August 28 2008
If I'd find a bird this morning, that would have been fine with me. But I really wasn't expecting much. I'd missed the cool of early daylight insisting on more sleep, knowing it'd be hotter quicker, the longer I slept. I'd retired early, so I could get up earlier than noon, and planned to walk around Winfrey point almost to Sunset Bay, then up the hill and back over the top of Winfrey. Which I actually accomplished.
For a long time I didn't see any birds, but there was a nice breeze and friendly people. I was happy enough.
Then I saw something on the ground that excited me. It looked large. I'd just got my size-perception unit back from the fixit, after my debacle with the puffy mockingbird earlier this week, and had new trust in perceived dimensions. Not no mockingbird this time. He was big enough I could see him about a half block away as he flew up into a tree right over the concrete path. I approached closer, shot a frame. Got even closer, shot some more. Those shots were boring, but I never know with predators, so I kept at it. Closer and closer.
Rare indeed I get close to a hawk and have time to dawdle, change the ISO, back off a little for a better view, move around my view of this big bird in a tree. Click-click-click, never knowing how long it'd stay. I never once imagined getting to take action shots of it flying, let alone as close as it stayed while it did those aerobatics.
So I composed carefully and shot and shot and shot, even a couple times filling in the shadow it kept its head in with flash. Getting the hairs on its chinny-chin-chin shows just how close to filling the frame I got. When it finally jumped from the tree, I wasn't ready. The first few shots were dark and blurred.
I adjusted as it quickly landed no more than forty feet from me as I still stood under its former perch, amazed at my luck, hoping like crazy some of it would be in focus as I followed it clicking all the way. I got its landing approach. Would have been nicer if we could have seen its head, but it's showing great slow flying form. It must have been after something.
I hoped these photos would show what, but we both missed that, I think. It stood there awhile, looking around. Maybe it caught what it was after and gobbled it down while I was trying to get it in focus. That took awhile in tha tall grass.
Then quickly jumped back into the air, its powerful wings taking it up.
I thought it might fly right over — or right through — me, but it turned and swooped around the field in great rising circles, probably employing thermals, because once it was in the air, it didn't seem to be working nearly as hard at flying as I felt capturing it.
Swooping around between me and the sun, providing dramatic back-lighting I never expected and rarely see — probably because I'm usually asleep. The hawk was moving so fast I could barely keep up, and I hoped it would render sharp while I blurred to capture its gyring flight.
I kept my finger on the button, and most of these shots are bare seconds apart. After awhile of steady shooting, my camera slowed, then faltered. Pushing the button did nothing till it caught up. I watched in wonder as the most common hawk in America performed for my camera.
As it did, I tried to train the center focus area on the hawk and was about as successful as I was at keeping the hawk in the frame (You're only seeing the successes; I have lots of gorgeous, back-lighted fractions of hawk). Luckily it was almost this close (only slightly cropped here), and my camera and I got darned near ideal focus often — but not always.
Look at those big paws and sharp claws as it blurs into another turn.
Eventually it tired of not finding prey — or posing for me,
flew down toward the lake, circled more and ...
disappeared up the hill, where I saw it perch in the tallest tree on top, overlooking the hill down to the lake and beyond. And when I finally walked back up the hill after circumnavigating the area, it was gone.
My previous photographs of Red-tailed Hawks include: a beautiful takeoff on US-281 north of the Lower Rio Grande Valley; one in a tree in the Fitchery at White Rock Lake (third image from the top) in November 2007; another one on a telephone pole in my neighborhood; a sad-looking ill Red-tailed Hawk at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation this June; a single one flying high over Grand Avenue west of the Spillway; and an albino Red-tail at the State Fair of Texas in October 2007.
As I've often mentioned here, new species tend to show up at Sunset Bay first. They don't necessarily stay, but the place can be a hotbed of new-to-White-Rock-Lake species. I suspect there's a natural aspect to the place that's protective — perhaps from the prevailing winds. There's also a lot of people who insist on feeding the birds there — whether what they feed them is good for them or will make their heads explode, hundreds of birds gather there every evening expecting to be fed. And there's plenty trees, hills, grass, weeds, shallow water and stuff birds like to eat.
Look at the shapes of these birds' heads and beaks and the extension of their bodies. I've heard, but have not witnessed myself, their supposedly fan tail. They've kept their tails together in my sight, but Charles, who releases gooses and pours corn for all varieties at Sunset Bay each evening, says their tails fan out like Grouse's do. I'll be watching.
That long, bumpy fuselage is entirely reminiscent of a Muscovy Duck. So is the lumpoid upper beak. Not so much a patch of wart-like lumps like on the full-fledged muscovies we already have at the lake, but a lot else familiar to Muscovy-lovers.
That they arrived at Sunset Bay en masse — and the fact that they have stayed together while they're there — seems to indicate that they are of a species and not each their own variety, even though the colors and beak configurations are different among all the members of the group.
There were several slight varieties of black ducks in this group, but otherwise they seemed joined primarily by shape. That arched, peaked forehead, the long lumpy body with feet about 2/3s back toward the pointed tail.
A lot of primarily black, more traditional muscovies, warts and all, have settled into Yacht Club Row on the upper east side of the lake. These may be settling in and around Sunset Bay, although few previous muscovies have. The flock may just be visiting here. They may even expect cooler weather soon. Who knows?
According to Sibley's Guide to Birds, a Muscovy Duck is a black bird with patches of bright white on their upper and lower wings in adults. He also states, "The domestic Muscovy has established feral populations in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere. These birds are usually heavier than the wild Muscovy and show patches of white on head and body and redder face; some are entirely white with red face." Probably because of the confusion between domestic and wild muscovies, hey're not even listed in my Lone Pine Birds of Texas.
National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America and Complete Birds of North America show the same nearly uniformly black birds with white wing patches that Sibley does and calls them tropical birds. I read somewhere sometime that they are from South America but were imported into Russia, where they were named Muscovy.
The Cornell Educational bird site's Confusing Domestic Duck page states, "The most obvious character of a muscovy is the red facial skin. If your duck has a red face, it's probably a Muscovy Duck. This red skin can be quite bumpy, exaggerated, and frankly, gross, with a knob on top of the bill and lumps all over. If you see that, it's a slam dunk Muscovy Duck. The wild type plumage of muscovy is all black, glossy greenish on the back, and with large white wing patches. But, because of our fondness for white, domestic muscovies can be pure white, all black, or any degree of pied black-and-white."
As you can see, some of these birds have knobs, and some have red facial skin, and many don't.
Usually don't see much of the lake in the ayem. But since it's only cool then, I go. Though it's probably just as dangerous on these high-pollution days. You can't see them, and I can't see them, but there's probably forty birds in this photograph of trees and their reflections in the smooth-as-glass morning lagoon. My eyes were still smarting from not being entirely awake. I saw some birds, but plenty more were hiding in plain sight, where I did not see them, so I have to go back with more alertness and a tripod, and try again.
Lots of parakeet chatter as little and big flocks bee-lined through the area, almost always high in the air or in their chosen trees.
Doing what they do best, gnawing on tress for more branches to extend their nests in The Big Hum across the lagoon and up the hill to the electric company's substation. Where humans dismantle them in the seeking of safety, wind blows them away and sooner or later everything put together falls apart.
I saw the white bird when I made this, was following it into the tree, where it landed. Though I would never have chosen this frame, except for that tall dark bird in the shadows. I did not see it — maybe a Great Blue, maybe something entirely else. I couldn't see it, or I might have tuned in and paid more attention. Might have to bring my new black tripod next time. Hand-holding the equivalent of a 450mm telephoto lens at slow shutter speed is ridiculous, even with this lens' pretty good VR. A tripod might help. Might help me stand and look long enough to see the birds for the trees, too.
I saw this one all along. Almost from the first moment I walked down the hill and across the bridge. This big a blot of bright sunrise light would be hard to miss, even for a sleepy-eyed photographer more used to getting up sometime in the afternoon. Note the flashy, long, white occipital feather curving back from its head over and along the top of its body. And yes, this bird is largely out of focus.
The far bird is a female Wood Duck. She probably lives here. There's almost always a Wood Duck family in the lagoon. Usually a young family in early summer. The one in front of her on that stump on the far side of the lagoon is something like a little goose or a duck with a mask and orange eyes, but it looks very familiar. A little exotic.
Then I realized I'd seen them before. Took a trip through Sibley's Guide to Birds to remember Egyptian Gooses, and that's what I think this is. (Or I did till I looked carefully at some back in May 2007. Another reader's suggestion of a Muscovy mix was closer, but not it either.) My first sighting this year, if it is. If it isn't, I don't know what it is. But that's hardly unusual. A professional birder would know, I — an amateur — am just guessing. Wrong, so far. Except I guess it really is my first sighting this year — or ever — of one.
When I first saw this bird standing on the curb in front of the loop entrance to the Winfrey Building on the top of the hill, I thought I saw a much taller bird that I was unfamiliar with. Of course, what it really is is a Northern Mockingbird, but I so wanted it to be something more exotic.
I still did not want this to be a mockingbird. Here, it is jumping — flying very short range — from branch to branch. I worried it was leaving the area, but while I watched and waited, it never did. It settled on one tall branch and did its stuff.
To some, this probably looks like a mockingbird. To me it was a strange little brown bird that was definitely not a falcon or little hawk, like I originally thought. Now I remember the lady interrupting me photographing what I knew to be a mockingbird at the Bath House a few seasons ago, insisting that I stop photographing to listen to her call it "a little eagle."
It wasn't as if it ruffled, then returned to normal. Well, eventually, it would probably have to. But all the time I watched this bird at very near the top of this tree inside the loop at Winfrey, it stayed in full ruffle mode, with wings drooped down, as it pecked and preened, coming up for air long enough for me to go "click."
Doesn't look like a mockingbird. Looks more like a puff of brown feathers.
I coasted Blue slowly down the hill from Winfrey to the upper Sunset Bay parking lot. Had thought I had enough bird pix already, but then I saw a big white bird that reminded me too much of a pelican. I seriously doubted it were a pelk, but it was big and white and seemed powerful, so why not investigate?
I was there to walk, after all, and had walked a lot already, but needed to walk some more, so I walked down looking for flapping white, saw some probable egrets far out on the logs in the middle, but not much else, till this bird flew toward the pier from there.
When I first saw it, it was just a gray-brown bird. With, I gradually noticed, longish wings and a familiar gait.
I walked fast over to the pier near where it landed, walked very carefully and quietly out to the end, shot a few frames, replayed them at 10X magnification on the LCD, decided it looked enough like a Green Heron to make it worth my while to photograph it more closely, even though it was getting hotter and I was out under no shade.
I still wasn't absolutely sure. As big as the LCD on the back of my Nikon D200 is, it's hard to see details or colors in bright sunlight. Here, it's plain it's a Green Heron with its tongue hanging out. In focus, with some details showing among the knurls of wood and its too-bright reflections. I settled in, toyed with the ISO and rested the camera securely on one of the pier posts, wishing once again I'd brought my little bright blue bean bag. VR — vibration reduction is all very nice, but not vibrating it in the first place helps even more.
Meanwhile, it wasn't standing still out there. It was going through the usual Green Heron motions, looking around, preening, etc.
Most of my shots were overexposed, but I was so afraid of underexposing it — I could never tell with that silly LCD — so right on zero seemed right, except for the bright, blazing spots of light on it, I was mostly right. The fact that I was shooting RAW helped immensely, but not as immensely as I hoped.
Looks like it's wearing a wiry little crown. I suspect it's a crown, all right, but blown up to look a little mohawkish.
I've photographed Green Herons before — though never often enough — but I've never seen one thrust its bib out like this before. Or hang its tongue outside its beak, so this shoot was fascinating. Like this bird was still learning how to be a Green Heron.
Or looking at the shots later, was. While shooting this far out, I rarely see nearly enough to get fascinated. These are rather big enlargements of tiny portions of the full frame, which I hope accounts for a lot of the fuzziness of these shots.
Which may be why I was never altogether sure that really was a Green Heron out there on the far end of my telephoto vision. But then they almost never do. From Sibley's again, I see that this is a First-Summer, no longer officially Immature Green Heron.
Its head is probably preening the edges of its flight feathers right about now.
I thought, when this bird did this, twisting up extended, that it must be up to something. I thought about it flying away, but I not only wasn't sure, I didn't think it would.
Wrong again. It took wing seconds after that stretch tall and look around. I got it almost in focus, but not for the crucial first few seconds. Nope, only after those and well into the second few seconds.
Beak full of something, I don't know what. Looks wet — mushy or organic. Maybe both. I saw the bird, then I saw him fly over and land there. I never saw anything in its beak. Still chewing.
I want this bird, on a shed roof over the fence in the DeGoyler Estate, to be a Robin. Mostly because of that bright reddish breast. But Texas robins don't look anything like the robins i vaguely remember in my long distant, pre-teen memory of Illinois. Of course, by now you may have twigged I'm one of the lousiest bird identifiers out there.
Beak is orange, looks slightly curved downward. There may be a white ridge around the eyes. Breast seems orange or reddish (How robin came into the question.) Looks like gray legs and feet, but the back light is wicked bright. Black wing and shoulder feathers. Looks like white up to the chin and on the back, which doesn't fit at all with a robin, but what I don't know fills volumes.
The deal with I.Ds is that it comes easier and easier with additional experience with the same birds. I would have thought robins were universal, but I rarely see them at White Rock or anywhere else, so I don't get to see them in several lights in differing aspects. So if you know what is this bird, robin or not, let me know. I want to understand.
Another example of I have no idea I.D on this bird. Brown. Small. Seems like a white ring aaround its neck. Breast seems lighter than its wings. Longish, ever so slightly curving beak. Any kind of semi-pro birder would know this guy in a flash. This amateur still struggles. I liked having it up there on the top of the steeple, way too far to identify it, and I had to open way up (seriously increase aperture two stops) to seriously overexpose the shot into strong backlight, thus missing most of the detail. Excuses. Excuses.
On the way home past DeGoyler I saw these little brown birds (LBB) investigating a stop light at one of the entrances to DeGoyler. I'm pretty sure I know this guy. He's a house sparrow. Probably kin to the ones who live at my house and everybody else's.
I keep wondering just how long I can keep this same old game of going to the lake and photographing pretty much the same exact old birds over and over again. Hoping, always hoping, that tomorrow will bring something new, something exciting, but knowing too well that the pelicans won't be back for nearly two more long months.
I can never see as large in my Nikon D200's viewfinder as it usually looks here on this page all cropped and enlarged and sharpened and everything. What I see is this T tiny image partially occurred by a rounded-corner rectangle that shows where the camera will focus. Nearly always that rectangle is spot on the big middle of the frame, right where the subject is.
The subject I'd much rather see than that damned rectangle. Oh, well. It looks nice enough big here. I just wish it was doing something really interesting, like stealing some absent fisher person's fish or fighting off a marauding Great Egret or putting a down payment on a new lens. Anything more interesting.
Out early in the misty gray. Cool. Remarkably cool for Dallas in mid-August. I stopped just there for an egret I saw from Lawther, but when I finally got Blue arranged with telephoto out the window just right for that bird, it flew out, circled over to the pier, met this second egret there,
then while they were being all elegant and low in the air, I struggled to get the car to stop rolling toward the lake and the camera strap uncaught from the lever it always catches when I am in a hurry to take a quick photo.
When I finally did that, the first egret had left unceremoniously, showing none of the elegance aloft I've come to expect from that species. I waited awhile wondering if it would be worthwhile to sneak up on the second egret, finally deciding it might be. I did not frighten it into the air, although I wanted to, and it looked like it wanted to go.
As I left the second egret in place on the indecisive far end of the pier, I became aware of a raucous chatter from the reeds along side the pier. It wasn't this grackle, although it looked back at me like this. Perhaps the noise annoyed it, also.
The redwing that was the maker of all that racket stayed hidden deep in the reeds. So deep I couldn't find any part of him to focus on, even manually. Auto focus among reeds is a fool's game.
This redwing turned slightly, perhaps because he knew he wasn't the culprit, but he looks odd, as if its plumage were disappearing. I think I know that feeling.
August 18 - White Rock Lake Again
Sounds like the title for a detective novel. The Very Wet Cardinal. Somewhere between John LeCarré and the ghost of Lillian Jackson Braun. But he's real — wet and hungry. Or he wouldn't be in that plain sight, picking at anything he could find. I found him among a crowd of robins who got away before I got the exposure right.
Been awhile since I've seen robins. Can't remember getting this close to a cardinal, wet or dry. Unusual to see birds of color out in the rain. They're probably smarter than we are.
The Grack a juve. One of half dozen juveniles stressing down the side of the hill road from Winfrey toward Sunset. All kinds of browns showing that don't usually. Interesting textures. Much less surprising to see grackles out in the rain. Not because they're stupid. Not at all. Just they seem not so much bothered by getting rained on as other birds — like robins and cardinals, to name a few.
Nice to be back at White Rock, even though the species range is limited. You might have noticed the chron on this page is anything but logical, but I'm putting my more important vacation pictures first. The newer ones of those first, but still wanted you to see that I was back shooting at my good old used-to-be.
I might straighten out the chron when I complete August.
August 17 - White Rock Lake
We get an ocassional white or brown Muscovy up in Sunset Bay, but maybe two dozen darker ones — the ones that usually look overall black, like the body and face of this sterling example — have settled along the Yacht Club shoreline on the north eastern edge of the lake.
Not, in my limited experience, a prime birding area, although it was there I saw the only hummingbird I've ever seen at the lake, and the elegant egrets sometimes look so fine staning on or in the sailboats anchored there.
August 11 - Estes Park, Colorado
We got there in time for a short nap before Scott Rashid's Bird Banding at Estes Park talk and demonstration at the far end of the park. Where they had a variety of nets set up near another variety of feeders, all along a gully where many birds are known to gather. Once birds snagged themselves in the net, it was a race to get to them and unsnag them before they hurt themselves.
Bands for all sizes of birds from very big for eagles and pelicans down to quite small. Even tinier bands — that looked like integrated circuits — were in a small plastic box.
Several measurements for each bird were recorded along with the number on the band.
The trick to holding small birds like these is gently. The trick to releasing them is not to throw, just let go and support them till they escape on their own. Very common bird in Colorado, but a new species for Anna and me.
The most common way to hold small birds I photographed during the talk was by pressing their thighs together gently between fore- and middle-fingers, so they couldn't twist or wiggle. Either upside-down or right side up.
Or however one could hold one from writhing free.
If you surround the bird with fingers and hold gently but securely, it's less likely they'll escape. Our leader put smaller birds inside one of the larger rings, securely immobilizing them. Fingers seemed to work almost as well.
Although the nets caught more birds than I'd ever seen captured before — and I've chased or photographed others chasing a few serious bird escape artists, our expert told us they were capturing far fewer birds than ever before, alluding to drought while never quite mentioning Global Warming.
I was in mild shock that I got as close as we got to the hummingbirds on Cryspian's porch. To then get this much closer to often immobilized birds during this talk about banding was several orders more of astonishing. I think I'm luckier with birds than with people or art. I'd wondered if I had the right lens when I brought my tele zoom instead of the wide-angle I usually use for people. There were times I had to back off to get in close, because the tele doesn't focus as close, but this series of photos amazes even me.
August 11 - Rocky Mountain National Park
Saw deer, lots of people and way too many hairpin turns and edge-of-the-universe, too-long-way-down roads. But through that long drive out to Grand Lake and back to Estes, I only saw one bird close enough to get in focus, and I had no idea who it was till I asked my bird watching cousin Bev, who'd seen one just like it here some years ago.
Same bird. After perching in the slight shade of that one tree for awhile, our Nutcracker came right up to the people level just a few feet under the road to get a better view. We got a little lost, and I worried we'd get back to Estes too late to attend a lecture on banding birds.
August 10 - Estes Park, Colorado
My cousin Cathy, who has been one of my guiding lights in this strange business, from afar, for many years, told me she had a list of birds she wanted to see on this trip. I thought that strange, because my method is so completely different. Probably different from almost all other birderss, I'm almost always more interested in the birds I can find than those I cannot.
Like most birders, all she has to do is see and identify a bird to add it to her list. The only count I usually keep is this stack of images interspersed with words. if I can get a bird shot in close enough to focus to place it here, that bird is mine. I have not counted them, though I think about it sometimes.
Turns out we tacked on 12 new species on this trip: the Wilson's Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Common Grackle, Lark Sparrow, Great Horned Owl, Clark's Nutcracker, House Wrens and Mississippi Kite.
She first told me about birding several family reunions ago in Iowa, and that idea percolated at least a decade before I finally switched from photographing cute kids and sunsets at White Rock Lake to birds.
I probably should have done more serious hiking in Estes, but it was all I could do to walk around the loop (down was easy; up a strain) around our cabins. The thought of purposely hiking up a mountain scared me.
So one afternoon after Anna and I had driven around the YMCA park where we stayed, finding several birds along the way, when everybody else was off doing reyoony things I didn't care for — Anna had gone horseback riding; others were shopping, fishing or hiking, I set out much closer to test my precious theory that I could find birds worth photographing anywhere I was.
This sort of endeavor usually extends the limits of my patience, but I was determined. I'd wanted to take my iPod clone along, but I knew that if I couldn't hear them, I probably couldn't find any birds worth pursuing. So I left my music and walked across the road to avian adventure.We'd found the Magpie near the park's headquarters, behind some building, hardly in any kind of wild, at all. Anna eased the car closer and closer — like Texas birds, Colorado birds are less scared of cars than people — till I got plenty close for lots of detail. We'd seen magpies before, but never this close.
The Steller's Jay was working the ground and trees less than a dozen feet in from the road. I snuck as close as I could, got this shot, then tried to get closer, and it flew away. We'd seen Steller's a couple years ago on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
All this time I could hear the cawing of crows. Getting closer. I paid attention, because often what they are cawing about are hawks or owls, and it often pays off to pay attention to what they've cawing about.
Once I actually saw them, I thought — or hoped — they were ravens. They were so big, even nearly straight up forty or fifty or more feet up in the top of that tree. I may be like most birders in the respect I always want whatever I'm watching to be something more exotic — I remember photographing a mockingbird at the Bath House when a lady stopped me from doing that by asking if it were "a little eagle."
But crows are plenty exotic enough to watch and photograph and guess what they're up to. They flew in, one at a time, taking as careful turns as they later did when they flew out of sight again and settled into the tallest tree for maybe ten minutes.
I strained my neck watching standing up, then leaning against a Clare Family car, then finally found a folding metal chair whose back feet I pushed into the soft dirt so I could lean back in some comfort while I tried to fathom what they were doing.
Of the four crows who visited, the one on the far right was the designated caw-er. It cawed loud and repeatedly. Then stopped altogether. Every three or so minutes. Really giving it its all. None of the others cawed even once.
For a long time, I thought the crows in the middle were younger, and maybe the whole scenario was about teaching them how to fly. Or where. Or something. But I don't' think that anymore, because in some images, they seem just as big as the crows flanking them. They only seemed smaller, because they were more huddled up. Maybe.
I watched and wondered and wished I understood what was happening in vivid black & white nearly directly above me, till they tired of the location. The designated cawer commenced cawng, and one at a time, they flew down, away and off to the next stage.
I must have learned something from the experience, but I'm not at all sure what it might have been.
August 9 - Nederland, Colorado
This/these hummer(s) should be easy to identify once I get my books out and start paging (It's — at least this first and the last shots — a Rufous, named for its reddish area around its tail and up onto its breast. But I just found these additional shots that fill in one extra trip day and provide a little perspective from Chryspie & Lynn's hummingbird-filled porch and its grand view, besides the birds. These three were shot on my Canon S5 IS, which I rarely use for birds, although these shots are nearly spectacular. Others were utter blurs.
I'll I.D this guy later. It's a hummingbird. It's always hungry. (With that broad tail and no reddish areas, it's got to be a Broad-tailed Hummingbird.)
I can almost smell the mountain air. I can almost hear the low octave humming of the hummers.
August 8 - Nederland, Colorado
After wandering up the western edges of Texas and Oklahoma, hypotenusing across Colorado's eastern desert, we stopped for the night in the mountains at Chryspian and Lynn's, where hummingbirds buzzed our ears and filled my frame with amazing speed and color, like they do every summer.
I've only ever photographed one hummer before, in The Rio Grande Valley, and at too long distance. This was amazing. Them vibrating, swooshing in, stopping in mid-air, zooming up and out. Took me awhile to tune in, telephoto out and start catching them at peaks.
Wings flapping faster than the eye can blink. Cryspie 'd call one Rufous, another Broad-winged, and I'd wonder what he was talking about. Which was which. What's the differences. Now I'm pouring through three books staring at tiny illustrations wishing I could see them this big in these colors.
Got a lot of blurs, not just the elegant fuzz of wings but full-out smears confusing everything. I probably shot a couple hundred of the hummers, getting better as they seemed to slow and I sped to catch them. Not the ever so slight extension of its loooong tongue poking out the end of that already loooong beak.
Three feeding stations. No waiting. And maybe a dozen hummingbirds flitting from the trees around the high porch, stop suddenly in the middle of anywhere. Then back out into fir obscurity.
Just wish I knew who they are. I figure more book-staring time till I can securely I.D most. If you have a better guess, contact me, and I'll happily entertain your identification instead.
Every day on the trip I thought about the deep abiding need for a bird of the day. We had no idea we'd find hummingbirds at Cryspie and Lynn's, let alone that they'd be so fearless. But what a joyous discovery.
Somewhere south and east of there, I found this, probably didn't even notice the sign, so focused I was on the bird. A BBB — big brown bird. Looks a lot like our Great-tailed Grackles, except the wrong colors and not that much a tail. Beautiful, if "common." I wasn't sure till I saw my Sibley's Guide to Birds when I got home, but I had assumed it was a new species for us.
We didn't expect much at the Kit Carson (town name) museum. We were hoping for restrooms they didn't have, serendipitously discovered a scrawny, twine-tied bird of prey and even older everything else.
August 7 — Clarendon, Texas
Yeah, I know August 7 was a week ago, but I'm catching this journal up before I start adding White Rock Lake birds again. I've got a lot to do — and I want to share my vacation bird shots from our trip into the Rocky Mountains for a glorious vacation / family reunion with some new and some same-old birds and a couple remarkable avian opportunities, as you will see in the coming days.
Our route took us up through the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, then angling up into the Rocky Mountains. We stayed at the It'll Do motel in Clarendon the first night, although it didn't.
Got there early enough to drive out into the country to maybe visit a sanctuary there until recently cared for by a 90-plus year old woman who died couple months ago.
Sanctuary in this case meant feeding station and when the food doesn't show daily, neither do the birds.
But there were plenty birds fending for themselves in the fields and hills for miles around and back toward town.
This Light Western Red-tailed Hawk didn't fly as close as these long telephoto shots indicate, but it did stay in the skies above us searching for food long enough that I got all these shots.
When I saw this bird, I knew I was seeing something new to me. As usual, I was hoping for something exotic, and from this view, it certainly is — or looks like it.
This slightly different view makes it look a lot more ordinary. A sparrow by any other name...
Still, very nice of it to perch on that wire close enough to photograph clearly and sharply — and to turn around for the camera, so we got the full view.
I'm pretty sure this is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher — that long tail being the chief giveaway, although
this very nearly clone of it — with that same pinking underneath — has a much shorter tail, and its head is more like its close cousin the Western Kingbird, just a few pages away in species-oriented bird books. All old friends.
I think this is the same bird as the above shot, so maybe it's just a matter of light.
Here, its shortish tail looks longer, further confusing this truly amateur bird identifier.
A short drive away, Anna saw a big flap in some trees at some distance from the road we were, by then, standing in the big middle of — hardly any traffic out there. Then she found this handsome bird, that seemed huge, although it only occupied a small portion of my viewfinder.
And this is an enlargement of that same image above. I think by this shot I was using a tripod — again standing in the middle of the road, so this much detail would be possible. It was still far enough away that I could not see the limb that partially blocks its face. We watched it, and it watched us for more than ten minutes. All through a whole other line of branch-bedraggled trees along the edge of the road. No way of sneaking any closer.
I found this elegant charcoal, off-white and white male Mississippi Kite in residential Clarendon, about a block from the highway. I'd seen a very similar bird not nearly as accommodating at posing out in the boons, but this one was not at all shy, perched directly above two noisy barking dogs — neither of whom could fly or do much else about it but bark.
Mississippi Kite seems to be staring at the photographer.
After hardly seeing any birds all the way there, a long walk under a hot sun — though with a lovely breeze hinting cool somewhere, some when — I finally saw the egret on the left. Took awhile after that to see the bird on the right. First I hoped it'd be a Green Heron, though I'd never seen a Green out on the logs in Sunset Bay before. Or now.
This Little Blue Heron seemed a nice bye-for-awhile treat, since I won't be able to break off and photo birds at the lake for about the next ten days. Big job. Then another after that, but there'll be some serious birding between. Now it's hiatus time, and getting to watch and photograph a Little Blue Heron was a lovely send off. Thanks, Universe.
I don't remember ever photographing a Little Blue Heron smoothing feathers and tucking them back into good flying order before, but here's this.
All while I watched, it was pretty careful with what must be an injured foot or toe. Didn't keep it from flying or landing or hunting, but it looks like it hurt.
Little Blue blurring into takeoff.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when it took to flight. But I was. Wished I'd had the flying birds setting set, so my too-smart-for-my-own-good camera would have followed its focus when all I could do wan pan along. I guess we were both vibrating a little.
From the moment it landed — as before — it seemed to favor its stronger foot, letting the left one take less weight.
Little Blue hunting with beak nearly inside that clump of whatever. I must have jiggled the camera. Almost all these shots are at maximum zoom (300mm, here the 35mm equivalent of 450mm), awful long to be hand-holding, but with Nikon's Vibration Reduction lenses, not a major problem. Usually.
Little Blue looking for something I think it might have got, though I never saw it upend it or swallow. Note how skinny and svelte it looks here and what a change the ruffle makes.
Exact same bird not long later, after it landed closer to the up-creek end of the bay, here showing great form in a full-out Little Blue Heron Ruffle with Wing Dip. See the Ruffle Page for images of many more birds ruffling.
Followed closely by a wing forward. Very comparable in form to its larger cousin, the Great Blue Heron, one of which I saw today, waaaayyy out in the bay, too far for anybody but the utterly desperate to photograph. Of course, I did, but that was before I saw the egret and the Little Blue.
Next time it took flight, I'd been thinking it was about to, so I caught it.
Many birds have found refuge on that jut of land — pelicans, egrets. The fish-hook duck; I've even seen a few herons stand there awhile.
For awhile, way out on the logs, it tried to soothe something on its injured left foot. But when it was into fishing something out of the water, it was all in without apparent injury. It's not talking here; it's cooling. Birds don't sweat. The sun was getting hot again, especially in direct sun, though the intermittent breeze was still flowing. But barely. Weatherguy says only 92 today 15 degrees cooler, but it seemed hotter than that. Ask me or my little blue friend.
Usually, I don't do Mondays, and today I could see why. Actually, I have a Monday client most Mondays but not lately but will again later. Some jobs loop. Bird luck loops, too. It's been better. I'm hoping it'll get better in the few days till my next big job takes me away for maybe ten days or so when it'll be a challenge to work birds in edgewise.
Didn't leave for the lake till late. Probably too late. Tested several waters and didn't find much any of those places. These guys were hanging out under the new walking bridge at The Old Boat House, and it was a lot later than it looks in this overbright photo. Later and darker.
I got the Ling in the last figment of daylight. It looks okay. My camera and I fooled the light on the duck but pixilated the water. These were in the glow of night. Too many of them to catch up them all..
Three Months Ago
Been going back through previous shots paring out the useless ones to lighten my hard drive load before I commit them to long-term storage, and I came upon this sequence I had no idea what to do with when I first knew I had it, already some time after I thought I knew what I did have.
Seems obvious now, three months later, but then I didn't think it was good enough for you here. The darker of the pair, across the creek standing stoic through the white bird's panic, more approximates a tree by the creek than a scaredy fright in flight. In fact, when I first and second and third viewed this sequence, all I saw was the 'gret.
Whom I thought, all along, was my subject. Took several seeings to see the negret — Great Blue Heron — right there in front of me. Just where it always stands, waiting for an unwary prey to come swimmin' along.
I love it when I catch an egret in this flying pose, its wings ballooned like antebellum skirts, soon in the sequence of low-flying escape.
And old Tar Baby, he just stands there, while the brighter bird I always saw skips out from the grayer one I didn't till much later doesn't, who probably stayed right there till it caught something. This series a little more appropriate now because of that much more recent sequence at the beginning [bottom, below] of this month's journal.
A worthy sight to show on another day so hot this late-rising diabetic asthmatic can barely breathe or think outside boxes.
About this time each summer, the distinctive green, white and reddish Mallard plumage goes brown. No need to attract mates till spring. It's strange to turn around after not noticing the subtle, day-to-day changes and see everywhere brown all a sudden the colors gone. Nice sunset lighting in Sunset Bay.
Reason so many ducks gather in one spot most evenings is that someone pours hard corn in long, wide lines along the edge of where the lake was till the drought dried it back. Unless I'm trying to lure a duck in to get a hook out of it, I don't feed birds. On the theory that they should be getting their own food, so I have mixed feelings about feeding them in a public park as if they were on a farm. Better corn than bread, especially white bread that everybody and their kids feed them.
The reason he's feeding the ducks is because he's feeding the gooses, many of which he's released to the wilds of the lake. It's an odd logic cycle I don't quite follow, but of all the things I've seen people feed the birds, corn's the safest and actually provides nutrition. We got the Park Department to try to help stop people from feeding ducks with stupid and harmful stuff, but instead they put up signs where the corn went down to try to outlaw the only people feeding them intelligently. Lucky they don't enforce those laws anymore than they enforce any other laws at the lake.
Which all provides a handy place for gooses and duckses and peoples to gather. I tend to photograph them more than assign names and talk about which one's doing how and what's up with each lately, but I see the allure. Hadn't really expected to be there birding, but it was pleasant. As pleasant as a hot summer day is in Dallas, Texas, USA these days. The day after got up to 107 degrees F. I was happy to post these early this month, because later I'll be on hiatus, and I hate to leave these pages empty while I'm off working another big project that starts next week for ten or so days I'll be lucky to find a lake visit to work in edgewise.
For a change, I wasn't sweating. Too busy experimenting with the other camera. The one that doesn't go off quick as I can think it, that's doesn't give me a bright, clear view, even in the falling light. That doesn't always focus even when I hold it pretty still and point it at a goose slurping its own puddle.
I'm surprised it did this good. Exposures better than even they looked in that dinky optical viewfinder. I know better than to use the LCD unless I'm spy photographing. Hold it to my eye and it's more likely steadied.
As you can see, I'm still watching the grackles, plentiful though they be. In the right light — like late evening well into the amber of nearly night — they're gorgeous.
But then they're gorgeous lots of time. Seems to be a recurring theme.
August 1 2008
Had high hopes of starting this month off with a bang, since last month at about this time, I was too busy with other things to do any bird explosions. Alas, 'twas not meant to be. I've been thinking about the burden of grackles carrying those humongous tails around with them everywhere they go, so when these guys didn't mind when Blue and I sidled up close to them on Lawther along DeGoyler Bend, I took the opportunity to get these.
Realizing this season, summer, with molting, the pressure-cooker heat and all that, Great-tailed Grackles may not be at their full blossom tail size, anyway. It's just the most interesting bird I could find this relatively cool and breezy morning I got up early for.
I'd already stopped at the Old Boat House Lagoon (There is lately, a new, significantly larger Boat House, though without its own lagoon, just around the bend toward the dam from the old one.) Not enough of interest there. I seriously ogled The Spillway and The Lower Steps. Nothing there, either. Drove slow along DeGoyler, where I found these guys. Carefully searched bird life in my good old almost-always-something Sunset Bay. No luck there, either, too. Finally settling in for awhile at Dreyfuss Point.
The point of Dreyfuss was the Dreyfuss Building, which burned down from utter carelessness and the fact that the fire department didn't know Winfrey from Dreyfuss. But a private firm will (eventually) build a new Dreyfuss building there.
Searching my usual heron/egret haunt coves there, always eyes peeled for overflying big birds, I eventually crept into position to watch the nearly not moving Sunset Bay — and for that matter, Hidden Creek — Great Blue Heron. Who, for a big change, did not fly off croaking, soon as it saw me. It stood its ground. I snuck slowly, stealthfully till I had a near perfect perch with a view through the reeds, and shot no more than a dozen shots of my favorite bird of my favorite species — the Great Blue Heron (GBH).
I don't usually show the same image even twice, but I finally got close enough that full frame, the vertical crop and a fairly extreme crop of it are all good enough to show here. Usually, when I write about images being small portions of a full frame, the birds are even smaller in the frame than this.
It's probably a testament to the quality of the Nikon camera and lens I use that these zooms are this good.
For more, recent details of a GBH in Sunset Bay, check out the images from last month, specifically July 29 and low on July 6, and probably every other Great Blue Heron I've shot at White Rock Lake in the last few years. I have to wonder how many Great Blue Herons live or hunt here and bet (Please remember the A-word on the banner at the top of this page.) there's no more than a handfull in White Rock Lake Park.
At first I thought this bird was/is the same I keep seeing in and around Sunset Bay. But I'm not all that sure now. The, I think, older, other one seemed more skittish, flying away soon as it saw me, even when I was all the way across the creek. Often flying away croaking, almost as if under its breath. This one just stood there, never even looking at me, and I'm pretty obvious with my loud-clicking Nikon. Then too, it might have come to the conclusion that as long as I didn't make any suden moves, it was too good a fishing spot to leave just for some bumbling photographer.
I'd like to know which one is which or if all the GBHs I see around Sunset are the same one. So far, I've carefully avoided giving it/them name(s), although maybe it/they have given me one by now.
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.