Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for March 20th, 2012

A dark encounter

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On August 24, 2011, well into that year’s terrible drought, I went to the prairie in northeast Austin to see if I could find some early occurrences of the aptly named snow-on-the-prairie. While I did locate some, my biggest find of the day was accidental, and it was at the opposite end of the brightness scale. At one point in my driving around I caught a glimpse of a large structure looming in the woods on the north side of E. Braker Lane where nothing of that size had a right to be. What was it? I turned around, drove back past the place, then around the corner onto Pioneer Farms Dr., where I parked so I could go exploring. No sooner had I gotten out of my car than I noticed two vultures in a nearby tree. As you’ve heard me say before when I’ve encountered birds, I put my longest lens on the camera and proceeded to take pictures, in this case of the vultures singly and together.

Click for greater clarity.

Most of the pictures I took during the session show one or both birds sitting in static poses. There came a moment, though, that I managed to record, when the vulture shown here seemed to get leery of me and made a move as if to fly away, but in the end it didn’t and settled back down. In photographing such a dark subject against a bright sky, I exposed for the bird—actually overexposed slightly, knowing that the sky would appear somewhat washed out, but the important thing was to retain details on the shaded body of the vulture.

As best I’ve been able to determine, this is a turkey vulture, but an immature one that hasn’t yet developed the red head that explains the common name. Cathartes aura is probably the largest species of bird in central Texas, with an adult wingspan up to six feet (two meters). It’s impressive that an animal so large can fly.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2012 at 5:42 AM

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