Some Recent Birds (+ a rocket test… yes, really)

Occasionally I like to do a “potpourri post” featuring some of the recent birds I’ve photographed that have fallen through the cracks of my blog. Generally they’re not spectacular shots but each holds at least some interest for me. Each of these photos was taken in recent weeks.


1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Western Scrub Jays have been a difficult subject for me over the years because in the mountain foothills where I usually encounter them they’re extremely skittish. This one gave me a few seconds at fairly close range in the Stansbury Mountains and though it’s only a documentary shot I was still happy to get it.



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

The moment of launch of a Western Meadowlark on Antelope Island. Meadowlark “armpits” often seem to be largely devoid of feathers which in other species is mostly only a condition of recently fledged birds – one of those little species quirks that I’ve never quite understood.



1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

For me this is a charming pose from the Lark Sparrow because of its squatted down posture and droopy wings. For a passerine this bird seemed extremely relaxed and I like that.



1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

For me it’s been a slow year for Burrowing Owls so far and when I do find a cooperative one it’s usually been on a metal fence post – a perch that has no appeal for me. But I like this perch because it’s barely recognizable as a fence post (which it is) and the wood is about as old and weathered as it can get. And I think the muddy feet add character.



1/5000, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is a grab shot of an American White Pelican that turned out fairly well. I had my lens trained on a Short-eared Owl on a fence when this bird suddenly appeared from the south so I quickly aimed and shot. I was lucky to get proper exposure on the bird because I had no time to adjust camera settings.

About an hour after this shot was taken in the Promontory area of Box Elder County I had a completely unexpected opportunity that didn’t involve birds. Orbital ATK has a huge rocket test facility in the area and they tested some kind of rocket motor while I was perhaps five miles from the facility and it really got my attention.



1/1000, f/11, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 100mm

This is what it looked like from that distance. You can get a sense of scale when you know that those small squares in the huge and very long white building are doors for big-rig trucks (I believe).

A little research after I got home suggests that this was a test of the launch abort motor for the Orion spacecraft that is designed to safely lift the Orion crew module away from the launch vehicle in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent. The Orion vehicle is in development and its purpose will be to facilitate human exploration of asteroids and Mars and to retrieve crew and supplies from the International Space Station if needed.

Believe me, it was an impressive end to my morning in the field.




30 comments to Some Recent Birds (+ a rocket test… yes, really)

  • Dagnabbit. I just missed you and Mia apparently. Any day with Owls is a good day.

  • Laura Culley

    Love potpourri days and what a splendid selection! So many of my favorites, but then, y’all know I’m easy 😉
    Way back in another lifetime, I worked with Singer/Ling Flight Simulation Division in Houston, Texas on the Space Shuttle Program for STS-1 through STS-6. Sadly, I never got to see a live launch. DARGH! I did, however, get to meet the astronauts as they trained for their missions, along with James Michener (one of my favorite authors) as he worked on his book, “Space.”

  • Barby Anderson

    What a wonderful variety of shots Ron! Such fun to see up close in your photos.

  • Ron, it’s all relative. You’ve photographed many Burrowing Owls, and it’s a slow year for you. I never saw a Burrowing owl before last week, when I photographed 4 on Antelope Island, 2 on Promontory Road, and one at the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho. It’s been a great year for Burrowing Owls for me.

  • Jean Haley

    Great photos, and a nice variety of birds. The Pelican shot did turn out really well for such little time to focus etc. They re-named the Scrub Jays here. No longer Western, it is California Scrub Jay. There is a slight difference in coloring, and the beak is a bit bigger from what I understand. We have had a family live around here for years. So fun to watch.

    • Yes, they also split off the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay into a separate species. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the changes. Thanks, Jean.

  • Love your potpourri.
    Seeing the pelican always reminds me of the dinosaur link…

  • Marty K

    Wow! What an ending! I saw the STS shortly after launch one year when the NEA-RA was in Orlando. Several hundred of us went outside the convention center at launch time to see it IRL. Amazing!

    Now, back to birds…

    Another super birdpourri! That pelican “grab shot” is quite something! There’s also something about that adorable sparrow shot that really grabs me. As for scrub jays, you’re invited to hang out on our couch to watch the nest activities in our neighbor’s bamboo. Can’t see the actual nest (too steep an angle from the side yard), but one of the parents is a “Peeping Jay” and hangs out on the ledges of our clerestory windows and says hi all the time. I’ve been able to get quite close as long as the window is between us — close enough to see what’s for dinner in its beak. 🙂

  • Patty Chadwick

    That second shot can’t possibly be a real Meadowlark…it isn’t singing….love the fluffy little hunkered down Lark Sparrow and the always appreciated Burrowing owl…and their weathered wood perches, especially the owl’s…man made or not, it’s wood and I like it…not as happy with metal, though it’s a bit better when very rusty…

  • April Olson

    Nice grouping I really enjoy the Lark Sparrow. ATK had a test of something yesterday too, it scared the s**** out of me. The air and the ground rumbled. The birds seemed to take it all in stride. The Burrowing Owl I was photographing did not even flinch.

    • April Olson

      It was a bad day to be out there photographing. I was bothered by human intervention all morning. There was a truck spraying the weeds along the side of the road, and three large wide load Cat transports of HUGE equipment either going to the railroad at the point or perhaps the new garage disposal location on the mountain followed by the ATK blast in the afternoon as I was leaving. It all made me grumpy!

      • April Olson

        Garbage disposal, I hate auto-correct!

      • I was there a week ago, and three trucks with 3 huge dozers and a pilot car in front and in the rear went past. I drove a mile or two past where the road becomes gravel, and where ever they went it was beyond that.

    • Sadly, it’s my guess that the heavy equipment was on its way to construct the new landfill. I’m very, very angry about that.

  • Susan Stone

    Glad you had a good day. I think my favorite shot is the Burrowing Owl.

  • Dick Harlow

    Love all the shots Ron, especially the Lark Sparrow. How often can one have a sparrow be relaxed for the camera and not ready to take off at a moments notice! Well done! The flight shot of the Pelican is excellent!
    So, what do you think our chances are to see our first humans fly to Mars? Five years from now? 10 years?
    Even with all the problems we have around us, I think we live in and during a very interesting time!

    • I doubt I’ll ever see humans on Mars, Dick. But then just a few years before Neil Armstrong I’d have said the same thing about a man on the moon.

      • Dick Harlow

        I have to reply. My grandfather bet me $1000.00 when sputnik went up it was just a ploy and he would never see us (the US) or anyone else travel to the moon! Thankfully he lived long enough to pay up!!
        I agree about Mars, however I think it really depends on how long we, you and I, live. If humans don’t blow each other up in the mean time I believe man will make it.

  • Judy Gusick

    Great variety of shots, Ron and the rocket certainly “flies” even if it doesn’t quite qualify as a “bird” in the normal sense! 🙂 The featherless arm pits are interesting………..

  • Beth Fried

    Lovely shots!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful series Ron! Thanks for sharing!