Hello everyone. Sorry for the long absence. Changed contracts, and had to wind down one and wind up another, which just kind of take a good deal of time. Well, takes up most of the daylight, at least this time of year. Hopefully once the days lengthen I’ll be able to hit up some bird and wildlife hotspots after work and get some nature photography in more often. I’ve still been doing my photography, however most of it lately has been of the deep night sky (just easier to do, as the middle of the night is the only time I really have to do anything.) I did spend a couple of weekends at Duck Lake in City Park, Denver. This is a Double-Crested Cormorant breeding ground, and a hot spot for geese and ducks of various kinds. I was last there a couple of years ago, with my old 100-400mm lens, and there must have been 150 birds up in the trees and flying around. I don’t think the turnout was quite as high this year, but it was still interesting seeing the Cormorants there…they are much less timid than at my other birding spots.
With the 600mm lens, I was able to get a good, close up look of some of the bird behavior as well. Cormorants are very interesting in how they communicate. When one of a couple returns to the nest, they greet each other warmly, often tapping beaks. Sometimes they will do what appears to be a little cuddle for a short while, before the male will awkwardly scramble up to a nearby lookout branch and just hang out. A gift is often presented by a male when he returns to his nest if he’s got a mate, and that usually seems to make the female rather excited. She will usually put it to good use immediately. Single males are usually around as well, doing their little mating dance, and often trying to repair an old nest or start a new nest if an old one is not available (however cannibalization of old nests by other couples is not uncommon.)
The males usually leave the nest to gather twigs and other materials for nest repair, while the female stays behind. Males will usually fly around the lake a bit, I presume scouting for materials. One of the most interesting behavioral traits is the tendency to wash the material off. It’s usually a twig, but sometimes something else used for lining or such. Twigs are fairly thick, often quite large (sometimes too large for the bird to take off with, although they will usually try for a good while before finally giving up), and they always get a good cleaning. Males will frequently waddle up onto the island where the dead cottonwoods that support their nests are, and scout around for the ideal twig before the wash cycle.
Females will frequently communicate the need for nesting materials to their mate by repeatedly tugging or pushing or tweaking certain twigs that just don’t seem to sit right, sticking out at off angles, etc. When the male is out, the females frequently seem to test the strength of the nest, poking and prodding and pulling at various parts. They seem to know exactly what they want to do whenever their mate brings back a twig or other material, and it only takes moments for her to start working a new twig into the nest, wrapping it around and tightening down any loose twigs that may have been there already. It’s an amazing process, intriguing watching the whole relationship in action.
Many people find Cormorants to be “ugly” birds…but I have always found them to be rather beautiful. Not beautiful in the normal sense, I guess…they often look awkward, and their black feathers often hide their intricate detail. Their eyes in particular are a big part of their beauty…big, brilliant blue jewels that glint like blue fire when lit. I also love the patterns in their bills, and close up, they are truly amazing. In flight, these birds are like natures stealth fighter jets, sleek and fast and silent. Their mating behavior is full of subtle hints of love and care.
In addition to the cormorants, there are usually other birds. There are always Coots around, gobbling up pond weeds of various kinds as fast as they can. They usually gobble it up so fast that you can frequently hear them coughing up something that ended up getting stuck. 😛 The coots are a bit territorial as well. Sometimes one will just get too close to another’s space, and a little fight will ensue, usually resulting in a short, quick water-walking sprint as one chases the other away. I tried to get some shots of that….with my big lens, I was only ever able to frame one of the birds at a time, but I managed to grab a couple decent shots of this amazing water-walking feat:
Another bird that sometimes water-walks is the common Mallard. Wherever there is at least a small body of water, you’ll find mallards. They are ubiquitous. And they are always fighting this time of year. The males will often chase each other around, the coupled chasing off the uncoupled. These little chases are usually rather low profile, heads out, necks down, drilling through the water in arcs and circles after each other. It’s quite humorous. At times, however, these little chases will tick up a notch and the birds will run after each other, pulling off a “Coot Walk”. 🙂 I managed to barely capture one of these moments as well:
The lake is always packed with geese. Mostly your average Canada Goose, but this particular lake has one or two Graylag geese every year as well. This one particular one, which I may have photographed before, seems to have quite the dominating personality, and she frequently has trails of other geese following her. The Graylag goose has a fairly distinctive, almost trumpet like honk, and you can always pick it out of the rest. Graylag geese are fairly rare in the US, primarily being an Asian, European and Australian goose. They are quite large, rather rotund, have silvery brownish-tan feathers and striking orange bills. Despite signs posted everywhere around Duck Lake to not feed the birds, everyone does. That makes these geese extremely friendly, and this Graylag came right up to me, I guess begging for a handout. That gave me the opportunity for an extremely detailed close up portrait shot:
Look closely, and you can see your’s truly framed within her eye:
There are usually a variety of other ducks wading around at Duck Lake. It’s a rather apt name for this tiny little body of water, when you get right down to it (despite the fact that the Cormorants in the trees usually outnumber all the rest two or three to one!) I managed to capture some decent shots of one of my favorites, the Bufflehead…beautiful, glamorous birds…I call them the “Bling Boys” of the duck world. There were also your common Goldeneye, what I believe was likely a Barrows Goldeneye (although I couldn’t get a shot of it as it hung around the backside of the lake), Northern Shovelers, a Merganser or two, and a couple of other smaller species I couldn’t fully identify (one of which may have actually been a female Buffle, couldn’t be sure.)
After a rather bland winter, with very little bird photography (primarily due to my job at the time, I was working down town, and that tends to add somewhere between two and a half to over three hours of extra time to my day due to driving…and with the short days, there just wasn’t any time for photography. :(), my first visit of the year to Duck Lake turned out to be quite a productive, interesting visit. I’ve actually been back a couple of times since, and will be returning again soon to see if the Cormorants have hatched their young. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit Duck Lake a few more times this year before young fledge and fly, as the birds there are so easy to photograph compared to most of my other haunts.
Until then, I have a few more sets of photos from this first visit to share, a bunch of flight photos of the cormorants and geese, and a set of portraits of each kind of bird at Duck Lake.