Tag Archives: turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

Four score and four months ago

Seven years ago today I began a wee experiment: this blog.  My capricious tendencies have seen it through many incarnations.  It has traveled across domains and has lived and died on multiple platforms and multiple servers.  Historically I gave it a face lift almost as often as I posted.  Yet through all of that, 84 months have passed since it came to life in 2003—and it’s still here.

Through this online journal I have met many fantastic people.  It has gifted me with new friends and it has helped me find a community of like-minded individuals.

Blogging also has given me a chance to exercise my writing and my photography.

But why did I start?  More importantly, why do I still do it today?  Instead of trying to answer those questions anew, let me republish something I wrote last November, something that perhaps was meant more for this anniversary than it was the random writ it seemed to be at the time.  Hereafter is The journal is the thing, only this time I will augment it with images of my favorite kind of creature: raptors.

* * * * * * * * * *

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) flying overhead (2009_12_13_044565)

Should I waste that which spills from my soul?  Should I dispose of haphazardly the many tellings which spring forth from cluttered and uncluttered thought alike?  Such writs take shape with ease, gleaning from life’s treasures the simple and complex notions that wind their ways through labyrinths of ideas until finally taking shape in the guise of pedestrian words.  Dare I forsake such a thing?

I am but a tool in the hands of creativity.  A lithe bit of sandpaper destined to remove sharp edges from nature’s display.  A rigid scythe meant to clear a path through grasslands too overgrown to be enjoyed by the masses.  A sturdy bridge meant to convey observers across imagination’s mire.  And a supple cloth to dry the sweat from a hard day’s work.  These things am I…  And more.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire holding prey (2009_11_28_042860)

Green pastures stretch out before me like maidens lying in wait for gentleman callers.  Hills rise like breasts from an earthen mother, and shores stretch like her lips around warm waters.  Trees sway in the breeze like dapple braids of hair touched by loving hands.  If indeed life is anything more than existing, it is a consummation, a marriage betwixt what is and what can be.  I fear ever denying the embrace of this seductress.

In the tiniest of things I find inspiration; in the notation of them I find being.

A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) hiding in a tree (2009_12_20_046363)

I reap from fields sown of the universe’s seed.  What comes from me, then, is the simplest interpretation of the greatest mysteries.  To find magic in a single leaf hanging above my head while I travel paths ancient and new…  To bend a twig and find upon it the hopes of a timeless soul wrapped in winter’s slumber…  To stand by the riverside and hear sweet whispers from the commotion that hides beneath its still surface…  Ah, to live in the now, in such a wondrous place, and to never wish to lift a pen so that I might complete the journey that I began…  Blasphemy, it is.  I would rather die.

Why toil with clumsy language?  It remains clumsy only in the hands of those unlearned in its use, uneducated to its robust expression, and unfamiliar with its mystic secrets.  Nay, the journal is the thing in which I conceal and through which I perform.  Find within its borders the vellum of life, a papyrus upon which I paint in fine and broad strokes of words every bit of me, and every bit of the world where I reside.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046514)

Catharsis barely scratches the surface of why I blog; expression even less.

I find everywhere the riddles begging to be solved, the confidences left openly where none shall see them only to be discovered by those truly looking.  By the rhythm of the sentence and the cadence of the photograph do I reveal such things as much to myself as to others.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched on a limb (2010_01_12_048405)

For decades have I reveled in the joy of the journal.  For almost a decade has that joy found new life in blogging.  The universe opens her dress for me, welcomes me to her bosom, holds me close as I ponder the magnificence of her being.

Never could I give it up.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) flying overhead (2010_01_24_049071)

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

[2] American kestrel (Falco sparverius); male

[3] Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)

[4] Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

[5] Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus); female

[6] Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii); female

All in a day’s walk – December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve.  Warm weather and plenty of sunshine beckoned me to the lake for an afternoon walk following yet another day of laborious boredom in the office.  Someone has to pay the bills around here…

In the minute plus a few seconds it took me to walk down the private drive into the park, already I had to stop, had to take notice.

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) clinging to the underside of a large branch (2008_12_24_002691)

Have I mentioned how enamored I am of the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)?

Something about such small bodies full of such attitude, full of such piss and vinegar.

They enthrall me.

This one clinging to the bottom of a large tree bellowed its opinions upon the still air as I stood beneath.

I love the attitude.  I love that they join in the mobbing of predators even when all other participants dwarf them by leaps and bounds.  I love that they scream their superiority upon the wind sans consideration for the size of all challengers.

I love their bigger-than-life personalities.

After watching this one pillage the trunk to which it clung, I moved on a bit, although I didn’t make it far before I came across a beautiful man who likewise yelled at me as I invaded his space.

A male red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) perched on the side of a tree (2008_12_24_002697)

A male red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) flitted from branch to branch prior to landing in the tree under which I stood.

I backed away from both plant and animal the moment I saw him so I could get a better view.

And he immediately complained about the encounter.

I’ve stood beneath this species as two of its kind tussled from high up until they fell to the ground with a thud.

A loud thud, one that worried me as I set my gaze upon the birds wrestling in winter grass.

Both took to wing as I tried to sneak closer, so no serious damage was done, although I feared for both of them with how far they fell and the rather abrupt stop that sounded like a bowling ball hitting the ground.

But on this day, this warm Christmas Eve, no challengers save me could be found, so no tussle ensued.

Yapping the whole way, he climbed further up the tree at which point I left him to his day.

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) soaring overhead (2008_12_24_002721)

While American black vultures usually play hard to find, turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) rarely miss an opportunity to be seen.  They’re rather conceited that way, thinking themselves awfully pretty and awfully worth looking at.

After leaving the woodpecker to his quest for lunch, I stopped near the confluence in Sunset Bay to watch some people feeding the waterfowl.  Sure, the city frowns on that practice and posts signs declaring as much, but people still do it.  All the time.

I knelt in the brittle winter grass and wallowed in the sound of it crunching beneath my knees.

Then a shadow passed over me, a large one sweeping across the ground like a paint brush dripping with darkness wielded by a true artist.

I looked up.

The vulture had just started its climb into the air.

Despite being mostly behind trees from my perspective, a tiny space between two ligneous leviathans gave me the room needed to take a photo.

Such beautiful creatures these vultures, these seekers of death who can inflict it as easily as they find it inflicted by others.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) foraging on the ground (2008_12_24_002733)

Then a brief sound arose from the hoard jockeying for a bit of bread from the old couple feeding the wildlife.  A raspy, throaty, scratching sound I know all too well.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) finished his declaration of supremacy with a downward sweep to inspect some shiny bauble that caught his attention.

Actually, it was a bit of bread tossed to him by the elderly man.  He seemed to appreciate grackles as much as I do, a feeling rare in these parts where most feel grackles are a nuisance only.

The female grackle who remained close to him made less of a photographic subject as she darted to and fro.

Too bad, too, as she was as lovely as he in very different ways.

A domestic greylag goose (Anser anser) swimming in the creek (2008_12_24_002737)

I think it’s unfortunate that people have released so many domestic swan geese and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) at the lake.

Whether Chinese or African, these poor birds can hardly fly and have such a limited diet available that they require daily feedings from humans, something teaching other wildlife to depend on us for sustenance.

Yet would I wish them harm?  Clearly: No.

What I do wish is for people to be responsible, to understand the repercussions of their actions, to appreciate the delicate balance this lake requires for it to sustain the biological niche it serves: a full and vigorous wildlife refuge surrounded by some of Dallas’s most inner reaches.

If you can’t stop feeding the wildlife, at least stop feeding them processed foods like white bread.  It’s bad for them; it shortens their lives.

So when peripherally I saw this goose swimming by in the creek, I turned away from the grackle, shifted my knees on the ground, snapped this photo, and then wondered: How can you survive without people feeding you?  How much living will you miss because you need whatever humans provide in the way of sustenance?  How much sympathy can you expect from those who mindlessly tossed you here to eke out a living in a place that can’t support your kind?

Before welling up in tears, thankfully more swift movement from another direction helped me look away, helped me put those thoughts aside.

An American coot (Fulica americana) running by me (2008_12_24_002738)

This American coot (Fulica americana) dashed at full speed toward where I knelt.

But not so much at me as by me.

For I knelt in the brittle, dry grass only an arm’s length from where the elderly couple stood feeding the birds.

I regret that the coot was moving so fast and was so close that I couldn’t get a good photo.

I don’t regret that it was moving so fast and was so close that I captured this full gallop image as it raced headlong toward a free meal ticket.

Unlike the geese, coots do just fine on their own and survive here sans handouts.  But they’re thankful for the treats nonetheless.

It was then I tried gracefully to explain to the well-intentioned man and woman that feeding the animals doesn’t help, and I danced around and finally plunged headlong into saying the dinner rolls they offered made a terrible lunch for these animals, an unhealthy tidbit for humans and animals alike.

Blank stares mixed with offense drifted before me.

So I stood, my knees popping and cracking their complaints, and I turned away and walked to the pier.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) flying above the lake's surface (2008_12_24_002784)

American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) created perpetual motion with their comings and goings.

Some flew back to the bay after feeding while others flew out of the bay searching for lunch.

Catching this one winging its way back to the sandbar for some preening and rest gave me an opportunity to memorialize the pre-breeding beak.

You’ll notice there is no “horn” on top of its beak.  That horn begins growing in January or February as breeding season approaches.

As each bird prepares to woo a mate and secure a chance at procreating, a growth forms on top of the bill that eventually becomes the pelican version of a rhinoceros horn.

I always know the pelicans will leave soon when all of them sport this neat little accoutrement.

For now I can see they’ll be here a while longer.

A double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) perched in a tree (2008_12_24_002790)

Although Sunset Bay is my favorite place at the lake, large crowds on a welcoming pre-holiday afternoon made it too busy for my tastes.

I headed south along the east shore.

The northern edge of Winfrey Point gave me a moment to stop and appreciate a perched double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

My approach caught its attention and it turned to watch me, its jewel-like blue eye capturing the sun with splendor.

But then I realized I was on the wrong end of the bird.

Immediately after I snapped that photo, it’s tail went up.

I pressed the button again.

Then the reason for the lifted tail become clear: This one was clearing its bowels.

I turned away at the last minute considering I was quite close and didn’t have much interest in seeing that from the business end of the bird.

Instead, I moved on.

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) standing in an open field of dry grass (2008_12_24_002801)

I rounded Winfrey Point and saw gobs of people lining the shore as far south as Garland Road.  Apparently visiting the lake had become a major draw.

Facing the horde totally stepped on my buzz; therefore, I circled around the point and moved uphill back toward Sunset Bay.

Walking through a winter field of dry grass around these parts can scare up some interesting creatures.

The most common field inhabitant is the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus).

I must have thrashed the afternoon nap of at least a dozen of these plovers.

When they’re resting in brown ground cover as they’re wont to do, they become marvelously invisible until they start moving.

And when they start moving, they put a sharp eye on the interloper—in this case, me!—and they make a ruckus to let the invader know a sacred territory has been breached.


I left them to their siesta and continued back toward the bay.

A European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in nonbreeding plumage perched on a branch (2008_12_24_002837)

Feeling a bit like a lost child making loops through a store to find a parent only to keep seeing the same places over and over again, I passed boisterous crowds of people while trying to make my way through Sunset Bay and toward what I hoped to be quieter places near Stone Tables and places further north.

Along the way I couldn’t help but stop and appreciate some of the winter flora, like skeletal trees holding up the bones of the world for all to see.

And resting upon one such bone was this European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in nonbreeding plumage.

I can agree with many that this species is invasive and that it has upset the natural order of North America.

I can also agree with many that this species makes life a lot more difficult for our native wildlife.

But I have to add this: We can’t undo what has been done.

Humans loosed the European starling onto this continent in an asinine attempt to introduce all the birds of Shakespeare upon the New World.

That didn’t go so well, at least for native birds who found a great deal of unhealthy competition suddenly set upon them by these aggressor species.

Nevertheless—and I repeat myself—we can’t undo what has been done, and we did it to ourselves.

So I accept the European starling as a disruptive element in our ecosystem.

I don’t like what it does and I don’t like the damage it inflicts, but I wouldn’t kill them all even if I could.  They can’t be blamed for our actions.

I left the starling to its lonely afternoon.

Two male lesser scaups (Aythya affinis) floating on calm water (2008_12_24_002868)

And where did I end up again?

Right back at the pier in Sunset Bay.

The thick mass of humanity had cleared a bit.  But only a bit.

I took the opportunity to crouch on the creaky wooden planks above calm water.

Lesser scaups (Aythya affinis) delight me to no end.  The Daffy Ducks of the world, they tickle me with their cartoonish looks.

Yet animated and childlike though they might seem, they’re also quite beautiful.

These two males floated carefree not too far from where I dangled myself over the lake trying to take photos.

Do they look concerned?


A juvenile ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) flying by me (2008_12_24_002897)

Stand to leave.

Hear shrieking from the air.

Turn to look.

Busybodies fly all around ready to swoop from the sky and nab tasty goodies from anyone who offers—or who can’t withstand the assault.

This juvenile ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) screamed its way by me.

I seriously doubt it had any clue why it was screeching or what it thought it might get in return for the yelling.

Well, truth be told, people expend a lot of effort feeding the wildlife here.

The gull probably thought it worth asking if I had a little something to share.

But I had nothing but the camera.

The bird swept easily through the air and circled the pier for a moment or two, then off it went in search of other trouble.

A white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) perched in a tree (2008_12_24_002951)

Still too crowded for my tastes, I again left the pier, only this time I headed east along the creek.  The riparian landscape heavy with trees and thickets always offers a different smorgasbord of creatures.

Where I had first photographed green herons and yellow-crowned night herons, only naked branches stood in the afternoon warmth.

But something else was there as well.

Tucked back in the many islands of the confluence perched this white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica).

Okay, let’s be honest: I scared up a litany of animals.  And I was on the opposite side of the creek!

Foraging in the crunchy, leaf- and twig-filled barren wasteland that is the winter ground, this dove became startled as I approached.  It then flitted into a tree where it felt safe watching me.

In turn, I felt bad for bothering it and walked away as quietly as I could.

A Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) perched in a tree (2008_12_24_002963)

Which was about three steps before something else caught my eye.

Leaping from branch to branch as it nibbled at winter fruit and seeds, this Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) paused only briefly.

Its afternoon was full, you see, what with the whole chasing down lunch in winter thing that was going on.

Kinglets, titmice, woodpeckers, doves and other birds filled the area with the business of being busy, yet something about this little conspicuous critter held my attention.

It never moved closer to the edge of the creek where I might have had a clearer view.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching it through a barrier of naked limbs from where I perched on the opposite side of the waterway.

But then I had that feeling of being watched.

Strange how that works, how we somehow know when eyes are fixed upon us.

And I knew there were eyes resting all over me, intent and unflinching eyes.

So I turned.

A northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched in a tree (2008_12_24_002979)

I commented at Mary’s place recently about northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) being my always companions when I take walks.

No matter the weather, no matter the surroundings, no matter the time of day, it never fails that a member of this species will be nearby keeping close tabs on me.  Even when all other birds scatter and hide, a mockingbird will fly in close and land in a place where it can watch me.

It’s become a sort of game, at least on my part.  The challenge is to find the bird.

And I always find one.

This particular mockingbird chose a bright sunny branch dangling over the creek that gave it a clear view of my position.

To test its mettle, I walked intently back toward the lake.  It hopped a bit further out on the branch to keep me in sight.

So I turned and walked back the other way, back toward the floodplain and Dixon Branch.  Its eyes tracked me like a predator watching a meal.

I laughed and thanked it for keeping everyone safe from the dangerous man with the camera.

An eastern boxelder bug nymph (Boisea trivittata) on a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (2008_12_24_002990)

Walking at the creek’s edge toward the bridge that would let me cross to the floodplain, flashes of gold punctuated each step.  Common dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) stood upright and showy, some still flowers while others had gone to seed.

A bit of movement on one of them drew me in closer.

A nymph.  More specifically, a young eastern boxelder bug (Boisea trivittata).

With a telephoto zoom lens on the camera, macro photography was out of the question.  In fact, I had to back away a few steps to get the scene in focus.

Sometimes I wish I could carry the whole camera store with me when I go for walks.

A true bug and not just an insect, these little critters can form rather large colonies when food is abundant.  Just ask xocobra: He and his family had a massive group of them take up residence outside their front door.

I grinned as I left the child to its investigation of the dandelion.

A fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) in a tree holding a wad of black plastic in its mouth (2008_12_24_003001)

The sound of claws scampering on wood drew my eyes up to the treetops.

A fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) ran from limb to limb, jumping from tree to tree, then paused when it realized I was watching it.

From my perspective, I knew it carried something in its mouth and I wanted to know what it was.

A bit of zoom and a button click made it clear: a wad of black plastic.

Nesting material I bet.  Or at least hope.  Yet also a sign of our lack of care and management.  I’ve seen too much garbage harm too many creatures at this lake.

It always disappoints and angers me.

Seeing this little tree rat leaping about with this material made me hope it didn’t pose a threat later.

A fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) and an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) foraging in winter grass (2008_12_24_003027)

I crossed the bridge and left the path as quickly as possible to escape the growing throng of people.  Who knew Christmas Eve was a major let’s-go-to-the-lake event?

Twigs and grass cracked and crackled beneath my feet as I walked onto the floodplain south of Dixon Branch.

Once I made it to the dry gulch that runs into the woods, I scared up a murder of crows perched in the trees above me.

Why crows are so skittish is beyond me.  They were so high up in the tree and I was still some distance from them, yet they panicked.

I followed their progress through the treetops and slowly turned until I saw another fox squirrel joining an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) for a spot of afternoon foraging.

I was too far away for a good photo, so I walked slowly toward them with one eye looking through the viewfinder as I clicked and clicked.

As if I had leaped upon it from nearby, the crow suddenly took to the air and headed right for the trees.

I wasn’t even close enough to throw a stone at it, let alone pose a risk.

I tried capturing the escape even though I knew I was too far away.

What I captured was something else.

An American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) landing in a tree with a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) hiding in the branches (2008_12_24_003034)

Telephoto lenses aren’t particularly good at wide landscape shots.  Still, this image tells a story.

In the upper-left corner is the crow landing in the trees.  That’s simple enough.

Let’s talk about perspective: The branch that runs from the crow’s position to the right side of the picture actually juts out quite some distance above the floodplain.  It’s a large, heavy branch.

Now follow that branch to the right side of the photo just about centered from top to bottom.

See a hint of red and brown perched amongst the branches?

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) sat in the tree in a place where it was perfectly camouflaged, a place that gave it a clear view of the birds and squirrels foraging in the open, a clear line of attack if only one of the animals would move far enough away from the thicket to give the hawk time.

I never realized the hawk was there as I walked toward the crows and squirrels.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was within about five yards/meters that the hawk finally saw me as a nuisance and left its perch.

It scared the heck out of me, took me completely by surprise.

The predator made a quick leap into the air and turned immediately into the dense woodlands.  Unlike its adult counterparts, it was still small enough to make a quick getaway through the branches, one replete with sharp turns and easy avoidance of the obstacles.

I wanted to kick myself for not seeing it sooner.

On wings

Not long ago Mary spoke about the difficulty of photographing birds.  She wrote:

I recently read a remark from a blogger in New England, “…photographing birds is hard work.” I never thought of it that way. However, truth be told, a few days, weeks, or months pass and maybe several hundred photos get dumped before I nail a glorious, unedited series of shots. Yes, it’s hard work, struggling to maintain the virtue of patience and practicin’ cussin’ skills.

And she’s right.  Like the rest of nature, birds don’t respond well to the “Say cheese!” or “Sit still, damn it!” commands, or any of the other usual suspects in our repertoire of photography directives.

However, circumstances sometimes conspire in a way that provides opportunity to capture an avian moment more difficult than the usual image of something perched on a branch or swimming in a lake.  I mean birds in flight.

A ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) in flight (2008_12_07_001101)

While many gull species overwinter at White Rock Lake, the ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) remains the most common.  Both adults and juveniles spend plenty of time fighting with the coots and ducks and geese for every little tasty tidbit that can be found.

And woe is the unsuspecting person who comes to the water’s edge with a treat hoping to birth an encounter with the other inhabitants.  Gulls will swarm in flight and will challenge almost anything that gets in the way of a free meal.

Three rock doves (a.k.a. common pigeons; Columba livia) in flight (2008_12_27_003639)

Rock doves (a.k.a. common pigeons; Columba livia) enjoy a permanent home around these parts.  Truth be told, after being introduced to North America, they made themselves at home anywhere humans live—just as they have around the globe.  In fact, rock doves are ubiquitous in the world and thrive in urban and suburban landscapes, and they have been involved with humans for thousands of years, something that makes it next to impossible to determine their geographic origin.

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) in flight (2008_12_16_002433)

A veritable laundry list of heron and egret species live here.  The most elusive is also the largest: the great blue heron (Ardea herodias).  Yet this behemoth tends to stay with the rest of the pack.

There exists a firth stretching inland from behind the old paddle boat building where one these days can snag a canoe or kayak.  The lake’s arm that reaches behind that structure, though, is so far removed from the world of humans that it hardly seems possible to bridge the gap between them.  Egrets and herons of all sorts make this lagoon their home.  At the right time of day, it’s possible to see several dozen birds of many different species, including the great blue.

A double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) in flight (2008_12_25_003220)

Loud.  Obnoxious.  Willing to travel with the pelicans when it’s feeding time in hopes of grabbing a free fish stirred up by the larger birds, a practice that has landed them in the gaping beak of more than one pelican.

The number of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) explodes in winter as migrants find their way back to this wildlife refuge, an oasis tucked gently in the middle of Dallas’s far-reaching sprawl.  Morning, noon or night, these mouthy, large birds can be found at the water theater behind the Bath House Cultural Center.

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) in flight (2008_12_24_002716)

With all manner of wildlife living and dying in the middle of the city thanks to this man-made lake and surrounding park, turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) thrive here alongside their less evident cousins, the American black vulture.  Although it might be hard to believe, I see more vultures here than I do when I visit the family farm in East Texas’s Piney Woods.

Turkey vultures are birds of prey.  Sure, they spend a great deal of time looking for meals that are already dead, but they don’t mind doing the dirty work themselves when circumstances warrant.  Nevertheless, it’s obvious they find it much easier to soar around overhead waiting for nature to set the table and cook the meal instead of doing it themselves.

A great egret (Ardea alba) in flight (2008_12_13_002350)

The first time I discovered the heron and egret sanctuary behind the paddle boat area, at least a dozen great egrets (Ardea alba) sat about in the trees, some offering raucous cries when one of the others invaded their personal space.  Much wing flapping and neck stretching ensued, after which one of the birds would move on to another branch or another tree.

One marvelous trait of the great egrets in this area is that they are far more tolerant of people than the great blue herons.  That’s not to say one can walk right up and pet them; it is to say they’re easier to photograph, and not just because there are a lot more of them.

A juvenile red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2008_12_25_003356)

Hawks, eagles, falcons, merlins, owls…  When it comes to birds of prey, White Rock has them all.  The only problem with photographing them comes from the challenge of finding them.  While hunting, they stay high or out of sight; while resting, they stay tucked away in the dense woodlands; and when running from the local murder of crows who mob the larger species, they run like the devil no matter who sees them.

Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) perhaps represent the species most often seen.  Why that is I don’t know since there are so many others to be found if one looks carefully enough.

Three ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) lined up in flight (2008_12_07_001275)

Back to ring-billed gulls.  Why?  Because I really like the way this photo turned out.  Nothing more complicated than perception…

And finally my two favorites from this series…

I stood at the shore in Sunset Bay and took pictures of every little thing that caught my eye.  Bright sunshine did little to assuage the chill wind sweeping in from the north.  Gusts blowing at more than 40 mph/64 kph had me resting against a tree so I didn’t blow over—something that had already happened more than a few times earlier in my walk.

Reeds and brush at the water’s edge swayed back and forth, but mostly the dry plants pressed themselves down while pointing south as the arctic air invading Texas rolled over everything in its path.  Once I realized all the blowing stems would make photography difficult from where I stood, I made my way to the pier jutting into the bay.  The sandbar reaching north from the jetty would keep water from spraying into my face, and at least the lack of plants would give me a clear view.

Regal bald cypress trees stand on either side of the pier’s entrance.  As winter steals their verdant splendor, the foliage puts on clothes the color of rust and falls to the ground, something that creates a soft blanket of deep orange and red.  The planks under my feet eventually became clear once I reached the place where the wind scoured from the surface everything not nailed down.

At the end of the pier where I wanted to plant myself, a young man stood atop his bicycle, his mouth agape as he stared at the American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).  At least a dozen of them already occupied the sandbar, some sleeping, some preening, some standing and staring aimlessly as though unsure of what to do with their time.

Overhead, sweeping in from their breakfast hunt in the deeper water near the spillway, yet more of these leviathans soared in on wings held still.  Conservation of energy defines their flight, much like that of vultures and hawks and eagles, and windy days can both help and hinder this effort.  Moving from southwest to northeast, the pelicans could use the strong northerly winds to their advantage for both flying and braking.

I finally reached the end of the pier where the young man stood.  His red sweatshirt was pulled tight and the hood provided only the smallest space for his face to see out.  Yet hidden or not, the surprise on his face clearly mixed with glee as he watched a parade of pelicans fly right over him as they circled the bay once or twice before landing (in this sense, the wind didn’t help since many of them missed their first try).

The wood under my feet moaned and creaked as I stepped up beside him.  He immediately turned, his blond hair blowing against his face as his crystal blue eyes devoured the entire landscape before us.  “Wow!” he exclaimed, then he looked up to watch another pelican coast overhead.  “Look at the size of them!  I guess there really are fish in this lake.”

I burst into laughter.  That comment alone meant he was new to the area—or at least new to this season at the lake.

We chatted a bit about the pelicans, for no more than a few minutes, then he spun his bike around and headed back to land.  He quickly disappeared around the north end of the bay as he continued his ride.

Which left me to watch the remaining pelicans arrive for their afternoon bath and siesta.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) in flight (2008_12_24_002761)

I might add I came awfully close to falling in the water more than once as I tried to take pictures.  Bracing against the unrelenting wind with only the viewfinder giving me an idea of the world around me made for a greater challenge than I expected.

Thankfully Sunset Bay is rather shallow, the confluence bringing a great deal of sediment into the area that only gets swept away during spring floods.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) in flight (2008_12_24_002923)

But I didn’t fall in.  Instead, I wallowed in the privilege of seeing pelican after pelican fly close both above and in front of me, each one trying for a soft landing in the face of winter’s chill blow.  Only when my fingers could no longer operate the camera did I turn and walk away, a grateful and overjoyed man who couldn’t have asked for a warmer reception on such a cold day.

Brush of a feather

How filled with profound envy I become when my eyes settle upon a bird in flight.  How jealous I am of this simple thing.

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) in flight on a sunny day (20081011_13614)

Lifted by a harmonious play of feathers brushing against air, the angelic sight too often leaves me adrift in a dreamscape that gifts me with such an ability, a place wherein I soar majestically over mountains and woodlands and oceanic vistas, where my vision devours the entire world in great sweeping arcs born of flight.

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) in flight on a sunny day (20081011_13611)

With all our rushing to and fro, and with all our scampering and scurrying, I fear we do not see as these creatures see, for our view from the sky can only be artificial at best, unnatural to our earthbound lives.  What must this existence look like to those who ride the winds?

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) in flight on a sunny day (20081011_13617)

To rise on thermals with wings held firmly against the sky…  To perch in treetops and survey the land to which so many are forever anchored…  To lavish my sight with the gift of visions meant for none but those who swim in the vastness of the heavens…  To be like a god amongst insects…

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) in flight on a sunny day (20081011_13652)

What fanciful magic I see in birds.  What want I feel in the presence of that which they take for granted.

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) in flight on a sunny day (20081011_13610)

The brush of a feather against the air.  It’s nothing more complicated than that.

[all photos of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura); bad of me for not using the polarizing filter; it would have helped tremendously with these shots]