Posted in Birding, Passeriformes, Starlings

European Starling

We had finished our journey at the duck pond and we were freezing our hands off. We shivered our way into the car. Beaker especially was having difficulties. As we stopped at a light near CVS Pharmacy, he was the first to say quite quickly, “Well let’s go home! Enough birds and…”

“Hey look,” I said, “European Starlings.”

Everyone looked around. “Where?”

“Over there on the power lines near CVS”

“I don’t think we should stop for ugly black birds,” Beaker said. Beaker usually has a dislike for black, bald or boring birds.

“But Beaker,” I said, “European Starlings are very colorful and sparkly in the sunlight.”

“Yes, but…”

“And they were introduced here because of their occurrence in Shakespeare .”

“Um… Yes.”

“And it’s a new bird.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. Beaker pulled into the CVS Pharmacy parking lot and parked.

Hawkeye shook her head. “You crazy man.” She couldn’t believe we were going out in the cold to get a closer look at ‘ugly birds’.

Beaker and I got out and Beaker started trying to get pictures. A scowl began to form on his face. “What’s the matter, Beaker? This cold bothering you?”

Back-lit Starlings
Back-lit Starlings

“No.” He answered. “There’s too much back-light.”

I thought about that for a while. “If we went into the road there would be no back-light.”

“Yes,” Beaker said, “but that would be the last picture we would take!”

Okay, so we didn’t get he best pictures, but it was still cool to see the Shakespeare bird.

Posted in Anseriformes, Birding, Ducks

Ring-necked Duck

Northern Shovelers were not the only ducks that were avoiding us. There were also the ring-necked ducks. Ring-necks are diving ducks. They are distinguished from their relatives by a white ring on the bill and the nearly invisible cinnamon neck ring, in which it got its name. Ring-necks are quite shy and never come for bread. This is because they are diving ducks and dive for their food; aquatic plants and aquatic insects.

Another reason they are shy is because they are a very common sport duck and are also hunted for food. Apparently Beaker’s camera looked like a gun. Like the shovelers, they avoided us and swam to the opposite side we were on. We had a plan. Beaker would hide on one of the sides and the rest of us would drive the ducks to him.

We yelled and jumped. We accidentally woke up a turtle. Even the used-to-people Muscovy Duck got annoyed and swam away. Of course it worked on the shy, ring-necked ducks. Beaker got good pictures that were nice and close up but I bet you still can’t see their hidden neck ring.

Ring-billed Ring-necks?
Ring-billed Ring-necks?
Posted in Anseriformes, Birding, Ducks

Northern Shoveler

We got out of the car and decided to take pictures of the two other ducks at the pond we hand not yet got close to. Among them were Northern Shovelers. Northern Shovelers are medium-sized ducks with a green head, rusty underside and very distinctive shovel-like bills. Usually they are found in groups of 5-10, males and females, coming on land and wanting bread. But his time there were only two males on the other side of the pond. So we walked to the other side of the pond.

When we got there it appeared that the shovelers were on the other side of the pond now. Perhaps our eyes were deceiving us. But when we went to the other side, they again were on the opposite side. We walked to where they were a little faster this time. But they swam a little faster and where once again on the other side. This went on once more.

We devised a plan. Hawkeye, Snowfeather and I would go where the ducks were and distract them while Beaker got pictures. It worked. We jumped, yelled and acted like crazy people and drove those ducks straight to an ambush – where Beaker and his camera lied in wait.

Smooth Sailing Shoveler
Smooth Sailing Shoveler
Posted in Anseriformes, Birding, Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

As we turned around the corner, on our way back to the pond, Hawkeye yelled, “Bird!” My head swerved just in time to see a black-bellied whistling duck. Only Hawkeye and I saw it. But as we walked around the freezing pond the little whistler came around near us. It was strange to see one walking all alone.

Usually they stay together in groups of twenty, crowding you and whistling for bread. But this one was all alone.

Blurry Whistler.
A Blurry Whistler.

Later, when we got into the car though, twenty more flew in. And it just might not be a coincidence. They say Texas is the best place in the U.S. to see black-bellied whistling ducks, but we have not seen them since that day. Could they be avoiding us? Could these ducks be smarter than we think? Or… could all ducks be smarter than we think?

Maybe not. But it took some brains to figure out how to photograph the next few ducks.

Posted in Birding, Cormorants, Pelecaniformes

Double-crested Coromant

The cold began to bite a little more fiercely. Hands, warmed briefly in coat pockets, cupped sniffling frostbit noses as breath mist flowed through our fingers. Frequent gusts carried sprays of water from the fountain at the center of the pond downwind, in our direction. Like an unwelcome admirer, the wind matched our course and followed us wherever we went. I was beginning to think this birding thing was ‘for the birds’.

“Are those snakes?” Curvy black creatures stretched up from the surface of the water like snakes charmed from a billowing basket. “What are those things out there in the center of the pond?”

Cormorants on the rocks.
Cormorants on the rocks.

“Those are the cormorant,” replied Snowfeather.

“Double-crested Cormorant, actually,” Mimic added.

“Are they birds?”

“Snake bird.” Snowfeather said simply.

Mimic helped to fill in the details. “Cormorants are called snake birds because their long necks, sometimes the only part of their bodies seen above water, are mistaken as snakes.”

Having these charming snake, bird and snake-bird experts around did much to warm my heart but not a whole lot to warm my freezing hands. I didn’t know what I’d snap first, a picture of the cormorants or the five little icicles I used to call fingers. – Click

 

Posted in Birding, Ciconiformes, Egrets

Snowy Egret

Through rolled up windows everyone watched the rustle and bustle, the flapping and fluttering of our feathered friends as they flocked on the duck pond outside our car.

It was but a quick retreat from the cold for Mimic and Snowfeather. Feeling much warmer, they were ready to return to the wild, to get back out there and spot a new bird. More than ducks inhabited this duck pond. “I think the rain has let up a bit,” Hawkeye said. “Let’s all get out this time.”

I agreed. “But what if it starts to rain? I don’t want my camera to get wet.”

“I can hold the umbrella for you.”

“That’s nice of you, Mimic. But I don’t think I’ll be shooting from that low of an angle. Besides your a good spotter. You need to be free to spot.”

Mimic, always ready to help, was halfway out the door when Hawkeye promised to provide an umbrella shelter from a higher altitude. If the need be.

I strolled to the left, watching the pond as I went. A bright and sleekly shaped figure, gracefully gliding over the water, captured my attention. It was as white as a swan and as thin as a rail. If it were a duck, the poor thing would be starved. Emaciated duck or not, I knew I needed its picture. “What is that skinny white thing that keeps flying back and forth?”

“That’s a Snowy Egret.”

“Is it lost?” I asked. “There ain’t no snow around here.”

A cold Snowy Egret.
A cold Snowy Egret.

Mimic replied straightforwardly. “It’s called ‘snowy’ because of its color not its habitat. Egrets of all sorts are fairly common here.”

Still, at this particular duck pond, at this particular time, the only egret within eyesight was the sleek and shiny, snowy one. Snow itself hadn’t been seen in years. Although it certainly felt cold enough.

Brrrr.