November 30 2007
We went to the lake this afternoon. I wanted to see how the pelicans were doing and even chose Sunset Bay. Temperature was good enough, somewhere between warm and cool. The light was a little on the dark side. But there were plenty birds and variety.
Something about light that dark makes extraordinary birds look spectacular and the ordinariest of our bird friends — take this grackle — look extraordinary.
Even the lowliest of the low — pigeons — looked pretty spectacular today. But while I was messing the ordinary and less ...
... A rather unordinary bird — although there's certainly a lot of them out there; we've been calling this Hawk Season — happend to Anna. She was standing near a tree, happened to look up, and there this was.
Nice shot. I'm envious. Very possibly the same bird as earlier this month. Maybe even this one, too.
Of course, I'm sorry I didn't see it. That close would have been amazing.
If today's entry is about anything, it's the diversity of avian life along the lagoon into the wood just past the Boat House. I was standing on that establishment's new wood bridge hoping, as always, for herons, when this flapper started out of one tree and headed up the lagoon, toward me but a long way off.
A few more flaps brought it closer. I never knew for sure what it was till I get the images home on my monitor, and we still can't tell for exact certainty what age, but it sure looks a lot like a Black-crowned Night Heron.
And then, instead of getting its picture taken about thirty more times as if flew ever closer to me, it blurred back into the trees, and I could not find it again.
When I walked up to where the lagoon turns under what used to be a railroad track trestling over the road, ponds out and creeks back up into the woods, I noticed a white bundle tucked into the creek at the base of a large tree. When I came back minutes later, the white had joined a mallard and they were swimming through the chiaroscuro of of the creek back toward the boat house.
Further down the lagoon I heard the distinctive, staccato cry of a Kingfisher, but all I could see was this bird I assumed was a Western Kingbird but doesn't look much like the one in Sibley. I didn't notice then, but now it's rather obvious that autumn is affecting some trees. The brown amber in the trees is at least partially caused by the brilliant sunshine slanting down into the lagoon. I often had to stand in the shadow of a tree just to see out into the area over the water.
Says our unAmateur birder Betsy Baker, "I could see your confusing this bird with an Eastern Kingbird more easily than with a Western Kingbird — all that dark on the cheek. You've gotten into the right general vicinity on your id, though — it is one of the tyrant flycatchers — an Eastern Phoebe. They winter just a trifle south of us, whereas the kingbirds have to travel out of the country (they're neo-tropical migrants) to get to their wintering grounds, so this late in the year you're not likely to see a kingbird, while you're quite likely to see Eastern Phoebes if the weather's been relatively mild (and we haven't had a freeze yet, so....)."
I have a lot of other stuff to do with my little (20 photographs in the museum and entry hallway) Bath House show opening January 5, but I hope to add a page of new species, so by visiting that page, visitors here can see what new species have arrived at my favorite inner-city lake.
I wasn't having any of it, but I kept trying to convince myself that this little bird was who was making all that stuttering Kingfisher shrieks then diving headlong into the lagoon after whatever they eat.
Moments later, I saw something flap out into the over bright sunshine and I followed it with my lens, getting this, perhaps the best shot I've ever got of a Kingfisher flying. He's a little speck on a big frame of photographic reference but there's some serious detail here. Obviously these last two are quite different birds. This is our chattering king, although why they'd warn everybody in hearing distance that they're coming down the waterway beats me. When, on those few occasions, I go fishing, I go silent. Would never occur to me to chatter-screetch.
By now regular readers realize that one of my overarching goals in life is to render perfectly a coot running on water. This ain't perfect by a long shot, so my goal still stands.
Found a dead pelican yesterday. Just up the creek froom where they usually gather in the goose wallow on the lake-side of the tall weeds near the pier. Hated seeing that, but we've been worrying about them getting so close — on the shore — for awhile. The body had its neck broken and some of its brains eaten. No real meat taken. Which leads me to believe it wasn't one of our wild critters catching dinner. Sounds more like a dog driven by a more or less human, being. Then called off once it'd murdered one of our big white winter visitors.
Perhaps there should be areas of the lake where dogs are not allowed. The pooches, on and illegally but often off their leashes, have taken over the once wild and beautiful area I call Thistledown Road, where giant, tall thistles used to line the dirt path, now a four-lane concrete roadway. I hated to loose that wild area, but since they got that one for sure now, how 'bout banning dogs in places where wildlife runs thicker than most places at the lake, like Sunset Bay?
I've seen dogs released from their leashes, so they could chase and kill ducks and geese. Even got photographs of. So it's not outrageous to think somebody's dog got the pelican yesterday. Like I say, the remaining pelicans had moved over to the island while the body was still there. So I picked it up thinking I could take photographs like I did of that coot last year. But I didn't have the heart — or stomach — for it. Besides, it had begun to stink something awful.
It is possible that I might share some of the photographs I took of the dead pelican, mostly it lying in place on the bog what must have been a mad dash up the shore from the goose wallow. Pausing to take some shots of it lying in the mud, my left foot sank three inches below, before I picked up the muddy white carcass and had to wet-foot it out of there. But I'm not ready for that. They did not turn out as well as the much smaller coot whenever that was.
Meanwhile, and speaking of stink, cormorants have been perching in the trees along the Hidden Creek area across the bay, too much like they do along Cormorant Bay. And when the wind blows from the north it's stenchful. But there are times when Corms actually look noble.
I've photographed grackles, pelicans and gooses taking splashy water baths. Why not coots? This is either one or two American Coots taking a very splashy book on a 71-degree day in Sunset Bay. This series is especially nice, because the coot is occasionally recognizable among all the suddenly moving water and because that water looks great.
Ugly bird adventure I only might tell you about later, some grackles (usually a desperate move), ducks and then, on the way home, I got an inkling that if I turned right at Barbec's, drove up into the back parking lot at Winfrey, waited and watched, it might be worth my while. There, I saw this. I knew I didn't know what it was, so I photographed it till it jumped and flew away.
I kept shooting. Now I see these — a little too far away for best quality — it looks a lot like that bird I saw perched on a highway sign on our way north a couple weeks ago. I've had my nose in my bird books (better than in some other places) for awhile this evening, and it looks more like an American Kestrel than anything else. So that's my judgement till Betsy tells me different.
Glad I was able to catch it in flight, wings up, wings down and swooping. Helped a little to identify it.
The best thing about birds that are so confused or lost or whatever that they keep flying in great wide circles overhead is that they come back around every few seconds for awhile. Makes photographs more interesting and the possibility of group focus more likely.
Last shot was with the sun behind. This is with the sun shining on their undersides as they arc around over Sunset Bay.
Might have been a little more detail but the sun was back behind it. Kinda dark and mysterious.
My special affection for Muscovy Ducks extends to their gorgeous luminescent feathers in brown, white, black and green.
Even to their wartoid faces. Friendly, if lumpoid birds. Some of our favorites. And if you think this is ugly, maybe you'll be unlucky enough for me to tell you my latest bird tale tomorrow.
Gray and cold. Typical of the day after or the day before Thanksgiving here, it's turned sudden cold. Nice to know that after a long delayed summer and long delayed autumn, Thanksgiving is right on the mark. Not many birds out waiting to be photographed, though I found two species photogenic enough. The first, however, was too far away for identification or much detail.
Must be Hawk Season in Dallas for my luck with those species lately. I hope I'm alternating too far away with plenty close enough. Too dark out to use low ISO for rich detail and color, so I stuck it on a grainy 800 and hoped for something, nearly anything and settled for texture, a hint of color and vague notions of markings.
Looks more like an addlepated artist's rendering of a hawk than anything real. Pixelized grain from blowing it up from a tiny speck on a wide vista of trees, sky and a reddish hawk flying toward a copse of trees back off Winfrey Point toward Stone Tables.
Then it turned around over those trees near the top of Winfrey and flew back to its tree top view of all it commanded. Ozymandias Hawk. When I drove down Lawther toward the Bath House to maybe check it out closer, some rich house there had a crew of air blowers, lawn mowers and other noise-makers and my big, beautiful red hawk was gone.
Wish I could have got closer. Might then have resolved where exactly the red was. My best guesses are either a Red-shouldered or Red-tailed Hawk, probably adult. I'll look for it again next time I'm in the area, early next week.
So I followed Lawther around past all the big lust-worthy houses with their magnificent view of the lake and the city beyond and settled behind the bath house where a bunch of gulls had settled into playing musical chairs with the night-glow poles back there. You can see the red and blue construction at Tilley's Point behind them on the far side of the lake.
I chose gulls today, because they were closer than they usually get and close. The near poles, like all the far poles, each had a gull on them, and it was pretty easy getting them in focus, since some of them weren't moving around much, and I knew where those descending from the upper reaches were probably going to perch, even if another gull was already there.
Not so completely obvious in this shot, but plenty plain in these others, that for a change, I've let these images retain the grainy pixelization that results from the combination of lousy light and high ISO shooting.
Sometimes it's a bother, and it's easy enough to filter out with DFine or several other Photoshop filters. But other times there's a beauty in it the basic compositional makeup of an actual photograph showing its stuff. In essential black & white, like these shots, it achieves a certain elegance.
I think I may have DFined this one — or the sun came out. Sure looks like the grain is gone. Perhaps a more polished photo, but it lacks the moodiness. Odd how a little thing like that, what may be considered a mistake, can amp the emotion in a photograph.
Quick trip before big day dinner I saw several dozen pelicans over Winfrey and Sunset, off toward Duckfia. Cold day, so they took the warm thermals up, often in pairs, lines and in great spiraling circles speck-like high overhead.
More information is online about our winter visiting American White Pelicans on Wikipedia, which says they only winter in California; Fort Worthian Stewart Warren who says a neck vertibrae prohibits them from raising their faces; eNature, whose account seems accurate, and, of course, Mr. Audubon himself, who it perhaps should be noted, killed a bunch of them in order to study them more precisely.
I notice most of the photographs of white pelks on sites are overexposed, no detail in all that white, when really there's lots going on in texture and color on the big white birds. I usually underexpose (minus on the meter, higher numbered apertures or faster shutters speeds than called for) them 2/3 stop in bright sunlight, under even more in searing sunlight or slightly less under gray skies. Shooting into their shadows in trees or flying over, I overexpose (lower f numbers, slower shutter speeds.)
Same with egrets. Dark birds need more exposure. Light ones less. Both tones in one shot is always a compromise.
Coots running on water is pretty easy. Get too close and they run. Today, easy was just fine.
Looking around for birds in Parrot Bay, I was surprised to pick up on this guy, standing in the edge of reeds on the far side of the bay.
Same tele shot blown up so we can see the spiffy details on this rakish fashion plate GBH. GQ material. I looked for it as I walked past the long line of reeds, but I never managed to pick the gray shape from all the intersticed linearity.
Hearing the excited chatter of Red-winged Blackbirds in the reeds on the far side of so-called Parrot Bay (See map.), I stared and stared till I found a sole RWBB low in the reeds. I got a couple other shots sharp of the epaulet, but none with a head and beak, so we'd know for sure this is a bird in there. I like the reeds all rendered in shadows and highlight. Great depth. Nice basketry.
Fussing with the reeds, I looked up to see a random compression flight of grackles heading my way, over me, then over to the houses across the street, back completely around and gone beyond.
Coming back from the big par lot (boat ramp) they're reworking into god knows what, I semi-automatically picked my hidden Great Blue Heron out from the reeds. Auto-focus could never have "seen" the heron for the reeds, so I switched to manual focus and got it right on. This time.
I figured that was it for today's bird luck, when I steered in toward the Boat House, veered off, parked in the upper deck so I could camera out the window watching a bunch of parakeets and grackles pecking the lawn up the hill toward the playground. Keets are usually a wary lot, but they were busy eating and flapping, then eating some more. Something in the grass. Might have been nicer to have its face show, but the colors and tail shape is amazing. Red orange poles are the playground.
Gracks were with them pecking grass, so when they took wing, gracks went with.
Same birds a few flaps later.
Ya jest nevah know waz gonna yappen. So I take what I can take, then hope for something a little different. Today the two clouds of white feathery pelicans helped my plight by doing some basic and advanced beak stretches. Then, when I tired of the yap action, along came something even more exciting. And, in focus!
Here's a view of beak we usually don't get to see. Or want to, much.
Pelican eye view.
There's a certain length of rigid lower mandible holding the rest of it, uh, up.
This is not a simple, still photo. It's one of a very fast series of shots as this pelican wiggle-woggles its pouch.
This is another of a series of stretches.
And a pancake pouch wave.
The whole progression is quick, usually in the same order, although the first two are sometimes interchanged.
All of which is sometimes accompanied by a pouch hoop stretch between 2 and 3.
Then the bird returns again to preen mode, or swims out to the other cloud of pelks. The wiggle-waggle, however, does not always proceed into the rest of these motions. Sometimes I can guess which bird will do it next. But most of the time it's a surprise, so I keep watching, watching, watching with the camera uncomfortably ready, lens at wide zoom, hand grasping it over the top, so I can quickly twist / zoom in on one pelk stretching.
Eventually tiring of the big white birds with funny noses, I started back for my car when this large, powerful looking bird that had to either be a hawk or an eagle, flew over my head and into the trees. From the moment I saw it, the overwhelming impression was, this is one large bird.
From the pier I watched it scatter other birds in its path, then land on a tree up the shore a bit. I'm not sure if that extension off its wing is tree or bird. If bird, it may have stayed awhile dealing with the errant feather(s). I quick-walked, being careful not to run over to maybe get some more shots, if the hawk would rest there till I caught under it.
It did. Long enough even for me to position my lens view nearly directly up and focus on something besides the branches in the way. Should, for a big change, be good enough detail and exposure to identify this bird. Unless I know the species well, and I don't this, I put off i.d. till I have the image big on my monitor. As usual, it doesn't look exactly like any of the images in my most useful bird i.d book, The Sibley Guide to Birds, which usually shows under- and top-side images of each species, including females, juveniles and various morphs, none of which quite matches this one, which seems more tan than white with not quite the right markings, and I don't know why its mid tail is blurred.
If I'm wrong about it being a Red-tail, I'm sure Betsy Baker will send a correction. Of all the hawks, I should know this one best. But ...
A minute or so later, it had rested enough, or scoped out the territory to not find what it'd hoped to here, to jump back into flight. A little focus-light, but look at that power and apparent strength.
Then this large chunk of hawk flew away.
Visiting college friends in the boones thisaft we saw these guys going at it over "the backyard" while we enjoyed lunch on the veranda. We heard the crows cawing, saw the white bird in front of the chase and remembered an earlier hawk mobbing. Farther than that time this, but brighter exposure. I would have liked to be closer to the action, but lunch was wonderful and the cinemascopic production up there was a kind of magnificent entertainment splaying across the sky.
For us and probably the crows, if not for the hawk, who may have been a juvenile Red-tailed, this wide-screen encounter was light but noisy entertainment. Red-tailed Hawks are known for their diverse plumage, including very light undersides. Like this one. Also like this oone, their tails are stripeless, appear brown or reddish in contrast with their body and underwings, and their shoulders and wingtips are dark. At least some varieties are. They are common here.
Usually, an interspecies menacing like this is a case of the hawk entering what the crows consider their territory, so a bunch of them gang up on the intruder, cawing, grabbing and bumping into it till the hawk or owl gets the message and leaves.
I assume both birds seek the same or similar prey or the crows wouldn't care. Invertebrates are on both lists. But it may be territorial imperative more than what's there that's worth crow attacks. A net search for "crows vs. hawks" turns up a variety of information, stories and amateur movies of such interspecies encounters. They're common but fascinating. I've never seen a hawk or owl win, although we remember a painting by long-time SMU art prof Roger Winter that showed a hawk clenching the limp body of an evil, red-eyed crow, though nothing so violent happened here.
This hawk flew over as we visited an old cemetary on the property. My best guess is either a Swainson's or a Red-tailed. It may or may not have been the same bird as the crows mobbed.
I saw a Kestrel on a highway sign on the way there but we went by so quick it was hard to know for sure. There we both caught a quick glimpse of a Roadrunner (beep-beep) but neither of us were quick enough with cameras. The memory, however, is fixed.
I've finally updated the Feedback page.
Went on an Audubon Dallas field trip called "The Owl Prowl" led by Mike Moore at Arbor Hills Preserve, 6701 Parker Road in Plano (in Denton County). We might have seen a Screech Owl (above), a Great Horned Owl and/or a Barred Owl. Some of us actually saw one Screech Owl several times or three or four different ones. I heard one or two owls at least four times. But I only photographed this one, and this is the best of 15 shots of it.
I could have got images in two other settings if I had a dedicated flashlighter. Mike held the light for more than a minute while I hand-held 17 exposures (from .7 to 1.1 seconds each) with my stabilized zoom. The best shot was my last. The third exposure looks like a six-eyed blur, because I shook the camera so much during the half-second exposure.
Mike drew Screech Owls to us by playing a recording of the subtle whinny then tremolo of their calls. Like their eventual responses, not very loud but repeated. Gradually, I learned the audio difference between the static-y tape and the real owls in the distance. It's a tried and true method for drawing owls to check out or fight off the newbie bird but is not to be used after December 1.
When we found a likely spot, we'd form a scattered circle, our backs to the middle, each listening in a different direction. Whoever heard a responding owl pointed and we'd move closer along the concrete path till one of the experienced prowlers spotlighted the visitor. This one came within about 30 feet and perched low in a tree behind a lot of branches that would have deflected a flash.
Anna saw several owls, two perching and two others flying against the night sky. Even if I only saw this one tiny (about 8.5 inches long) owl, however, it was great fun tuning into owl calls in the dark, and a thrill to see and photograph even one.
Anna found a recording of a Screech Owl online, but it doesn't sound much like Mike's tape or the owls I heard.
This is what the gang did when I arrived today. Pretty much had to be me. Nobody else around. Don't usually have to tip-toe around pelicans. They're big birds, usually don't even notice our presence.
This time, however, they quickly flurried into action soon as I walked onto the pier in Sunset Bay. Wish they'd waited a little. I needed to adjust exposure down a little, and it would have been nice to photograph their rapid egress more from the side or front. When they got about 20 yards out, they stopped and began swimming back. Not looking very sheepish, but I told them they ought to be feeling silly, as exciting as it was there for a few seconds.
Then they settled into their usual not very exciting sit and stare behaviors and stretching various portions of their anatomies.
And, of course, the all-important preening. Truly important to get all their flying gear, feathers, wings, etc. in top flying condition. But they do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on it.
The colors I think about when I think about American White Pelicans are simple. There's black, white, orange and sometimes pink. Brown hasn't previously entered the equation. I don't think it's a trick of light. Those primaries and secondaries are brown here, not black. More autumnal perhaps. Distinctive.
When pelicans hold their wings up off their bodies like this it's probably not to look decorous. They're opening their feathers up to a breeze and the sun. As long as it takes to dry things out, they keep the wings held high. Soon as that's done, down come the wings, and they look a lot less like Esther Williams's swim team waving big feathery fans.
I've read both 12 and 14 feet for the usual length of an adult American White Pelican's wingspan. That's long. Seeing them flying low commando-style wingtip-to-wingtip lends a sense of power. Watching one flap its wings isn't nearly that exciting, but I always turn the lens on them when they do.
Difficult to discern whether it was the greedy gut gulls who got there first or the cormorants. Probably the gulls. I've been trying to catch them doing something interesting all week. Got lots of pix of them flying. They do that pretty well. Nothing on Jonathan Livingston Turkey Vultures, of course, or ravens — they're amazing. But not bad. They've often out flying over the water looking for food. So I'm guessing they and the corms found the fish first.
Within minutes, the aggressive fish-eaters in sight (or tuned into the telepathy) joined the fray. We call the way cormorants' heads and necks stick up from the surface "snake heads," because that's what they look like with their bodies ride just at or just under the water. Lots of snake heads out there by this shot. With a few pelicans and more on the way.
Pelicans bunched up near the shore seemed to be sending two or three representatives at a time to the party. Here, two bright pelicans, their long wings stretching to grab air, hop over the water to get up air speed.
This all seems disjointed to me. I'd brought my little Canon today, hoping to get some video for the big TV set in the middle of the room my show at the White Rock Lake Museum in the Bath House Cultural Center will be in January through mid-April. At least to get started shooting video again. Frustrated because I was shooting two different media with two different cameras, and a lot was going on out there that I wasn't capturing with either.
Gradually, I learned (again) that to shoot video, I had to had to had to use a tripod. That medium is about subject movement, not me shaking and waving the camera around. The motion that's important there needs to be set squarely against what isn't. Mine's so shaky it hurts to watch, even though it shows intriguing activity by birds I've been portraying as still moments for the last year or so. Capturing split seconds is big-time different from showing motion and telling the rest of the story.
About that story. More and more birds joined the fishing party. Until suddenly (It seemed sudden.) it was over. The whole mad exciting rush of birds swimming and flying and running this way and that way and flying to and over and around. Stopped.
Not always true that I know what I'm looking for when I get to the lake. I watched some Ring-billed Gulls in Cormorant Bay from Bent Bridge for a long time. But the gulls never did anything interesting, and the corms never did anything I hadn't seen them do hundreds of times before. This either, but I liked the shapes. I still think of grackles as Shape Shifters, but they got nothing on Double-crested Cormorants.
More cormorants, doing something a little different. These were in Sunset Bay. Nice and close, lots of feather detail, but what's interesting is that they're beaking. Smaller beaks than pelicans, of course, but that same clashing action like swording, with them.
Northern Pintails are a new species for me. Unlike most birders, I don't count a new species (I've thought about having a page with just my new species, but it's much more interesting here) unless I get a sharp photograph of them.
Same birds. I think there might have been as many as two pair of them in the bay today. Slightly different view, so we can see their tails a little better. These are not showing the whole long pin tails, but I'm pretty sure that's what they are.
Not a whole new species, just the first back for this season. The difference between Lesser and Greater Scaups is that Lessers have a slight crown on top of their heads. I'm thinking these are Lessers. I'll know when I see a female. As usual, they're swimming with coots, and it takes a bit to focus on them, there are so many similarities, though it may not look like it here. Most of the crowd were coots.
Thought it'd be nice to have a Lesser Scaup doing something besides just swimming around.
I was in the bay, and lots of pelks were there, too. And they were close (They were far last time I was there, but they were back in today), so I shot a lot of pelican photographs. I have no idea why I shot this one, but I sure do like it. Phalanx?
While I stood out on the pier, I watched and felt the front race across the lake towards us. It got noticeably windier and slightly cooler. I think the pelks thought it was warm enough for a good, loud, splashy bath. Lots of splashing.
And wing action, slapping cupped against the surface makes a really loud slap, flup, flup, flup. Slosh.
The whole body gets involved sometimes. Looks goofy here, but the whole thing looked like fun, if a little on the cool side for humans.
I always get a little excited when pelicans are this close, so we can show all their cute little details, like wrinkles and spots. Love the, well it's not a duck tail exactly, but the fly-away look on top.
Here I'm going for the bill action again. Not shaped like an asterisk, exactly. But a melange of them there in the middle.
I keep trying to sneak up on crows. And they keep flying away. The mighty, patient, bird-watcher's going to get a complex, if this keeps up. Going to Tawakoni yester, we saw crows in a farm (ranch?) yard. Coming back, I subtly slid Blue over to that side of the highway. And the crows immediately all flew away.
Happened again today. Big black birds gamboling on the grassy knoll down to the lagoon. Bicyclers, walkers, cars go by. Birds keep picking stuff out of the grass, walk around like they owned the place. I sidle up close in Blue. They fly.
Pretty birds with big beaks. Everything black. Unless of course, the sun is shining. I like a lot about them, except that they tend to agitate hawks.
I'll keep at this crow thing. One was cawing today, and I was so excited to get it on silicon. That crow wasn't facing me, but the beak and eyes were in sight, and it seemed so sharp and clear. But it was in the dark shade, shot at slow shutter speed, and all a blur.
Having read on the Dallas Audubon Bird Chat that 90 species of birds had been observed at nearish-by Lake Tawakoni this month, we visited Sunday hoping to find a dozen or so. Instead, except for one possible exception, we found the same birds as at White Rock. I may have seen a falcon on a sign by the side of the road east of Dallas. (Or not.) We both saw a low flying and very blue Great Blue Heron flying low through a small town on the edge of the lake. But all those were too fast or too far or we didn't have our cameras out.
Lots of gulls, probably Ring-billed variety. One smallish yellow-fronted bird that could have been a Western Kingbird (more probable than the falcon), and at least a couple dozen Forster's Terns flying both higher up and closer to shore than they do at White Rock.
I spent several minutes sneaking up on a largish brown bird on a far limb that turned out to be a cormorant. And at another point on the looping wildlife trail in the state park, Anna repeatedly pointed to a small brown bird on a small brown log slightly into the lake. Took me a long time to see a Killdeer, brown and white in a brown and white microcosm.
And a bunch of smallish brown birds with reddish and bluish parts and white underneath whose eyes were spectacled, and I kept hoping were not robins. (They aren't). Their short, pointy black beaks, white unders and blue tails should make I.D.ing easier, but I haven't figured them out yet.
Says Betsy Baker, "She's an Eastern Bluebird. That half ring of white around the eye tells you she's a female, not to mention the lack of brilliant blue on the upper side. I think perhaps the reason you had difficulty with the ID is that your photograph shows more detail than, say, a Sibley illustration does. Field guide illustrations are designed to show you what you'd be likely to see with the aid of binoculars, which is less than you can see in a photograph if you've got a powerful lens.
Those little streaks of white below the
eye and the white edges on some of the wing feathers in your photo may have
thrown you off if you were expecting to see them in the field guide illustration.
Then, too, the angle of view in a field guide is generally from the side and
birds are always presenting themselves from different angles altogether.
In trying to match your photos to something in a field guide, don't expect to find absolute correspondence in all the small details. Individual birds of a species vary a bit from each other, just as humans do. They can hold their feathers at different angles, or the wind can ruffle their feathers, or the tips of their feathers wear off after awhile (starlings, House Sparrows), or they can look different when in the process of molting, so that an individual of a species looks different at different times of year, under different weather conditions, etc. They even look different in different parts of the country. That's what makes it challenging!
I've been wanting to see a bluebird for a long time. How delightful to have seen a flock of them! The problem with that joy is that until I processed the images in Photoshop, I couldn't see most of the bluebirds, because I saw them as silhouettes. I managed to guess the correct overexposure, but as usual with stupid old Single Lens Reflexes, I couldn't see what I'd shot till much later, because I needed to keep shooting to maybe get one right. Eventually the birds got nervous and flew off. Then I looked at the LCD to see what I'd got.
When people ask me which digital SLR they should get, I always ask why they'd want an SLR. I rarely get an answer. In its current state of development SLRs are not ideal for birding or anything else. Just the best there is till a faster Point & Shoot with a larger sensor is developed.
New place again today. What I'm calling Egret Cove in Parrot Bay, exotic orange flowers and tall reed bogs near the southermost of the three closest parking lots on the lake, I think. Hadn't been there in a while. Thought I might see the Kingfisher I'd seen and heard fishing there last year, maybe some far-off pelicans — never dreaming I'd get both in one shot and not know it. Nor did I think I'd have a hawk fly this close over. Pretty good deal overall.
Betsy Baker says, "I think your best guess on the "Unsub Hawk Over" is correct — juvenile Cooper's Hawk. You're getting better at this bird identification business all the time. Congrats!!! That first shot of it with the sun shining through the wings is particularly good for an ID." So I changed the caption above.
Exploring the wide-leaf jungle near the point when a large gray, brownish bird jumped from the other side and bee-lined over the small bridge, up the creek, and into the trees. Didn't register as one of my regulars. Bigger than a pigeon, smaller than a heron, fast. The concept of hawk entered my mind as I followed under its trajectory.
Pretty sure it didn't go farther than those trees, I stood under, photographing a form fleeting through the branches, then spent too much time focusing on vaguely bird-like and gently moving pieces of dark plastic through the branches in the soft breeze. Employing my famous patience, I hung around till the hawk broke silence and flew back over. Nice of it. Maybe it was curious about the photographer.
I've paged through Sibley and I didn't, at first, know which hawk this was. My best guess is it's a Cooper's Hawk.
Before the hawk tracked me, I shot two American White Pelicans on the chance nothing else'd turn up. This the second of two shots. Set to underexpose so the pelks wouldn't render white, but still got them and the far shore so bright I had to darken them, providing perfect exposure for the Belted Kingfisher jetting by when all I could see was two pelicans. Strange. Fortuitous.
This detail from the upper left corner (actually somewhere upper middle since the "full" shot is a crop) is so enlarged it pixelates. Still, the Belted Kingfisher is distinctly identifiable. More so than the hawk, which was a lot closer and in better focus. Luck is such an integral part of bird watching.
Not my record for number of turtles in one shot, but probably my best ever of them. Less wonderful of the egret, who's just standing there with all those dynamic turtles. They look amazing, big chunky mitts, nearly all leaning in the same direction, striving into the sun, showing their stripes and red highlights.
Why they call it a Great Blue Heron. But only in certain light.
Why they should go ahead and call it a Great Gray Heron instead. In different light, this same bird looks entirely different.
Says unamateur Betsy Baker, "That could cause some confusion with the closely related Gray Heron found in India. Blue is a structural color rather than a pigment color, so you see it only when the light falls on the feathers from the right angle. In the case of this heron, gray-blue would be a more accurate term — it's not really even blue-gray, is it!"
Standing with a just-caught fish the catching of which I missed altogether. Neck and throat thickening for the big drop.
This was a long time later. I have no idea why it is staring up in space. I've never if ever seen them do this before. Why do birds do anything?
Comments Betsy Baker, "Could it be waiting for the fish to finish making its way down that long gullet?"
I dutifully photographed all the trees along the wall of them on the far side of the lagoon, expecting dozens of herons hiding there in plain sight. But not a single one showed in the resulting photographs that I carefully perused. I did see and manage to photograph one heron today. It was quickly flying away from the first I noticed it. Nice of its head to cast a recognizable shadow on its flight wings below.
See the rough zigzag striations along this grackle's wagging beak? Nice decor. Beak open but emitting no sound I could sense. This bird flew up to the walking bridge near the Boat House, hung out in my shadow awhile (I'm used to it, have an orange cat), then scooted over into the sunshine to continue its pantomime soliloquy. Getting this close to any bird is always a charge to me, even a grackle.
Betsy Baker says, "Oh, yes — I think female! Juvenile males would have dark irises. Probably not yapping in a frequency you can't hear, though. Birds lose heat by opening their bills like that and panting. The fact that it stood in your shadow suggests that it was trying to avoid having more heat added by the sun while it lost heat by panting. See this essay on Temperature Regulation and Behavior."
Not quite in Full Stealth mode, but we can tell it's leaning into the kill here.
Nanoseconds later, sploosh into the drink.
Fluster around in there beaking at it.
Bringing up the startled catch for the nice photographer to snap.
Position it just right in the beak may take some dancing around in the balance.
Drop it down the widened gullet.
Gulp up a little water to wash it down.
Stand there a bit looking really posh and dapper with its ruff back lighted by the sun, hold that position till it's all the way down.
Then go back and catch some more, hoping you get it before the competition does.
Expecting again not all that much success, I shot everything that interested me. Not that that's a new policy. I have, however, more recently, begun to shoot fewer frames. Ever since I learned that after a certain number of shutter clunks, I'll have to replace the shutter. Which I doubt will be cheap. Today, I visited the Boat House Lagoon, expecting a challenge. There's always birds there, but interesting birds are more difficult to discover or discover doing something interesting.
Not sure a "wiry" Muscovy flapping its flimsy wings qualifies, but I think so. Muscovies are fat like fat gooses. They do fly, and I have seen that arduous process, but it's slow going and ponderous. Birds flap their wings for the same reasons they stretch their beaks and we yawn and stretch ours. This muscovy seems inordinately thin. Its crown, too, has hair sticking up in thin clumps. Hence, "wiry." They are remarkably ugly yet friendly and gentle.
As I told Steve Blow before we met for conversations that led to that story in the Dallas Morning News he wrote about me, I always go across the foot/bike bridge first thing I get to that location. Looking for unusual birds I haven't seen in awhile. Black-crowned Night Herons are in that category this year. I was thinking on my way there today that the reason I haven't seen many of them this year is that the informal rookery in Upper Lakewood (actually in some guy's front yard and extending out over the street, that was often stained with foul-smelling fowl feces. Till they guy rid us all of the rookery.
I'm sure that had some bearing on what appears to be a lowering of the population of lake Black-crowns. It has to. But another reason may be a little more obvious when we get past this noble series of photographs. The Snowy Egret fishing in the lagoon was obvious from the moment I got out of my car. Even from my habitual bridge crossover routine, however, I could not see any Black-crowns on the island near the Snowy.
When I finally did see one warming its beak among its downy feathers, I could only see that one. I crept closer to the edge of the lagoon and held my camera with long zoom as still as possible. Click, click and click. Then, surprisingly, the bird did something I've never seen a heron do before — or have never been close enough when one did it to actually capture it on silicon.
No idea what this bird is doing or why, but ain't it strange? It kept that tongue out like this maybe three seconds. I saw it start and I shot three shots in that second. Note also the long thin, forward portion of the tongue and the lumpy portion in the back. Here, it's almost obvious. When I shot the pelican tongue last month, it seemed questionable that it was really tongue front and tongue back. Now, with this image, that observation seems more likely.
In a clumsy attempt to get closer and make better photographs, I frightened the bird, who flew up almost immediately. It was then I realized I was stalking three Black-crowns, not just one. Any of which I might have startled, since I never saw them till they bolted.
This is them bolting through the tree I crouched under to get closer and keep them from seeing me. Ha.
And this is one of those two herons heading for the trees on the far side of the lagoon. I didn't see them when I was out there shooting, but now we can see three additional herons in the tree. I know one of the three that flew away from the island landed on the far side of the lagoon, because I photographed it there later, so there's probably a bunch more herons over there in the trees just this side of the old railroad bed.
Tromping down the former tracks would simply scare them all away. I've tried that. I'm too clumsy. What I think I need to do is take some Off, a comfy portable chair, maybe a tripod and some of my legendary patience.
After shooting at the lake today, I went on a long, wild tour of art spaces I'd never been to before, and I nearly forgot I'd shot any birds today. (When I say that that way I often remember the birders' patron saint, who, in order to study and draw birds, actually killed them first. My "bullets" are digital files and don't hurt birds. Most of the beak-stretches I've shot have been from the other side, not showing the bird's upper beak, head and eyes. So this was a new view.
Not that I planned it. I was lucky enough to see its head go up, and I just started clicking away.
Now where was I? Oh, I thought I hadn't got anything worth posting. There was one flapping goose, that wasn't even worth messing with, because I kept cropping parts of its head off. Worse, I was aware of the bad framing as I was shooting, but the camera was shooting so fast, I wasn't able to line things up. And I thought — till I actually perused the stack of JPEG documents, nothing else worthwhile. Then while checking my battery power (95%) for today's shoot, I rapid-clicked through the stack and discovered this delicious landing series of that same Great Blue Heron I've been shooting at Sunset Bay all this year and some of last. Notice its flatter fall colors against the fall foliage.
Wings out with all the feathers showing. Legs reaching down for that little bit of earth (a log) sticking up from the water's surface. The party it's joining comprises younger (lighter heads, necks and breasts) and older (mostly all black) Double-crested Cormorants.
Touchdown, and we see the striations down the heron's front, noticeable but not overtly so, like they were earlier last season. Pretty sharp and remarkable detail/clarity from shooting at ISO 200 (1/750th @ f/8) in bright sunlight nearly all the way across the bay (halfway across the lake), then enlarged significantly.
According to Betsy Baker, "On your Great Blue Heron Landing shot, did you notice the bits sticking up from its "wrists" (i.e., middle of the leading edge of the outstretched wings)? Those are the alula feathers and they're essential for low speeds, functioning like the flaps on airplane wings. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alula and www.dinosauria.com/jdp/archie/alula1.htm.
Pretty, huh? Autumn colors and ... What's that light-colored stuff? Little too early for frost. Snow? Ash? Nope. It's cormorant scat, and it stinks now, and it will stink a whole lot worse as time goes on and the layering gets thicker. Soon, it'll be dangerous to walk the paths around Cormorant Bay (See Map.) At night, the sizzle and splatter will be noticeable if you're paying attention. If you're not, wear a big hat.
I didn't want today's entry to be all cormorants, so here's flashy unsub. A Moe Duck?
Mostly, today's words — and most of the pictures — are about cormorants. I stood on Bent Bridge and photographed every corm that flew anywhere near close, and many that just were not. Not, maybe, as exciting as a pelican flyover, but they come fast and dark, and it's always a challenge to get anything at that speed and angle, and I love to fill the frame, and sometimes that just gets stupid. But grand fun.
Amazing when the shots are in focus, because many, many times, they are not. For me, this kind of detail — even if the wing feathers here are black dark — means I shot 40 other shots at the same standing. In the rest, the shape's wrong; we can't see its eye or head, always something.
Cormorants do a both-footed hop to get into the air from water. I've tracked it down in detail before, splash, splash, splash, splash, whoosh into the air at a bounding run. I like the odd wing angles here, but I sure wish that face had been sharper.
Corms are usually aloof. Very strange to have one flop down on its front like this one in Sunset Bay, no more than twenty feet away, over a hedge, right next to two pelicans, it leaned over its shoulder and lunged at later, but that shot's not as sharp or bold as this.
Creeps crap all over Cormorant Bay, bump each other off limbs, but there's lots to like about these jaunty critters. Not sure what, exactly, but exotic ordinariness, like black egrets.
42 bumps on a log. A few participating in preening, but a whole big bunch of them are out there carrying on, hanging out, and whooping it up.
Not a really great picture. I'd like more focus on that angry face, but a Ring-billed Gull about to lay into a coot. Nice feather display.
We'll close with two pelk shots. One about to ski into a two-point landing, too close to have the frame enclose it.
And Three pelicans of one mind. Beaks, left! While they're standing on the shore about where the gooses go out into the lake every night after feeding. Oddly, the pelicans do not participate in bread or corn feedings.
To which, unAmateur Birder Betsy Baker replies, "I note in that one cool shot of three pellies from the back, looking left, you wrote, 'Oddly, the pelicans do not participate in bread or corn feedings.'
Actually, that's not odd at all when you think about it — they're fish eaters. Their bills are quite specialized for catching fish and not at all well adapted to picking up small bits of bread or corn (that little hook on the end of the upper bill would get in the way). Even if they did pick up such bits, the bits would probably just stick to the sides of the pouch — they'd have to take a big drink to wash the bits down towards their throats.
Hardly worth the effort for the little bit of nourishment they might get from some bits of corn or bread, I should think. The fish-eating cormorants don't participate in corn or bread feedings either, you'll have noted. Of course, they also don't wander about on the shore as the pellies sometimes do, which is probably what made you wonder why the pellies don't eat bread or corn."
Hadn't been to Tilley's Point in a while, and we didn't expect to find many birds there but went anyway, despite the fact that there's not a parking lot there anymore. I wanted to photograph the construction extending the point and widening the walking/biking path. That's the red in the reflection behind this white domestic duck, the closest any bird came to the actual construction while we were there. We were surprised any birds came.
This is what drew us to Tilley's today — all those bright colors and repetitive forms and textures. I guess there were more birds there than I expected. I had no idea this image had a Ringed-beak Gull in it, but that's plenty excuse to plant it here.
This is one of the several Ring-bills that flew over and past the construction site remarkably telephoto close.
Hadn't seen any Shovelers at Sunset lately. Their bills are shoveler long, but this one seems to have something on his, making it look even longer. This one swam under and beyond the really shaky pier at Tilley's (also known as Free Advice Point). We both tried standing out there to photograph, and we both walked carefully off it after feeling it sway precipitously beneath us. The pier at Sunset is sturdier but holes keep appearing, perhaps because it's been underwater several times this spring and summer. But then most of the lake's piers have. We think a wholesale replacement is in order, and maybe they could be a little taller.
This pelican, flying out near the middle of the lake after parking awhile with some cormorants and ducks off to the north of Tilley's, flew amazingly low. We were startled and surprised how low they can go. Thrilled to watch it float across the lake at inches altitude. Fine for the elegant sort of soaring a pelican with its 12-foot wingspan can get away with, while cormorants and everybody else is flapping madly, but what about when their wings just have to come down for a good flap to keep them up?
Only happened a couple times while we watched the pelican glide across the lake, but as the wings came mightily down, it rose as needed to flap some, then settled back so close to the surface that a bill-down would have flipped it. Pelicans are amazing flyers, high or low.
Have to get across the lake to see the whole of the barrier. Red must be connectors. Blue the long straight sections. Behind it, they're pumping out water, I assume to replace with rocks then dirt, although maybe that's where the path — or a bent bridge like the one up Lawther, close to Mockingbird Lane, will go. So all those walkers, runners and biclers won't continue to wear away the dirt.
That's about it for birds at Tilley's Point. This and what's below were shot elsewhere. Anna would remember where. She was driving. Perhaps back in Sunset Bay where we drove around to after we exhausted the dwindled bird population of temporarily mechanized Tilley's.
I have long been fascinated with the peculiar, lobed feet of the American Coot. I photographed one up close and a little too personal last year, after it'd died, probably hit by a car or bicycle. But that one's feet had turned black, and as is obvious here, live coots' feet are yellow and gray with black texture. Amazing what they do with them. More about which eventually, perhaps when I get the Coot page started and finished.
Of course, I shot lots more pictures of pelicans at rest in Sunset Bay. Many were there doing that. A whole lot of preening going on right on the shore next to the rotting pier where the goofy gooses used to hang out. Only a few stalwart ducks were there with the pelks today. I'm thinking when the pelks first started moving over there in the middles of afternoons, it wasn't to join the gooses so much as to entirely supplant them. I love having them close enough to photograph in great detail.
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Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"