I shoot a lot of photographs every time I shoot at the lake — Tuesday through Friday plus a catch-up like this one every once in a while. Maybe end of month. A lot of those shots aren't immediately obviously any good at all. I sometimes add later pix I rediscover. I'm not sure if these qualify. Egret as pretzel. Except there's some tension here. These two are not cozying together.
It's not a fight, and it's not really a chase, either. It's tête-à-tête with attitude.
And I'm not sure I want to show these shots, but I'm doing it anyway. I should note that none of these images were actually shot on September 30. This date is today, very early, as I put this collection together to tide you — and me — over till Monday is over again, and we can do the lake thing daily awhile again.
Remember the "screaming terns" I spoke briefly about last week? These are they. Me holding my camera very very still (image stabilization helps). It set at ISO 100 or 200, so I can resolve smallish (13-inches long) gull-like bright birds out in the middle of Sunset Bay. A lot of them out there, and I don't know much about them, except they fly back and forth, more or less parallel the the lake's edge, hardly ever coming to shore.
What exactly they are doing, I don't know. Or understand. Often, birds that fly back and forth are catching bugs. It makes a sort of sense that some special bugs fly out in the middle, and these guys catch them there. I plead ignorance, have just begun to watch them.
But they're moving targets. At the low ISOs I have to use to blow very small portions of up this size, so we can see them, I won't be shooting them in intimate settings or in low light. This may be as close as I get. At least till I find out where they stand around awhile doing much less.
Consider this an introduction. I don't know what the guy in the middle is saying, or why the one on the right is just staring off into space, but I like the curve of the landing one's wings.
Each of these shots gives a slightly different view. More details as we put together — or begin to — who these terns are.
Gradually, we'll at least recognize them when we see them next time.
Even if it takes a long telephoto lens and a strong magnifying glass to see them at all.
I may be overly fond of this critter, whom I see often as I go there, which since the pelicans showed up a month early, and that's where they generally socialize and sleep, is often. I like the off-kilter composition and the fact that the cormorants are very obviously there but not doing much. Nice contrast to Mr. Nearly Always Busy.
This is not a perfect shot. It's a little soft, and the background foam and brown is a tad too busy against that solid, fluffy white Snowy Egret with his (!) dander up, chasing every other bird away from his special territory, wherever that might be.
Luck is probably at fault for most really interesting photographs. Beautiful, elegant or intricate photographs or series may take talent. But this strange but interesting series of a Great Blue Heron and a sudden, splashing and foaming off unsub submarine entity was pure lark. I was photographing the GBH. Because I always do and because I might not get another as good today. It felt that way already, and it stayed true.
Part of the luck involves the fact that I did not walk along the lagoon. Instead, I shot from Blue parked on the wrong side of the road back to Lawther, returning from the Boat House Loop. Patience didn't get me these shots. It was pure stupid luck.
At least a half dozen times while walking along the Boat House Lagoon, I've heard a sudden splash very near me, and sometimes a hard landing grunt from an unknown and unseen ... something. Marmoset? Mink? Sub Mariner? I've every time wished I could photograph the heavy-splashing phantom. Now I finally have — and got to watch a Great Blue Heron being startled, then typically nonplused and perhaps still staring off into space because of it. And I still don't know what it was. Anybody have a guess?
These now, are the photographs I mentioned yester you might never see. I wasn't sure they were good enough. Now I've spent some time with them — didn't have enough of that last night when I did yester's more interesting and later shots — I like some of them a whole lot.
One never really knows why ducks chas each other. If it were mating season, I'd guess it was that. But it's not. But they were really getting it on.
Later (but earlier before the Pelicans Fishing into the Dark) Charles poured grain on the ground for the ducks. His gooses get fed later. Get the ducks fed first, then bring in the geese.
Imagine the sound of several hundred ducks, not quacking, more like vibrating a gravely huma-huma-huma. Ducks of various species, but mostly mallards, some coots, one pair of Wood Ducks in their full colors, a bunch of domestic white ducks, that Goose-stepping Gray (front right).
Hoping, once again, to catch pelicans flying this late evening. But no. I shot some other shots that you may or may never see. That happens every time. Tonight I concentrated on Pelicans fishing at night in a group, since that's what, finally, they did. All nine. We're not sure whether they're scouts, or they just got here first. If they were scouts, how would them get word back to the rest? And what would they say? It's still hot here, 93 degrees F today, this late in the season. But then, they're about a month early. There's usually early arrivers, whoever they are.
We purposely met late. It was cooler but not why. And it sure wasn't for the light, lovely as it was into the cloudless setting sun. Maybe because it's different. These shots are, if anybody wants to know, from ISO 1250 to 2500. You'll notice more visual noise as the night goes darker. Some shots seemed to need polishing. Others preferred being grainy.
In my brief, four-or-so-year experience with them, pelicans generally fish in groups. I've seen as many as 70 (about the max number I've counted when our full contingent of pelicans is here) out in the middle of the lake, in huge armadas with a lot of other species, usually mostly cormorants, sweeping up and down great portions of the lake. I especially remember that going on between me on Lawther off Garland Road and the Pump House across the lake. Long telephoto shots away.
The strategy is for them to gradually hem in large schools of fish, drive them into shallower water or into each other's pouches. I always think of old Esther Williams swimming routines as they swim all in unison, dipping and tilting back, often in exact unison. Their form at night is not much different from during the day, them often holding their wings up off their bodies as they thrust their pouches down to fill up with fish.
Back and forth, up and down, near and close, into the night.
There's lots more coots and cormorants lately, and they've yet to take up mob residence across the lake at Cormorant Bay. Here, they're mixing in well with the Great and Snowy Egrets and ducks, all patrolling the shallow waters. And there may be fewer ducks. The goose population, however, seems to be stable.
Spent time over the dam today, to see what I could see. Did not get there up the hill. When I do that, I usually get sidetracked shooting the same birds around the Steps. Today, I parked by a mansion on a side street and walked over to the dam directly.
Kinda shooting into the sun, which made everything soft. Interesting new texture to deal with like the interesting new bird(s). I was fascinated by the tiniest birds in sight, about six inches from stem to stern. Black, slightly curved down pointy beak; greenish-yellow legs and feet and auburnish stripes, striations and squiggles along head and back. White under. Fast, scurrying from place to place at great speed, those little legs fluttering. Then stop sudden, peck at something and scurry off.
Not sure what these birds are or whether I have enough information. Probably I should know already. Only thing I'm certain of is they were smallish — about Starling size. And they were mobbing the puddles just before this shot. There may be some grackles mixed in, but I don't think these are they. Too small. Too brown. I supposed I should spend time with my bird books at the shots of them I liked a whole lot less. Less blur.
Of course there were egrets there. That's who I saw driving by that made me loop around, come back, park, walk and shoot around the dam. There's always egrets, of course, and it seems like I'm always photographing them. I don't see any reason not to continue that practice.
This is not what I thought I saw through my viewfinder this afternoon. But it'll do rather nicely. These shots have a completely unintensional sepia tond lookk to them but they're straight old RGB digital photographs. I love the bright white, almost soft looking foam splashing down under the dam.
And since I was there and Great-tailed Grackles were there, and they were flying right by me, why not take the opportunity to do some shape-shifter photography? Just made visual sense.
Didn't always get them in sharp focus, but it was shape I was after.
This time, I think these were grackles. Probably more than enough information for an expert birder. I don't know how much longer I can claim to be an amateur (possibly forever; I doubt I'll ever catch all the way up), but it's great excuse for now.
Last time we visited Sunset, we saw no pelicans. Gone Fishing, we supposed. Hoped they hadn't decided it was too hot here and gone somewhere else. Last we counted, there were only nine. Today, noon-thirty when I got to the lake, two pelicans were slowly sweeping the bay, dunking their heads at almost the same moment, swimming slowly, serenely around..
Back and forth, up and down the bay, hardly noticing anything else out there. They swam behind the Great Blue Heron swimming one way and in front of it coming back. Unconcerned. I worried what might happen if they caught a fish in its vicinity, but they did not. Common courtesy or long-term planning? Concentrating, if that's the right word, on the task at beak.
90 degrees hot already on this bright blazing day, and lots of birds were about — cormorants, a Snowy Egret fishing on one side, the resident Great Blue Heron not far off the pier, several Great Egrets mostly just standing around waiting and a flock of high-squeak screaming little white birds on the big downed tree out near the middle, possibly Forster's Terns.
A busy place. After a while the Great Blue tired of where it was, flew toward the Hidden Creek Forest. The Snowy flew out into the bay and the pigeons wemt round and round, landing and doing it again. Paddling slowly, the only pelicans in sight — and I telephoto panned far and wide — crisscrossed the area, swimming along till on some unseen signal, both splashed their heads into the water, kept heads and beaks under awhile, then resurfaced.
After awhile, they separated somewhat and began dredging operation, dragging their enlarging pouches, beaks open, under the surface. From what is visible here, we can tell the pouch drags back at an angle, and that the upper mandible is far separated from it, allowing more room for fish. I've seen pix in books, and it is an amazing sight. Mouths open, seining the sea.
Within nanoseconds of an egret catching a fish, its neck thickens as its throat expands. Pelicans' pouches do their expanding as they fill up on fishes. Compare these considerably expanded pouches with the thin stilettos they were when the pelicans first rounded the Great Blue several shots above. In fact, there's a slow filling in today's photographs. Note the tilt-back gullet expansion on the lead pelk, while the other's neck's still pencil thin.
Saturdays at the lake are a frenzied, busy place. People running. Bicyclists cursing everything that moves. And my favorite perch over the Lower Spillway Steps (till they fix the supposedly retaining walls) constantly bouncing with feet padding over its span. I always remember how little I like the lake on weekends after I forget all that and go there then 'cause I go there during all the rest of the week. Glad there's gobs of people who come there weekends, so The City mows the weeds bugs jump off to bite my ankles, empty the Port-O-Lets, etc. But all the more glad for me being there usually only on weekdays.
Another of my great lessons today was that there are two spots on the Walking Bridge overlooking the lower Spillway Steps that don't bounce, even when dozens of emaciated runners are jogging over it. I discovered that by side-stepping nearly all the way across, after first accidentally finding one place where the queasy, gut-wrench twisting clunks that bobble my camera nearly absented. Nice discovery.
Pretty obvious when I looked at the bridge from the side again after, but discovery nonetheless. The two nearly steady places are where the supports hold it steady, where the guarding rail splits. Where, in that suspension bridge, the least suspension goes on. Where J R and Anna will likely stand next time we're up there shooting birds below or flying by.
I wish I could lure the pelicans ("The Other White Birds") from Sunset Bay to fly around in this semi-unnatural amphitheater, so I could capture them up close and personal. But they're too big and don't seem inclined toward closed-in places. I couldn't stop in Sunset Bay today. The girl directing traffic there pointed me to drive down the track toward Winfrey, wouldn't let me turn into the closed-to-traffic parking lot — or turn around and go back.
I explained this was a one-way street, so her suggestion to turn around wasn't practical. No, it's not, she insisted, standing right in front of one of the larger One-Way signs at the lake. I pointed to it. She said, "Oh," and I turned around and drove the wrong way on that one way street, feeling very much like a bicycle, vehicle or not.
Mostly egrets, although I saw and got really blurry shots of a Great Blue Heron who flew quickly through low and inside — and these unsubs who flew medium high over my head one of those times I was aware enough to look up and not just down into the pit of rising egrets.
Why I went back and settled at the Lower Steps. That parking lot was full, too. But cars lined the grass along Lawther off Garland at the 7-11, so I parked there, walked the few feet to the bouncing bridge and shot and shot and shot.
Some bird new for me is always exciting, even if they only fly over. Definitely black under wings, because we can see where it goes white. So it's not just a white bird flying in its shadow. The black spots on their eyes are visually intriguing, also. Long (for wading?) orange legs and feet trailing behind in flight like a heron or egret, black underwings (probably overwings, too), shortish black pointed beak. At least the underside of the body is white and there's that black eye spot. I guess I could just call them spot, but I don't see them in my bird books. Yet. Wonder who they are?
So I asked Betsy Baker, who replied, "Your black-and-white birds in flight with the long orange legs are shorebirds apparently migrating south (assuming they were flying south) [They were.]. You'll be surprised to learn they have a white spot surrounding the eye, inside what appears to be a black spot from underneath but is actually a black cap that curves under the eye. Have a look in your field guides at the Black-necked Stilts — that's what they have to be -- nothing else in this country looks quite like that. First time I can recall seeing them from that angle — I'm used to seeing them standing in water. Very elegant birds — one of my faves.
Keeping focus sharp on a big bright white bird flying right toward me (as it made an aerial turn) is difficult for an auto focus and exposure camera and photog who likes to keep his subjects centered in the frame, where all the focus spots are especially when they're not. This is full-frame cropped off the left.
It's not easy to see what's going on through a telephoto lens. Sometimes I just start clicking away when I see something bird-like moving. Only after about the fourth shot (.8 second) did I realize I was shooting the reflection, not the bird. I probably thought it would catch up in a couple flaps.
And it did, but all I got were the tips of wings, splayed dark feet reflecting in the pond that feeds the steps, and a bright wiggle of white.
Oh, and consider these my Monday entry, because I've got two large projects this Monday (a day I usually skip in this journal), and I won't have time to wander the lake.
So we visited Sunset Bay early in the morning hoping to catch the pelicans doing something besides standing out in the middle of the bay preening. And the one shot of a pelican that I actually liked today has a pelican out standing in its bay. Its beak is wiggling as it munches at a feather or a bug in there or something. The second cormorant in from the right has its head upside down. I'm not sure why. But the whole scene, carefully composed to include one of the norther yacht clubs and both the walking Singing Bridge and the driving Mockingbird Bridge (though it's difficult to tell which is which this fuzzy) behind.
This is one of those times when a Pelk wiggling its beak did not lead to stretches and fold-backs.
I had hoped as I always hope during the time of the pelicans for pelican action pictures. But since they weren't engaging in any action, I contented myself with other birds. Like gooses, which may be smarter than I think they are. They have a whole long story unto themselves, and as I figure it out — asking Charles, of course — I hope to relate it here. Meanwhile, whenever any bird flaps its wings, I shoot. This is one in a series of about a dozen. Was a real booger figuring out which one was best.
Pigeons circle in the sky to get their bearings. Even if they did the double or triple circle in the sky routine not more than five minutes ago. Geographic memory retention is not their strong suit. Not sure what might be. But When birds fly close enough — or even way too far out — I photograph them. Sometimes even pigeon circles make good photographs.
Too far like this. Blurry from being blown up so far even though illuminated by the early morning sun and bright against a dark sky
Actually, these ducks do not seem to qualify as their own species of ducks. So I'm guessing (as often) they're domestic ducks with particularly attractive markings. And they seem to be a pair. I've photographed them together before, although I don't think I've run their picture. I like Anna's term of Preacher ducks. Then again, they could be Mallards with a post pre-de-molt scheme I don't know about yet. Handsome critters, though.
What got me thinking about post-molt ducks is this male Wood Duck, also at Sunset Bay but from last night. Just when I was getting used to Wood Ducks looking like Mallards looking like everybody else who's molting, comes this guy with full clown colors and stripes. Not sure what it is about Woodies, but nearly every time I get a good shot of one or two or many, there's nearly always a bug of some sort up in the corner of the photograph....
This short series of photographs of American White Pelicans flying is why I was standing out on Sunset Bay pier talking with my good friend, painter Richard Ray. He was photographing the scene for future paintings. I was photographing birds for this. We were both also photographing each other.
You can see the visual noise here. These shots were taken at from ISO 1,000, which is close to double my normal, up to numbers my Nikon uses letters for, meaning around 3,200 as night fell — ISO 6,400 if you count the more or less intentional underexposure and consequent over post-production. Richard and I watched the big red sun go down, then I kept at photographing birds (mostly egrets and gooses at first), waiting — hoping — for the preening pelicans to go into the air.
As it got cooler, they finally did. Here are one pelican and one egret essentially flying in parallel, showing very different flying forms by the two biggest whitest birds in the bay, pelks being the bigger of the two with their 12-foot wingspan. Great Egrets' wingspans, by comparison, are a little more than four feet, so I'm guessing the egret's a little closer.
One pelk, probably the same as above, flies out among the evening's gathering of egrets in Sunset Bay. I think the egrets may be sleeping there these getting-cooler nights. That dFine software I made such a ruckus about last month, then de-re-edited all that whining, has become a steady source of very low pixel noise in photographs with very high ISO, except sometimes, like this next shot, I kinda like the noise better. Now, I have a choice.
I also hoped to capture my precious pelicans swimming and maybe en masse fishing. I guess that will have to wait. But they did swim. Why I shot this photograph, but what makes this image is the quacking, comparatively much smaller and darker duck.
On Thursday evenings the Hobie dealer brings a bunch of kayaks to the lake, so people considering buying one can try them out. These folks may or may not have any intelligence. They may or may not paddle right through the big middle of all the birds. The canoe/kayak folks, however, give no instructions about couth or sense.
Of course that time I got to play with one of the $1,000+foam kayaks, I was delighted and excited about getting no prohibitions, since I flip-flopped what seemed like miles and miles up White Rock Creek, which trip preceded and precipitated this journal. Watching this bozo, I wondered whether he would enjoy someone driving through its backyard ...
Many of tonight's shots tend more toward the experimental than the illustrative. I just click away at whatever ISO I have to use. What I get sometimes seems experimental, because of the light or visual noise from high ISOs or camera technique (usually blur). But that's all just what happens. I plan. The Universe laughs. What works when the Universe laughs, I call experimental.
These shots are not in chronological order, but this is a nice place to stop, even though it has no pelicans in it. I said the other day that the egrets were back in Sunset Bay, then in the middle of day, they weren't. But at night they come back in force.
The pelicans are back! I thought I'd visited the lake too late for birds today. And too hot. 92 degrees. I saw some egrets out over the bay flying into the shore on the other side and the Forster's Terns that almost always stay far out into the bay. And the gooses, of course. Always the gooses; they're so familiar I didn't even photo them. All white birds. I was expecting lots of egrets, and the first times I shot these guys, I assumed they were egrets. But they're not.
Last bird I expected to shoot this warm late summer day was American White Pelicans.
I usually tell people the pelks are here six months out of the year, from mid-October to mid-April. And that was true for a couple years. Last April, however, they were gone before that. Still, September 19 is the earliest I can remember them beaming down from Canada. Of course, I've only been aware of specific birds and especially pelicans for maybe the last three years.
I kept promising I'd do one of my species specific pages on pelicans, then never got around to it. Others, especially the Egrets, Herons and How to Tell the Difference have been very popular, I suspect linked online somewhere I've never been. Maybe it's about time I started. And I only have about seven projects starting lately.
This series exhibits one of the more extreme American White Pelican behaviors — I have not seen their mating rituals. I'm sure somebody has an official name for this stretching. I call it by a variety. Beak Stretch. Mouth Meld. Yap a tap a too eee.
In this shot, this pelk wiggles its lower mandible. There's so much bright blazing sunlight out there, though, it barely fuzzes any movement. But this lower lip is jellowing as it shakes its head. We have, I hope, many more pelk pix in our near future. I always start thinking about long telephotos when they're around, but there's not one I can afford that has Image Stabilization, so I'll probably have to do without.
This last shot (Actually, the above images are presented in reverse chronological order.) seems tame till you compare this beak with one of the long, thin, pointed ones on the two pelicans preening away at the far left of this chorus line.
This is another bird altogether. And another when, though not more than a few minutes away. The whole, infinitely variable sequence usually only takes a few seconds. Often the time between one birder saying, "Oh, wow, look!" and the other looking at the exact spot saying, "What?" I've learned over their last three visits to recognize the early wiggle stages of this routine, start clicking and just hope to catch the rest. Five frames per second helps.
The prime purpose of all this elasticity is for the pelks to get their mandibles stretched out underwater while they do their Esther Williams close-order synchronized swimming / fishing routine, driving their prey into shallow water then engulfing them with those stretchy faces. Truly a face full of food.
It's not something they do all the time. A watched pelk never wiggles is almost true. But if you devote your full attention to a gaggle of them, sooner or later one or another will feel that deep need to wiggle and stretch.
Gosh it's been such a long, long time. I had to catch up with a humonga art opus from whence pays more bills than this does, then shots I took Sunday, I, me, myself, my bad — I formatted the CF card out from under some pretty amazing images I shot Sunday after Anna's birthday. I formatted it, wiping about a hundred or so images. First time I ever did that in the year and a half I've had the camera.
So I still got pix left over from last Friday but I go haywire awhile downloading and failing to upload software that re-dredged the pictures from Sunday afternoon. Back and forth all day, finally I find out they sent me the serial number for another software most of their clients buy not the older more decrepit one I bought. All that straightened out now, got the pix back. They nice.
I'm back. Thought I was thisayem but I got sick instead of bird pictures. Now I'm better again. Thanks for asking. There might be one more of these salvaged images, then we'll go back into time and pick up where we left off with egrets last Friday —
There's gobs of egrets back at Sunset Bay. Suddenly it seems. Doing all sorts of things out there. Mostly looking amazing, pretty and eminently photogenic. But enough of the recent past, lets drop back a little longer ago.
Here we are back last Friday after I shot the Great Blue Heron flying fast, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher standing on a wire past the cop car and the questionable cormorant out in the bay. These shots are some of my favorite shooting. Big birds — something to focus on — flying right by me, not to my purpose exactly but aiding and abetting theirs, which normally I cannot even fathom. Who knows what impels them to fly me by. Sure glad they do, though.
This is different from most of my Egret-in-the-Air shots, because of all the detail in the feathers on its under side. Detail in its long black legs, toe-nail detail, detail in its folded under neck feathers, bill, and we could almost see its eyes, but not quite. Not sure how it got lit this near-perfectly, but it's a first for me. Nice. Very nice.
Gray-legged egret flying toward a perch in the trees.
Handsome Little Blue Heron on top of the Steps watching out for whatever happens next.
Okay, now an amazing sequence I'm astonished I managed to catch , even though the camera was set wrong and I had no idea what the bird was down and downer to. Just clicked along as it did. I've seen lots of shorter jumps into the water for fish but never anything so spectacular and mostly in focus. Surprise!
Looking like a big white Kingfisher with a long yellow beak, this big Great Egret dived down into the drink from high perch with one thing on its mind. A fish it could only see from up there, I'm guessing.
Head just this side of bursting through the surface, legs into the water with a very tight splash, what's it after?
Got it. No digging around down there. Sploosh, grab it. Beautiful mirror-winged, big fish-catcher. This being the best shot since last Thursday, probably should go on top of today... er... this week's pix, but I wanted to get back through a couple days ago first. No excuse. Sir. This looks like one of the images that could go on the wall at the White Rock Lake Museum in the Bath House for my show there January through mid April next year. Not perfect focus but great composition and a really big fish caught.
Yeah. Fly off with it. That egret had been perched up there for long minutes if not short hours. Waiting. Watching, maybe a preen or two. Then leaped in the air, almost straight down below that perch, into the water. And somehow miraculously, I got it each step of the way, the only throw-aways the way too bright shots from the Bracketing exposures I'd set it at before and forgot, again.
I need my camera to have a warning, like a back-up beeper or "Warning Will Rogers, Warning Warning! You set me on bracket again. You sure you wanna do that?" Beep beep.
More pictures of birds flying, standing or shaking it all up.
Fewer words here, near the end.
So much for that much today from four and two days ago. Tomorrow is another ...
Today was three days worth of photography. I found the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the wire down the hill from Winfrey, just past a cop cruiser enjoying his air conditioning. From there, I parked down the hill and walked down into Sunset Bay, where I discovered a short series of birds worth photographing.
I knew he was turning to show off his tail. I didn't realize he was doing this little hop. He didn't fly off, just did the little hop as he turned to check out everything he could see from his lofty perch, down the overgrown meadow out into the lake.
In Sibley's Guide To Birds, he shows the Neotropic Cormorant as having darker brown breast, not yellow brown like our usual brand here. If I could see its lores better, I might know for sure. If it's not a juvenile, I'm as all wet as it looks, and all is normal. I'm not sure if I can tell normal anymore. Neos have darker lores than the Double-cresteds' orange. This cormorant may just look different and not be all that at all.
This is, most likely, the same Great Blue Heron who hangs out in Sunset Bay almost every day. I was hoping to catch it just standing there. Was sneaking up all subtle and slow. It saw me stealthing up, jumped into the air and flew away. So much for subtle. Never my strong point anyway.
It was too bright out there to check my LCD to see if I caught this bird. In bright sunlight (nice to have otherwise, makes photographs like this possible and pretty wonderful) the LCD shows darkish black. I hoped but had no reason to think I'd got it, so, thinking I had not, I moved down around the lake back to the Spillways Steps, where I'd seen the (lately at least) usual mob white scene scattered into the dark green trees.
This is where we get into the three-days-in-one theory. Here begins Day Two. All total today I shot well more than 500 shots. Unusually, I got a high percentage of really good shots in all that. The LCD was still dark (I got a special press-against-the-LCD light-blocking magnifying loupe, but it's a nuisance to carry around, so usually I don't.) to see if I got anything yet, so I kept at it.
And here, concurrently — like life usually is — is Day Three, egrets doing what egrets do around the Spillways Steps.
Meanwhile back to Day Two: I paid special attention today to Little Blue Herons. Both the adult next shot up and the juvenile next shot down (I think there was only one). The adult Little Blue Heron is either very dark blue or gray or reddish. We've been through this before. Often enough now, I know usually know when I'm watching one of those instead of a Reddish Egret.
I'm only getting started recognizing the juvenile Little Blue Heron, because it's almost all white like all those other guys, including the Great Egret, like Angel Wings above (which introduces . The tip-offs, when I can tell, and they're not in deep shade or silhouette or something else baffling, is that juvenile Little Blue Herons have greenish legs and gray bills. Sibley says, "pale, dull green legs and pale, grayish, green, or pink bills an lores."
Note the subtly dark tips of its primaries (the feathers farthest out, on top above). Often very difficult to see. Especially while shooting. I was instead relying on its off-color legs, feet and beak. I was amazed I was getting to watch a little Little Blue. Heck, I was amazed when the adult Little Blue showed up, skedaddled, came back, left again, then came back again. I wondered if it was my T-shirt, but this time I just stood there on top of my gray and red plastic tool chest step-up while they all came and went, came and went.
What the juvenile Little Blue Heron did when it finally got down into the lowest level of the steps was amazing. I was amazed. All the egrets — Snowies and Greats, too — were shocked and amazed and more than a little upset at the upstart.
I watched this bird catch three fish in less than ten seconds. Nobody else was down there fishing when it flew in. Soon as all the egrets saw what this one juvenile was doing, they flocked down to crowd it out of one chosen fishing place after another after another. They ganged up on it, caught a few fish, then ganged up on it at the next and the prime fishing spot after that one, too. Lot of bumping going on.
Some of those pictures and several more really nice shots of egrets and even a few more of the adult Little Blue Heron will comprise the rest of Day Three, which will happen either tomorrow, Sunday or Monday, because I've got too much art watching to do meanwhile, then probably have to write about some of it and work up those photos, too.
Kinda appropriate for Day Three to happen on the Third Day. I like the symmetry.
About a dozen egrets on top of the steps when I got there, slowly to the fence. By the time I got my camera up, they were like this. Very shortly thereafter, all of them were gone. All I could think of was my red T-shirt. It's a lesson I've learned, or thought I'd learned before. Green and gray and blue T-shirts don't do anything for or against them.
But bright red's enough to send them packing. For a while I contented myself with photographing them changing places in the trees. There were more egrets in the trees over the pond that empties over the steps than I've ever seen there before.
Thick like a rookery. Not quite wall-to-wall, but a lot of egrets in one place. Preening and adjusting feathers. Then flying over to another tree. Either displacing who's already there or finding a new place. An orderly bunch, over all. Probably busy digesting fishes, too.
I walked up the walk just to be walking — the ostensive reason for me going to the lake every week day is to walk — then came back and set up at the far end of the walking bridge. Eventually, in ones and twos, Snowies drifted into the rocks or on the steps.
Or they'd come flying down from the lower Spillway, past the trees above the pond and steps, sail down the trough like Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, down past the fence that's fenced off so we won't stand out there (the best perch at the lake for watching birds) and get flushed with the next big rain along what's left of the retaining wall that didn't.
Then they'd circle one direction or the other around the area below the steps sloshing with water from recent rains. Eventually to land and do a little fishing.
Why I was there. To catch egrets mid-air in the best place at the lake to do it, because egrets like doing their bits of aerobatics right there in front of anyone not in a red T-shirt standing there, even those who don't bring their own plastic toolbox with a handle that gets them up another foot-and-a-half up, so I can aim straight down, wide out or at either end of that amphitheater of flying white birds.
And an occasional turtle.
And Snowy Egrets and their shadows ...
Wrote late into the night, which felt gooood. No way up early morning. Too dark then anyway. Felt frazzled all day. When I finally got my chance to lake thisaft around 4, it was gray and nearly birdless. A few ducks, and this crow. I pulled over to the wrong side of Lawther, inched up near it, and moments later, while I was clicking away hoping for one in-focus shot (this one of eight standing shots), it flew away. I wasn't ready, got blurry shots of its big wings flapping flight up over a neighborhood.
Wish I could claim this guy today, but he's from last week's Green Heron Day, September 7. This, a colorful little critter clinging to a reed showing off Starling-like spots above, that barest sliver essence of what will be come larger and brighter red a chevron on his shoulders.
When I got to Sunset Bay this cool, cloudy-bright morning around 10:30, a child was throwing rocks at the gooses while his family looked approvingly on as the gooses panicked, stayed panicked, eventually racing across the bay, honking grievously all the way. I yelled at the family for teaching their child to hurt birds, then thought about it awhile.
I don't recommend hurting them, but thinning the goose population there seems like a good idea— maybe moving them to a farm with a big pond somewhere. Eventually — soon, it may be necessary to save the bay's ecosystem — and save all those birds that are becoming dependent upon their nightly feeding.
Local citizens buy maltreated, sometimes lamed domestic gooses then release them at Sunset Bay. Because the geese are essentially stupid and domesticated, they don't find much of their own food beside grass. Goose-freers have to feed their charges, so they throw corn every night, and ducks and other birds from all over the lake — probably all over the area — fly in for free dinner.
When the gooses numbered about twenty, One goose liberator told me that was about as many as the area could support. When they numbered almost 30, he said the same. I counted 34 this morning, and I know at least a couple have been eaten by varmints and others have been stolen, which means more and more domestic gooses that don't know how to feed themselves are being bought and released.
I'm not worried about the stupid geese. My concern is for the ducks (mostly) and other birds that are learning to be fed by humans rather than learninig to feed themselves. What happens if the feeding stops? Or the roads are closed for a week because of high flooding or ice?
The City has placed one (All over the lake, there's only one.) largely inconspicuous "don't feed the birds" sign right where the goose liberators throw grain from big sacks every night. "No thanks, I've already eaten," the City's sign says insipidly, going on to explain that a lot of the food fed to birds is unhealthy, and much of the rest spoils.
The releasers ignore the signs because they know better than anybody what to feed birds and when and where, ignoring the once wild ducks that fly in from everywhere to eat grain every night, not just supplementing their natural menu but supplanting it.
The sign doesn't slow the turkeys drowning
white bread, either. Many people don't even look to see if birds are near when
they start ripping and shredding. They've been doing it for years; they're
not going to stop any time soon.
This afternoon we drove to Fort Worth to see more art. On the way, after passing several large, dark birds that only might have been Turkey Vultures — the usual suspects for lazily circling the sky — that I wasn't ready to photograph (so I got ready), Anna pointed out this big golden bird with dark edges flying nearly straight toward us high over the middle of I-30. I got the camera going as it flew directly over, fired five time nearly straight up out the passenger window with the top of the car very much in the way, and got one shot almost in focus.
There's some fascinating bird art in the story I've been writing all days today and yesterday, but I've been too preoccupied to go out into the rainy day today and take more shots. If the stupid FedEx guy shows up tomorrow early — he didn't today, I'll be back out on the lake Tuesday.
First I noticed was a brown blur flapping along the weedy creek below. It was still dark and hard to tell the bird from the background but it had the shape of a small heron. After a few quick blurs, the — by then we'd figured it was a Green Heron — flew over close to the water's edge. I followed carefully. Slowly. Didn't want to scare it away. Crept closer.
Green Herons do something to me. I have to photograph them from every angle in every position. Probably because I don't see that many of them that often. I was standing there with my camera and this one flapped into my view.
First, it flew away, then it flew back closer to the man with the big camera and long lens. Each time I figured it would fly away, it would fly back. Each time we'd give up and walk down the path in the today's arc in our navigation around the lake, we'd discover it again.
Especially nice to get to see and photograph one of my favorite elusive birds doing what Green Herons do. Hunting and fishing. Flapping and slinking through the weeds after food.
Hard to parse the parts in this shot. The little heron was moving on suddenly. It flapped over to a new hunting ground, wings and legs sprawling as only Green Herons can.
Set up in the next place. Looking up, down and all around..
Leaning shallow forward in full heron (and egret) stealth mode, the little heron looks fierce.
The markings on Green Herons' chins or upper necks look like exaggerated grins or grimaces.
Sometimes it almost looks like teeth in them. Much fiercer in appearance than the little birds can usually muster. Not sure how they could finagle their appearance to accomplish something with it. More like after a few thousand years they figure out how to use what Nature gave them.
This shot shows this Green Heron doing what I'd expect a Green Heron to do where I've seen them do it before. If it hadn't flapped along the creek so close to us so early in the near dark morning, I might still think Green Herons only showed up in the Lagoon, the Steps or Sunset Bay. I never expected them in Red-wings Blackbird country.
Had not more than a few minutes earlier complained that it was too dark to photograph birds of any interest. And it was only going to get worse toward winter. 7 ayem is getting darker every day.
I've always heard that early in the morning is when the most birds are out doing their thing. Never having been a morning person before I wasn't convinced, and even though our bird sightings and opportunities change every day, we have been finding some pretty interesting species.
We saw the same pair of Muscovies again this morning, the same a little further down Lawther as we'd traveled.
Both pairs of us inching our ways around the lake.
They don't call our local grackles Great Tail for nothing. That's a proportionally bigger tail than the peacock. Of course the peacock's tail is tiny and not what fans out for its magnificent display. Pea cock's display feathers go up and out from the middle top of their bodies. Great-tail Grackles tails are some kind of immense. I assume they help them fly or steer or something, but I couldn't find info about it in either of the big Sibley books or online.
Everybody talks about how big they are — which is pretty obvious, but nobody says what good they do. This bird that stars in most of the rest of today's grackle shots, is standing on Singing Bridge.
Grackles don't fly as elegantly as Turkey Vultures or Ravens but they've always intrigued me. Someday I should spend several patient hours panning with them in the air while ignoring other birds. I have called them shape-shifters, and they are and they do. One of the books sites (Google grackle.) said there's so many differences between the major grackle species (Common, Boat-tailed and Great-tailed) that it tends to confound people used to any one variety to try to identify another variety. I'm used to the Great-tails, and I can't even always identify them. And they're ubiquitous.
When this one hunkered down to spring into flight, I paid attention, hoping I could capture some decent flying photographs. These are maybe decent, but not great. They're what I got this morning as this guy flew down the central channel of Singing Bridge. Shooting them from the side generally nets better results, but they don't necessarily fly straight, and they're wary of guys aiming large black cylinders at them.
Although I have observed long, graceful arcs through trees. These two flying photos don't much manifest their amazing abilities — or shape-shifting morphs. Many people consider grackles pests, because they're noisy and not careful where they scat. I love the amazing diversity of their noises. I've heard them sound like diesel trucks and like metal clanging on a resounding concrete floor. A sample of some of their sounds is available on this What Bird dot com page, but they are capable of many more.
This one was on the top of the tallest tree nearest the exit north under Mockingbird Bridge east toward breakfast this morning. Looking imperial, a little puffed out and more than self-important. Bird with an attitude.
For way too many more Grackle observations, including mating and fighting behaviors and other stuff, command or control f find on the Index of Amateur Birder Pages. We got lots. The most informative page on grackles I found online today was this one by Fred J Kane at Suite 101 Enter Curious.
Today's other birds — we didn't see much else under this morning's dark sky and out in that wondrous cool breezes — were the gentle Muscovy. I've read that they originated in Moscow (hence their name) and/or South America. But today I read (beware the hokey music and alarmist typography) they're called that because they eat so many mosquitos, cockroaches, maggots, flies, spiders and other bugs. Mosquito Ducks became Muscovies, and Russians were among the first to import them, hundreds of years ago.
Perhaps most informative of the sites I found today was The Domestic Waterfowl Club of Great Britain, which goes into great detail, including that Muscovies are "the only domestic ducks ... not derived from mallard stock;" their colors include "black, white, lavender, blue and chocolate," and they "have the most character of any duck or goose and a very pronounced sense of humour — dog or cat baiting is a speciality."
The Wikipedia entry is aggressively informative. Poultry for Small Farms describes them as personable, intelligent and quiet because they don't quack." From Muscovy Ducks, I learned, "Their feet have strong sharp claws and are built to grasp, so that they can perch on branches," and "the meat of the Muscovy ... is not greasy and is much more like veal than like poultry."
Watching them, the word we kept associating was "ponderous," the males more so than the only one-third smaller females (some below). We saw one fly today, and that's truly an amazing sight and sound. Much flapping of wings, fump-fump-fump like an overweight helicopter. I shot at one doing that but didn't get it anywhere near focus, because watching it was so startling. Amazing they can get that much girth into the air at all.
Both sexes have warts, females more subdued. Some we've seen have red, others black growths. In some seasons the drakes have amazing high-process coiffures. By comparison, these two's are rather ordinary. If we think of its caruncle as a rooster comb, which is what it is although down round the eyes and beak, not on top, it's less ugly. Slightly.
These are big (ten to fifteen pounds) birds that make our Sunset Bay population of liberated domestic gooses look elegant by comparison. Anna and I have come to enjoy the company of Muscovies. They don't run away from people, and they don't beg for or demand food, like the aforementioned goosery do.
They seem content to be in our company, or not. They just go about their business, which today consisted mostly of chewing on tall grass and lumps of wood along their ponderous way, ridding the world of insects.
Oh, and their wing feathers are gorgeous.
After I've spent a while with a camera (18 months with the D200), I tend to not only not learn new things, I squish back into ignorance from before I "learned" the scary new early stuff. Today, I took time to study Nikon's online D200 Tutorial and re-learned some basics I expect will help. I paid special attention to my problem areas of exposure, flash, white balance and focus.
I usually shoot in Manual mode, making this a mechanical camera dripping with unused electronic capability, me sidestepping many of its high-tech features, because I don't understand how to use them. Watching the tutorials, which weren't there a year and a half ago, I'm relearning a lot I forgot.
Besides setting my flash to automatic, through-the-lens exposure (works great here in my office but wasn't worth much shooting the island across the lagoon. (All those folks who flash from the fourth balcony get good shots and probably use flash again next time, even though the light from flashes flags after about fifteen feet. Stages are well enough lit nobody needs flash.) Meanwhile, I'll be shooting in non-manual modes. Maybe I'll learn something.
Didn't need flash for this Little Blue Heron, the light was so nice. Bright. Too far for flash, but right-on exposure thanks to P for Performance mode where the camera chooses aperture and shutter speed. Minus 1/3 stop exposure adjustment I learned about today, because I like the density a little under. When I tired of P, I set S for Shutter Speed, suddenly remembering all the blurred slow shots I trash, because the cam offers no while-I'm-shooting visual feedback to remind me. Easy not to know how I messed up the last shot without a live eye-level viewfinder.
This mini-action sequence was the only overt movement the Blue engaged in while I watched, always waiting for a wiggle. I didn't know whether I'd caught it at all. Turned out not bad considering it just stumbled into the air, or weeds. It had been busy wading slowly through the mud along today and yesterday's rain swamped island apron. To move in muck like that, a short flight is fortuitous.
The actual action part was quick and clumsy, uneven, and over in a couple seconds. I was more ready for it to jump up higher and fly away farther than this short hop and had already panned way past where it landed., then had to pan back to catch the ignominious landing. Was amazed to get this good.
Nice of the sun to shine this afternoon. Rain this morning made the sky dark past noon. Let me lower ISO and still keep a high shutter speed and small aperture for something akin to depth of field and apparent focus. Blowing up a small portion of the full frame, we see the Blue's dark fuselage blur into waving grass. It was hot but bright, and a breeze blew through every minute or so.
Nice breeze. And I promise bird — not photo — talk tomorrow.
Didn't think I'd have time to bird today. Then I did. Late, darkish, gray skies so the colors popped when I got the exposure right or just under. Shot a lot of ducks, mostly flying past or in for the nightly feed. I didn't stay to say hello to the goose & duck feeders but their presence was imminent.
Today's shots are in logical order. I like the start of this duck's do, and its sequined top. Pretty pretty colors. Golden and toasted browns.
We identified the Forster's Terns last month from considerably farther away. But more in better focus. Ya can't have everything.
I thought surely this was a pair of distinctly identifiable duck species. Her on the left and him on the right. Now I'm getting the sneaking suspicion, yet unconfirmed, they're mallards at some level of molting. But I prefer thinking they're a matched pair. Of something.
One good one deserves another, so here it is — another Forster's Tern flying over my head very close to shore. Love them hairy armpits.
Two Great Egrets exchanging places. Especially nice to shoot egrets against dark water. I didn't get there till past 7. And like 7 ayem, 7 peeyem is darkish. Rain rumbling clouds helped keep in gray. White on gray is brilliant. Medium brown on it's nice, too. Fine to have a first-year Double-crested Cormorant right there between the two eegs.
"The Logs" is an ever changing scene. Lately it's been more diverse since spring.
Nice existing composition, whites and blacks and grays splayed across the page with angled and paralleled logs, brown on vaguely purplish gray with bright white accents. Lovely. Do you see the Forster's Tern on the farthest back log?
Cormorants are dark, but the one in this shot is especially so, because what mostly I saw was its shadow. There is a bit of brownish-orange beak showing, and some subtle detail in the feathers and great delineation in the primaries that seem to reach.
I didn't get much notice of a flock of pigeons passing, so I just stuck out the camera like a Point & Shooter watching the LCD as the birds flew past in one of their circling melees. The LCD was dark. I was just holding it out and panning along with their close flight path. Not really much in focus, but a nice bright feeling on dark green trees blurring past. A momentary experiment.
While I was out there, mostly standing on the pier, I shot almost every group of ducks flying in. I got about as many of those in focus, though I tried hard to, as I got pigeons not trying at all. Not sure what the lesson in that is.
About the bluest the sky got.
Early light is dark. Darker than later light at least. Which is why I up the ISO so much when we walk. Most of these images were polished using Dfine 2, free-try-for-15-days software that I'm the proud new owner of. So you can't see the sandpaper textures higher ISOs cause. On my Nikon, that's more than 400; on my old Sony, it's more than 100; and higher than ISO 200 on most others.
The notorious sandstorm effect.
Nicest thing about walking early in the morning in Texas summer is that it's cooler. Birds know that, so more are out there then. Unfortunately, unless it's raining, the air is just as nasty, and this photographer has asthma, so that's another challenge. Nice as rain can be, it's evil to walk in, so I usually drive Blue when it's wet.
I always want to get this close to a Great Blue Heron. Except I didn't see it till it was flapping away. Nice central detail. The whole thing is the reddish color of early morning sunlight on smog and/or fog over the lake. I think the dark band from lower left to upper right is a tree or weed I never saw to work around.
We are walking around the lake again. In segments. One reason is to walk around the lake. Fun to say. Easier to accomplish in shorter chunks. Another reason is to get us into areas we tend to skip, because we hadn't found birds there before. But the lake, its denizens and where they hang out keep changing. The only way we know to keep up is to keep walking all the way around.
This series is in chronological order, but most of today's shots are not. I decided to change the way I name files. Only instead of making everything clearer, those names confused me more than before. That's pretty confused, so tomorrow — or Wednesday — when I continue this journal, I'll go back to the previous file-naming regimen.
I'll also have to change the camera's naming of its files, because I'm on the far edge of having shot yet another batch of 10,000 images. I believe that places me, with some fudge factors and interim confusions, near the beginning of this camera's fourth 10 k block of shots. Meaning that since two Februaries ago when I got this remarkable camera with its serious foibles, I've shot more than 30,000 exposures with it. Unless I have the decimal off and it's ten times that.
I would rather have photographed this Great Blue Heron up close where I startled it into its long flight out to that rusting hulk. But I take what I get. I'm not an early ayem person. I'd rather stay up late when it's cool and quiet, then sleep in. But that skips me past the cool and gets me out to the lake in the hot of the day. I'm looking forward to autumn, which I've timed down to about 17 seconds one year, but still it's nice here in semi-tropical Texas.
In the semi-darkness of the earliest portion of today's walk, this dark shape suddenly protruded out of a tree in my way. I shot, of course, at the higher ISO I'd set the camera moments before. That netted me a dark silhouette. So I tried my on-camera flash, which I knew I'd have to try several times before I'd hit upon the correct exposure, because I'd never waded through the badly translated from the Japanese owner's manual to learn to use the flash to auto expose.
Thanks to originally grousing here about my camera's lack, I revisited Nikon's seriously improved site, and found a video-based tutorial. Now, I have a fully automatic flash I can't wait to try on some dark bird flying me over. I'd thought I'd have to buy a $300+ special flash for that.
Flashing and reflashing the built-in flash till I lucked into the correct exposure, I forgot the cam was set at high ISO, so even though I used flash, I still got golf-ball sized pixelized sandstorm. Some of which is visible even after serious software polishing. Technology ganging up on me. Again.
These three hens floating in the murky lake under and just to the left of the local dominant male, himself perched on a protruding log, were photographed in that same high ISO, polished to putrefaction and presented here. They are themselves a more polished variety of Muscovies, if indeed they are Muscovies, than I have seen in Texas. These look more like the ones in the books than the warted ones I've grown to like and appreciate.
Like this guy.
I hadn't seen nearly the number of Muscovies (supposedly from Moscow but perhaps more likely from South America, though I've seen them fly and getting that much mass into the air has got to be a major lifetime trick.) I used to at Sunset Bay, where I still expect to find them but don't as often anymore. Nice to see they're established along Yacht Club row. Visiting old friends in new digs.
A dark day like today is especially aesthetic for shooting egrets, who stand out from the murk and generally require a full stop less exposure than other-colored birds, because they're already pure white bright. If you photograph egrets when you're used to photographing gray or brown or black birds, you might be surprised that even when you're careful to get the exposure right for the surrounding land or water, you'll likely get bright white blots for egrets. They may even look smeared.
Very disconcerting. I've learned. Had to because my fancy dancy camera can't show me exposure before or during it's happening like your (and my old) Point & Shoot cameras almost automatically do. So I click three clicks toward underexposure when I shoot egrets. Then likely forget and underexpose everything I shoot for awhile till I look at the LCD again.
The ducks in the previous picture aren't really black. They're just rendered that way, because I'm underexposing everything else, so the Great white Egret shows texture, feathers and folds. Your LCD may show what you're going to shoot. Mine only shows what I've already done. A little late to do anything about a bird that's already flown away.
That's what I did with today's Great Blue Heron sequence. And do often with others. Seems like a modern duper super big expensive dSLR should provide instant feedback to us idiot photogs looking through them. But no. A Few recent dSLRs are adding "live" LCDs but nobody has put the electronic vision in the same peep hole we are usually looking in through.
Another nice thing about walking around the lake and visiting places we haven't in awhile is getting different backgrounds to spice up our photos of birds flying away. This, for example is unique to right there on the north west notch of White Rock Lake. Beautiful in its own way. Classic.
No reproduction without specific written permission.
Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"