February 28, 2013
Every year after the first snow, I head to Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary to photograph horned larks, or at least try to photograph horned larks. I say “try” because it is difficult to get a decent photo of a horned lark as they are always moving, like most other birds, and their eyes are so black they almost never catch a glint of light from the sun, something photographers call a “catchlight.” You wouldn’t think that a catchlight would be so important to a good photograph of a critter but it’s actually critical because the animal’s eyes just look like black holes without that tiny glint of life from the sun.
When my friend Charlie Deutsch called me last week to report an influx of horned larks to Riverlands I made plans for a Saturday morning departure, early of course. Upon arrival I threw out some sunflower seeds to attract the bat-eared beauties and situated my makeshift turkey chair blind with my back to the sunrise. Moments after I settled in, the hungry horned larks began dropping in like ducks to flooded corn and I began clicking away with the single-minded goal of capturing one of the gorgeous birds with a sparkle in its eye. It wasn’t too difficult to reach my objective because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so the sun became my very capable assistant. All I had to do was watch one of the birds through my lens until it turned its head at the perfect angle to produce the glint I was looking for. A quick check of my monitor during lulls in the action revealed some nice shots of one of Missouri’s most unique and interesting birds, catchlight and all!
I returned Sunday morning to do it all over again because I wasn’t quite satisfied with my results from the first day, or maybe I was just looking for an excuse to avoid chores around the farm. The Sunday shoot actually turned out better than the previous day and I also took a little time to enjoy the horned larks from a behavioral point of view once I obtained a nice bucket of images. One of the males, featured in the main image of this post, was super territorial and every time another bird, of any species, landed on one of the seed piles it would run over and chase it off. It was hilarious to watch because each time it charged another bird, it slid about 10 inches on the ice as it tried to stop. Sometimes it would slide right into a seed pile or into the other bird it was chasing off. This ornery fella just couldn’t abide other birds eating any of the seed, even if it was 50 feet across the field. It reminded me of our chickens which often behave the same way.
This week’s post includes a bonus image below of a different horned lark that I have named “Grumpy.” After you look at the image you will require no further explanation.
My weekend with the horned larks was well spent. Mustachioed, mischievous and incredibly photogenic, this species is about as good as it gets in the bird world. I’m also looking forward to sharing images of a few other species from the weekend, including a beautiful savannah sparrow on the prairie. The savannah was the 14th sparrow species that I’ve photographed in Missouri and I was thrilled to run across several of its kind. Someday I’ll have photographed all of the sparrows of Missouri and I’ll be able to write a sparrow book that nobody will want to read. Until then, I’ll continue to do my best to convey my experiences here at Nature Frames.
Thanks for Looking!
Horned Lark Close-Up: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/2000 @ f/7.1; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)
“Grumpy”: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/2000 @ f/7.1; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)