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Posts Tagged ‘song sparrow’

When I first started photographing birds, all sparrow looked the same to me—they were all nondescript little brown birds. Over time I have come to appreciate the subtle variations in color and markings that help to differentiate the species, although identification is still a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition for me.

I spotted this handsome sparrow on Monday as I was exploring at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I believe that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), one of the relatively common sparrow species where I live. I really like the sparrow’s perch and the fact that it includes some of the dried leaves that will soon be falling from the branch. The white skies in the background give this image an almost wintry feel, though it is way too early for me to be even thinking of snow.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Last Wednesday I spotted this little sparrow at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I thought it was a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), but decided to check with some birding experts on Facebook who were able to confirm my initial suspicions. It did take me a little while longer to get a response than usual, however, because my proposed identification was correct. I tend to get quicker responses when I am wrong—folks will often jump in really quickly to correct me.

Although Song Sparrows are one of the most common sparrow species where I live, I love trying to get shots of them whenever I can.  In this case, I was happy with the simple composition and minimalist color palette that I was able to capture in this image—all of the different shades of brown give the image a harmonious feel that I find pleasing.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some experienced birders can identify a bird by its call, but, except with a few common birds, I am not one of the them. I need to be able to see a bird to identify it, and that is a challenge at this time of the year, when most of the leaves are still on the trees.

Last week as I was exploring a trail at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I heard a bird singing almost directly in front of me. As my eyes searched among the leaves, the bird kept on singing and eventually I located it. I could see that it was a sparrow and often that is an identification problem for me, because sparrows fall into the group of little brown birds that all basically look the same. However, in this case, I could see a dark spot on the breast of the bird, which usually means that it is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

I was happy to be able to capture a few shots of the little Song Sparrow before it flew away. If you are curious about the sound of the Song Sparrow’s song, check out this page on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, where there are several audio and video clips of this birds songs and calls.

 

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even when the weather is bad and other birds are hunkered down, sparrows are invariably active. Most of the time they are at ground level, but occasionally one will perch a bit higher off of the ground and give me a chance to get a decent shot.

That was the case this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, when a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) took a break and posed for me briefly on the end of a log. I liked the composition when I took the shot and decided to post it without any cropping. I also couldn’t help noticing as I was working on the image that the sparrow’s colors are almost a perfect match for those in the background.

Sparrows are really special to me too because both on my parents loved His Eye Is On The Sparrow, a hymn that reminds us that God cares for each one of us. That is a message I think we all can use right now, at a time when so many of us are stressed out over the situation in our respective countries and in the world in general.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are sparrows cute? Normally I don’t think of them as “cute,” but this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted hopping around earlier this week at Huntley Meadows Park was simply adorable.

I really like the simple white background provided by the snow and the organic shapes and texture of the small stumps that were sticking out of the frozen waters of the pond. Those simple elements add interest to the images without detracting from the main subject, the cute little sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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How do birds manage to survive when it is so cold outside? I asked myself that question early yesterday morning as I walked along the exposed boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park. The wind was blowing hard and the temperature was about 20 degrees F (minus 7 degrees C).

The landscape was empty and desolate and seemed to have little to offer as potential sources of food. Suddenly I noticed a small group of sparrows.  They would fly to a spot together and then individually forage among the dried out plants, including those sticking out of the ice. After a short period of frenetic activity, they would move on to another spot.

Initially, I knelt and tried to get some shots of the sparrows that were standing on the ice and reaching up into the vegetation. A bit later, I was able to capture some images of a sparrow perched on some plants in a more exposed position.

I am not really sure what kind of sparrows these are. Earlier in the day I saw some sparrows that I could identify as White-throated Sparrows, but these birds seem to have a different set of markings. After looking at my guidebooks, I have concluded that these may be Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and would welcome comments from more experienced birders on the identification, especially if I have misidentified the birds.

How do these little birds survive during the winter? From what I can see, they do their part by working hard as they forage for food and God provides for their needs.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When you are walking or driving around, looking for subjects to photograph, which ones will actually cause you to stop, grab your camera, and take some shots? Does it take an impressive and relatively rare subject like the bald eagle that I featured in yesterday’s posting? Would you stop to photograph a sparrow?

Over the past few years, I’ve read a lot of blog postings and seen some amazing photos, but I must confess that only a few of them have made such an impression that I remember their content. In a memorable posting in July 2013, Lyle Krahn, an amazing photographer and thought-provoking blogger, put forward a concept called “stopping power. Here’s an extract from that posting:

“I think every beautiful scene has stopping power. That’s my term for the ability of a scene to make a person stop hiking or driving in order to pull out a camera and make images. Did you ever wonder what makes you stop? Do you ever hear the music?”

I hear the music almost all of the time and the threshold for my “stopping power” is really low—almost any sound or color or movement is enough to cause me to stop when I have my camera with me.

Do I really need more shots of sparrows? Last week, I spent some time watching and photographing this sparrow, which I think is probably a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), as it pecked about in the shallow water at my local marsh. The light was coming in from the side and I had to wait and wait for the bird to lift its head to a position where it would not be in the shadows.

In the end, I got a couple of shots that I really like, images that show some of the beautiful details of this little sparrow, a bird that has “stopping power” for me.

Be sure to check out Lyle’s website, Krahnpix, for some incredible wildlife shots that are guaranteed to stop you in your tracks. His quirky humor and provocative prose will both entertain you and prompt you to think a little more critically about your photography and maybe even your life.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year especially, I can usually depend on seeing ducks, geese, and sparrows at my local marsh—other birds may or may not be present, but these three species are my constant companions. The ducks and the geese are often loud and occasionally obnoxious, but when the sparrows sing, it’s generally a more melodious song. The ducks and geese will often fly away when I approach, but the sparrows will just take a hop or two and continue to forage for food.

I take lots of photos of sparrows. They are usually within range and have a surprising amount of personality. Yesterday, on a cold and windy day, I captured this image of what I think is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). The light was pretty good and the sparrow cooperated by lifting its head without turning, resulting in a pleasant little portrait of this pretty little bird.

CORRECTION: A number of more experience bird watchers have noted that this is a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), not a Song Sparrow. Sorry for any confusion—this is not the first time I have misidentified a species, and certainly not the last.

sparrow_shadow_28Feb

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Sometimes the birds play games with me as I try to photograph them—usually it is “hide and seek.” This little Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), though, seemed to be playing “peekaboo,” as the bird would hide its head and then pop up and look at me, as if to announce, “Here I am.”

peekaboo1_blogpeekaboo2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although I already posted a photo earlier today of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) in the snow, I came across one I liked even more as I was going through yesterday’s images. This sparrow (and I am never certain of my sparrow identifications) seemed to be posing for me. Somehow I was able to capture details in its eyes that I have never seen before.

After our brief portrait session, the sparrow hurried back to work.

sparrow_snow2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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We don’t get much snow here is Northern Virginia, so I was really excited to visit my marshland park yesterday to see what birds and animals were active. There were lots of crows and Canada Geese, but I was mostly attracted by the frenetic activity of the sparrows.

The sparrows moved around quickly in the snow and on the ice, foraging for food in the dried out vegetation in the cattail field. This little sparrow, which I think is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), paused for a split second and lifted its head, which made it possible for me to get this shot. (Most of my other shots have the sparrow’s head in the shadows or buried in the vegetation).

sparrow_snow_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Perched on the end of a railing at the marsh, this sparrow seems lost in thought as it surveys the surrounding area.

Most of the time I try to get as close to my subject as possible, either with a telephoto or macro lens, but in this case I liked this image the moment that I pulled it up on my computer screen. I struggled to find words to explain why I like this particular shot, but the lines, the colors, and lighting somehow combined in a way that I find interesting and pleasing.

sparrow_light_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you aspire to photograph extraordinary subjects in exotic locations or are you content to shoot ordinary subjects in nearby locales?

This past winter (well, it’s almost past), I have really enjoyed photographing birds. At times, I have longed to be able to capture awe-inspiring images of hawks and eagles, of ospreys and owls and have thought about the travel and equipment that might be required to do so. Does that make me an adrenaline junkie, always searching for more, someone who requires increasing amounts of excitement to be content?

For the moment at least, I know that the answer is “no.” My pulse still quickens when I see a robin or a cardinal. I will take shot after shot of geese and ducks flying and landing. I am willing to kneel in the mud to try to get yet another shot of a sparrow. Here is one such shot of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) from earlier this week that I really like.

sparrow_blog

I am content with the ordinary and strive to capture and display its beauty. Cristian Mihai, a wonderful, easy-t0-read blogger, wrote a posting yesterday on beauty, entitled Beauty will save the world that I really recommend. It caused me to think more deeply about my photography, about my goals and motivations. What is is about beauty that prompts a desire to respond, to share it with others?

I started this posting with a false dichotomy, with alternatives that are not mutually exclusive to stimulate thought, the kind of inner examination that I have been conducting. There is no simple answer—sometimes it is sufficient to simply think about the question.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although it is enjoyable and challenging to try to photograph large, colorful birds, I often find myself returning to photographing smaller, more ordinary birds. It’s a different kind of challenge capturing images of these little birds, who seem to be in constant motion.

This afternoon I was able to photograph this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) when he stopped for a moment to get a drink of water.

sparrow_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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On days when no other birds are visibly active, I can always count on the sparrows to be hard at work, often accompanying their work with a song. As I watched, this sparrow (which seems to be either a Song or Swamp Sparrow) took a break from his activities and burst into song, as though compelled to share his joy and excitement with the rest of the world.

Wouldn’t it be great if we felt that way too and felt free enough to share it with others?

sparrow2_blogsparrow_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The crisscrossing pattern of the vine and the cooperative pose of the Song Sparrow combine to make this photo one of my recent favorites.

It is always exciting for me when the elements of an image work together in interesting and unexpected ways. I was attempting to photograph this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) when he flew onto this stalk. He was facing away from me, but I kept shooting and them he turned his head. I am not sure that I could have intentionally come up with a more interesting pose—I love the way we are looking down his back and get to see his wings and also get a clear view of his face.

When I first looked at this photo, though, what caught my eyes the most were the crisscrossing vines, an unanticipated bonus. The X-shape of the vine is both linear and curved at the same time and I chose to crop the photo to highlight this feature.

One of the things that keeps me thrilled about photographing nature is the balance between preparation and spontaneity, between technical excellence and creativity. I try to put myself into situations outside in which I know there is a chance that I will see something interesting and then prepare myself (and my camera) to take advantage when something does happen (and it’s usually not what I anticipated).

sparrow_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Birds seemed to be everywhere yesterday, foraging for food in the water, on dry land, 0r sometimes in between the. The latter was the case for two little brown birds, pecking for food in the still-green vegetation in the shallow marsh. Sometimes it seemed like they would stop and drink the water or gaze intently into the water, as though fascinated by their own reflection.

I am still not very good at identifying most birds on the spot, but my research skills are improving and I am pretty confident that these birds are Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia). Gradually I am starting to see the distinguishing characteristics, like the color on the top of the head, the markings on the breast, and the shape and size of the beak.

This growing sense of the broad diversity among birds serves to magnify their beauty, as I see them as individuals, not merely as nameless little brown birds. Who knows, maybe birds appreciate it if you can call them by their names.

drink_blog

bird_green_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sparrows generally fall into the general category of “little brown birds” for me and I get frustrated when I try to identify them. I decided, however, that I need to learn more about birds and attempted to identify this little bird that perched atop a cattail and provided me with a photo opportunity this past weekend. After some research on-line, I am pretty confident that this is a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and I like the way the image captured the beauty of the bird and the fuzziness of the cattails.

I may be wrong about the identification, but my effort has at least caused me to look more closely at the coloration and markings of the birds. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be getting a bird guide (and maybe even some binoculars) soon.

song_sparrow_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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