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The Amateur Birder's Journal - Stories & Photographs by J R Compton
All Contents © 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. DO NOT USE images without permission & payment.
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October 31 2006

Very Close Pelican Fly-by - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Close enough to count feather tips

It took me about thirty minutes to sneak up, a few inches at a time, on the bunch of pelicans roosting on shore over where Ten Gooses Running used to hang. I was careful, mostly quiet — I tend to talk to birds when I am stalking them, and I had long soliloquy with them today. Till I was close enough to fill my camera's frame with their antics.

Pelican Flying in Autumn - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Flying into Autumn Colors
showing off its 12' wingspan

Then, suddenly, they all stood up looking hyper alert. I looked around. No dogs. No little kids running. Nope, just an old couple with a tiny point-and-shoot camera, talking loud and sauntering up well in front of me.

Within seconds, all the pelicans either jumped into air or ran across the water then jumped into the air and flew in loose formation out to the logs in the middle of the bay. I was more convinced than ever that the pelks need a roost well out into the water, away from stupid humans. They need the security water distance gave them till the trees they'd settled on the past few winters flooded away, but I still want them to perch within lens range.

Goofy Pelican Flying - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelicans are not always beautiful in flight.

None of the photographs I shot of them fleeing the dit-dots were good enough for this page, but by now you can tell that today's challenge was to catch pelicans flying.

The wind blew stronger and colder than it has since last winter, and my ears and hands tinged when they were out of the sunlight, so I knew the Pelicans would be happy and probably flying. The trick was to get them where deep shadows would not dominate their form.

Odd Pelican Flying - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Flying by so very close

I am always amazed when the Universe answers my hopes, and today, it did. Thanks, U.

BIRD REPORT: More gulls show up every day, and I got one really good shot of a Coot temporarily outrunning one. There's always fights with those two species. I haven't seen a Great Blue Heron in awhile, although the Egrets sometimes fill the trees and steps below the spillway. I also shot several very shiny, brilliantly dark blue Grackles, some very close up. They stood there grackling, and I grackled back.

October 20

Pelican Tongue - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Looks like a big old tongue, but it's a waffling lower beak

After our annual visit to the state fair, we visited the pelks at Sunset Bay and saw more beak stretching. I hope the last time I'll have to feature that particular activity. Just I've been waiting for this particular stretch. I knew they did it, seen other people's pictures. Seen them do it before I was as quick as I sometimes am now. And this is what it looks like.

Parrot Fly - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Parrot Flying

At the fair we saw The World of Birds, again. It's free, and it features wonderful birds I'd probably never get to shoot otherwise. Last year we saw it twice. This time only once. I didn't get everything sharp or in focus, but I got some pretty, colorful birds.

That Owl Again - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

That Owl Again

I'll probably bring more to this page after awhile. There's also an ostrich and an emu from the petting zoo, one both of our favorite places. For the moment, these will have to do. It was nice to photograph something besides white birds for a change, but soon as we got out of there, we bee lined back to our lake.

Dark Bird Swoop - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Dark Bird Swoop

October 19

Egret Flying the Stall - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egret Flying the Stall

Mixed results today. Spent a couple hours watching and photographing pelicans up pretty close, though the cross lighting made for dark shadows but great textures. Then from Sunset Bay to the Spillway for egrets and herons flying every which way, then settling into fishing. And catching lots.

Pelks Preening Upside Down - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelks Preening Upside Down

Almost all my pelk shots were sharp, and almost all my egrets were soft. I dunno. If they're still in their assigned seats next time I go, I'll shoot pelks in midday light and eegs before the sun goes down and hope for focus.

Floaty Eyeballs - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelicans — Cold and Warm Noses

And what pelk shoot would be complete without a good, old fashioned beak stretch?

Beak Stretch - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Stretchola with Cool and Warm Beaks

October 18

Pelk Taking Off - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Taking the Leap into Flight

Well, I stayed away from the pelks about as long as I could. Today I spent two hours watching them from Sunset Bay and Dreyfuss Point and back. I'd hoped to catch them flying, and I not only did, but I got decent shots of them both taking off and landing — in focus, even.

About to Land - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

About to Land

Whoowee! I was excited. So excited I shout more than 400 shots, then trashed all but about a hundred that were sharp, in focus, well composed and interesting. The first hour was largely a waste, except it got me to settle in, stop trying to out inform the lady who knew everything, calm down, diminish my target area, lax into resting camera on post and wait.

Pelican Lineup - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Lineup

First wait while a long line of pelicans and cormorants snaked back to Sunset Bay. Then for them to settle near where the Ten Geese Running clan usually hangs out. Then for them to do something really interesting.

Pelican Beak Biting - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

I'd never seen them there before — and I've been watching several years. It seemed a peaceful settlement except for flapping of wings and beak biting that looked more than playful. I suspect that one, highest position on the stump was reserved for the alpha male. It was a continuing skirmish to hold that place.

Big Beak Stretch - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Beak Stretch

Before they all flew off, I witnessed a lot of beak wiggling — the top portion of their bill seems stable, while the bottom can be wiggled, stretched and even turned inside out, which this one is close to becoming.

Flock Up - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Flock Up

Then, when the tribe decides they've preened enough, it's as if the command is wirelessly broadcast. A fit of writhing white chaos suddenly turns right, then into the air, fanning out to differing destinations, flying in small groups off into the sunset.

Pelks into the Sunset

Beak Stretch

I witnessed a lot of beak wiggling  the top portion of their bill seems stable, while the bottom can be wiggled, stretched and even turned inside out, which this one is close to being.

Pelks into the Sunset

October 17

Eeeg Over - copyright  2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Egret Flyover Close and Magnificent

Kinda burnt out on pelks at the moment. Didn't want to drive all the way to the other side of the lake to find them. Settled for the spillway, which is much closer. Had seen several soaring around when I drove by, circled back and parked in the old fish hatchery lot.

Cormorant Flyover - copyright  2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Cormorant Flyover

Workers were mowing and trimming into the KEEP OUT area where there used to be a parking lot and should probably never be again, but that's what the idiot City plans to do, even though there's every likelihood the weight will slide the whole hill down into the next five-year flood. I wanted to run in and shoot some eegs, but the worker bees would never understand my need to be where they have to go.

Cormorant Drying Wings - copyright  2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Corm Drying Wings

So I mostly looked up, waiting for eegs or corms to fly over, and they did, and I managed to get some of them in focus. Walking back to my car, I saw this Cormorant eager to get the wet out of its wings. It alternately drained and flapped them. Probably had a hot date somewhere else.

I'd been hoping for just such a shot, about this close. Not sure what corm shot to ask for now.

October 16

Gray Pelk Horizon - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Gray Pelk and Cormorant Horizon

Rainy all day. Wet, soaking rainy. We wandered through the White Rock Lake Artists Studio Tour anyway, but we got wet almost every time. Late in the day, gray from horizon to zenith, I just had to go to Sunset Bay and shoot my beloved Pelks, most of whom where puffed up and sacked out like laundry bundles on the far logs, way out in the middle of the bay with a scattered few cormorants.

Lone Pelk Floating - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Lone Pelk Floating in the Mist

One lone floating pelk swam slowly across. I shot these and some badly blurred coots out of the bottom of a plastic bag. When I got back to the car, I was dripping.

October 12

Dueling Pelk Beaks - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Dueling Pelk Beaks

Pelk beaks again, this time dueling. Not to the death. Looks aggressive but didn't seem so. More friendly, pleasant, like little boys needing touch, if even that aggressive. Social, like a conversation. Maybe even playful.

Sorry about that big lunk on the left. I couldn't get it to move out of the picture. Nice that the swimming one opened his beak to parallel the two on top. I'm thinking about transplanting more tree stumps out into the shallows of Sunset Bay next summer, so they'll settle closer to shore, and I won't have to crop my shots so much.

Pelks Fishing in Sunlight

It's so much easier to photograph pelicans fishing in bright light, and I'm slowly twigging how to expose for them and when not to bother shooting — like when they're way out in the bay. When they swim in closer, zagging through the bay chasing fish, it's amazing to watch them synchronize their actions. Most of the time. Here they seem to be taking a break.

Feather Mix Dip - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The one on the end just joined the group and hasn't figured out the signals yet. Everybody else is dipping while raising their feathered wings to counterbalance them deeper. Next time the dip, it'll be synchronized.

Yeah, I'm paying way too much attention to the pelicans, but I still haven't seen them fly, and they fly magnificently. Besides, they're the best show going at the lake right now.

October 11

Flexible Beak - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Flexible Beak

After watching these newly-arrived American White Pelicans for more nearly an hour, I saw this pelk wiggle its lower jaw a little. The second time it did, I shot, netting this. I couldn't see what I'd got till tonight when I checked the images. I had hoped to demonstrate the flexibility of pelican beaks. That worked pretty well, huh?

Pigeon Geronimo - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pigeon at full Geronimo — Coot watches

While sitting there looking around, I saw a pigeon take off from a log I'd been shooting Coots on. Toward me. I shot 10 shots in quick succession. All in pretty good focus, but this one is the best. I don't usually shoot pigeons, but sometime ya just gotta.

Coot Bath - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Coot Bath

It would have been better if you could tell this was a coot, not just a dark blob splashing water. But it is, and it's the best of the bunch, even if the identification is a little flaky.

Five Coots on a Log - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

5 Coots on a Log

Oh, and this is the log I was telling you about that the pigeon flew off.

October 10

Black-crowned Night Heron with flow - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Black-crowned Night Heron with Spillway Flow

After photographing a series of frame-filling photos of this heron flying into the Spillway Steps area — all seriously overexposed, it turned around on the block where it had landed and stood like this with today's rain flood falling around it like art. I still wish the flying sequence had worked, but this is nice.

Muscovy as Art - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Muscovy Duck Among Gooses

Turns out the "Nine Gooses Running" clan now comprises ten gooses and this Muscovy Duck, who generally stands or swims just out their inner circle. This may be the most artful shot I've ever made of a muscovy. Handsome in its warty way, Muscovies are gentle and quietly social. Unlike the ten.

The newest member of the clan is another African Brown (not, I think, the one that used to hang out at Tilly's Point). The two Canadian Geese have been hanging out in Sunset Bay lately, but they're not directly associated with the clan, either.

Coot on the Run - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

I mentioned that I hadn't seen a coot running to take off yet. Today, this was the second one I saw escaping this way. Neither flew, but they sure did run fast over the water there for some seconds.

Canadian Goose Flap - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Canadian Goose Flap

This is of the pair we've seen at the Boat House lately, hanging out at Sunset Bay when I shot it today. Both had just come up out of the lake. Soon as the other walked on the grass, it flapped its wings, apparently to dry them, so I waited for this one to. And it flapped big. This may be the best shot of the series.

African Brown Nose Warmer - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

African Brown Goose in Nose-warming Mode

It wasn't very cold this mid-afternoon when I shot these — about 85 F, hardly nose-warming weather, although TV weather persons say it's going to be cold soon. I figure gooses have better weather-guys.

American Pelican with First Winter Cormorant - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

American White Pelican with First Winter Cormorant

Both these birds arrived within the last several days, and I will be paying special attention to both this winter — much more than I did last year.

October 9

This time I beelined to Sunset Bay, but the Pelks weren't doing anything very interesting. Just preening, which activity usually occupies about 2/3 of their lives. I'd like them to do it a little closer to shore, so I'd have a chance at some of their feathers — and so I could record their social interplay. But that usually happens. I just have to wait. Meanwhile, other birds:

First Winter Double-crested Cormorant - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved

First Winter Double Crested Cormorant

Paying more attention to the Stinky Birds is paying off. I love finding new morphs and ages and other new vestiges of birds. Before I looked this bird up in my Nat'l Geo, I assumed all corms were black. Learning, learning.

We watched a small black one fishing near Duckfia Point last week, and I never once got this good a shot. I think my camera does not like to focus on black.

The Lonely Great Blue - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved

The Lonely Great Blue Way Out There

I thought it might be a Great Blue Heron (as it was) but I kept hoping I'd discovered another lone species way out in the big middle of White Rock Lake. I could barely see its head turn sidewise for a nose shot (this an enlargement of the smallish middle of a long shot), but I waited long (that great patience of mine again) for it to turn, then shot and shot and shot. I need a much longer lens.

I could have just as easily shot this shot yesterday - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

I could have just as easily shot this shot yesterday

October 8

Been too busy to chase down birds lately, though we often skip weekends because so many other people don't. We drove not quite all around but a lot around the lake today without seeing many birds, except grackles, a few cormorants, coots and a smattering of egrets.

Duck Splash Flight - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Duck Splash Flight

Then, when we settled into Sunset Bay late this afternoon, we saw white lumps out in the bay on those trees and assumed they were egrets — many were — and cormorants — some were, and went on photographing coots and ducks.

Duck Splash Flight Horizontal - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

'Bout the most exciting thing we could tell was happening was two ducks angry with each other, splashing a lot and chasing each other through the population. When big splashing happens I shoot, maybe figure out why later. Maybe. I'm only assuming it was anger. Sex usually involves a gang of them.

Guess Who's Back - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Guess Who's Back

But today's big news is that what we saw out in the branches where the egrets sleep, the cormorants recently took over, and now Long-Nosed Ones are settling in. Yep, they were our long-anticipated pelicans. I'd thought there might be an off chance they'd arrive this early, why I drove to Sunset Bay. It has been cool lately, but I didn't really think we'd be that lucky yet, but we were.

Dunking Fluffs - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Headless Fluffs of White

I was misfocusing coots closer to the bog along the shore north of the pier when I thought I saw an amazing snoz out on the branches. Focused on that briefly, then ran for the pier to get closer looks and something to hold my long lens still — I usually use one of the vertical pier logs.

For a long time we watched up to a half dozen of them float around out there, slowly zig-zagging ever closer as the light evaporated. I've seen whole flotillas of them and other species swimming that same swim — their usual fishing behavior, rounding up fish, driving them shallower.

Pelk Poch Filling - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelks Filling Pouches

Anna noted that when the front bird turned, they'd all dunk under like headless fluffs of white, then if they got something, tip their pouched beaks back and swallow. That's how they sycnchronize the dipping and dunking so amazingly.

American White Pelicans synchronize swim like Esther Williams. It's beautiful to watch. I hope to watch a lot of it this winter, now that I have a much better camera thatn last year. It's going to be fun.

October 5

Canadian Goose with Plastic Tab - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Canadian Goose with Plastic Tab

One of the pair of Canadian Geese that recently showed up at the Boat House kept picking up that plastic tab. Must have tasted good. It had a lot of trouble getting rid of it, then it would pick it up again. I guess we all know the feeling.

That Same Gull - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.
First Gull in Awhile - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Shots of the First Gull in a Long While
Still not sure, but it may be a Herring Gull.

I just happened to look up and there was something I hadn't seen at White Rock Lake in a long time. A gull. The sky is full of them in mid winter. Guess they're coming back, too — along with the Coots and Cormorants, our Winter Visitors. I can hardly wait till the Pelicans also return.

Duck Upended - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Duck Upended

I had to remind myself — after yesterdays shots of Coots diving — what a duck looked like doing the same thing, and it's pretty much the same. Just had to check. I guess what I was remembering was a dead bird floating legs-up in the lake.

October 4

Diving Coots - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Coots Diving — the one on the right head in
water about to go down; the other well on the way

So I watched Coots today. I didn't expect them to, but what I saw them doing was diving. Usually when I study a new bird I check all my references, so I'll know what to watch for. I've been careful to avoid reading anything about Coots from books. So I just watch and wonder.

I became an instant fan of the species the first time I saw them running over the water to take flight. Then there's those strange, big, lobed feet. Now this strange way of submerging.

Them diving was such a wonderment. Ducks bob over and go down. Coots curve their heads down and arch their backs (right, above), and more actively dive, their tails down last, creating a deep dished ripple with a brief splurt splash near its center.

Coots Down B - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The ones I watched at the top of the Spillway near the dam dove in groups. The only way I finally got pictures of the arching coots going down was to have seen other coots in the same group go down, often leaving several dished ripples at a time, me keeping my finger jammed on the shutter button, five frames a second.

Coot Dive with Feet - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Anna wondered if their feet ever showed, and yes, once, one coot's feet showed as it dove. They may do this every time, I just missed  snapping at that moment.

Racing Grackles - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Most of the rest of the time I took scenic photos for my new Annotated Map of White Rock Lake and watched Grackles race down the Garland Road shore, this shot from the Garland Pier.

October 3

Escheresque - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Escheresque

Even when I was shooting this image — tried it about a dozen times — I had the feeling of M C Escher crossed with The Birds, because of the glooming sensation of all those Grackles and all those dark shadows intermingled.

Maybe it's the title change from the essentially stupid "Addlepated" to the entirely accurate "Amateur" that's set me a little edgy. I'm probably a little of each, but I worried that the former might scare off some readers, so I opted for the simpler name. Even worked up a nice, new logo that simplifies the complexity at the top of these pages.

White Winged Dove - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

White Winged Dove

I was so excited when I got a series of photographs of this bird, sadly mistaking it for the Kingfisher I had hoped to photo in action along the creek at Sunset Bay. This one did not screetch a stuttering super-cricket call as it flew, but the real Kingfisher did, and though I tried my patience, I did not last till it came back, if it ever did.

I've seen it, and will be tracking it some other afternoons as the weather finally turns. It will, won't it?

The Coots Are Back - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Coots Are Back

We'd counted up to four of these goofish-looking critters with big clodhopper feet a couple weeks ago, way up from the previous two. Today I quit counting at 50. They're back for their winter stay, and I'll be watching them carefully, as I am overly fond of them and want to know much more about them.

Cormorants Where the Egrets Used to Be - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Black Clouds of Cormorants Where the Egrets Used to Be

Such a disconcerting sight to see a thick black wave of Double-crested Cormorants perched on the very logs I'd got used to seeing pristine white eegs on only a week or so ago. I know the eegs stay through the winter. Do they just let the Corms take over their treasured perches?

Cormorants are a nasty bunch. Revered in Europe where they grace the cash and stamps of several nations. But we've begun to associate them with a sort of "stinky snow" that fills Cormorant Bay around Bent Bridge.

To read that foul story and others about those places, check out my new annotated Map of White Rock Lake now on this site.

 

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