July 31 2008
May not immediately be apparent what's going on in this picture. The House Sparrows in the bleachers and just standing around on the right are either watching or waiting their turns to engage in serious dust bathing. Also not apparent is that this whole scene is deep in dark shade of many overhanging trees, almost invisible from the road, unless like me, you pull over and watch and watch and watch.
Probably even less obvious is this shot of one writhing, shaking all over House Sparrow squirming in the dust, throwing the stuff up and around all over. I know that's what it's doing, but I too, cannot see any recognizable parts. In fact, it looks more like a mouse writhing than a bird flapping. Oh, well.
Unfortunately, just a few clicks into the game, they got wise to their observer and lit out for a nearby tree. This one, from which they waited and watched till I drove away.
Last time's shots of killdeer have them all standing still, so they don't blur or get out of focus. Today, I worked at capturing one in its natural condition — blazing across the trashy shoreline. They run like fast walking Olympians. Stop suddenly for a couple seconds, then race off.
Lots of grackles out in the heat today. They seem less bothered by the sun and heat temperatures than the other birds.
Them and the doves. I usually don't even count doves as birds worthy of study, and today, these were the only ones that did not fly off soon as I started studying them. I know there are grackles, doves, mockingbirds, egrets, herons and lots of other birds spread all across the country. I wonder whether certain ones choose to come here because they like the heat, or maybe, like most of us humans here, they like the long springs and falls and mild winters and just stay through the summer because it beats migrating off somewhere else.
Back near the dust-bathing sparrows, I found this mottled juvenile grackle walking along, testing everything it could find for eat-worthiness like a two-year-old human baby. If it fits in the mouth, it's worth a taste.
Or a look.
Almost forgot these two oddball birds in today's oddball collection. This female Red-winged Blackbird was making bird noises in the cool thick of a big tree along Lawther drive along DeGoyler Bend. Took awhile to find it in all that dark and crisscross of brown and green, but here she is. Wish I knew what she was saying.
And you probably recognize this one as an Egret, probably a Great Egret, though if I can't see that its feet are black, I'm never exactly sure. Relative size judgments have never been my forte. If its feet are orange, it's probably a Snowy Egret. It seemed smallish, but a lot of that's because it was far away. Might be interesting to match its general shape and configurations with the next shot.
Not only are these first two birds both Northern Mockingbirds (our, and a whole bunch of other states', state bird).
But they're all the same bird. Different lightings, as it bounced along the sidewalk behind the Winfrey Building overlooking Sunset Bay. The point is that the reason I so often have so much trouble identifying what has to be the second most populous bird in Texas — the other has the be the Grackle — is because they look so very different from one moment to the next.
So by now it's probably not going to be much a surprise that this is still that same mockingbird.
Similar colors and patterns, but look at the schnoz. Looks like it's grown. Substantially.
Coulda used a tad more light, but that tail cocked like this is classic mock.
The books says it's a Mallard, so they are Mallards, and I did so want them to be something exotic and strange with differing colors beaks. Oh, well.
At least this one can balance on one foot.
I was surprised when this tyke settled down, and I was able to see the bright red-orange-yellow epaulets. Looks like something growing on the top of its head. Never seen so geeky a RWBB before. Another in the category of Not Nearly As Strange As I First Thought. Assumed.
Don't know what this is. Pretty sure it's not a mockingbird or a grackle, so I've eliminated the obvious. Not a male or female Red-winged Blackbird, either. Not a mallard or an Great Blue Heron. Still, it's a distinctive looking LBB. Little Brown Bird.
For a major change, I was out at the lake while it was still cool this ayem. Pleasantly cool, and lots of birds in sight. Including my favorite Sunset Bay Great Blue Heron shown here out standing in his/her bay.
Not by plan you understand. I took a short nap last night after working steady for half a dozen hours and passed out all night. Normally mornings are prohibitive, though I'd heard the rumor that it's cool in the morning. Or cooler, compared with the 105 or 106 degrees Fahrenheit temps we've been getting in Dallas, Texas, USA lately.
When I get up at my usual time of early afternoon, most of the birds that are visible are huddling in the darkest shades of the biggest, most bounteous leafed trees available. Nice to see the guys out and about. I might have to visit there early again sometime. No herons in the Boat House Lagoon, however, which was my first choice visit of the day.
While I watched and photographed my GBH from the Sunset Bay pier today, it never once caught anything I could see, though it dipped head into the shallow waters several times. But it only did the ruffle once. A magnificent sight unto itself.
But then, so is this.
I heard their piercing call first and looked out into the bay, where I thought it came from. But they were, as usual, picking stuff up in the muck along the portion of Sunset Bay shore only birds dare to tread, because anything heavier goes right under. I've tried so many times, I don't ever need to again.
Bright blazing light from the direction I've always wanted it to come from in the bay, making photographs almost easy.
Nice of it to pose. You can tell I've been working up photos of art when I title a bird photograph Front Quarter View, just like a natural-born sculpture.
Then they flew away.
Some days are diamonds, and I usually don't figure that out for a while. I just keep shooting, hoping for something interesting. I was working on my stealth approach when I came upon this Great Egret. A few steps forward. Stop for a long time, holding very still. Then creep forward some more.
It's a long game. When this bright bird started striding forward suddenly, I'd been ready for what seemed like hours. More like minutes, actually, but for a big change, this is very nearly full frame. Gobs of detail, great texture. Sharp as the dickens. Its eye sparkles. Great selection of background color, too.
I'd been chatting it up, assuring I wouldn't want to hurt it for anything. We weren't really at conversation distance, my lens is a telephoto, after all, but I was chatting away, and it was not leaving suddenly, although it kept its neck crooked, in what I am assuming is a potential escape mode tactic. Something like if it keeps its neck crooked, it can stretch it out almost immediately and fly away.
I, meanwhile, kept wishing he'd feel comfy enough in my presence to stretch out and stand up tall. Instead, he scratched his chin, in classic Great Egret form. For a big change, this sequence did not end with the bird flying away. He was still standing there when I crept carefully back along the pier.
From well back on shore again, I got a final shot of the friendly egret. Neck up comfortable. So much better luck today with egrets than with Green Herons, though my luck there is improving.
I was sneaking around the creek, not exactly in full stealth mode when an altogether too familiar shape leapt up from the foliage and flew beyond the nearest tree.
I never quite achieved focus in the four shots I got off before it disappeared. But I'm most pleased with this lovely wing shot. Feet are the pointed orange bits underneath, and I supposed that big, leading brown blur is a head. Maybe next time or the time after that, I'll sneak slowly enough that it won't need to leave abruptly.
It doesn't much look like it, and it didn't much look like it when I was shooting it, but this is a young grackle. That tail sticking straight up threw me. But it must've been for balance as it twisted its head around backwards to pick up what might be an insect or at least something worth investigating.
Took awhile to figure out this was really a grackle. By the time it'd got this close — it kept running closer, at an angle to the direction I'd pointed Blue, and I let Blue slip down the hill to intercept what I thought might be its angle of attack.
Eyes were dilated most of this afternoon after an eye test — I passed — so I could barely see, let alone focus till latish. Nice breezes on the bridge overlooking the Lower Spillway. Nice breezes, in fact, in many places around the lake this late afternoon.
When I first saw this young Black-crown, he was standing there. When i arrived with my camera after parking Blue and walking fast. I shot lots of photos of it just standing there. Then it turned and looked intent.
And jumped into the sky, still looking intent.
The juvenile landed there, and stood there for awhile, looking like any minute now, it'd poke head in the water and pull out a big fish. But no, it just stood there still looking intent, when a parental unit came flying along. Notice that tyke is already to leave in haste. No hassling, no argument.
Occipital plume pointing straight up like an exclamation point, parent lands, and child flees at speed.
And flies off back where it started, maybe a little humbled. But only maybe.
Later, in another part of the lake, and mostly silhouette, I discovered another, similarly shaped bird — a Green Heron, which I photographed blurs of streaking up to this dark perch. Then it flew away while I got several more completely out of focus blurs. But I know where he/she hunts, so next time I'm going back when the sun's still shining.
Further up the west side of the lake, are — as I discovered last weekend — zillions of Purple Martins. Not as imposing a presence as the cormorants are every winter, but lots and lots of birds up there.
And flying around.
Earlier, very distinctive Mom Wood Duck and her three Wood Ducklings walking along the Lower Steps.
Learning creative thinking. Mom, who can fly, flies up a rung of the stairs, leaving the kids to fend for themselves.
So they line up and walk off hoping to find another way up.
And each and every time, they do.
Bump, bump, bump.
While I watched, they tried flapping up a bit and clinging to other front face of the stair, looking in the resulting photo like two and a half out of focus lumps of precious duckhood.
Note that each time she flies up, there's some sort of way, if they can figure it out, to get up the next step.
When there's no bump-ups, they end-around to somewhere with a slant. Each time they'd get up to the next level, Mom would flap up yet another.
On Their Own.
Till the end, when they just keep going up and up and up, even passing up Mom. At the top, they all got together, plop into the drink, then swam away.
Awful hot. I did not want to get out of my car. But I did want to walk around. And I needed to shoot me some birds. Only of those I could find for a long time were grackles close and egrets halfway across the lake. This is a tiny portion of a much larger frame, but you don't need to know that.
Seconds later, it lands on that tree.
Not far away, another egret, definitely a snowy — smaller, orange feet and beak — coming in for another landing.
Wish I could take credit for this composition, especially the strategically placed turtle. From where I stood, however, I couldn't even see it. Barely see the bird.
Took awhile to get my exposure right. And that focus stuff. Mockingbirds engaging in that same stand and stare business we saw not long ago [below]. Only this time I caught them doing the jump into the air, flap around and bounce off each other portion of the program, too.
They also engaged in the stand and stare and hop around and stare some more part, but none of my shots of those are worth a hoot. Of the two, I'd rather that part zero out, so I'm happy.
I don't know the disposition of the two Northern Mockingbirds in question, however. Are they angry? I assume the clash is about territory. Is it matter of fact, low emotion, or simply competition. Are they mad as hell at each other? Humans fight in rings with gloves and an audience for belts and cups. As well as with more lethal weaponry. Winner here takes territory, but it can't be much.
Any other season I drive down that same strip of two-lane blacktop down from Winfrey to T into the road that used to go down to Sunset Bay but still goes up to Barbec's, I see a new mockingbird every twenty or thirty yards. No fights.
Today we got a major ruckus only breaks up when I sidle Blue too close along side the action. Most of the early shots are longer and at an angle. More difficult for a camera to focus when area to be focused occupies a minor portion of the view and that not close to the center where the sensor is. This shot is far sharper than any so far.
That strip is definitely preferential territory for mockingbirds. If I need a mock fix, I know where to go, though they're usually every where else, too.
Now here's a little more pointed use of that "wing display" I briefly mentioned a week ago [below]. Here, the mock on the left has both wings up in an obvious display. Like he's just standing there waiting for it to take effect. Less obvious is what exactly the display means. Wish I knew. Nice to see all the stripes.
It's either an all-out, knock-em-down and drag-em-out battle to the end. Or a carefully choreographed dance.
I didn't see any blood let in the extensive altercation — or now. I didn't hear cries of pain or anger.
Seconds after this action that sure looks like an all-out attack, both mockingbirds flew away, looking more like pals than enemies. For nearly a hundred yards, they flew together, parallel.
Betsy seems to agree that it might just be youngsters roughhousing.
By Wednesday we needed to find birds beyond porch views, so we set out searching San Tone's few inner-city lake / ponds, none as large as our own White Rock Lake in Dallas, and we didn't want to drive great long distances to find a bigger one. The first we visited had a great, little lighthouse structure with churches and downtown SA in the background but only some ducks and one wet cormorant.
As usual, didn't figure out till later that this one dripping corm was something we don't see often around Dallas, although there have been reports of brief visits, never long or close enough for me to see or photograph.
The main visual difference is the little white V flaring back from the head end of their beak. It did seem a little goofy walking around, but like a familiar friend in a new haircut, I didn't recognize the difference before I got it big on my screen. Guess I'm not used to seeing Neotropics walk, stretch or flap wings dry.
Another shot too far. This time again too far to focus or get high resolution. But fun to follow frolicking mockingbirds romping at low level along the fence line. A unique perspective looking down on birds flying. I had misidentified the place of this shot as below my parents' porch, but it's actually in either Woodlawn Lake Park or Apache Creek Park in central San Antonio.
This was our second and only other inner-city pond. We first parked to watch it in a parking lot at Our Lady of the Lake University just right of this photo (then walked around), so I called it Our Lady's Lake until I learned its real name late in today's entry. By far the most interesting portion of that pond was this island, high-density packed with mostly white birds, though there were a few others, as we will see.
Took us awhile to figure out the real treasure of this island, but we noticed several varieties of egrets, including this high-season reddish Cattle Egret, some jet-black cormorants, a spare few very dark indigo adult Little Blue Herons and probably a bunch of Great and Snowy Egrets, too.
All those birds are on the island for one purpose, breeding. We saw birds in breeding plumage and birds in mate-choice disputes and lots of "kids" running and flying and squabbling around loose on the island.
One of the two varieties of largish black birds we sighted there were the more familiar Double-crested Cormorants we're used to seeing here at White Rock Lake. Nonetheless, Betsy Baker's betting this is a Neotropic, too. Just that the light's so dark, we can't see the white V. I bow to her identification skills.
A dark shape flying over the island.
The other dark, nearly black bird on the island, an adult Little Blue Heron, one of only maybe three we saw there. Odd because there were dozens of what at first appeared to be juvenile Little Blue Herons flapping about. This is not a great shot, because its beak, body, legs and feet are partially or completely hidden, and I usually prefer them out in the open to photograph. I don't know if that nest behind it is a Little Blue Heron nest, but I am certainly curious about it. Someday perhaps I'll learn the differences of nests among the various heron and egret species, if any.
I wasn't fully aware that we were watching more juvenile Little Blue Herons than we'd ever seen before out on that island only a few feet distant from the steeply sloping weedy shore we stood near the top of, not really daring to go down into the weeds for fear of getting bit by yet another biting, stinging, itching bug. Generally when I see smallish white egret-looking birds, I assume they're Snowy or Cattle Egrets not in breeding plumage. These were neither.
Turns out most of what I saw were Cattle Egret juveniles, not Little Blues. I was right thinking it was highly unusual, and wrong in identifying them as Little Blues anyway.
It was unholy hot out there, not far off from the island dense with birds, many of them juveniles. Hot, hot, hot. Mean, nasty, searing, sizzling, fry hot, or I might have stayed a much longer time studying the multitude of little Little Blues.
I was wrong again. Turns out Betsy Baker has identified these two, and probably several others here, as juvenile Cattle Egrets, which makes a lot more sense, since there were a great many of those adults on the island. And terribly few big Little Blues.
Yeah, I'm confused, too. Again. I think of it as a way of life. The way of amateur.
What the island is is a rookery. Not one decided by humans but selected by the birds, right in the big middle of a major residential neighborhood in the city, and more interestingly, in plain sight of shore, where there's a public pathway, although we did not encounter any other photographers. Unlike many rookeries, it did not stink to high heaven. Perhaps because the island is a hill steeply dropping off into the lake. Or maybe because the wind, when there was a wind, was blowing the other way.
If I were spending a few more days in San Tone, I might have gone back with a wide-brimmed hat, lots more DEET and a tripod to more fully photograph and appreciate the birds on the island. Extra especially all those frolicking little Little Blue Herons. What a treat to see those usually shy birds out in the open.
Says Betsy, "This one is definitely a juvenile Little Blue Heron — note the greenish-gray legs and the two-toned bill which more or less matches the legs at the base. The bill is longer and more pointed than the bill of hte Cattle egrets, too."
I'm beginning to understand that the only of these birds that are Juvenile Little Blue Herons are those with duo-colored bills, whatever color their legs might seem. Back to my good old used-to-be method of identifying Juvenile Little Blue Herons by the black edges of the hang-down-low wingfeathers. Plus that two-tone beak I can rarely see when I'm looking through the telephoto but usually show up in photographs.
Herons and egrets may be aware of the differences among themselves, but they seem more than willing to associate with their not-so-distant cousins. Note the subtle differences in posture and parts colors in this photo. No two-tone beaks, no Little Blues, although that middle bird's wings sure look black-edged while the yellow-beaked bird just to its right in the exact same lighting does not look edged.
Besty concludes: "Well, I admit to being a bit puzzled by the outer two. But Great Egrets have proportionally the longest necks of those three species, Little Blues the second longest necks and Cattle Egrets the shortest necks. I checked juvie Cattle Egrets again in Sibley and their bills are rather two-tone yellowish-blackish there, just to confuse everything. The overall shapes and proportions of the outer two seem to be consistent with Cattle Egrets, so I think what you got there was a juvie Little Blue flanked by a pair of Cattle Egrets. Darned if I know why the bill colors of these juvies aren't more consistent within species. I think they're just trying to befuddle us!"
According to the Sibley Guide to Birds, Juvenile Little Blue Herons have pale, dull green legs and thick tapered bills.
Looking in MapQuest, I see that this fascinating place in the city so ripe with nesting adults and nearly fresh out of the eggs juveniles is called Apache Creek and Apache Creek Park. It is not listed on any of the San Antonio Birding lists online, including the San Antonio Audubon Society's otherwise seemingly complete guide, none of whose sites offered any bird species either new or utterly fascinating to us.
In the Aerial Image portion of MapQuest's map of the area, the island is the first green clump in the creek to the right (east) of the 24th Street Bridge over Apache Creek, on the other side of a chain-link fence from Our Lady of the Lake University. Might have to magnify up to the second click on the mag track on left.
July 14 - July 16
We've been on a very short — and very effective — vacation to San Antonio to visit my parents in their new, medium-rise, retirement home about 250 miles north of their home of more than 45 years in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Anna and I agreed that we were pleased that we'd got so aggressive about seeing the birds of The Valley while they were still down there, so we don't have to drive so very far anymore. Which makes it 250 miles closer to Dallas and a drive that is significantly shorter for us.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their new place is that the building itself is atop a hill and their wonderful porch is even higher. I quickly discovered that it was a great place from which to watch and photograph birds, early in the morning or late in the evening, whenever. A lot of different birds at differing distances. From flocks of egrets in the great long, small portion of an entire telephoto frame distance across the highway to Northern Mockingbirds, doves, sparrows and Barn Swallows swooping right up into my face standing there hoping I don't drop my lens hood or self.
Some of the earliest shots I made were of these eleven egrets — way too far away to tell which variety — that swooped across the landscape from north to south along the western edge of San Antonio. The shutter speed too slow and the landscape too dark for the kind of photography I usually need. Though I do love this series.
I thought this was a mockingbird when I shot it. I don't think that anymore. Maybe it's a dove. Drove me crazy following them with my tele, crashing across the ground between all the trees and condos, wings flashing so very like mockingbirds, but something wrong, white and black in the wrong places.
Betsy confirms it's a White Winged Dove.
This was taken at the shore of a lake with an island full of birds you'll see soon enough. I photographed this one bird, because it was so very like the birds I'd been confusing with mockingbirds all the time I was in San Tone, especially looking out Ozymandias across the beautiful green world from my parent's porch.
More of the same guys flying by.
Not quite so far this time, grackles a little closer and a lot faster past the porch, nothing in the background, because there's nothing out there at that level but more sky.
Even closer one of the ubiquitous Turkey Vultures rocking slowly in the sky. Such beautiful flyers. Nice to have them so close over the magic porch.
Took me a long time to realize this speedy little bird flying hooping figure eights against the face of the building chasing invisible bugs. Catching them, too. Must be. This shot shows a little of the richness of color — red head, yellow gold underneath, blue-black top and an occasional flash of white as it turns tail and jets off.
Whopping big wire across the lake with a bird on top. Anna drove me closer and closer underneath till I finally got as close as I could get and kept shooting all that time, all that time hoping it's something new, something strange, something rare, but of course it's not, it's another House Finch. Beautiful reds and browns a little like a cardinal or one of those strange un-Cardinals. Who cares, it's a pretty bird. Click.
Snowy Egret in the long green grass and weeds along the shores under the big concrete bridge under the fat wire holding up the House Finch. The barest hint of what else was near.
We revisited the swan we'd visited some time ago, to see if it were a he or a she, because Kathy Rogers of Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation has a rehabilitated swan who needs a mate, and this might just be the one. It was thought that two males would destroy each other, but it turns out this North Dallas swan was one of a pair of males purchased by a homeowner.
They did not, it is believed, kill each other, though the real reason the other one isn't there anymore, is not known. I'm sure I'll get something wrong (already) or if I go on much further with this story. It's Anna's deal, I was just along because I like to photograph birds I don't usually get to.
It did not go into the defense posture it did the last time we visited, but then neither did it come close. These are all telephoto shots.
Every time I go out in this 100 degrees F heat we got going here in Dallas every day, I have to go home, drinks gobs of liquid, then sleep several hours. Some call it Heat Prostration. I'm calling it Heat Frustration. Makes it difficult to go chasing birds when there's light out.
I found this after I accidentally frightened my Great Blue Buddy off it mark at the edge of the water up Hidden Creek. I heard it croak up the creek behind that thick screen of green and followed on this side of the trees, hoping I'd find a clear path in. Instead, I found this view of a wily Snowy Egret in there. The Great Blue Heron continues to elude.
I was hoping for hawks when I saw this big critter rocking slowly across the sky, sometimes — like here — almost directly above me. Magnificent creature that it is, I photographed this Turkey Vulture flying me over.
Too far away to capture with much detail, but the scissor-tails have been eluding me too long lately. I caught this one sitting on that weed sticking up in the meadow half way from here to the line of houses along the road to Dreyfuss (where somebody's going to build a new building to replace the one that burned down while the fire department argued about where the address was, showing up at Winfrey in plenty of time but only got to Dreyfuss when the flames had had their way). The pix of it leaping off to go find some bugs were all too blurred.
Near dark when I got there tonight. Tired from work and something to do with the temperature, I suppose. Was late and already near dark. I set ISO at 1250 and wandered around Dreyfuss looking for herons. Saw a Great one flapping and croaking down Hidden Creek. The neighborhood Blue. It apparently saw me way before I saw it.
He flew over me later, when I had the cam set for bright white egrets. Miserable underexposure made for interesting texture very like grain in film shot about that same ISO. Almost recognizable silhouette.
Sometimes ISO 1250 can be tamed with certain software. Me, I was just taking pictures and looking for invisible herons. The grain-softening software worked here, didn't on other shots.
Sorta did here. Made it small enough nobody'd notice.
What's interesting here is that after the cormorants had owned the logs out in Sunset Bay over the winter. Then the pelicans owned it till mid April. Now the egrets have taken over. There's a few leftover cormorants still out there, but it's mostly 'grets. They're closer on the other side of the bay, so I might pack a tripod and have at them while the crowd groes. Tripods not something I use very often.
If one shoots high ISO and includes everything in the frame and essentially reduces its size, it'd look something like this. Egrets perch in trees often. When they gather under the walking bridge over the Spillway Steps, the trees sometimes fill with social egrets, and when they're nesting and egg-hatching the bird hatchery area is filled with hundreds of egrets, especially remarkable when seen from the top of the tall parking garage across the street. Still, it's unusual enough to make a nice pic when a single one perches in a tree halfway across Sunset Bay.
My favorite parts here are the five dashed taillight lines seemingly in the trees on the far side. Not bad that the ducks partially overlap both lake and trees. Then there's the grain, that I usually try to stomp out, but here, it's luscious.
I heard a distinctive call from the trees overhead. I must have seen this bird fly up, but I don't remember it. Not altogether distinctive, although professional birders probably know what it is right away.
Me being strictly an amateur, I don't know nuthin'. I looked through one bird book but didn't find anything. Used to be a much more experienced birder would charge through these journal entries and tell me where I went wrong. Often, I suspect. But I haven't heard from her in awhile, so I think I'm out in this wilderness alone just guessing at anything new. Luckily I know a couple birds by first names already.
Apparently Betsy Baker has given up on this Amateur Birder. Reader Susan Poelchau suggests this is the Great Creste3d Flycatcher, and I love the name, and the description, colors, crest, etc. all fit. Thanks, Susan.
Deleted exactly 250 of today's 268 shots, because they were complete blurs or total bores.
Happens a lot in this endeavor.
It's easier to find the best shots than to make them.
Most of those 250 were of barn swallows flitting up and down the Boat House Lagoon like fireflies, although they at least would have left con trails. What they were chasing is what they are always catching — bugs.
Barn Swallows are so fast, or I was so slow today shooting down the hill from my recently recharged AC in Blue, that mostly I got birdless or barely birded blurs.
Fun watching them, though.
Just before this, I saw them kiting around each other like a dogfight. When they landed, they assumed these positions and stared at each other and away, bouncing on the ground from one stoic position to another, almost as if they were going to bump breasts like Mallards do.
I'd seen them do this strange dance before, but never in such good light. Stiff upper lip. Both with their tails out in this shot.
After bouncing into each other's way for awhile, then staring off into space for awhile, one or the other would fly up into a nearby tree, look nonchalant for awhile, then go back down and start all over again with the bouncing and the staring.
Peculiarly enough, Sibley's Guide to Bird Life & Behavior doesn't mention this behavior I've seen at least three times — enough to classify it as a standard mockingbird behavior.
Looks like they've done this before. Have memorized all the steps. They know what they're up to. I'm still curious.
But the fact that they immediately follow the stance and stare routine with a single-wing variation on the much better-known flashing behavior, and Sibley says mocks "use wing flashing in their territorial displays," that has to be what all this is about. Makes a certain sense, really. Not so different from the way other species express our similar needs. Like the all-too-human, hey you, that's mine! stand and stare display.
The other mock is in the bushes, just out of my view.
That time again. When these birds that always baffle me crowd the wires till there's billions of them visible on every wire all around Sunset Bay, up around the baseball fields, all the way up to the retirement home and the apartments. And every year, I have the exact same problems identifying them.
Purple Martins is what they usually turn out to have been all along. Just because they seem to come in various colors and configuration, and my guessing always turns out wrong, I'm going with Purple Martins right up front. Knowing, just as certain that if I'm in a new place and wonder whether to turn left or right, whichever way I choose inevitably will be wrong. Of course, they're Purple Martins. Of course.
Oh, that's the problem. I was looking in the wrong book. My Smithsonian Handbook Birds of Texas shows Purple Martins to be purple. Sibley's Guide to Birds doesn't. Sibley's is right. They're not purple, at least not in this light, bright Texas sunshine late in the afternoon. Although Sibley does use the word "unmistakable." That's funny.
More from Sibley: Juvenile males this time of year and female juveniles all times of year have fine line streaks on their undersides. Adult females have "dingy gray-brown below with smudgy markings" and adult males — they're the unmistakable ones — are uniform blueish-black. The purple of Purple Martins.
Every year the Martins Come Back to Dallas like swallows go to Capistrano, only those birds go in March, and here it is the heat of summer when it is 100 degrees Fahrenheit as late as 6 - 7 pm these hot days. Don't know if they come here especially for all the bugs that grow ripe and fat in the unmown meadows or both just happen to be here about the same time, but they spend lots of time pulling bugs out of the air.
Thought it would be, but it warn't mom flying in to feed the kids. First time today I saw a juvenile Grackle with its beak open wide, I figured it must be hot. I was hot, why not it, too? Nope, wrong again. It was hungry. Lots of comparatively small grackles all over the place today had gaping wide beaks.
Standin' around with their beaks open.
Standing on the edge of the pier, this youngster looked like it were practicing flying. Or something. What it was doing, however, was trying to raise the attention of an adult grackle with food. Looks big enough to feed itself, but clearly it was expecting something bigger and smarter than itself to feed it.
But it was hungry for more, and the adult dutifully go it some.
I walked up across from the Dixon Branch, which is what MapQuest calls what I had been calling Hidden Creek, north of Sunset Bay. I was hoping to find some Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, but found my old buddy, the Sunset Bay Great Blue Heron instead. Always nice to see it, so I risked major bug bites by sitting on the ground attempting to cradle my camera still in the rapidly falling light.
I only rarely succeeded. Even the background is fuzzy here. The bird is massive fuzzy, but it's easy enough to see that it's stabbing at a fish or something under the surface.
Splashing after a fish.
Shaking and waggling it.
Eventually I realized that raw mode, that makes image files nearly five times larger — so takes up a whole lot of disk space — because it contains so much more photo information, would be the ideal format to photograph this darking heron. So I did. Got one shot almost right before I tired of the game. Note it's budding brown epaulets on its shoulder, top of the white patch on its breast, just below that stringy patch down its long neck. Handsome critter.
Earlier July 3
Earlier that same day Anna and Betsy revisited Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to check on the beak-broken mallard, George (formerly called Georgette) they'd taken a couple weeks ago. George will soon have a wire-frame beak attached to his cheekbone, and when that heals he'll get what Anna described as "a waffle-like mesh wrapped around the wire. Then they will use acrylic that will harden to the shape of a beak, making it easier for him to eat grass, etc. outside. As it is he has to stay inside and eat the food they give him in a bowl."
While there, Anna got these pix of other saved birds.
Looks like these two huddling masses of Barn Owl have their arms around each other for comfort on a towel among the Sports Pages.
The 70 or so American White Pelicans at White Rock Lake left on their usual departure date of approximately April 15. We don't know what these pelicans' issues were, but it must be horribly hot for them in summer's 100+ degree North Central Texas weather, although there's a pool in the darkness behind them, and a dry linoleum room beyond that.
First bird I saw the too-bright, already too-hot July afternoon was another killdeer. But it was way faster than I was sneaking slowly up on a Great White Egret skating along the murky bottom just out from the pier at Sunset Bay.
I was careful not to scare the egret, though my presence was enough to subtle it out into the bay, though its luck out there wasn't what it had been in close. Difficult to convince them otherwise, however.
While I was still creeping after the egret, I noticed a bit of clatter high in the trees up Hidden Creek, where I saw medium-sized birds racing around up there. Too far to know what I was shooting, although that became clear once I got those images larger. I was just chasing gray shapes.
They are my first Yellow-crowned Night-Herons of the season. Too far for my current lens. Maybe too far for any lens I could afford, although that zoom I've been considering has been gathering notice on the digital camera forums and in informal tests (dig the wonderful juvenile coot pix.) Some reports not that it's slow to focus or zoom, so maybe, just maybe, Sigma will fix those, then when it's about perfect, I can buy their new 150-500mm zoom lens. Maybe.
The bird, which I could only barely see, changed directions while I was still panning where it was going when I last saw it, so this one's rendered with trees streaming backwards in a couple directions, and the bird is much less recognizable. But I like the full aileron twist shown here. On an airplane those things control lateral balance. Probably on Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, too.
Though I shot a couple more times after this exposure, this is my last shot of those secret Yellow-crowned Night Herons. I'm just hoping I get to see more, closer, soon.
Meanwhile, back at the pier, a House Sparrow landed on the pier, then soon as I aimed my camera at it,
it jumped into the air and flew away, netting me one of the better of the jumping into the sky photos in awhile. Feet, fronts of wings, tail feathers in focus, everything else blurred in action.
I walked up the lagoon, but all I found was dozens of ducks hidden in the dark shadows under bushy green trees and this giant Muscovy Duck floating majestically along the far side of the creek.
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.