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Posts Tagged ‘Zonotrichia albicollis’

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

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) always remind me of Santa Claus because of their white “beards.” The effect was magnified on a recent frigid morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, when a White-throated Sparrow had fluffed up its feathers to retain heat and looked even chubbier than normal.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you attracted more by something that is powerful and exciting or by something that is familiar and comfortable? When it comes to photography, it seems like I constantly face this dilemma. Should I be chasing after the large predators of the air, travelling, as some birders do, hundreds of miles in the hopes of photographing a rare species like a snowy owl? Should I be content to spend my time scanning the branches and bushes for familiar birds that some dismissively call “backyard birds?”

Fortunately, this is not an either-or proposition—it is what academics would call a “false dichotomy.” I don’t have to choose only one type of subject on which to focus my attention and my camera. The reality is that I want to photograph them all and find equal enjoyment in photographing a modest White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) and a majestic Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I photographed both of these birds this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and for me they represent the two extremes that I mentioned earlier.

One image is a carefully composed portrait of a small bird at rest and the other is an action shot of a powerful predator in the air taken on the fly, relying on reactions. Is one “better” than the other? Maybe it is better to ask if you find one more appealing, one that speaks to you more.

It is a bit of a cliché to state that beauty is in the eye of the beholder—beauty is often subjective, but sometimes people talk of universal beauty. How can that be? Personally, when I think about beauty, I realize that it is inherently contradictory, that it is an elusive mystery that we can never fully understand, but that is worth pursuing.

Beauty can be found in many places and in many ways. As you prepare for the weekend, I hope that you too will find time to discover the beauty that surrounds you, in the familiar or the exotic or somewhere in between those two extremes.

White-throated Sparrow

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some birds may seek shelter when the weather is inhospitable, but sparrows seem to be active and busy all of the time, like this White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I spotted in the snow this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It is a bit of a challenge to get a proper exposure when so much of the frame is filled with white snow. As I understand it, the camera would like to render everything to a neutral gray, so it is necessary to overexpose the image or adjust it in post-processing.  In my initial RAW image, the sparrow was very much in the shadows and the snow had a grayish-blue tinge to it. I cranked up the exposure to the point that most of the snow turned almost pure white and I was left with soft bluish shadows that I really like. I am also pretty pleased with the sparrow’s pose as it paused for a moment to survey the landscape.

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Santa-like “beard” of the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I observed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park seems seasonally appropriate as we move closer and closer to Christmas. The backdrop of colorful foliage adds to the festive feel of the photo, which is further enhanced by the frosty leaves in the foreground.

 

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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