I wanted to photograph the sparrow’s notched tail but changed my tack when the sun suddenly broke through the fog and cast a shadow of its tail onto the sign. In the environmental portrait below, while the notch may not be visible with the tail feathers spread out, even from a distance the yellow eye-stripe stands out.
When I came across this little sparrow singing next to the auto tour on a foggy spring morning, I knew I had a good chance at close-ups. I attached the tele-converter to the big lens to get as much magnification as I could, set the beanbag on the window, and brought the camera to my eye. All I saw was a big blurry blob in the viewfinder.
I was within the minimum focusing distance of the camera, so I quickly added an extension tube and my beautiful little friend came into sharp focus. Fortunately it was comfortable with my presence so despite my early mistakes I got the pictures I was looking for. The first batch of photos were taken with fog in the background so I let the background go white, later the fog cleared a bit and I had some soft blue skies as a backdrop.
In the first picture, the sparrow’s bulked up look comes from it fluffing out its feathers. In the others it is in various stages of the classical head-thrown-back pose that comes with the song.
I almost didn’t go.
I was tired after a long week. The gates of the refuge wouldn’t open until well after sunrise, the best light long gone. It was going to be sunny, which brings out the crowds on the weekends. But I got up anyway.
As I crossed the bridge the Columbia was hidden in fog and I hoped its embrace carried north. Driving onto the auto tour, I soon heard what I longed to hear, an old friend saying hello, a yellow-headed blackbird calling from deep in the marsh. But it stayed there unseen, the redwings distant too. I was going to sit and wait but my favorite spot was occupied. I continued round.
A snipe called out from the edge of the marsh. A car was there too. I continued round, past the observation blind, and stopped. Another song, another old friend, a little savannah sparrow far off on an upstart blackberry vine. I took some environmental portraits until it continued on its rounds and I on mine.
The morning was quiet and the animals distant. As I rounded the last meadow, a little brown bird sat atop a refuge sign. A lovely little savannah. We reunited on my next trip around the loop. Suddenly it all came together, the sun was breaking through, perfectly placed behind me, it’s light softened by the fleeing fog. Blue skies before me. And my little joy began to sing.
When my time comes and I can no longer be found, look for me in the quiet places where the savannahs sing. I’ll be there, listening.
Winters in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are pretty mild, the near constant cloud cover traps heat near the earth and at night temperatures rarely dip below freezing. Of course even we get the occasional frost (not to mention the occasional ice or snow storm). This frosty sparrow spent a cold morning near a pond at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge.
I thought my best chances for seeing savannah sparrows singing in the meadows was over but this lovely little bird proved me wrong. It had been a slow start to the morning and it wasn’t until I heard the songs of this sparrow that I took my first pictures of the day.
It turned into a bonanza day for pictures, full of not just this savannah sparrow but song sparrows, marsh wrens, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, and one very accommodating treefrog.