for The Dallas Observer's Best of Dallas Best
with someone who doesn't live here anymore, but
Jason Hogle does, and his Xenogere is fascinating.
White Rock Lake
It is a pelican, but that's not really its lip. More like its very flexible lower mandible that looks a lot like a lip. But you knew that, right? Because you've seen the other stuff pelicans do with their beaks on our page of such crazinesses, huh? This photo might have been a tad sharper if I'd been paying attention all along, instead of jerking that big, long lens over at it at the last second.
So I'm getting more and more shots of American White Pelicans flying. I can't wait till I see a whole phalanx of maybe 20 or 30 of those big birds rounding Dreyfuss Point, flying in a big V formation like commandos coming back from a raid. But for now, I'm getting them in largely unsynchronized singles.
Something's very wrong with that lawn. The bird is doing fine, probably fairly high up over about the middle of the lake. It just looks farther because the house is sucked in closer than the far side where it really is.
I only promise three days a week, but sometimes I go out there looking for pelicans 8, 9 or ten days a week.
After afternooning at The Fair, we visited Sunset Bay to see how many pelicans there were. I counted 45. Anna said abut 40. That's a little more than half of the 70 or so American White Pelicans I've counted after the first wave of sometimes twice that come through Sunset Bay. Not sure where the nearly half of others goes or where they meet back up.
We hadn't reached the end of the pier, and we proceeded carefully. Still, the pelican raised its wings as if it intended to do something with them. I shot a few shots, then continued creeping toward the end of the pier. For a change I was using my old, much less telephoto lens, so I thought I needed to be closer.
Once it was in the air we, it showed typical American White Pelican flight peculiarities. Wing-tip droops. Tiny feet pointing down as it ascended. Too short a hop to tuck them beneath.
Those black wing-tip extensions flaring out.
Then spread, like fingers, to let the air flow through, as it descended.
Makes a short hop to further reduce air speed.
Holds its feet like skids with toes curving up.
And skids into its landing, wings cupped to catch the wind, braking its slide.
While friends watch.
If Kingfishers didn't make so much noise ska-ska-screatching as they fly across the bay and up and down the lagoon, I probably would never have found them (two today) this close long enough to focus. I've been talking about them for about a week, hearing their hunting chatter, siting them to their specific tree lookouts, it took till today to find and photograph him.
This is not my best-ever photo of a flying Kingfisher, but it ain't bad. My best is a close race between shots in October 2008, November 2007 and September 2008, which probably means this is the season to find Kingfishers doing what Kingfishers do.
A real treat. Until I got my camera home and tried to copy files to my computer, and there weren't any. Talk about panic. Apparently, I'd managed to delete all of today's files. I don't know how.
But I didn't delete yesterday's shots, so it was selective a process. Luckily I have Subrosasoft's software called CameraSalvage, I used it, and brought back today's nearly four hundred shots, with funny, long, all-capital names, but images intact.
Luckily, I'd formatted the card before I set out, providing myself with the possibility of salvaging just today's shots — so I didn't have to suck back and pile through the last month or so's, and these are they. Panic averted. I've used both CameraSalvage and FileSalvage over the years, neatly forgetting how to in the long times between using them.
There were, of course, egrets in the area. Mostly Great Egrets, many of whom were flying around chasing other Great Egrets around and around the lagoon. I like this shot for the juxtaposition of big, white egret and little, dark Little Blue Heron. The egret in full rush mode, the Little Blue Heron just standing there.
But there was plenty of Great Egret action in Sunset Bay today.
More than I've seen at the lake in a long, long time.
Guess it takes the cool weather to wake them up.
Lots of Great Egret form.
Including wings dipping in water, providing amazing white shadow-reflections — I guess it helps keep track of where the surface is, if you can drag a few feathers of a wing in it.
Great take-offs ...
And the first pelicans actually flying I've yet seen — except when they got panicked by the idiot paddlers out for mischief.
Great, short-distance flying by the long-beaked ones.
And landings, too. Amazing such big, fluffed-up birds have such tiny webbed feet — the better to skid to watery landings with.
And a Northern Mockingbird on a sign. I'm still hoping someday to capture a mockingbird on a Mockingbird Lane street sign, but it ain't happened yet.
We also saw a Great Blue Heron there but were not able to maneuver the car to photograph it before it disappeared entirely in thick, hot air. We had higher hopes than two of the most common big birds in Texas, but we were new there, and probably didn't know where to look except right under our noses.
Of course, the closer I got, the more likely it was to fly over to the other side of the bay-let.
White Rock Lake
Was supposed to meet someone earlier, but they were late, so I didn't make it to the lake till 10:30 this morning. The "wrong" light (from above instead of from the sides) obtains then, and I usually skip it, but I could and I wanted to, so I went anyway. Sometimes lousy timing is the best possible, because today, I got to watch the pelicans doing some-things interesting.
First of those was fleeing from a group of idiot boaters who thought — they were laughing and splashing all the way — it would be grand fun to scare the pelicans out of there. I yelled accusations of "idiot" and "stupid" but no obscenities while they were still paddling furiously at the pelicans. But of course it didn't do any good.
I wondered how much fun it would be to find out where the paddlers lived and disrupt their lives, oh, say, in the middle of some dark night when they're resting, but such thoughts only raise my blood pressure, so I breathed deeply instead and kept shooting. I have clear pictures of the idiots in question, but this journal is not about whom I classify in the same genre as guys urging dogs to kill ducks and gooses here.
Note how long pelicans' wings can get when they fully extend them, including the black areas at the ends that they usually don't, except when they need that extra lift or control turning.
Probably the best thing about those idiots scaring my precious pelicans was that the birds lit out of there for some decent photos of them in what was probably the first action since they got here — probably in the last couple days. There were nine yesterday. Today there were 22.
The second best thing was that the birds made a great, long, slow arc out toward Winfrey Point, then curved back, swimming close together and coming closer to the pier I was squatted down onto with my Rocket Launcher lens firmly planted on one of the pier's piers trying to hold the whole boodle steady.
Then they swam right by me, so for the first time in the several days since they first got here, they were in my close-enough vicinity to capture actual feathers and spots and wrinkles. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'"
American White Pelicans, which these are — not the "big ducks" one set of parents insisted they were to their little kids as they threw something out onto the water for "the ducks" to eat. I've never seen a pelican take food from a human, although they probably do that at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation and the Dallas Zoo. Despite petty squabbles — usually for perching space on a log — pelicans are generally a most gregarious species, and they tend to join together for most of their activities.
What they were doing before the idiot paddlers scared them out of their wits and off their far-away perches, was preening. Some of them continued doing just that, even as they circled The Great Circle Route back to their original perches.
Some few of them, however, stopped awhile at least on much closer clumps of downed trees. Here they are each doing what pelicans do.
The eleven or so pelicans that finally circled all the way around the western half of the bay to get back to the original submerged log perch where everybody started, had to get themselves all rearranged there. They had no-doubt gone through this little bit of beaking and biting earlier to establish where everybody was to stand and preen for days and days.
But now, with their perching order thusly disrupted, they had to do it all over again. Long, orange beaks wielded like swords, wings out-stretched and a lot of sudden movements happening out there.
I've never been bit by a pelican, though I have often been bit by large, white gooses. And that can hurt, even if they don't have teeth.
When I was about to leave the pelicans to try to catch the Kingfisher I could hear chattering up and down the Hidden Creeks, the pelicans were re-established, some on new, closer logs, others all the way out in the middle of the bay doing the same thing. In days or weeks, they'll be flying in and out and around in the bay often, and that will be, as it often has been before, gangbusters fun photographing.
I saw the Kingfisher once for a fraction of a second, but though I exercised my best patience routine for more than fifteen minutes, he did not fly me by again today. But this little guy did. I'm thinking — or at least hoping — that it's a little hawk, though I really would have liked to get a better shot of it, but they tend to come back. And so do I.
Of course, I was at Sunset Bay this early Friday morning to photograph pelicans.
But since the pelicans aren't doing anything particularly interesting yet,
I photographed whom I could find.
And this morning at least, Egrets were easy.
So when I saw this one fly more or less gracefully across my path, I followed it with my camera.
These, unlike most shots here, are strictly full-frame photographs.
It was that close.
The entire flight was not exactly elegant, but here, near the end, it settled back into the elegance its species is known for. I'd tried to photograph that mist along Lawther before Sunset Bay, and nothing I tried seemed to work. But give it a beautiful bird to contrast with, and I think we know what that misty stuff is all about.
This is another bird, I think, that'd been out there, skating back and forth all morning.
We were also graced by a quick flyover by a stately BCNH.
Walking back out to my car, I heard a familiar rat-a-tat-tat in the trees overhead.
Looking up, I found this colorful critter flitting about. Jason M. Hogle, who helps me identify these birds, says "The woodpecker is a male red-bellied woodpecker." I wasn't at all sure. Especially with those white thingies on its beak.
Only really caught it this one time, but it was great fun trying to follow it. At one time, two of them stood attached to that tree, one on either side. By the time I got the lens focused on them, there was only the tree.
Cormorants have plenty elegance, too.
And this one, classic pose they can sometimes hold for hours, it seems. Double-crested and other cormorants dive well under the surface to catch fish. While down there, they get wet through and through. To dry them off so they can still fly if they need to, they stand out there waving them till they dry.
Starlings, especially in places that do not have grackles, are among the most hated bird species in America. I think they are beautiful, and they really had no part in importing themselves into the country where they have no strong enough natural enemies. Besides, they're beautiful, and if Shakespeare hadn't talked about them, they wouldn't be here.
They are instead from EurAsia, but birders get upset when I call them by their real home, so here they are European Starlings.
Mostly, while we watched this early morning just as the sun rose over the trees in Sunset Forest, the pelicans just stayed out there preening. Preening, preening, preening. With the sun up and shining bright, they seemed to wake from their preening stupor, raise their heads up out of their feathers and re-join the vertical.
After awhile, they even started beaking each other, flapping and other signs of pelican life. I am waiting, but I feel like I just can't wait till they start flying around the bay. All the birders are wishing they/we had hauled some humongous downed tree out maybe 40 or 50 feet from the pier and anchored it down with some girders or anvils, so we could photograph them a little closer this year. But once they start soaring around and around, all that will be much easier, and ever those with non-Rocket Launcher lenses will be able to capture the real glory of our American White Pelican contingent.
September 24 & Before
9 American White Pelicans in Sunset Bay this morning, September 24. Five yesterday. Who knows how many tomorrow. They come in dribs and drabs then gobs, if history is a guide. Sometimes it is. We'll know soon about this little bit of it.
Not all of them are in this one picture. As seems to be the usual, the one pelican who's just flown in is not participating in group preens just yet. It's over to the right, scrunched down in some logs, with its beak resting on its breast.
This is the one who'd just flown in. Reason I could describe it so well is that I'd worked up the photo previously, then didn't find a particularly good place to use it already, then forgot it. Then I remembered it in the paragraph above, and happened upon it in the pile of photographs I use to paste into this page.
Haven't seen them flying yet. When they go off swimming late in the evening after sunset, they swim. I've seen a couple just flapping their wings, because sometimes they need flapping. And I've seen two "fly" all of a couple feet up onto logs. This is what's happening here. In a couple days or a week, we'll see them soar fast so close to the surface of the water we won't quite believe that it's possible. Then after a while again, it'll be such a common notion we'll hardly pay any attention to the pelicans' many miracles.
I've caught one pelican off to the left of an event I was photographing doing the whole routine of stretching its amazingly flexible lower mandible and this bird with its beak in the air not doing the whole routine spelled out on the Several Strange Things Pelicans Do with Their Beaks page. The dark guys on the left end are cormorants. Well, the first two are turtles. The next two are adult Double-crested Cormorants. Then the brownish one is a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant.
The rest except the turtle in the front rightish-center are American White Pelicans who've come back to White Rock Lake after spending the summer in the cooler climes of northwestern Colorado, diagonally north and west up through Wyoming, Idaho, probably Montana, maybe Washington state, and southwestern Canada.
I'm not sure why they come down to Dallas in dribs and drabs. It's not like it's new territory to be explored and understood. I assume it's this same bunch that comes back every September or October and stays till April 15, nearly right on the dot. Every year. Most of them come together in a big bunch.
I've been photographing them every day, and I've come to the conclusion that they're too far out in Sunset Bay to photograph adequately with the puny glass I've got so far. I either need to get a better, bigger, way more expensive lens; a boat; or photograph them farther away.
After awhile, shooting the essentially similar photographs of of those fluffy white birds with the second longest wings of any bird in the United States — second only to Condors, some of which someone told me recently they'd seen flying over the Grand Canyon. I looked around and saw a Great Egret — saying "White" is kinda redundant, but it is white — "skating" across the shallow waters hunting/fishing for food. Several times, I was able to photograph it, the Snowy Egret and the Little Blue Heron in one photograph.
Inevitably, however, one, two or all three of the cousins would be out of focus. Usually, badly out of focus. In a couple of my shots, however, both the Snowy and the Little Blue were relatively sharp. Do notice the comparative sizes of these two birds, egret and heron. Notice also the remarkably dissimilar colors. And, comparing the two photographs above, notice the relatively similar and dissimilar shapes and postures, all classic heron/egret shapes.
I just love Little Blue Herons.
Even when they look positively prehistoric, which is often, when they are flying, but noticeable here.
It's a Snowy Egret and it seems to have complete control over every feather on its body. Actually, all birds do. But Snowies make it a way of life. Not sure why it's raised its occipital plumes like that just then, but don't they look cool. Kinda like a Mohawk.
I know it's a grackle. But unlike the grackles I know, it has no tail. Not a Great tail. Not a Boat tail. Not even the comparatively little normal grackle tail like on a Common Grackle. I don't understand, and I keep seeing more of these birds. Gorgeous iridescent purple and mostly blue feathers like the grackles I know. Just no tail to speak of. And that peculiar missing feathers on the top issue.
Our expert bird identifier Jason M. Hogle says, "He's molting. Male great-tailed grackles lose their entire tail in a short time near the end of their molting cycle. That's also why his head looks ratty. The tail usually grows back within about two weeks, but by the time it falls out they've already finished molting most of their other feathers."
I guess I should get to know these guys. I keep seeing new ones.
Of course, calling this shot a closeup is disingenuous, since said Killdeer and I were anything but close, and I was using — and I usually do — the 500mm long end of the zoom I call the Rocket Launcher. But I do like the in-close aspect of this shot of a Killdeer hiding behind some weeds.
Not that I could hear it talking, just that's what it looks like, with its beak open like that. There were at least five dogs on leashes in near sight of it, so there was plenty of cause for it to be talking to its buddies. In the end, though, what sent it packing was a jogger jogging by.
I've been thinking about one of these sorts of floating object for years now. The color's a little loud for my use, certainly, but I like the portability. Not sure what this guy and a woman not seen here, were about to go floating for, but something like this, so very light and capable of holding me up, at least, is a fascinating notion.
Especially if it could get me closer to my precious birds, and without scaring them off or sinking me. I think I'd want a green one. Something small, light, hand-carryable, but with kabes (oar pivots; it's not in my dictionary, either), so I could row it.
I love oaring about as much as I like swimming, which I've been doing nearly every day lately. Lost about 14 pounds so far, on my way to 50. Oaring would benefit me by maybe getting me closer to birds, though I'd not be much interested in hauling my Rocket Launcher of big Nikon out. Maybe one of the littler waterproof cameras available with a slightly longer zoom than I've got so far.
A third American White Pelican has shown up on the logs out there in Sunset Bay today. I was there around 2-something. It did not seem sociable with the first two seen yester. So now there are three pelicans.
I doubt I could pick them out of a crowd of other American White Pelicans, but I recognize these as the first two from yesterday. THe one on the left has brown shading on the top of its head (kinda like a burr cut), and the other tends to squat down with its beak resting low (but then so does the new guy). I've only seen them swimming, so far, but not flying, yet. That'll be the joy, watching — and photographing — them flying. Can't wait for that, but I probably will.
They're probably tired from the flight down from Wyoming or northwest of there, maybe down from Canada somewhere.
Lots of handsome birds out there, mostly dark or white. Soon there'll be a whole lot more pelicans.
September 20 Evening
So I went back that same evening hoping there'd be more pelicans. Instead there were more egrets than I'd seen in a long time. I've been wondering where they'd all gone. I still don't know where they go in daylight, but in the evening they seems to be settling in my beloved Sunset Bay. Yours, too, if you want.
Lots going on. Egrets fussing and grousing, jumping and flying and whooshing around supplanting each other wherever each other are or were. Noisy birds for all their usual quiet. It was raucous.
And busy. Everywhere I looked there were elegant egrets flapping this way and that.
Or holding their steady selves in place picturesquely.
The pelicans — all two of them so far — were still out there on that far log, waiting.
And egrets were flying up from "the logs" to populate the trees in Hidden Creek, polka dotting the far landscape.
Until the trees were spotted with an unfamiliar white. We expect cormorants up there, because by now we've grown to expect them to mob trees around certain bays — consider Cormorant Bay.
As the sun set, first one, then the other pelicans swam out from all the egrets.
Heading out into the bigger lake to do some fishing.
Farther and farther into the lake.
Not that they remained in one place or calm. The croaking din continued.
And the egrets remained, perhaps waiting their turn to stand in the trees.
Perhaps one can tell why they call it Sunset Bay, although it isn't always this obvious.
Meanwhile, closer in, still in Sunset Bay, a family of four brought white bread to feed the ducks. But the ducks have all gone to the Bath House where the gooses settled after their tribe got decimated in Sunset Bay. Charles feeds the gooses, and the ducks eat free. So they are there instead of around the pier at Sunset Bay, where many people are so completely used to feeding the ducks, they don't even notice there are no more ducks there, and many feed them anyway.
So that family instead fed the fish, leaving loaves of the stuff floating on the water to further litter the bay. As if they never once considered the possibility that nothing was eating all that crap they threw.
September 20 Morning
They're back! In numbers numbering only two, so far. But our contingent of American White Pelicans are back at White Rock Lake now. The two, either errant independents or lead scouts for the flock, which will number around 140, then half of them will fly off somewhere close, while about 70 settle in at White Rock Lake, offering local photographers a visual feast of behaviors and superb aerobatics, second only to Johnathan Livingston Turkey Vultures.
Irwin, who got there before I did early this morning when my alarm didn't go off (I remember carefully changing its am/pm map to other than when I was much earlier this ayem.) saw them fly in — Pelicans flying is always a treat — probably from fishing. Flying from Wyoming or Canada can take it out of a winged creature, even if its wings are longer than anybody's but Condors.
More photos — although these are today's best — after I catch up on sleep. And you know I'll be back and back and back anywhere on the lake where a pelican might swim, fly or dredge for the next six months. I'm excited.
The fisher-men got about that close earlie, Irwin said, and the pelicans escaped. This time this close, they just stand there while the humans and their boat take their sweet time.
Most of my early morning attention was absorbed into the two pelicans out in the middle of Sunset Bay. Too far, really, to capture much detail or subtletie. So I had some time waiting for them to do something interesting to photograph other birds in the bay. Cormorants, for one example, who usually get short shrift from me, because they're always with us and sometimes — soon — they take over whole portions of the lake and stink that place up.
So, for these few moments, Cormorants can take center-ish stage.
And with that white line around its beak — and on its beak, I am wondering if what I pontificated today about our usual variety of corm being the double-crested variety, whether this is, instead, not. I had a question mark on the above caption, but Bird identifier extraordinaire Jason M. Hogle says it is "a nonbreeding neotropic cormorant."
Lots of ducks flying over. I got this one, and none of the others.
Sometimes I like photographs that go on and on. I have a special affection for Snowy Egrets. They're aggressive, act like they own the world and tend to run everybody off who even looks like they might fish for the same fish they're fishing for. Not to mention bright orange feet and a black beak.
Started off rather ordinary, except of course, there were birds of some interest in Sunset Bay. Not close. But interesting and close enough to render with some semblance of focus.
Then, to spice up the local color a little bit, in came a Great Blue Heron, also a regular out there on "the logs."
Though it looks like it's about to touch down in the water, this is actually more of a final approach to landing on the big curving log.
Though the newcomer looked around a bit while it was out there, it didn't stray off the curved log. It just stood there, not fishing, and not doing anything else but waiting. I didn't even know that at the time. I was hoping it would fly in toward the pier, so I could photograph in more detail.
While I was still hoping for that, I noticed a gray motion off to my right and much closer.
It was another Great Blue Heron. How exciting, I thought. I've only ever photographed two Great Blue Herons together twice before in the three-plus years I've devoted this much time to birding. Unfortunately, these two were some distance apart. This one in the shallow lake about halfway between the logs and shore, and the other one still on the logs.
I concentrated on the closer one, though the available darkness was such that getting decent focus on even one that close was iffy, at best. Here it's set its stance, is staring intently at something in the water, angling its neck down a little, ready to pounce.
Now, having plunged into the water, its head is moving, and its neck is thickening, probably because either it has caught something worth swallowing, or it expected to. I didn't see anything in its beak, so I'm betting on the latter. But I've missed them catching things small often, only to catch a glimpse of it in a later shot. Not, however, this time.
Then while I was watching this one, I saw a dark, seemed to me, much smaller, heron shape fly across the lagoon toward the woods on the other side, where it disappeared (I was watching through the tiny angle of view of a 500mm Rocket Launcher — a mere 5 degrees, so it could have gone anywhere but that tiny fraction of the landscape, and I'd never see it). When I had acquired it, I could not get the camera/lens to focus on it, and by then it had disappeared. Then the closer one I'd been watching jumped into the air and followed.
Less than a second later, the two were flying up the lagoon together. What I had initially perceived to be smaller, may be, but only slightly so. It lead the quick flight up the lagoon. Amazingly, by the my third rapid-fire shot of it (at five frames per second), I had it mostly in focus and them flying close.
I didn't realize it while I was photographing them, but from the apparent brown of the lead Great Blue Heron, it is probably a juvenile. I was kinda hoping it were a female and the one following is the male, but it's still interesting if the brownish one is a juvenile, which it probably is.
Here, the two Great Blue Herons appear much more similar — because their lower bodies are covered by their essentially similar wings, flying past the jungle of green on the Hidden Creek, far side of the Sunset Bay Lagoon.
Last I saw both of them together, they were headed for the far side of the lagoon.
Where one landed, and the other one disappeared. Then this one followed the other further into the trees, and I lost them in the forest. It all leaving me wondering once again what might have happened if I'd lost patience much earlier and left when I first felt the urge. Maybe there's something to people's automatic response that if I shoot good bird pix sometimes, I must have great patience. I've poo-poohed that notion in the past, but maybe it's right, and I do have some of that elusive — and often elastic — stuff.
My birding luck has been lousy lately. I keep going back to the lake and not finding more than one bird. If that. Today's was a little more interesting than a grackle or that same Scissor-tailed Flycatcher again.
This is the usual distance I've got even interesting (to me, at least) birds lately. Each time other people walked down this path, the crows scattered into the trees. I snuck slowly.
So what do I shoot when I don't find birds? That's easy. Whatever's out there. Lately, there's been a whole lot of weather. The following images are today's ever-changing bits of weather. In order.
I'd rather photograph birds, but today felt like the weather was in charge, so I photographed it. First, dull clouds with glistening water and a couple rowing boats and a motor one. I thought it was one big, long one when I shot this. I was excited about the sunlight.
Left to right: the Pump House, the Filter Building and the new Boat House spectral in sunlight.
Then the fog partially lifts, making the far side look like a color etching.
Then came the rain, quickly across the lake, dark over there, light on this side.
The rain continued but the fog continued, until the far side was obscured.
It's actually a photo of the Hunt Brothers' home, but I couldn't see that for the fog till I got it home.
But wall to wall, floor to ceiling wet. I stayed in Blue all the way around.
Far off, it looked like a heron. Up close it resembled nothing as much as it did an umbrella. There was no one and no birds anywhere near.
For awhile there I didn't think I'd find any interesting birds today. I knew it was a Green Heron sort of day, so I visited Green Heron Park that I named after a Green Heron that used to hunt there. There were several dozen fisher-humans there, but no Green Herons. So I looked some more.
There's always something interesting in and/or around the Old Boat House Lagoon — despite all the people, fisher-persons, biklers and their dogs. In the pond scum farside there's sometimes even a Green Heron. I could see it soon as I got up on the near side of the bridge.
Knew it right away. Distinguished profile. Mostly gray from that distance. Have to get close to see the Green Heron's predominant red-brown. Maybe microscopically you can see something that's green. I don't see any from here.
I think it's looking at me, wondering what all that clicking and snapping going on over there on the sidewalk is all about. A little like Alfalfa, only jauntier and on the side, if not on the front like a forelock, this particular bird has a few wild — well, it's not hair exactly, more like feathers — out of place from some views that look quite dashing. Cowlick.
I'd hoped to get a little more detail out of those big feet. But no. Oh, well. I don't usually seem to get this close. But this only seems close. Despite the available darkness of overcast skies sprinkling rain like wet mist.
I carried a plastic bag in case it really started raining, but it never did, I could use the gentle, still high-resolution ISO of 320, top for not worrying about image noise, or 400 with just a tad of it, usually software-induced.
Here our little (always so amazing how small they really are, when in super-telephoto photographs they look big as you or I) not-at-all friend looks like it's dressed up for a night on the town, with its tie, fur collared brown coat and, well, I guess a top-hat would be a little ridiculous.
Lots of Mallards, mostly dabbling the rising waters for whatever new bugs and plants are released. Lots of Mallards with their heads underwater most of the time. Looked like they were supping something, but I was too far away to tell what. I was lucky one of them needed to stretch his wings.
Mostly up there for the last few months have been doves I assumed this was a dove, except for a flash of orange on his underside. I still shoot doves now and then, just in case. They are in season. This shot worked out fairly well, but I long to watch them fly after bugs. Not that I'm likely to capture anything, but once the pelicans show up, who cares what any other birds are doing.
Calling this a tall egret is a little absurd. Or rather a big absurd. But photographing it is usually more of a problem than this was. Usually, I'm worried it'll fly away while I'm still deciding whether I want to turn the camera on its side for a tall shot instead of the usual wide shot. Wide shots are easier, because holding the camera more securely is easier. Holding it sideways usually means a vibration will sneak in and ruin the shot. This time I had it notched in between my elbow and Blue's window sill, so it's not wobbling.
Gooses don't just suddenly decide to goose-step it down to the lake to swim away. Somebody's gotta organize them. Get them in rows. March them out. In goosedom, that job goes to the goose with the biggest wattle. Wilbur for these guys. Wilbur was busy standing at the back of all the lines, so he can see everybody in all directions heading em up to move em out.
Ducks do not seem to be so well organized. They're all over the place, doing whatever they want. There are hierarchies involved, but they're much more subtle. No identified leader. No wattles, but plenty of waddling.
Searched in vain near all round the lake this early morning for birds of interest. Near anything would have done. No egrets. No Great Blue Herons. Plenty of Grackles, of course, but only one of those seemed of any great interest, and we'll see it shortly. What I finally found was a Muscovy Duck mom with two cute, fuzzy, little ducklings wandering around the fishing area between Mockingbird Bridge and what I used to call Singing Bridge, till they fixed it so it no longer vibrates in the wind.
At first I thought she were a Black Muscovy — Muscovies come in more varieties than any species I know of; the Black ones tend to hang out along Lawther on the east side of the lake, especially along the several Yacht Clubs from Mockingbird Hill through Big Thicket. But she's not really black, more a rich brown with the usual Muscovy green accents in her wings..
Unlike most Muscovies I have known, this variety appears wartless. Her orange mask is smooth. According to Sibley and other bird experts, Muscovies actually come from South America and have been working their way north over the last few decades. Somewhere, somewhen, somebody who thought that they instead came from Moscow, named them Muscovies, as in from Moscow. Though the name stuck, they are not Russian, although some of them were shipped there once upon a time.
Like Mom, and likely Dad, too, these two cute furries have that same general shape. Ponderous, with a small head, thick neck and large-behinds very much like domestic gooses, who have been bred for more meat. Muscovies tend to be gentler than gooses, certainly quieter, and more people friendly.
Both ducklings have a yellow ascot and dark eyeline behind the eye up to their darker heads. There may be vestiges of the other markings apparent in the lighter one in the darker one, and the two have very similar bills, but they could be mistaken more for cousins than siblings. One thing they do have, however, is that ponderous body shape, just like Mom and probably Dad, too.
And they are cute, cute, cute., and it seems to this true amateur, very late in the season. Says birding expert Jason M. Hogle, "The muscovy ducklings are a great find! I know they've been breeding here, yet I've never seen the babes. Thanks for that!"
This is a more or less typical duck head — at least the best I could do this nearly birdless morning.
And this, as the caption indicates, is a much more typical — at least for around White Rock Lake in Dollars, Taxes — Muscovy Duck head in all its wartoid glory. Distinguished and unlike any other. It's interesting and just plain nice to know that this species, who has never actually closely approximated its images in Sibley's Guide to Birds or other bird-identification books, continues to actively change.
Thus alerted to the endless possibilities of variety within a single species, when I saw this bird, I knew I had to photograph it. And so I did. When I think of grackles, I think of the Great-tailed variety we have so many of here. And I have seen some great tails on Great-tailed Grackles, copious numbers of which you'll find if you do a Site Search for "Great-tailed."
See Jason Hogle's note about these guys without tails.
Which makes it all the more startling when I come across a grackle with no tail in sight. This pose especially, looks like it's been in a fight and had portions of its head and tail removed with force and little attention to what it would look like after. It resembles none of the three species of Grackle in the United States — Common, Boat-tailed or Great-tailed, all of which have large, showy tails.
I liked the weather better when it was cooling down. Now that it's het back up, I'd like a norther to come blowing in. Especially since I know that'll be what it'll take to bring the pelicans back to their summer home. Just one nice, cold Blue Norther. Last year today, they arrived. I've been watching, but I haven't seen one yet.
I don't know my doves, but this is in the morning, not necessarily and Morning Dove. Or is that Mourning Dove for the forlorn sounds they sometimes make. I should know by now, but usually I don't even photograph them. I liked the hump on this one's beak. Says naturalist/expert Jason M. Hogle, "Dove in the Morning Light" is a juvenile mourning dove who's still growing its adult plumage (notice it looks like it only has two tail feathers...). I don't know about that weird lump on its beak, though; could be leftovers or a wound or something else entirely."
Of course, I missed them coming in. Nice, though, to capture them flying away. Today's journal entry is not about ducks.
Nor is it about Great Egrets, although those beautiful birds will interlope in and out through today's early morning entry, fast and slow.
Not about ducks, like I said, but these ducks are particularly interesting, because they're the first I've seen Wood Ducks in their new autumn colors blending toward winter. She left, he upper and right.
What it is about, in my mind, at least, is Great Blue Herons. I startled this one as I drove into one of the larger parking lots along Lawther through Big Thicket. If I'd seen it and snuck up carefully and quietly instead of hauling in with the notion of a big bird in my big lens, it would have filled my view, it was sooooo close.
Then it flew away, out to the Yacht Club pier all lined with boats. Not hardly no yachts out there this century, any more. Maybe in a bygone era. I clickety-clicked it at it flew away, and maybe I'll post one of the better of that rapid series of shots here later, but right now I don't like any of them, miffed I made it bolt out to too far away.
Not so terribly distant I didn't get good shots, just I would have loved rendering its every feather and minute transition among its many colors. Dig those high-rust red pants.
After too many shots of that close-ish Great Blue Heron, I decided there'd be more down the road, drove more carefully into the next big lot, car wheels on a gravel parking lot slowly crunching, when I saw this weathered Sea Captain waiting for its crew.
Which brings us back to this GE on the stump in Cormorant Bay on the other side of the lake.
From the Med Center Rookery
The name of today's game is faraway birds in telephoto-compressed cityscapes. I know who most of today's birds are, but I haven't the faintest who these guys are.
These big, silhouetted birds with long down-curving beaks who are truly frolicking in big circles over the rookery, having grand fun flying this way, then that way, and back again in grand, huge circles and spirals are either White-faces Ibises or Glossy Ibises. If we could see their faces, we might know. But we can't.
I had to crop the fifth Ibis out of this shot. Interesting framing to shoot birds against big office buildings.
All today's shots were taken from the top of one of the two multi-story parking buildings adjacent to the rookery, and we believe the birds are landing in trees in the rookery, although we're not sure exactly where, despite the photographs.
When Anna picked me up I thought it was getting awfully dark for photographing birds. I brought my flash unit and used it with some closer shots. It didn't help but I needed to try it.
I see white birds this big that far away, and I assume egrets. But egrets don't have black wingtips, and White Ibises do, so that's who they are. I love the dark clutter of industrial Dallas blurring by with the short flock of big birds. A different sort of landscape from my usual bird-ography.
If this is a Baltimore Oriole, and it looks a lot like one, ... I had a question mark after the identification above, but Jason M. Hogle states, "Baltimore oriole?" and "Oriole?" [below] both show Baltimore orioles. The first is a female; the second looks like a first-year male."
... Who is this? I don't know. We noticed that these orange birds with black and white wings kept flying away from and back to that same, very tall tree. I assumed this was the female and the one above it was the male. But it doesn't seem to match the pix in the books. I should know this one ...
White Rock Lake
Found this shot when I was deleting useless shots. That task is so much easier after several weeks than it is that night or the next couple. I always put off removing excess shots that take up hard drive space. Sometimes when I'm running through them, I find something interesting. I don't think I've ever shot this view of bird and building before.
The only birds I adequately photographed today were egrets. From Arboretum Drive I could see across the lake along the dam several white egrets flying low over the water, back and forth, chasing down something. Or some things.
Nice, even evocative, but I was hoping for something a little closer, and kept finding them ...
... along my walk around Winfrey Point. The shore all along that great, round, jut of land, was dotted with egrets — both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets.
Easy hunting. Simple finding.
Some seemed only too happy to just walk back and forth till I got a good-enough shot.
Others more likely to fly away in the thick, moist air.
I wasn't counting this Green Heron that I watched scintillate into view from somewhere out, maybe half-way across the like. I kept trying to focus, but it was too small a dot on the vast plain of the lake, then when I might have had a chance to focus on it, it disappeared into the trees and reeds along the edge of the lake. This is as close as I got, though I padded up and down that area for a half hour.
Nowhere I walked today had the lawn been mowed in a while. No gooses eating the grass — which comprises the majority of their diet — and no habitat-destruction machines running in weeks. Jason M. Hogle, our own Mister Naturalist, identifies this one as a Milkweed Assassin Bug."
So there were lots and lots of bugs. Some colorful. Some less so.
Was there for herons, for whom I'd distinctly asked The Universe, but perhaps I wasn't as clear as I should have been in my request..
I wanted Night-Herons, one of which I'd blurred capture of Tuesday [below on this page], been waiting for a clear blue, bright day early when I could be on the lagoon watching, slathered in DEET, ready to shoot.
Instead I got, first a Green Heron, then a Little Blue, and eventually, two egrets, a Great and a Snowy.
But what was perhaps most fascinating, was realizing an early identification of a Little Blue action, "wiggle-beaking" wasn't just my imagination, and getting to see territorial competition among related species.
Bird portraits are nice. I love them and love capturing them, but would trade dozens of prim and proper head & shoulders or whole-body shots for one good inter-species-interaction shot like the Green Heron the second pic up staring at the much larger Great Egret who, in turn, barely acknowledges the Green's existence, and the sudden and surprising interaction between the Snowy and the Little Blue several images down. Here, my Green Heron exits the stage.
Moments after the little Green was gone, a Little Blue Heron arrived. Probably the same Little Blue I've seen here before. I suspect it's a regular, so it knows the other regulars, and its chances among them.
It banked hard on the far side of the lagoon,
Swooped low over the ducks,
To a near-perfect landing in the middle of the Lagoon.
Whereupon it immediately set about fishing the shallow and murky green waters of the lagoon.
When I first started watching Little Blue Herons, I noticed their species-specific talent for wiggling their heads back and forth while peering intently into the water below them. Often after doing that for just a few minutes, they'd catch the fish their beak was following. I called it "wiggle-beaking." Then, I didn't see any Little Blues employ that technique for nearly two years. Then today, this morning, I watched in wonder as this LBH used it regularly.
Along about that time, this Snowy Egret (black beak, orange lores, orange feet, black legs) flew into the lagoon, then paused to consider its options. Notice its plumes up and out to make itself awesome in any smaller bird's eyes.
Jason M. Hogle says, "I love the Snowy-versus-Little-Blue sequence. I've watched that several times. Your commentary is hysterical because it's true: the Little Blue generally thinks it's far enough away, but the Snowy has a very different view of the situation. Note at the beginning of the confrontation that the snowy has already started displaying: rustling its plumes both as a challenge and in hopes of intimidating the little blue."
For awhile the Snowy Egret — known for their aggressive attitude toward any other birds — just stood there while the Little Blue fished.
First, the two species stared at each other. Then, standing within a dozen feet, they looked in opposite directions. (I know that feeling.) Then it began a series of small attacks. Each of which moved the Little Blue a few more feet away.
Never more than maybe twenty feet. At each jump, the two birds appeared to appraise the situation. The Little Blue probably thought that was far enough. The Snowy usually had other ideas.
Finally, the obviously pissed-off Snowy lunged, and the Little Blue Heron took off and flew a couple dozen more feet away, quickly landing and continued fishing. The Snowy got its way, but the Little Blue didn't go far.
Nearly nothing will dissuade a hungry heron from pursuing food.
This is one of the heron variety I'd hope to photograph a little more extensively this bright early morning. I've said before that I usually where dull or dark green on these excursions. Apparently, when the sun in in their eyes instead of in my eyes, they couldn't see that the shirt I chose in the dark of early this ayem was bright red.
Long as I was in their sun, nobody started or flew away just because they saw me. They must not have seen me, at all. This is a juvenile, probably Black-crowned Night-Heron, and I only saw it for a few seconds. A quick flurry of motion on the other side, disappearing into the lush growth on the far side.
While waiting for something more interesting to happen out in the 'goon, I watched this butterfly flitter around and light on this lovely tall blue flower. Jason M. Hogle says, "The "Butterfly on the Lagoon" photo is a female monarch butterfly perched on pickerelweed. The heron/egret lagoon attracts a lot of monarchs as they migrate to Mexico for the winter. There have been times I've seen many hundreds of them around the lagoon. Keep in mind they'll be gone in the next 6-8 weeks."
Then back to photographing the Little Blue Heron wiggle-beaking fish. I saw it thrust its beak and long neck into the water splashing faster than I could follow, then look like it was chewing and swallowing, but I never photographed a fish.
But just confirming my sighting of a Little Blue Wiggle-Fishing might be enough. It was still at it when I left. They all were.
waiting impatiently for the pelicans to return. Could be any day now. If I were as intelligent about the weather as they were, I could study relative temperature and wind data between here in North Central Texas, USA and Wyoming up into Northwest Canada and figure out when they are coming.
But I'm not smarter than them about that, and they'll get here when they're ready to be here instead of up there.
Meanwhile, except for excursions to the drying beds, Rogers Rehabilitation, Haggerman [links to recent visits last month and last winter in these pages] and other places where more exotic species can be found and photographed, I have been photographing the same old birds again. As always.
Snowy Egrets catching fish and fluffing up like white balls of cotton candy whose details are illuminated by bright sunlight and other details are endlessly fascinating to this photographer.
Great Egrets just standing out there in the lagoon are visually interesting.
Even rather ordinary ducks have their compositional uses in this journal. Watching out, but just for a few seconds till J R catches it in his camera, then they quickly disband, go back into non compositional nothing, no unifying factors. No thing.
Another duck flies by, brown on brown on brown, with iridescent blue patches on the side we can't see. Invisible magic.
Then appears a fancy white pigeon with pink eyes, standing near the shore, with tufts of curlicue feathers V-ing out from its tail and intertwining tufts of the stuff between and around its toes.
Walk around for awhile, then swim up into the air to the top of the tree with the others, ready at any moment to flock out over the lake and back in great sweeping circles just to confirm to themselves where they are, who they are.
Plodding along the edge of the lagoon up toward the creek that feeds it, I keep thinking there are middle-sized birds here, hidden in the brush, who will suddenly fly up the lagoon toward the bridge, when my foot falls in their neighborhood. I'm behind a tree and they're on the other behind of the same tree fleeing into the woods.
text and photographs copyright 2009 by J
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.
My favorite answer is, "I don't
am, after all, an amateur.
I'm not kidding. I've only been birding for less than three years,
although I've been photographing for 45 years.
Thanks always to Anna.