Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

This species is the only truly migratory gnatcatcher so I expected ours to be gone by now but yesterday morning they were still around in good numbers.


1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

As is their habit they were actively gleaning tiny insects from foliage – in this case mostly scrub oak in Box Elder County. They’re active and fast so they’re difficult to photograph well but I managed to get some shots I enjoy (despite the fact that some of these photos aren’t as sharp as I like).



1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are very small, long-tailed songbirds whose tails are almost as long as the rest of their body (the softness of the face of this bird grates on my sensibilities but I wanted to include this look at the tail).



1/1600, f/5.6, 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 one landed for a moment in a far-off wild rose bush and the morning light brought out those reds gloriously so even though the bird is small in the frame I’m fine with it because for my tastes the leaves and their colors are almost as important as the bird. And I like the way the heavily shaded background sets it all off.



1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 840, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Though this photo may seem a little strange to some I think it’s my favorite gnatcatcher shot of the morning. This bird is actually in full flight (its feet aren’t even particularly close to the branch that had been the perch) and I like the almost ruler-straight tops of both wings accentuated by the shadow going across the lower neck that seems to extend that graphic line from wing to wing.

Getting this little speed demon reasonably sharp “in flight” pleased me and I also like the way its body is hanging nearly straight down from the wings, almost like it’s suspended from them (which in reality it is – this flight posture just makes that fact more apparent).

It was fun to get one last chance with this species before they leave for the winter. The reports I read on Birds of North America Online about the usual timing of their fall migration (“in autumn appear to depart breeding areas as soon as young are independent, mid- to late August“) strongly suggest that these particular gnatcatchers are quite late migrating this year so I can’t help but wonder if it’s yet another potentially dire result of climate change.

If so, who knows what the long-term effects on the species might be.





32 comments to Blue-gray Gnatcatchers

  • Marty K

    I think the rose bush is my favorite. Those reds make a beautiful surround for the grey birdl. I also like the little wisp of spider web — the visible and invisible hunters.

    • Good eye spotting that spider silk, Marty. I didn’t think anyone else was likely to notice it.

      • Laura Culley

        I noticed it on my second pass but failed to remember to comment on it. I love your photography!!

      • Marty K

        I’m weird like that and apparently very attractive to spiders. There’s spider silk all over my house and yard as well as inside and outside both cars. I can’t bring myself to completely destroy what they’ve worked so hard to make.

  • Great work, getting such nice shots of the gnatcatchers. Isn’t “This one landed for a moment” redundant when talking about this species? ☺

  • Jean Haley

    Beautiful pictures Ron.

  • Awe, wonder, delight. Mixed with some education.

  • Laura Culley

    Ron, I sorta love your nit picking in your quest for perfection, HOWEVER, you probably don’t know what a sheer delight it is to scroll through your posts. I go slowly, taking in your words/explanations (although I’d give you a basket of commas if I could…LOL! There’s that English teacher/editor again!) and as each image comes into view, I gasp with an OH WOW! Then I linger on the image, celebrating each detail of the feathers, posture, background, and just everything before I move onward to another chunk of text. The other cool thing is I almost always achieve my goal of learning something new with the informational nuggets you provide. Then, I go back and take it all in again (and again, and again). In total, you make me smile, laugh, wonder at the amazing beauty and just bring me joy, which is really important!
    I just adore the flight shot. Generally, birds launch in a more horizontal posture, but this kiddo is heading straight up, showing off I suppose. That’s just not fair to us silly humans who are stuck on the ground, bending to the will of gravity! But I really don’t have a favorite. They’re all wondrous!
    I’m concerned about the changes in the seasons, too. In an NPR report a little while ago, the reporter went into how critical it is to the survival of birds in that some of their food sources only last a short time and the birds’ timing is off to take advantage of those food sources in their migrations. That’s bad! We (collectively) just don’t get what we’re doing to this marvelous spinning rock and we’re (collectively) not willing to learn and change our (collective) behaviors.
    At my house, I’m struggling to see the neighborhood birds (beyond the sparrows in the rose bust outside my front door who will soon be introduced to the Kestrel, AKA the Evil Princess). Sooo, I’ve purchased several bird feeders and a suet feeders to bring them closer into my view. The last time I did that when I lived in Dallas, I went WAY over the top. Suffice to say that the horses and goats next door know me as the treat lady. In my defense, isn’t anything worth doing worth doing well? 😉

  • Diane Bricmont

    Beautiful series, Ron. When I hear my first “wheeze” coming from a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher I know the rest of the spring migrants won’t be too far behind!

  • Patty Chadwick

    A very nice series,l like the little gray bird against the colorful fsll background….especially like the last with the outstretched wings(which almost look too small for such a plump little bird!). I worry about small birds like this one and other critters in stotms like last night’s….a pretty rough stirm.

    • I know what you mean about storms and birds, Patty. I often have similar concerns. Thank you.

    • Laura Culley

      I ALWAYS worry about the critters first in storms, fires, hurricanes, etc. Humans have available escape mechanisms that the critters don’t necessarily have, so they’re far more vulnerable to disasters, natural and otherwise. And don’t even get me started on the humans who leave the critters they’re responsible for behind. Yes, I know there are sometimes exceptional and horrific situations where there is no other available choice like when the levee broke in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but under most circumstances, a little bit of intelligence and prior disaster planning goes a LONG way. And you ARE responsible for their lives, too.

  • Joanne OBrien

    Beautiful pics of these great little birds! A couple of springs ago in eastern Massachusetts, when I first started birdwatching, I couldn’t turn around without seeing one of these cute birds. I haven’t seen one in my neighborhood since. Boo-hoo. The last photo is fantastic by the way! Just sayin’.

  • Susan Stone

    Even before I read that it was your favorite shot, I picked the last one as my favorite. It is very balletic, something I’m not sure I expect from a bird. All the shots are good, even the one with the supposedly soft head. I would make a miserable bird photographer, according to your standards, because even when I zoom in as far as I can on that photo, I’m not sure I can see clearly. I am not familiar (by experience) with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but from your photos they seem to have a lot of personality.

    • “they seem to have a lot of personality”

      Susan, if one considers pugnaciousness as being personality they did have that because they would chase after other birds larger than they were.

  • April Olson

    Beautiful colors. The twisted feathers of the tail are interesting. I enjoy the flight shot, they are so hard to capture.

  • Dick Harlow

    Great shots Ron! The fact that this fellow is so small and you are able to capture these excellent shots is just amazing!

    Bad storm over night a lot of power outages. Right now we are experiencing the diminishing winds of gust exceeding 60+ MPH. It goes without saying the avian population is down. However, geese are moving and we had a GHOW this AM on our Purple Martin pole. Have had them calling in the past first one actually observed here!

  • Arwen

    I really love the reds inthe one shot. The light was lovely.

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful LBJ 🙂 The autumn foliage is appropriate and the full flight photo with the wings fully stretched is neat. We’ve had some birds going early, some going late this year. The unusual at the moment is many pine siskin and purple finches at the feeders. We generally have a few but not this many.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Super series Ron! The last one is my favorite.