Lark Sparrow At Takeoff…

and one reason bird photographers need to be both quick and lucky. I’m only including this first image to help me make my point.


1/8000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Two days ago in the Stansbury Mountains this Lark Sparrow was so far away that the only chance I had for an image where the bird filled enough of the frame for barely acceptable image quality was if it took off and filled more of the frame with its open wings. I’ve included this uncropped version of the photo taken a split-second before takeoff to demonstrate how far away I was from the bird (obviously my blindingly fast shutter speed was a mistake on my part).

In this unfortunate situation the only advantage for me was that if I was very fast with my trigger finger I might have enough room and enough time to catch this quick little bird in flight before it was “out of the picture”. Anticipating that if I was lucky the sparrow might turn a little more toward me as it took off to my left I framed it to the right of center to give me even more room in that direction and waited tensely for takeoff.

But the little bugger pulled a lightning-quick maneuver I don’t often see that almost foiled my best-laid plans.



1/6400, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

So fast that it barely registered with my eye or my brain the sparrow twisted over 180° in a counterclockwise direction on its juniper perch and took off to my right instead of my left – all in a continuous motion.

As a result I don’t have quite enough room on the right for the composition I’d prefer but I really like the takeoff posture and the light on the bird (even though there’s not a lot of detail in some of the deep shadows and the face isn’t quite tack sharp). The image would never print huge with high quality because it’s been cropped to only 42.5% of the original photo (8.5 of 20 MP) but even though it has its weaknesses I keep coming back to it so I decided to feature it in today’s post.

But for me the bigger part of this equation is how much fun it is to pit my wits against the vagaries of predicting bird behaviors and getting a shot I like despite them trying valiantly to stymie my best efforts. Perfect shot or not I still look at this image as a limited success.

Sometimes I win, more often I lose and other times the results are in-between. But it’s nearly always fun.




22 comments to Lark Sparrow At Takeoff…

  • Very good work Ron. Both images are wonderful.

  • Stephen Clayson


    The best laid plans…
    It was nice to see you this AM in the PM!
    (Only you should understand that.) I was one of the dusty clouds that passed you. You were again engaged in your craft so I didn’t disturb. Just “checking on the kids.”


    • Sorry I missed you, Stephen. I’m so involved in the birds in situations like that I just don’t pay much attention to anything else.

      And I liked your little riddle. Took me a minute…

  • Your pickiness and your trigger fast delete finger are well known it seems. I am grateful for the first, and like so many of us, would LOVE to spend some time dumpster diving in your discards.
    I have a weakness for the LBJs and they often make greased lightening look slow and predictable. Well done you for capturing/foiling the lark sparrow’s determination to elude you.

  • Susan Stone

    I like the takeoff shot a lot. I think I’m becoming as fascinated by bird feet as Elephant’s Child is by britches. Please forgive my ignorance, but why was your shutter speed for the first photo a mistake?

    • Susan, 1/8000 sec is MUCH faster than I needed. It was my high ISO setting that allowed me to have that SS but higher ISO’s produce images of somewhat reduced image quality by increasing noise. I’d have been better off to have a lower ISO because I’d still have had plenty of SS for the bird in flight. Good question.

  • Marty K

    Glad for your itchy trigger finger (and that the shot survived your itchy delete finger 😉 ) today! Lovely shot of a LBJ so many people overlook. Sometimes I think animals must sense what we’re expecting and do the exact opposite just to toy with us or keep us on our toes. They *know*.

  • Joanne O'Brien

    I really like this photo and would be proud to have taken it! I’m very fond of the LBJs and this picture shows off the bird’s beautiful head and wings. Great light!!

  • Dick Harlow

    “Sometimes I win, more often I lose and other times the results are in-between. But it’s nearly always fun.” This is the, or should be, the mantra for all of us!!
    Life in general is such a kick! I tend to think this is a great shot, but I understand the frustrations.

  • Laura Culley

    What a treat, Ron! Thank you again (and again)!
    And I know a LOT of race drivers who would say they’d rather be lucky than good any day! They’d also add that luck is the residue of design. To be lucky, you just gotta be there! 🙂

    • Laura, In my experience being lucky can be just as productive as being good for the very short run but it’s no substitute over the long haul…

  • Patty Chadwick

    Beautiful shot, wonderful light….great gear, quick trigger finger, anticipation based on experience and an ample dollop of luck….all vital to getting a shot as good as this one….

  • Judy Gusick

    But you DID capture it and nicely too even if it isn’t QUITE up to your standards! 🙂 Your reflexes are a whole lot quicker than mine! Glad you had fun with it. 🙂 On another note we have NO Western King Birds this year for the first time I can remember. 🙁

  • Charlotte Norton

    Picky,picky, picky Ron! Absolutely the BESTLark Sparrow flight I’ve ever seen!!