Fledgling And Adult Marsh Wrens (+ the ongoing Montana firestorm)

Marsh Wrens don’t often sing on territory this time of year but they’re still fun to photograph on those rare occasions when they give you a relatively clear shot.


1/640, f/8, 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

I found a couple of fairly cooperative wrens three days ago at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. This scruffy looking youngster only recently fledged and we can still see pin feathers on top of its head and on its flank.

This shot was taken only minutes after sunrise and the bird was deep within the reeds. As a result the light was very low and given the almost head-on pose and my camera settings I knew I wouldn’t have enough depth of field to get the entire bird sharp so I didn’t even try. I’d much rather have only the head and front of the bird sharp than adjust my settings to give me more DOF and then have the entire bird soft because of a ridiculously slow shutter speed.



1/1250, 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

This adult was in a little better light and gave me a side view so I didn’t need as much depth of field.

Overall I had a disappointing morning at Bear River but these two wrens saved the day. That seems ironic because normally Marsh Wrens are one of my most difficult subjects.


PS – On a mostly unrelated note I want to mention the terrible fires occurring now throughout much of my beloved home state. Montana is now a literal firestorm of flame and smoke with over a half million acres burned so far and that number increases dramatically each day. Montana is under an official state of emergency and because of the thick smoke planes can’t fly to fight or even monitor the fires. Much of Glacier National Park is being evacuated and tragically Sperry Chalet has been destroyed by fire and historic Lake McDonald Lodge is seriously threatened. Smoke from Montana’s fires is severely affecting air quality throughout most of the state and into Wyoming and northern Colorado. Some of that smoke is even reaching us here in northern Utah and it was quite noticeable while I was photographing these wrens.

Many of my friends and acquaintances (I grew up very close to Glacier NP in Cut Bank, MT) are being severely affected by the fires and smoke and some may lose their homes and/or property.

A common theme I see from my Montana friends and others on social media is that they feel abandoned and ignored by the rest of the nation – they presume that’s because the population of Montana is relatively small, despite its huge size. They don’t understand why national media is virtually ignoring their ongoing tragedy (the only fire situation that seems to get much national attention is the one near Los Angeles).

Many of them are asking their social media friends across the country to share what’s happening in hopes it will get more national media attention and they’ll get the help they need from the feds and others so I thought I’d do my very small part.

Many of these fires are expected to burn until the first snowfall.

Note: Minutes before publishing this post I managed to find this national news story from CBS on the dire fire situation in Montana and elsewhere in the west.


38 comments to Fledgling And Adult Marsh Wrens (+ the ongoing Montana firestorm)

  • Tim in Albion

    This may be an unpopular stance here, but I’d like to point out that forest fires are NOT devastating to the flora and fauna – in fact, fire is a natural and essential feature of the Western forest ecosystem. It is a rejuvenating force, the opposite of devastating. Many decades of misguided fire-suppression efforts (ongoing) have made fires less frequent, allowed for more development in fire-prone areas, and thus have increased the human costs of such fires. That is both a human and ecological tragedy, as the forest ecosystem suffers from both the fire suppression and (especially) development, and humans ultimately suffer avoidable consequences.

    I fully understand the emotional reactions to wildfires and the horrible smoke plumes; I’ve suffered through them as well. Let’s take some solace from the knowledge that the ecosystems generally benefit from fires, and there will be a wonderful ecological succession following each one – if we allow the forest to respond naturally. (Unfortunately, that seldom happens, as there is also a widespread misperception that forests need some kind of human intervention to recover from wildfires – despite the fact that they have been doing so for tens of thousands of years – abetted by the lagging industry.)

    • From a strictly logical and scientific standpoint I wouldn’t dispute anything you’ve said here, Tim.

      • Judy Gusick

        Agree – the recovery can be miraculous to watch and is part of the ongoing cycle of life – the devastation caused getting there is still horrific……………………

    • Laura Culley

      Tim, I agree completely. But I’ll also admit that I care more about the habitat loss along with the loss of wildlife life. Humans have far more capability to leave the area, and if they’re not heavily insured, well, that’s just dumb. Wildlife, on the other hand, is already so marginalized that any loss of habitat is critical to their survival for all the reasons you mentioned!

  • Love the wrens particularly the youngster who rocks the slightly dishevelled look which fashionistas strive for (and fail).
    BUT my heart goes out to all living things in the path of the wildfires. My country gets them every year (known as bushfires here). Too often deliberately lit. And the damage and the impact are immeasurable. And we are promised a bad season as the weather warms because we are so dry.

    • That’s right – your fire season in Australia is just beginning as ours slowly comes to an end. I remember that last year you had some terrible fires down there. Better luck this year, EC!

    • Judy Gusick

      I know your fires are horrendous – hopefully your season isn’t as bad as predicted.

  • Pat Henson

    Ron, I grew up in Southern California and experienced first hand the devastation of wildfires on flora and fauna. It was not uncommon to have a lawn covered in ashes! Now I’m in AZ, a state that burns like kindling. I sent out a tweet which hopefully will be retweeted around the country.

    My prayers and thoughts are with you, your friends, the wildlife and the land itself!

  • Laura Culley

    Lovely marsh wrens and I love the feather detail, especially on the just-fledged kiddo! Birds are just magical critters (except for starlings who are hawk food…LOL!)
    I’m VERY aware of the fires in Montana, Oregon and the rest of the world outside of Los Angeles and New York. Several of my friends live there and all are worried about where this is going.
    Houston and southern Louisiana are also on my mind. My Houston home was submerged above the roof with Hurricane Harvey. I have other friends there who lost their homes. And now, Hurricane Irma is threatening my friends in Florida, but some models show Irma entering the Gulf of Mexico. You just can’t trust hurricanes, and while they give you lead time to get out of the threatened areas, they can also completely change course. Right now, this is a HUGE storm that can do a lot of damage wherever it goes. The islands will lessen its strength to some degree (as it pounds them), but the waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic are warmer than ever.
    No, this climate change is just a hoax (here’s a towel to wipe the sarcasm off that statement). Listen up folks. Mother Nature ain’t a happy girl and we’re in BIG trouble!

    • “we’re in BIG trouble”

      We sure as hell are, Laura. And at least some of it is our own fault (climate change, building on flood plains etc, etc…)

    • Judy Gusick

      Yes, the hurricane is just the opposite and horrific. Have a sister N of Houston that escaped the flooding…………..BUT We ARE in BIG trouble no matter the cause and I KNOW humans don’t help at all 🙁

  • Betsy Livingstone

    Hi Ron – I just read that very same article in my local newspaper, the Santa Rosa, CA Press Democrat, via AP so the word is getting out. All the fire news is horrendous and so traumatic for the folks directly affected as well as wildlife, and the habitat damage. It seems the extreme storms, droughts and fires are becoming the new “normal”. A friend in Boise posted this NWS satellite image showing NW Montana a big white blur: https://www.facebook.com/NWSBoise/photos/a.220225831328915.62894.205950409423124/1858994620785353/?type=3&theater. Thanks for the cheery wren shots. Hang in there, little guys!

    • That photo is a real eye-opener, Betsy. Thanks for providing the link.

    • Judy Gusick

      WOW! We’re pretty clear yesterday and today and much cooler, BUT that is to change. Wildlife congregating at remaining “puddles” – most birds “gone” but the deer/coyotes etc. still have to drink………………

  • Shirley

    Oh, they are just the cutest little creatures! Thank you for all you do for us viewers, Ron. My heart goes out to everyone threatened by the wildfires. This area of the West Kootenays is thick with smoke, coming back into town after checking on the Osprey chick at Nellie’s nest I couldn’t even tell that we have mountains and a bridge crossing the Kootenay Lake. Another sore throat today from it but at this point we are safe in Nelson but some outlying areas are on evac. alert.

    • Shirley, the smoke here in northern Utah became quite bad during the night last night. Today I went back up to Bear River MBR and even though there was some blue sky if you looked straight up I could see absolutely no trace of either the Wasatch Mtns to the east or the Promontory Mtns to the west. And neither is very far away.

  • Judy Eberspaecher

    Nice marsh Wrens, a bird that I have yet to photograph.
    You are right about coverage of the Montana fires; there has been no mention of them in Canadian news. Lots on the California and Texas disasters. Montana is no less important than other states. In 1997 we spent 7 weeks in the Midwest and loved the rugged natural areas of Montana and Wyoming along with South and North Dakota. It’s very sad when one thinks of the wildlife. I will repost your message.

  • Susan Stone

    Love your Marsh Wren shots, and the first thing I noticed was the warm light, which I now know is most likely caused by smoke. I am so sorry to hear about the Montana fires. Having grown up around Los Angeles I know all about the fire coverage. I figure they have to do the fire coverage for LA because the reason people get hurt by them is that they are stupid enough to push up into the Chaparral, which by definition burns every 10 years, because the Manzanita seeds need fire heat to germinate. Ditto for the Lodgepole Pines in Yellowstone NP. So some fires are good. I don’t know the ecology of Montana, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of the fire problem there is due to climate change. In my mind, Montana is worth far more than Los Angeles, a place I hope I never have to see again.

  • Diane Bricmont

    Amazing photos of these little skulkers!Thanks for bringing more awareness to the devastation in MT- it certainly hasn’t gotten the coverage it deserves. Hoping your family’s beautiful old granary is spared!

  • Dick Harlow

    Excellent shots Ron, lucky you to get so close or to have a Wren that appreciates having his/her picture taken!

    So sad in MT and Glacier! We camped in Glacier some years ago and remember it well to this day! Many fond memories. The bone dry conditions in MT are terrible and should be a concern to all of the US.
    The attitude of our present govt. toward climate change is so counter productive to where we could be rather than stepping backwards.

  • Great pictures, I think I saw a couple once. Will I was in a Marsh and they were wrens LOL. My heart bleeds for MT as for my home state of TX. I grew up where Harvey went in and went to school and lived for several years in Houston. I think I would prefer water to fire.

  • ricik

    If it helps, we here in the Chicago area have seen news reports of the fires on the extended local news.
    I like your pics and look forward to them every day The local hawk watch at Ill. Beach State Park and Ft. Sheridan started at the end of Aug. This will be the first year of 18 that I will not be volunteering due to physical problems. If we have an NW wind today I will try to get to the Beach.

  • Judy Gusick

    P.S. As far as federal help it was denied initially – something to do with how a “form” was filled out. MT is now receiving some – good thing as the Fire Budget is pretty well shot as I understand it. Losing the Sperry Chalet was heart breaking as they did many things to try and save it. Hope the Lake McDonald Lodge “makes is”.

    • Judy, I was also heart broken at the loss of Sperry Chalet. I’ve never been there but I did hike into Granite Park Chalet some years ago. I’ll never forget it.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Great shots of this elusive little one!


  • elizabeth sawin

    Beautiful pictures as always, Ron. And some of us are watching in the Midwest and grieving for the loss by fire in Montana, Judy. I have sent news stories and pictures on Facebook. I will always remember a family vacation where we all took the Going to the Sun Road in the open “van” and rafted down one of the rivers. Our faculty also rafted the upper-Missouri River Breaks area during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. Such a beautiful area. Have ever since been a Friend of the Missouri River Breaks. We all must do our part to protect all of our national parks. I am so sorry for Montana’s loss which is also ours collectively. Elizabeth

    • Judy Gusick

      Thx Elizabeth – we aren’t far from the Missouri River Breaks.

    • Elizabeth, the river you rafted down was probably the middle fork of the Flathead River. I’ve rafted that river too, only I did it with a friend in my own (flimsy) four man raft and that was pretty stupid. We were almost killed!

  • Judy Gusick

    Nice shots, Ron. 🙂 Yes, MT is a mess at present. Though we have no major blazes in north central MT where I live at present the smoke has been bad at times along with the heat and some smaller blazes that have occurred, thankfully, they’ve been able to contain fairly rapidly. We have been spending more time indoors with an air cleaner than we would like.:( Everything is “bone dry” and, for us, little water available for fighting fires as Belt Creek is down to puddles. No rain/snow in sight yet and that’s what it is going to take to put the big ones out. When the infrequent thunder storms do come through it’s a “hold your breath” time waiting for the next fire to start. As far as national news MT just doesn’t make it. Unless we have something like a Ted Kacznski a.k.a. the Unibomber going on we pretty much don’t exist:( Thx for putting it out there.