Blue-gray Gnatcatchers: A Mother’s Day Treat

May 16, 2013

Last Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, I headed to Busch Conservation Area to photograph a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers along with their impeccable nest of lichens, which was also blue-gray to my surprise. My buddy, Mike Arduser, had discovered the nest a few weeks earlier just as the tiny birds were putting the finishing touches on the architectural masterpiece. Beginning the next day it proceeded to rain for about a week but I checked every morning before work to make sure the nest was surviving the daily deluges. I finally caught a break in the weather on Sunday, so I headed out for some images. I parked my truck in the parking lot near the nest and set up my rig in the bed where I could get the best perspective on the action. Mike suggested that I use the roof of my Silverado for my blind chair. His idea worked out pretty well as I was able to get a nice angle on the nest and birds from a fully-extended tripod. It was well before daylight as I put the finishing touches on the set-up and began my stand.

It wasn’t long before the morning light revealed the gnatcatchers as they took turns sitting on the eggs. I noticed that one would sit for about 15 minutes and then call for relief from its mate, but when the second bird took over, it only sat for a couple of minutes before it was ready for a switch. After about an hour, a couple of birdwatchers on a visit from New Mexico walked over and asked me what I was up to. I explained my mission and described how the male gnatcatcher was not pulling his weight with regard to sitting time. I was surprised when I reviewed the images a little later and found that the female was the lazy one! I suppose the male was giving his lady a break with it being Mother’s Day and all. I reprimanded myself for assuming the male was the lazier of the pair. I chalked my mistake up to a temporary lapse of reverse chauvinism.


As I talked to the friendly couple from out of town, the sunlight became harsh and I was getting tired of sitting on the roof of my truck, so I offered to take them on a short hike to Dardenne Creek for some bird watching. I joked as I traded my camera for a pair of binoculars that I rarely relegated myself to mere birdwatching, but it was such a nice morning I would make an exception. During our walk we ran into a pair of Louisiana water thrushes and a few other species the couple had never seen. I felt good to have been of some assistance.

Getting back to the pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers, I’m sharing two images in this post, one that provides a nice look at the bird and another that shows its “sitting style” in the nest. If you look closely, you will see a thin, black line over the bird’s eye, which identifies it as the male. I made a few images of the female but she was looking rather scruffy so I didn’t want to embarrass her by sharing those photos with the world. I plan to return to the nest in a week or two for some images of the hungry babies as they become too big for their teapot of lichens. You can be sure that I’ll post them here if they turn out worth sharing.

Thanks for looking,


Note to Photographers:  The second image was taken from the ground and in retrospect, enough light was available that I could have raised my f/stop significantly for more depth of field and a deeper plane of focus across the nest for a better shot. I’ve been doing this for a long time now but I still manage to make rookie mistakes. I’ll continue to share my flubs with you as food for thought in your own development as photographers of wildlife.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Primary Image):  Canon 7D; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with 1.4 TC III Extender; 1/640 @ f/6.3; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II; converted and processed in Canon DPP

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Bonus Image):  Canon 7D; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with 1.4 TC III Extender; 1/1250 @ f/6.3; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II; converted and processed in Canon DPP

7 comments on “Blue-gray Gnatcatchers: A Mother’s Day Treat”

  1. Helping out birdwatchers from out of town…why does that sound familiar, I wonder!

    I know just how difficult it can be to get these delicate shadesproperly…a Brown has done a great job with the Blue-Gray!

    Don’t keep thanking US for looking…we look forward to each fresh edition of Nature Frames! It’s we who should thank you for bringing these birds to our homes…and hearts.

    • Deepa…you are very sweet.

      • Danny, I agree with Deepa 100%. I had to laugh at your comment of reverse chauvinism. I would love to have a personal tour/bird walk with “The Danny Brown”. Those people from NM were very lucky! This is a great capture and writing, Danny! I can’t wait to share it with my class! Perhaps I will sign it, “Thanks for sharing!”

        • Thanks Brenda but a walk with you in the woods is more likely to turn up some cool wildlife than with me. I just take my camera where people like you and Mike and Deepa find things. Have a great weekend.

  2. Smile! You are very kind, Danny! You have a great weekend too! I can’t wait to see what you capture for us next!

  3. Thanks Danny for sending me your latest work. What a neat, and unique shot of The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and there nest. I have never seen such a more perfectly built nest before. I also loved your story supporting your work. I can just picture you on top of your truck. Keep up the good work.


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