October 31 2006
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.
was close enough to fill my camera's frame with their antics.
Pelican Flying into Autumn Colors
showing off its
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
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
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
my ears and hands tinged when they were out of the sunlight, so I knew
the Pelicans would be happy and probably flying.
would not dominate their form.
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.
Looks like a big old tongue, but it's a waffling lower
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.
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
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
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
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.
Pelicans — Cold and Warm Noses
And what pelk shoot would be complete without a good,
old fashioned beak stretch?
Stretchola with Cool and Warm Beaks
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,
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,
down, diminish my target area, lax into resting camera on post and wait.
First wait while a long line of pelicans and cormorants
snaked back to Sunset Bay. Then for them to settle near where
Ten Geese Running
clan usually hangs out. Then for them to do something really interesting.
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
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.
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,
and even turned inside out, which this one
is close to becoming.
Then, when the tribe decides they've preened enough,
it's as if the command is wirelessly broadcast. A fit of writhing white
turns right, then into the air, fanning out to differing destinations,
flying in small groups off into the sunset.
Pelks into the Sunset
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.
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.
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
I'd been hoping for just such a shot, about this close.
Not sure what corm shot to ask for now.
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
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
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.
Dueling 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
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
them synchronize their actions. Most of the time. Here they seem to be
taking a break.
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.
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,
see what I'd got till tonight when I checked the images.
I had hoped to demonstrate
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,
one is the best. I don't usually shoot pigeons, but sometime ya just gotta.
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.
5 Coots on a Log
Oh, and this is the log I was telling you about that
the pigeon flew off.
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
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
flying sequence had worked, but this is nice.
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
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
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
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 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 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.
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
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
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 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
I could have just as easily shot this shot yesterday
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
grackles, a few cormorants, coots and a smattering of egrets.
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
— and cormorants — some were, and went on photographing
coots and ducks.
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
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
drove to Sunset Bay. It has been cool lately, but I didn't really think
we'd be that lucky yet, but we were.
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
For a long time we watched up to a half dozen
of them float around out there, slowly zig-zagging
I've seen whole flotillas of them and other species swimming that same
swim — their usual fishing behavior, rounding up fish, driving them
Pelks Filling Pouches
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
back and swallow. That's how they sycnchronize the dipping and dunking
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
scare off some readers, so
for the simpler name. Even worked up a nice, new logo that
simplifies the complexity at the top of these pages.
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
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
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,
them carefully, as I am overly fond of them and want to know much more
Black Clouds of Cormorants Where the Egrets Used to
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
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
To read that foul story and others about those places,
check out my new annotated
Map of White Rock Lake now on this site.