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The Current Journal is always Here All Contents Copyright 2013 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. DO NOT USE photos without permission. Photo Equipment Used Ethics Feedback Coyotes Bird Rescue Advice Name That Bird Herons Egrets Herons & Egrets Books and Links Pelican Beak Weirdness Rouses Courtship Displays 800e Journal G5 Journal Duck Love Birding Galveston 2nd Birds of the Lower Rio Grande Valley & the 1st Bald Eagle Other Dallas Photog Andy Nguyen
This Month's Better Photos: Little Blue Heron Wood ducks Why Do The Gooses Cross the Road? They're Back! Crowd of Pelicans Mobbing for a Higher Perch. How to Photograph Birds Annual Pelican Arrival Statistics Pelicans Synchro Fishing Pelican Beak Stretching Galore Pelicans Night-Flying Pelicans Flying Pelicans Fooling Around Having Fun and Getting Into Mischief
Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake
in Dallas, Texas, USA
Today's lesson is about pelican — especially American White Pelican — wing shapes. And for a big change, I'm just going to show you some pictures. That I obviously didn't shoot on All Hallowed E'en, but a couple days ago, when I really really got into photographing pelicans flying, mostly into Sunset Bay.
What exactly needs to be paid attention to here is the many sizes, shapes and forms pelicans change their wings into and out of while they fly, head in to land, land, whatever. They got it all big, major-corporation' super-expensive jet flyers, because they can change their wings in tiny and huge ways, while they're flying, any time they think about it or feel the air in just that way.
Drove all the way around the lake hoping to fins some bird besides pelicans to photograph, and although I found a few, between seeing them and them settling somewhere I could decently photograph them, they got a lot smaller and farther away. This guy's fellow bathers were exposed all wrong and too slow, so they blurred, but this one was mostly still, so I got it.
Dreyfuss was my second-to-last stop, and I was still hoping it would have been the last, but thee, I saw pelicans and cormorants. More of the latter in this view.
As you can see from this shot (also from Dreyfuss), there were gobs of pelicans over there, but that didn't even register till I got over there, which I did forthwith, because of this short series of pelicans flying. Pelicans flying is what I've been waiting and looking and hoping for for weeks now.
I didn't count pelicans till I got around the bay to Sunset proper. There were more than 211 pelicans, about 130 more pelicans than last time I counted. I talked to a reader of this journal, who described "a cloud" of 300 pelicans floating over Sunset Bay, then one here and one there, and one over there would flutter down into the bay, and the rest flew off. I've seen those clouds before, and I keep hoping to see one again, but because I don't stay in Sunset Bay all day, every day, I have so far this season missed the cloud.
I don't think I've ever seen such a goofy and curious bunch of pelicans. The ones who hung out so close to the pier that I only got parts of them, and these, thankfully a little ways off from the pier, were cute and curious. They seemed really curious about the goings-on at the pier. They saw lots of white bread being thrown and coots chasing it, so they came in close to try it out.
I often tell people who gather on the pier to throw bread at in the water who say they want the really big ducks, meaning the pelicans, to come over, that they might if they would throw fish instead of bread. I thought a pelican wouldn't even touch bread, but here's a very curious pelican trying some out. It was way too close for the telephoto lens I was using, so I only got the really important parts.
I watched several pelicans, one at a time, sneak up behind a coot who was either tail-up down into the water or topside looking for food or adventure, and goose it with that long beak. Once goosed, the coot would flee. But it was an odd game, and several pelicans, as I say, engaged in a series of serious coot-goosing. With no gulls around, I guess coots are used to being left alone, but today several of them were suddenly surprised.
I didn't hear any sound coming out. Just something a little goofy to be doing. The whole crowd of maybe a couple dozen pelicans at one time or another, just seemed so curious. Like they'd never seen humans feeding ducks and coots and pelicans and the swan before. Like it was something they had time to investigate, so they tried it out. I assume most of them will fly away tomorrow as the day wears on, so why not a little curious sport?
While I was briefly gone, the woman I'd been talking to had seen three pelicans fly in, suddenly appearing along the far edge of the inner bay right about where the logs are, and flying on in. She was worried that I'd missed them, but I told her there'd be lots and lots of that happening in the coming hours, days, months. And sure enough, shortly later, these guys suddenly appeared flying in.
I've been wondering, when they start flying again, what time will it be then? so I can come by and take pictures? This moment was 4:31:14 PM today, at the date at the top of today's journal entry.
And this is a bare few seconds later.
Always seems wrong to talk about landing, when I know they're going to get wet in water. Is a water landing a self-contradiction, oxymoron or just the way we think?
I could have just been happy watching them flying in and in and in, but I figured why not photograph some, since I was there and had this camera thing with me.
But it's just happenstance. Hap and I are old buddies.
So, so, so, so glad the flying pelicans are
Eager to prove I don't just photograph pelicans, I found these pelicans eminently photographable.
But there were a lot more grackles in the area. I tried capturing them flying in — as I sometimes do — maybe my general on-the-uptake speed would improve if I practiced on capturing the fast-flying Great-tailed Grackles instead of the comparatively slow American white Pelicans, although white birds are easier to see.
Might have been nice to get the bird — especially its feet — as sharp as the chunk of bread it's got, but ya can't get everything, every time.
I'm always surprised, when I aim at birds coming into Sunset Bay, to get them all in focus: one male and two females.
Especially four times in a row.
This is at 300mm, so about 4 times as likely.
Maybe I should have shot a little quicker, especially on this down-side end, but not bad.
I'd call it a butt shot, but I don't want to be crude, though it seems odd that I always wait for them to acquire a standard facing view, when they look away at least half the time.
I still have trouble calling this a grackle. It looks more like something far more exotic. I guess I'm not used to looking up at one.
I actually went by Sunset Bay the next evening,
but having lost track of time, I was late, and I only saw one pelican on the
logs just off Sunset Beach, so I just kept driving, and went home to write.
I was there — Sunset Bay, again — to photograph pelicans flying. Walt told me they did that in evenings past sunset, and even though I'd extensively photographed pelicans early that morning, there I was doing it at night, too. But the pelican residents weren't doing much at these moments, so I — as usual — shot whom I could find.
Regular readers know just how much I like Wood Ducks. Yeah, the males are brightly colored, but the females are interestingly-marked and have their own bits of bright color.
Every once in a while I actually paid attention to the pelicans resting and preening on the logs opposite what I call Sunset Beach, the area of the lagoon that's opposite where Charles feeds gooses, ducks, swan, coots and other birds.
And since what I wanted to photograph were big white birds flying — when this Great Egret took wing and flew off toward Dreyfuss Point, I visually followed with camera and lens. I'd removed the 2X extender, because that gave me a much 'brighter' 300mm, so I could shoot at night, well into the darkness.
Then it just started, without fanfare, so I missed the beginning. Then there it was, and they were flying away in dribs and drabs, as they usually do unless one of The City's Habitat Destruction Machines are after them — or they think it is.
Some birds run on the water to gain speed to transition into the air; some just jump into flight without running; and some hop. Pelicans hop.
Last time we saw these birds, only two of them were were even standing up. Now one is swimming off toward hopping into flight, and the others are at least standing up, a couple at at near full attention.
This pelican is ready to go.
And rapidly go it does.
Next time I go for the evening flight, I'll pay more attention to the pelicans, maybe even talk with the Bird Squad members less early on, so I can capture them heading off. These trips usually take going twice. Once to reconnoiter the scene, and once again to do my serious shooting. By what seems pure happenstance, I managed to do pretty well with the little prep I'd done, although I did suddenly catch-up with exposure difficulties. Luckily, you don't get to see my utter failures, and I get to throw them away.
It's not exactly flight here, and all night I did not see the sort of flight I've come to expect from Our Winter Visitors, but that time will come, and this was beautiful.
Usually I think of pelican feet as being inordinately small. This one seems to have really big feet. I don't know quite how, but I love that arching splash of its last hop.
It's flying; it's flying; it's flying. You have no idea how excited I was when they began actually flying, even if it was only a few inches off the surface of the lake.
Here's another one of those situations when I suddenly clicked the exposure to adjust my camera settings to the ever-changing light.
I think that's either the dam in the background or something else. Not sure really.
What? Maybe three or four feet up. Hooray!
Sometimes pelicans look like they have remarkably short wings. Sometimes they have longer wings. Sometimes, like some jet fighters, they change the length of their wings as they fly along. Pelicans actually change the length of their wings as they fly. There's a part of their wings out at their extremities, that actually fold out when they need more control over flight.
I keep being amazed how well my camera can focus in near-dark. A fellow photographer said while there was still dusk light, that once that was gone, photography would be impossible, but as you can see, it was not. I point out somewhere here that night photographers really have more need of contrast than light. Of course, you can't see contrast without light…
The caption information under some of these images indicates the ISO (used to be called "film speed when we still had film"). If it doesn't change from the previous shots down the page, I don't note each. When it does, I try to. It's not like I was madly switching it all evening. Usually I set it to do that automatically, while maintaining a shutter speed of at least 1/1,000th second when I use the lens doubled to 600mm. But somewhere along the way tonight, I switched the minimum shutter speed down to 1/500.
Probably best practice is to set the minimum shutter speed to the reciprocal of the longest focal length available. If you have a 300mm lens, the best shutter speed is 1/300 second, which I usually push to 1/500 unless I really need the lower fraction. When I use a 600mm, I almost always set the shutter speed at least 1/640 but probably 1/1000, especially with fast-moving birds.
At least twice this night, I set the ISO differently, I forget why now — it usually has something to do with light levels, but I remember doing it. I check the LCD often, although even that's not a perfect way to be certain what got recorded. Quite literally, I was playing — i.e. experimenting. There was probably method in my madness, but because the camera usually keeps track of all those numbers, I don't write it down.
I wanted to catch them doing the synchronized fishing dance they do so elegantly, but I couldn't really see in the dark like my camera could. These last two shots looked to me a little duller than the third shot up. So I just snapped away, hoping I'd catch them at it. My far vision suffers, which is one of the reasons I mostly use telephoto lenses. How I came to think in telephoto. When I used to be a news photographer, I primarily used and thought in wide angle. For one full year in the early 1970s, I used only my Nikon 35mm f1.4 lens. For everything.
What they were doing was synchronized fishing, but it's not obvious that's what's happening in any of these shots. We don't see dunking, raising full mandibles and draining them back. Maybe because they weren't catching anything. At some point, somebody — or everybody at once — decided this wasn't working, and they turned around and tried something else.
The early shots in today's journal entry were exposed at f5.6, because I forgot to change it. Then I changed the aperture to f4, like here, and even f2.8, when I was actually paying attention to all those camera setting numbers. I usually find those things out much later when I've done either a good job or a lousy one.
This Night Pelican Shoot was — end to end — so much fun, I didn't even care, and it turned out rather well, so I may have learned some things. I always hope so, but during is very experiential.
I had wondered where the egrets go when the pelicans are here, and I'm very curious when various species of birds occupy what parts of the lake.
I can't wait till I catch as many as possible pelicans flying during the bright light of day. I have some things I hope to try, and I'm getting better at holding the focus patch on fast-flying subjects, so I might actually succeed. Maybe.
This is about as action-ish as it got last night.
Or, at least, that's what it looked like. Note the egrets in the lower central right of this pic. They're just standing there, they're not fleeing or anything.
I thought they were going to land near their usual perches. Instead they kept flying off toward, no doubt, a better place to find massive amounts of fishing.
This image reminds me of all those times I've been able to photograph pelicans coming in from off fishing somewhere. Here, their flying is in disarray. In daylight, my memory tells me they are much more organized.
I really like these images for their massive confusion. So many layers of birds doing things. The egrets are just standing there, slightly less focused than the line of swimming pelicans, which are sharp. Then there's the pelicans who are already flying off toward some other place. I assumed they were going to do more night fishing. But maybe there's other reasons. Several varieties of birds who use the area out to the logs to perch during the day, go somewhere else at night. Usually for self-protection.
The gooses go around Dreyfuss to the Bath House Cultural Center in the late evening, and I've many times photographed them coming back around 9:15 the next morning. Some parts of the year, the gooses stay at the Bath House day and night. You'd have to ask them what their real reasons are.
Two, busy-enough shoots in one day means I got a day or two off, so I can write about some art I've been meaning to for a couple days.
Early Ayem October 23
Arranged chronologically, as usual. Light in different parts of the bay are at differing levels. Close in to shore, it's still kinda dark. The sun is slowly throwing light over the tall trees up the hill to the baseball fields, out on the far edge of the bay, beyond the logs. This is close in, where I call the upper lagoon. On the other side from shore is the Hidden Creeks area. I know there's two creeks, maybe a third one, also. White pelicans tend to be bright almost anywhere. Cameras can do that.
Out farther, near the logs there's the amber of morning, but not much direct, hard, shadow-making sunlight, yet.
Up the lagoon, the mist was still crawling across the water in vertical poofs.
Not much action there yet.
EXcept maybe a little flapping.
Mid-lagoon, we got the gooses lined up and coming round Dreyfuss Bend along Hidden Creek Forest. And a gorgeous Wood Duck hen on her high perch glowing in early morning ambler.
Mid lagoon's a little busier in spurts. Each area requires a quite different exposure. Someday, Nikon will have a voice- or GPS- activated exposure memory, so I don't have to keep track of the differences or remember which is which. But not yet.
I don't even remember where every shot was taken.
But this one's out toward the logs, Bright sun with a little amber in it.
We pause a little mid-lagoon to watch a middle-sized pelican ...
... flap and flap and not rise an inch into the air.
It must feel good. I've tried it, standing on the pier, sometimes, but it's just not the same. I didn't rise any into the air, either.
Here, out toward the logs, I think, but not all the way, we have — left to right — sunlight and shadows, so I set the exposure for the bright.
October 22 2013
Counted 82 American White Pelicans in Sunset Bay today after only 37 yesterday, and I spent some quality time with them. I got regular old pelican pictures aplenty, but I also go beak pix, and those are what I'm showing today. As often here, they are in chronological order, even though that doesn't really matter much today, except for the sequences.
Not sure why now, but I changed the framing and center of focus just before this shot.
Mind you, these are almost all of today's shots, significant enlargement of the 35mm-sized 24 x 36mm full-frame sensor, which did amazingly well, seriously helped by using a tripod. And when the shots weren't helped that way, I didn't use them.
I love the way this pelicans pal here just stares off toward me while all this organic inversion is going on. I've never seen a pelican invert the back portion of its mandible before. That reminds me of yet another mandible stretch I shot today that actually shows the valve some people call its tongue, although I'm not sure they have tongues. I better check that.
Usually, they just do the front part, although most often more than shown here.
It really helps to have the setting sun shining through it.
Seems like every time a pelican gains perch where either another pelican was just standing or between two pelicans who were already plenty close enough together, the new pelican has to fend off de-perched belligerence with its beak. Here, the one with wings flapping has drawn the attention of the others, but no beaking occurred.
This is usually the first move in a full mandible stretch, but they seem to do it either way: starting with the lean-back neck stretch with mandible in the air or inverting it over their chest or whatever this one's inverting it over.
Today's last shots are this pelican doing the upper portions of a mandible stretch. It did not do a lower mandible inversion first.
I've been photographing pelicans stretch various parts of their bodies for many years now, and these may be the best images I've got of them doing that. Or else I've just so excited I got these in focus.
I'm already confused with my new policy of citing the day the photographs in the journal entry were instead of the day they show up online, and it won't do me any good with the pelican arrival stats below, since those entries in this long-ongoing journal were labeled by the day they were posted instead of the day they were shot, but I'm not very interested in tracking down all those corrected dates.
Tomorrow, I'm either going to show pictures of American White Pelicans' wings doing wingy things or whatever I get at the lake tomorrow. Sooner or later, I'm just going to have to go somewhere besides Sunset Bay, but right now I am still utterly fascinated by the growing horde of pelks there.
82 is about a dozen more than usually stay in Sunset Bay over the winter, but I don't mind. And except for a few spare shots so far this autumn cum winter, I haven't really taken many photographs of them flying, and frankly, I just can't wait. Love me some pelican flying pictures.
Not sure it matters to you, but most of today's shots were taken with a big chunk of a tripod under my camera and lens for a change. I knew I'd be there awhile, and I just didn't want to hand-hold for that long. I can tell the diff; can you?
October 20 around 4 pm
I didn't intend for this to happen. I thought I was getting great shots of the GBH flying up the Lagoon to where it usually hunts, behind the big bloom of tall reeds on the Upper west side of the lagoon. But some of my GBHs were shot too slow, and they blurred.
By the time the Great Egret took the same flight for pretty much the same reasons only slightly differing hunting grounds a little closer to the mid Lagoon area, the Great Blue had disappeared into Hidden Creek Forest.
But we're doing a little time-shifting here to bring you a nearly complete journey, but with two greats, not just one. Two - two - for the price of one.
All 37 of them. Last time I visited Sunset Bay, I didn't stay long, and I didn't get nearly as high a percentage of decent shots, so I never used them. This time, I got just enough, with maybe a few over, than I can add to the next time's mix.
Apparently, 183 of the 220 pelicans I counted early [links to below on this page] October 16, or 363 of the 400 Charles guessed at the evening before, were just visiting, neither of which numbers are divisible by my theory of 70 pelicans per flock, thus apparently disproving all that.
I was clicking along as the Great Egret traversed the lagoon. Nice to have an audience.
Egret pivots with extended audience.
I'm pretty sure I got contact dermatitis from a medicine I got at the VA, but it sure looks like Poison Ivy, although I don't think I've even been in sniffing distance of some, but then I almost never recognize that evil stuff before I get into it, only after. My extensive studies on the I-net indicate that both are eminently plausible scenarios. I quit the medicine, and I'm hoping to get quit of the diseases by the end of the week — or my civilian doctor wants me to get back with him. It doesn't itch nearly as much as it did, and when it was, I was in no mood to photograph birds.
Note recoiling neck.
And another familiar shape.
I watched the pelicans very closely for a long time, hoping against hope to catch one do the full Lower Mandible Stretch, the beginnings of which I got somewhat lower on this page, but I saw none do that, so when one flapped its wings, I was allover it.
I think it's the final touch in the long process of preening to secret a little lanolin and spread it around on its feathers, thus guaranteeing a certain degree of water-proof-ness.
This pelican is not fishing. I know I've seen a Great Blue Heron stealing all the fish off a storage line planted near the Old Boat House, full of fish caught by a fisherman, who had left the area. It took the GBH a long time to pull the line up and eat every single fish on it, but it seemed an overwhelmingly positive thing for it to do. So herons and fisher humans do go for the same prey.
The Great Blue Heron and the Great Egret fishing in the same water. I suspect they're not after the same types or same sizes of fish, but I couldn't prove that. I did read recently somewhere that fishermen and pelicans both know that each other are after different fish, and it doesn't surprise me a bit that pelicans are at least as smart as fisher persons.
This one did not seem to quite match the action of my reverse time travel attempt earlier, but I still like it, so it's down there to end the day. Well, it could have, but I wanted the GBH to be first, since I so many good GE Shots and only a precious few GBHs.
October 16 evening
After having up to 400 — Charles insists there were four hundred — pelicans in Sunset Bay last evening, and I counted 220 this morning, there are now 37 American White Pelicans in Sunset Bay.
What it's doing here is of less consequence than what it's about to do.
Looking at the pelicans whose beaks you can see in this image, you might never guess what strange things they can do with their lower mandible. We call ours "jaw," but we can't do this sort of amazing thing with ours. At least most people cannot. Unfortunately, this sequence shows only the early portions of a full mandible stretch, but their will be other opportunities (and I have a full page of images of some of what Pelicans Can Do With Their Beaks. It's called Pelican Beak Weirdnesses.)
No, that is not a pelicans tongue. If they had a tongue, it would be that valve thing back near their throats. Nope, this is their lower mandible, stretched over this pelican's upper chest.
I generally strive to make my pelican pictures looks as good as I can make them. Sometimes that means showing them pretty well and the stuff around them however they turn out. The picture above was actually photographed in light almost exactly like this. The sun's gone down, there's not a lot of color around. It's getting dark.
Sunset Bay has some really spectacular sunsets, but this isn't one of them.
I waited and waited, and I was eventually rewarded with a couple pix of pelicans flying. I must have missed the mass pelican fly-off this morning or earlier afternoon, because there were 220 pelicans in Sunset Bay when I left this morning, and 37 when I got back after doing some other things in my life. I would love to have seen a mass pelican fly-up.
Somewhere on last month's page is a shot of this season's first flying pelican photograph. Today's shots were in strict chronological order, but that just can't continue much longer.
October 16 early ayem
Just 'cause it's so confusing, I'm changing my day-dating format from citing in big purple letters and number the day I post these journal entries to the day I shot them. You may not have been confused, but I sure have confused me. This is one of the first shots I made this early morning. Earlier than it seems. It was nearly dark when I started. Actually, I started by walking out onto the pier at Sunset Bay without a camera and just squinting out there to see whether I could see any pelicans.
I could see the guys on the logs in the lower left here, but the ones behind were mostly a whitish blur. I supposed I could have presented that picture like that, but I like to see actual birds instead of blurs, so here you have it.
And for clarity's sake, my fairly precisely-counted number for pelicans as of around 8 o'clock this morning, is 220 pelicans, which may well be the same number as guessed last night at nearly twice that. I counted heads. They guessed at white-feather mass.
That number seems to agree with another one of my ongoing theories, that pelicans tend to travel in units of 70, although they may join with other units for much large flocks. It's just a theory. I may have some evidence, but I have no proof. The flock I saw flying over the Mexican/American border several years ago was 70 pelicans strong. The usual, rounded-off, number of pelicans who stay in Sunset Bay from autumn to spring every year (Notice I'm not citing specific dates anymore.) is usually about 70.
Over the seven years I've been doing this journal, I've seen larger flocks fly to Sunset Bay, rest and recoup awhile, then leave 70 of their number here, then the rest fly off to parts unknown. I've seen and photographed them at various lakes around Dallas and North Texas. The pelicans Anna and I have seen at Hagerman NWR usually number about twice that, though they've been too far away to count individually.
The next pic up shows about the number of pelicans we've had for the last few days on one long log. And another bunch on the log to the left of it. Here we see the beginning of the large mass of pelicans swimming back and forth and back again, heading past the mounted pelicans.
Anyway, it's an interesting-enough theory for me to keep myself busy with it for some time. And another opportunity to count things.
And here we see the mounted pelicans nearly engulfed with back-and-forth swimming pelicans. To what purpose, I can only guess.
By now there was enough light to put the doubler on the cannon, which cuts the light by two stops, down to one-fourth of what there was, but there was by 7:49 more than a hint of eventual sunlight seemed to be heading our way, although the rain mostly obliterated that. Whenever I saw a hint of light from the sky this morning, more rain would blot it out. I'm not really complaining. That's the way the universe works. Mostly, I'm just explaining.
Some pelicans have stopped to preen, but the vast majority are simply swimming back and forth across the area known as "the logs" on the outer edges of the inner bay. I have no idea what they were doing, except maybe exercising their feet, which they haven't been using except as ailerons. Maybe they're keeping warm or just keeping busy. Back and forth, back and forth, the whole 220 of them.
I think there's sixteen pelicans here, which is what we've had in Sunset Bay for several days. I wouldn't know if these are they, though I am curious.
There's generally less light than we can see in this pictures. But here, finally, there's enough to stop fast action, though there's nearly no depth of field behind that one, low-flying juvenile Double-crested Cormorant (I think and believe, which means they've been coming back in droves to all but replace the Neotropic Cormorants who've been our guests all summer and into autumn.
I might should note the aperture used, also. As usual with largely non-changing action over a long period, I'm changing things on the camera, to see what differences they make, and if I don't note them here, I don't learn those things.
Then it turned dark again, and I just didn't want to stand out there in the cold while they did the same exact things over and over and over. But, boy! it's nice to see them all back, even if I know most of them will fly off to some other venue, probably soon. I didn't see any pelicans fishing this morning, but surely some of the hungry ones did, and I wonder how our fish supply in Sunset Bay is holding out.
So here I am debunking my own theories of historical arrival patterns, when Charles F calls me at 20 after 11 pm and tells me if he'd had my new phone number at six, I could have rushed down to Sunset Bay and seen and photographed, he said, 400 pelicans. I would have liked that, but I rushed down to Sunset Bay in the rain anyway, and photographed who knows how many pelicans doing maneuvers in the dark.
All my shots here were hand-held at some ridiculous high iso. So high that my camera didn't even record it. I pegged the meter, set the focus on infinity, since I couldn't see for the darkness and the rain, and just started shooting. When I checked the first eight shots, they showed darned few pelicans. I was firing blind in an less-than-blinding rainstorm with a camera and lens that are "weather sealed" better than I was.
By this time, I'd driven all the way around the Sunset Building and parked off to the left facing the lake, again. The light you see shining on the tree and the birds are The Slider's Full-Bright LED Beams. It was the best light source I could think of, and easy to think of since I was already using them to drive around Sunset Circle, and I could just barely see pelicans out there in the bay.
Still not 400, but many more than the 16 we had this morning. With every couple of shots I changed settings or position or something.
I was excited and would have been cold if I'd thought about it much, and wet and getting wetter, but then so were my targets out there. It took me a long time to figure out that they were out there moving around. Who knows why? Better positioning? To get back close to family and friends? I don't know. But all the time I was clicking away, leaning my camera on the hood, the rearview mirror on one side or the other of The Slider, they were changing positions.
Probably the strangest moments were when I closed The Slider's door, so I could sit on something dry later, with the engine running, wiper blades wiping and the warning tone screaming. Then another warning tone warning about something else joined in, enough out of harmony to be really annoying, but eerie. Then I got fed up and drove home.
So, anyway, they all, however many of them there were, arrived on October 15. I just realized all my stats are off by a day or two, because the dates in purple are when I post pix — the date of the journal entry, not when I take them.
Guess who will be up bright and early in the morning, drizzling rain or bright sunshine?
Once again, this is the most spectacular shot of the day in the rain, not the first one that happened in what you may experience as a series down this page. To see what led to this particular pelicano melee, follow along today's Rainy Columbus Day Bird Journal Entry. More mobbing pix below.
When I arrived near Sunset Beach, it took awhile for me to apply DEET to every known surface that bugs like to bite me. When I first drove in, I saw pelicans perching on top of that log they seem to have chosen for their main habitat in the inner bay, but by the time I had debugged legs, arms and head, they were instead, heading out — in an organized and dignified manner. That looks like a particularly large pelican fronting this group out, but it may be an optical delusion brought on by a trick of the telephoto.
I know gooses often line up in an order worked out by themselves. I don't know whether pelicans do that, too, or they just get in line wherever they can. There may even be an order of exaltation going on here.
Speaking of Natural Selection, here's a bunch of pelicans — far as I can tell, it's the same fifteen or sixteen American White Pelicans that we've had in Sunset Bay for the last week or so — struggling to acquire the upper-most perching position on a short log at the far reaches of the outer bay — in the rain, which was sometimes falling so fast that it blurred my view of everything out there.
It's not the first time I've seen pelicans jockeying for position, but I don't think I've ever seen so many of them duking it out for so few places on such a short log.
It didn't last very long, and as usual, I didn't see any injured pelicans, but they went at it with lots of flapping and climbing for quite a few seconds. Okay, I checked back. The first two pelicans to mount the log were there by 3:22:56 this rainy afternoon, and the winners had established themselves in position by 3:26:04. So right at three minutes and eight seconds of flurry.
This happened a few seconds after the action portrayed into this entry's first image. Obviously some pelicans care about such positioning, and some just do not want to get involved. I guess we can all identify with that.
Well, the winners are off to the left in this shot. With just the pointy front end of the boat the fisher person was in out there behind them on the left edge of this shot, and now the also-rans are deciding who stands where on the much longer, but ever so slightly lower log closer in.
For years, I've wanted to prohibit people in boats from scaring my precious pelicans and everybody else out of Sunset Cove. But neither this person, nor the other person in a very small boat (I'm gonna have to get me one of those, someday) fishing in Greater Sunset Bay did any scaring that I could see. They had their own fish to — uh — catch. But they were whom I thought of first when I saw the pelicans lining up to go out onto the outer Bay. And the whole pelican flurry never seemed to phase them, out there, each alone in the drizzling, gray, wet, rain.
Someone or some thing spooked the gooses, ducks, coots and single Mute Swan, so they wanted to rush on out of wherever they were faced with whatever scary thing that was out there, out the little inlet west southwest of the pier at Sunset Bay where I was standing looking for something to photograph when whatever this was exploded into being. Especially nice to see the swan right up in the big middle of everybody in this rapid community scenario.
There were coots involved, I believe, but they were too short to be seen over the log in the upper image, and too fast to be lollygagging around the rear of the formation this late into the proceedings.
I'd given up on getting good shots of pelicans, because before I left the bay, they'd got father and farther away. So I looped down Garland Road, and came back up my always-calming drive from Garland Road past the unspeakable idiots who cut down big, real trees to replace them with even-bigger metal ones (but I never look on that side of the road, I stare out onto the lake when I'm not busy navigating down the road up toward Winfrey Point. That slow, high MPG tour always calms me down, so I drive it often.
I'm neither particularly pelican clairvoyant nor do I really know why pelicans do anything. But it was raining harder and harder, and they were coming back from out near Winfrey Point, which is pretty much on the outer edge of where I can photograph them with any decent detail, especially in the rain.
Both of my photographs of the pelicans single-filing back in from the Outer Bay were shot from the road down the hill from the Winfrey Building toward Sunset Bay. This one finds me back in Sunset Bay Proper, with rain pouring down enough to keep me in The Slider, photographing my favorite birds out the driver's window. Usually, I'm standing on that wobbling pier, so I rarely photograph it itself, but this is what it looks like after The City's Habitat-Destruction machines knocked down all the trees, bushes and vines that would love to hold that piece of land from sliding into the lake.
That that vegetation also protects many species of birds, animals, bugs and others of The Universe's Glory does not seem to phase whoever directs all those big, noisy, habitat destruction machines. No wonder The City is so intent on stamping it out. The taller among those weeds and trees and such were encroaching a bit upon the entrance to the pier, but the cutting-back could have been done with more finesse and less damage to the habitat that area provides for so many critters. Instead it was done quickly and sloppily by someone who was obviously just told to get rid of it. And rid of it it got
Pelican Arrival Statistics & Links
for White Rock Lake's Sunset Bay
Last week I heard another White Rock Bird Photographer tell some people that the American White Pelicans who stay in and around Sunset Bay each year arrive by September 15 and leave by April 15, and that info sounded very familiar, so I figured he'd got his info from this journal, since I usually simplify it to that one day for arrival, and tell people they are always gone by Tax Day.
But I wanted to check my figures, and when I did, I discovered that our white pelicans arrive pretty erratically.
Maybe next April I'll do this same research fort precise dates for our American White Pelican flock's departure. But the arrival end of my pelican tracking took me several hours, clicking back using the "Last Year" and "Year Ago" links in the gold box at the tops of these monthly pages. Usually, about 70 pelks stay from autumn till early spring every year, so once the arrival number gets to about that, I stop counting, unless I see another major flock fly over.
I usually only count pelicans in Sunset Bay, but once, as you'll see, I also guessed at the much larger number I saw at John Bunker Sands Wetland Center near Segoville.
These are the correct counts coordinated with the correct dates for 2007 through so far in 2013, although my pelican-counting has never been scientific. I count them when I have nothing better to do, or it seems like a good time. I count crowds of people and all kinds of other things, too. Note: Bird Journal Pages are big, so give them time to load.
2007 - 29 pelicans October 8; 53 pelicans October 10; 78 pelicans October 16
2008 - 5 pelicans September 11; 6 September 18; 11 September 19; 22 by end of September; 44 October 2; 141 pelicans October 7
2009 - 2 pelicans September 20; 9 by September 24; 78 pelicans fly-over October 14
2010 - 2 pelicans October 6; hundreds at John Bunker Sands October 14; 22 pelicans at Sunset Bay by September 8; 9 by October 21; 50 pelicans in Sunset Bay, more than half a dozen pelicans playing catch with a plastic water bottle on October 26
2011 - 6 (probably year-round) pelicans August 14; 8 pelicans by September 8; 17 by October 17; 24 by October 21 …
2012 - 2 year-round pelicans still there in early September; 9 pelicans by September 15; 42 pelicans by October 8; and a massive flyover Tuesday October 23 — apparently, all of our year-round pelicans who were remnants of the rehabilitated pelicans released by Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation in the summer of 2010 (I think), had flown away by then, and 65 pelicans by October 26.
2013 - 1 non-year-round pelican in Sunset Bay September 7, but it disappeared a few days later; 3 by September 23; 6 by October 1; and as I write this there have been 16 American White Pelicans in Sunset Bay for the last few days. And waiting.
Near perfect exposure, right? But I couldn't see it through my optical viewfinder, and for some reason I still don't get, I assumed it was too dark, so I lightened it up a couple clicks, and ruined all the succeeding shots, which might have even better, but definitely were not. Of all my favorite birds, the GBH is my favorite favorite. It's who's on my Bird Journal business card. I didn't see it coming, and I really don't care that I blew all the rest of the photographs of it this time. I got this one right. And it's at the top of today's journal, even if there are now sixteen pelicans in the bay.
I was waiting and waiting for one of those pelicans to do a full mandible stretch, and I even saw one, and wondered at seeing it, but I didn't capture it on silicone. So it's not there.
White on white.
They were all over the inner bay, and I shot them several times, but mostly they just look like confusion and a mess. This looks a little confused, yeah, of course, but it also looks almost organized. Almost organized enough.
They'd been making a real racket in the thicket of trees below, so I was paying the area some attention throughout the hour or so I was out there. My first several shots of these two were awful. Way over exposed. I adjusted. Probably more than these two scissortails, but these and one other are all I ever saw.
Darned nice of these, eventually four, American White Pelican to go fishing almost right in front of the photographers gathered on Sunset Pier. I could describe every motion down today's journal entry, but why? You can tell what's going on about as well as I can.
It's true natural habitat.
With all that beardly feathers under its chin, it must be a flycatcher.
Didn't seem to be more than last time I counted — fifteen or so, but they were coming in closer to Bird Squad Beach, so I was able to fill my digital frame with them. Now, I'll really go crazy joyous when they're rested up enough they go flying, in and out of Sunset Bay.
Right now they're main job is to rest up, do a little fishing from time to time, and preen those feathers, so they can do they kind of flying that thrills this photographer and all those others.
Katy was named after one of the police persons who frequents the Bird Squad, evenings at Sunset Bay. We don't know if the bird is male or female, but it's a big, strong bird, most of us wouldn't want to mess with. And so most of us don't. Katy is a Mute Swan, and I haven't heard it say anything, but in general, Mute Swans are not mute.
If I'd had the camera a little closer for this drive-by shot, I might have got it standing in front of the weeds instead of behind, and we could have been able to tell the grasshopper's first name, there'd have been so much up-close detail. But it was far, and I was slow on the uptake, but I waited, and eventually it showed off its juicy catch. Click.
Took a bunch of shots to hone in on focus on this bird. When it was closer, my focus was farther. But I kept at it, and eventually got some sharp, both going.
And coming. I'd been asking the Universe for a better chance at a RTH for several weeks. Maybe I should light some hawk candles...
I encountered a young couple actively engaged in counting pelicans recently, and they seemed to think I was intruding into their pelican-counting game, even if I do it every time I go to Sunset Bay, which is every single day lately, even if I don't take any pictures. I suspect there's a lot of us pelican counters lately, and probably more will join the party soon. I believe I count seven pelican heads in this shot, but that's just on one log. They're expanding their territory.
I kept counting and counting and counting the two groups with one outlying and several swimming back and forth from group to group, when I got sidetracked photographing this mighty flapper. At first it was just it. Then it started flapping the third pelican from the left here.
With some serious beaking going on, but just for a few seconds. Glad I'd quit counting, or I'd have missed just the sort of intra-pelican behavior that I love to capture.
I didn't see any of them flying. That's what I'm really out standing on my pier every day since the first pelk appeared, then a few days later, disappeared. I suspect these guys are here to stay, but I can never tell, for sure.
Everybody's getting into the action.
Now, if you'll just be so kind as to remove the pointy end of your beak from my feathers, while everybody else gets up in arms and wings.
Whichever side of Sunset Bay I shot from today, there was always one, solo pelican standing on yet another log, so that brings us to a total of 16 pelicans in the bay today. And more coming.
Meanwhile, I kept following another flock of female Cinnamon or Blue-winged Teal (ducks) round and round the inner bay till they widened their circle to include the whole lake.
First there was a widely-circling flock of female Cinnamon Teal, then a flock of female Blue-winged Teal, now I think, another flock of female Cinnamon Teal. But people who send me their strange-looking birds expecting me to identify them, are often disappointed.
It was comparatively closer, so I got lots of fine detail.
Friday nights are really too busy on Sunset Pier to be taking pictures, let alone struggling with an ancient tripod and long lens, but there I was, and all around me were wedding photographers — I didn't really keep track, but I believe there were three of them out there shooting luvy-duvy couples against the setting sun. One of those, all women, tromped around like tank, though she was skinny as a rail. Go figure.
For a total of ten as of Friday October 4. Can the hoards be far behind? — I like this shot for the Pelican stretching just about everything its got, including its beak. The black blobs are cormorants, possibly Neotropic variety, although I believe I saw an influx earlier in the evening, of several flocks of our usual winter guests, cormorants of the Double-crested variety.
It was a lot darker than this shot appears and noisier, to boot, but these are the two American White Pelicans who have just flown in, and their wings are tired. The left-most pelican stretches, The second one sleeps and the cormorant on the end of the log stares off to the right.
Some pelican, perhaps having just flown in from, oh, somewhere between North or South Dakota off wet to Eastern Idaho or north and west from there up into Canada. We tracked bands on their legs to Dakota and southeastern Idaho, but they could be from anywhere up there.
Probably all the newly-arrived ones are tired, but they're possibly even more hungry, and one of the main reasons up to about 70 American White Pelicans settle in Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake, here in Dallas, Texas, USA, is because of all the fish in this shallow bay. Kids bouncing on the other end of the pier were announcing each new, huge fish — they thought they were carp — I've seen them down there often, but I'm more interested in photographing birds, so I don't know those big fish by their proper titles.
Winfrey is south-southwest of Sunset Bay and amazing far from me standing on the far side of the pier at Sunset Bay. Within minutes of them setting out from their R&R (rest and relaxation, not rock 'n roll) island, they were gulping down large backfills of fish. As the authors of my precious Lone Pine Edition of The Birds of Texas assert, "The bill can hold over 3 gallons of water and fish, which is about two to three times the stomach capacity."
In this photograph, the pelican in the middle appears to be dredging one or more fish into its eminently-stretchable lower mandible.
After filling that mandible, they tilt it back and swallow.
Pelican A (left) is still looking, While Pelican B has its Face in the Water, seining for fish.
Remarkable variety of birds out in the bay Friday night.
The Lower Spillway Steps
Jump off the upper-most step of the Lower Steps beneath the dam, shot from the fence by the parking lot. I also shot a lovely shot of it standing over the engulfing precipice, like I have almost every time I've ever photographed a BCNH, which is why I've decided not to this time.
I was so quiet and careful today sneaking up on my patron saint here that it never even twitched and I kept getting more details in that luscious, shadowy place of rushing water and fishing shorebirds.
For some stupid reason, I usually wait for a bird to turn profile, sw we can see it's long beak or whatever, while everybody knows they spend the greatest part of their lifetimes preening — getting all those feathers in place for flying and stuff. I love that even with its head very nearly upside-down, it's eyelid protects it from above.
Everybody itches but not all of us have such wonderful nails for scratchin'.
October 3 2013
And we're expecting a bunch more white pelicans soon, very soon. They're a main interest. Why I come back whenever I can these days. But they are not Sunset Bay's only attraction.
It must have been right there, in place from before I arrived on the pier in Sunset Bay. I remember a father telling his child about a gray bird with long legs 'out there.' But though I kept looking, it took a long time to pick this guy out of its vivid background.
I only saw it out there walking and/or staring off into space. I never saw it try or actually catch anything.
I was still trying to get a definitive shot of the LBH, when it bolted up and off. Took a few precious seconds to acquire focus, then this.
And this. I was not quick enough to capture the image of a Cockatiel. I saw it. I photographed at it, but I never quite caught up with it after three attempts. But for a Little Blue Heron, I afford myself all the attention I needed.
I never quite caught those large gray ducks that I still think are gorgeous, in their own way. But I've been watching this guy, and today, finally, I got him in just the right light and surroundings.
I am thoroughly enjoying photographing this mid-term, lithe duck, who's so handsome, he's beautiful.
A slightly different one. I've always loved watching adult breeding Wood Ducks, but the non-breeding males have really captured my attention lately.
At least a couple times every afternoon into evening, the gooses decide they need to walk across the road.
I've often seen the geese insist upon stopping traffic while they waddle across the road. Cars are intimidated by Nature. Bikers rarely are. They just plough right through, which is why they are extraordinarily successful at killing many ducks and geese at White Rock.
And I wouldn't be surprised if they're what happened to that pretty beige duck with the broken neck, who disappeared entirely in the last few days. Likely eaten by something bigger and faster than a broke-neck duck. Bicycles are vehicles, too. Just they don't have to obey any of the rules.
I got to practice my BIF routines today. Birds in Flight.
I wish I could fly.
October 1 2013
And at least one other, off separately. And a whole lot more expected soon, probably before October 15, which is when they all — all 70 or so who usually stay from about now till mid April — arrived two years ago. Last year, they arrived on September 15. I assume, some stupid human was up in Dakota, Montana, Idaho or somewhere up there, messing with their hatching grounds, although there are many other possibilities.
Every time I'm out there, I notice the dozens of Wood Ducks who are just around the upper end of Sunset Lagoon. If these guys had known I was photographing them — with a long and far away telescopic lens — they would have already flown out of the area.
I suppose I need to stand out there with a nice, sturdy tripod (I only have the one, elderly one, so that'll have to be it.) pointed at them, so I can watch to maybe figure out what's going on. My far vision is blurry, so I'd have to do it through the lens.
Somewhere out in the big middle of Sunset Bay proper are "the logs." The water around them is rarely more than a few inches deep, but that's where many species of small and large avian species settle for hours at a time. Here we see Neotropic Cormorants. Usually at least one of them in busy drying its wings after diving for food.
Dark ducks. Very possibly some that were left off at Sunset Bay, because we write about how well they fare here, when they are left to their own devices, when the humans they used to own, get tired of feeding and appreciating them. That's how we got our swan, too, we think.
If I'd been paying better attention, I might have caught some Wood Ducks, too. But they tend to leave in smaller groups.
Same Mallards out farther.
It's a long, long way away.
Much closer in.
Neotropic Cormorant Juvenile flying away in the cool, wet, gray morning.
Poofy-top, white, more or less domestic duck, showing off its white feathers.
Bright-eyed female Mallard out for a swim later when there was either more sun or less cloud.
American Coots in the snaggle of logs off Sunset Beach.
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text and photographs Copyright 2013 by J
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without specific written permission from and payment to the writer or photographer. My favorite answer is, "I don't know." I am, after all, an amateur. I've only birded for seven years as of June 2013, although I've been photographing professionally and semi-professionally and almost always amateurishly since at least 1964. Thanks always to Anna.
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