Duck luck

Shoveler ducks on Saracen Lake

Sister Shoveler decides it is time just arriving to check on the boys. A second or two later, she completed her landing and was swimming with the gaggle of fellow travelers.

I had an itch to shoot and headed to Saracen Lake which is normally good for a favorable snap or two. My expectations were to stroll around the lake hiking trail and shoot a few grebe and pelican pictures. To my great delight upon arrival at the lake, there were hundreds and hundreds of Northern Shoveler ducks plying the waters in search of food.

Shoveler ducks feeding

Click on the ducks to see even more ducks. Cool stuff at Corndancer.

These ducks get their moniker from their large, spade-like bills. Their diet is aquatic invertebrates  and small plant matter. The shovel bill makes it easy to consist on that diet. When feeding, they swim with the biggest part of their beaks submerged.

Before we go much further we encourage you to take a look at the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com where you will see more shoveler duck pictures and get in on the start of this story. We’ll wait here while you look.

Female shoveler duck bites male shoveler

Ms. Duck sez to Mr. Duck, back off boy. Get out of my face or I will do some serious damage to yours.

These ducks were closer to the shore than usual, so dismounting from the venerable almost-nearly-300,000-mile-pickup was inadvisable. Critters will accept the truck well as long as you stay inside. They spook in a heartbeat when the door opens. This means balancing the long lens on a partially opened window, sometimes a contortionist practice. One can hear the snap, crackle and pop of aging joints in the process.

Gull on Saracen Lake shore

When the Arkansas River opened for navigation in the sixties, gulls followed towboats up river from south Louisiana. A few decided to stay so we have a year-round gull population. This one is Wilbur T. Gull, long-lost brother-in-law to Jonathan. While I was maneuvering on the parking lot for a better duck angle, Wilbur presented himself to be photographed. Far be it from me to refuse his request.

pelican flying with kingfisher in tree

When I finished the maneuver, I noticed a big pelican taking wing. I swung the lens around and got lucky. I realized I was even luckier after opening the file and seeing the kingfisher in the tree to the upper left.

Egret scratching

Once I was in place, increasing park traffic spooked the ducks. I went to nearby Lake Langhofer where I spotted this egret who seemed to say, “Well, a body just has to scratch every now and then. OK?

diving duck

I returned to Saracen Lake for more shovelers, but they had scattered like a covey of quail. But, there were a few of these little ducks near the shore diving, surfacing, diving surfacing – repeat if necessary. I’m not sure of their species, but on the cute scale, they well qualify for inclusion in this epistle. You have to shoot fast. It almost looks like they stay below water longer on it. 01-19-15 update: My friend David Brown has identified this critter as a female Ruddy Duck. Thanks David!

Thanks for dropping by and sharing the ducky-get-lucky trip to the lake. See you next week.

Thanks for looking.

Joe Dempsey,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


Egrets, grebes, and pelicans in Pine Bluff

Egret at Saracen Lake

This egret, as far as I can tell, does not stray more than 25 yards or so from his favorite clump of tall grass near the launch ramp on the south shores of Saracen Lake in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Said egret has become a dependable target.

In the last few weeks while making more than a few trips to Saracen Lake here in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to photograph our nice flock of wintering pelicans, I kept noticing an egret who likes to hang around a clump of tall grass near the launch ramp. Despite the fact the pelicans were the target of record, I have never been one to refuse a target of opportunity. The egret was just that. So during pelican lapses, the egret provided relief.

Pelicans on Saracen Lake

Click the pic for more pelicans

Though we are showing you a few pelicans in this post, you can get the full pelican treatment on the Corndancer Dot-com Photo of the Week page where this story started. You will see 20 pelican pictures. While you are there perusing pelicans, we will bide our time here awaiting your return.

The egret was nearly a mind reader. He stays in the general area where he was easy to spot but presents a different look with each visit. Sometimes a slightly different look and sometimes a dramatic difference. Can this bird read an art director’s mind? It appears to be so.

White egret in front of dark waters on Saracen Lake

The white egret makes a dramatic entrance against waters turned dark by angry skies.

Egret in tall grass near the shore line of Saracen Lake

Now the egret returns to his favorite tall grass clump from a different angle.

Egret on lauch ramp at Saracen Lake

This time the egret wades up the lake boat launch ramp just as the sun begins to set.

Peruse the pelicans

For several years now a flock of American White Pelicans have seen fit to winter on Saracen Lake. There are a few of us who are fans of those big birds and many other folks have more than a small interest in them. They are fun to watch and there are no commercial interruptions or requests to take the garbage out. According to informed sources, these are the nation’s largest flying birds. Find out more about these pelicans on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com.

Pair of pelicans landing on Saracen Lake in late aternoon

This pair, fresh from exploring other parts of the lake, make a landing and are about to bog up for the night.

Two pelicans and a sea gull swimming together on Saracen Lake

This pair of pelicans is swimming home. They have been joined by a gull who probably thinks the big birds are headed toward food.

Pelican flying low over Saracen Lake

I have observed many pelicans flying “limbo style,” across Saracen Lake: They seem to be trying to find out how low can they go.” This bad boy has a wing tip barely touching the water. He could be the prize winner.

Pelican flying from Saracen Lake  colony

Here’s a pelican “leaving for work.” The one in the lower right seems to be saying, “Bubba, bring home some extra fish.”

Gobs of grebes

If you watch the goings-on of lake critters at all, it won’t be long before you notice some small brownish birds, probably in the neighborhood of really small chickens size-wise. They are excellent swimmers and world class divers. You watch one or more happily swimming along, then as fast as you can blink your eye, the little dudes dive. Now you see ’em, now you don’t. There’s no telling where they will surface. There may be something of interest to odds makers here.

A few of the grebes came into effective long lens range and I was fortunate to make a few captures. The birds are “Pie-billed Grebes.” There are also “Horned Grebes” on the lake, but those have successfully evaded my surveillance thus far.

Pie-billed Grebe on swimming Saracen Lake

Here’s a Pie-billed Grebe with a few drops of water on its back left over from the last dive.

Pie-Billed Grege

This Pie-Billed Grebe, also replete with water droplets is about to take a dive.

Pie-billed grebe diving

There he goes! Take quick look at this grebe’s tiny butt. A fraction of a second later, only ripples remained. Where the bird would surface is anybody’s guess.

Two grebes swimming on Saracen Lake

Just another day in paradise for Mr. and Mrs. Grebe. They are taking turns on the diving duties.

Well there you have it. Another adventure from LA (lower Arkansas). This is good entertainment. For the price of a little gas and a few minutes of your time, you can watch time-honored, honed-to-perfection performances from world class feathery, floating athletes. If you are not near a lake,  stay tuned. This is not our last visit.

Thanks for looking.

Joe Dempsey,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind







A farewell to Isaac. Nearly.

fishing dock at saracen lake pine bluff arkansas

The last vestiges (I thought at the time) of tropical depression Isaac are leaving town. The angry clouds on the horizon are his. Shot from the fishing dock of Saracen Lake, our downtown impoundment in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Isaac fooled us. He came back for a curtain call later that night.

We finally got some rain here in LA (lower Arkansas). Seems like we have had domino-sequence dry spells for the last two summers. In 2012, we never quite overcame the rainfall deficit we experienced in 2011, adding insult to injury.

view of storm outside window link to corndancer

Click on the window for more of the story

It was so dry, the state was considering a water pistol buy-back scheme. Before we go too much further, check out the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com where this story started.

Then along comes Isaac inching his way from south Louisiana to the LA homeland. The original tracking put the “eye” just about over us. On the way, Isaac changed his mind and skewed west, a classic case of good news and bad news.

That put us on the east side of the donut, the roughest side of the storm. The counter-clockwise rotation of the storm sucks fresh moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dumps it inland, mainly on the east side of the storm rotation. The good news is, you are finally going to get some rain.

Rural road covered with water

Saturday afternoon, September 1, I headed out looking for aftereffects of Isaac. I did not find much that was notable except perhaps for Clint Henderson Road, north of Humphrey, Arkansas. There were several stretches where water covered the road, all of which I negotiated in the faithful pickup. The road section above was the longest, but not the deepest. This section was six to eight inches deep. The deepest section I’m estimating was right at axle deep.

The bad news is it’s coming to you three ways: hard, fast, and continuous. And in the process you are going to take a drubbing. Fortunately by the time Isaac crossed into LA, he was a tropical depression rather than a tropical storm or a hurricane. That’s little consolation to someone who has three inches of water in his den. On the bright side, he still has a den.

Saturday afternoon, I was laboring under the delusion that Isaac was gone for good. I was driving around looking for Isaac aftereffects and did not find many. I did notice that most of the afternoon was marked with a stiff easterly wind. That should have been a clue.

ripe corn in stiff breeze

There was a stiff breeze from the east most of Saturday afternoon, as evidenced by the horizontal leaves and bending stalks of this harvest-ready corn in a field east of Altheimer, Arkansas. The wind was a harbinger of things to come.

This old Grapette sign adorns the north side of the now unoccupied Leake building in what’s left of downtown Altheimer, Arkansas. The old sign has been on my list for a while and I figured today was the day. Grapette was about the best tasting “cole-drank” ever made in my humble opinion. It originated in Camden, Arkansas. For far too long after the brand fell on hard times, the drink was not available. In recent years, Wal-Mart bought the recipe and rights to the name and now sells it in their stores.

The Leake building in Altheimer, Arkansas

This is the Leake building upon which you will find the Grapette sign. The building dates back to 1917. The last business in the structure was Rusty’s Package Store. “Package Store” is a term widely used in LA and throughout Arkansas to soft peddle the term “liquor store” to the general public, some of which “don’t believe in likker.”  Rusty’s last package left the store a long time ago.

Later that night, Isaac did an encore — with us being on the tail end of a storm line reaching from LA to northern Illinois and Indiana. He dumped hail and rain and hit us with some strong winds. Isaac, one of Mother Nature’s children, had the last laugh. But then, Her family always does.

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

Critters and climate

Remember film? The stuff in the little round cans?

tiger at little rock zoom

Click on the tiger for the original post

Continuing our recent pattern of taking second looks, this week we are looking at some images shot in the early nineties on transparency film (slides).

We first posted these images in August, 2010. On our original post, we eschewed our normal location focus in favor of a media focus, to wit: stuff shot on film.

Click here to see the original Weekly Grist post, Two tigers-two sunsets. You’ll see a couple of tiger shots — and a pair of sunset shots which will never be duplicated since there is now a building in the middle of the former scene.

jaguar at little rock zoo

Click on the jaguar for the original Corndancer Photo of the Week story and pictures.

I shot the sunsets at Saracen Lake, nee Lake Pine Bluff, around the same time. The sky is big there. Late spring and summer thunder storms love to develop in the west close to sundown, making for unique opportunities

Saracen Lake Sunset

Lake Pine Bluff, now Saracen Lake.

The original story on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancerdot-com featured a fine jaguar at the Little Rock Zoo. Since they are more than wary, even in captivity, it was a fortuitous, one-time opportunity. You had to be there right then.

I’m wondering now, given the warp-speed advances in digital technology, if the format of the digital images I’m shooting now can be easily accessed in the future. Already, I have grabbed some archive DVDs and gotten the dreaded “cannot read media” message. I suppose it is the electronic weevil version of mould and mildew which love old film so much.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

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