May 31 2007
Last day of May. Gotta
up the RAM on this thing, two new sticks to tripple the memory. Short, everything's
disappearing into the black. I like mockingbirds. This view doesn't make
them look dumb. This is sharp, smart like they are. Amazing song.
Spectacular fluttering white flash flight. Bright eyed and stiff tailed.
Sparkling eye. We have sun today late.
Scissor-tail with Bug
Another great tail. On a wire back of Winfrey. Common place
for a Scissort-tail. Gives them a fine view of everything for
miles. Every bug a buzzin'. Can't see its head or eyes or beak, but
the bug's here in its diminishing glory. And the tail. That tail. Architecturally
amazing. Cantilevered, yellow, black and white. Part of the wind.
The Sciz's Friend
I'll track this Sciz's friend and fellow wire-walker down
when I've had more sleep. It, too, made sudden leaping departures at acute
angles, out, down or up in quick successions, snag a bug in the middle of
air, crunch it down to the wire. As long as I don't separate from the bulge
that is car, they won't fly away. Twist inside to find a comfy place, okay.
Open the door to look up, and they're gone.
Blissed Out Whistler
Haven't seen its mate lately. Hope a dog didn't
get it. Saw deep, wide-paw dog tracks in the mud down the edge of the lake
today. Wondered. I've seen eyelids like this on the White
Ibises at the Rookery.
Didn't know that about the Black-beliied Whistling Ducks, though. May need
to sit and watch, 'stead of always clicksy-snapping. Slather on the Off and
stay sat for an hour or more. Mayhaps look over a book at them. Become one
with the mud.
Always thought the reason
butterflies and dragonflies were so visible, colorful and alluring was
some sort of cosmic aesthetic. But today I realized the real reason is they're
sporting bird food. Not easy to catch necessarily, but certainly possible.
[Later, after the story in the Dallas
Morning News, new reader Jim West wrote to say Monarch Butterflies
are poison to birds, and birds know it by their colors. I've seen
birds eat yellow butterflies but never a Monarch, so I googled it
and found two sites confirming the info, Enchanted
Learning and Defense
Mechanisms in Monarch Butterflies.
Write and learn. Thanks, Jim.]
Eastern Kingbird with Bug
Today, I watched an Eastern Kingbird fly an amazingly convoluted
flight path down from a tree, nearly into one of the backwater ponds along
the side of the Boat House Lagoon after our recent rains. Where I'd been
watching fat dragonflies. Change directions at least twice, wings — heck,
its whole body — flailing in the air. Surprising to watch, impossible to
focus, on my equipment, then fly away with something in its mouth.
Eastern Kingbird After Swallowing Another Bug
And not just once. I again thought that if I set up
a lawn chair under one of those deep shade trees, and kept my lens trained
on the pond, I might eventually catch a bird actually chasing one of the
bugs. I've got them from a distance — both foggy blurred out of this world
but vaguely recognizable. A big blur chasing after a much smaller blur.
Female Red-winged Blackbird with bug
As I watched and waited for the kingbird to return
one more time, hoping I'd be quick enough this time, to catch it
mid-air, I also watched a female Red-winged Blackbird and at least one male
Red-winged Blackbird doing the same thing. The place was buzzing thick with
Red-winged Black Bird Squawking
Pretty lucky to get the other two birds with just-caught
bugs. I'd watched and photographed those birds twist and turn to get the
larger (only ones I could
see) bugs in and down. But not in focus. It's always a minor miracle to get
one in focus. Never even saw a big-enough bug in the male Redwing's beak.
But this one was definitely engaged in the hunt, for something.
I can't see what, either, but regular readers know I love to catch RWBBs
flying, especially if I can get their beaks and eyes in focus and those luscious
red/yellow epaulets in the picture.
As usual, I also photographed growing ducklings today.
This adolescent Wood Duck duckling is flapping somewhat larger, more developed
wings than yesterday's Wood Duck duckling flapped.
Egyptian Goose Pair
Back with old friends
and new strangers today. Quickish photo trip, long walk. Also sighted a pair
of Blue-winged Teal, one Black-bellied Whistling Duck, a family of Wood Ducks,
a smallish stripey, pregnant-appearing bird that looks like an old man, and
assorted brown ducks.
Of course Grackles. Galore. Always everywhere. Today I
tracked a pair of males fighting very like the mockingbirds the
other day. Too quick to focus. They were going fast
through rough terrain with a lot of trees. And I was tired. I'll be watching
for more next time. 'Tis the season.
Who is this?
I've looked and looked for this duck with black
head with green sheen like a mallard male, but with these tan and brown marks
on its cheeks and eyebrows that I first thought were mud. And a mottled brown
front like a female of several duck species. I still don't know
what it is, but I like it.
Slightly Different View
Usually males have the color and the black heads. This
looks male, but I'm only guessing. It seems large, and the recessed shoulder
configuration is especially odd.
Betsy says: "Male Mallards and Woodies will molt
out of their lovely breeding plumage into drabber "eclipse" plumage
for awhile, at which point they'll be harder to identify. Telling them
apart from the females will become a tricky job -- you'll have to pay
attention to subtleties like the color of the bill. Check your Sibley
for the approximate dates that they wear their eclipse (also called "non-breeding" or "basic")
So, your "brown mottled duck with mallard-like
head" is in fact a
male Mallard, who is still in the process of changing his clothes, feather
by feather. He's supposed to finish this job sometime in June."
Female Duck for Comparison
But mostly for the texture.
Female ducks tend to be mottled brown. The whole of them.
Not just their bodies. I purposely shot this from an odd angle that renders
the duck in question spatially compressed, abstracting her stripes and spots.
Fem ducks may be less colorful, but they're no less beautiful.
More Mottled - A Female Red-winged Blackbird
My first guess was it's a female Red-winged Blackbird.
But it doesn't carry itself the way the RWBBs
I've shot previously did. However, it looks exactly the same, except for
And I couldn't find it anywhere else, which is usually
a sign that it is exactly what I don't want it to be in the first place.
I always want it to be rarer, stranger or more peculiar. And it's not, it's
the same old thing. Sure does look good here, though, contrasting so sharply
aginst the fuzzy green background.
One More View
Love those puffed out cheeks. All three shots are of the
same bird. Depending upon where it looks, it looks different. I keep wanting
there to be a website I could plug in individual traits — brown and
white striped breast, white eyebrows, back feet, short tail, chain-link white
on black design curving its wings. Things like that, then click and out would
pop what it is.
A female Red-winged Blackbird with muttonchop cheeks.
I continue to watch Mrs. Wood and her growing ducklings.
Baby Wood Stretches Its Tiny Wings
And they're cute, cute, cute. (See
also a Woodling
some days older.)
Smiling Barn Swallow with Big Eyes
We visited family and
stopped in Austin. Again. These are from the parking lot and driveway at
a Town Lake-front office building next to Joe's Crab Shack, where we
saw a flock of familiar-looking geese queuing expectantly. Mostly the same
varieties as at White Rock, plus one straggling Canadian.
Barn Swallow Front Quarter
And this. It looks like a Barn Swallow, but its coloration
does not jibe with what I see in my books of the usual suspects.
Certainly none there has the thicker black and wispy white marks on its
central breast. With this many shots, I'd think I.D would be easy.
It's almost as if it were showing its speedy streamlined form off to us,
turning slowly around to show all of its proud little self.
Barn Swallow Facing Right
The first time I've ever caught one so in focus.
Because, unlike all the others, this one was standing,
if not exactly still, at least not flying flat-out full-speed, zipping under
the bridge, then changing directions on the head of a pin and zipping off
into the opposite direction.
Showing Off Its Blue and White Wings
So I took my chances and sidled the car up close to
it — and its companion another six feet up the elevated drive — as
carefully as possible. It was either not shy or not worried about a car that
close, despite what might be protruding from its windows.
Back Quarter View
As it happens — I rarely plan these things; I shoot
and hope, never quite willing to assume success, I've failed so relatively
— this bird has provided detailed visuals in nearly every major view
I'm guessing my difficulty identifying this bird is due
to my assumption that its throat is the same color as underneath.
The books show it red. These photos, which I haven't manipulated in
Photoshop, show the same cinnamon color there, only maybe a little bit darker.
I guess that little bit is enough to push it on into red in many people's
Female Barn Swallow
was more skittish. Within four quick photographs, and just barely achieving
focus after I drove up to it, it flitted away. Note its undercarriage is
white, while its larger, less bashful companion is all cinnamon. A direct
comparison is possible with the image above, since both are from
nearly the same angle and distance. This bird was smaller and its
body closer to the ground.
Muscovy Duck A
These guys were hanging out in the bushes directly in
front of the building. It looked like someone had left food for them. A
few weeks ago I had photos of another Muscovy Drake, which I noted had far
fewer warts than the ones I'd become used to at White Rock Lake. I had not
seen these red with black face marking before, although that wave at the
top is familiar.
Muscovy Duck B
This one's wave has streaks of black among its white feathers.
And its face is mostly black, with an edging of red growth. Very distinctive,
and unlike any configuration I've seen or photographed before.
Muscovy Duck C
This one's head and face seem longer that the varieties
at White Rock. It's still difficult to call these girthful, gooselike creatures
Ducks, even though I know that's what they are. My recently sighted Egyptian
geese are much smaller than these ducks. Confusing.
Grack or Not Grack with Large Bug
When I saw these birds in the bushes on the edge of the
downtown Austin lake, I assumed it was a grackle. Now I'm only pretty sure
it is. But I've been so wrong so often judging and misjudging
Grackles, I won't go on record with an identification of this bird. I just
want to note that's the biggest bug I've ever photographed in a bird's beak.
Fighting or squabbling
or, well, probably not mating. Like an aerial dogfight, tumbling through
the air, together, all through the Boat House valley, often on the ground — or
near it. Up in the trees, along the power lines. Amazing to try to follow
their bouncing path with my telephoto. Astonishing I got this close to them
being in focus.
Regular readers know I often try to catch mocks flying —
it's about those bright white patches flashing on their wings when they do.
Here more than usual, since it is for them a display of ferocity as well.
You know, too, that I'd rather show bird behaviors than straight portraits,
but that I'll take what I can get.
Two Mockingbirds Merging Into One Battle Zone
I was shooting various aged Wood Ducks and ducklings when
I heard the ruckus and saw black and white and black and white squabbling
across the lawn. It's still spring, I can only assume they're fighting over
a mate or mating. Though they could be fighting because they don't like each
other. I'm still very much the amateur birder of the title of this page.
Betsy notes: They defend nest sites
and food sources quite vigorously, too, which might also have been what
was going on. My aunt was buzzed by a mockingbird when she got too close
(15 feet) to a nest tree, and on my recent trip to the Upper Texas Coast
I saw a lone mocker attempt to defend a fruiting mulberry tree from entire
groups of Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings and whatnot. It didn't engage
in any such aerial dogfight as this, though — those other birds simply retreated
individually but took advantage of their numbers to snatch a mulberry
whenever the mocker was chasing somebody else away.
An amateur who loves to follow bird chases and catch all
the action. I think this is my first bird fight this year. Certainly my only
Mock fight. I've seen their, 'hey, look at me, I'd be a great mate' jumps
and plummets and fly back up to the top of a tree, over and over.
In the Air as On the Ground - Mockingbirds Fighting
But this is the first time I've seen them fight. Intense,
fast, covers a lot of ground, trees, wire. But it was over pretty quickly.
I did not see them shake hands and come back as friends or any such, but
the whole episode was over in a couple of minutes.
Very difficult to focus or 'freeze' up close. The further
they were away while still in range, the sharper. Like these last two shots.
They disappeared once, came back still battling. Then disappeared and did
not return while we were there.
Egret with Wings Folded
Dark when I got there.
The egret a relief from gray. It flew off a minute later, this just a
hop. A day with an egret is better than a day without. In minutes it got
darker, then wet and wetter. Substantial columns of lightning.
Duck Walking in the Rain
I've wondered what birds do in rain. Today I watched ducks
taking a walk. White domestics standing, beaks into the wind while the horizon
turned invisible. Mallards whatever was convenient. These guys sucking rain
water when I arrived. Grackles may have noticed. Starlings were gone
by the time the rain started. Coming down in buckets when I shot this. I
was drenched just sitting with the window open. The ducks didn't care.
Baltimore Oriole Breeding Adult
Quick trip err-lye in
tha mawnin' to Sunset after taking Anna's car to the fixit. I was busy attempting
to subtle closer to the Egyptians, who were having little of it. Except one
apparently mauled on one side of its face — local dog? who couldn't see out
that side, so let me frame-filling close while it rested. But the light
was lousy dark, anyway. No local star shine.
Something Brilliant Yellow-Orange
Carrying a Different Tune
When I heard a tune I hadn't before. Maybe since childhood.
I only knew it was different. No memory for tunes, can think them,
recognize familiar ones, sing silent, but barely aloud. Can't repeat human
or bird's song, difficult to remember or match up. Must be a visual person,
Saw the vivid orange flitter
into a tree. Anna kept asking where? I wouldn't take my lens off to point,
eventually angled my view to include trees behind, so my cam didn't think
it was bright and so underexpose it. But the new view was less than pleasing.
I know this is sad, stupid and ugly, but it's part of life
at the lake. If it is dogs doing this, I know we'll never get them
banned, or even stop leashless dogging. But who could
blame new species from staying away from our usually lush environ?
placed sign prohibiting feeding the birds doesn't stop anybody. Course there's
no enforcement. This weekend somebody dumped a dozen or so full loaves of
sugared breads (the flies loved it; birds mostly walked on by) on the shore.
Bird safety is a joke.
May 20 & 21
writing obsessively about art lately
and getting journal pix printed for shows. More info later. Twice visited
the lake to see the Egyptian Geese Betsy told me about. In another email,
she said mine were the only local photos she's seen of a perched
Ibis. They've only been breeding here last couple years.
Nests near the ground, and "they seem to
make them far enough into the interior that we haven't gotten to see
their nests or nestlings — just flyovers when they take the fledged
Portrait of an Egyptian Goose
She pointed me to a note about "Exotic Egyptian
Geese at White Rock" in the Bird
Talk forum of the local Audubon site. I Googled Egyptians then hoped
to photo some. First time, after an art show, I had the wrong lens
but needed to be at the lake. Day after I was back for
these with the longer zoom.
Watched them plod through the mud, nearly sinking,
then remember they could fly. Though of several
color combinations, the distinctive feature is the dark patch around amber
eyes, tan bodies, pink legs, black feet and red brown backs reminiscent
of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.
Egyptian with Head Down
They look like thick-legged ducks.
I'm not sure what exactly identifies them as geese. These recent arrivals
are much smaller than our growing flock of domestics and fly-ins around
Sunset Bay and much less aggressive.
Two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks Up
Hadn't seen these two in awhile. They flew off while I
was tracking one of the Egyptians, though I'd got one boring shot of them
standing in the murky shallows, then these two photographs, where they get
to show off their rich colors and flying style.
… And Away
Especially appreciate the Whistler with wings out, big
pink flaps down to aileron low flight. Beautiful
Design. Simple colors. Deep brown radiating out into brilliant white,
carefully outlined in black. Lush oranges and golds on
a gray day.
Portrait of a White Ibis
Every couple weeks we
go back to the rookery, hoping to find new species. That's
worked out pretty well so far this spring. Today's prize goes to the White
Ibis, whose only territorial claim here is one of a long line of short dots
arching through here to the top right corner of Oklahoma then east that,
according the The National Geo handbook, indicates "post-breeding dispersal
in summer and fall."
Ibis Head to Toes
I shot this one through foliage, which
drove my autofocus crazy. It was not close, either, so the exposure
was thrown by very dark and very light areas in its vicinity. I shot
for a long time as it turned its head and body this way and that, blinked
eyes, opened its beak and flapped its 38-inch wingspan.
Long Curved Beak Open
Notice the filmy white covering over its eyes. Several
of my less stellar photographs show its white blink. Anna saw two. I saw
only this one. At first. I was jealous of her multiple sighting.
White Ibis' White Wings
A defining characteristic of of the White Ibis are those
eight black primary wingtips. The rest of it up to its face is white only.
One other Ibis pic that some people liked when I put it
on my DallasArtsRevue Member page is this accidental fly-through. Such fly-throughs
happen constantly in the rookery, because it is incredibly crowded in there.
The Great Ibis Flyover - a small detail of about 40
I've only rarely seen
Ibises before. One flying close to an elderly hotel in New Orleans
before the flood and a flock of White-Faceds over my brother's house in Central
New Mexico. Those were also traveling, with more altitude than these.
A magnificent sight as the sun shone through the trailing feathers in their
Little Blue Heron
Also caught a couple less rare herons — the Little
Blue Heron above and Black-crowned Night Heron next.
Black-crowned Night Heron with feet flopping
Shooting in and out of the darkness I had the exposure
index high for this one, but I'm still amazed by the detail and sharpness.
Cattle Egret Fluff
The rest of today's shots are of breeding Cattle Egrets
with their amazing fluff up, down and sidewise. You know how I go on about
focus and sharpness, most of which is concentrated on the tree leaves well
in front of this specimen. But look at that fluff. Rustish Mohawk up, fluff
out in every direction. New sight for me.
Same Bird, Different Fluff Pattern
This is another of those times I shot and shot and shot,
hoping either my poor manual focusing skills or my camera's auto facility
would get it right. We missed. But this shot of the carrot-nosed critter
is close. Love all that white finery back lighted by the sun.
Cattle Egret with Smoothed Fluff
This is as amazing a sight. Another Cattle
Egret, this one with the smoothed fluff look — poofed out yet with its irregularities
shaped into a fierce-looking fuzz ball. We saw more
Cattle Egrets in and out of nests today than any other species.
Cattle Egret Nests
Much of the rookery was riddled with dense twig and nut
nests like these, which were easy to photograph from afar.
Cattle Egret Nest with Furry Cattle Egret
But a booger to get up close because of
all the leaves, which very effectively blocks their view from
Anna had better luck. She got not just the nest but what
we think may be a fledgling Cattle Egret in it. We're not sure about
its age, but it is not at all fluffy and makes a nice shot that looks like
its eyes are bigger proportionally than if it were an adult. This also
marks the first time I've included another photog's image in this journal.
Betsy writes: I believe Anna's photo is of a breeding
adult Cattle Egret — I can see a bit of that pinkish-tan breeding color
on its chest between the twigs. Does it seem as though they constitute
half the birds breeding at the rookery this year? That's what it was
like the first year I got there during the cattle Egret nesting session.
The Old Fish Hatchery Area = Fitchery
Hadn't been in a while,
so I visited the Fitchery today, not really expecting to photograph birds
in all that green. I heard hundreds but was able
only to capture two. One of those on the edge of the area, out in real sunlight,
the other on the other side of the lake. I hope the above photo, however,
gives you some idea why I like so being in the Fitchery. Imagine a soundtrack
rich with bird calls.
Here's my one clear bird in the Fitchery. Even he's not
in all that sharp a focus.
I drove up to the power lines up to Winfrey to get this
Another Cardinal with A Bunch of Brown Birds
I'd hoped to find even more, but I'd already walked a couple
miles through the Fitchery and couldn't face walking down into Sunset Bay,
where I know there are always interesting birds. Driving up toward Barbec's,
I sighted this tree full of bird shapes, one particularly recognizable.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Jumps Down from the Wire
Today's main attraction
was at least one Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. I went to Dreyfuss hoping for
crows, a little hawk or some heron
(last time one flew me over at Sunset, it was headed for the Hidden Creek
area, but none of those species were in sight. Instead this. Mostly perched
on the wire, then jumping up to show off or down after some bug or another.
Scissor-tail on a Wire
He'd perch there awhile till he'd catch sight of something
then it'd jump up loop around, probably after a bug. Then back to the wire,
then moments later,
Plummet down a ways or all the way to the ground, catch
something — I saw it scramble hopping around, catch a yellow butterfly, bring
it back up to the wire and ...
Scissor-tail Chewing on Butterfly Remnants
Chew it up. It started out somewhat larger than this, then
our friend nibbled it down to here, then all the way.
After another bug.
Domestic Duck Crooning?
Not sure how that was even possible, but when I first posted
this page, I forgot this image. I also don't remember taking it, but that's
more credible. It certainly wasn't doing this when I decided to push the
button. Wonder who pushed its?
Flitter with a Flutter
Cliff Swallow on a wire. Not sure what that flutter is
all about. Nice breeze but no wind warnings. Warm in the sun. Cool in the
shade. Lovely day this close to Dallas summer.
I also spent long minutes
tracking down the Mockingbird source of a long, loud and rapid-fire
series of calls. Eventually, I pegged it in the deep shade about thirty feet
almost directly above. I got several terminally dull pictures
and left it with a vivid audial memory.
My friend, Fort Worth artist Billy Hassell, has a website
starting that's already pretty wonderful, full of real and imaginary
Western Kingbird - A Flycatcher by Any Other Name
Once again we started
atop Winfrey, filtered down the paths to Lawther, looped around against
the lake, then clambered up the paths again to the parking lot on top and
drove away. Lots of birds gone bugging in the glorious wild flower meadows
all around. I've grown to expect birds atop tall weeds as long as I'm nowhere
Imagine my surprise when this one lands close enough to
crop this. Brilliant yellow underneath, white-rimmed
almost triangular black topped tail. Mostly gray with little black feet and
shiny black beak.
Sorry I called this a Tropical Kingbird briefly.
Betsy admonishes: "Those white feathers at the sides of its tail tell you
it's a Western Kingbird, which actually spends the summer and breeds here.
A Tropical Kingbird would be an extreme rarity up here (so extreme that
no birder has reported one up to now, according to Jim Peterson's checklist
for North Central Texas), and you'd need to be able to recognize its song
to distinguish it from another extreme rarity for this area, the look-alike
Couch's Kingbird (which has actually been seen and heard on a rare occasion
or so). The two kingbird species that you can reliably expect to see around
here are the Eastern and Western ones. Neat that you found its nest! Very
nice shots, too."
Looking Up into a Kingbird Nest
Pretty sure this is what is says it is, because I saw another
(could have been the same, but there were lots more than one up and around
there this aft) yellow under, pointy black beaked Kingbird flitting in and
around this largish, expansive fuzzy nest. He tried to lure me away but I
was too interested in this, and ...
Cattle Egret Landing
... This in another tree close by. It'd probably
read in this journal where I said I'd never seen a Cattle Egret this near
the lake and came in just to prove me wrong. Not that difficult, really.
Great landing form, all its talons and fingers reaching for an impossibly
tiny landing point. Remarkably pretty bird.
Cattle Egret Escape
Minutes later, after hiding in the shade of that tree,
where I shot and shot and shot and only got a boring bird all folded in under
some dark branches, it took wing again, out over the lake.
Male Red-winged Blackbird Among the Wild Meadow Flowers
We also saw Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, lots of Mockingbirds,
various ducks a Yellow-crowned Night Heron and many Red-winged Blackbirds
chasing each other and insects all through that bright hilltop wonderland
of flowers and weeds and bugs.
Leading with its Epaulets
For several years now, photographing Red-wings through
that particular sun-drenched field is one of my favorite things to do. I
guess if I did it for several hours at a time on several consecutive days,
I might eventually get to a point where I could get more of them in sharp
focus, but I'm still asking Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairies for a telephoto
lens. I got this " " close to getting a TeleConverter last week
but UPS crushed it and my telephoto hopes again.
Red-winged Blackbird in the Tretop
Of course, their favorite place is at the top of something
really tall looking down on all that magnificence. It was cool today, probably
was a little warmer up in the sun.
Killdeeer in the Weeds
I got closer to this Killdeer today on foot, it in the
taller weeds with gobs of bugs all around all around than I did driving my
car up next to it on Lawther last week. I was slow and careful about it,
but I got within 6 feet of this less-than-shy bird with a lovely song and
quick-step dance, although mostly he just stood there waiting for me to go
away, so he could get some more bugs.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Fly Over
Right about then I saw a lumpy gray thing with shortish
body, black feet dragging behind and stumpy wings flying into my direction
at 12 o'clock high. Click click click till it was past over my head. Very
looking up at those big eyes. I'm hoping eventually
to photograph them on the ground.
After a wonderful orange dinner with my second favorite
mom, we visited Sunset Bay at the lake on a tad too busy day, overcast to
boot. Grackles puffing and elegantly head pointing for females we didn't
even see's attentions.
And what was left of another unknown bird. We really wish
dogs were banned from certain areas at the lake. Like wherever birds gather.
Far as we know Sunset Bay has the only Please Don't Feed The Birds sign at
the lake, and every time we're there we see at least one family merrily feeding
white bread to the birds. We're not at all convinced feeding them corn is
a whole lot better, although the bird diversity at Sunset is probably due
to regular feedings.
Big Baby Birds
These are the biggest baby birds I've ever seen. Distinctive
hat on the blond chick (we bet we know its mother), and check out that tiny,
fledgling wing. Cute, fluffy and precocious. One of each color. I'd been
hoping to find the next step up in size ducklings. These be they.
Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
Lake twice today. Drove
in the first time. Was driven later, after watching art openings with Anna.
Been noticing that birds seem much less afraid of automobiles than
people. I drove within a dozen feet of both these first two birds. I noticed
the Killdeer in the grass along Lawther driving toward Winfrey Point from
Garland Rd. That close, I could choose to exclude sky from the woody
and fill the frame with the Killdeer.
Killdeer in Grass
Not unusual a woodpecker shot, but pretty close for a killdeer.
Its eye is sharp. We can even see the orange-ish stipple dancing among
the medium brown feathers on its back. That close. Sharp lens, too.
Mockingbird Baby Demands Food
Parked on top Winfrey, walked down a path toward the lake.
In a scraggly tree on the way, this bird chirping constantly with what
looked like members of its family. This is not a tiny bird, or I
would assumed it's a chick and the open beak a need for food. Nobody delivered
any. But it kept up the chirp. Was still a hour later when
I walked back by homeward.
Same Bird Beak Closed
By this far down in a day's journal I should know this
bird's name. But we haven't been properly introduced. Handsome middle-sized
chirper with short orange beak, black eyes, gray rims, white ruff under chin
and breast spotted with little brownish specks. Black and white wings and
short tail. Unsub number infinity here.
Your chirping unsub from May 11 is
a fledgling mockingbird. The youngsters have those speckles on the breast
that the oldsters don't have. It's still got a bit of that orange flange
around the bill that makes it so easy for the parents to see and drop food
The several members of its family were
likely one or both of the parents and all the rest of its nestmates. After
leaving the nest, young mockers will pester the parents for food for at
least a couple of weeks -- altricial birds (ones that are born naked, blind
and helpless) seem to expect to be fed all their lives.
The parents have
to flee them or actively reject them in order to wean them successfully.
I remember watching three young mockers chasing a parent that was foraging
for itself on my erstwhile office's lawn one day -- the parent finally
flew under a parked car in its effort to evade them. - Betsy
I've been seeing the keets on this, far, side of the lake
from their digs on the hill overlooking The Pump House that has a fancier
official government name now that I always forget, for awhile. But this
is the first interesting shot. Not just them feeding on the grass. But them
engaging in a behavior — as if that's not what we all are doing nearly all
They were bumping beaks and cussing at each other. In squawks,
not words. Other, less interesting shots show that
each time they confronted flock mates, their mouths were full of food. So
I assume they're fighting over it. Food seems to be birds' most common reason
for confrontive behaviors, although it is mating season for a lot of them,
and that is always a potential cause for disagreement.
On that photo of the 'keets, my guess would be that
the one on the right is a youngster begging for food. Partly lifted, slightly
fluttering wings seems to be a universal food begging sign amongst altricial
birds. You also see it done by females of species that are sexually dimorphic
(such as cardinals) during courtship.
When the female is much drabber than
the male, that's a clue that she's going to be the one sitting on the nest,
since she's less visible. She and her babies will need to be fed by her
spouse, so she wants to see how he responds to food begging behavior. Since
male and female 'keets look the same, it's more likely that the one with
the lifted wings who appears to be begging is a youngster. It is the season
for youngsters to be about. - Betsy
Today's prize was getting to watch this
little Snowy Egret fishing in the shallows along Sunset Bay. I thought they
were shy. But this one let me get within about twenty feet. I was careful.
No sudden movements. Creep slowly. Stop and hold steady. Try not to sneeze.
Perhaps it was so intent on food it didn't pay
much attention to a goofy human going ka-clunk. My Nikon
is anything but quiet. Like Little Blue Herons who wiggle their beaks back
and forth above the surface to attract fish and crustaceans, this Snowy Egret
shook its feet under the surface. One at a time. Vigorously. Intensely. Not
splashing but moving some water, spreading concentric circle waves.
The Snowy Watches
Wiggle wiggle. Ripples on top and I don't
know what below — some turbulence. Wiggle a while and it'd catch a little
something. Wiggle more and more. I don't really think this one was looking
at me, but he did seem to glance in my direction.
Mr. Wood Duck, Sir
This and the next shots are from today's second and much
more leisurely trip to the lake. I shot a lot of pictures, this fairly sharp
wood duck is one of a long series of mostly blurries. I haven't seen a Northern
Shoveler, Black-bellied Whistling Duck or even a Blue-winged Teal in awhile.
But we have Woodrow J. Woodducks, and that's fine with me.
Why They Call It Sunset Bay
I've been arguing with myself about putting butterfly and
flower pix in this journal. I hate it when other people do that, and this
one is called "Birder's Journal," amateur though it may be. So no butterflies
— even those gorgeous big mothy black ones I've seen flapping heavily through
the meadows lately. Or the fat furry black bees with wide, single yellow
This may be the only sunset I've shot this year. Certainly
many years have been full of them. I'm learning there are more interesting
things to photograph. That's a duck in the middle.
2 birds new to me, if
not new to the lake, a fairly familiar flying bird, and
one traumatic event.
This handsome gander is familiar. A Muscovy Duck,
but not of the sort usually seen here. This one is blonde and nearly
wartless. More like the illustrations in the bird books than our Muscovies,
whose faces are covered in red growths.
The Full Muscovy
I'm a big fan of either variety of Muscovies. They're
quiet, gentle with the girth of a goose. I've seen them fly, but getting
that much mass into the air is an achievement. Lots of noisy flapping,
not much altitude. Handsome in their own way. Distinguished.
Woodpecker Defying Gravity
Significantly smaller, so light it can hang upside down
under a branch. It was its dark shape flitting among the branches I first
noticed. Never did hear it tapping, although several photographs show blurred
beaks and heads. I don't think I've seen
a woodpecker without red somewhere. This one has a black-tinged
dark amber cap and large area of dirty, yellowish brown on its otherwise
Woodpecker's Back — A Female Downy?
A similar vertical patch of dirty yellowish
is flanked by black bars on its back above, with typical
woodpecker ladder back spots below. Why no red? Is this a juvenile something?
A female? I'm stymied. Not uncommon. I don't call this Amateur for
nothing. But nothing in either of my field guides seems to match.
Woodpecker Becoming One With The Tree
Watching it, tracking it through my lens, I was amazed
at its blending. In the image above this one, I contrasted tree &
bird, so we could distinguish them. Otherwise unlikely. Here, I contrasted
everything, so we could see it, at all. Squint
a little to get the visual gist. Bird and this side of
tree were deep in shade.
Male Wood Duck Flying
Another flyer. Big, slow. This one in Sunset
Bay. And easily identified.
Dog Chasing Goose and Duck
We were some distance away when we heard a dog barking
amid a ruckus of goose and duck panic. We looked up to see this. A
dog dragging its leash racing toward them. Near to catching a
goose, then grabbing a smaller, less defensive duck. We shouted at the dog's
owner. He didn't seem concerned. Slow. Maybe just stupid.
Dog with Mallard in Its Mouth
I was couldn't see well,
vision lens limited. Anna said the dog snapped the duck,
probably trying to break its neck. By then several people were shouting.
The dog was doing what dogs do — when not held back its master.
Owner Running Toward Dog with Duck — The Flock Flees
Eventually. Finally. The dog's owner reacted to all the
shouting and ran toward the dog still thrashing the
duck. Gooses and ducks fled toward the lake.
The time between this shot and the first,
dog-chasing, is ten seconds. I'd often wondered
whether people were running dogs here, there's been so many murdered ducks
in that area.
Dog, No Trophy — 12 Seconds Later
Eventually, the dog responded to its family's entreaties.
It did resist when its owner told eventually shouted at it. But when the
whole family got involved, it finally desisted. We ungently reminded
them that dogs are required to be on leash at the lake. They insisted
it was still on its leash. They seemed in no way apologetic or
upset but gathered the six of them and two dogs and walked away.
I checked the area for Mallard body
or blood. I found neither and no wounded ducks.
Red-winged Blackbird Treetop Flying
Celebrating the rebirth
of my hard drive and to relax, we visited the lake. Hadn't
been to Singing Bridge in a while, so there. No real expectation of birds,
but I shot whatever I saw. Except for the Red-winged Blackbird flitting back
and forth between the tops of the same two trees, I've yet to identify any
of today's birds.
Epaulets Flaring in the Wind
Back and forth. Back and forth. Till I finally got it in
focus. Twice. Then it vanished into the leaves along Thistledown Road near
the edge of the lake opposite yacht club lane.
Random Compression - Eastern Kingbirds?
Several flocks of randomly compressing, apparently olive
gray tan birds flew us over. Or one flock round tripping. No idea who they
were flying over us. Now, a little like Cedar Waxwings. Are they still here?
Or maybe these still mostly unsubs:
White Bird Tree Top Watching - Eastern Kingbird?
Several on bare limbs at the tee tops
of trees, one after another. Usually I traipse through the bird books till
I'm either fairly certain what I bagged that day or completely flummoxed.
Tonight, I'm too tired to page. Happy to capture some few birds in focus.
Get to know them later. Tomorrow.
Moments Later, it tucks wings and dives.
Handsome little bird, though. Need sleep too much now,
but got to figure this one out. See what it's up to.
Cinnamon-winged Speedster - Barn Swallow?
This is too familiar to not know but at the moment I haven't
the faintest notion. Swallow? Of some sort. Flying low and so fast. I shot
dozens as I always do, and only got these sharp. Not sure why I bother, but
I always think I'm getting better — till I count the misses later that night.
Another One or Something Different
Mission accomplished. I calmed significantly. Birds do
Cattle Egret Flying through Basketball Court
Don't see Cattle Egrets
much at the lake. Last one I saw was a couple years ago, in the meadow
along the line of trees on Northwest Highway at Buckner. Then
just two. Lots at the Medical Center Rookery today. Almost didn't recognize
them it'd been so long. All white most of the time, but with reddish patches
in high breeding season.
Cattle Egret Catching Windy Thermal
Shorter like the littler herons, about 20 inches long.
Great Egrets are 40". Also according to the National
Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, breeding adults
are "adorned with orange buff plumes on crown, back and foreneck" and in
breeding season (here lately), their bills are "red-orange, lores purplish,
legs dusky red."
When they are fluffed up, on the ground or in trees,
they can look very formidable indeed. Or attractive. Or something to their
mates and potential mates.
Cattle Egret with Open Beak
Anna brought her
lawn chairs, and we sat inside the open-air basketball court phtographing
just into the dense forest that is the rookery proper. Not sure why its beak
was so wide open. Surely we would have heard a cry if it had been doing that.
Though the rookery is not a quiet place. Maybe it was yawning. Distribution
of the rusty patches is obvious in these two photos.
Cattle Egret Strut
Doesn't say so in the book, but I remember that Cattle
Egrets walk like an Egyptian, their heads bobbing forward with each
step, unlike the other egrets I've watched. These did. Small as they were
we thought they might be recently hatched young. But those rust patches
mark breeding adults. The grassy lawns outside the thick forest
rookery visitors are prohibited from entering had dozens of Cattle Egrets
pecking bugs. We saw two also pecking at each other, probably fighting
over food, although their motives are not obvious.
We also saw a smattering of Little Blue Herons, lots of
Great Egrets, a rare few Great Blue Herons and a few Black-crowned Night
Great Blue Heron Flying Low
Some days finding one
decent bird is enough. Today, a Saturday when the pier at Sunset Bay held
about thirty people with almost nobody else around in gray foggish landscape,
I saw this same (I assume) GBH I've been watching since late
last month when
it flew over me in the upper meadow.
It had perched on one of the trees out in the bay. Waiting for whatever
GBHs and Great Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants always wait for. Fish,
generally. I hoped to get out on the already fully populated pier before
he left. As close as I could get.
I got there just before it took off, first west, then circling
wide around toward the pier, then off to the north to the heavily wooded
area around half way across the bay. I had my camera set for
spot focus and I kept losing it to a gray blur, but these two shots are almost
in focus enough. Note the rusty epaulets, lack of white on the under wings
(I thought I'd photographed that day) and the classic tuck of its long neck
on this shot with the trees of Winfrey Point in the background.
Heron Landing on Overhead Wire — Elegant Form
Last couple days I've seen herons,
but they've been obscured by branches and leaves and too far away.
We semi-circumnavigated the lake today, I taking gobs of photographs of all
sorts of flying objects, mostly blurred and out of focus since it was
relatively dark and rainy.
last stop was the Boat House, where I spent many long minutes
trying to stop Purple Martins and swallows in their looping roller coaster
tracks. Also did Wood Duck babies and teens again to zero aesthetic
value. Then this bird flew into high view and landed on the thick wire over
My First Yellow-crowned Night Heron of the Season
Once it landed that close, I lowered my
exposure index ("film" speed), and held
the camera steady for less grainy (digital noise), more detailed images.
The Yellow-crown was nonplused by bridge traffic, so I moved
close enough to still get it from the side without looking up its beak.
finest portrait of a Yellow-crown yet, odd angle and all. Love
those fine feathered occipital plumes wisping back, reminding us it's mating
season, its bright eyes and those claws firmly gripping the cable.
Prey's Eye View
Oh, why not get as close as absolutely possible, even if
it means looking up its beak and leaning my kidneys into the bridge. This
must be the last sight many crustaceans, fish and shellfish ever see. Shiver.
Earlier, at Sunset Bay we watched ducks fight and try to
mate and Great-tailed Grackles engaged in attraction behaviors. We've seen
them hold their heads back as if they were watching something upstairs, but
I hadn't seen them bend nearly over backwards. Anna said she saw one bent
all the way touching its back. This is as extreme as I got it.
We'd seen them fluff up and prance and dance and emit incredible
guttural and nearly industrial noises, but this is the first time I'd seen
one do this. All part of the mysterious mating sequence of behaviors. Looks
Long-neck Egret Starts Its Show
Around the bend at the recent rainwater-sluicing
Spillway, we photographed egrets engaged in waiting for fish, showing
off various behaviors and what appeared to be fighting but may only have
been chasing. All this was beneath the walking bridge that shakes like a
queasy stomach ache every time a runner runs over it, making it difficult
to photograph. Where I used to stand, would still love to, is still fenced
off from where the April 2006 floods took away chunks of the landscape.
Great Egret Bending Back and Showing Off
I've only been watching these antics a couple years now
and have yet to properly parse all the activities. This looks
like a pure white version of the grackle bend back and was immediately
followed by a quick flight toward the other side chasing another egret.
Extreme Egret Ruffle
When it got back, it walked over to the edge of the concrete
ramp and did this. I've seen Egret Ruffles before, where they shake everything
they've got from tail to beak, but nothing as extreme or fuzzily all-encompasing
as this. Must be another of the attraction behaviors, not altogether dissimilar
to the grackles fluffing their feathers. Or something.
The Season's First Snowy Egret
We also saw our first Snowy Egret of the season. Hadn't
noticed till it flew across our view below the bridge. Then its bright yellow
feet were suddenly so very obvious.
Dark today and got darker.
Another day of low expectations, I drove down the west side of the lake hoping
to see something I hadn't, in awhile at least. Not sure egrets qualify, though
they seemed to be gone awhile, now they're back. Saw this one
deep in the weeds full in stealth mode first. Then he jumped into the air
and flew right by me. About as close as one ever has. I'm shocked the exposure
was this in range.
Stealth Mode Egret
I often type about filling the frame. This one didn't —
it's cropped, but the the next one up more than filled it. So close and fast
I had no time to zoom back, just clunk clunk clunk the shutter as it flew
me by and off.
Wood Duck ducklings
We've seen ducklings this age a couple times this spring.
They're new, but seeing them this age is not. Cute little black and orange
beaks, slash back eye liner. My favorite's the one in the middle with its
beak wide. The large ship shadow top right is Mom.
Wood Duck Teenagers
These are my first teen
Woodies. I know they're Woods, because Mom is just
to the left. With the shot above we have a visual progression.
Beak tips are still pink, but the black part is bigger.
Facial structure is warping taller. Eyes are bigger. They'll
grow into the new shapes. They're still fluffy, but their fronts are lighter,
whiter, now show their patented patterning. How they differ in that may be
a key to I.Ding sex.
Our kids are growing up.
expect such diversity as today's. Didn't seem like, poking along
the shore at first it could happen. Then, as the sky brightened, the birds
came out. Less shy. More colors, stranger shapes. Mostly old friends but
Northern Shoveler Just Standing There
Nothing new about a Northern Shoveler. They've
been around since March 22. Big beaks, beautiful
colors wrapped in this usually closed package. Today I was lucky enough to
see one fly, again, as it turns out, but strangely different. Amazing vision.
Northern Shoveler Flying - A
I have the expectation of flying birds with smoothed
edges. Streamlined. Having seen and photographed this one so I could prove
it — I wonder how
he so contravenes the laws of physics. How could those wings raise its
Northern Shoveler Flying - B
The right overall shape. Bird. But so skinny and wingspan
Tail feathers sticking out, I suppose, and that hard edge V.
Northern Shoveler Flying B'
Look at all that dishevelment. Loose feathers of many colors
Northern Shoveler Landing
They know what to do when doing needs it, but they're not about to conform
to notions of what a bird's supposed to look like when they do. Impressionism
in the guise of flapping over water. Beautiful in an alternate reality.
She's Still Sitting
Down the coast, our brown lady gooses
still sit their respective eggs. Anna counted five big goose eggs
under this one yester. They sit and wait, always adding more bits of clutter
to warm the nest.
I see the Churkey almost every time I'm there, and I'm
leaning toward the chicken side of identity. I heard it chortle, and it chortles
like a chicken. No gobble noises. This bird is a clucker. She (if
she is a she) seems now to see me as less a threat. Doesn't run
away quickly as before. Yesterday, I saw her fight off a grackle. No doubt.
She was in charge.
I asked my friend Marty, who knows about and keeps chickens,
what this Churkey beast might be. She says it is a "a Rhode Island Red"
chicken, and because of her "short red top" definitely a she. So she's
probably a local escapee not a visitor from another city, state or country.
Spotted Sandpiper Closer
I'd seen two sandpipers earlier out on the mucky
crust of shore. But they flitted away while I was still contemplating photography.
So I was startle amazed when this Spotted Sandpiper walked right up to me
standing still, then stiller while still going click. Within three feet.
I was in quiet, nearly motionless awe.
Spotted Sandpiper Dipping
It was catching something. Dip, poke, snag. Lots of little
somethngs that were so, even this close, invisible.
The piper stayed busy with them till, suddenly it flew off.
A close encounter with, if not an entirely new species, an only slightly
Four Male Wood Ducks and a Blue-winged Teal
Wood Ducks have mostly kept on the far side of
the creek. Too far for my lens. Today, at least a half dozen dawdled on
this side. Several on that downed tree just into the lake, a couple
more walking up the hill. One with a female, so mayhaps we can expect
Wood Ducklings soon.
Two Male Wood Ducks on a Log
Here's front and back view in one shot with
muddy webbed feet. Close enough and sharp I could
print a really big print were I of a mind to. Gorgeous ducks, so nice
to see them up close, almost personal.