Savannah Sparrow Feeding Fledgling

During our last Montana trip we had multiple sessions over several days with a very cooperative Savannah Sparrow – “cooperative” in the sense that the bird could always be found in the same spot along the shore of Lower Red Rock Lake in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.  Getting clear shots as the sparrow hunted in the grasses was often another story.


savannah sparrow 1635 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 t, not baited, set up or called in

I have no clue if the bird was male or female since the sexes are alike and they both feed their young but this parent was kept busy trying to satisfy the food demands of a single fledgling.  The youngster was usually hidden away in the grasses but occasionally it would come out in the “open” and beg for food as it followed its hunting parent.



savannah sparrow 1577 ron dudley

  1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 t, not baited, set up or called in

Getting clear shots of the feeding process was a challenge and in the process I learned another photography lesson from these birds – next time I’ll use my 100-400 mm zoom lens in a situation like this rather than my 500mm prime.  The birds were so quick and they were often so tight in the frame that I spent most of my time searching for them through my viewfinder.  By the time I found them and almost locked focus on them they were often already gone.



bugs 1845 ron dudley

Another challenge was the flying insects.  Hordes of them!  There were horse flies, deer flies, mosquitoes and many others.  As you can see, one species (not mosquitoes) had a particular affinity for my windshield but thankfully they didn’t bite.  But since we obviously have to shoot with the windows open the biting species ate us alive, even after we almost bathed in Deet.  We did a lot of what I call “itchin and bitchin” while photographing the sparrow and for a long time after.

Sharp-eyed readers may notice the mileage on my pickup from the oil change sticker on the windshield.  The pickup is barely over three years old and will turn over 100,000 miles this week.  I estimate that over 90,000 of those miles are “bird miles”.   Sometimes I think I’m just a little bit crazy…



savannah sparrow 8957b ron dudley

   1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 t, not baited, set up or called in

Two summers ago and in the same general area I photographed this Savannah Sparrow feeding a Brown-Headed Cowbird chick.  As most of my readers are aware, cowbirds parasitize other species by laying eggs in their nests.  The host species hatchlings often do not survive as the much larger and more aggressive cowbird chicks get most of the food that is delivered to the nest (interestingly it’s relatively rare for cowbirds to parasitize Savannah Sparrows).

So on this last trip I was pleased to see the Savannah Sparrow feeding one of its own.



Northern Shoveler Duckling

Occasionally (very occasionally) I can’t resist the cuteness of a duckling and post it to my blog.  It hasn’t happened for a long while now but this little “guy” put me over the edge.


shoveler 0703 ron dudley1/250, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed the young duck on June 29 on Red Rock Creek at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana.  Its mother and a few of its siblings were swimming near a bridge as I passed over it.  I base my ID on the appearance of the adult female and photos taken by others of Northern Shoveler ducklings.  Since I often struggle with identifying female ducks I can’t be 100% certain that my ID is correct but I’m pretty sure that it is.

The devotion of female shovelers to their eggs and young is impressive.  In studies, 90% of shoveler remains found in predatory mammal dens during nesting season are females, which suggests that they were attempting to protect their nest or offspring (only the female incubates and cares for young).  Interestingly, females often deliberately defecate on their eggs when the nest is threatened which prevents at least some mammalian predators from eating the eggs.  I always marvel at these types of behaviors and wonder just how they evolved.

In this image I like the eye contact, the film of water on the breast and the water droplets along the back that almost seem to be floating in air.  And then there’s that cuteness factor…