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Archive for December 10th, 2011

Grackles revisited

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Grackles flocking at twilight; click for greater detail.

“Every day now, beginning around 6 o’clock and increasing as the sun goes down in the western sky, hundreds and hundreds of grackles fly in and gather on the electric station towers and power lines near the intersection of US 183 and Braker Lane in my northwestern part of Austin.” So I wrote on October 18. In the almost two months since then the phenomenon has continued at dusk every day, except that with the seasonal dwindling of the amount of daylight the birds begin gathering more than an hour and a half earlier, at least as our clocks measure things; unlike some of us, the birds weren’t confused by the change back to Standard Time and they insist on taking their clue from the sun. And I’ve insisted on going back at least three times since October 18 to take more pictures of them.

The last time you saw the grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, most of them were sitting on some power lines, where many are content to stay put for short or long stretches. Others  forage for food on the ground or settle onto the tops of nearby trees. But if something startles these birds, they can suddenly rise up in large numbers and form dense flocks that turn and wheel as if all following the same split-second signals. It’s then, in many people’s opinion, that the grackles are at their most impressive, as you may agree when you look at today’s photograph from December 7. Who would expect to see such a large a swarm of birds, not at a wildlife refuge but above a freeway in an urban area of a million people?

Every time I’ve been to this location, the massive grackle flights reach their peak when daylight has faded to the point that taking pictures is difficult. So I crank up my camera’s ISO to 1250, as in this picture, or even as high as 2000 in some others; I also use an external flash to try to lighten up the birds’ dark bodies a little (and only a little, given how quickly the light falls off according to the inverse square law). Even then I often have to add exposure when I process the images on my computer afterwards.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 10, 2011 at 5:22 AM

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