It’s that time of year

I recently said to nathalie with an h, “It’s that time of year.”  I was referring to many forms of life that use the warming weather to narrow their focus on that one thing that ensures survival: procreation.

She responded, “I didn’t know that.”

Being European, devilishly pretty, linguistically blessed and accented to a level that draws men in like flies to honey, and exceptionally sexy, she can play the dumb blonde card and get away with it.

We her friends know better.

But I digress…

Truth be told, different species do different things, yet the most visible efforts to protect a genetic lineage begin at winter’s end.

I mentioned that to her as I spoke of some recent images I captured.

It all began innocently enough…

High in the treetops came the shrill, powerful call of a female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus).

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched in a tree (2009_02_22_010494)

From my perspective, she might as well have been on the moon for the distance and obstacles resting between us.  Still, I know this species and I know that cry: either a challenger was nearby or one mate was calling to the other.  In either case, I considered it wise to snap some pictures.

Within moments another hawk swept in over the trees and landed near the first.

Male and female red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) perched in a tree (2009_02_22_010496)

So they knew each other.  I wondered if they were mates.

I suddenly had a flashback to “My Cousin Vinny” as Marisa Tomei stands there smacking her foot on the ground in rhythm with her words as she says: “Well I hate to bring it up because I know you’ve got enough pressure on you already. But, we agreed to get married…  Meanwhile, TEN YEARS LATER, my niece, the daughter of my sister is getting married.  My biological clock is TICKING LIKE THIS…”

Something about that scene coupled with the first hawk’s adamant screaming told me what to expect.

It took about five seconds for my pondering to become solidified in truth.

Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) mating in the treetops (2009_02_22_010498)

The male who landed on the same branch promptly hopped-cum-flew to a new position that made everything clear: she had been calling for him; they were mates; and it was time for a little “doing the nasty” right there for all the world to see, right there perched high in a tree on a sunny day with the commotion viewable by anyone, and all despite naked limbs jostling to block the view.

Red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) mating in the treetops (2009_02_22_010499)

I almost felt intrusive for taking photographs of the whole ordeal.


Although I laughed at the porno extravagance: her screaming “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!” while he smacked her rump and looked all too serious.  Suddenly a great deal of humanity’s silliness made sense.

One thing that’s beautiful—seriously—about nature is that it’s in your face with splendor and candor, the beauty of the universe without all the anthropocentric nonsense we humans like to thrust upon it.

Shame for invading their private moment?  That faded before it became apparent.

As did the intimate moment.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched in the treetops as a male flies away (2009_02_22_010500)

His business tended to, the male lit a cigarette, rolled over and climbed out of bed.  He had his jeans on and was out the door before I realized he was done.

I’m sure the female felt the same way.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched in the treetops (2009_02_22_010505)

She leaped to another branch with a sudden interest in looking casual and calm, a collected and cool woman not so interested in appearances as in addressing the perpetual tick of the clock only she could hear.

You should have seen her throw her hair back with that dismissive way that brushes even the most serious suitor out the door…

And him?

A male red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) flying above the treetops (2009_02_22_010527)

Oh, he smoked his cigarette as he did his little aerial victory dance right above the trees.  He circled and circled, low at first, then slowly climbed into the blue heavens.

Meanwhile, she did her nails and put on her makeup.

I had to wonder about all that hurrying he did this time, and then to run out the front door without even buttoning his shirt first, as though he had to rush home and wash his hair.

Somehow I figured she’d forgive him, let him slip beneath the covers, kiss him on the cheek and welcome him into her boudoir without hesitation—as many times as necessary to get the job done, I mean, then she’d kick him to the curb and make him mow the yard, clean the house, feed the kids, and fix the roof when it started leaking.

As for Nathalie: Yes.  Uh-huh.  You know you like it.  That’s right.  Who’s your daddy?

I have to go wash my hair now…

Sunset Bay – Part 1

White Rock Lake, four miles/6.5 kilometers from downtown Dallas as the crow flies, offers a spectacular oasis of nature in the heart of urban mayhem, yet one place along its shores, to me at least, remains the most inviting, the most magical, the most diverse.

Sunset Bay rests on the eastern banks perfectly centered from north to south.  Like a lens it focuses the magnificence of sunset each day, a spectacle that moves south in the winter and north in the summer—yet that finds its way to this inlet no matter the season.  Nightfall always echoes the last gasps of day toward this gulf.

And in the bay takes shape the essence of nature’s efforts to reclaim the whole of this island of wild nestled in a sea of concrete.  Flora and fauna galore make this bight home throughout the year, and even as months come and go, life flourishes where the world of light touches last.

Yet only at sunset does the true power of the cove become apparent: the whole of the universe funnels to its core, the lifeblood of heaven and earth made manifest in the length of a single hour and in the breath of an ending as it births a beginning.  Shadows stretch long and dark lurks behind, and in those moments betwixt universes Sunset Bay yields its tastiest fruit.

A cloudy sunset seen from Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake (2009_02_15_010094)

This is a journey in parts, an exploration in images and text of that sacred amalgamation of places real and imagined, of light and lightlessness, of day and night, of city and nature, of the ethereal joined with the physical.

This is Sunset Bay seen when it matters most.

Something more exotic

It goes without saying nature photography has as its own worst enemy the very thing you’re attempting to capture in an image: nature.  Wildlife rarely sits still no matter how much you beg, tree limbs and thickets and reeds and flora of all stripes like to get in the way, clouds have no respect for lighting needs, and the list goes on.

One problem I have most often at White Rock Lake stems from the dense woodlands in which so much life flourishes—and hides.  The plethora of birds (hundreds of species) spend a great deal of time hunting and resting and otherwise hanging out behind a near impenetrable shield of ligneous barricades.

Sure, you can see the hawk that landed in that tree over there, but a minefield of limbs and leaves shield it from direct view.  The best you can do is find the clearest opening and fire off a few shots with the safe knowledge that the resulting images probably won’t turn out.

For the braver souls amongst us—like me—you can always trudge through the brush and forest in an attempt to get closer to said hawk where clearer views might prevail.  But then you wind up directly beneath the bird in question and come home with beautifully in-focus and clear shots of its rump and tail feathers.  Which, for all their clarity, might as well be of Easter hats at Sunday service.

Nevertheless, from time to time an animal will sit still long enough and be in a position clear enough for me to get close and get some respectable photographs.  Thus was the case with an American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus)…

Walking along the treeline south of Dixon Branch where the floodplain meets dense woodlands surrounding the creek, I spied a turkey vulture circling above the treetops.  It flitted into the open only a few times as it made its way higher and higher, all the while moving further away from me and further behind the woods.

Yet as I watched it, I noticed a black vulture circling low, moving nearer, and finally sweeping through the trees and perching not too far from where I stood.  Only one problem: Pacing back and forth several times revealed not one clear view of the bird.  Some windows into the woods offered fewer obstructions than others; however, all of them ensured this large black creature remained at least partially obscured.

Unhappy with the few pictures I took from outside the forest realm, I decided to venture inward hoping to find a better vantage—without scaring away my quarry, I mean!

Pushing my way through heavy brush and trying to step on every crackling twig on the forest floor, I made enough noise to be mistaken for a tank trundling through the trees.  And the vulture noticed, kept an eye on me as I approached.

The only relatively clear view I found required me to kneel on the ground and aim between branches both near and far.  The window of opportunity was rather small.

An American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus) perched on a dead tree stump (2009_02_22_010970)

Of course, as luck would have it, the vulture decided to change positions.  Whether tired of the view it had or pushed to relocate a bit by my thunderous approach, it moved only a hop or two, yet it was enough to block half the bird from my lens.  Doggone it!

An American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus) with wings out as it changes positions (2009_02_22_010977)

I backed out the way I came in and circled around the edge of the woods looking for another way in that might offer a more versatile viewing area.  Or at least one sans all the limitations of the first.

After startling a few mourning doves from their natural bower and scattering a Carolina wren and a few warblers when I stumbled over a log and nearly fell flat on my face, I again tried to make as much noise as possible by finding every dry leaf and every limb and twig on the ground.  Someone has to wake the dead, right?

Finally, though, I discovered an almost clearing with smaller trees and fewer limbs to block my view of the vulture.  Meanwhile, it had again relocated a hop or two from where I’d last seen it, and this gave it as clear a view of me as I had of it.

An American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus) perched in the forest (2009_02_22_011029)

I decided to ignore the small number of waving arms that some trees stuck in my way since I feared I was pushing the vulture into a flight response with my approaches and noise making.  If I was going to get some photos, they’d have to be from that spot.

An American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus) perched in the forest (2009_02_22_011031)

Thankfully the bird didn’t move around much while I stood there vying for the right picture.  It looked at me, looked at the ground, preened a bit, then cycled through those activities again and again.

I wanted to get closer, mind you, because I was still too far away to get the best images possible.  I even considered stumbling further into the forest to see if my loud approach would be tolerated a bit more.

But it was then a second black vulture flew in through the treetops and landed near the first.  They engaged in some conversation, perhaps friendly and perhaps not, and the subject of my excursion moved a few steps to get a better view of the latest arrival.

That completely blocked me from seeing all but tail.  I would have to circle around into heavier brush and thicker woods in order to see it clearly.  I decided they didn’t need a stalker at that moment.  I turned around and left them to their day.

Rented lens

I rented a new lens last weekend as I planned a road trip Saturday that would take me worlds away.  I would have the opportunity to hike through rugged forests and canoe through timeless waterways.

Those plans fell through.

I drove many hours to reach my destination and found heavy clouds and light rain.  I sat in the car for at least two hours listening to music and biding my time, but it came to nothing: the weather failed to improve.

Never believe what weather forecasters say.  The prognostication for this trip changed only after I arrived there; the week prior to that it had been all sun and comfortable temperatures, but afterward it was all clouds and unimpressive showers.

Although photography in cloudy weather can be challenging, it does offer a new world of colors and light effects that simply don’t exist when the sun is shining.  On the other hand, rain—even light rain—makes it all but impossible.  The camera absolutely can’t get wet.  Water on the lens element would create terrible photos; water on the lens itself could ruin its electronics and introduce moisture to its many moving parts.

Me being wet only could make matters worse.  Not that I mind dancing in the rain; it’s just that I mind the rain when I’m in the middle of nature photography.

Add to that spending a great deal of time in thick woodlands where every bit of light helps.  Skies heavy with dark clouds dripping like wet cotton robs the scene of essential illumination and forces higher ISO settings and longer exposures, neither of which would help when most subjects are wont to move about during our photo session.

I finally returned home later that afternoon full of disappointment.  It was a three-day weekend, though; certainly I could find time to salvage the situation.  And I did: I took several walks at the lake to ensure my $25 investment paid off.

The magic hour was Friday evening after I ran across town and retrieved the lens.  It also happened to be my first opportunity to give it a test run (thinking I should do so prior to my road trip Saturday).  I have more photos from that session and several others over the weekend that will appear in later posts.

But for now, let me repeat myself: “So much life flourishes at White Rock Lake that living here makes it all but impossible to not see something of interest even if the length of my walk is from the living room to the back door.”

A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched in the shrubs outside my patio (2009_02_15_009948)

Speaking with a neighbor of mine recently who happens to be a teacher, we both remarked on the morning serenade we both enjoy.  It’s given by a local northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), one who happens to perch outside my living room window or in the tree outside my patio before beginning a boisterous declaration of welcome for each new day.

What a lovely song, what a diverse and complicated song!

And they started several weeks ago to nest, for I’ve seen mockingbirds aplenty as they inspect and test and carry away various bits of material, some of it stolen from abandoned nests.  Even before February began, spring had already come to North Texas.

This happens to be a photo of the resident mocker who practically owns my patio.  Several live around here, sure, but this one sings from the front door to the back doors, and it does so at sunrise and sunset as if on cue.  I welcome the song, welcome the sign of things to come as it defends its territory and prepares to build a family.

A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009958)

House sparrows (Passer domesticus) live in one my neighbors’ trees.  I watch them come and go from that tree, run back to it when an alarm sounds, emerge from it each morning and climb under its covers each night.

This male perched in the tree outside my patio as his entire brigade came to visit.  They enjoy the birdseed I put out, yet they also make a terrible mess trying to break apart and consume the cat food I put out.

Chased off by cardinals and mockingbirds and wrens and blue jays, let alone a cornucopia of other species, these little bundles of busy entertain me with their antics as much as they thrill me with their company.

A female house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009963)

Is that not the epitome of a curious glance?

This female house sparrow also perched in the tree near the male shown above.  She watched me intently yet distractedly, almost as if she wanted to make certain I wasn’t going to bother her but wasn’t otherwise too worried about my presence.

A Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) perched on the patio fence (2009_02_15_009973)

Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus).  What I can say about them that I haven’t already said?

They’re busybodies, Chatty Kathy dolls with wings, a collection of gossiping birds who let little but hell itself stand in the way of the duties at hand.

They don’t particularly care if I’m close to them or not so long as I don’t bother them.  And I don’t.

This one came from the tree to the fence just long enough to see if it was safe.  I stood but a step or two from where it perched.  Once it realized I was not a threat, it flew onto the patio floor and took a moment to bathe in morning sunlight, then it grabbed a piece of cat food and swallowed it whole before darting back through the fence and continuing its pillaging of the ground cover.

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in the shrubs outside my patio (2009_02_20_010284)

My dearest bird friend: a male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  I wept with him last year after his mate died.  Neither of us understood the loss, understood why she left him suddenly, understood why such a beautiful life ended so abruptly.

I celebrated with him this year when I realized he had found a new mate, a new lass who won his heart and helped him move beyond the sorrow he sang into the air for too many months.

This is his realm, so far as cardinals go, and he chases away all interlopers.

But who is the gal who salved the wounded heart and made his singing joyful again?

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in the shrubs outside my patio (2009_02_20_010294)

As I said previously: “She’s a splendid thing, a beautiful creature worthy of this man’s dedicated love.”

Even as he stood in the shrubs and watched me, she took her place nearby and kept an eye on me as well.  The setting sun brought out the best in both of them.

But cardinals are flighty beasts given to sudden escapes when the world doesn’t stay the way they want it.

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) taking flight (2009_02_20_010296)

Off they went even as I tried to capture one more image of her, one more photograph of the lady who soothed the savage beast.

I adore her all the same, though, for his pain so filled the hours that I find him a new creature now that he’s taken a new love.  I hope their life together is full and joyous.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Special thanks to nathalie with an h for her continuing advice and guidance on all things photography.  Just prior to my failed weekend adventure, it occurred to me I might be able to rent a better lens for my trip.  I asked her about it one morning at Starbucks and she immediately grabbed her iPhone, pulled up their web site and wholeheartedly recommended Dallas Camera.

Everyone in the world should have a nathalie with an h to illuminate the trail ahead when it comes to stumbling through amateur photography without a clue as to what matters and where to go.  Her continued support and encouragement are priceless.

[2] It goes without saying Dallas Camera provided exceptional service even at the last minute, and renting the lens for $25 to cover the weekend from Friday through Monday morning represented more than just a bargain: it felt like grand theft.  With a selection that boggles the mind, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and prices that are difficult to fathom, this company is hands-down the best place to go in the DFW metroplex for photography equipment rentals.

[3] Perhaps, given a cool lens that can offer world peace and contact with alien races, you wonder why I chose what many would consider mundane subjects for this post.  They are only mundane to others.  Nothing in nature bores me; nothing outside the realm of human civilization gives birth to yawns in my world.  Even a simple blade of grass is worthy of investigation to me, part and parcel a universe demanding of attention.

[4] House sparrows, along with European starlings and rock doves and a great many forms of life, seem to bring out the worst in people as they’re considered invasive.  The word ‘invasive’ is inaccurate and misleading; the word these people should be using is ‘introduced.’  The species themselves cannot be blamed for doing what nature made them to do, for filling those niches evolution helped them find and dominate.  That they displace native species and irritate “nature purists” is the fault of humans and not the flora and fauna involved.  Nothing about house sparrows bothers me; in fact, they are beautiful and intriguing and needful of the same respect I give every other species.

That said, anything I can do to assist native species harmed by their introduction is a worthy cause indeed.  But hating any of these lives confuses me, and attempting to harm them is as contemptible an act as was introducing them in the first place, whether intentional or not.  Remember, the only truly invasive species appears to be humans, and only humans appear capable of causing without consideration wholesale extinctions, of destroying habitat on a global scale, of killing for sport rather than survival, and of consuming and conquering sans any consideration for the children of tomorrow, let alone any form of life impacted by our activities.

Getting of my soap box now…

[5] I do have a plethora of images taken with this lens.  By orders of magnitude, I have many more pictures not taken with this lens.  I’m still trying to share any of them I think are of note.  Perhaps it’s time for me to rethink the fate of xenogere unseen given my doubt that I can ever post all of them here…

When breathing is wishing

how many moments must(amazing each
how many centuries)these more than eyes
restroll and stroll some never deepening beach

locked in foreverish time’s tide at poise,

love alone understands:only for whom
i’ll keep my tryst until that tide shall turn;
and from all selfsubtracting hugely doom
treasures of reeking innocence are born.

Then, with not credible the anywhere
eclipsing of a spirit’s ignorance
by every wisdom knowledge fears to dare,

how the(myself’s own self who’s)child will dance!

and when he’s plucked such mysteries as men
do not conceive—let ocean grow again

[poem is “how many moments must(amazing each” by e.e. cummings]