October 31 2008
This guy was standing on the post I most like to lean on when I'm sitting on the Sunset Bay pier when I got there this morning. The closer I got the more he seemed not bothered. I talked with him awhile and promised no sudden moves. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but I did not, although I held my hand within about 8 inches of him while assuring him.
Couple times he was so close, I had to back off the Rocket Launcher, so I could still focus on him. I noticed how messy his face seemed (I'd noticed that on grackles before), and decided it's because they have no way but a splash bath to clean their heads up. Everything else gets close pecking scrutiny. Which it continued to do as I watched and photographed him.
Pretty bird if one does not concentrate on his messy face. We had a long conversation. Or I did. He never did say much.
So amazing close.
If I attempt to photograph them flying past the beautiful, richly colored trees on the Hidden Creek side of the bay, my new camera prefers to focus on the trees. If they fly by closer, I can't keep up with them with my still new duper-super lens. But I am improving my panning with it. In general, I'm getting much better with my new camera and new lens.
Just because two pelicans perch close to each other doesn't make them pals. This odd contraption they're perched on is fairly close to the pier at Sunset, so I spent some time photoing them today.
Actually, they're both about the same size, and here they seem calm about being that close in both these first two pictures.
And here it doesn't. Tends to happen when two birds attempt to occupy the same space under the same circumstance. Pal-sy as pelicans usually are, they tend to jostle each other about when someone gets too close or tries to occupy space they think is theirs..
While I sprawled on the pier watching whatever I could see across the bay, two hawks gamboling over Hidden Creek, occasionally wandering out over the bay itself. Looked like they were having fun, chasing and swooping.
I thought they might have been a male and a female but later, after looking at my bird books decided it was an adult and juvenile. Then someone else who was out there told me they were two different species. This one's an adult Red-shouldered hawk. I stared at Sibley's for about a half hour trying to figure out the other, and it's a Red-tailed Hawk. Two reds.
It still looked like fun. Wish I could fly.
Today the Rocket Launcher behaved perfectly. Better than ever before. For me. The trick was I got a new camera. The Nikon D300 I've been wanting since they first came out more than a year ago. But I had a perfectly working camera then, so it didn't need replacing. Now it did, and the lens works fine with it, meaning it was the camera, not the lens, all along. Which is enough about the lens already.
I took the camera out of the box, stuck the Rocket Launcher on it and took it to the lake to see what I could see — and do. Took several dozen shots before I figured out how to adjust the camera's notion of correct exposure for bright white birds. This cam does it different, and I hadn't read the manual yet. I was too in a hurry to try it.
AFter I finish this page, I'll read Ken Rockwell's Nikon D300 User's Guide (free online), then probably the Digital Photography Review.com review of the camera, then some of its online discussions about image noise, so I can get those settings right. I've already been sorting through the official manual, but it doesn't even index the word "noise."
Meanwhile I fiddled with stuff usually my fingers know how to do, and I don't think about except now some of the buttons moved and I had to think about it. Thinkin' don't make it happen, but gradually I figured out what most of the buttons were for, and my pictures got substantially better.
I'm still stymied by the digital noise thing — you can't see most of it because I still have and use software that kills it, but that'll smooth out when I get the right settings in the right menus, and Ken Rockwell's very good about that stuff. And I'm not.
One of the great leaps forward with this new camera is that noise will be much less a problem when I figure out those settings. I've been lusting after this camera for a long time now — even stodgy old Consumer's Reports says it's the best camera in its considerable class. I'd like not to have to twitch dFine every time I do another new image.
Driving onto Poppy Drive to get back to Buckner, I saw a bird flicker into a tree over my sun roof that was wide open for the coolish air. I assumed it was a mockingbird but still held out hope for a Blue Jay, since I've never photographed a Blue Jay close enough for my taste. This is closer. Not quite a definitive portrait, but closer. And it looks blue, which most of my previous BJ pix do not.
Guys at Garland Camera, best photo fixits I know, say it's my dying camera, not my crazed lens, so I didn't use it today. Instead broke out my silly slow Canon S5 IS, which I used for these first couple shots (just to see if I could, but it wasn't really worth the effort), then my old standby 70-300 Nikon VR that I used till I got my first Rocket Launcher for the rest ot today's shots. I've ordered my replacement dSLR, and we'll see how it works with the Rocket Launcher.
These are the two from my Canon with a 10:1 zoom. Most of the corms I shot flying were behind a pole by the time the shutter finally went off. It has shutter delay bad. Even my dying D200 shoots within a tenth of a second of clicking the shutter, same as film SLRs. I'm lucky when the Canon finally shoots a couple weeks later. If I use it often, I get used to the lag and can often time action fairly well. But the S5 is a much slower camera.
I've always wanted to shoot one of these coot panics. They happen often enough. I'm just never in the right place at the right time and ready with the right lens pointed in the right direction. Photography's an iffy sport. This time I was and I did. Got 'em good. Not at all sure what set them off. Sometimes nothing at all. They're a skittish bunch. These were taken with my dying Nikon D200, which neither always focused today nor always made light enough exposures.
Best thing about this particular coot panic is that they got closer as they continued and they were crossing my path — perpendicular to the axis of my lens (and my view.) Usually they're over in a few seconds. I've often thought about inciting a riot of panic by running at them. But it's only a thought. Coots are my friends.
This is hardly proof. But I've developed the theory that coots use their already bizarre feet like propellers, twisting them back and forth to propel them downward when they're after something deeper than they are. I've thought that's what I was watching several times over the last couple years. But this is as close as I've got to proving it. And like I say, this doesn't prove anything.
I was on the shore, which is actually closer to where the pelicans usually line up than the pier is. Although I kept wishing I were on the pier with three other photographers — although that alone was reason to stay on shore, which I did not — while bunches of them were taking turns and taking off. The crowd of them that I'd shot from Dreyfuss were a somnambulant bunch, many drifting off into sleep when I arrived at Sunset, suddenly all perked up and stood tall and alert when the pelicans who were about to fly off lined up — even though many of the watchers were not leaving. Fascinating guessing at their reasons for waking. Maybe they were waiting for orders. Only about thirty of them flew off.
Here's another one of those gulls. I can't see the ring around this one's beak, but I'm pretty sure it's the same variety as yester. It just looks cleaner, whiter and more serene.
Sunset Bay in the early evening is often misty. Colder today than usual, not quite hoodie weather, but T-shirt and a long-sleeve. I had on my fluffy pink Mumbling Alien sox that keep my feet warm.
Nice shot of a gull. Still not convinced they're the same Ring-nosed Gulls from last year. They seem altogether different, but except for some Little or Small, I'm not sure which, Gulls reported here last year, these are what we got.
But I'd forgot to put in a fresh battery, so when I got back to the lake with that, I decided to try my Heron luck anyway. At the Boathouse Lagoon. Where I saw this Great Blue Heron (GBH) in a tree on the other side. Here it's opening and closing its beak, maybe in the order of a yawn or stretch. I'm not at all sure.
We all gotta scratch.
After a few clicks, he seemed to want more anonymity, looked deeper into the tree, crouched down and began to spring.
Reach some air, take off, and disappear entirely.
Meanwhile, up (down?) the lagoon another heron was sleeping. I thought the orange-brown leaf over its head was strange coloration I didn't recognize. Even through the lens, this bird seemed tiny. Click-click anyway. Took awhile to figure out its beak was snuffled down in its down feathers. It's a big thing to warm and this is likely the best place to warm in. Built-in nose warmer. I think it's a Black-crowned Night Heron, but I'm not used to seeing them like this, so I just dunno.
See the rather popular Herons Page for many more herons from around here's pictures. Then maybe you'll begin to understand my heron addiction.
Very difficult to be creative or even compose a serious photograph of birds, if my lens is seriously malfunctioning. The Rocket Launcher. The second one I've tried now. Is engaging in what I'm calling the Flutter Syndrome. Again. And yes, I know how to spell boquet, but that's a different word altogether. Bokay is what some photographers call the out-of-focus area of a photo. Especially like this shot of a grackle.
Photographers who post on Digital Photography Review's Nikon DSLR Lens Talk Forum tend to come up with imaginative terms for various problems with certain lenses, then after awhile those more technical terms become initials bandied about as if everyone knew what they meant. Flutter Syndrome = FS, but that's neither colorful nor exciting.
Worse, I seem to be the only photographer on the forum who has noticed this syndrome.
I keep thinking it must be my camera, but the camera works perfectly with my other — all Nikon — lenses collected over the last 20-something years. I've tried all my new and old auto-focus lenses. No issues whatsoever with any of them. Only with my Sigma APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Rocket Launcher. Worst of all, there is no other lens in its affordability range that's anywhere near as good. In fact, there's hardly anything else available within several thousand dollars. What a big disappointment, and it's the replacement of another one with not as acute symptoms. Darn, darn, darn.
I did so want this one to be a keeper, and I hate having to return things, even when they actually vibrate the image for several seconds (new symptom — scariest of the bunch) or twist the image before my very eyes. Or stop focusing altogether. Or record dark blank shots when I think I'm taking pictures. Or... Well, you get the idea. Such a wonderful lens when it's working. Such a big waste of time, energy and money when it's not. Never know which is going to happen the next minute.
When it's good, it's amazing good for the price. Versatile, more than enough resolution, focuses surprisingly close, isn't exactly light but it's easy enough to haul around and use. It twists to zoom the opposite way of all my other lenses, and I haven't got used to that. But oh so useful when little birds are far. When it's bad, it's horrid.
The second copy of this lens — a full replacement — is doing the same things the original did, plus sometimes the image actually vibrates as I hold down the shutter. Very scary, it momentarily screeches in there, worse than ripping Velcro, even when I'm not touching the shutter. Often it just won't focus. The image distorts as if a lens element were flipping, and I can hear something in there clicking in and out of true. It must be a lens element. About 5% of exposures — usually several in a row — are extreme under, almost black when I think it is working. Too weird.
But I'm going to keep it another week, just to be sure. But I won't keep talking about it here. Fear not.
I've recently learned that birds have full control over every feather on their body, and when they do that — especially when it "ruffles," as I've been calling it, it is more properly termed "rousing." Pretty close for a WAG. This muscovy has feathers on its beak — as birds often do — because it's been preening and some of those things are loose, and others need loosing. Note also the other Muscovy, probably a male, and this is probably a hen, partially hidden by the right end of the log.
The cracker is at once the incentive for this coot running on water. Not so much that it wanted to go off somewhere and enjoy it, but that there were other coots chasing it. Each time they'd get closer, this bird would race faster over the water. Note the fairly obvious left-right pattern of its last two wet steps.
Only one pelican flew in all the time I was in the bay today. This one. A pity these cormorants were in the way. Would have been nicer if they corms had their heads raised, but then again, maybe not.
Water birds spend long hours preening. Flying, after all, is very important to them, and getting every little feather in just the right condition, shape and position.
Iridescent blue on black with bright yellow eyes and chromium beak to match its legs and feet.
Not a great photo but a reminder that I should pay more attention to photographing them flying. Surely I have enough of them running on water now and can spare the time and attention to them flying.
And finally now, I have an intriguing and interesting, detailed photograph of the feet of one of their number. I've seen them twirl them like propellers while diving.
I searched extensively but found no male Northern Shovelers. Proud of myself for noticing that huge beak on both female ducks, wondering if they were like Scaups, males of which species arrive here by the dozens, but rarely any females, except for a few days, then they're gone again.
Then I looked them up in Sibley's and Birds of Texas and was surprised to see the birds pictured in the books show a white band on the sides just behind their beaks that these birds do not have. Nobody else seems to have such a honking big beak, and most of the other details are right on, so I'm guessing they have an autumn look or molt or whatever that handily excludes the white band. Then I looked on North American Bird Photography Gallery and found these ladies just like they are here. So they are shovelers.
According to Sibley's Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, "One o the primary distinctions between the tribes of the Anatinae is the primary foraging methods of each. Anatini feed mainly by "dabbling," either filtering the surface water or mud with the bill (as does the Northern Shoveler) or upending to reach submerged vegetation a few inches below the surface (Mallard).
Here, our "Shoveler" dabbles deep.
And here, two Mallards upend for submerged vegetation.
Even avian biologists turn their noses up at so-called European Starlings. They are more likely Asian in origin than Europe. They were introduced into New York City's Central Park because they were mentioned in one of William Shakespeare's works. From there, they've spread across the continent.
Many people hate them outright. I think they're pretty and fairly easy to identify. They're just more birds, not inherently evil or mean-spirited. They are what they are.
This kind of detail in birds this small and far away is what I had in mind for getting my Rocket Launcher (Sigma 150-500mm lens).
But the distinctive little (8.5 inches long, 16 inch-wingspan), spotted birds are growing in numbers everywhere in North America and now, as the weather gets colder, more are moving to White Rock Lake. Wikipedia says, "Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. Several species live around human habitation, and are effectively omnivores. Many species search for food by opening the bill after probing it into dense vegetation; this behavior is called "open-bill probing" or is referred to by the German word "zirkeln."
According to the Lone Pine edition of Birds of Texas, "Courting European Starlings are infamous for their ability to reproduce the sounds of other birds, such as Killdeers, Red-tailed Hawks, Soras and meadowlarks. Black straight billed starlings now are adult non-breeding. Those with yellow bills December through August are adult breeding starlings. Trouble is, it's often difficult [for me] to see what color their bills are. These look blackish yellow.
According to David Allen Sibley in his The Sibley Guide to Birds, European Starling[s] nests in any cavity, often in man-made structures, and competes aggressively with woodpeckers, bluebirds, etc., for nest sites." The government considers them an invasive species.
The cormorants, too, are gathering. More of them in Sunset Bay lately. And lots more along the northern edges of the west side of White Rock Lake, especially around Cormorant Bay (See our newer, bigger and more detailed map.)
A better shot of an American White Pelican Scratch & Stretch (Scretch).
Coot fun and games on the dam and spillway.
Heads down eating vegetation, invertebrates, tadpoles and fish.
Olive-sided Flycatchers? in the taller, barer trees along the sandbar across from the shore of Sunset Bay, where they were silhouetted darkly against the gray sky. I assumed they were resting from migrating.
Probably I shouldn't keep returning to Sunset Bay so often. But there is such a diversity of bird and other life. Besides, that's where the pelicans hang out. After such single-minded attention to the Little Blue Heron, consider this a mix and match kind of day.
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers hang out just above there, close to where I park my car. Right along where I usually coast Blue down the hill from Winfrey. Easy getting him on the wire. When he jumps for bugs (fly catching) I can't follow. He's too quick, and I'm still too slow with my new lens.
Another of the things pelicans do with their beaks. It's usually over in a few seconds, although it may repeat a couple of times a few seconds later. It seems to be a warning, usually over who gets to perch someplace. These birds tend to gather close much of the time. A little jostling and beaking seems appropriate.
I'm always paying attention to coots' feet, so it's not surprising I picked up on this bird's lack of two of those. It's a juvenile (light gray coat). Now I wish I'd watched it awhile longer. Would love to know how it gets up flying speed. They usually run, left-right, left-right across the water, though I suppose they also jump into the air. That's his stump in the shadow to the right and under.
Everybody itches. We all gotta scratch. I've seen my cat do this exact same motion, but to less spectacular effect.
It's possible the bird in the center is beaking with the bird on the left edge. All I saw when I shot was the bird in the middle — and all that white.
Further up the lagoon, I found an egret. I shot it from the front and the side, but those shots were ordinary. These are less so.
Fuzzy abstracts. A different view of a Great Egret. Wonder if the art competition jurors would dig these.
And this is the ordinary view, except a little detail in the feet we usually don't get.
A While Ago
This happened more than a month ago — September 17. I kept planning to add these photos some slow or rainy day. Instead, I always got excited about other something elses. When this happened, I'd just been surprised when the Sunset Bay Great Blue Heron flew toward me, caught a very big fish, dropped it, picked it up again, dropped it again, picked it up again — must have to do with cleaning — or killing — it, since they often go through all those steps — then finally swallowed it whole and flew back out to the logs in the middle of Sunset Bay.
That was that day's first big adventure. Hardly expected to have more. But sometime later, just after I'd photographed it hanging out on one of the big chunks of wood not far from the pier I was sitting back on. (When I stand, nobody comes flying in for a visit.), I got the second, and somewhat more fascinating, close encounter that early morning. I was shocked when this Little Blue Heron landed on the opposite end of the pier I was photographing from. It was almost too close to focus on my Rocket Launcher.
And when it crouched down to jump up in the air to check out the the reeds along the pier, I wasn't ready. All I got is this blur. That close, a super tele was just too much. Or it was just too much for my state of readiness. With my other, shorter tele zoom, I could have handled it. Maybe. The difference is a couple years practice. I'm willing.
Meanwhile, I followed the Little Blue around the shrubby area either side of the pier, where sometimes even gooses get lost.
It was in there at least a half hour. My legendary patience played out somewhere in the middle. But I kept zooming back, to see what it was up to.
Looking high ...
And looking low.
Till it caught something appetizing.
This the only thing I saw it catch all that time. But as busy as it kept when I was watching, it probably found several other morsels along the way when I wasn't watching. Eventually, it must have flown away. I guess I'd lost fascination by then.
This was one of the stories I'd hoped to tell tonight. Guess I just did. There are always more stories. I'll seine through all those photos I'd dearly hoped to rush through letting the images tell their own stories, then pause to add my own, to find some more. And I'll post them here.
My Bird Pix & Talk at For The Love of the Lake tonight was a bust. The software and my elderly iBook that'd worked flawlessly on Saturday's test drive failed miserably — after no one there could get their PC to open either my flash drive or CD. It absolutely refused to show more than the first picture of what I'd hoped would be a quick 100 or so images. Enough to fill an hour of show & tell, questions and answers.
That pic was a gray Great Blue Heron that led into a story about how they change colors in differing light, and how they're usually shy, especially of photographers. But this one time, it was after a big, big fish. A fish bigger than its head. A fish so big that when it finally swallowed it, its neck stayed huge for more than an hour. So it came in very close, either ignoring or never even noticing me.
That story has been told here before [in September], but it led into a story about a Little Blue Heron that had not been seen here, because I shot both extensive stories on the same day, and I had other things to do that day besides telling long, involved stories about my favorite blue birds. Now I've put the Little Blue Heron story just above, because these pages are my bird photographs' natural habitat, not projected on a screen somewhere.
Other planned stories included the marauding flock of avocets, step-by-steps of pelicans taking off, soaring and landing [below] and the strange things they do with their beaks, vignettes of Yellow- and Black-crowned Night Herons, coots scooting across the water, cormorants, crows chasing and fighting hawks, mockingbirds fighting among themselves, a close encounter with a hawk and various other birds, including muscovies, kingfishers, Green Herons, egrets doing amazing things, owls, pigeons pitching woo, Cedar Waxwings hanging upside down drunk on berries, and gooses dancing. Some were greatest hits, but I'd carefully included a few images that had never been seen on these pages. I knew I could never get to all that I brought, fully expecting to run out of time somewhere in the middle.
Despite lots of help and plenty of advice from the audience, the simplest software Apple makes would not work connected with their projector (although it worked fine when I checked it at home the next day). FTLOTL program director BJ Ellis later suggested we reschedule. Anna said she'd make a PowerPoint presentation of the images. Ever an advocate for time-travel, I suggested they reset it for last year, so it'd already be over.
My only other digital presentation experience was at the Heard Museum near McKinney, where the technology was completely transparent. I brought my carefully edited CD of images, and they installed it in I don't even know what kind of machine or software, clipped a wireless mike to my shirt and handed me a clicker, so I could go back and forth through my stack as I wandered around the room talking and pointing.
The Heard had a large, flat screen that rolled down from the ceiling and a big crowd of nature photographers. All I had to do was talk and click, freeing me to be myself, show and tell. It was wonderful, I did a great job, and we all had fun.
FTLOTL startled me the week before by asking if I'd be using my own equipment. Of course not, I thought. I'd never needed a digital projector before; my home is on the web. The Heard was my only recent presentation experience, and I assumed I could just bring my images and go at it.
Instead, I had to create my own, flat, 40 x 64-inch foam core screen to hang from the ceiling, because FTLOTL's old, small screen was so low people in the middle couldn't see and so ripple-ish that it moiréd and distorted every image. I never imagined that in addition to hand-scrolling and clicking I'd have to balance a wireless hand mike, but none of that mattered when my equipment didn't interface with theirs.
Very very very disappointing evening. Wonderful audience, though. They were supporting through it all, and I really enjoyed talking one-on-one with many of them later.
Lots easier to photograph a Red-tailed Hawk being held by a staffer at the new Trinity River Audubon Center than one in the wild. I'll take 'em where I can find them. This particular hawk had been shot in the head with a pellet gun — and is now blind in that eye — before she even got her red tail — quite young. They know it is a female, because it has laid at least two sets of eggs.
We attended the free opening of the center Sunday afternoon — along with what looked like half of Dallas. Lots of screaming children and loud adults, so there were very few wild birds in sight anywhere, though we heard some fascinating frog sounds in the reeds by one walking bridge and saw two Turkey Vultures rocking above. Later, when it costs up to $6 a person, there will likely be many more birds to be seen on the acres and trails and terrain variety. I'd already heard — or read — that many interesting birds had been seen there, including Roseate Spoonbills.
Hawks have more than one eyelid. One's opaque for shutting out the light. Another is stronger for shutting over when stuff like the water sprayed by the handler to cool it off was directed toward the bird's eyes.
The female kestrel is larger than the male, although the male is more colorful.
I've photographed a kestrel pair along the concrete path around Winfrey Point, including fairly close-ups of a male flying and an industrious female hunting, but catching up with them was never this easy.
Tightly secured, the kestrels still were able to do some serious flapping, and I was glad they did.
Nice to see them in various circumstances. It'll help later when I'm trying to identify these sometimes elusive birds.
This owl's handler called this gorgeous lump of feathers the area's most common owl. I'd seen — and photographed, one before. When I saw that one, it looked like it thought it was invisible. The guy handling this owl explained — and showed — how this owl calmed down and went quiet and still, when its back was up against a major tree limb.
The Screech Owl can turn its head up to 270 degrees, largely because its eyes do not rotate in their sockets like ours do. It can't just roll eyes toward a new object, it has to face (literally) in that direction. With its body against a tree, it knows it is invisible to us, and it doesn't have to look around. Its feathers blend with its immediate environment, and it has nothing to worry about. Usually.
We also saw a pair of Pied-billed Grebes (that probably look something like this.) at some distance from a bird blind that looked, Anna thought, like a "ghost town house." Unfortunately, I'd left the Optical Stabilization on my Rocket Launcher turned off, so all those shots were blurry. Contrarily fascinating, however, that none of the other shots were as blurred by the lack of stabilization. I guess I'm getting better at shooting my 150-500mm lens, though I need to pay more attention to its clicks and arrows.
Every year about this time, we visit the Texas State Fair. And see some birds. Some real, some imaginary. This time, I just didn't feel like sitting through the same old shtick of the Birds of the World, with them sending birds out into the audience to pick up dollar and five-dollar and twenty-dollar bills to bring back and put in the kitty "to save the birds of the world."
We did hear that poor old parrot struggling through the strains of his same old, halting song via the PA system from near the Band Shell. But I'd brought my slow, old, little camera with the long lag time (between pushing the button and the shutter actually firing), so I couldn't photo the swift birds flying just over the heads of the audience, and I didn't want to see the same tired old birds do the same tired old stuff. The ringer from the audience "accidentally" get knocked into the pond that's there for that one purpose, etc.
But I always love The Petting Zoo, the proximity to really big birds which we all want to touch but are generally afraid of trying with such giant birds with their giant beaks around to poke our brains out and eat our hands. It doesn't allay our fears that there's a big sign on the back of the cage warning us not to "feed fingers to the birds."
Along the lagoon during the 2008 State Fair of Texas were a display of art pieces, some of which incorporate birds. Those are the ones we paid attention to. Our friend Marty Ray was invited to show a totem there during this year's fair. She invited a bunch of other artists. I don't know if this is one of those.
Some artists' understanding of totem is a little strange. Some did not even attempt verticality. This one is somewhere in between. It's a chicken, and chickens are birds, so it's here. That, and I like it. It gets the best use of mosaic on a totem award.
That could be a bird on top. Or maybe a nose. Hard to tell exactly, but we liked it, and it's a stretch to think it a bird. It's by Lynn Reagan, Elizabeth "Sissy" Bingham and Andrew Bingham, and it glitters.
That's blue bird, not Bluebird. We liked the totem by Marty Ray, and there's several birds there, so we approve. It also achieves actual totem-ness, uses differing shapes and textures and has some spiritual aspects, thanks to symbolic, almost abstract shapes. Less sure of the birdness of that blue bird, however. Maybe its wings melted in the kiln, although it looks strangely familiar.
But it was this true totem that was the best totem and the best piece of sculpture along the lagoon. Lots of texture, nice, mostly subtle use of color, and there's an appropriateness of critter for each level. Birds on top, middle creatures in the middle, and a turtle to hold up the whole universe, at the bottom.
Not sure what bird that is on the top. Appropriate that it might be a mockingbird. That's our state bird. But it's a lot of other states' state bird, too. Doesn't look much like a mock, though. Not much like a grackle, either. That would be an appropriate choice, also. Next down is a pelican. Looks more like a Brown Pelican than the American White Pelican we have at White Rock's Lake, but it is a pelican. Then comes what I think must be a Road Runner. Below that, visible in the shot next up are a big cow — probably the artist's attempt at a Longhorn Steer, although it could also approximate a Brahma Bull, I suppose. That marks a transition from animals to birds, with one of each. The big cow and also appropriately, behind it, a Cattle Egret. Is a nice pairing.
We were hoping to pedal a swan till we found out it would cost us $12 in coupons for both of us to ride one. Too expensive for our blood.
The Mallard Boat in dry dock nearby was the odd bird out on the lagoon. Maybe it's dinged noggin side-lined it.
Tuesday, it'll be back to the lake with my new replacement Rocket Launcher, and maybe the change of season will do us all more good.
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are elusive. They're also fast and unpredictable. This one was perched on the wire. I was hoping it would stay there, all nice and pretty and in focus. But either it saw me or a delectable morsel flying through the air, and he broke for it.
This is what they look like when they're sitting sharp. They look in focused, although they may be focused on something else.
This is what they usually look like when they quickly fly from where they were all staid and focused and go off into wherever else.
I couldn't find him in my books. But he is distinctly distinctive, nonetheless. Black feet and what's either a black or blue beak with a black mark and black face-end. White or tan breast.
Whom I think of as Mrs. Distinctive Duck has a black beak with gray where the black is on Mr. D. Plus they hang out together, and well, they seem to belong to each other.
These off-color ducks are usually mallard offspring with some bird strange, but mallards have yellow feet. Pintails, widgeons, Garganeys, shelducks and some eiders have black feet.
These may actually be Mallards. Note the curlicue feathers on upper and lower sides of that clear brown wing portion down his side. And the tiny, tight herringbone texture below that? Look back at Distinctive Duck above and tell me they aren't related. But where'd the black feet come from?
Some days I really miss my Rocket Launcher. The new one should be here in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, I've only got 300mm, and I miss 500, as much as I dread carting around all that weight. That extra reach would have helped today when I saw this female kestrel, first on the wire along the parking lot, then when it saw me see it and break out the little telephoto, it flapped back to the tall tree on the way down to the waterfront.
Where it stayed long enough for me to walk down the hill and photograph it some more. Then it took to the air again, and disappeared off to the east.
As it passed over me, I got this and some other total blurs.
Meanwhile, over at Cormorant Bay, the cormorants are taking over the trees. Again. Happens every winter, and by December "Stinky Bird Season" will be in full sway.
Today, only a few trees along the north edge of Cormorant Bay were filling with cormorants. Soon more and more will. Eventually, the trees nearly all along the west side will be filled with them.
This is probably why cormorants are on so many national and royal crests. They do look fine. But the smell is only beginning to reek. They spread their wings to dry them. They're wet, because they dive down as deep as 30 feet under water to catch fish, then they need dry wings to fly very far.
Lots of landings and takeoffs today at Sunset Bay.
For a change I did not count them all, but there weren't anywhere near 141 American White Pelicans today.
Sometimes I get a little excited watching all those gorgeous pelicans and don't keep the camera straight.
After about twenty really good opportunities to catch one of these clod-hopping birds run across the water, I finally shot this one..
Watching American White Pelicans fly is the best, and there was lots of that going on up there today.
Also got to talk with another photographer, who, when I started to introduce me, asked if I was J R. I was. We watched and photographed them coming, then going, then some of them coming back, and others going again. I'm sure they knew what they were up and down, out and back for, but I sure didn't.
I thought this was a kingfisher when I second photographed some little rogue bird flying out into the bay. First time I thought it were a Kingfisher, it was instead an even blurrier Killdeer.
This, too, was tiny in a fuller frame, but came out remarkably well considering.
Also were many cormorants. This one came the closest.
Also were several variety of small feathered birds in the mix. I wasn't sure whether these were pigeons or ...
Blue-winged Teals. They're oddly pretty, and they'll probably stay awhile in the bay. At least until they drain the lake.
And a Red-tail flew over us several times and varying distances.
I couldn't always see through Dana. I'm more used to being out there alone, but talking with someone with similar interests was fascinating. Meanwhile, the pelicans came, then they went again.
The day was cool enough to wear a long-sleeved shirt and jeans instead of a T and shorts.
Delicious weather earlier — I knew they'd be more active in weather this cool, then the weather got warmer.
So magnificent in the air.
Even going further ...
... and further away. I count 40 pelicans in this shot. There were many more than that. They left in little groups of 8 or ten or twelve or so. Then way out and up there, they joined together and eventually headed north. Where to, I wonder.
Many fewer pelicans this morning, although I got there later than yesterday, so maybe all the rest of them had flown away. Still, there were a few pelican photos to be had while the shore filled with self-important creeps making a movie and making as much noise as possible. They no doubt chose this location for its bucolic joys and greenery. Although the pelicans seemed unphased by their collective idiocy, the coots flapped and ran en masse in a few moments of high-pitched human energy.
Near as I can figure, pelicans don't have tongues, although there is a salt water release valve back where one might protrude from. This is a minor inversion of the flexible lower mandible.
I was shooting at very low ISO, which renders images in very high contrast. I was going low to avoid all the visual noise I got yesterday and I hope you can't see there. I do know I reset some switch on the camera wondering whether this would affect further images, but I can't remember which setting I switched, and I dearly wish I could. Might even have to read the manual, if I can find it.
I like calling this stealth mode, but it's just one of the ways American White Pelicans hold themselves while propelling through the water with their tiny but efficient feet. It probably reminds me of egrets, especially, and sometimes other, smaller herons, crouching down low in a truer stealth mode as they are about to spring forth and stab or grab something to eat.
It is also helpful to show that these pelicans are not all white, as they usually appear when not flying. When flying, their black, primaries make the point more obviously. According to the Lone Pine Birds of Texas, "A black pigment, melanin, makes this bird's flight feathers stronger and more resistant to wear."
Me chasing coots running again. They run when they're frightened. Which doesn't take much. Often they run en masse. Sometimes the chaser seems to be just plain mean, attacking anyone he (I assume it's a he.) can find worth chasing.
Sometimes they run considerable distance. Usually for shorter spans. They also run to get up ground (water surface) speed so they can fly. But usually they run to move from one place to another much more quickly than their big, clodhopping lobed feet could swim.
This one appears to have achieved flight speed and is about to get up into the air, at least briefly.
When I approach birds in picturesque mode, I shoot once from far away. Sneak closer and take another shot, then the probably most usable ones from as close as I can get.
Unfortunately, this is what happens altogether too often. Although I did get the clean shot above, which was about perfect, and I do like this one for its action, up close, although without much detail, except those splashes where they have hopped two-footedly across the water, flapping every step.
The splashes, like transitory footsteps, marking each hop, till they are airborne.
I shot more than a dozen shots of this woodpecker. Not surprising, this is the very first shot. Not altogether focused, but the only time I saw all of it away from the clutter and hide-out-ability of lots of leaves and branches. He was in this position for a long time, till I figured out just where.
It was a shape in the distance. Flew across from the Hidden Creek area. Check my new White Rock Lake map for where exactly a lot of the places I mention are. It's much larger and more detailed than the map before it. And it has better identifications. I assume this is a Red-tailed Hawk, since it's the most likely species to be anywhere in the USA.
But I don't really know. I shot it because I didn't know what it was, but it looked hawkish, and I'm always interested in those or anything else strange flying across Sunset Bay. Haven't seen any for a couple weeks. I should probably compare it to the last known time I shot a Red-tailed. Or the best recent sighting. Having done that, I'm not so sure it's a Red-tail. Hmmm.
Now it doesn't look like a Red-tail, so I just dunno.
I was all set to send The Rocket Launcher off to get fixed when I suddenly (everything we didn't expect in life is always described as "sudden" even when it isn't, at all) I realized I'd bought it from Amazon, so I contacted them, and after some rigamarole, they're going to send me a replacement. New. So much better than getting a bad one fixed. Good old Amazon.
141 is how many pelicans I counted in Sunset Bay this morning. So crowded on that sandbar just out from the pier that it was very difficult to count noses or anything else, but I counted twice and got the same number.
I suspect they won't all stay at White Rock Lake, but they were here this morning, then they started rising up and heading off southward. This shot was late in the process. I'd been concentrating on singles and small groups as they rose from the flock. It'd been awhile since I saw a whole flock flying. This last nearly a month since they first started arriving, the most flying I caught was them maybe eight or ten feet off the level of the lake, moving from one perch log to another, but this is serious flying.
Today's rising waves of them was magnificent to see. Glad I got up early-ish to catch the spectacle.
Haven't quite got the Rocket Launcher packed for its trip west, but I was amazed how light the old 70-300 mm zoom seems now.
It's a dream carrying it, so intuitive. I see something, raise the camera and shoot. Compared to the Rocket Launcher, it weighs nothing.
Only trouble is I have to get closer to the birds. Which was much easier today as they were gathered along the sandbar. First time I ever saw them gathered over there, me standing on the end of the pier, I likened them to a soft, white cloud. Now I think it's more like an albino thunderhead moving in.
Nice of one to fly by, seemed awful close, but this is telephoto, in its glory.
Still not in focus every time, but a big improvement over the monster lens that's off to the fixit tomorrow. I'd forgot how easy the "little" zoom is to use.
Look at those huge wings buoy this pelican up into The Blue.
One of many flyovers so close I could only catch one at a time.
Again and again,
as they rose into the sky.
Till the sky
filled with pelicans.
Since so many of the above shots are out of any sort of sequence, and because I have these,
here is a takeoff sequence following one bird up. First, it lumbers off the log and starts hopping on the water while reaching those huge, long wings for some air.
Still running, with wings at max reach, reading to pull them down and it up.
Splatter water mostly down, glide a little till it gets its wings up for another powerful flap and it goes up.
Still splattering water, the wings reaching for more air.
Rising fast, note the extra extension of the primaries — the flight feathers furthest out as it slides up into the air.
Where it's king. Not flapping so much now. Rising, rising.
rising, circling over the bay, rising a lot more on thermals.
Then flew away.
No pictures, I just went to the lake to enjoy the breeze and friends at Sunset. Before that, I counted 91 American White Pelicans. Could be a couple more. Hard to count that many that close together on the sandbar.
Bird skins were a feature of our Introduction to Bird-watching 'class' by Marcy Brown Marsden Saturday morning at Cedar Ridge Preserve, which bills itself as "a slice of the hill country just 20 minutes outside Dallas," at 7171 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas 75249. The ones in focus above are a Red-bellied Woodpecker, then a Yellow-shafted Flicker. Marcy said they didn't have the budget for expensive eyes. That's the cotton showing through.
All the birds on the table were stuffed with cotton. Marcy explained it was comparatively easy to de-stuff a bird, similar to taking off a T-shirt, although a little more was involved. We were not to pick them up by their fairly fragile feet or try to unfold wings. I think the larger bird behind this one is the much larger and ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk. This is a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Striped birds confuse my ever-shrinking identification skills. The pinkish-breasted second one is a House Finch and a — oh, gosh, I forget. Maybe Anna will remember. Anna found it. It's a Song Sparrow. We don't know what the yellow-throated one is, but Anna's best guess is a Yellow-throated Vireo.
I asked to see the double-crest on this Double-crested Cormorant, but apparently it takes a live bird to show the mini-mohawk like rise of feathers on the back of their heads. Intra-species cormorant identifications are among my confusions.
Which brings us back to a bird I think I can identify, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, who's a lot smaller than the Flicker behind it. Most of the birds Marcy saw on our trek through the woods I only saw as distant, blurry motion. Partially wished I'd brought the Rocket Launcher, but really glad I didn't. That sucker's heavy, pretty iffy latey, and Cedar Ridge is an radically up and down place, I would never have felt comfortable hauling that sucker around in.
Well, I contacted Sigma USA today and will send the Rocket Launcher to Arizona to get fixed — or replaced. I favor that last possibility, because it's obvious what's going on inside this otherwise wonderful lens is too strange to fix. I think it's got a mind of its own.
Meanwhile, back at the lake, I found iridescent ducks to photograph. This Muscovy Duck looks absolutely brilliant in the bright sun this afternoon. Oh, gosh, I'm going to miss my Rocket Launcher and its unique perspective. But it will be nice to carry something that's only about half the size and mass and weight, for a change.
I thought this overheated grackle was too close to photograph. I tried one the other day, and didn't manage to get it in focus. This one, however, is. Lots of interesting topography here. Birds don't sweat, they pant. And that's what this one is doing.
Pelicans — I counted 44 at Sunset Bay this afternoon — are a gregarious bunch.
But they're not a perfect society. They have their differences, but the only way I've ever seen them express the mild anger I've seen is by engaging in the activity I call "beaking."
And it goes like this.
As with humans, a little upset seems to quickly spread to others of the species. Notice how the shapes of their beaks change as they get involved in the imbroglio.
However, such tiffs usually dissipate quickly, and almost always end soon as somebody does a little serious flapping of those big wings, gets off the log and swims away. Or gets somebody else to. Eventually, the pelicans second from the right did exactly that, and then everybody calmed down and stuck to preening.
Double-crested Cormorants are a pretty gregarious bunch, also.
These are two views taken the same afternoon by me and Anna. She coaxed the pelican to swim into the scene balancing it better, and I sewed together four individual telephoto shots to make my dinky showing. As you can see, they don't move around a lot out there.
Once I send the Rocket Launcher off to get fixed in Arizona, I'll be traveling a lot lighter and will have to stick with birds that are a lot closer when I'll only have about 300mm worth of telephoto zoom for ten or so days.
Just short of amazing both these first shots were made with a lens that's intermittently on the blink — big blinking blink — and that I've already gathered the warranty card and Amazon receipt for, so I can talk to Sigma's USA fixit and probably send it in for repair. Soon. And boy! am I going to miss it.
Not hardly all of them were anywhere this sharp today or yester. But these came about as sharp as they can get, and I didn't have to sharpen them hardly any (38 out of a max possible 'Smart Sharpening' of 500 in Photoshop. Amazing shots at the full 500mm end of my Rocket Launcher's zoom.
I didn't think I had a chance in hell getting this one sharp — especially after yesterday's mess-ups with the avocets. There's a mixed-group with individuals of the group moving selection on the four-way focus area selector that I probably should have used for the avocet flock flying around. One individual bird, especially in the big middle of the frame, is a lot easier to focus on. Like both these. And it hurts me to have to send back a lens that can do this even while I know it'll do that other spazz out routine sooner than later. A real shame. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
I really had to apply some serious sharpening to this one, though. Not the lens's fault. Mine. My mind was wandering and holding that behemoth lens is so tiring I was taking a bit of a break when I saw it suddenly stab in for the kill, without waiting for the OS (optical stabilization) to kick in. Raise the Rocket Launcher, aim and fire, still moving some, which is why the water droplets splashed seem to be moving vertically. Nothing to do with an aberrant lens. This is pure aberrant photographer.
You know the sequence by now. Bird catches fish. Bird struggles fish down its throat. Throat thickens to take it down. Bird dips into lake for water to wash it down. Bird stands there awhile while the fish goes down. This is another remarkably sharp shot, with hardly any sharpening necessary. Gosh, I'm gonna miss this lens.
Suddenly Sunset Bay is dark with coots. I counted at least 80 today. They're everywhere; they're everywhere. I also counted 41 pelicans, so their number keeps growing. They're all over the place, too. And twice that many is still to arrive. Approximately. Won't they be surprised when the City Idiots drain the lake. I tried to get the Audubon Society interested in their predicament, but he only suggested I complain to the City Counsel about it ...
It had just splashed through a near-total immersion-bath that I missed most of. Then it flapped wings furiously to dry up. That much I caught. Notice all the details. I've really become addicted to the Rocket Launcher. Couldn't you guys just send me a nice new lens without all those issues?
Speaking of baths, this is a grackle in the big, splashy middle of one. I've probably over-sharpened this one to emphasize the water droplets exploding.
And I promise I won't talk techie for awhile but this one is less sharpened, because it was already more sharp when I shot it with the Rocket Launcher. And yes, it's that same Great-tailed Grackle and the same bath.
text and photographs copyright 2008 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.
Thanks always to Anna.