Dallas Observer's 2009
Best of Dallas Best Bird Nerd. See story.
White Rock Lake
Sometimes I have need to make art instead of pretty pictures of birds. Except I usually don't get to choose. I did not make a conscious decision to do that today. I just wanted good pix in the rain. I don't know who these guys are. Not an uncommon ignorance. Especially here.
It was dark and nearly gloomy. Wet, certainly. Usually I ignore them, but the pigeons were flying in their big circles, round and round and round. I clicked at them, too. I never know how it will turn out. Including this.
I had planned another series of this pelican landing on the edge of the lake. But this is really the only shot of the bunch that's really nice, and you've seen the step by step drop-out-of-the-heavens sequence here before. I'm thinking a long-nosed ballerina in a black and white tutu with orange shoes.
I have wasted hundreds of shots before, trying to capture one good splash as the wind-blown waves splatter along the long circular bricks out on the edge. Today, I just shot it. There happened to be a pelican swimming along the concrete edge of what used to be the swimming 'pool' when the Bath House Cultural Center was just a Bath House and in the lake beyond the back yard still is a concrete-floored area. No Simming Allowed, however..
I shot lots of coot shots today, even some with big splashes straight up. But this is the shot I like best. Rain and gloom and cute little black birds and the splattering texture of rain on the water. Arty, huh?
I'd been watching this particular pelican. I saw and photographed the pelican who stood on this log before. It gave up getting splashed on. But I don't think this one noticed. A great deal of American White Pelicans' lives revolve around where they get to sit, stand or perch. It's what they fight about the most here. This one coveted its neighbor's perch. But it didn't fight it. It waited for it to leave.
Then it sauntered over as only pelicans can saunter, jumped up in very short flight — which I got a big white blur of — and landed on the perch. It'd already been raining. It continued to rain. The pelican flapped wings and shook off drops of water. Then it just stood there, angling its body several times, but always ...
No matter what it did, the pelican got wetter. And wetter. Eventually, it dismounted and plodded back to the crowd of pelicans hunkered down in that wet yard, and got wetter with rain, but not, this time, with water everywhere, just down.
Sunset Bay was quiet today, but I saw three unfamiliar spots out on the logs — or twigs. Couldn't see them with my bare eyes nor with the Rocket Launcher, but blown up they turned out fairly nice. I decided they were common terns, but Jason Hogle knows better. He says, "The terns you're photographing are Forster's terns. Common terns don't winter in the US but Forster's terns do. Also, notice there's no dark carpal bar (essentially the area of the wing from the first joint [the elbow] to the second joint [the wrist]). Common terns have a dark carpal bar that looks like a black stripe on the shoulder; Forster's terns have a consistent gray.
Additionally, even at this time of year common terns have dark black wrapping around the back of their heads from eye to eye. It fills in over the rest of the head when they enter breeding plumage, then retreats to a wraparound band in nonbreeding plumage. Forster's terns lose most of the black so it looks like a black patch behind each eye with a light gray wraparound band."
One flying, one standing — lots of bird identifying information. I'm not absolutely certain they are Common Terns, but it seems likely.
Same guys a tad later.
I wasn't at all sure this was a coot, neither, because I think of them as black, and this is mostly gray, although those big feet do seem similar to the real coots in my memory.
Now that we see its white beak, I'm more certain this is an American Coot.
Enough of far out, here's far up. In the tallest tree in Sunset Bay — or one of them. Brightly colorful. Great tail. The books never show local sizz-tails' deep rich yellow, but there it is.
I waltzed around the base of that tree for about eight minutes attempting to get a better view, but after then, the sizz-tail's patience for me down there was up, and it flew down and away. I got one shot of it doing that, and I felt honored for that much.
The Bath House's back yard was riddled with American White Pelicans and gooses and coots and cormorants. Says Jason Hogle, "I'm thrilled to see the pelicans resting in a place that makes them easier to see and photograph. Interesting that it's on solid land though (rather than an island). Without the sandbar and other close perches in the bay, I notice they're wandering a bit. They're also gregarious, so they're staying close to other species to help with watching for predators while they rest."
Burrowing orange noses in between white wing feathers, even when it wasn't all that cold, is a common bird thing.
I was not the only photographer on the scene. Two persons — not sure about gender; they were all in dark; I photographed them, but there's not much detail; I generally do better with birds. I like to watch photogs with tripods, so very slow and careful.
I enjoyed sneaking up, knowing if I set off the goose alarms, I'd have to step back. so I watched gooses, but paid most attention to pelicans. I almost immediately recognized this as a possible transitions into a good pelican pouch stretch. Several today had already not worked out, but this one was all aces.
But this one did. And in full-frame detail. The other photogs were stationary off to my left, with their big cameras on big tripods. I scootchied closer and closer to the pelicans, mostly just because I could. That, and I hoped I could fill my frame with pelican glory.
And this is one of my better pouch stretch sequences ever. For more, check out my "Several Strange Things Pelicans Do with Their Beaks" page somewhere around here.
Didn't get my lens pointed up enough fast enough, but you catch the drift by now. In pretty good detail.
And then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.
I've photographed gulls chasing coots often on these pages, but this time was uniquely different. The fights are usually about food, although I didn't see any, there may be some in the coots beak above.
But this is the first time I've seen a coot escape a gull by dive-dive-diving.
Leaving the gull with nothing to chase or harass.
Nicest thing about finding American White Pelicans very close in, actually on shore somewhere — this time it was in Sunset Bay — is that I get to shoot parts with details.
Like this wing-up position, which means, the pelican has got its wings wet, and now is drying them. Looks odd, though. A lot like a little float in the Feather Bowl Classic.
And showing details like the cross-hatched patterns on their wings that don't even show for all the white when they're too far away. Jason Hogle, this site's guest bird expert, noticed the black marks in the beak of the pelican on the right and asked me to send him a full-resolution image for further study.
"Though I still can't tell for certain from the image, I'm pretty sure that's a combination of pouch lice and damage (e.g., bruising from another pelican or abraded tissue from the lice). It wouldn't be surprising for them to have pouch lice, but I've never seen pouch damage that severe or an infestation that noticeable — especially that far forward in the beak," Jason said.
Or the strata of pink and orange and tiny feathers nearby.
Doesn't make everything be in focus or anything, but it's a nice twist on the usual reality.
And I get to experience, for a big change, all the varied feather sizes and shapes and soft/stiffness of them.
I noticed holes in about the place where the Pelican on the right's pointed end in another pelican and wondered how that'd happened till I saw this.
There were 95 pelicans in Sunset Bay, about twice the usual number, and I assumed the other half were visitors. Which, apparently, was correct, because that half of them flew higher and higher into the sky, then flew off north.
Leaving the usual gang right there close. So parts were possible.
Then we visited the Bath House, ostensibly to see some art, but apparently the Bath House Cultural Center isn't open on Sundays, so we photographed us some birds there, too. I'd seen pelicans landing there as we drove in. But once we were there, I didn't see any pelicans. But these guys were there, and as usual, I had no idea they were the less usual here variety with the thin white line between beak and face.
King of the World...
I assume it's a Ring-beaked Gull.
Some of the day was bright and sunny. Most of it was cold and gray. I started, as I often do, in Sunset Bay, where I noticed that every once in awhile, one or two pelicans would leave the hunkered-down group in the windy cold and fly out past Dreyfuss and off to the north, characteristically low. I didn't find out till much later where.
Because I'd seen where some of the pelicans had flown, I decided maybe more would, and after I arrived at Dreyfuss, all of them, in twos, threes, sevens and nines, flew right by me. I rarely get this close to a full-action cormorant, and I love this shot. All those textures and marbled colors, and flying so low, water dripping off its beak. Oof!
The sunlight came later, but I like to put my better shots near the top of journal entries, so these guys are up here.
This was earlier, back in the bay. I could only barely see the gray, white and black birds in the foreground. They flew quickly into and out of visual existence as I followed them with my long lens, hoping to catch them sharp at least once. I shot about a dozen times, but I only got them in focus this one time. There may be enough information for a good bird IDer here, but not enough for me.
Flying so low I figured they weren't really going that far. No real need to soar higher in the cold wind. After Sunset I drove north to Northwest Highway, back down past the yacht clubs, stretching my vision back south to the Bath House, all the while wondering where they'd gone. Had they found a nice warm pond up north somewhere in the trail of trees that stretches almost to Plano?
No. They settled at the Bath House a few hundred yards north with the gooses, cormorants, coots and ducks. I took shots there, too, and they seemed so close, me up in the parking lot, them on the edge of the lake, but all I got was more of the same old pelican shots.
I watched it for awhile, interrupted only by someone parking their truck directly in front of me in my view of the kingfisher asking me what kind of bird that was. That person thanked me and drove on, and I got lots of good shots of her on her wire, alternately screaming and being colorful but quiet.
I kept watching, and every time the tail went up a scream leapt out. With it down, there was quiet.
It was gray and rainy day. Not much light available. I was driving by, happened to look up where the wire was and noticed a bird with a flash of white. I figured, oh, J R, it's just a mockingbird. But I backed up and trained the Rocket Launcher on it anyway. As focus sharpened in the dull light, I realized I was as close as I've ever been to one of the staccato screamers.
I shot at ISO 800 for awhile without any exposure compensation, but those shots were too noisy (grainy), so I switched to the contrastier and sharper ISO 320 (my standard in any kind of good-enough light, but this wasn't) and compensated down to -.2/3 an f/stop. All these were shot at the slight underexposure, and it seems to have helped.
When I tried to get even closer, it started noticing me. By the time I got the big lens in place, it had flown away.
Earlier I'd tried to find something unusual or noteworthy in Sunset Bay, but I didn't find anything.
Including these guys swirling around the inner bay trying to get their bearings. I used to make fun of the stupid pigeons flocking around every time they'd lose track of where they were and taking the whole bunch of them on a long, round trip out over the bay and back to the same tree they'd just left. Then I caught myself employing the exact same technique when I'd lost my bearings.
Nice thing about rainy days is that they tend to make the colors — any colors — jump right out at you — or at me, at least. And the inherent low contrast situation makes it possible to separate the constituent feathers on an all-black bird, so we can finally see the details.
When I first drove onto East Lawther from Garland Road I noticed intermittent short flocks of American White Pelicans dotting and dashing the Fitchery Forest on the other side of the lake.
Not much interesting going on out there, although I spent enough time to get myself moist but keep my camera and lens mostly dry.
near White Rock Lake
I spent most of this afternoon photographing one of my favorite Dallas artist's birds. It is my honor and joy to get to photograph Kathy Boortz's newest work several times a year, and today was this time. It's always a delight to see what her imagination has come up lately.
I Bite continues her tradition of making pincer-type tools into pincer-type birds, and if you got your finger caught in the beak-end of these tongs, you'd fully understand the title. See also Whitaker, The Cockatoo in my personal art collection.
Her Turn Left is mostly fuselage, one left wing, two bird feet, a sculpted beak and a yellow eye. Usually Kathy knows what the objects she finds will be when she picks them up. The work and the art is in making that happen.
She picks up a piece of wood or metal and sees the final form in it. Then, like this fierce little owl, she sets about adding little bits of ceramic, metal, glass or paint, and carving out other bits, till they become what she saw when she found them or grew to understand what they really were as she looked and felt them.
Sometimes I have to laugh along with her cosmic sense of humor. Kingfishers are notorious for their staccato screams and imperious ways. When she saw this chunk of wood with the long stick attached she saw its inner Kingfisher. And what she wrought from that natural form is amazing and deeply funny. I'm struggling to keep a straight face typing this.
Kathy likes to use niches in wood to hold things like baby birds. She carefully crafts enough of the details to mostly look anatomically correct in shape and color. And yes, Pied-billed Grebe babies really do look like that, and the adults really do carry their young on their backs.
At first, Kathy thought this elongated piece of wood would make a swan. But when she tried to sculpt a swan face on it, it became obvious that this bent stick was a goose. For more of Kathy Boortz' amazing work, see her DallasArtsRevue Supporting Member page.
White Rock Lake
Almost every shot today was one sort of error or another. I only shot 162 times, and I threw 124 away, because they were awful. Some of today's shots are close to that, but they have some redeeming value. This shot was bright dripping pink before I started an extended PP (post production) routine on it.
This one is just goofy. Looks like short, stubby wings led by a mouthing-off face and the usual Great Egret long long neck. I like it.
Nothing wrong with the bird. It's its usual elegant egret self. It's the photog who managed to catch it at just the wrong moment. If it were human — and it's much better than that — we'd call it "a between expression expression," like we all shoot of people we love whom we sometimes render looking just plain goofy by clicking at just the wrong moment.
This one's overexposed, blurred and — well — beautiful. Not all mistakes are bad.
These two look like the best of friends. Maybe a little challenging to discern from the water all around, all around — nice coot action there between them — in the continuing comedy of errors. But I wasn't sure whether they were feuding or fraternizing.
They'd compete openly over where they were going to fish, then usually when I was watching pelicans or some other bird in the bay today, jump into the air and fly off toward Hidden Creeks forest, and I'd strain to get them in focus and both in the same frame, since they seemed to be flying circles around each other.
Then, soon as they'd land way back there, they'd be in the air again, circling or paralleling each other, back to where they started, and going back to fishing. Both caught several fish while I wasn't looking and zero while I was.
This one was very yellow in the setting sun. Not that much a procedure to get rid of it, but those brambles were were glowing orange. Thanks for letting me share some errors.
Oh, and I figured we ought to have one photo today that wasn't of a Great Egret, so here's some Wood Ducks flying me over whom I assumed were Mallards. Then I went home and spilled diet root beer all over my last pair of clean jeans.
Actually shot this guy a couple days ago when there were already way too many birds, so it's here, now. I managed to snag these on the wing. It rushing by fast. Usually in my photos of it, you can't see its eyes.
Like here. That's markings, not its eye, which is set back further into that dark area. Not sharp, but you can at least see the feathers sticking straight up on its wings, like the flaps are up and it's what? Slowing? Speeding? Controlling its flight some way
Usually birds just don't fly toward me. Away often. Very rarely into my direction. This one seemed to be, so I photograph it. This one is in focus.
It kept coming till it blurred up into a tree.
It did not get sharper as it got closer.
Only just barely happened to see this smallish creature in deep shade under those leaves on the far side of the lagoon at the far side of the bridge. It was all hunched down and looked a lot like another one of those small, chopped off tree trunks that I'm always photographing till it doesn't seem to move thinking it must be a bird. Surprised me I picked it out of the semi-darkness there. Then it came out into the light, and I wondered if it were a juvenile or what. Or what is my current conclusion.
Then as all Great Blue Herons must when a photographer concentrates on them even though they thought they were invisible to the world, it jumped into the air. It was close, only if you had a 500mm lens pointed at it. Otherwise it was small, far, and seemingly inconsequential. My sense of size was way out of whack. I thought when I first saw it, it must be a Green Heron, which are considerably smaller than GBHs.
Inches airborne, big wings ready to flap down and take it up.
Altitude is gained.
And flight attained.
The first Ring-billed Gull I've seen in a not nearly long-enough time yet.
We walked from Tee Pee Hill down to the bridge over the Boat House Lagoon, over past The Filter Building, the Pump building, up onto the dam and to the closed end of that that does not still overlook the concentration of The Spillway, which we could not see from that perch. And back, of course. Looking down into the lake side of the dam, however, opened a miniature world of Peeps (What birders call little shorebirds that go "peep.")
And Spotted Sandpipers, who are tiny little and puffed out today probably because it was so cold. No doubt looking low and high for food here.
And running as fast as their little yellow feets will carry him (her?) over the slanting wet concrete of the damn down at the edge of the splashing waves.
Dripping from having dived underwater and staying down about fifteen seconds the first time I tried to photograph it. Someday, I'll capture one of its cute, little lobed toed feet, too.
Preening and drying their wings.
The big event for today — besides watching my living room floor get cleaner than it's been in thirty years (Thanks, Alex.) — was a massive fly-over by about 70 pelicans. And not, I think, our usual bunch, forty of which were sunning (?) themselves in Sunset Bay when the others flew them over, too.
I first saw them en mass flying over Sunset Bay from Dreyfuss. I'd been in Sunset, across the bay, earlier and there were only the normal 40 perched, swimming, fighting over log space. The hum-drum usual etc. Then I saw the new guys swirling overhead. Round and round in huge circles.
High, then lower and lower, and I thought they join our usual pelican pack, then they got higher and higher again, and flew off toward the north.
The last I saw of them from Dreyfuss, they were flying back north at significant altitude.
Then, with nothing better to do, I drove around to the Bath House hoping for interesting birds. I got 'em. Same American White Pelicans again, and a bunch more excitement. Looked like they'd been there awhile, but I suspect they were the same birds I'd just photographed high above me.
I guess they were talking about what they'd seen, mulling it over, discussing where to settle. Stay or fly on off somewhere else?
Do you suppose flying fluffs up their feathers.
First in singles — one or another of them would jump out in front, fly maybe six or so feet, splash down, then hop with both feet and become airborne,
Soon, bunches of them were leaving.
Flying out and away. Higher.
And higher. Heading in a generally southerly direction.
Soon they were all gone, out around the bend.
I again figured I'd lost them but wandered back to Sunset Bay just to see what I could see.
Within a few minutes, I saw dots in the sky grow into pelicans. They were back up there flying around in great pelican circles.
Flew closer several circles into it.
Flew over fairly close — for a 500mm lens of a Rocket Launcher.
Then gained altitude back into the sky. And gone.
And this shot doesn't even include the egrets, pelicans, coots and kingfisher. Very busy place today. As you will see in today's entry, which will probably take till tomorrow to put online, then the next couple days to complete. I keep finding new pictures.
I heard its staccato screaming almost as soon as arrived in Sunset Bay. Jason had sent a huge long list of birds he'd discovered near Celebration that I was excited about finding. He mostly just heard them and identified them by their calls. I heard the calls but have not yet acquired that skill. I'm high on visual and low on auditory, although I like a lot of musics.
What I know about bird calls would fit a smallish thimble. I know the chattering call of the Kingfisher when I hear it, but couldn't describe it in any detail. At least I know to go stand somewhere where I'll be able to see in several lakeside directions in case one flew me by. And this one did several times, chattering all the way.
Handsome and fascinating critters I don't mind being generous about this early in the winter season. Later, when they take over Cormorant Bay and scat white snow all over it and thereby stink it to low hell, I won't feel like being so generous. But over the years, I've taken many intriguing photographs of cormorants.
The trick at this stage of the game is to get them doing something I haven't already got them doing. Of course, none of these corm shots qualify, but I have to have goals.
The boats are well out into the deep channel of the lake. Those that intrude into the bay are generally stuck there, since some of the birds "out on the logs" are really standing on the ever-so-shallow bottom of the lake.
Lots more coots here now. Most of them must have arrived in just the last couple days.
I have a thing for those big, lobed feet coots have. In years past, I've theorized they use them as propellers to push them underwater, and when I saw them diving today, I knew I had to catch one in exactly this position, although it might have been better to see those lobed feet a little better. Stay tuned, I'm sure they'll be more coot foot shots here this winter.
I was also lucky enough to get a superlative splash from another diving coot.
We've seen the upraised portion of the procedure by which American White Pelican stretch their lower mandibles. This is the rest of the story, in another, short series.
After reversing the pouch over its chest, it stretches it downward as if it held several gallons of water and fish, which it probably will later, when nobody's looking.
Which is then followed by a flapping of that
lower portion of its beak. Sounds just like you'd think it would.
Okay, this series is special. To me, at least. There's a Great Blue Heron on my business card for this journal, because I identify and greatly appreciate Great Blue Herons. Every time I see one, I get way too excited.
And this quick series is particularly beautiful. I lucked out big-time for the early portion of this short flight.
Clicking madly away, I followed this GBH across the bay and land up into the lagoon, where it fished awhile, then flew up into the thicket of trees at the end. Keeping that tiny rectangle on a flapping, flying bird is always a challenge, and I probably should have switched it to spatial mode, where it focuses on the first thing in its narrow path, but I was too busy tracking a great blue.
One last beauty shot.
Then a bunch of out of focus and blurred shots as this bird's surrounding landscape changed suddenly and significantly, confusing the camera/lens resulting in a few shots of feathery excitement at the end of that flight. That spaghetti of tangled feathers along its back is fascinating to me.
I especially like this shot, which looks a lot more precarious than it actually is. What I captured was it flapping down, here with its wings nearly fully extended in the up flap.
So here's a whole 'nother landing, just two shots this time, in the opposite direction. Like I said, very busy in the bay today. Lots of excitement.
After this, nearly nothing happens, so this is our last bit of Great Blue Heron aerobatics today. More of today's shots tomorrow or the next day...
Actually, it's a quirk of time. Anna and I were photographing about 20 pelicans who were bunched up on Dreyfuss Point — deliciously close to where photographers could sneak up on them, then stop when the pelicans would begin to swim away, and back up, so they would swim back and again join the group cuddle to keep warm on this cold, cold day. Just happened that two pelicans were stretching their all-important (for scooping up fish) lower mandibles at the same time.
Ducks do it. I've seen many other species stretch one leg or one wing. Getting them to do both at once is always nice. Especially wings that belie what many think of as a big white bird.
When I got too close, long pink and orange beaks would suddenly pop up from the cloud of white and dirty white. I'd then take giant stiff-legged steps back, and those beaks would tuck back in and heads would go down, and the cloud would be a cloud again.
Usually, our American White Pelican visitors stay — when they're not our fishing or wandering around checking out the countryside — in Sunset Bay. When I saw that they weren't there today, it was easy to see why. Last night's rains had submerged their various usual perches on the logs in the lake and the shallows on its edges.
I only count eight eyes in this shot — and lots and lots of feathers out of place and nobody preening. Too cold, I guess. Everybody's heads down out of the wind, and their long beaks tucked into the down of their backs and wings.
Three pelicans with two very different beak presentations and two in near-perfect parallel. So sweet to be so close to the pelicans for a change. A big chance to get feather details, like their scruffy necks and subtle stripes along their wings.
Most of the pelicans stayed in their cloud, with little clumps of four and three swimming off from time to time irregardless of the placements of photographers. All but four of them came back. Some within a few dozen feet, some after the great long swims of thirty-to-thirty-five feet.
We first met this little family on September 11, nearly a month ago. I'm pretty sure they are exactly the same birds, because the kits look very much like the September baby Muscovy Ducks. But even more because the Mom looks the same, and I don't think I've seen many, if any, essentially similar adult Muscovy Ducks. Somehow, they don't come in cookie-cutter designs.
What surprised me was that the kids don't seem to have grown all that much in nearly the whole last month. If you'll check back, you'll notice some differences. But I'm used to watching Mallard and Wood Duck babies shoot to "teen" ducks in a matter of weeks, then suddenly they're adults and fly away.
This is my first-ever documented Muscovy Duck family, so I have zero experience with their growth patterns. It's odd but nice that they're still cute and their wings are still lowly developed. Most of these shots were very near a young family with a couple kids and various items of clothing scattered about (that I've carefully cropped out). Which means they still seemed drawn to humans, which can be a problem at the lake, and makes me wonder whether this young family was left off by their former owners.
Meanwhile, nearby was this Muscovy Hen doing a recognizable and often extreme — in the angle of her lean back — "Heads-up" Display. In Grackles, this display often turns to violence. In other species it leads to sex. I'd have to check with my Sibley's Guide to Bird Behavior to begin to understand this posing in big ducks and gooses.
Hard to believe those cute little duckies will grow into this humongous ponderosity.
And that their still soft young facial feathers will all but disappear into a warty complexion like this.
The known Snowy is the short one in front. I'm not exactly sure what it is behind the Great Egret on the left. Fishing was good in the frothy, charging water, so the chase is probably about the rights to stand where the fishes were easy to pick out of the water, or where the bird that just caught something is standing.
I, meanwhile, am on the guard rail of the fenced-off bridge over the Lower Spillway in one of my all-time favorite perches — I liked it better when the path was several times wider, and I could stand on a little stool instead of cantilevering myself on the bridge's concrete edge. But what I saw and photographed was pretty amazing — looking down into where the spilling water changes direction toward the creek to I-30.
Or one got a fish and others wanted it bad enough to chase the other away.
It's difficult for someone of a whole other species (me) to determine the motives of birds. I go to the kitchen or a restaurant for my food. I don't have to catch it, and I don't have a bunch of others in there with me fighting for each bit.
When I was a kid, however, there was competition over food in our kitchen. I remember putting just the right small amount of blue food coloring in the milk, making it look like skim milk, which none of us five kids liked as much as full fat (rich white) milk, so I'd get more. So I do understand a bit of chasing around for something as important as food.
Some of these shots aren't even as much as a full second apart. When the grets or heron started catching fish, chasing, fighting or threatening, I hold the shutter and my camera keeps clicking five frames per second. When nothing's going on, I shoot slower or stop.
And since singe-lens reflexes' mirrors are up exposing silicon at the moment of exposure, I never see what I got, only what I didn't, so I never know for sure, so I just let er rip. It's not like I could time the Great Egret in front here, turning with its long black legs so far askew.
Most of the birds lined up along the wet torrent were intent on one purpose. Catching and quickly eating fish, so they could catch and quickly eat some more.
Snowy, Great, Snowy, Great, Snowy, Great Blue Heron lined up ready to catch some fish with nobody fighting for a few seconds.
The Great Egret, third from the right has caught a fish. Neither of the chasing birds has, but they want one, and both probably think they should have exclusive, very local rights, to get one.
Both volatile Snowy Egrets are angry and taking it out on each other.
Usually, they calm down and walk away, but these are not walkers-away.
There are two egrets at the bottom of this shot. One is standing there minding its own business fishing, not getting involved, or just not involved. The rabid Snowy is tromping the one in the middle, on the concrete that slants down to the swirling water below.
I've seen Snowies attack and chase often. They are aggressive little so-and-sos, but I'd never seen a Snowy Egret put another bird down on the ground before.
This shot was even softer than the others here, so I've "enhanced" it to bring out some details — while obliterating others. Like the egret on the cement seems here to have been.
Deciding which bit of white is which Snowy Egret is a lot like picking shapes out of clouds in a stormy sky.
I wanted to end today's journal entry with a shot that stops motion and in focus. I think it's our innocent bystander.
Here's a link to a Dallas Morning News website video of the place where Charles purchased most of the domestic gooses at White Rock Lake over the past few years getting busted for cruelty to animals. Anna sent it.
I was standing on Dreyfuss Point looking for the Bald Eagle journal reader Michael said he saw yesterday noon near The Spillway. Not that I saw any eagles there or anywhere else I'd paused today. I spent a little time at The Spillway, but it was raining regularly if not constantly, and I didn't want to stay wet and cold.
I think today's the first time I've donned one of my thicker poly shirt-jacs, so I was toasty enough dry, but have had pneumonia often enough to know how to spell it. No sense testing the fates. Wet and cold seems to bring it on better than anything.
I'd spent long, wet minutes on the pier with fisher persons at Sunset Bay, but the pelicans there — I didn't even count them, but I could tell there were far fewer than I'd counted recently — max 75 — were at a considerable distance. Some seemed closer from Dreyfuss.
I'd seen small groups of three or two or four pelicans get up from the groups in the bay and fly off somewhere across the lake, but nothing close, when three, maybe four of them — difficult to count when I'm focusing in on one or two in my 5-degree angle of view through the Rocket Launcher — flew in low from the north, looking like they always do when I think of them as commandos coming back from battles — more likely from fishing. I hurried the cam up and got several rapid-fire shots in sharp focus.
I'd just been wondering whether the lens still focused after it and I fell in a hole — they same one I'd fallen in a month or so ago — along the high weeds along Sunset's shore. No damage to me this time, but the Rocket Launcher's images were vibrating again. So I was doubly pleased to see these photos, especially the really sharp ones.
I'd seen pelicans fly by Dreyfuss, even wondered what it'd be like to be standing there when one of them did one of their Bear-Went-Over-the-Mountain routines [below] to see the other side of the mountain, although no pelican has ever flown directly at me.
But I never considered standing there to capture pelicans flying by, till I was out there looking for eagles. I was the only one to photograph our last Bald Eagle last January, although several communicating birders saw it, and probably several other people who didn't know how rare and wonderful its presence here was.
I, of course, would love to photograph it/them again. Perhaps from the front, this time.
I counted 75 American White Pelicans in Sunset Bay this late afternoon. Someone with all the wrong information said that was many more than usual. I told him it was dead solid normal. That usually, 70 pelicans stay in Sunset Bay long enough to be counted by me at one time or another through their stay. He said they stay six weeks. I corrected, "six months," explaining they're usually here mid-October and mid-April, and that they always leave by Tax Day.
I didn't tell him they arrived early this year and much earlier last year. I didn't tell him that I figure Global Warming had a lot to do with it, but I wonder about that. He said he's been seeing them here "for years and years and years." Me, too.
And those same pelicans.
Driving down "DeGoyler Drive" past the Arboretum on my usual way toward Sunset Bay today, I spied two, what I initially assumed were very tiny ducks of some sort I hadn't seen in awhile. Turned out instead they are Pied-billed Grebes of exactly the sort we often have there, right there.
They must like the place, they are often seen there. In fact, I've seen them there more often than in any other place at White Rock, although I do remember seeing them elsewhere. I just can't remember where. Today's puzzle is figuring why they seems so different. My guess is the upper one is a juvenile (face stripes only barely visible), and the other one isn't.
More than that I only wish I knew.
But those were the only Grebes I saw today, and soon as each of them saw me photographing them, they swam directly away as fast as their little lobed feet (similar to coots') would carry them. So I photographed pelicans around the bend, down the hill, then down the road.
I photographed this particular American White Pelican, because it broke from the pack and seemed to be heading somewhere. After racing through the trees at the edge of Dreyfuss Point — the point of Dreyfuss used to be the building there, but since it burned down and firemen couldn't find it until it was gone, the point now is just a point — it flew up, up and up.
Then it turned around over there, and began flying back this way. I hoped it would fly me over, but that was wishful thinking.
I kept shooting.
And it flew back, very near where it had taken off from only moments before.
And it landed there, nearly on top of the pelicans who had stayed there all along. I'd hoped it'd be a little more exciting.
From the pack, and I follow that one awhile, too. Hey, I'm fascinated by their amazing flying abilities, so I photograph them whenever I can find them, and now that a lot of them are down from their summer home in the balmy northwest (U.S. and Canada), have finished their week-long preen, some are beginning to fare out into the great big world of White Rock Lake.
That's Dreyfuss' west-facing wall, its own grassy knoll and a car perched on top where the driver can enjoy a lovely view of the lake. But what's the draw for American White Pelicans?
But this one just keeps on going. Others followed but not immediately. I assume they'd found some readily fishable food.
Egrets aren't as strong fliers as pelicans are, but they're elegant, also.
Sometimes beautifully so.
Then along came a Great Blue Heron, and I actually managed to get it in focus and adequately exposed, sort of amazing considering I had just been photographing pelicans and egrets who are bright white and need to be underexposed, today about two stops, and Great Blue Herons flying along with their dark, underside shadows, need to be ever so slightly overexposed, and I haven't been handling that nearly as well as I did this time over the last couple weeks.
Or that I was already shooting when it was almost directly even with me, not already well away. It's not as good as the shot on my Amateur Birder Journal's business cards that I'm almost out of, but nice.
And then the Sunset Bay pigeon pack came flying along, but did not stop and did not circle and re-circle like a bunch of pigeons lost. So maybe they weren't the Sunset Bay bunch, after all.
Hadn't really looked outside before I left on errands and photographing birds today. It was raining, but I'd brought my super-customized rain-protection gear so I wasn't worried about my Nikon D300 or the Rocket Launcher. I simply wrapped the black garbage bag around it, pulled out the lens end and let friction hold it there.
When I use tape, the kit gets all wrinkly and difficult to handle. With it blowing loose, I felt like an old-time photographer ducking under the black cloth to take a picture. I got wet, but I'm used to that in the rain. Umbrellas are nearly useless, although I have one — somewhere. Guys in Texas do without rain gear.
These pelicans were in pretty close. I counted 45 pelicans noonish today, so they don't all fit out on the far logs, and some just have to be in close, where they are so much more photographable, though a 500mm Rocket Launcher lens does help.
Great Egret joins the hunkered pelicans in the rain, only he's actively hunting, and they're waiting for the rain to stop, so they can preen some more.
Having eaten something that's still working its way down its long throat, the Great Egret flies by me.
Moments later, whatever it ate is mostly down the gullet, and its neck is almost back to its usual slender thread.
Steadfast, come rain or shine, the noble Great Blue Heron — either the Bay Gray or one of them — hunts and fishes in the forever shallows that go out to the middle of the lake, and keeps sail boaters away from Sunset Bay. Those dark gray spots on the pinkish water are rain splattering into the lake.
text and photographs copyright 2009 by J
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My favorite answer is, "I don't
am, after all, an amateur.
I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for three years,
although I've been photographing professionally since 1964.
Thanks always to Anna.