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Sunset Bay on White Rock Lake in Dallas Texas
October 30 2012
Used to call these collections of cormorants, pelicans and gulls "fishing armadas," even though I knew the arm in armada was about arms. Just that it looked like a flotilla, which it still is somewhat, but what it is is, is a fishing party. Some of those birds, some of the time, caught fish. Some of them did not, seemed to be just along for the fun.
Double-crested Cormorants are dark brown to black. American White Pelicans, oddly enough, are white, and gulls are white with grays and browns. Nobody here is catching any fish, but they each seem to be heading off in a direction they think will let them find some fish. Far as I could see, none of them in doing much of that.
Gulls like fish, cormorants like fish, and pelicans like fish. That's primarily what these swimming birds have in common. Fish. The gulls will eat bread thrown by humans. I haven't seen cormorants do that. Pelicans only look with disdain at such activities.
The gulls, as usual, think it should be there, even if they were not — obviously — there first, or they would have got the fish.
The pelicans appear to be flapping to where they think fish are. Nobody else seems all that excited about the possibility. If there were more than one or two fishes, those gulls would be a lot more excited.
Sunday October 28
Whether they're on the grass or out in the water, a collection of de-ducked feathers like this almost always means a predator got another one. I don't think the feathers were big enough for it to have been a pelican, but I just never know. I think it was probably a white duck. But I keep counting pelicans, and there were only 40 there this afternoon. Something got a middle or big-sized white bird and left its feathers splattered around in the water next to shore — or the floated there in the night or day.
I didn't count the coots, but there were twice as many cormorants in the bay today as pelicans.
I was proud of myself for moving slow enough not to scare a single one of what I often think may be our most skittish bird, the American Coot. My movements were subtle and careful and continuous till any of them picked me out of their crowd, then I slowed even more. So I could get close enough with my little telephoto lens to get details like this at low ISO.
I loves me some coot feet. Amazing peds!
Pelican feet, by contrast, are delicate and smaller than some duck feet. But their long beaks are perfect for picking feathers and cleaning masses of them.
Took awhile to figure out that black blob beneath this pelican is the dark, mud ground littered with little pelican feathers preened from bigger pelicans.
Of course, I have no idea where the rest of the pelicans were. Often, half or more of the flock that stays in White Rock Lake till mid next April go off to do some fishing elsewhere in the lake.
Cool and rainy. Wet day. Splattering, raining, not raining, then again. I like to see what the birds are up to when the weather's different. Snow, especially, although this is Texas. Plus, I like fewer people to deal with. For another, it was cool enough to wear a long-sleeved shirt, though I haven't yet abandoned my shorts. Rain stopped briefly several times, then started again. Both today's camera and lens are weather-sealed and have been for years and years, but for the second time I tried my very inexpensive clear plastic sleeve called, I think, Rain Guard that actually helped, but it didn't the first time I tried it last year.
Short flight from the water left of the end of the big log out there to the right end. This is the sharpest and most dramatic point along its way
I couldn't tell who was in charge, but they all gathered east of the pier, swam out in what looked like organized lines toward the logs — when the gooses do similar formations, they're arriving for food or leaving for the evening's safety. I hoped the pelicans were off to do some power fishing, but no. When they all got out where the middle logs are, they all came back. No fishing or flying. I think they're tired from flying in on the Blue Norther that's changed our weather so drastically.
Preen, rest, preen some more, It's what pelicans do. Even when there's very nearly 200 of them. I counted from the left once and from the right another time. Both times I got very near 200 but there were so many, often packed so closely, it was difficult to count every one. That's a lot of pelicans. We're used to maybe as many as 70 once they've all settled who will stay and who will fly off somewhere else. For awhile, here at the edge of winter, Sunset Bay is Grand Central Station for American White Pelicans.
Far away, darkish and wet.
Sometimes they perch over there, sometimes not. I'm trying to figure out when and why these things happen.
Couldn't get this many pelicans in one telephoto shot much closer than this, where they are closer to Dreyfuss than to Sunset Bay shore.
Not exactly as far as the eye can see. But with a telephoto's help, I counted and counted just at 200 today. They didn't look cold. Several were bathing — slapping lots of water up with their big wings, dunking and letting the water roll off their backs.
They seem to like being close. There's lots of space around the hordes, but the pelicans get in close and stay close in there.
I'm still fascinated by their wing flaps, whether they're flying or just flapping.
I was paying my attention to the bird flapping on the left, so I never even saw the pelican on the right till I got home and put the image on the monitor.
Hardly ever happens I got two separate progressions going in the same photo series. Both birds stretching something important. Wings to fly with and big pouches to catch fish in.
I've mentioned loving to photograph American White Pelicans flapping their wings, but another favorite pelk action to capture is them stretching their beaks, upper and lower, to keep them flexible enough to hold enough fish when they go fishing in great long lines in unison, what I call Esther William Style, after the famous synchronized swimming star of the 1940s and 50s "Aquamusical" movies.
The pelican on the left is about to stop flapping. The pelican on the right is about to stop stretching its beak. Both probably got what they needed in the same time, doing quite different activities. So synchronous is time but not in form.
I count ten feet, which probably means five pelicans on a short log.
Five beaks, one set of wings flapping, and some more pelicans in the background beaking each other.
They are not all the same size at this stage in their developments, but I love the comparison of small and big, docile and exploding with energy, straight-out wings and all curly.
Then we realize the curly one was really two, two, two beaks in one.
More flapping almost always accompanies getting off logs. They don't have hands, and their feet are busy, so they usually flap up and down to and from perches,which action is often accompanied by beaking, because higher and dryer real estate is always at a premium. It's probably their number one reason for conflict, although I've never seen them bleed because of those skirmishes over place.
Then comes the flapping.
Tuesday October 23
Seemed a quiet day in the life of the pelicans who visit us at White Rock Lake every September through mid-April. They're always gone by Tax Day. I had my 300mm lens undoubled, so I got better close-ups — whole birds sometimes.
Whenever I see those big wings flapping, I attempt to photograph their full lengths. A task made more difficult when my lens is longer than the distance to them. Cropping is inevitable. I suspect this one's got one of its eyelids down to protect from splashing water.
I thought I was leaving after a less-than exciting few moments of pelican-watching when, on the loop around the back of the building and upper parking lot, I noticed something flying over. More pelicans. A lot more pelicans.
The photographer I'd talked with yesterday told me he was really hoping to see them do one of their massive flyovers. I'd seen them many times before, but I was also hoping to see another, and here one was.
My Nikon D7000 did well at focusing them when they were closer to the ground, but as they flew higher...
... and started going in great, huge, gyres upward, its focus began to fail. I couldn't tell when I was shooting, but next time I'll bring my elderly but Nikon refurbished D300, which handles things focus much, much better. Of course, then I probably won't get a massive pelican flyover.
I thought I remembered them flying in closer circles as they went higher and higher, but then they disappeared, I thought off toward the East, and though I searched and searched patches of sky through the trees in Sunset Bay, I did not find them again.
When they disappeared, I drove the loop one more time, still not finding them, so I drove around to Dreyfuss Point to see what I could see. What I could see is who was still there after all those flying-over pelicans had left the area. Probably our usual contingent. I count 51 in this shot.
And 27 here. That's 78, a few more than our usual autumn - winter - spring contingent. So the flyovers today may have been the pelicans who visited yesterday. Or stopped here along their way further south. The farthest south I've ever seen pelicans in the U.S. was about 70 of them flying over the Rio Grande River in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, as they flew to Mexico, and maybe beyond.
Big, bulky white and gray and black clouds on the horizon, way too close to photograph with a 900mm lens, so I just got this little sliver of it as the sun was setting and before it disappeared behind the clouds on the bottom. Not cool, but there was a breeze.
More importantly, there were 162 American White Pelicans in the bay. I thought that was the most that have been seen this season, but another photographer told me he'd seen about 200 two days before, but he said he only counted to one hundred. All these big white birds, and me with a super telephoto and no wide angle to capture them all in one big sweep. So I picked individual targets and shot and shot and shot, till it was really too dark to shoot anymore, and by then there were only a few pelicans in the bay.
When they began gathering up and hopping to flying speed and speeding away, I captured what I could with what I had, and did remarkably well, considering. A wide angle lens would have netted dozens of pelicans at a time, taking into flight at all angles in front of the pier. A marvelous sight.
Usually, my long lens serves me well, but there are times when 900mm is just too close. My telephoto is not a zoom, and except that zooms are rarely as sharp as this lens truly is, it might be nicer, but I'll limp through with what I got. I did promise myself that next time, I'd take the doubler off, so I'd only have to deal with a 450mm equivalent.
Still, not terrible.
And as they flew and flew out west of the bay, the tele proved more and more valuable.
I can't say they gradually disappeared off the far edge of the lake.
But after awhile, it was so dark, I didn't want to watch anymore.
I went out again on Tuesday afternoon, and there were fewer than 162 in the water and on that big log west of the pier, but on my second rounding of the loop road over Sunset Bay I happened to look up into hundreds more swirling and condensing and expanding their flight over the bay, then disappear. Then reappear, and then poof, gone again. Pix of that tomorrow.
The Fort Worth Drying Beds in Arlington
Another great autumn adventure around and through the Drying Beds, which were truly drying, but where there was lots of water, there were lots of birds. Typing this, I've just come back from photographing 162 American White Pelicans at Sunset Bay, which work will be in tomorrow's Bird Journal, but first here are my best images from Anna's and my Sunday morning visit to Arlington's Legacy Park.
Perhaps by now you've notice I'm not identifying birds yet. That is because — as you probably well know — I'm not very good at identifying birds. But I'm getting pretty decent at photographing them, and sometimes even getting them in focus. Anna thinks it might be a juvenile Lark Sparrow, and she's usually closer to the right I.D than I am.
I shot 578 images Sunday at The Beds, and there are probably more shots worth printing up on this page, and I probably will. When I shot this image, I thought I might be photographing a Greater Yellowlegs with a Lesser Yellowlegs, but these may well be an adult and juvenile of one or the other Yellowlegs variety instead. I've strained my eyes in several bird I.D books, and I still don't know.
Instead of proceding chronologically, which you don't really care about, because it was Anna's and my chron and it wasn't all that logical anyway, today we're starting with my best shots and / or most interesting birds.
Almost every time I've looked at this image, I assumed that first, dunking, brown bird behind the Avocet, was a rock. Are you beginning to understand how bad a bird-identifier I have become?
Either this shot is fuzzy, or I am.
We cheered while driving down the road from I-30 to the drying beds, when we saw these hulking beats atop a series of tall street lamps. We should have backed up, and photographed them all together on the tops of matching lamps, but ever so eager to employ our longest telephoto lenses, we instead shot our Black Vulture friends as if we were shooting their close-ups.
This one was a whole other street lamp's length down the street, so this is a medium shot, not so close up. We love the Black Vultures who hang out around the dry beds, and it's always a joy to see them again..
Trinity River Audubon Center Owl-O-Ween
We went to Owl-O-Ween at the Trinity River Audubon Center, where they had actual owls from the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, and after the presentation we went on another Owl Prowl. On our first Owl Prowl at Arbor Hills Preserve on Parker Road in Plano we actually saw and photographed two owls. At tonight's we heard more than that — maybe a half dozen — on a much shorter, half-hour walk. It was fun, but both prowl leaders extensively used played back recordings of owl calls after telling us never to.
I took my camera thinking I might just get a shot of an owl in its natural habitat, but what we were looking — er... listening — for was their calls echoing around the woods and fields of the center. It was a really lovely and informative walk.
I had the devil of a time figuring out what camera and what lens to take tonight, and most of my early shots were awful. Eventually, and even though I usually just do not, I started using the flash built into my Panasonic G2, which is usually less-than for shooting birds. But those birds are usually flying, and most of these cannot, usually because of injuries …
Or because they too early imprinted upon humans, who when they first became aware, were the ones providing their food and shelter. We call that "mom and dad." But birds raised by humans don't really ever figure out that they are not human, too. Which is the reason they are kept in large, spacious cages at home or sound-proofed luxury boxes when they're on tour, teaching humans and their young about nature. One of whose lessons was that trying to raise baby birds is illegal and harmful to the birds. If you find live little birds on the ground, leave them alone. They're probably learning seomething important, and you're just getting in the way.
And despite that the fact that because they were here teaching us about them, instead of flapping about on their own, we're really glad they are employed doing that. The only other time Anna and I have been this close to such beautiful and interesting birds is when we found a couple of them dead by the side of a South Texas highway, where they'd been killed by people driving automobiles. We'd much rather see them after they've been repaired or imprinted than that.
Besides, the evening with owls was a fascinating educational opportunity I only wish I'd recorded in sound as well as in pictures. But I'm really glad I got some decent photographs. And I apologize for the red-eye from photographing this bird with direct flash.
When they're attached to a thick, heavy-duty human glove on a human hand, they tend to flop and flap around wildly. Earlier I got lots of blurry pictures of those activities. Here I almost got all of the bird and most of its wings in full flap, but it was moving too fast. Someone asked what its name was, and the guy (I'm terrible with names, and I probably shouldn't keep saying it, because it only enforces that I'm terrible with names) who's the director at Blackland Prairie Raptor Center answered that, while it's common for humans to give names to birds and animals, the birds don't know they even need names, and they never respond or recognize them.
One more Barred Owl pic refers to info under the next pic, but I didn't want to suddenly switch birds, so it's up here in the Barred Owl portion instead.
A child asked why this owl's "face looks like a heart?" The demonstrator answered that it is curved to catch sound. He also told us that owls are mostly feathers, every feather had its own muscle, so it could move any one, any time, and that the biggest thing on an owl is its eyes, which are tube-shaped rather than spheres, like humans'.
By this time, the Barn Owl was squirming into and way out of my frame, so I just clicked and clicked and hoped something would come of it.
Sorry again for the partial red-eye, but I don't really know how to fix it on owls. Beautiful little bird weighs only a few ounces, but that thick glove has its purpose nonetheless.
Many people look at owls like this and wonder what it'll
be when it grows up, but it's already grown up as big as it will ever be.
White Rock Lake
I've been feeling more than a little experimental lately, and I've been especially experimental with high ISO. I had planned to get there a little before dark but got involved in something and when I came to it was already dark. So I grabbed my camera, pulled off the doubler, and put the 300mm lens back on the cam, and put us all in The Slider and drove off to Sunset Bay. Where else would I go with a little bit of a new idea.
Okay, that shot is one of my favorites, but lets back off a little and see what happened to get that flight going. I arrive, I flip my camera up into stranglehold position and find some pelicans doing something worth going click. In the car when I got there I looked out and saw dark, so I set the ISO to the highest number and the shutter speed down to something I knew the camera would just ignore 'cause it was already too dark out there.
They were gathered in three, maybe four clumps. I think I counted 46 in all. Two big crowds and two smaller one. Four in one, seven in another, about half of what's left in the other two. Preening. Pelicans preen when they've got nothing more important to do. They preened.
Then in ones and threes and fives and nines, they swam out toward the far logs. Not exactly like zombies, but they were on a mission..
When they got out far enough, they started flying a lot father out. These pelicans were flying west for something.
They flew father and farther till they were dots even farther than that.
Hop - splash, hop - splash, hop - splash.
Leaving a vertical trail of upraised water.
Somewhere yet to be defined, but they's where the Drefus Building used to be — up on the hill just to the right of that road on the far side there.
It looks bright enough for day, but it was dark. Dark enough most people look out there and don't see nothin'. Sun downed awhile ago. The sky glows in this shot. That's part of the experiment. I'm shooting at the highest ISO this camera will shoot. Well there's "Hi" after this number, which is double this number, but I was experimenting, no going for broke. I wanted images bad enough to suffer through the image noise, which you don't see here, because I've been experimenting on my experimentation.
It's dark like it looks dark on the far side of the lake as the birds veer off to the right.
I assume they saw or thought they saw fish over there, or they found fish over there last time they tried this, or something.
By the time I quit photographing them from this side, and arrived on Dreyfus, I didn't see one of them. By then, it was even darker, and even The Slider's brightest brights couldn't see them.
Meanwhile, more pelicans gathering near the pier in Sunset Bay.
A guy and a woman were on the pier with me for awhile, and
I wondered whether they thought I must be crazy snapping my big camera and fat
lens at birds across the world, but what she said was, "That's one amazing camera
you got there." It is, and I said it was. And I'm glad pelicans are white.
Texas State Fair
Found these colorful metal birds alongside the entranceway into Fair Park from Second Avenue. They're right out front of the Butterfly Building, but I don't know who created them, and I did not see any identifying signs.
The space visible beyond the yard behind this colorful rooster is The Band Shell where in better weather during the fair and next May, I think, is the World of Birds, a daily extravaganza involving world birds trained to fly out into the audience to pick up money and perform silly skits.
Who might also be a parrot.
White Rock Lake
Almost never do I give cormorants the time of day. It seems like it's been years since I featured a stinkybird in anything resembling a heroic pose. Like this.
The Double-crested Cormorant flying toward the pole at the end of the log full of cormorants is the same cormorant featured above. If this one were as sharply in focus as that one, I might have enlarged it, instead. Pelicans are very gregarious and hang close as much as possible.
Still, there are times, when they get a little combative while they're being close. The pelican with the big beak crosswise in this photo has just jumped up onto the log these guys are on. The one looking at us askance didn't want it there, and they have just engaged in a little laser saber battle with their beaks. Guess who won. The one who won stayed.
One of my favorite poses for American White Pelicans. I don't know Brown Pelicans enough to know if they do this, too. How could they not?
I was standing there trying to zoom my non-zoom lens back to include more than one bird, when I pondered the eternal question whether all pelicans look alike when they curl up and sleep with their beaks buried in the wing feathers even though it's not very cold outside. So I photographed several pelicans on a log.
And discovered that no, they do not.
42 American White Pelicans just a few feet off the barricaded Sunset Bay pier. 42. I think a few more to come. Soon. Then we won't see them all together that often for awhile. Then they'll begin to fly in and fly out and fly, fly, fly.
So whaddyya do when ya gotta long telephoto and birds not that far away?
Almost a fist with which to scratch one's elongated chin.
I never do this. I don't think it's possible. A grackle or several flying over me? Watch. Couldn't possibly capture any shot worth capturing. Right?
Well, maybe not completely impossible. Just mostly unlikely.
Failing colors and density.
Can't wait to see the babies, small and fluffy, darting all over the place.
Mysterious black creature splashing globs of dense white water into the air.
Maybe show a few feathers.
Oh, it's a Great-tailed Grackle.
I know, we've seen these before, but this was the first time in about a week I've gone out of my way to photograph birds at my favorite place to do that. Felt nice.
I've been spending my daily photo time documenting the State Fair of Texas instead of local birds lately. And while I may not keep up the every-day schedule, I think I'm on vacation from this journal for awhile.
I've been attending the World of Birds show at the Fair for at least six years, and as fascinated by the birds as I still and probably always will be, the show leaves much to be desired. I always hope for new birds I haven't seen before. But it must take a long time to train birds, so we don't see much in the way of new. Still magnificent-looking, but nothing new.
The same little, foreign Thrasher of Rubber Alligator toys thrashed the lizard-stand-in thoroughly upon command, supposedly teaching us that some birds are fiercer than others.
Pretty bird, and smart, too.
Its best trick was a feigned escape. If it were actually escaping, it probably wouldn't be able to find anything here that it'd know was worth eating. Besides, it's been being fed by humans for a long time, and one of us human-types might take advantage of it, if it were to actually escape. At least we probably wouldn't make it go out into the crowd and fetch twenty-dollar bills.
It rained, or I might have continued photographing these
poor birds, fated to forever do the same silly tricks before huge audiences who've
probably only ever seen grackles in the reality of wild.
Watching Snowy Egrets dance is one of the more fun things to do at the lake while I'm hoping for interesting photographers.
Then I wondered if all my shots were really Snowies.
Adult Snowies have black beaks and yellow feet.
Great Egrets have yellow beaks and black feet.
Juvenile Snowies, to quote David Sibley in his Sibley Guide to Birds, "usually shows some black on forelegs." Like this.
Although the dancing was pretty fast, I do remember two separate episodes, so I guess they could have been two Snowies, but I didn't think so.
Most of this action was over in a few seconds. I waited a minute or so while I photographed a much slower bird, then I came back to this/these one/ones.
The images here are arranged so they look like they were / it was really active, which they really were / it was..
Wish I knew more dance terms. This bird was so elegant, and so fast.
Oh, and while it was bouncing off the walls in this ornate
dance, it also caught several smallish fish. I captured the bird, but I didn't
capture the fish or the bird capturing the fish. Too much of a dance fan, I guess.
text and photographs copyright 2012 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.
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