All in a day’s walk – August 22, 2009

It all started with two birds way the hell across the lake…

Two black terns (Chlidonias niger) perched on half-submerged branches (2009_08_22_028472_c)

Even using a 400mm lens, the viewfinder showed me nothing but two dark specs perched atop half-submerged branches.  I might as well have been looking at a bit of spilled pepper on a blue tablecloth.

Still, I snapped a few images because I already knew I was looking at less conventional fare.  Only when I viewed the photos full-size the next day was I able to see the birds more clearly, and only then did these black terns (Chlidonias niger) finally have a name.

It’s a shame I didn’t have a 1200mm lens with me.  For that matter, it’s a shame I don’t have a 1200mm lens period.  Oh to be rich…

A silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) feeding on flowers (2009_08_22_028487)

Even as I stood hoping beyond hope that I might get a decent picture of the terns, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) flitted up beside me to enjoy a nectar breakfast.  A leaf-footed bug joined it momentarily but proved too fleeting for an image.

For that matter, the small butterfly sipped its liquid nourishment for only a handful of seconds before darting off into the bright morning sky.  I suppose the two insects quickly escaped in response to me hopping about and fussing vehemently after discovering I was standing in a pile of coyote droppings.

Needless to say, I dragged my feet for some distance trying to dislodge the smelly hitchhiker attached to the bottom of my shoe.

While checking the progress of my cleaning effort, I spied something of interest lurking about near shore yet distant from the trail that carried so many joggers and cyclists.  I tried to ignore the pungent cloud that encompassed me so I could sneak up on this latest discovery.

A green heron (Butorides virescens) standing still in the southern watergrass (Hydrochloa caroliniensis) (2009_08_22_028512)

Little more than a stone’s throw separated me from this green heron (Butorides virescens).  The verdant hues of its plumage melded with the southern watergrass (Hydrochloa caroliniensis) surrounding it.

And I wondered if it could smell me, smell the horrid guest still clinging to the bottom of my shoe.  I certainly could…

Something about the mysterious nature of green herons intrigues me, beguiles me, captivates me.  Secretive they are, stealthy yet evident, boisterous whilst disinterested in attention.  Only when a second green heron flew in to cause trouble did this one flee the scene.

I was so close

With horrid stench in tow, I moved on.

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) sunning on a log (2009_08_22_028529)

Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) remain ubiquitous here.  Painted and softshell and snapper turtles join them, along with a host of other tortoises, but this one proudly grabbing some rays on a log epitomized the pedestrian nature of these reptiles: They’re everywhere!

I knelt in the wet grass to watch it.  That unfortunately put me in a position to smell the full weight of the reek stalking me from beneath my sneaker.

How can one man walk such a distance without losing the coyote sign he stepped in long ago?  Such questions vex me.

When a lumbering giant dragged his fatigued dog too close, the slider lived up to its namesake and vanished with nary a gesture.  I scarcely heard the timid splash before realizing my eyes rested on an empty log.  Amazing how they do that.

Sick of my own smell, I moved on—scraping my foot all the way.

A Sonoran bumble bee (Bombus sonorus [sometimes Bombus pensylvanicus sonorus]) collecting pollen from a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower (2009_08_22_028535)

It didn’t take long before I stood near one of the many jumbles of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) growing along the lake’s edge.  The bulbous flowers smell of treats for children, and wafting on the air to taste of this splendor are many insects.

Sonoran bumble bees (Bombus sonorus [sometimes Bombus pensylvanicus sonorus]), like all their kith and kin, dart about with drunken abandon, flitting from bloom to bloom sans concern for the world of men.  All they care for is filling their pollen sacs so they can return to the nest as providers, unsung heroes in the world of insects.

Even as I watched them, I came to realize I didn’t stink.  Well, at least not as much.  In fact, one could have said at the time that my pungent aroma was distant, aloof perhaps.

Syrphid fly (Palpada vinetorum) on a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower (2009_08_22_028541)

Not that this syrphid fly (Palpada vinetorum) cared either way.  Right next to the ravenous bumbling leviathans, this fly-looking-like-not-a-fly hunkered down and played quiet.  Known to me by sight yet not by name…

At some point during my walk I realized my attention was nothing short of lacking.  Several hours walking and several hours of seeing little.

So I turned and headed toward home.

Along bamboo-encompassed walkways I strolled.  People came and went, faces melded with sun and shadow, voices danced silently on the wind.

Then I noticed it behind a woman pushing a stroller.  She never even knew it was there.

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) fledgling resting on the ground (2009_08_22_028589)

Its breathing writ in the language of sleep, this fledgling mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) opened its eyes only when I stopped nearby, its gaze focused on me and me alone.

How long had it rested unseen so near the walkway?  One needed but to turn toward the bamboo to be a single breath from it.  Atop earth that matched its plumage and before shadow that hid its life, this babe had gone the entire morning without being seen by the legion of people wandering by.

I could have reached out and touched it.  I could count the reflections in its eyes.  I could see the intricacies of its feathers as molting gave way from a child’s garment to that of an adult.

Not wishing to disrupt it more than I already had, I took a picture or two before moving on.  My attention would draw that of others, others who would not share my appreciation and respect, others who would feel indifference at endangerment.

Besides, I felt joy at the lack of smell.  Suddenly I felt less putrid.  Amazing what a bunch of wet grass can do.

Where have you been hiding?

Picture restoration from backups.  Half a terabyte of data.  Nearly 72,000 images.  What a tedious, mind-numbing exercise in busywork.

The excitement of downloading and processing photographs explodes all over me when the camera holds new discoveries, new moments captured in digital form.  But this time around?  It’s been less and less like Christmas and more like drowning under the weight of my own pictorial flood.

Nevertheless—and even when it’s become so difficult to focus that I fear I might miss something important when opening the next file—many times I’ve stared unblinking at the screen as I asked the scene in front of me, “Where have you been hiding?”

A female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009810)

A female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) gave me the chase of a lifetime.  Her afternoon activities focused entirely on hunting around Winfrey Point.  Each time she settled, I would move in carefully, quietly, nonchalantly as though not paying attention to her.  Not that she was fooled, mind you, and not that she cared.  Her concerns were about filling her belly, not posing for or avoiding my camera lens.  Mostly what I walked away with were images of empty branches, clear sky, blurs escaping at the edge of the photo that might as well be my finger in front of the lens.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire (2009_02_15_009596)

This male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) was only slightly less active when I found him and a friend hunting in the field between the Bath House Cultural Center and what was once the Dreyfuss Club.  It struck me as somewhat odd that two males shared the same territory, yet I felt certain there was a story hidden there that only they knew.  Besides, I had no doubt the female would not share her banquet with them and the males would have to make do with sloppy seconds.

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) with a large seed in its beak (2008_12_28_003881)

When I first spied this tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), I could see it had something in its beak.  I moved closer hoping to get a photo.  Titmice are active creatures, yammering and chattering while bouncing from branch to branch, joining in the mobbing when a threat moves too close, and otherwise being boisterous fun to watch—assuming they sit still long enough.  So when this one paused briefly in perfect profile, I aimed and fired the shutter as quickly as I could.  Only later when I processed the image did I realize the seed it carried was a whole meal for a bird that small.

A male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) climbing the side of a tree (2008_12_28_004024)

A male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  It’s not just an insult anymore.  In truth, I’m not sure why the name has such a negative connotation.  These birds are aggressive, vigorously defending their territory from other birds.  This one spent the afternoon feeding from the many holes it had drilled in various trees (which are visible in this photo), all the while chasing away chickadees and titmice and woodpeckers, along with various other avian visitors who came along.

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) perched in a tree (2009_07_18_026997)

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) sang and sang and sang from deep within the woods.  I knew it was there but couldn’t see it, so I waited.  And waited.  Then waited some more.  Its voice carried throughout the confluence, sometimes coming nearer and sometimes moving further away.  I finally gave up on seeing it and turned to leave.  Suddenly its voice filled the air around me.  When I looked, it had taken up position across the creek from me.  The moment lasted about ten seconds; nevertheless, I was thankful for it.

A neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) sleeping at White Rock Lake (2009_07_20_027453)

This sleeping neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) perched atop one of the pillars at the water theater during a hot summer evening.  I had to move well north of its position to get the sun out of the lens—and out of my eyes!—but found the effort worthwhile upon discovering this wasn’t one of our resident double-crested cormorants.  The neotropics aren’t unheard of here; they’re just rarely seen and often overshadowed by their more prolific cousins.

A yellow-billed cuckoo (a.k.a. rain crow or storm crow; Coccyzus americanus) perched in a tree (2009_07_19_027436)

If you live anywhere in their territory, you’ve no doubt heard a yellow-billed cuckoo (a.k.a. rain crow or storm crow; Coccyzus americanus).  Their voices are familiar and distinctive, their songs identifiable with ease.  But even if you’ve heard one, you might never have seen one.  These birds spend much of their time lurking about in thick foliage searching for insects and fruit.  It’s not that they’re secretive; this one didn’t mind me one bit as I followed it for almost half an hour.  It’s just that their hunting keeps them in the shadows, behind cover, hidden within the concealing arms of plants that harbor the goodies they like to eat.  I fought with ticks and a few snakes to locate a position where I had a clear shot of this one.

[all images are from White Rock Lake]

Another dragon attack

Dragonflies and damselflies abound.  Amazing how many varieties can be seen when they stop being all the same and start being individuals.

Blue-fronted dancer (Argia apicalis) perched on a leaf (2009_07_25_027678)

Blue-fronted dancer (Argia apicalis)

Common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) perched on a dry reed (2009_07_26_028049)

Common whitetail (Plathemis lydia)

Widow skimmer (a.k.a. widow; Libellula luctuosa) perched on a twig (2009_07_26_027995)

Widow skimmer (a.k.a. widow; Libellula luctuosa)

Common green darner (a.k.a. green darner or dragon fly; Anax junius) hovering over a creek (2009_08_15_028355)

Common green darner (a.k.a. green darner or dragon fly; Anax junius)

Black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) perched on a tree branch (2009_08_22_028603)

Black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

Paiute dancer (Argia alberta) perched on the patio fence (2009_08_20_028448)

Paiute dancer (Argia alberta)