Asked for avocets, I even put some energy into the request. Today, guess what?
Except for the curling-upward beaks they could almost have been egrets. When I first saw them flying by me in a big bunch, I assumed they were pelicans and got all excited, because I hadn't seen any of those flying this season. Certainly not it a bunch. That's really exciting when it happens.
Nope, too small for pelicans, once I could gage size. They were American Avocets, and they flew by me at least a half dozen times, in wide circles in close, out far, in along the shore of Sunset Bay, out over the far side shore.
They'd disappear into the sun. Disappear around the bend. Then come back. Round and round, like they were looking for something.
A place to land, I guessed, but I don't know avocets very well.
This is only the second time I've ever seen avocets. First time was 500 miles south in Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley. Nice to have them come to us this time.
In great wide circles. They'd be gone for ten or more minutes while I snuck up on pelicans, then they'd come charging back. Not in any particular order but bunching up sometimes and stretching out others. I'd hoped to photo them prancing about in shallow water, but whatever they were after, they didn't see. Or stop.
The last time they flew by was the last time I saw them, though I waited and hoped they'd come back one more time again, because my trusty Rocket Launcher was playing Mercury Retrograde tricks on me. It would wobble inside and make the image jump and jerk when I was photographing avocets, pelicans, ducks and everybody else.
Six times today I shot and got nothing but a black frame, camera reported those times were shot at f/3.5 and that lens doesn't go there. Weird. Lots of times it did not want to focus, and lots of times it would not focus. A couple of those times it seemed to wrinkle the view. I hope it's not broken. I've been very gentle with it ever since. But it's still well within the warranty.
Even did it when I was photographing nearly not moving pelicans, which I got pretty close to today. Actually, they'd selected a log very close to the shore to do their ablutions, and I snuck in and got these shots. I even got one shot — the rest wiggled and crunched out of focus — of one flying. Flying low, but flying. First time this season.
Sometimes standing that close, it looked like one big, wide pelican with four feet, two honking beaks and almost two heads. Push me pull me.
The two on the left had a little tiff going because the second one from the left had rested its beak on the first one on the right's back for awhile. Then they started having words or whatever passes for that for the usually quiet American White Pelicans. Maybe they telecommunicate. Then comes the clicking of beaks. This didn't go further than that, but wings could be raised or flapped, too.
I just liked the way this one looked at almost full frame. Exciting to get this much detail.
I know, most coots gots feet. But I'm calling this picture that, so I'll have it up and out in the open that I got a coot showing its big, clomping, lobed feet in plain view, while it's little red eye is showing, and its beak even has some bare essential of detail showing in all that light, light tan. Not an altogether terrible shot, either. Everything's in focus on the bird. But I usually spend way too much silicon on trying to show one American Coot with its big ol' feet, and now I've done it this early in the season, maybe I can learn something new and more interesting about them.
I mentioned yester that I needed to get closer to a Mallard to show his magnificent autumn colors. These are they. I didn't realize when I chose this one — mostly because it was close — that it had a broken beak. The Bird Squad calls him "Half-Bill." Annette says, "Charles has been feeding him for years. He comes up with the geese, and we give him a whole piece of bread and he shakes it until he gets some loose. He has learned to grab the bread and run so the other birds don't get it. Occasionally, he will stand on it while eating it, so they can't take it away."
Saved the best for last today. Watching avocets do most anything is new and different, and watching pelicans fly is not. But watching pelicans fly is always some strange sort of excitement for me. Big birds with major wingspans — and this isn't anything like as bigger as their wingspans can get — thrill me. This one was making a short hop from over by the pier to where these pelicans were standing on the log nearer the shore where they sometimes gather and had already flapped some to get some air and air speed, and now it was just gliding over there.
The same one landing a little too close and abstractly.
Drippy nose or not, pelicans flap-flying is an amazing sight. I hope I get to see lots more before they drain the lake.
Oh, yeah, there's at least 22 of them now, but I think I counted 33 last week some time.
Lot more coots at the lake than since last whatever when they all went away. Almost all. Maybe ten stayed along the whole lakeshore. So begins my annual challenge to capture coots running across the water. Complicated and made a heckuva lot more fun this year by the addition of my new Rocket Launcher (long zoom lens — the Sigma 150-500mm lens, or the 35mm equivalent of 225~750mm lens.
A honking big lens, difficult (so far) to wield after a fast-runing, little, dark bird. All of those traits make it especially hard to focus when it's in a hurry— or I am. I didn't think I'd got anything, and I was nearly correct. But I need the practice, so I tried and retried. This was my fave of the coot sprint shots.
What I was doing at the lake too early this morning — among the mist and deep shade from the sun behind the hill full of trees — was hoping against hope that the flock of 11 avocets Annette told Anna she'd seen at Sunset Bay last evening might've stick around till morning. They did not, or at least not here.
Anna and I had considered visiting Sunset late yesterday, but even if we'd gone, I hadn't brung my camera, so I would have known what it feels like to see but not have a chance to photograph a strangish newish species. We have seen the prancy little creatures previously, but at some great distance with only a short tele zoom lens and not here but 500 miles south. Mighta had a better chance so I got out to the lake early enough I beat the sun, but they were long gone.
So I did what I could with what was here. Strange not to be featuring American White Pelicans for a change. The real star of today's outing was the mist.
Another species there's a gathering storm of at the lake is cormorants. Specifically our own dear Double-crested Cormorants, which gather like dark clouds till they fill every tree on the north side of the lake. I call that, closer to Christmas, "Stinky Bird Season," because when corms gather, they perch in trees and scat till the trees turn wintry white and the acrid stench reeks.
Mostly happens in and around what I call Cormorant Bay, very vividly illustrated on my new map of White Rock Lake that's bigger and shows lots more GoogleMap details. People who regularly walk, run or bike the lake already know well where not to do those things directly beneath trees full of big (33 inches long, 53 wingspan) black birds.
Another, less dark, color change is that the Mallards are back to regulation colors, leaving their summer browns and going back to bright greens, contrasting white stripes and I'll have to photo some closer up to see all their fall colors.
My first scissortail shot with my Rocket Launcher. More detail. Not as fuzzy.
Smack-dab in the middle of this vague shot, is a brown-looking, heron-like bird. I thought I saw a bird, but the mist kept taking it away then bringing it back. This is one of those moments when the wisps had blown a little to the left or right. It might be a Great Blue Heron. It could be a Little Blue or Green. Too far and way too little detail. Probably a lousy photo, too. But I kept wondering if there was really anything there, or if I was deluding myself.
Possibly, maybe even probably, it was this Great Blue Heron I'd sen earlier, wisping into the woods in Hiidden Creek.
Maybe every autumn ayem is like this. I wouldn't know. After the elusive avocets I was just glad the sun shined, and the mist made for interesting landscapes. Far as I know there are no bird in this photograph. But ya never know.
Might have been one of my brothers who called this God Light. Like in too many inspirational images of a White Jesus with a beatific smile and this sort of light shining down from Above. I like light when it filters through trees and shines on the road ahead so bright I could hardly see. Probably why I so rarely shoot birdless landscapes.
Watch pelicans long enough, and they will reward you will some sort of strange beak behaviors. The one on the right had already begun when I noted the change of position and started clicking.
Their lower mandible is amazingly flexible and very useful. To keep it that way, they pop these remarkable beak stretches every once in a while. All the photographer has to do is be aware that they might, then watch for some telltale behavior or head positioning. Clearly I missed those preliminary actions today, so I'd say ya just gotta watch them over a few years, and you'll begin to catch on.
It's similar to when they're about to jump into the air and fly away, there's always a tell-tale. Then it's over in a few quick seconds. Fold lower mandible — they are in some ways similar to lips on mammals. But not quite. Invert on chest, then bubble it up while tilting head back.
Try something a little new, if you feel like it. This pelican is testing the gap.
Which he quickly abandons, fully relaxing both top and bottom of its beak.
I figured it was over, and I had missed the home stretch. But no, it tried it one more time.
Widened and bowled out the pouch.
Then gave it all it had and then some.
Dropped its head and let that lower mandible sag. Throughout the sequence, the pelican on the left had its pouch sagging. Now suddenly, it's reined it in. The other pelican that had been dunking and seining for food has disappeared altogether within these few seconds.
For more about the strange things pelicans do with their beaks, see The Pelican Beak Weirdness Page.
File today's endeavors as Further Experimentation with the new lens. I was so into photographing some little birds with it today, I almost didn't notice this Red-tailed Hawk so very well camouflaged in a tree almost directly above me, in this shot. Whenever I start thinking I've got a handle on this new duper-super lens of mine (there actually is a handle on it; makes it easier to carry), I learn that I don't know much.
That sensation probably goes for most of life. The Nikon Lens Forum on Digital Photography Review, where I learn the most about new lenses, keeps telling me it'll take awhile before I get good at it, because it's basically different than any other lens I have. Those forums are full of conversations like email. Only I just lurk, I rarely enter into the conversations themselves. I'm just in it for the education.
I've tried to be conversational, and I've tried to share my pix, but the others on the forum aren't interested, because mostly I just lurk. That's what I was doing around the lake this morning. I had heron hopes, but those were quickly dashed up the lagoon from the Old Boat House and Old Boat House's new Walking Bridge. I saw darned few birds and no herons.
So I edged around the lake to the other side of the Lagoon, where my luck picked up. Significantly.
This bird was not the first one I saw, but neither was it the last. It's near the top of today's long entry, because I like to put the most amazing birds and/or photographs on top, and this is one gorgeous bird. Plus, it stayed where it was while I circled around trying to get a better shot. These last two shots are especially close and uncluttered, but too foreshortened. I like to shoot birds at their level. But there weren't any trees I could climb — and that would probably have sent all the birds gathered there then every which way.
Before I talk about all those little birds I never would have expected to gather themselves so close to a hawk that's been known to eat little birds, I want to mention that this is the first time I've ever seen or photographed a hawk preening. Sometimes I wish I could lean back as far as this hawk is, so I could see what it is on my own back that always seems to itch.
These are the birds that gathered apparently for the hawk. They weren't present when I first sighted the hawk, and they were all gone within seconds after it jumped into the sky and coasted down the hill to another, much leafier tree. Is there some sort of safety in being close to a little-bird-eating hawk?
I've spent more time today looking at my bird books than I have in more than a month. Which probably means I haven't been shooting all that many new species lately. If I know them by sight, they are dead, solid normal. And it's nice to see the exotic side of life sometimes. My final guesstimate for this bird is that it's a House Finch. But I'm not at all certain.
When the hawk finally made its jump into the air, I thought I was ready for it. But I wasn't really, as you will see in the following shots. If I had been ready, I would have been using a much higher shutter speed, to avoid motion blur on the bird, and it would have been sharper in focus.
Background motion blur set against a sharply in-focus bird is always impressive. A big blurred bird against a motion blurring background is a big mistake, which is why I made this image smaller.
Swoop Doggie almost looks focused. But it were tricky.
Nearby, a Monk Parakeet perches on The Big Hum. I love it when "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know" on KERA-FM every Friday has their readers ask and answer questions, and they continually identify these as parrots. But they're not. They are parakeets. And they live in the hum.
I had American Kestrel thoughts roving through my mind when I saw this bird at some distance. But it doesn't have the red and golds of a male kestrel, so it's either a female or something else. More time with the books and I thought I was ready to identify this as a Peregrine Falcon. But Peregrines are darker and larger. Much larger. Kestrels are about 9 inches long, and I'm pretty sure this is a small bird.
Kestrels, Gyrfalcons, Prairie Falcons, Aplomado Falcons and Merlins all have similar markings. They call those vertical dark stripes through the eye and behind "moustaches." But after watching a DVD called World of Raptors with a long section on identifying these birds, I'm pretty sure it's a kestrel. The flick's a little sappy but I'll watch it several times, till I can name that bird first time out.
But if I'm right (ha!), this has only the right colorations and underwing patterns and colors (lack thereof) to be a female American Kestrel.
It is my first female kestrel, so I'm still confused about its I.D.
I know this one. It's the beautiful — a lot of people only think of them as pests, but since they don't pest me, I only think of them as amazing and pretty and spotty — European Starling.
And here's two of them in the new fall colors. One front and one back.
We're concluding today's entry with the good ole' Northern Mockingbird, which I still often fail to correctly identify. But this is a mockingbird, and those are spun webs.
Closer, looking for morsels of food in the grass.
I know mockingbirds flash their wings for little-known reasons. And I've seen them hop at each other, and fly straight up out of their nests and wibble-wobble down and up from that high altitude. But I'd never seen one hold its wings straight (sorta straight) out to the sides and walk like a Drag Queen along the ground before.
was photographing pelicans doing the same things I've been photographing them doing the last dozen days when I heard a murder of crows cawing repeatedly. I looked out over the trees in the Hidden Creek area north of Sunset Bay and eventually saw a mob of crows chasing a hawk. This is a common event. I always look up when I hear crows, because there's always the chance of them chasing a hawk. And I love to photograph hawks, although crows are not half bad, either.
In these cases, I'm always pulling for the hawks. From the markings on the hawk, especially those under wings, I believe this is a juvenile Red-winged Hawk. The most common hawk in America, but always a thrill for this amateur birder.
I have seen crows physically attack a juvenile hawk, but neither did I see that happen today, nor did I photograph it (sometimes I only see those things after I make the picture. I'm always aware of the possibility because I'd like someday to have a similar opportunity to the above-linked one back in August 2006 when a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was nearly knocked out of the air by a particularly audacious crow. Next time, I want to get the action sharp and in focus. I always do. I always think about it.
With the hawk in the lead, they flew in wide loops across the lake toward me on the Sunset Bay pier. I was sitting and had to scoot around to keep them in view through my newish but long, heavy lens. Another guy was photographing pelicans all that time. I never even saw him look up. Probably thought, 'just crows, who cares."
Gradually, eventually, the crows stopped chasing. Probably since the hawk had left what they consider their territory and flown across the bay.
I watched as the hawk flew up the hill toward Garland Road, almost disappear, then circle back very slowly in much smaller circles over the pier again and fly off west toward the Pump House — alone — and not come back.
Oh, and I counted 19 pelicans today. I've seen them preen, swim, seine, beak fight with their pals. But I've yet to see a full-on beak stretch or one fly. Hope I get to see them doing both of those activities before the idiot City drains the lake, and the pelicans go somewhere else.
I'm worried about my beloved pelicans — and all the other water birds and animals and fish at White Rock Lake. Starting October 17, The City is going to start lowering the lake's water level by "as much as 30 inches."
So where now is dirt and trees and grass all around the Spillway and lower Steps area can, when construction is completed in two years, be all concrete. I keep thinking of Joni Mitchell singing about paving paradise and putting in a parking lot.
They decided to pour a gazillion square yards of concrete around that now very natural looking perimeter, because during the 100-Year Storm two years ago, the two sink holes along the edge of the "retaining wall" on the Garland Road side of The Spillway finally blew out.
The Parks Department knew about — and ignored — the problem for years. They regularly filled in those holes with more dirt and replanted grass on top of it. But they never bothered to cover the holes so more water wouldn't sink down. Then a lot of rain came at once and blew out their carelessly created sink holes.
Then the City's engineers and hungry construction companies decided to stave off anything else ever causing damage there by completely plastering the area with concrete. To do that, they "have to" lower the lake and chop down hundreds of trees all around The Spillway, although they promise they'll leave the island and its trees intact.
All so workers and big machines can do their dastardly deeds without getting wet. Dry construction work and workers = dead fish and birds and animals, and a dying lake. Remember a few years ago when they said they'd revitalized our lake by dredging it deeper?
Lowering the level of Sunset Bay by 30 inches means no more Sunset Bay, which is only about two feet deep in the middle — I've often seen Great Blue Herons and egrets out there wading for fish. Those shallow areas are now ideal environments for shore birds and wading birds and shallow-fishing birds. But not after October 17.
The birds and animals and fish who live and hunt, eat and get eaten in the bays and feeder creeks all around the lake will be high and dry till next summer, although the City says they will not lower the level during the summer.
The birds can fly away — I hope they will return. The animals might move up into the residential areas surrounding the lake — hide your cats and dogs, the coyotes and middle-sized cats will be looking for fresh meat, after they get all the gooses and other slow-moving critters. The fish will just die off.
The pelicans visit White Rock Lake September through April, so they'll see the worst of it — if they stay or ever come back.
Yes, many animals will die. Yes, some birds will probably die, too. A naturalist at the FTLOTL meeting tonight made light of the ordeal, claiming minimal death will occur just because millions of gallons of life-supporting water will be flushed down White Rock Creek.
According to the construction company spokesman, no environmental impact study was ever planned.
The pelican on the left wants to perch where the pelican on the right is perching, so they are engaging in a bit of a sword fight using long, sharp orange objects. The pelk on the right is flapping wings, here a sign of an attempt to intimidate.
Two can play that game. And the pelican on the left appears to be much larger than the pelican on the left, and can flap and stretch its wings to appear even larger.
Gradually, it became obvious who was going to get the coveted space.
But that it might take a little time for the winner to get its wings and dander down now.
Another pelican twists and turns its neck all the way around to reach just the spot that needs preening.
There are now 11 pelicans in Sunset Bay. More every day.
Remember, not long ago, me talking about every time I aimed a camera at a big bird, it'd fly the other way? Well, imagine my surprise, after photographing the Sunset Bay Great Blue Heron (which may or may not be the same bird) way out on the logs in what I think of as the middle of Sunset Bay. It was looking intently at something in the water somewhere this side of it. Then it suddenly flew much closer to me, not more than a few feet off the pier...
Did a sudden, screech! (I could almost hear the tires squeal.) landing way too close to be ready for.
Bean-pole looked around, honing in.
Stabbed its beak into the water. And pulled out a big fish.
Kept hold of it while the fish exploded and water went everywhere. Note use of wings to balance.
Played the usual GBH games with it: balanced the fish in its beak; flipped it around for better fit; dropped it a couple times — either to subdue it or to clean it off; picked it up again; angled it lengthwise to go down easier; drop it again...
Walk away with it firmly in its grips.
Notice how the heron has folded its neck back to support its head and beak with that large, stout fish in it.
Drop it down the gullet and swallow hard to get it down the hatch. Note the immensely thickened and distended neck.
Neck and throat area widened for easier drop. It still took a couple minutes to urge it downward.
Which made me think of all those times I've seen GBHs out there just standing and standing and not doing much else. I'd assumed they were waiting for a meal. Now I'm thinking they may have been busy digesting. Like this one is.
Eventually, it jumped into the air and flew back out to the logs, lumpy throat and all.
Notice the significant change of colors once it got back out into full sunlight. Great Blue Herons are only blue in cloudy weather or open shade (where they're mostly lighted by the blue sky above, instead of directly by the sun).
Flaps up, slow toward landing.
Land on a tiny platform out in the comparative safety of the middle of the bay. Note the still-thickened neck.
At which point I aimed the camera off toward the pelicans again while the GBH just stood there digesting. For comparison, see the pictures at the top of today's journal entry.
Then about four minutes later, I looked back at what I thought was a skinny-necked GBH. Only it's not. It's got its neck twisted and spread out in other dimensions, similar to how they hold it, folded back when they fly.
More happened out on this cool, breezy Wednesday morning. But that little adventure will have to wait till tomorrow. I've got miles to go before I sleep.
Up to six pelicans by today. Maybe more somewhere near, but there are six of them dancing, it looks like, out on the logs with a bunch of their cousins the cormorants. Flapping their wings and tilting forward on one foot. Having a high old time. Woulda been nice if they'd faced this way, but not bad. One even dozen birds.
I don't know exactly what it is doing, but it's definitely not flying.
Because it's still standing there not more than a couple seconds later.
It's probably common to see egrets in trees in most places. We've seen them on the White Rock Trail north doing that, and lots of them at rookeries, but at White Rock it's still unusual enough an experience to double-take. I triple-took these two egrets, because they were standing in a tree past some other trees that I had to shoot between trees even more forward in the foreground.
Plus, the near one is a Great Egret and the far one is a Snowy Egret. Note the dissimilarities of beak and lore (the area around their eyes) colors. If you could see the Snowy's feet, they'd be bright orange, while the Great's feet and legs are all black. Family tree.
Big-wattle (I always want to spell that with Ds, not Ts) = Wilbur, the boss goose.
Wilbur with the sun in his face.
Better a day. Not many birds out, but some.
Gray on the Saturday all the news and weather persons were prognosticating dire consequences for being in Dallas. Hurricane envy, apparently. It was gray, and it rained, and it was cool, but not hardly nuthin' to worry about. Pretty, pretty day, but not much in the bird department.
Pelicans is all I thought about yesterday, last night and this morning till I finally got out to the lake this afternoon. There, I found one pelican. This one, obviously. Despite my legendary patience, I stayed more than an hour, carefully following this one bird back and forth across the breadth of Sunset Bay. No idea where the other pelicans were/are.
Seemed like every time I'd carefully squish across the mucky feeder creek well left of the pier to get closer to The Lone Pelk, it would gracefully swim across the bay to wherever I'd just come from. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Throughout all that swimming and walking, I kept it in view, shooting whenever it was close enough. Me guessing exposure depending upon whether its body was facing into, away from or just edged by the sun.
Often, the pelican was so far out that I couldn't really see what it was up to. Here, I knew it was busy crisscrossing the bay for fish . Gap open, dunk down, seine through.
I didn't see it catch anything big enough to photograph, but I assume it was catching little somethings all the way, because it kept at it all that time.
I hoped for a full-blown pelk beak stretch, kept my watch out all that time, hoping I'd catch it, but if it did one, I missed it. This is a partial tongue inversion. If pelicans do have tongues, but this isn't it.
Some pelican moves escape me entirely.
Back-lighted by the sun, we can see something of the internals of a pelican beak. Like the corduroy of arteries that stripes the inside of its elastic lower mandible. That stretchy bucket can hold as much as three gallons of water and fish.
I remember shooting this, but since it's something of an enlargement, I had no idea what it was up to, only that whatever it was doing, I should photograph it. This may be the first time I've ever shot one of these beak stretches up over the face. See where its eyes are? Is that even possible? Or is this an optical delusion?
This is one segment of a major wing flap. I did one of my own just before this, so I identified when it did it, too. Like a good stretch into the wind. It wasn't a steady breeze, but when it came, it was welcomed.
Pelicans put more of themselves into a bath than any other creature I've ever seen. Lots of water splashed up remarkably efficiently and effectively. It looks like it probably does some serious cleaning.
A little soft this time, but one of the stranger poses involved in partially submerging ...
... So it can splash up enough water for a proper bath ...
... All of which is accompanied by loud flump-flump-flumping of those big wings.
Wingspans up to 9 feet, according to Sibley's Guide to Birds.
Eventually, the Lone Pelk settled on the second log off from the pier. The one behind where the Little Blue Heron preened and cleaned and dried its wings yesterday.
Easy shot for The Rocket Launcher. I'm still looking forward to them flying around the bay in ones and twos and more, but I'm glad I got the chance to get to know the new (returning) neighbors today.
First time I put today's page up I thought I didn't get any good shots of the male Belted Kingfisher flying up the creek from Sunset Bay, right across my path, and me with my big honker of a lens aimed right at him (some of the time). I remember being frustrated as we followed banging like ack-ack anti-aircraft across the sky that I never quite got him in focus. Then I started exploring what I did get in a couple different lights.
Shooting raw gives me tremendously more latitude with exposure. This shot looked white on light green. A greatly overexposed blob on a blur of green. Then I deepened it, till this well panned Male Belted Kingfisher with feather detail, a sharp beak and even what looks like an eye — though one can rarely tell with Kingfishers, because of that white spot just in front of their actual eyes — appeared out of the green murk.
More kingfisher shots below.
They're back. The cadre of American White Pelicans who spend six months here every year are back. Five have shown up so far. They usually arrive in dribbles and drabs, totaling more than 80 last year. They were here by September 19th last year, so they seem to be coming a little earlier each year. They generally leave by April 15, however.
Another returnee is the sun and the heat. Both might be short-lived, since more her- and himicanes are collecting heat and speed in the Gulf. I loved having sunlight again, but the heat was oppressive. Big surprise.
Annette told Anna who told me the pelicans were back. She saw four yester. I figured those are the ones on the right at the top of today's entry. The puffier one on the left stayed in place when they drifted off elsewhere while I was putting my attention into the Little Blue Herons on the first big bump out from the pier.
I suppose you could say I'm still testing my new telephoto lens, but more truthfully, I'm just using it. What I've been doing all along. There's always lessons in that, of course, and I'm telling what I learn here, but I've had it long enough — three days now — that it's beginning to be a part of me.
It is still a big thing, but not so noticeable unless you see me trudging down the road with it. And it's still strange and difficult to get it to follow fast action — I could never have followed that hawk with it last month, but I'm learning it. Images are getting sharper. I'm loosening up with it a little.
This shot is several sorts of amazing. ISO 250, f/11 @ 1/400. Sunshine is such a help sometimes, at 500mm. I'm hoping to catch a lot of other birds — perhaps not quite as tame as pigeons — up close and personal like this.
I headed up the creek because I kept hearing the chattering screeches of a Kingfisher I'd heard there before, but usually only catch fleeting glimpses of its wings turning back away from me or going high into a tall tree, like today. This time I employed my famous patience to wait and wait and wait down where I'd last heard it from the pier.
To largely no avail whatsoever, so I aimed the monster across the lake at anything that moved. Like this Great Egret, which is closer to this side of the lake than that far side, but the shot makes a nice image with the three bright white entities contrasting so thoroughly all that green and little bits of orange and red. New vistas.
Much closer still, though not nearly as close as it seems, since this is about a sixth of a frame crop, was this hunkered-down egret waiting for food to present itself.
Then it hunkered up to take a look around.
One American White Pelican (62-inches long) among one (left to right) juvenile and three adultish Double-crested Cormorants (33-inches long). Cousins.
Probably what I'm worst at so far with the new lens is getting it to point at speedily-moving objects. Like the little red dragons that have followed the black dragons of last week all around the lake. I especially like their reflections..
So naturally where do I finally find the Kingfisher in question but on the Pier I was sitting on shooting Little Blue Herons, Egrets and Pelicans when I first heard its screechy cries.
Closer than usual, but not as close as I'd like to get. But I think I have a new edge with the rocket launcher, however.
These images are blown up about as much as the perched Kingfisher was. I [thought I'd] never once got the whole bird in focus or sharpness as it flung itself across the sky right in front of me. Swinging that big, heavy thing that shows me a tiny portion of what I used to get to see through the old zoom is a daunting challenge.
A little closer to focus but with a strange yellow shadow.
Looking through the rejects a third time through, I found this happy juxtaposition.
The best shot of a Kingfisher is at the top of today's entry.
It might help that the Little Blue (24-inches long) is a lot bigger bird than a Kingfisher (13-inches long). Plus, there's more warning when a heron flies off. I was already following it. The Kingfisher escaped without notice, and I never really caught up.
Watching these two egrets play along Winfrey Point and off toward the dam, I kept thinking of the word cavorting, which my Mac's dictionary defines as "SKIP, dance, romp, gig, caper, frisk, play/horse around, gambol, prance, frolic, lark, bounce, trip, leap, jump, bound, spring, hop, roughhouse, rollick." Which is pretty much what I saw them doing all along that far shore.
Before this new wowser lens, those obvious bird shapes would have just been white specs.
Still dark. Cool, breezy, but really too dark for testing a big honking telephoto lens. I may go on strike for sunlight. I did manage some lucky shots today, and I probably learned a thing or three. But it's getting to be work not joy, lugging that clunk around, so I may drop back to another, somewhat shorter and easier on the light lens, if this cloudy dark weather keeps up.
This was a lucky shot. I was focusing in on a gray bird in the green mass of tree behind this one when I saw something out of my other eye. Something bright, white and swooping toward me at eye level. I was standing on the walking bridge over the steps down from the Spillway, so my eye-level was considerably higher than it usually is, especially compared to how high above the surface (water) this egret was flying.
None of the quick series of 16 shots — about three seconds worth — was sharper than this. It's hard to keep the focus target in the middle of the viewing screen on top of a fast flying bird, especially at 500mm. I should have used the "whatever's closest" focusing mode, but I didn't have time to switch, so I just shot and hoped. I do that a lot.
I've shot this shot dozens — maybe hundreds — of times. Today's is a little more compressed, but at least I nailed the focus, and got it all on this tall drink of water. Even its toenails are sharp, and look at that eyeball.
This is a tiny portion of a Black-capped Night-Heron I missed completely as he flew by much closer. This was really too far to even try, but what the hey. Click. There will always be a range that's outside the limits of whatever lens I'm using.
Trudging back to Blue after crisscrossing the Garland Road side of the lake today, I passed someone waiting for a bus. He asked, "How far does that go out to?" I stopped, tried to think of an intelligent answer. I said 500mm. He asked, "How far is that?" I couldn't think of an answer that made any sense and told him so. Should I have said a couple of miles? What would that non sequitur mean? Not, I guess, as far as a fleeing Black-capped Night-Heron, either.
At full frame view without some contrasting up, this BCNH was almost impossible to see. It blended right in. Great local camouflage.
But a lot easier to see closer-up in this enlargement of the same image as above.
Not bad a shot, considering I usually enlarge small portions of frames for pictures here. This particular bird in this lighting on this day in this shot, enlarged very well. Would have been nicer if the bird were looking at the camera, or smiling. Sunlight — a lot of conditions could have been improved. But not bad.
Not bad at all. This shot at about the same distance over the steps and into the trees beyond is remarkably good. We can see considerable detail. Enough to be confused about what bird this is. His beak is definitely BCNH, but that long stripey neck and white swath under its eye and back to the back of its head could almost be a Yellow-crowned Night Heron Juvenile. And it's still hiding pretty well in those leaves.
I do like this lens. Much as I love the weather's cool, how 'bout one day of sunshine, eh, Universe?
Too wet to walk. Not enough 'shine for even a dotted line. So I drove around shooting out my windows, carefully orienting Blue not to accrue rain. But still hand-holding this new lens well inside the dripping windows. I couldn't rest it on the sill or it'd get wet, and unlike modern Nikon lenses, which are sealed, this one dies if water gets on it.
This egret seems small but it has black legs and feet like a Great Egret, and I know it's on a pole in the rain over behind the Bath House. I drove all round the lake today, kept thinking if I moved around more, I'd find a dry spot. But I did not.
I'm sure he was looking for food. Many grackles out today. 'Twas another gray and grackle day sounds like a line from the Jabberwocky.
When they preen, ducks spread lanolin over their feathers, so water does not penetrate.
Thanks to the diffused light, it was possible to photograph an American Coot and still get detail in both its dark feathers and its very light face. Usually, it's one or the other.
Op cit on the rain-resistant feathers. Coot's eyes usually go dark in their unlighted heads.
Telephoto lenses have inherently less depth of field (DoF) than wider-angled lenses. Especially long telephoto lenses may not have enough depth to cover all the way from a duck's face to the tip of its beak when it's this close. Note how far gone DoF is by the time it gets to this duck's ponderous back.
Another wet muscovy shows the narrowness of DoF when shot at some distance, with only a few weeds in front of it and a few behind it in focus, then big blurs out to that duck and the lake beyond.
Same with this very wet egret. I saw ducks, 'grets and grackles out in the rain today. Everybody else had sense enough to stay out of it. The wet ones were probably hungry.
I've had this super-telephoto less than two days now, but it seems to suit my purposes well. Though it does feel like I'm carrying a Surface-to-Air rocket launcher sometimes. I can't wait to try it on dry birds in bright sunlight, although I may have to, with all those hurricanes churning The Gulf. Any new lens brings new options. I'm digging these.
Finally got that longer lens I've been lusting after all these months, years. 2/3 longer, making it a 35mm equivalent to a 750mm lens, assuming you accept that my older 80-300mm zoom is the equivalent of a 120-450mm zoom, which I don't, but my new 150-500mm does bring far things closer. And it's heavier. A lot heavier but nicely balanced, and it has a handy metal handle that just fits my smallish hand. Very comfy, though it felt like pumping iron to bring it up to shoot.
It doesn't just magnify images, it offers new perspectives while compressing the view, though I'm just beginning to see that in today's shots. I can't wait for the pelicans. 1/60 shutter speed works out so much better when panning along with a flying fluffy white bird.
Ideal lighting to try out a new lens is bright sunlight. Today, we got dull gray overcast skies we couldn't really even see individual clouds in. Just soup. I kept thinking of it as a grackle dark day. Maybe because at first that's all I saw. The first egret and the first GBH I saw today I did not photograph — part of my bargain with the Universe. After those, the rest were fair game.
Besides, I'd be shooting from about 2/3 farther away, and maybe out there among the runners and bicyclers and other drivers, White Rock Lake's more common bigger birds wouldn't notice me. None of them croaked curses or flew away, so I might be onto another pro for the new tele, except that GBH looks flat.
I shot that same bird, whom I call the Sunset Bay Great Blue Heron, several times, because I see it out on the logs in the middle of the bay often. Often enough to hope my new lens renders it better than my old lens did. Ideally, I'd shoot at ISO 100 or 200 in direct sunlight for this sort of test, but this was shot at ISO 800 on a gray dark day, and this image was slightly out of focus or blurred by lens movement, anyway, so it's not as good as most of the other shots on this page.
Still, it doesn't look half bad as presented above. Considering all the pros and cons, however, this shot looks pretty good. I'm amazed, and I know I'm going to get better with it.
Of course, not all the shots I shoot any day are even adequate. Today, more than usual were not. Because this is a big lens to be wielding about. A honker to hold still, especially zoomed all the way out where I kept it most of today. I usually shoot my 70-300mm zoom at 300mm, and today I usually shot my new 150-500mm at 500. Or why bother.
Plus, the twists the opposite direction my Nikon zooms and, probably because it's new, it torques with some turgidity. Worse, a little twist zooms hundreds of millimeters. So it'll be awhile before I get used to all that, and by then, it should be a easier.
I'd pulled over next to some reeds along the Big Thicket area, thinking maybe I could get some distant vista or something, and right there, outside Blue's driver-side window only a few yards away, was this egret. Click. 1/30th of a second shutter speed is awe-full slow for a lens this long.
The usual rule is that the longest/slowest shutter speed one can/should hand-hold a camera with any lens would be expressed as a fraction of 1 over the lens' Focal Length in milimeters — i.e, 1/500 of a second minimum hand-holdable speed with this 500mm lens.
'Course that doesn't take into effect what Sigma calls OS and Nikon calls VR and Canon calls IS. Optical stabilization and Vibration Reduction and Image Stabilization are fancy terms for the in-lens or in-camera process that stabilizes the image, allowing photogs to hand-hold a camera/lens slower than the rule. But 500mm at 1/30 is almost absurd. Except that it worked this time. It wasn't raining just then, so I might have rested it on the sill.
At Sunset Bay, I got out and walked down the hill, starting with the ever-shallowing shoreline well left of the sunset pier (facing the lake). Where I saw this Killdeer. I think I see more detail here than in my usual Killdeer shots. Having found that link, I know there's better detail — I can see kneecaps and leg segments.
I shoot a lot of birds on wires, largely because it separates them from their camouflage, and there's wires everywhere and birds use them like trees. Now, they seem closer. Even in today's dull gray, I got way more than usual texture in this European Starling's magnificent jacket.
Ducks in a row seemed clear and sharp against the overwhelming gray of sky and water.
This close I was probably vibrating the lens a bit in this close-up, although one of its joys in OS (optical stabilization). Nikon Forum members seem to agree about this new long zoom that it takes some getting used to. Needs adjustment to our usual shooting procedures. I'm not utterly convinced. I've been shooting a longish zoom for several years now, though not with this heavy a lens. I think we're going to get along just fine. Another real plus is the distinct separation between subject and background. A side-effect of the compression.
I've been seeing this "teen" Wood Duck the last several visits to Sunset Bay. Today I saw one of its siblings, also. I don't know if the plain gray background is due to compression or the fact that the light was so dull. But it's lovely; I'll take it.
Daddy Wood Duck further out across the creek than I'm usually willing to photograph. New lens magnifying my possibilities. This shot's a little too enlarged to be real. A brighter day might have helped subtle him in.
More condensing. Next time, I'll get them to fly the frame closer in.
This shot shows that apparent contraction better than any of today's others. That compaction stacking the jumble of boat parts graying into the distance into impossible depth behind the bar and the boat and beyond. I love the feel of darkness and gentle abstraction. And I could not have placed that grackle better, though dead-center compositions usually hold everything still, pensive.
This is a photograph (unlike most of today's) I never would have tried with a shorter lens, because everything's too far to see. The star is tiny in this full frame, no cropping. The dark what we get when we aim at white without compensating exposure. Glad I didn't think to do that.
All that aperture, shutter speed, iso and mm mumbo-jumbo is for me. I'll stop after awhile, but I need it to learn more about this new lens and how I can use it. More experimenting tomorrow, even if the sun don't shine. I should probably round the bend in my dotted line around the lake, and maybe I'll learn to think in 500mm. I generally set the ISO and aperture, the camera does the rest, and I usually don't get in its way.
Yeah, I do get tired of shooting the same birds every time, but I have a great appreciation for egrets and herons and grackles and ducks. I like them. Wish they liked me back enough not to take off suddenly every time they see me. But I understand. If I were they, I'd probably get out of Dodge as fast as my wings would carry me if I saw me coming, too, even though I've had long, gentle conversations with others of their same species, and I like to think, some sort of inter-species appreciation.
I'd framed my shot for the full view of this Great Egret. Was settling in, yet again, for some serious shots of it. But these are far more interesting in the scheme of things.
While I was going clickity-click, I wondered whether any of those shots would be entirely in the frame. This one did.
Then the next one did not. That's the reflection of the sun streaming across the lake, there behind the straight portion of its neck.
Eventually, it flew behind some trees, and I of course, kept clicking, getting a pile of pix of blurred green trees flashing by that really aren't worth showing here.
I keep seeing fishing lines doing damage to snakes and birds, and I'm really getting tired of it. You suppose there's any way to keep that stuff from snagging on our littler friends without fingers to carefully pull them out from their bodies?
The prevalent species of grackle hereabouts is the Great-tailed Grackle. This is very probably one of those. But its tail is anything but great. Were I a professional birder instead of the amateur I am, I might know the natural cause of this one's short end. It might have just got it caught in something, like the snake. I dunno.
I keep hearing some Classic Country singing telling me about "on the wings of a snow white dove," then I think of all the white doves Picasso used to paint and draw.
Female leading two male Mallards, all in their dark autumn colors.
And, of course, any time I see a Great Blue Heron, I have to try to photograph it. I'd thought this one was too far out and in its own shade for a good shot, but I am still learning the joys of shooting what digicam buffs call "Raw." Most digicams render images in a much-compressed JPG format. Mine will do that, too, of course.
But for the last few months, I've been shooting uncompressed images that take up about ten times as much space (drawback), but allow some fascinating "corrections," like bringing this Great Blue Heron back from the shadows.
The first Great Blue Heron (GBH) shot above was shot from shore. This one from the opposite end of the pier from the snake. Just as I got comfortable shooting there, the GBH took wing and croaked complaining about photographers rousting him from a great place to find fish.
And I thought I was waaaayy too far for it to be aware of my presence. But nope. Too far to notice from shore. But from that pier, way noticeable... I guess.
Anyway, it flapped across the lake, landing on yet another of the yacht club piers, where it hung out while I walked to and from the Singing Bridge (though I haven't heard it sing for a long time; I'm afraid they fixed the boards that used to vibrate.)
Walking back along the shore, I was again too far away for a discerning Great Blue Heron to notice me.
Or so I thought.
When I realized that, I promised the Universe next time I saw an egret or GBH, I'd walk on and ignore them entirely. It's not like I don't have enough photographs of them yet.
Very unusual to photograph a snake at White Rock. This one was swimming like mad, writhing and twisting, but he wasn't going anywhere. As I watched its torture, I realized he'd got caught on yet another errant fisher person's line or hook, or he'd got caught in a crevice of that piece of wood. He had the energy to writhe and twist and try to get away, but last I saw him was like this, looking utterly defeated., under the first big pier south of Mockingbird along Yacht Club Row, just into the Big Thicket area.
According to UTA Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center, "Water snakes lack venom, but they can defend themselves by delivering a series of rapid bites while smearing feces and musk onto anyone attempting to capture them. Water snakes only bite whenever captured or handled and pose no threat to humans." Hmmm.
I almost never put snake pix in this journal, but I felt so sad for this one, I'm hoping someone can cut the line and let it go. I know who to call to free a duck from fishing line. But who do I call for a snake? Who's just as caught, more defeated. If anybody can help, I'd sure appreciate it. It's a long way under that now tall pier, at the far right end facing out into the lake. Probably take an agile kayaker, to pin its weary head, then cut the line holding his tail.
I called Anna, who organized The Great Six-Pack Duck Rescue last January, and she said she'd contact a kayaker. I called Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation, and they said they don't do snakes and hung up quickly. They were probably busy.
A friend has offered me her kayak to borrow, and I never have, because my reason to go out on the water is to take photographs of birds and snakes and sunsets and stuff, but I would never trust me with any but a fully waterproof camera, and I don't have one yet, because the chances are so few. I can see me out there under that pier trying to free the snake and either getting bit by it instead or tipping into the yuckoid water of White Rock Lake.
Two egrets figure in today's entry. Both perched at the same place, under that same tree, on that same rock for a long time, but under slightly different circumstances. Egret A had been there for awhile already when Egret B flew in low and fast.
The policy seems to be that whoever comes along can scare the begeesus out of whoever's perched there minding their own business. I've seen it happen in countless circumstances. It may be that only a bigger, badder bird will challenge another like this. It may be that if somebody else wants it, they just get it. I dunno these things. I'm just watchin' and learning.
As Egret A continues into the rock, A blurred Bird A escapes quickly, almost fluidly. No confrontation.
I don't usually follow the vanquished egret, but I was in plain sight of most of its extended egress, so I click-clicked along.
As it flew high,
Turned a wide circle up there.
Swam through the air, higher and farther.
Till it became a dot among the clouds.
Meanwhile, since I was walking in that direction anyway, I walked up to this close, snuck in a little, so my camera could see between the weeds.
At first waited till it looked away to sneak in closer.
Then I just walked in closer, till the hairs standing up on the back of its head were sharp.
Then I walked past the trees it was standing under, and got one more shot from back there. Then I walked some more looking for something else birdly to photograph.
I used to think that if I ever got a really good shot (this is not it) of a Mockingbird flying the way we see them when they do that would become obvious. Over the years of trying but never coming close to an ideal mock flying shot, I realize that when they are flying and humans are watching, we engage our ability, called "persistence of vision."
(This isn't it either.) That "ability" lets us see the ribboning stripes of light shined on the insides of our TV tubes and monitor as moving images and a lot of still shots shined on a screen as moving movies. It also lets me see those wing stripes flash and wiggle. But all that is invisible when we photograph them, except perhaps in video. In stills, almost no matter how I shoot them, they look rather ordinary, and those wiggling stripes render plain.
A lot of crows were cawing where I walked today — Dreyfuss to Yacht Club Bend — and I paid them a lot of attention, ever hopeful they'd be driving some really interesting bird out of their territory. I've seen them harry owls and hawks, but none of those today. Just noisy crows cawing themselves from tallest tree to tallest tree along the great arc of lakeside.
I still have hope that someday I'll capture one flying toward me or close by, but they don't seem all that interested in posing.
Not much light today. Cool, too. 74 degrees F when I got up after working all night. Expected birds to be out celebrating the weather, but they were far and few between. Dark, cloudy skies make for slow shutter speeds and wide-open apertures and when birds move fast, blurs. Big, pretty blurs for Great Blue Herons (GBHs) and egrets, but I got my walking in,too.
I've been walking around the lake again, a bit at a time, and after complaining that the weather was too whatever for several weeks, today it was too perfect not to. From the Garland Road Bridge, I've walked — over last couple weeks — down DeGoyler Straight, around Winfrey (where I found the unshy hawk), into and through Sunset Bay, around the bend and out to Dreyfuss.
From there, it'll be down to the Bath House, then up Yacht Club Row to Singing Bridge, down West Lawther to
I'd discovered the Great Blue Heron in The Lagoon toward the most official entrance to the lake, where they hide the closed Midnight - 6 ayem sign, so the cops can ambush young lovers after midnight. From there, I drove all the way around the lake hoping for more light and more big birds.
Tough luck, J R.
The low-flying egret was in Sunset Bay where I walked my latest missing segment in my lake circumnavigation. Next time — soon, if the weather holds down. Such a lovely day today. Not much light, but fabulous breezes, sometimes gusting to 40 miles per hour. Stiff, moist wind. I'd been driving on empty awhile, but when I finally got around to filling Blue's tank, then, and only then, I finally felt a few drops of rain.
Take one sunset, add one Great Egret.
Aim camera, hope for focus. Realize egrets aren't really purple.
Pan camera with bird.
Hold exposure button down as bird flies thataway.
Watch, wonder and click.
Notice in these last three frames...
how the egret seems...
to change from purple to white.
This goose is sick or injured. Someone has thoughtlessly thrown a pile of white bread for it to have to smell all the time it is immobile. White bread is the worst possible food for gooses or ducks or humans. Don't Feed the Ducks or the gooses!
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.