograph bodies, because they don't move away as I get closer, and I can see details I normally could not. I didn't add color to this image, I enhanced its original colors. At first I thought it might be a grackle, but with that yellow beak I think it was a starling.
Now, a little closer to home — literally.
Adult Male House Sparrow
I heard a clatter in my trees when I got home this afternoon and decided I'd watch them out and maybe get some photographs. Turned out to be one of our more common species.
I didn't see any babies, but they might be deeper in the hollow of that tree.
White Rock Lake
Snowy Egret Fight 01
We interrupt this long program of vacation slides with something I actually saw and photographed today at the Lower Spillway from the Walking Bridge over the White Rock Creek (Dallas has many of those) that goes under that bridge and off toward I-30. I was attentively photographing (more of that later) a Great Blue Heron I kept expecting to either catch a fish or fly away, either of which would make a great picture, but neither happened …
Snowy Egret Fight 02
When I saw a white on gray fracas brewing on the west side of the new concrete that redirects that creek. I started shooting, not terribly concerned with solid focus, since I often can't get that with my Panasonic G2, but I tried and tried anyway.
Snowy Egret Fight 03
Note the perfectly placed shadows. I was amazed I actually got images of this aerial battle. I'd seen them before, but like bird sex, usually they're over about as quick as they begin. But this one went on for about a minute..
Snowy Egret Fight 04
Exciting to watch, even as far away as I was. I hated to not pay attention to the Great Blue Heron, but this was much more exciting, and the heron never did do anything but stand there and chase off a couple egrets. They're all beautiful birds.
Snowy Egret Fight 05
There was plenty of direct physical contact, just it happened so quick, even running my G2 as fast as it would go, I missed all but the aerial ballet of it. But that was plenty neat.
Snowy Egret Fight 06
Often my G2 chooses to focus on the background and all but ignore the action happening in front of it. My Nikons will, if set right, simply focus on the first thing in their sight. I wish I could set my new cam that way. Still, these are amazing photographs, and if I pick one or two from this series, I could probably carefully doctor the grooves in the extraordinarily expensive concrete, so viewers (including this one) could concentrate of the bird action.
Snowy Egret Fight 07
Not sure if you can tell — or if I can tell which was which, but I tried a series of strategies on these shots, hoping to separate fore- and back-ground textures. Some fairly successful.
Snowy Egret Fight 08
I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I'm grateful for that smaller black bird for flying by between me and the them.
Snowy Egret Fight 09
Eventually, the Snowy Egret on the right won, by whatever scoring system they use, and the one on the left escaped.
Snowy Egret Fight 10
The Victor and the Vanquished.
The High Island Rookery
Lots going on at the High Island Rookery —
pink are Roseate
Spoonbills; white are Great Egrets; and black is a cormorant.
The stars of the place were hundreds of Roseate (pronounced "rose ate") Spoonbills, but there were plenty other species on the series islands across from wood, covered photography stands, always (when I was there; I heard there had been hogging problems with big tripod setups; but not today) plenty of room, and more than enough pleasant conversation and helpful hints, comments and identifying going on. It was the most convivial group bird watching I've ever experienced.
Roseate Spoonbill Showing Off
We'd grown used to being on our own, wandering hills and dales, forests and paddies alone or with a few close friends. But this place was organized, clean and serene. With gobs of birds to watch and/or photograph. I far preferred this, somewhat wild situation to the 'fish in a barrel' watching/photographing at the blind not that far away, also in and around High Island.
Two Cormorants (just barely) and One Spoonbill
But I probably should have thought about it a little more, and watched longer than I photographed, so I could figure out what was going on, rather than just mindlessly shooting. I did pick up on a few things, and the experience was mostly altogether pleasant, but the longer we were there, the better my photographs got.
Big Pink Wings
I'm starting with the spoonbills, which I've only ever seen in singles and at some distance before. Here, with this tele lens, it felt like I was surrounded with pink, and I liked it fine.
Roseate Spoonbill & Shadow at Pond's Edge
We shot at the rookery on two separate days. One day an alligator attended the proceedings. The other day the alligator was not in sight, so one day venturing this near the water was an iffy proposition. The other day, it was nice to get one's feet wet.
Spoonbill Flying By
Not always elegant, but always vividly colorful.
Spoonbill Flying Away
This was the view, much farther away that time, that I got on my first-ever sighting of a Spoonbill while I was on a ferry across some river or bay many years ago. For a long time, it was my only sighting. Here, standing on the human side of the rookery, I saw hundreds. Never once have they become ordinary to me.
Spoonbill Family Scene
I just assume the one who's flashing its wings all gloriodski is a male, but there's really no telling them from the females of the species. Lighter pink Roseates are juveniles. I assume there's males and females here, but your guess is as good as mine. I was nearly blinded by the intense color.
Spoonbill Tending Nest
Big eggs and small nests, compared to herons and egrets.
One Sits the Nest; The Other Does a Heads-up
I saw this behavior several times as I watched, utterly fascinated by these colorful creatures. Sometimes one would start the heads up.
Other times, both mom and dad kept up the beak opening — in the din of birds on the incredibly densely-populated island, separating one — or even two — birds sounds was extremely difficult.
Lone Heads Up Display
But the heads-up was not simply connected with nesting, although this one may be expressing a desire to be nesting with somebody. Maybe its neck hurts and needs a good stretch.
Roseate Spoonbill Display (or it's just flapping its wings).
Not knowing the full context of each bird's existence on the islands, it's rather too easy to make snap judgments about what's going on — especially well after the fact as I write this caption. It looks like a display, but birds got wings that need to be flapped and waved around from time to time. Conjecturing why this particular bird is doing this particular act is clearly absurd.
Spoonbill Flying Low
Here we get to see just a little of the island I have otherwise so carefully cropped out of these images, so we can see these birds in all their glories. In a couple more days I'll present another rookery set up remarkably similarly, that one inside the City limits of San Antonio. No Roseate Spoonbills there, alas, but lots of bird activities, and plenty other birds I mostly ignored on these visits.
I wondered how well they could preen with such big, ungainly-looking spatulas of beaks, but it looked like they'd been doing it all of their lives.
Two preening shots in a row seems a bit redundant, but I just had to show the amazing colors of a spoonbill folded-up enough to reach all its distant parts. Vivid!
Jaunty Walk Down the Muddy Shore
I went back and checked. In the order of shooting, this shot was immediately followed by the alligator showing off and chrunching with great force on the wad of feathers it was eating/showing off. Just inches away from this lively, self-confident bird, who is, in fact, watching the 'gator.
Isolated incidence of bird flapping wings. This one happened to be in focus.
A Busy and Diverse Place
On the ridge of the island stood a human angled bit of carpentry long associated (note the many scat streaks) with natural forms but not ones producing leaves that might obscure our views. All manner of birds there gathered, and now that I've brought this fact up, I shall endeavor (albeit slowly) to find an image that fits that description, too.
Nope, none of them are good enough.
Great Egret Landing
This is the same egret about to jump off the local vertical in the image just above. I wanted to show that there were more birds than just spoonbills, even if most of my shots of the cormorants and egrets of the group were out of focus or jiggled.
Downy Young Great Egret
This is by far the best shot I got of the baby egrets, rendered nearly perfectly from across the pond with a long but not nearly long-enough telephoto lens. Unfortunately, by exposing this guy well, I all but obliterated its parental unit — way overexposed. So overexposed I almost did not show you this. That woulda been pretty stupid, huh?
Great Egret About to Take Off
Not at all sure what's going on here, except wings are being flapped and bird looks to this human as if it were angry or something.
Two Tricolored Herons
Didn't spend much time getting into the lives of the Tricolors there. I must return and re-return to that amazing place. Perhaps I'll give it much more time, so I'm not just potshooting the pretty birds, but learning what all is going on in that anthill of birds.
Alligator's Got Something
Something large and somewhat feathery.
Don't Get Too Close to the Water
Lots of feathery. Must have been a bird. A good-sized one, at that.
Black-tipped White Wings
Speculation was that it'd got an American White Pelican that strayed too close to the water, but nobody'd reported seeing any of those around. Anna said her photos show a gray bird, which fits the description of a Brown Pelican, but this looks to me like a big white bird with blue-ish tipped wings, and I don't know who that would be. The gator seemed very proud of its catch and paraded the mostly submerged bird up and down the pond for all to see.
Plenty of Activity In the Nearby Parking Lot
The trees of High Island, Texas seemed alive with birds almost everywhere we looked. People with really big lenses and high-power binoculars were ogling one thing or another in the dense foliage.
I think it's a Balt Ore. By now you know I'm never quite sure. But it looks a lot like the one in the book. The trouble here is differentiating the leaves in shadow from the parts of a bird.
Immature Baltimore Oriole
More to go on than the last one, but not enough for this birdajournalist.
Spoonbill into the Darking Sky
It wasn't really that late, so this may be a fluke of exposure. Had lots of those those days. Rather an odd angle of view anyway, but I wanted something down here that indicated we were leaving, then we did.
Special thanks to my friend for help and resource links
to identify many birds in my May 2 and May 3 entries.
Anahuac National Wildlife REfuge
This Least Bittern is why we were in the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We'd never seen one, and we wanted to, and friends said we could if we went there, so we went there. Sounds simple, huh? Except it was not labeled, and it was somewhat shy, and compared with many of these birds, smallish and did not look anything like what I thought it was going to, so I did not recognize it when I saw it, nor for a long time later.
Eventually, when I got it up on my monitor, I recognized the long, sharp, orange, heron-like beak as something very familiar, although its body was totally unfamiliar, and slowly I put the missing and right-there pieces together. Being at Anahuac was like that a lot.
There were a number of distinct habitats that comprised Anahuac. A 2.5-mile on a side, square 'pond' seemed to be the biggest environment, and we were told that when it was wet, it was one big pond, what we saw was a drainage ditch around a 2.5-mile square field. The whole refuge was considered dry when we were there, and many obvious previous watering holes had no water.
I am always a little discombobulated when I identify two different birds as the same thing. I am pretty sure this one is a real Dowitcher, but the more I look at other dowitchers, the more convinced I am that there's a lot of variations among the species, and the one one-up from here, is also.
Around the pond was a country road looking down on it, so Anahuac turned out to be my all-time favorite kind of avian observation — "drive-by birding." Drive along the pond watching, watching ever so carefully. And when another bird was discovered there, stop and photograph it for awhile, then on to the next one.
The Slider may be the ideal automobile to photograph birds from. It's quiet. Unlike Blue that preceded it, it's utterly quiet, especially in hybrid electric mode, and it doesn't shake violently and bang like a broken sewing machine like that blue Honda used to when in park for more than a few seconds. It glides, hence its name. I'm showing two different Virginia Rails — taken more than 40 minutes apart to show some of the intra-species variations.
We've seen Black-necked Stilts before, but many of the birds here, like those the day before in the bird blind in High Island were new to us. Those are marked on this page with an asterisk after the caption.
Some birds there, like this one, were very familiar.
Others, like these guys who wound around in the sky overhead, then eventually flew directly over me, while I was, more or less, trying to catch up with the other birders in our group, were totally new to us. I can't really say I watched these guys, except that I pointed my camera at them and most of the time failed to focus, although eventually, I got two decent shots of them. And as much time as I've spent staring at them in my various bird books, I might still fail to recognize them in the wild, again.
And, of course, there were many old friends among all those birds.
We've seen Great Blue Herons often. But eve enough.
At least I think they are Tree Swallows. Nothing else seems to quite match up.
At first, I thought the red was on its upper breast and could find no such, similar bird. Then I realized that was the inside of its beak, and it became a little more obvious who it was. Unfortunately, however, it doesn't entirely resemble other Tree Swallows. The beak shape is swallow, but the colors seem wrong. I'm calling it a Tree Swallow, but I'd be happy to be corrected. Good t
Oddly enough, I was able to identify this bird almost immediately, although when I saw and photographed it, I had no idea who it was. When I saw it on the monitor it looked enough like a shrike it had to be one, and even though I'd only ever seen one before, and it didn't look anything like this one.
And not slow. I was, of course, attempting to photograph it perched, so naturally it lit out for parts unknown. It's always been a favorite challenge of mine to photograph Northern Mockingbirds flying. Something about those flashing white parts of its wings as it flies along.
Very familiar lately, since a lot of them had been showing up at White Rock Lake lately.
These birds look a lot like American Coots, to which they are closely related. They are also closely related to and looks somewhat similar to Purple Gallinules, which we saw exactly zero of, though I went on and on with a fisherman used to telling tales of the ones that got away later that I'd seen dozens of the latter, when I meant dozens of the former, while he told me he'd seen dozens of gallinules in Louisiana. We both may have fudged our numbers a little.
I'd rather not see any birds like this, any time. But there it was. We could not figure out what the deal was, so we photographed it.
Two shorebirds of, I think, slightly differing feathers. This is the last image I'm adding to the Anahuac (usually pronounced "Anna whack) National Wildlife Refuge portion of this journal, and I'm just too beat to track them down. Maybe later.
I looked for about fifteen minutes through Peterson's nice, big color bird images, but I did not find what bird this is. Yet. I suspect I will figure this one out sooner than later-er.
There's an even higher probability I'll discover who this is having just flung itself into the air from a thoroughly wet pond and still dripping little droplets of it in the air.
It's four o'clock as I type this. I probably won't get it finished till tomorrow sometime. So very nice to be back in my nice, soft bed again. We went to San Antonio to help my mother celebrate her 90th birthday, and we saw a lot of birds on the way, and darned few in the cold air as we traveled back north.
I don't remember photographing this bird, but I pretty much had to have. And here it is.
One of the better shots I've got of this common Texas swamp bird.
Not all that unusual a bird, except I got it in mostly focus, we can see that its head is truly brown and
This being Texas, there were lots of Great-tailed Grackles everywhere we went.
We'd heard lots of strange tails of these guys, but they were too busy posing to come after us, although we did see one in another place I have not yet reported on (Coming Soon to a web page right in front of you.) eating what was purported to be a pelican. Got lots of pictures of that, too. Of course.
I think there's a couple more birds that might get added to today's stack, but I'll do that some other time that's not now (4:42), after I maybe get some sleep.
High Island, Texas
It was, I kept saying, like shooting fish in a barr ell. But it wasn't really. It was more like sitting behind a peep hole in a long tent, open at one end for registration to sit at the other end with our telephoto lenses out the peep holes and photographing whatever birds drops in to enjoy the lush, sometimes cool, falling stream of water.
With at least as many photographers as peep holes, some of them doing all they could to catch birds as they dropped out of wherever else they'd been hiding to enjoy a quick splash bath, a drink of water, a little social interchange, then go back to somewhere a little less public to continue their lives.
The half hour or so I did that. Without a tripod, because I almost always don't shoot with a tripod, either because I've never really had a particularly good tripod, or because my current birding camera is so light and I could aim and focus it far faster if it weren't attached to something with three feet. I saw exactly this many species of birds.
The official count that day was 39 species of birds beyond the peep holes. They kept calling them warblers, but there were other varieties as well. Anybody who cared to stop there could, and did. People standing along the road outside the birding compound stood in semi-circles aiming big lenses up into the trees between and around parked cars.
More birders in one place than I've ever seen in my life. Probably more birders than I'd want to spend a lot of time with, although most were very pleasant, sharing stories about the ones that got away as well as sharing sightings right there and then. Plenty of people who knew who was looking down at them from the many trees all around us on that two-lane blacktop through High Island, Texas.
Either the whole world wiggled when I shot this shot, or I did. Still, it's the best shot I got of this one, so here it is. Another argument for a decent, light-weight but strong and maneuverable tripod…
I've only been birding for a month short of five years, and I will consider myself an amateur (one who loves) for many more years, but gradually I am adding more birds to my semi-mythical bird list. I don't really write them down, although I wish I had. But I can't count new species unless I manage to get them in focus in a photograph. Which happens to be the only way I can accurately identify them, so that all works out pretty well.
I often reconsider making one big page with all the new species I have discovered along my birding way. All of which species many other birders have already discovered, of course. I'm still very lucky to get them in focus. Shooting at the blind, hand-held and in quick succession, I managed to add many new-to-me species — all these in today's journal — within that one, I thought incredibly long, half hour of shooting.
It was fun. It was exciting. It was a continual challenge to capture most of the birds sharp, and some of them recognizable. I've never shot so many shots so quickly before. I usually prefer to discover birds haphazardly, and it often felt like cheating to get to be able to see and photo so very many species in so little time and such tiny a space.
But I kept at it. I had brought my big Nikon camera and huge Sigma telephoto zoom lens, but I only shot maybe a half-dozen images with that hulking giant. All the rest of that session and all the sessions to follow, several of which will be on these pages in the coming days, were photographed with my comparatively light and small Panasonic G2 camera and the 200-600mm equivalent lens.
Which is by no means the ideal birding camera. But for this task, it did darned well. Or we did. I was able to sneak looks at the tripods and the various other gizmos other birders use to attach cameras, and lenses to those tripods. It set my mind to wandering. Later, when I had time to think beyond, oh, there's another new bird, follow it around the tiny stage, go click at it, and hope it doesn't, although often it did, spurt off in an other, entirely different direction and place in the middle of my exposures.
Like a say, an amazing and continuing challenge. At the end of my half hour or so, I was ready and more than willing to try photographing somewhere — anywhere — else, though I do thoroughly appreciate my friend D's kind offer to let me try the blind out. It was my first experience with blinds, and as you can see, I added many birds I'd never even paid attention to their names in bird books before, to my non-exist ant but ever-hovering Life's List.
I could try to come up with yet more to say about that amazing half hour of photo-birding, but unless and until I can identify more of the birds on this page, I'm just going to show these images and hope someone can come along and help me with their identifications.
Taking wet baths that further obfuscate their identities.
Probably by now you have guessed we went a little farther than White Rock Lake this time a-birding. In fact we're just back from a trip to the Texas Coast, where we visited Winnie (that has the nearest motels to High Island), Galveston, San Antonio and parts in between's, mostly looking for birds, but seems like about as much time being with family and extended family for my mother's 90th Birthday Party, which we also photographed.
And since I started with a Black & White Warbler, and because I actually have two shots of them sharp enough and identifiable, I'll end with another shot of a Black & White Warbler.
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text and photographs copyright 2011 by J
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My favorite answer is, "I don't
am, after all, an amateur.
I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for three years,
although I've been photographing professionally since 1964.
Thanks always to Anna.