October 31 2007
You've read this far, you know I get obsessed sometimes. Reader Susan P emailed me saying she'd seen "over a hundred peeps feeding on the spillway steps." Not knowing the term, I googled "peeps," but decided that cute marshmallow chickens and bunnies probably weren't out there feeding in the shallows. Right then, Anna emailed talking about her peeps, meaning "[her] kind of people."
Says Betsy Baker: "The most common peep
we get in quantity is the Least Sandpiper, not the Spotted. When you see
a flock of peeps at the spillway like that, you want to ask yourself if there
is any good reason NOT to think they're mostly Leasts. In this case I can't
find one. Their bills are shorter than the Spotted's and the white line in
their wings is longer than the
Spotted's. I'd go with predominantly (possibly entirely) Leasts. Nice flight
Didn't think her friends were out there, either, so I asked Susan what a peep was. She said "Peeps" are what birders call sandpipers and other small shore birds, adding "I doubt it is a very scientific sort of classification, but I didn't make it up." But Sibley calls them that, too, so perhaps it is science.
So I began watching the concrete flats under the dam for peeps each time I drove by. Wasn't always sure there weren't, but today I was certain peeps were out there, parked up a rich residential cross street, walked carefully across Garland Road, photographed a juvenile Great Blue Heron on the rim, walked down even with the dam and lodged myself between iron and keep-out fences there.
I saw peeps that looked familiar, probably shot them there before. Books show it's either a Least or a Spotted Sandpiper, probably Spotted. They're all the same species, though in different light they look different. They were picking along the puddles on the cement down from the dam, scurrying in spurts. Looked down at that angle they seemed tiny. I shot a couple but the images were blurry.
Then something spooked them. They flew a few yards away as one, undulating amorphous blob, landed looking wary, tentative. Then exploded into the air again, a fast cloud of gray specks past the dam and out over the lake, swooping then turning back past the dam again over where they'd started, turned again, momentary white in the sunlight, hovered briefly unsure, then out again in random compression like a storm of gnats.
I've watched and wondered at the pigeons in Sunset Bay, scattering from that same tree so many times, at any excuse, ganged together wheeling into wider circles, out over the water, back around the tree, twice or more to gain bearing, then a couple more times just to make sure, finally settling where they started as if it were new territory.
Then do it all again a few minutes later. Sandpipers may be brighter than pigeons. Their circles are bigger, changes of direction more sudden — and have to be more organized — and there were so many more of them there today.
Out and back, out, back, and back again, I watched and photographed the mob mentality so needful of fleeing yet reluctant to leave, yessing and no-ing, till eventually they settled where they'd started, still unsure.
These are three bird species I've been eyeing from a distance for awhile now. I've shown other pics of the Terns, which like this one, are often on and around The Logs out in Sunset Bay. This is just a particularly interesting photograph, a small portion of a much larger image shot at the longest end of my 70-300mm Nikon zoom lens. Nice configurating of wings is why it's here.
This bird, this duck, is one I've been noticing the last several times I've been in Sunset Bay paying way too much attention to pelicans. I got this, the best shot yet of it, yesterday before we set out from Sunset. It's usually swimming about ten feet out from the shore and parallel to it. Closest I've found in the bird books is a Gadwall, which it resembles mostly in head shape and color configuration, but not really.
What distinguishes this specimen is its black beak with white or silver, swoop back and up on both sides its fine, lined gray down its sides; its black and white, pointed tail;; and white splotched cheek and white on the back of its head. Name it and claim it.
Betsy Baker says, "Not a Gadwall looks to me like a drake Northern Pintail in an intermediate state of molt. He's coming into breeding plumage but isn't entirely there yet."
It usually swims with two brown ducks with distinctive white rings of two sizes around their necks. I assume there's one each of both sexes, though which is which is as much a mystery as which is what. Both varieties in question are probably, as most ducks are, variations of Mallards. In this shot, the Not A Gadwall swam along with, just to the right.
started at Sunset Bay then walked purposely away, eager to show photographs of something, almost anything, besides pelicans. We circumnavigated Winfrey, the building and the point, checking tree by tree for Mockingbirds, flycatchers, woodpeckers or anything else. No deal. No birds. Or hardly any. Even the great, only occasionally mowed, supposedly natural meadow was empty of birds today.
Plenty cormorants on The Logs out in the bay and flying past our various stops along the edge of the water around the point. I panned five or six of them, just to get shots of that in case nothing else showed itself, and for a long time, not much else did. Sitting at a bench or picnic table on our longest walk in awhile, I noticed a lot of cormorants floating out in the lake.
A few seconds later, after messing with my camera, I looked up and back out, and a good percentage of them were suddenly gone. But where? I did a couple involuntary double-takes, stared there and around. A lot fewer cormorants in sight. Took long seconds to figure it out. They'd gone under.
A popular activity, getting more popular by the minute, as we watched in amazement and the Cormorant Flotilla came closer — after we'd carefully asked the Universe for anything It could offer — hungry cormorants flying in from around the lake. Sibley insists that cormorants fly high, but every flying corm we saw today, flew low, often only a few inches over the surface, as if their beating wingtips would touch the surface.
Seeing their fishing success, each new group swooped in to join the frey.
Landed and joined the party.
When cormorants dive, they jump up a little, then curve down into the water, like the one in the middle, just left of the winged wonder splashing down.
Their submersion is often accompanied by a singular spurt of water. Here, two cormorants dive at almost the same time.
When they surge up from swimming after fish there's even more of a splash. Note the bird in the back middle causing the biggest splash here. It appears to have something in its beak.
A fish, and a good-sized one, too. No other bird seems unduly concerned with the bird that catches the fish. No rush to grab the "territory" like pelicans often engage in or mad dog pile rush coots enact when one of them gets a piece of bread or a Frito. These birds seem more of a community than some others.
This, of all the shots I made today, shows birds clearly arching over to go under while others splash up. Amazing that they chose to do all this close enough to shore that I could capture them in such detail at the long end of my 70-300mm zoom.
Having circled all around the outside of Winfrey Point, we returned up and over the hill, past the building and back down toward Sunset Bay, where I saw giant pelicans gyring a grand spiral up through the autumnal colors of Hidden Creek.
Except for two bands on one pelican's left leg and two big white birds balancing on their right foot, today's entry is about beaks. Pelks don't have hands, so they have to use something to establish dominance. Beaks are it in the persuit of pecking-order.
I may have seen this behavior in pelicans before, but I don't remember it. I have seen ducks, gooses, coots, egrets and various other species balance into it. I've always thought of it as comedic expression, but it seems to serve some deep inner function.
See? Funny is the only explanation.
Looks uncomfortable and, especially the big green one sure looks like it might get in the way. I'm wondering whether we can discover who banded them and where and why, and whether we can further the information feedback system in some way. Enough of feet, let's go back to beaks.
Not an uncommon occurrence, nor that I've got an image of it. What's different this time, besides the details from being so very close when it happened, is that I managed to capture some of the more elusive between expression expressions, some of which surprised me, as you will shortly see.
Little details like that round protrusion at the back of the beak that I've never seen before. Heretofore, I thought they just bent the lower mandible back over their chest. This is more than that. What or why I don't know yet.
Another new shape for this photographer. It does resemble a teapot, huh?
That little cut-off hosey thing a tongue? Or what?
(In the following, I'm green and, as usual, Betsy is amber.)
Betsy Baker emails: "Some great action shots
you've been getting lately. I particularly liked the one of the coot running
over the water and the ones of the pellies stretching their bills & pouches.
That truncated tube inside the bill might be the place where excess salt
(for when the birds are on salt water, such as the Great Salt Lake breeding
grounds) is excreted.
Nat'l Geo page about pelican bills: www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0606/feature3/learn.html
Or, it might be one of the flap-like openings of the epiglottis (see 2nd para of Pelican notes starting at bottom of first page below), tho I doubt it -- it's too centrally located: elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Condor/files/issues/v045n01/p0037-p0038.pdf )
Unless it's the very short tongue (though it certainly doesn't look much like a tongue, does it?)
I think it does. Or
at least the lump behind the tubular protrusion looks very tongue-like.
Here's the most detailed description I have found of the anatomy of the pelican, and having scanned that part of this account (by J. J. Audubon himself), I'll be darned if I think I saw a description of that little tidbit, in spite of the fact that he and his companions killed several birds in order to be able to supply such a detailed description. Perhaps if you read it more slowly than I did?
Kinda frustrating, but I haven't been able to come up with anything definitive yet.
More than a hint what's going on in there. Imagine the fear of a fish trying to escape a line of these maws seining after them in shallower ad shallower water.
Additional examples of Pelican Beak Stretches from last month.
Leads me to believe a portion of the lower mandible is rigid, then the rest of it dangles, wiggles, stretches and opens incredibly wide.
See how floppy the pelican on the right's forward, lower mandible becomes?
After a small and malevolently smiling child frightened away the very large grackle I was sneaking up upon, I veered off my usual path the family — mom of whom was still cursing me for calling the kid a twirp when I told him not to be scaring birds — followed and walked instead along the shore mid-bay. Guess who I found flying silently by, both low — 8-12 inches off the surface, and high — somewhere between me and the sun?
I have been overflown by by American White Pelicans before, but it's been awhile and always a thrill. You know that frame I love to fill with birds, so we get to see more textures and other avian details? This image is the whole of one frame. Somewhat reduced from original size, of course. But in nearly all its glory.
Look at those big, lobed feet. Probably my favorite part of coots. (I photographed a dead one's once, just to finally see them in great detail.) Running across the surface of the rippling lake. Their usual method of escape, not always followed by flight. Very effective for the (pun intended) flighty birds.
Each alternating — left, right, left, right — footstep erupts in a smallish explosions of foamy white. Who could resist liking a bird who walks (runs) on water.
Perversely, we visited the still too leafy Fitchery (Old Fish Hatchery) to photograph birds. Coming in from the park, we heard zero birds, but it was, as nearly always, darker and cooler than the outside. I ploughed on in, turned left and heard a gaggle of birds chattering in an area close to the dam where light strew in splattering the dark woods. This was only the second Northern Flicker I've ever seen. The other, an adult female, was just a little less deep into that same woods last March.
Way I found it was I heard a tree thumping deeply. Walked closer and closer till I thought I had the right tree. Put my hand on the trunk to feel it up there banging into it with a big, strong beak. Even lay down in the dirt to rest, look and shoot straight up into the tree, watching for movement. Eventually tracked down this beauty bashing an upper limb.
Also saw, but was completely unable to get the camera up in time each time a little yellowish bird flitted by. These guys were only slightly easier to photograph. Each time I'd get busy with one perched, a half dozen or more others would wing by.
Still way too many leaves in the trees in the Fitchery for semi-pro birding, but it was gangbusters fun trying. Eventually, I got lost in the wild between the Fitch and the Pumphouse and the dam, turned around when the weeds got too high, finally found the path and escaped with prized pix and visions of oh, so many others.
Visited the Spillway Steps again. Mostly to avoid the dreaded pelk. Expected egrets. There were plenty. But first bird I saw was this elegant, bright Great Blue Heron. Skating like they appear to do in shallow water. Don't know what that dance is about, but fun to watch. Almost as if they had skates on those long legs just rolling along. Slow, methodical.
What this one did when it saw me was fly away. So I photographed it. I love watching them, but photographs last longer.
It flew immediately off toward the scat-splattered concrete far wall. I watched and photographed.
Surprised I could see it this far. Such a grand, little amphitheater for photographing flying birds. Remarkable focus, for a change, too.
Then it disappeared. Only to reappear where it could not have got to in that little time. Then I saw it flying low across the water on the other side of the creek, down where fisher persons often defy the rules for standing, near where they're letting grow wild and keeping behind locked fences (though still accessible by swinging down from the nearby wood bridge into the forest, though that's living dangerous on several levels. Been a while since I've seen anyone down there.
I saw and photographed what I first thought was a Black-crowned Night Heron. Seeing, I thought that. Perusing photographs later, I saw it was a GBH. Looking carefuller, I saw it was two GBHs in a tree. Too much deep shadow and bright sunlight to render right in photographs, but I kept at it way too long. And never once got a decent shot. These are lovely. Everything else of GBHs today, were not.
Paying careful attention to birds flying over. Never know what goes over till I keep my eyes up, I noticed this. Almost instantly decided it was a hawk, though I have little experience with them. The far wing's tips in this shot look like ears, but they're not. I spent a long time staring at pictures in several bird books.
My best guess is a "Western Light" juvenile Red-winged Hawk, before its tail turns red. Although the feet seem the wrong color — tucked that tight and dark it's not easy to classify, and its tail stripes don't seem dark enough — although it's strongly back-lighted, and... Well, I just don't know. Hard to imagine a juvie this big.
These probably are the best shots I've got of one. Ever. Big thing. Small mammal-eater, so none of the birds down in or flying anywhere near the Lower Spillway Steps seemed concerned as this gorgeous creature circled lazily over. I checked.
I watched and photographed till it was just a spot disappearing into the bright eastern sky. Amazed my exposure was so on. So bright. So sharp. I have long identified with this bird. Not I think I am one. Just feel a spiritual kinship since Iron Eyes gifted me with two feathers many years ago. I gave her many quills from a porcupine I found dead by the side of the roadd along one of my longer journeys to the Badlands.
The original feathers eventually disintegrated after hanging from my rearview on several cars. Another magical friend who is visited by a Red-tail who molts in her garden has recently gifted me replacement feathers that are soft and pretty in brown reds and white.
Sometimes, it's just "Oh, there's another bird." Times like this, just being flown over feels like a blessing.
Today's first bird is a mockingbird. I found it on a tallish tree on the way down from the parking lot opposite the baseball field up down from Winfrey and up from Sunset Bay. I'm like mocks. Hoped it'd do something amazing, although just being in focus sometimes is.
More amazing than showing me its butt. But I've never got a mock butt shot, so this was nice. Fluffy white underneath. I also like the shard of wood it chose to perch.
Then along came another. I quick enough to follow the action. But I got this. I only remember clicking rapidly. The other bird perched next to mock A a couple seconds then flew off, returned when I was looking downhill for pelicans, then off again.
The first mock flitted from perch to perch up there. I especially like the shadow.
At the shore on Sunset Bay I saw this egret I first thought might be something new. It looks different. Acts different. Different haircut. But beak and legs colors are Great Egret, perhaps a juvenile. It was smallish.
Betsy Baker writes, "Love
all these pellie shots you've been getting — especially the one of that
raft of them sleeping. It's wonderful that a bird can be both elegant and stately
at times and then awkward and comical at others. No wonder we have such affection
As for your different-looking egret, I think it probably is a new bird for you in a way because it's wearing a plumage you haven't paid attention to yet. It's a Cattle Egret in non-breeding plumage. That's why it's so much smaller than a Great Egret and has a much shorter bill."
I like the size relationship with the floating bottle and am amazed I caught it just as it jumped into flight..
I'm always up for pelicans flying. I watched these fly from this side to that. Then across. They all did not go in one direction. Or I would have followed.
First one or two flew together. Then more each bunch. Up to seven or eight at a time. A pelican flying close shimmers in my mind. Powerful. Startling.
I often feel blessed with this many big white birds flying. I watched these guys take off — when an old guy with a dog intruded into their new-found territory right of the pier, where the gooses still hang out, flap flap, all the way out over the lake and across it. Off to fish, I'm guessing.
Low ISO (250) makes for high contrast and rich color. I should remember to up it to 400 (using the Nikon D200, not the little Canon that noises up at those 'lofty' ISOs) to keep the contrast down, although these are amazing nice shots. Tree green's already gone, but a little less exposure would have left texture in the white.
Been hoping for a closer fly-by by a cormorant, who usually fly over The Logs in the middle of the bay. These guys showed me their style and grace much closer.
Curving off toward the other side, this cormorant shows its classic shape and a few brown spots.
Not a fan of gulls. They attack and attack and attack my buddy coots. But they are elegant, especially in the air, although I know Jonathan Livingston was really a Turkey Vulture. This is my photo announcing their return. Not a lot of yet but already after the coots. I only saw about 4 of them today. Soon, there'll be entirely too many.
For elegance aloft, however, there's nothing eithr as beautiful nor as awkward as pelicans.
This one is busy landing. Here it looks down. Then drags feet spread wide, letting the wing-back feathers ripple and drag.
Swings feet forward to use as skids on the water. And lands.
Easy, as I said, to find pelicans these days, as the greatest majority of them settle closer and closer to the pier and shore. Obviously feeling safer there as they get used to us humans.
We can likewise see the dark eye on his nearly sleeping pelican through its squinting lids. This my fave of the day's shoot, though the one above is more interesting though less graphic. Long, plump and white on white, striated with brownish, dark orange legs and feet neatly inset into the side of the body, pink upper and orange lower beak.
Almost always I shoot my long zoom lens at one stop down (f/8). Here I closed down to f/22. Plenty of light this utterly bright afternoon (even at ISO 250), cool with occasional breeze. Still a little on the warm side, but that's about to take steps down. Can't wait.
Though not quite in the unison I've come to expect, these pelicans are engaged in the time-worn pattern of their fishing outings. Swim, dip forward till the whole head is under, wings balancing and legs and butt showing in counterbalance.
Filling pouches with whatever's down there worth catching. Au juice.
I guess it's possible this goose has got a new design coat, but I suspect it is instead new to the area. I don't remember seeing that brown spotting pattern before.
Once home, I heard the raucous grind and crunch of grackles. They are not, of course, this blue. This is just the color revealed by them standing in the darkish tree. I'd been hoping for blue birds...
'T'ave been easy just to go to Sunset Bay to shoot more pelicans. Too easy. That easy, and most any birder, even one overly and overtly enchanted by American White Pelicans, woulda wanted something a little more challenging somewhere — most any where — else.
So I wandered over to the Pump House side of the Boat House Lagoon to see what I could see, but that whole area was took up with construction, and last time Blue and I wandered around in the mud up near The Big Hum (where the Parakeets live), I nearly did not get Blue out of there.
So I circled around to the Lagoon itself, where I found arm-stretched fisher persons with lines into the water where fisher persons have been fishing for decades till the All-White Rowers got hold of the time-honored Boat House and closed and locked all the doors and windows till intrepid fisher persons have to stand in the windows leaning their lines into the water inside. Doesn't seem fair, huh?
So I walked down the lagoon hoping for something besides the very obvious ducks and coots and white bright egret on the big bushy (since the recent rains) island. And I watched. And waited. Using some of my famous patience to just stand there hoping my OFF didn't already wear off.
When I saw a familiar — from seasons past — bright shape on the far side of the lagoon flutter (by which time my cam + zoom was engaged) over the water and fly up into a tree, where it perched without moving, except to turn facing away (apparently. I could see the bird but not tell which way it was facing.
This guy (!) was a tiny dot on the far side, and a tinier dot on the full frame of my images), for as long as I stood there changing the ISO higher and lower, just to see what would happen. endeavoring to hold the long lens very very still (Vibration Reduction helping the situation significantly).
Then I decided to go get my tripod, and when I got back, the kingfisher was gone. Of course.
Counted 78 pelicans today in Sunset Bay (There were only 71 last year). Best thing about that many madding about is they are coming closer to photographers, and a bunch are flying in. I've seen the sort of beak play among the big white birds out on The Logs in the middle of the bay, but getting detailed photos that far out is challenging for my meager 450mm lens equivalent. When they're this close, detail is significantly easier.
A fellow photog and I had just been talking about photographing pelicans flying (then he left) when a long, thin (just one, two or three at a time) string of pelicans flew in from way far out in the lake. I was worried about exposure, which for bright white pelicans (or egrets) in sunlight is different from them in the gray, hazy dull light of today, so I tried several settings, and apparently got it right or close enough. Something freeing about photographing birds this big flying by close enough to fill the frame.
Okay, now peer into the detail here. We got wrinkles under their eyes, fiddly bits (a phrase I stole from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide where he wrote about the guy who terraformed Norway's jagged edges, especially the fiddly bits of fjords, which in a vague way resemble the features of American White Pelican's) around their eyes and the head end of their beaks. Note the double-stitch line leading to its eye in the photo below. Luscious detail getting lusciouser.
What looks, at some distance and in sunlight, like bright white, is not necessarily so. Notice the owie on the end of this swimming pelican's beak, just before the raised and circling hook. Look at the thin, semi-circular texture of its lower mandible — the one that stretches till next Tuesday when it's full of fish. And the brown, perhaps muddy ends of its lower feathers as it swims closer to further inspect the lone photog standing on the pier that's been partially repaired then drowned under water in this week's flood. This beak has been through some serious abuse..
This could be the same pelican. It's hard to keep track which is which when there's so many about. From the orange hook at the fore end of that huge long beak, its raised and rippled flesh just behind the hood, various dirt textures along the compressed beak, and all the way back and down and everywhere else, this is so much better and more detailed a photo than those I've been able to shoot till now.
Here's a detailed bit of behavior. When they carry their wings up like this, they are attempting to dry their wings. Sometimes they get wet when they dive for fish, though I've never seen them go all the way under (although I have seen fully underwater photos other photogs have taken in books). Usually, the way I've seen them get wet enough to have to rack up to dry is by taking a bath — a loud, thick flapping of the surface amid much splashing and thrashing.
The real amazement of watching pelicans fly, besides that they often do it so close to the surface, is that with wings that long and strong they many times don't have to flap for many dozens of yards. Notice the fingertip primaries stretched out feeling the tiniest of breezes and any possible s out there.
Here we see a cormorant about to land behind the pelican, another pelican floating while rearranging its upper body feathers, and our star, feet tucked in behind, primaries flailing out and bending up, while individual feathers do their various jobs, flaps slightly down this side, slowing flying speed behind and under the wings, and out behind its feet also slowing.
The most struggle I've seen pelicans engage is for position. Here some newer (to this particular perch not far out from the Sunset Bay pier) arrive and hope to usurp the places of pelicans who've been there awhile. When one has a beak that long, it's easier to do a little sword-fighting with them than using their comparatively tiny and stunted feet. I have seen pelicans play nice with their beaks, but this is — although not quite vicious — a little more serious than play. I suspect those things are sharp.
For a long time it seemed they'd never get around to it, but now the pelican invasion is coming in often to stand and sleep on solid ground. It doesn't take much to get them to escape, however. I assumed they were gooses, because I heard the gooses honking behind them, and walked nearly into their realm. First some got agitated, got up, walked around waiting for the leaders to lead. The leading leaders took to the water, everyone else followed, in single file, very much like agitated domestic gooses.
Eventually, in slow burn situations today, they all lined up and swam out. In hotter action, like a small child running toward them screaming, which I also noted this gray afternoon, they took wing into the water, being careful to let the leaders lead. When one of the City's Habitat Destruction Machines started wrecking their planet, they freaked out and flew many abreast. Fast and splashy.
Let's call it Goofy Friday. I was so tired after The Fair and several projects, I was wiped all day. Wiped out. Wiped over. I visited the lake, but I did not work up the pictures. I didn't even look at them till next Tuesday (today, as I write this and have just worked up the
A pelican taking a bath is a goofy act. They splash and dunk and flap their wings onto the surface producing a very loud plunk-plunk-plunk. Water goes everywhere. Maybe I should call it a shower.
The reason there so little detail in this shot is that the bird is waaaay out in the bay. Looks like it's dredging for fish and has caught something.
But what it has caught does not resemble a fish. It's flat and long and dark with a point at the bottom end. The pelk's lower mandible is stretched out all out of proportion for such a little thing.
Nope. Not a fish. In fact, it looks like a large feather. Why is did this pelican go to the both of catching a feather? Once it caught the feather, why is it now flipping it in its beak while expelling the water that came with the feather?
And now, after having caught the feather and flipped it in its beak to get it lengthwise instead of sideways, why has this silly bird now opened its beak as wide and far as it possibly can with the feather stuck in the middle. Surely not for decoration. Is it retching?
If this bird has actually attempted to swallow this feather, has it now expelled the feather? How is the bird holding the feather in place like this. And, of course, why?
The one on the left is obvious. That's an egret, probably Great Egret. The one on the right is probably pretty obvious, also. It's a pelican. When human photographs look utterly weird, often the excuse is that we have shot a "between expression expression" — a facial expression having left one expression and on the way to another but the still camera has captured it as if it were a purposeful expression. But it's just the capture of something on the way to or from a smile or other recognizable condition. Like this pelican that's probably just stretched its wings and is now...
Well, it's now in a rather extreme delta condition, all points where it's usually curves, square where it's usually slanted and strange where it's usually a little less strange. Maybe.
Watching a pelican take a bath is like watching a big clunky ballerina with twelve-foot wings splash in a giant bathtub.
Is it a sign of friendship? A promise? A bit of that old soft shoe?
Also saw a Little Blue Heron. Actually I didn't see it till Alan pointed it at. As usual, it took a little time to focus the just slightly darker than water little blue and visually separate it from its surroundings. This is from shore. We were on the pier when we first saw it. From shore, it looks darker. From wherever we viewed it, it looked like it had something tied around its beak. Or had a feather stuck there.
We also saw pelicans, egrets, maybe an early gull, lots of crazy coots, pigeons endlessly circling to ascertain their position, and a few people.
Had in mind today's journal entry being mostly fun and funny. But it's hard to start one such with an image this sad. First thing I go to at the Texas State Fair, which is only a mile or so toward town from my house, is Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin)' s Birds of the World show. More for getting to see and photograph amazing, exotic birds than because we necessarily approve of everything they do.
These poor, sad-looking storks shake me up. Remind me how little I like grown birds forced to fetch $20 bills from audience members to put in a pot the glib announcer keeps promising us they don't keep a penny of. And I want that to be true, but these critters could easily become spokes models for Mournful Oatmeal, purple fuzz and all.
According to the info card hung on the side of their fine-holed cage, "Marabou storks serve a very important role on the savannahs of Africa. In the wild, they will rely on vultures and other scavengers to find carrion. They also eat insects, fish, small birds and reptiles. A large male can grow to be 59 inches tall and up to 20 lbs, the females are generally smaller. With a wingspan of almost 10 feet, Marabou storks are one of the worlds' largest flying birds.
I was too busy trying to get my new camera to catch up with birds flying all over the place (The Canon S5 IS is not an action camera, but it's ever so much lighter than the Nikon clunk) and it incorporates wide and telephoto lens ranges I'd have to carry two heavy lenses for with the Nippon Camera Company clunk. And I need to learn this thing, and I do that best by using it.) to remember what kind of birds these were. Not from around here, that's sure. I found some of them in my Encyclopedia of Birds later and identified them in captions. Usually from all over the world. Anywhere but here.
See also my Fair Park 2005 page for more and a few of the same birds.
Exposure for this colorful juxtaposition of one parrot flying behind another, bigger, more distinctive looking but less colorful parrot in the emcee's hand is sort of amazing. I had to Photoshop it some to get either bird separated from the darkness of object one gets when one aims a fairly dumb camera into a mostly bright area like this brilliant, detail less area of building and reflections. Especially when this one hasn't figured out how to set this camera to over- or under-expose a shot like it's so very easy to do with my bigger, badder Nikon. Someday maybe.
The Nikon (at 5 fps) would have got me a lot more chances (one and one only here today with the Kwanon) at each bird flying down from the top of the ferris wheel, swooping low over the crowd, up into emcee's hand or up more to catch some mouse substitute he's thrown nearly straight up.
Very colorful, luckily. Gorgeous birds. Usually only on view for a few seconds, unless a couple of really smart parrots take their own precious time lolling about the sky and in trees out of reach of the humans. Eventually, they went back where they always go. But such lovely visions while they were, for brief minutes, almost free.
When this hawk came down from The Texas Star (one of the two largest ferris wheels in The Americas; the other, exactly the same size, is in Canada) I saw it seem to hover, just before swooping down onto the fore stage.
The Kwanon (what they were originally called, before Canon North America established its more Americanized brand) shoots maybe 1 frame a second. I figured, it was up there, hovering, in focus, sorta sharp, so why not get it while I could, and I did.
There's a tree between this swooping bird (same as the next shot up) and its photographer. The slatted repetition below it is the vertical iron fence around the grassy front part of the stage. I think that may be a trash can behind the bird, and I'm not at all sure about its feet, but the feathers looked a lot like this. It might be the African eagle on my 2005 State Fair page.
We see this guy every year. It's always let loose on that side of the stage with a plastic lizard, because it (or more likely its ancestors and the parts of its family not unlucky enough to get captured by these do-gooders) would thrash lizards in both their natural habitats. Picks it up, slings it about, twists its neck to slam it down on the floor. Over and over again. Difficult to discern when a plastic lizard is really dead.
This remarkable owl is the second to the last bird from the bird show. After the white one below, we begin to wander the fairgrounds, finding other strange but much more local species.
Every time I look at these last two images of one beautiful, smallish bird, I get goosebumpy, it's so beautiful. I remember the guy holding it at the closing when they bring out several species for crowd inspection, said they are very rare. At the end of the show, which was curiously shorter this year, having jettisoned some of the shtick from former years' productions, was quick and only very briefly schmaltzy. Birds doing tricks, yes. But beautiful birds doing tricks.
The show is free, but there are ample, cute ways to donate money. I've shot it before, and I hope I get to photograph it many more times again.
Now for some silly season bird sightings at The Fair, without much discussion. Except to say I wasn't actively looking for birds at The Fair. I'm sure there's lots more of them hiding, subtle-like on all those acres. These are just the few that jumped out at me. Actually, I shot the tower-topping eagle before I realized it was a bird. I just liked it gleaming gold-like way up there in the big vicinity of Big Tex and some butterfly sculptures by Dallas sculptor David Hickman.
This silly mood got just a little sillier.
With a a fully inflated Tweety Bird among all the other super heroes.
Then the photo mood turned tame as we visited one of our favorites stops we always stop at — The Petting Zoo. Again, I didn't pay much attention to these critter's real names. I was very wary of all these osterich-like birds. They look too much like the evil raptors in those dinosaur movies, shifty-eyed and all over the place nearly all at once.
Emu-ish. Maybe even Emu-ist.
Big bustle birds with more feathers than brain-pan size. And lookit the big big feet.
Human with bought bird feed in extended spoon-like shovel way out in front, fingers curled under, body maybe out of neck-out distance.
Emu maybe. Either seated or kneeling. Big big bird.
These guys, little ones only about five feet high — though it was difficult to discern how big they really were, as much bobbing and weaving as they were doing. They looked scary. Those necks hoisting those deltoid little heads up and down, through the fence, over the fence, startling and shocking quick. Fun to watch. No way anybody I saw did any petting with these guys out for finger food.
There were even bigger, full-grown ostriches in the corner cage. Same floating head and long necks, even bigger, bolder necks and legs. Oof!
More fair pictures, though not birds, are on my 07 State Fair page.
53 pelicans in Sunset Bay today. I counted carefully several times as more gathered. Mostly preening, rearranging, pulling feathers out, flapping wings and lower mandibles, swimming out, back and around in giant crisscross patterns, nothing organized, nearly nobody flying for the longest time. I waited. And waited.
Photographed birds standing there, goofin', swimming from log to log, bumping other pelks off their perches, the usual give and take of communal life in plain view of any human willing to watch for awhile. Lips flipping, sagging, yaps all the way open. Or so I thought first twenty times I saw this. Still, sometimes when I look at it, looks like the far pelican's got its jaw all the way wide open. Then I noticed it has an upper mandible, so that can't be its. Must be the one this side is tilted back, yaw wide but up. The other's just standing there, its pouch nearly flapping in the breeze, loose. Now I'm beginning to see lumps of white that don't belong to either of the "two."
Then I saw one, then another, then a couple. Pelicans incoming. Spaced out. Maybe one in five or so minutes. Only one came in at any altitude. Most glided bare inches over the surface of the lake. From around Winfrey. Like scouts returning to the circled wagons late in the afternoon. Well before the sun went down. Still plenty light and no nasty shadows. Early in evening.
This is what I've been waiting for. Pelicans flying. I missed one who came low (behind some trees) over land, made a lazy circle out over the pier, then landed with all the other pelicans on their logs in the big middle. I stayed right on the shore after that. And was rewarded. I'll get better at this. More detail. More interesting flight shots. More care with focus. They'll fly closer. Eventually some tripod-based video of them flying. I want everyone to see what I see. Magical pelican soaring. Hardly flapping those huge long wings, slicing through the air, tilt and turn, feet down, land. So simple. So beautiful.
This day, for a big change, is not just about pelicans. Them, too, of course. Them first, certainly. But Cormorants a little closer than in a while. And more if you wade down this entry down past all of J R's long-awaited flying pelican shots.
Pelican tantalizing J R with big beautiful wings outstretched. But not flying.
Two scouts coming back into Sunset Bay. Scouting what, I'm not sure. But They were flying amazing low. Note the very different postures, flying and swimming.
These are the guys who led off today's journal entry. Smooth sparkly landing.
Less exciting, but it's about time I had a little bird diversity here.
After nothing had happened in awhile on the Pelican Front, I remembered I go to the lake to walk, so I walked down to Winfrey Point. And heard something thumping in one of the little trees along the way. Faint but familiar. Woodpecker thumping. I paid a lot more attention to the tree, and what was thumping.
Then what was flittering in there. Pretty speedy. I shot a couple dozen shots. These are among the few in which you can see what bird it is. Not hiding, exactly, just so intent on its business it was not in any mood to pose.
Still, I followed it around the tree. Racking the zoom back to wide angle to catch some un tree movement, zoom in for some detail, hope I could focus as the long leaves blew in and out of the way.
My best guess is it's a Downy Woodpecker. National Geo's drawings show differing stripe patterns, but the white, unspotted breast. That or a Ladder Back, but I'm thinking more a Downy. I'm guessing Downy.
Walking close to the point, I heard a clatter of high-pitched squabbling I hadn't heard in awhile. A long while. I did not recognize them by their high-pitched squeaking, but when they started jumping up and flailing about on the top of the tallest tree around, I remembered. Seeing their long, brilliant tails helped some, too.
Nobody's got a tail like this tail. And nobody shows off on and over tree-tops like the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.
Then he (very definitely a male) flew away.
Good thing nothing much going on tonight as I juggled my little digicam/video and big chunky still-only cameras, all around my only very busy neck. My vids were lousy, hard to watch, too much zooming and jiggling, despite great image stabilization. For better vid I need a tripod. Birds move. Cameras shouldn't. For having time to concentrate and think through each photograph I need to have only one camera going. Not difficult choosing. I am a still photographer, and that camera cost more than my car before I added any lenses.
The big change today was that some pelicans braved closer to shore, in places a lot of people weren't and in other places where some people were. Today's top bird almost filled my frame vertically, although I cropped horizontally. This is not reach out and touch close. My bird lens is usually racked out to 300mm (equivalent to the view at 450mm on 35mm film).
Thanks, probably, to the — it's finally getting cooler now — population explosion. Not just lots more pelicans every day. More cormorants, egrets, herons out there, too. Expanding in all directions. Subtly pushing them closer to the humans. Some of us with cameras and the will to do something interesting with them.
An odd pic. To end with. Wings up, as usual lately, to dismount, balance the bird into water, counterbalance and tip in. Can't be easy with a nose that long, but twelve-foot wings help. Pink because it's right at the moment of sunset. Too dark, really, after that. Plenty of activity, not really organized, but lots going on. Just too dark.
Later today. Clouds darking sky, clumping over the lake. Cooler for a change. May be cool awhile longer. I appreciate the dip. I'm sure our growing tribe of pelicans like it better. Here they shine in what's left of sunlight. They're still arrayed in distinct lines along what looks like thick green grass growing along the sand bar way out in the big middle of Sunset Bay.
Waiting, as ever, for those big white guys with twelve-foot wingspans to maybe stretch those wings out and fly a little, I watched closer and closer for "personal" interaction. One of the ways pelicans do that, is with their beaks. I've been wrong often enough before, but by my careful observation, one of the ways they seem to josh and reach out and touch each other is with those big beaks. I've also seen them get serious and seriouser with them, but here it looks pretty mild.
I shot this image for the guy on the far left stretching wings — usually an indication that it's going to slip into the water and do a little swimming. Like over to the next clump of pelicans. I was careful that more than a couple of the rest of the gang had their beaks in sight, so they weren't just clunks of brilliant white with orange legs out there against black water and blacker horizon. The one watching the winged one, left-most of the group paying not that much attention to anything, is why I chose this shot from several less interesting ones to put here.
Perhaps I should ignore pelks for awhile. Till they insist themselves upon me and my cameras. I'm carrying both the big and little cams now, on the off-chance I could capture some video of a bunch of pelks flying or Esther Williams fishing, or something.
Hard to count them when they're so close together and so far away, but more Pelicans keep arriving, and I think the count is right at 33 now. So the flock is thickening. According to the migration map on the American Pelican page in Sibley's Guide to Birds, Pelks migrate all over the Western United States, winter in Mexico and El Paso and Brownsville, Texas and are rarely seen along the Eastern Seaboard.
Which is another of those times when Sibley's got it wrong. We've seen at least 70 or so of them settling in Sunset Bay the last, oh, five years, for sure, probably a good deal longer. And if they settle here inside the active City Limits of Dallas, Texas, you know others settle elsewhere in this area. National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America has a more definitive map showing them summering in spots that get larger the more north they go from northeast Colorado, southeastern and western Wyoming, all of southern Idaho, and northwestern Utah and northwestern Nevada, and wintering all along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from the peninsula of Florida, fully half way throughout Louisiana, up through large swaths of coastal up through North Central and Northeastern Texas, down along both east and west coasts of Mexico and 2/3 the way up the Pacific Coast of California. Which mapping makes a lot more sense.
I actually saw all or nearly all of our winter pelican flock in the air, swirling around Sunset Bay Sunday evening. I was talking with my friend Richard Ray who was metal detecting the down slope from Winfrey, and there were a lot of trees between us and the lake. By the time I got down to the bay itself, the pelicans were paddling around looking like they'd like to get organized to do some fishing, maybe, but no one seemed in charge enough.
You can bet I'll be there then this evening. Waiting and waiting.
Till then, I'm stuck with plenty of egrets and cormorants flying way far out, so bird details are at a premium. This week, my Monday is on Tuesday, so I was wandering the lake and will be late, too. Just not tomorrow.
Once again. Instead of wholesale deletion of all the shots that didn't make it last week, I'm scarfing back through, finding images for re view. Like out of focus, difficult to deal with or ... something. This is obviously out of focus. But it's still telling and beautiful. Its legs are sharp and some wing. Black and tan on foamy white.
More focus issues, more obvious flying form showing, one over-bright egret near the corner. More sharp feet.
Same bird, same impeccable style, grace and focus. Same multidirectional wisps of wind shredding its young feathers. Amazing in several realms, though. Love the petite flashing twinkle of tootsie splashes.
Golden into the setting sun, a Great Egret rises over the Steps.
Probably a different egret showing off its wing feathers.
Pink in the setting sun, those cormy colors are really gold and tan, and always black.
Wings curved downward holding air for a gentle descent.
Egret melee, idiot cropping, black background on the white bird side, dripping, foaming, black water on the other. What visual sense? White & Black in foaming color.
I've only shot this a couple thousand times, and it still thrills me. Looks like some kind of ecstasy.
Some days, an egret fishing not far off the pier in good ole Sunset Bay is a boon. Never know what it might lead to, and all by itself it's an interesting enough bird to sneak slowly and quietly up on, photograph without twitching. 'Course there's always egrets fishing at the lake. Or almost always. Before settling on Sunset today, I drove all up the west side, oddly partitioned with orange plastic pylons down the middle of Lawther with some cars choosing to drive on the right side, others the left. Eventually, I joined the majority on the left, but it felt really stupid. There were no signs.
This is the shot I've been taking all week. Not as well exposed maybe, or as crowded with Double-crested Cormorants of several ages and levels of perch. But the pelicans are up to their usual almost nothing preening and scratching and just standing there staring off into space. Where the action isn't and continues not to be, out in the big middle of the bay.
I have no idea why this Snowy Egret held its left foot out for a couple seconds, but it looked interesting, and I shot it. A while earlier, the Great Egret skated past. I say "skated," because that's what it looks like when Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons are fishing. One foot moves forward, steps down on the muddy bottom, grips, and the bird steps forward. But the just-stepped-on foot doesn't come forward immediately for the next step. It wavers back as if the bird were roller or ice skating. A little like a moonwalk.
This left foot up motion has almost nothing to do with skating, just reminded me of something I've been wanting to describe. The Great Egret was skating. This Snowy was just standing.
And these guys were just standing here and here, all puffed up. Couldn't be to keep warm. It's still plenty warm here. Must be to cool off.
Had a lot of time today to ponder when patience becomes stupidity. I don't fully understand that patience thing (op. cit.). Stupidity is easier. Like standing out at Sunset Bay waiting for the pelicans to do something, anything, besides standing there preening. A few of them — there's twice the original nine now. Their numbers keep growing. I want to photo them upper close or flying over. But they weren't. So, eventually, slowly. About two hours later, I left with a lot of photographs but only two worth showing, if that many, of pelicans.
Driving down Garland Road, as usual in the far right, slow, lane, I sidled by the Spillway Stairs, looked down, and was pretty sure I saw a Great Blue Heron standing down there. I didn't see blue. And only about as Great as a Great Egret. Seemed smallish and thin whizzing by above.
The color I saw was tan. Standing. I turned on Winstead, parked in the first lot, unpacked my plastic stool and hauled it over to the bridge. I sneaked into view slowly, wearing a green T-shirt. And the GBH flew away immediately, up into the trees. Only when it came back did I notice its fancy striped turtleneck sweater, rusty epaulets and snazzy spotted tan pink pants — best shown three pics up.
Champion of patience, I waited. And waited. Got a few really boring shots of egrets and herons. Eventually, it flew back down, and I got these. There were plenty egrets there, Great Egrets, Snowies. I even saw a Black-crowned Night Heron heading into the woods. But I've photographed those guys many, many times. This time I only had eyes — and silicone — for this grayish Great Blue Heron.
Oh, yeah. These were the two pelican shots worth (barely) showing today.
New camera. Nothing wrong with the old one, exactly — the Nikon's fine. Just my trusty-rusty 7-year-old-Sony F707 finally died. I need one I can twist the LCD, so I can see what I'm shooting at when it's on a tall tripod, on the ground looking up, etc. And to not worry about my hands shaking while photographing art in art in dark galleries. The new cam's got Image Stabilization and a longish zoom.
I did not think my new Canon PowerShot S5 IS would be worth much at birding. But it's not bad, just the eye-level viewfinder is pixelated, and it looks weird if birds actually move. Plus, I have it set funny (so I can see what I've shot for a couple seconds, making it seem even slower). I'll fix the setting, eventually, and probably switch to the LCD, maybe, or just get used to it. I brought it today, because I needed to practice with it.
More Coots every time I visit Sunset Bay. Mobs of them now. I expect even more soon. By the time it gets cold.
For more Coot information than I've been able to gather with limited sightings and studies, check out Coot News at www.beakycoot.com/.
Kept assuming I'd go birding this afternoon later, but by then I was wiped out after photographing sculptures large and small out in Frisco, Texas for use on DallasArtsRevue. Something like Heat Exhaustion or Sleep Deprivation or Refusal to Accept that it was as hot as it was still hot on this second day of October.
The Dallas area got off our extensive Drought this spring, the rainiest in decades. Then spring bled into summer, one of our mildest ever, and now, perhaps surprising only to me, summer is blending into autumn. Once, many years ago at the University of Dallas, I timed autumn at 17 seconds. Blink and you miss it.
I'm hoping this Autumn bleeds slowly into winter, goes on for minutes maybe months. Autumn is a favorite. I could take more summers like this last one, but most Texas summers are less appealing. Spring can be wonderful. But when the Texas State Fair starts, as it did last week, it should be getting cooler on its way to moments of cold. But it hasn't. Yet.
Twice today, between the sculptures, I stared into the sky as one, two and three Turkey Vultures slipped through the sky, rarely flapping, simply soaring above, plying the thermals. With as many landscape workers out cleaning up and freshening, I doubted there were carcasses available to the carrion-eaters. They were playing the sky. Beautifully.
No reproduction without specific written permission.
Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"