A Few Birds From Yesterday Morning

One of the many things that makes bird photography both interesting and challenging is that there are no guarantees of success. Trying very hard just isn’t enough. Yesterday morning I invested 6 hours (three hours driving to and from my destination and three hours looking for birds) and came home with not a lot to show for it.

Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug.


1/5000,  f/5.6, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Even though raptors were slow I did get a few images I like fairly well. Despite the fact that this Western Kingbird is on a relatively new wire that isn’t even very rusty I think the background turned out to be interesting and somewhat unique (though it certainly won’t appeal to everyone). It was fairly close to the bird and I was curious to see how it looked with as little depth of field as possible so I dialed my aperture down to f/5.6 to blur it out as much as possible and this was the result. It isn’t one of my best images but for me it has enough going for it to be a keeper.



1/2000,  f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

In the spring when Loggerhead Shrike pair bonds are being formed the male feeds the female to reinforce that bond and this bird was involved in that little ritual just before this shot was taken but I missed capturing the behavior. The bird was sidelit but when it turned parallel to the wire for a moment I was able to get interesting light on the entire body.

At least this wire was old and rusty…



1/5000,  f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The best bird of the morning was this singing Lark Sparrow. A few minutes before this shot was taken I saw a pair of Lark Sparrows mating so I think I know why this bird was singing so enthusiastically. Their melodious song is a jumble of mixed notes and trills and I always enjoy hearing it, especially up close like this when I’m watching the performance through my long lens.



1/5000,  f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

And the sparrow was even cooperative enough to turn 180° on its perch and sing for me again. The angle on these shots is slightly steep but I think the bird looks good anyway.



1/2500,  f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

My final subject of the morning was this adult Red-tailed Hawk. There are things I like about the image and others I don’t but I decided to include the photo to make a point. I always enjoy these orange lichens in my images in a natural setting like these rocks and I think the short grasses add a nice touch despite being invasive cheatgrass.

But I don’t like the light. The image was taken at 10:11 AM and this time of year by that time of the morning the light is just too harsh on sunny days. The rocks and lichens are bleached out a little and with the sun so high there are no interesting shadows there. And notice the dark detail-less shadow thrown over the area around the eye by that overhanging brow ridge. I was lucky to even get a catch light in the eye and I had to work at it to get this one.

A very famous bird photographer (I have no respect for him ethically or personally so he’ll remain nameless) preaches that “showing up with your long lens at 11:00 AM on a bright sunny day just won’t cut it” and he advises packing it in after your shadow is shorter than you are tall.

I’ll have to admit- even he gets some things right.



39 comments to A Few Birds From Yesterday Morning

  • Jane Chesebrough

    I enjoyed it. You may not have gotten all you wanted but it makes it even better when you hit the jackpot.

  • Susan Stone

    I rather like all these shots, but my eyes have a little trouble with the first one, because it seems like the head blends in with the background. I don’t know how I missed this post yesterday. Congratulations on reaching 70. Older isn’t necessarily easier, but it’s definitely better than the alternative.

  • frank sheets

    I won’t speculate on who you are referring to, but I’ll bet I know who it is. If its the same person I am thinking of I will have to say he does know his stuff. But I will add, so do you. Great shots today and I from my perspective, much better than bugs on the windshield.

    • Oh, no question he’s a talented and knowledgeable photographer, Frank. And he knows the technical stuff much better than I do. But that wasn’t my point.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Great photos and commentary as well. You deserve a big pat on your back for the effort you made to get these photos. I don’t think that you “came home without a lot to show for it”. The song from the sparrow is marvelous.
    Thank you.

  • Nicole

    You’ve set the bar high, Ron!! Feliz cumple!!

  • A birthday party? And you gave us the gifts? It seems wrong, but thank you. And a happy birthday with many more to follow.
    Love that song, and, as you know, I am a fan of LBJs. And raptrrs. And lichen.

  • Marty K

    Oh crap! I missed your birthday yesterday! Thanks for the reminder, Patty. Many happy returns of the day. I agree with others — four totally different species — plus lichen! — make quite the present. 🙂

    I really like your shots of song birds and appreciate the education with the links to their songs. The sparrow’s buzzes almost sound like they’re blowing raspberries. Too funny. The kingbird has some fluff in its beak too. I wonder if it is his/hers or something to be delivered to a nest.

    One of the things I like most about you and your blog is the care and consideration you take when photographing all birds; not just the raptors and other “big money” subjects, but also the smaller, more abundant, or less-often-considered birds.

    • And Happy Birthday to you too, Marty!

      You could be right about the source of the fluff. I see it a lot on bird bills this time of year. Saw it on a hummingbird bill yesterday and I suspect it was cottonwood fluff.

      And thanks for that last note. IMO all birds deserve respect and noninterference in their lives to the point that it’s possible and practical.

  • Laura Culley

    Despite your protestations to the contrary, you were certainly the windshield yesterday! Trust me on this! What a delight to begin this lovely day in Arizona!
    Birdsong is such a splendid and delightful gift to us silly humans. Whenever I hear it, I MUST stop to listen. It delights my heart and brings me such joy I don’t have the words to express it. And that the Western Kingbird sang just for you, oh WOW! And such lovely images, too! Would that all humans would stop to experience, really experience, the sheer beauty and joy of birdsong! We’d have an entirely different world, wouldn’t we?
    You just gotta love Loggerhead Shrikes for so many different reasons. They always delight my soul.
    Lichen in a shot is always a treat for me. When I’m in The Great Out There, I always have to stop and take a closer look at it. So yes, I’m besotted by lichen, too. LOL!
    And of course, what a lovely redtail. That raw beauty is beyond my ability to describe successfully with the words available in our language. We just don’t have the appropriate words. I spent some quality time with Mariah yesterday, bringing her out of her mews while a friend did a minor repair to her favorite ledge. I love that old hag so far beyond my ability to express it that it’s just ridiculous. She’s taught me SO much. And she treated me with stink eye about the idea of coming out of her mews despite that the trade off was an entire quail! Granted, she grabbed the quail with that “Give me that NOW!” look, but she’d have preferred to continue relaxing in her space. What a privilege to know her!
    As an aside, thanks for identifying cheat grass for me. I’ve got that stuff all over the place here (along with a bunch of other noxious weeds). Sigh…
    Wishing you a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

    • Agree about the magic of singing birds, Laura. Whenever I’m “out there” expecting and wanting to hear singing and it’s not there the silence can be deafening at times.

      Now that you’re out west you’ll find cheatgrass all over the place, unfortunately.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Another nice series…my favorites are tye last two…like that angled post, the colors and the textutes…also like the iidea that the male shrike takes his girlfriend out to dinner as part of his wooing…OK, they eat in…well, he provides dinner,anyway. Also like the fact that you apparently survived another BIRTHDAY!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY,AGAIN…YOU ARE NOW ONE DAY OLDER ( and wiser???). 🙂

    • Patty Chadwick

      Almost missed the link to songs..until I read Dick’s comments. I always read all the comments…find them so interesting and informative– would hate to miss them!

    • Thanks for the birthday wishes, Patty (as you know it was yesterday). Turning 70 didn’t bother me but some of the baggage that comes with getting old isn’t a lot of fun sometimes….

      And you’re right about the comments. On mornings when I go shooting right after posting I always look forward to reading them when I get home.

      • Dick Harlow

        Sorry I’m late to the B-party, being 80 I try not to think about birthdays! My mother used to say getting old sucks! Although some might feel that way, with two artificial knees and a heart monitor, I take it one day at a time, and so far doing pretty well. We all take our lumps, but as you do, and I’m sure most people on this blog do, appreciate and enjoy each day from the time they get up to the time they hit the sack. Your blog is a mainstay of my morning!!

  • Joanne OBrien

    I love the photos. Especially the lark sparrow which I have never seen. I too would be pleased with such a slow day!

    • Joanne, with those harlequin face markings Lark Sparrows are very distinctive. They’re lovely birds with unusually interesting behaviors if you can catch them at it. I almost succeeded at it this morning.

  • Dick Harlow

    I like em all, great shots Ron. You got 4 species, I don’t think that is terrible, as a matter of fact your shots are excellent! Anytime I can go out and get 4 species in a day I feel I’m doing well! Many times I’m lucky to get one! I’d like to thank you for adding sound to your post when appropriate, very key, especially this time of year!

    • You’re right, Dick. At least I got SOME acceptable shots. I’ve definitely had worse days.

      And thanks for that note on the sound clip.

  • Linda Berkemeier

    I don’t have your artist’s eye, but here’s what I like today. A good look at the Red tail’s pantaloons and the shrike sitting on one of it’s favored storage units. The little hook on the shrike’s beak always triggers “barbed wire!” in my brain and snags it’s identity for me.

    • Linda, I saw a fair number of shrikes on that trip and spent some time inspecting fence barbs looking for impaled shrike prey but never did see any. Some of it’s pretty small and easy to miss.

  • Barby Anderson

    I think the photographs are lovely Ron! Thank you!

  • Jorge H. Oliveira

    This is the proof that even on a dull morning there is always something interesting if you have eyes to “see”.

    And now I can’t get that song out of my head. It is playing over and over again …

    Thanks for sharing “your” birds.

    • Ear worms can be annoying, can’t they, Jorge! 🙂

      • Laura Culley

        It’s a darn large bit better than the “I’m Hen-er-y the Eighth I am…” 🙂 I’ll take birdsong any day of the week over THAT!

        • Ha, I’ve been watching the Wolf Hall Masterpiece series on PBS (for the second time if you can believe it). It’s all about Henry the 8th. That damn song twirls in my head for at least one session every evening…

          • Laura Culley

            I HATE it when that song cycles through my brain! Now, I’ve got hungry Kestrel babies…they start food begging and I stop in my tracks to watch a feeding 🙂 I can hear them in my sleep. Old rehabbers never die…LOL!

  • Judy Gusick

    Nice! The newer barbed wire works well with that particular background. 🙂 Looks like “Cheat Grass” to me for the hawk of which we have plenty at the moment………. Less the light does get harsh – will take what I can get however! 🙂

  • Deedee OBrien

    I would be overjoyed to get this many good photos on a “bad day”!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful series Ron! I’d be thrilled to have a slow day like this one!