Tag Archives: mourning dove (Zenaida macroura)

Frowsy fledglings

“Fascinating.  Mourning doves, house finches and northern mockingbirds are nesting side by side in the tree outside my patio, no more than a foot between each nest.  It’s like the avian suburbs.”[1]  That was my Facebook status update on April 2.

Thick evergreen foliage subverted my attempts to gratify a photographic jones for all three nests with parents brooding, let alone for the hatchling doves I could see feeding on crop milk.  Images taken these past weeks have shown limb and leaf and little else save the occasional shadow that might or might not be a bird.[2]

Yet my lack of pictorial success to date would not continue.

Yesterday I stepped outside to enjoy the unending rain but instead found myself beguiled by two frowsy fledglings.  More specifically, two just-from-the-nest mourning doves (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura).[3]

Two fledgling mourning doves (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) sitting on the ground (2010_04_18_054045)

The parents briefly watched me from their perch on the patio roof.  Being mourning doves, they worry little about people.  And I’ve been around them so much recently that they know I’m no scapegrace and that I pose no risk to the children, so they went on with their preening whilst I photographically disported with the chicks.

A fledgling mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) standing amongst some plants (2010_04_18_054096)

Deep shadows from an overcast sky coupled with the earthen and verdant colors on the ground proffered an oneiric setting for images as the two aptly colored young birds meandered about beneath the tree.  No matter my nearness to them, I did not discover the threshold for their flight response.  Instead, they glanced at me if I moved but otherwise discounted my presence.

Two fledgling mourning doves (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) looking up (2010_04_18_053915)

They did keep looking up at the adults on the roof, however, as if checking to make sure Mom and Dad hadn’t vanished.  This made for more than a few delightful giggles from me each time the chicks cocked their heads to the side and stared into the falling rain with monocular intent.

Two fledgling mourning doves (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) sitting on the ground (2010_04_18_054142)

They never strayed far from each other.  Where one went, the other was soon to follow.

Close-up of a fledgling mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) (2010_04_18_054228)

The biggest hurdle I faced came from the patio fence itself.  The spaces between the slats are smaller than the end lens element, so clear views either meant standing up and leaning over the fence or finding that just right position through the fence where telephoto distance overcame the peripheral wood in the frame.

A fledgling mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) walking across the ground (2010_04_18_053901)

The fledglings eventually moved through the fence and settled on the patio, and their parents came down to join them.  All four birds napped peacefully for the afternoon.

But by sunset I mindlessly walked out there thinking they must certainly have moved back to the tree.  The parents had, yes, but the juveniles had taken position on the fence, two fist-size bundles of feathers nestled together in the dark.

Long before sunrise this morning I found both kids in the tree.  By first light the entire family had vanished.  Off to face the world…

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Although I often refer to this tree as “the tree of life” for all the wildlife and wonder it brings near, it has a dark side for which I call it “the tree of death.”  It historically has been a killer of bird nests.  The tree is situated against the west wall.  This makes it a prime target for the violence of spring thunderstorm-related winds, hail and heavy rain.  It was heavy rain that wiped out all of the mockingbird chicks a few years ago, one at a time washing them from the nest, then from the tree itself.  It was a few years before that when strong winds destroyed three successive mourning dove nests with eggs, the same doves trying over and over after each assault.  But the paucity of spring thunderstorms this year has provided an unexpected opportunity for birds even as it has left me wondering about the mysterious atmospheric silence.

[2] I have captured photos of the parent birds as they built their nests and as they came and went from the tree.  Capturing images of these three species is an easy thing in this area and can be done throughout the year, so those pictures did not provide the fix I was looking for from these three nests.  The fact that the nests are just above eye level and within arm’s length of me made it all the worse that I haven’t been able to find a clear view for photography.

[3] It seems most appropriate that these birds are sometimes called rain doves.  The weekend brought nothing but precipitation and cool temperatures, so discovering the fledglings yesterday in the midst of steady rain felt all the more apropos.

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.

Whistling wings

Amongst the cypress and pecan, hidden between the oak and sweet gum, shadowed by the cottonwood and elm, there stands a place known only to me.  Within a refuge shared with none save the creatures of the forest and lake, the rightful inhabitants who bestow upon me special consideration, I take leave of the world as I enter this realm both magical and removed.  Stepping betwixt two trees appears a mundane event, but nothing could be further from the truth.  A world lies just beyond the one we know, a landscape shrouded by limbs both ancient and new that resists the commotion of progress.  And therein I find escape.

No one but I dares enter, for no one else may know the path to and from, the path that carries my tired soul.  Troubles melt from me there like winter’s ice bathed in spring’s warm sunshine.  Even the single step that transports me sheds from my mind and heart all worry, all trouble, all concerns.  It is a bathing…a baptism.  Guardians of forever tolerate no disruption, so I think cares must be left behind to enter.  Am I thankful for that?

A Mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) standing in shade and sunlight (2009_03_08_012847)

When the world crushes in on me and threatens to overwhelm me, I run to this place with abandon, like prey followed by predator.  In my own urgency I sometimes stumble and fall, but a gentle hand always reaches out to help me regain my footing, for that which lives outside this place envies all who enter it, and their jealousy and want can never overcome their desire to see its splendor realized.

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) grazing (20081127_15137)

Anxiety dares not invade this place.  It could never withstand the defenses of those who protect it.  Tempests cannot find me here.  Although the heavens rest above, the sky is forever restrained from offering anything less than its best.  Should snow fall or rains blow, time for such indulgences remains limited.  Offer what drinks you will to the earth, bathe all life in refreshing showers, and blanket the landscape in your icy best, but forget not that you too must adhere to the spirit of this place.  Its tranquility will not be violated.

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) perched on a limb (2009_03_21_013264)

Would that the inherent beauty and magic wind their way into the spirit of others.  Yet a small degree of selfishness wishes to keep it all to myself.  Perhaps nature, too, feels as I, that to welcome more interlopers would be to invite harm and discord.  Too sacred it is for such a thing, I feel.  Listening to the soft rustle of leaves and swaying of branches as trees, the still watchers, dance with gentle breezes, I know they feel what I feel, that they wish to veil this world from humanity’s prying eyes.  Fear of our kind is palpable.

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) walking across a parking lot (2009_04_14_015125)

So I rest my weary bones against the eldest oak who caringly offers its safe haven only to the kind, to the respectful.  I watch its brethren as they watch me.  Together, one man and nature’s bounty, we find peace and calm in each other’s company.

I stretch my legs out before me and lean back against a timeless being.  Its rough bark cradles me softly.  Quietly—so quiet, in fact, that I think I might be dreaming—quietly the tree begins weeping, a sound whose depth is felt more than heard.  Great rumbling sobs tenderly shake the ground on which I sit, and I turn, rest a hand upon its trunk, and I inquire: “Why are you sad?”

“For you,” it replies.  “My tears are not for me or my kin.  They are not for this place or the lives we protect.  They are for you, for your troubled spirit and aching heart.”

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) perched in a tree (2009_04_14_015077)

It is then I too begin to weep.  My head falls slowly until it rests against the tree’s bosom, and there my tears join with it, falling endlessly on its skin and tracing paths toward the earth.  For I feel it as well.  Setting aside my anxious thoughts when entering has always been my way.  Only now do I realize I have denied the strength of those who welcome me, the love and cradling arms that for too long have been given all but the best of me while longing to support the weakest of me.

Far off in the distance, a bird calls out.  I do not recognize its voice until it draws nearer.  Then I realize a mourning dove approaches.  It flutters overhead, flits about in the air above for a brief moment, and finally comes to rest in the branches under which I sit.  There, no more than an arm’s length away, it perches in the branches of our mutual friend, the tree, and it looks at me.  When it calls out again, the lamentation in its voice cannot be denied.

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) perched in a tree (2009_04_15_015171)

And the tree answers, “Yes, dear one, you may cry with us.  Help us carry this burden.”

[photos are of mourning doves (a.k.a. rain doves; Zenaida macroura); cross-posted on The Clade; based on something I wrote two years ago]

Views from my belly

Mary and I discussed in the comments once how sometimes we have to lie on the ground to get the kind of photograph we want.  Whether it be flowers or lizards or something else entirely, a great deal can be said for a prostrate approach.

Milling about on two legs and taking pictures of anything that seems worthwhile is a practice requiring little forethought.  Although I hardly think myself an artist, I have discovered that looking at things from a point of view contrary to our own lends itself to results that stand out from the pack.  Not only does such imagery offer something more appealing than the subject alone, but it also seems more natural, as though we could sneak in and watch the world unfold without interfering with it.

Another piece of the puzzle is stability.  When shooting hand-held, stabilizing the camera means putting as much foundation beneath it as is possible.  Snapping pictures during a walk is one thing; having time to really focus on the subject is something else entirely.  Lying on the ground means I’m not wobbling on tired legs, not shifting my weight back and forth, not swaying in the wind.

Photographing wildlife demands that we become as small as possible.  The smaller we appear to creatures great and small, the less of a threat we seem to be.  That means we can get closer or, as my experience has shown, that wildlife is willing to get closer to us.  Much closer in some cases.  Being relatively tiny and using small, slow movements has afforded me not just the opportunity to snap some presentable images, but it’s also given me the chance to enjoy many close encounters that can only be described as magical.

But perspective leaps to mind as the most important factor, at least in my case.  A great deal of nature photography oozes from a standing position, a view always looking down on the subject in a way that diminishes it, reduces its impact, hides the intricacies of its presentation.  This approach works fine for those spur-of-the-moment images captured when some fantastical creature is fleeting by without interest in stopping to pose.  But when the opportunity arises, I think the best results come from looking at things from their own level.

So with all that in mind, I want to share some experiences from an autumn walk not too long ago.  All of these capture nature from ground level.

American coots (Fulica americana) gathered on the bank of a creek (20081127_14864)

These American coots (Fulica americana) gathered on the bank, some preening, some standing about looking bored, and others grabbing a quick bite to eat from what few morsels could be found in the dormant grass.  A few times they looked at me with curiosity, but mostly they ignored me.

A rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) with highly unusual plumage coloration and patterns (20081127_14908)

Despite its highly unusual coloration, this beautiful rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) stayed with the dule as the entire group had breakfast and tried to avoid the rather unruly grackles.  In fact, the doves were so comfortable with my presence that, even standing, they walked right up to me, one of them even daring to walk across my foot.  This one especially caught my eye, however, for I had never before seen one with plumage like this.  Although rock doves often display a wide range of colors and patterns, most demonstrate the classic form.

A close-up of a rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) as it forages (20081127_14910)

And speaking of a more classic rock dove, this one walked right up to the camera at one point—so close that I couldn’t take a picture without switching to macro mode.  The charcoal color it shows usually comes through as a lighter gray in most of its kind, yet this morph is far more common than the (IMHO) one-of-a-kind bird in the previous photo.

A close-up of a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) that has gone to seed (20081127_14945)

A world full of stars held high atop a thin arm.  The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has a bad reputation as the scourge of gardeners and groundskeepers around the globe.  Nevertheless, I think both the golden flower and the feathery seed head offer more than weeds; their beauty, in my mind, is unquestionable, and they also represent the single most recognizable set of memories stretching right through my childhood.  Who doesn’t remember holding one of these and blowing on it just to watch the seeds take flight?  What a simple act, sure, but I bet a right of passage for most kids.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) looking down his beak at me (20081127_15007)

Lying on the pier in Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake, I held the camera down near the water’s surface hoping I could somehow grab a bit of the magic happening all over the lake, from pelicans and cormorants to ducks and gulls.  That didn’t work out very well due to the wind blowing my hands about and the choppy waves threatening to splash water on the camera.  Yet as as I tried, this male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) landed nearby and screamed.  A stone’s throw from where I was, he bellowed time and again, often doing so as he looked right at me.  Perhaps I was in his favorite spot.

(And check out the flattop on that bird!  It gives him an almost Frankenstein look, at least from that angle.)

A shimmering, very small white unidentified flower seen at White Rock Lake (20081127_15024)

I’ve yet to identify this tiny flower, but it and its kith and kin permeated every step I took.  So short that most stems held their flowers below the dry grass and so small that a single bloom disappeared completely beneath my fingertip, only in their vast numbers did they become apparent.  The ground shimmered as sunlight danced across their varied hues.  Some were brilliant white and others were varying shades from lavender to cyan.

A mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) glancing at me as it forages for food (20081127_15132)

My adoration for mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) is second only to that for the red-winged blackbird.  The soulful voice of these birds always stops me cold.  It’s the sweetest lamentation one can ever hear.  When I found several wandering beneath a canopy of trees as they rounded up something for breakfast, I had to stop and enjoy their company.  Several of them came quite near (within an arm’s length).  The blue jays were more skittish than these stunning creatures.

A female fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) sitting up on her haunches with her front paws crossed in front of her (20081127_15177)

“Pardon me, sir, but have you seen any acorns?”  Well, that’s what I thought this female fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) was asking when she stopped right in front of me, sat up, crossed her hands in a fretted manner, and looked right at me.  Realizing as a prey animal that squirrels see best to the sides and not in front of them, I knew she was watching me as I lay there snapping a few pictures of her.  Eventually she went on with her business, and so did I.

Always afar

Afar and adrift, distant and mournful, a song familiar to me rests uncomfortably deep within, a lamentation tickling my ears until I can stand it no further.

Yet always I must listen still.

A mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) walking toward me (20080420_04285)

Always afar, always mournful, this sweet melody belongs to gentle souls who speak in tears from great distances both near and far.

Yet always afield do their voices sound.

A mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) crouching near a puddle (20080420_04273)

Sweeter nonetheless when close afar, always afar, this soul betwixt sorrow and mine own soul, forever reaching into me to that place where memories live, regrets stand tall, sadness shines brightly, emotions run free.

Yet always I strain to hear one more chorus, one more refrain, for the essence within me needs as much.

A mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) standing in grass and sand (20080420_04282)

Cooing as though life slips away or heart bleeds, what sad language passes betwixt such creatures to my soul rings of loss, of heartache, of mourning, and at all times these voices seem faraway, remote, removed, even more so in some strange way when standing within the same breath as I.

Yet always afar…

[mourning dove (Zenaida macroura)]