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Posts Tagged ‘sparrow’

Sparrows are so industrious as they poke about in the underbrush that I rarely get a clean look at one. I was happy therefore that I managed to get a shot of this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) when it perched momentarily on some vegetation amidst the thorny stalks recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

We have had quite a number of small snow and ice storms this winter, but it has proven difficult to capture images of bird against a snowy background. I am happy here that the sparrow chose to perch in a tiny patch of snow that adds a bit more visual interest to the shot. Several viewers yesterday commented that they like it when I show more of the bird’s environment in my photos, so I decided not to crop in too closely today.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I really love to capture images of common birds in cool poses or settings, like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that I spotted on Wednesday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the bank of a small stream whose water had receded with the low tide.

The sparrow was moving about searching for tasty tidbits on the wet ground strewn with tiny pebbles and shells.  I was happy when it paused for a moment at a spot where I could capture its reflection in the shallow water. Be sure to click on the image if you want to get a closer look at this handsome little bird and all of the snail and mussel shells that surround it.

Song Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sparrows seem so ordinary to most people and I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture images of them in ways that make this drab little birds stand out. On a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I observed some Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) foraging in the middle of a large, heavily vegetated field. Occasionally one of them would perch on the top of the vegetation and I managed to get some shots.

I like the way that these two images, which are quite different, work together as a pair. In the first one, a viewer’s eyes are immediately drawn to the colorful autumn leaves and only afterwards do they move up to the perched sparrow—there is a sense of energy because of the bright colors. In the second image, the solitary sparrow is the sole subject and the plain background and simple perch create an almost austere feeling—there is a feeling of serenity and simplicity.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows

© 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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The lighting was so beautiful last week when I spotted this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I did not mind that there was a branch partially blocking my view of the bird. I especially love the way that the lighting highlights the bright yellow markings in the area between the eye and the bill known technically as the lores.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have moved into a season of the year in which it is increasingly difficult for me to find birds to photograph. When the weather is cold and grey, birds seem to be less active and are certainly less visible. Photography, though, is not about efficiency for me—I have come to enjoy my long, mostly solitary walks in nature with my camera irrespective of the actual results.

Consequently I think that I value each of my interactions with wild creatures even more than usual during the winter. For example, last week I worked hard to capture this little portrait of a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Sparrows are often ignored by many birders and photographers, because of their commonness and drabness, but I enjoy the challenge of trying to photograph them as they move about, scratching and pecking, often buried within bushes and other vegetation.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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At this time of the year I have to work hard to get photographs of birds. If I am lucky, I will spot a Bald Eagle or another raptor, but most of the time I walk slowly down the trails, looking and listening for small birds. I know that they are there, but even with the leaves gone from most of the trees, the birds often remain hidden from view.

One of my favorites is the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), like this one that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe it is the effect of the season, but this sparrow always makes me think of Santa Claus. With the white “beard” and the distinctive yellow stripe over the eye, this sparrow is also relatively easy to identify, a real plus considering how many sparrow species are similar in appearance to each other.

An even smaller bird is the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), which is about 4 inches in length (10 cm) and weighs only 0.2-0.3 ounces (5-10 g). This one was bouncing in and out of the vegetation so much that I thought I would never get a clear shot of it. Eventually I was more or less successful. What a sweet little bird.

 

White-throated Sparrow

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

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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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It was really frosty yesterday morning in the back area of Huntley Meadows Park where I spotted this Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). I was standing in a mostly dried-up marshy area and noted that a series of little birds would stop at a little patch of vegetation in the middle as they pecked about in the cattails and denser vegetation at the tree lines on either side of me.

I parked myself with my monopod far enough away from the vegetation that I hoped that I would not disturb the birds and eventually the birds began to return to the area on which I was focused. There were a lot of small branches that kept misleading my auto-focus, so I switched to manual focus and waited. I could see birds pretty frequently, but most remained partially hidden down low near the ground.

Eventually my patience was rewarded and I got these two shots of a little sparrow.  I wasn’t sure what kind of sparrow it was, but got some assistance on-line and learned that it was a Swamp Sparrow.

The background looks a little unusual in terms of the coloration, but it is a pretty good reflection of what I was seeing. That is also the reason why I was willing to plant myself in one spot—generally I like to keep moving as I look for photo opportunities.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s so easy to overlook the ever-present, drab-colored sparrows when searching for birds to photograph. This past weekend, though, I stopped and watched one as it pecked away in the mud at Huntley Meadows Park, my favorite local marshland park. By slowing down and looking more closely, I was able to marvel in the beauty and industrious persistence of this little bird, which I believe is a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana).

Slowing down and looking more closely—that’s probably a lesson I could probabl apply to more areas of my life than just photography.

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I often think of this little bird as the “Santa bird,” because of its white “beard” and round belly. Technically speaking, it’s a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), but it’s often more fun to make up my own names for the creatures that I see and photograph.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I used to think that all sparrows were simply nondescript little brown birds. Now I look more closely and can see how beautiful and distinctive they really are, like this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I spotted last week at Huntley Meadows Park.

I especially love the bright yellow stripe on its face (in an area technically called its “lore”) that really stands out amid the other, more subdued colors.

White-throated Sparrow

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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

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Early this morning, it was really cold and windy and most of the birds and animals showed great common sense in staying in sheltered spots. This little sparrow, however, seemed to be having a good time hopping, skipping, and skating across the frozen pond.

sparrow

solitude2_blog

sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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A lot of scratching and movement was taking place down deep in the cattails and I stopped and waited, hoping to see what birds were responsible for the commotion. Finally, one of them popped to the surface and it looked to be a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and I smiled.

Sparrows have a very special place in my heart, because they remind me of my deceased parents. When I was growing up, one of their favorite hymns at church was “His Eye is On the Sparrow.” The hymn has a simple, Scripture-based message that we should not be discouraged, because the same God who watches over the sparrows in the field cares even more for us.

Now, whenever I see sparrows, I smile as I am filled with memories of my parents, and the words of the chorus of the hymn play again in my mind, “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow. And I know He watches me.”

If you have never heard this song, there are many versions of it on YouTube, including, versions by such noted artists as Whitney Houston. Sandi Patty’s rendition is close to the version that I remember in the small Baptist churches of my childhood.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated 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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During the dead of the winter, it’s sometimes difficult for me to find birds to photograph. The birds seem to be using common sense when it’s cold, gray, and windy outside and take shelter to stay warm. At times like this, I pay more attention than usual to the details of the birds that I do manage to photograph, like this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I observed last week.

At first glance there is nothing particularly special about this sparrow. As you look more closely, though, do you notice the silvery gray of its bill or the yellow lores? What are lores? I don’t know many technical terms about bird anatomy, but several years ago I learned that the lore is the region between the eye and bill of a bird. I love the beautiful shade of brown of this bird’s eyes and its little white “beard,” with a few spiky dark hairs sticking out from its chin.

Yes, it’s “only” a sparrow, a bird that you may see so often that you don’t even notice it, but I challenge you to take a closer look and you may lose yourself in the beauty of the sparrow details.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some winter days, it’s really hard for me to find birds to photograph, but I can usually count on seeing some sparrows busily at work, pecking away in the underbrush for what look to be the tiniest of seeds.

This past Monday, before the arrival of the Arctic weather, I observed this beautiful little sparrow, which I think is a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). Sparrows are tough for me to identify, so I apologize in advance if this turns out to be another kind of sparrow.

The bird kept its head down most of the time and remained stayed primarily in the shadows. For just a moment, though, it lifted its head and turned toward the light and I was able to take this modest little portrait of one of my faithful winter companions at the marsh.

Swamp Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of my goals in testing out my new Tamron 150-600mm lens was to see how well it did in capturing the little birds that hide out in the underbrush. As we move deeper into the autumn and into winter, I can always depend on hearing and sometimes spotting different kinds of sparrow poking about in the tangled plants and leaves in the marsh. These birds tend to be in constant motion, moving quickly from spot to spot after a few pecks, and this weekend I stalked a few of them to see if I could focus quickly and accurately on them.

We seem to have had a recent influx of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) and I think that all three of the images below are of members of this species. However, sparrows have often confounded me in the past, so I apologize in advance if I have misidentified them.

These sparrows seem to have individual personalities and I like the fact that they posed in different ways for me. I used to ignore sparrows and other such birds, but now go out of my way to try to photograph their beauty and individuality. I think my new lens passed the test in being able to capture portraits of these little sparrows.

White-throated SparrowWhite-throated SparrowWhite-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A new month started quietly, with few animals, birds, or insects visible on a cold. overcast day. I walked around my local marsh for a couple of hours and experienced nature in a series of small encounters, signs of the changing season.

A lone swallow sang softly in a tree; (CORRECTION: A sharp-eyed reader noted this is a female or immature Red-winged Blackbird)

A mallow flower bloomed unexpectedly in the water;

A squirrel peeked out from behind some branches;

The trees showcased their muted autumn colors; and

An advance party of Canada Geese came in for a landing.

© 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

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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

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Have sparrows become my favorite bird? This winter, I’ve spent more time with them than with any other birds and I’ve featured them repeatedly in my blog postings. I tend to be more at ease with the familiar and the comfortable, rather than the exotic and extreme. and sparrows fit well into my world, like this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) in the snow.

Photographing these small birds is a challenge, though, because it is unusually tough to isolate them from their often cluttered background and they are in constant motion. I like the way that I was able to capture this sparrow, with the small patch of exposed grass amidst the snow. The light was pretty strong and blew out a few details in the chest feathers, but if cast an interesting shadow.

Perhaps sparrows are not my favorite birds, but we are good friends who spend a lot of time together.

sparrow_shadow_blog

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I finally made it out to my local marsh this past weekend to check out the wildlife activity following our recent snowstorm and protracted period of cold weather. The boardwalks are still mostly slippery and covered with packed snow and almost all of the water in the ponds is frozen solid, which means that most of the geese and ducks have relocated. The cold spell is forecast to continue this week, so I don’t expect to see the water fowl returning any time soon.

The sparrows seemed even more active than normal, though, in constant motion as they moved from one set of vegetation to another. Often it seemed that they chose to hop from place to place, rather than fly, and I caught this Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) in mid-hop. (It looked like they would extend their wings a bit when they would hop down from a higher point on a plant to a lower spot).

sparrow_hopping_blog

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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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It won’t be long before my bird photos have the colorless backgrounds characteristic of winter, so I am photographing as many birds as I can find with autumn colors in the background, like this House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) that I observed last Sunday. As I noted in a posting last month, these birds are non-native (introduced from the Old World) and sometimes crowd out native birds. Still, I find them to be beautiful, especially when they pose like this. This pose is one of my favorites, when I get to look down the tail toward the head turned to the side.

house_sparrow_autumn_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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No matter how bad the weather is, sparrows seem to be omnipresent at this time of the year. I can hear them as they move about in search of food, but they often choose to bury themselves deep in the bushes and undergrowth.

This White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) was snacking on some kind of berries and I managed to catch him mid-bite when he lifted his head slightly. The branches and leaves give you an idea of the challenge involved in getting an unobstructed  shot. I am happy that I was able to get the head (and eye) in focus and the pose is an interesting one, because it caught the sparrow as it was doing something—static portraits are nice, but for me it’s even nicer to capture motion and activity.

berry_blog

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Did you enjoy playing in puddles when you were a child? I remember a childhood of rubber boots and yellow slickers and days when my pant legs would be drenched from walking through puddles. Even now, I’ll occasionally kick my feet through a puddle of water and then glance quickly all around, hoping that nobody has seen me give in to my child-like impulses.

When I spotted this White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) in a shallow puddle, I thought he was merely getting a drink of water. However, he stuck his head in the water, splashed around, and seemed to be having a good time. Perhaps he was taking a bath, or maybe he was simply enjoying himself in the cool waters. (In case you are curious about the background, the puddle had formed in a low area adjacent to a speed bump at the entrance to the parking area of my local marsh park—the yellow you can see is the safety paint of the speed bump itself.)

Initially, I was unsure that this sparrow was a White-throated, because the white patch was not really obvious and the eye stripes were not as well defined as in previous photos that I have posted of this species. The yellow coloration above the lore (the area between the eye and the bill) makes it pretty likely that this is a White-throated sparrow, though it may be the brown and tan striped variant, rather than the black and white one that I featured in a posting earlier this week.

I don’t know about you, but I feel inspired to find a puddle to play in today. Have a wonderful Friday.

Sparrow_puddle_cropped_blog

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It was cold and overcast yesterday and there were not many birds visible, with the notable exception of sparrows. Sparrows were as active as ever, though most of the time I could only hear them and not see them. They seem to like to rot about in the underbrush most of the time.

I was really happy when this White-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) popped up for a moment and I was able to get this image. I love the facial pattern and colors of this bird, which seems to have a goatee much like my own. (My goatee started out with salt-and-pepper color, but increasingly has become mostly salt).

When researching this bird, I learned that there is another version (morph) of this bird that has brown and tan head stripes, instead of black and white. I will have to look even more closely at my photos of the White-throated sparrow, which has become more common the past few weeks, and see if I have managed to capture any images of the tan-striped variant.

sparrow_white_throat_crop_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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