Flora and Fauna Converge as Art

June 6, 2013

Every spring I look forward to the beautiful wildflowers and brightly-colored birds at Shaw Nature Reserve. Last weekend I had the rare opportunity to photograph my two favorite subjects together when a common yellowthroat landed on a spiderwort within range of my long lens. As I dropped the tripod from my shoulder and quickly loosened the three knobs that control pitch, yaw and rotation, I silently implored the little warbler to stay put! A moment later my autofocus locked on the masked critter, center point right on the eye where I like it; I had the shot.

The common yellowthroat is a magnificent specimen with its black mask, silver-gray head, and radiant body which displays a gradient from cool green at the belly to simmering yellow at the throat. Its stunning dynamic contrast can lead to exposure problems on the finest of cameras, but in the right light, both the darkest and brightest details of the bird can be revealed without any local adjustments in post-processing.

A second image reveals the powdery yellow around the yellowthroat’s rump, a feature that is not always obvious on this species.


Common yellowthroats, not to be confused with yellow-throated warblers, hold a special place in my heart because they were among the first migrants I photographed many years ago at Shaw Nature Reserve. They are always abundant on the area in the spring and the males are often oblivious to hikers and birdwatchers because they are so distracted with courtship activity. I was really happy to get these images because up until last weekend the yellowthroats had been unusually skittish this year, a behavior that I had chalked up to the weird weather we’ve been having.

I remember the first time I ran across a common yellowthroat when I was photographing on the  prairie. I immediately thought it was a Kentucky warbler and I couldn’t wait to call my friend Mike Smith in Washington, Missouri to tell him about the capture. A second look on my camera’s LCD revealed a similar bird, just as beautiful, but not a Kentucky. It was a rookie mistake, one of many that has taught me how to better identify birds in the field. I still have a long way to go and my poor hearing will never allow me to be too much of an expert like some of my friends. I’ll just continue to stumble along and check my images again and again after I get home. I’ll also continue to double check with friends like Mark Haas, Mike Arduser and Mike Smith when I have any doubts. It’s wonderful to have smart friends! 🙂

Thanks for looking,


Note to Photographers:  I always try to use ISO 200 when photographing small birds because even the best shot will require cropping and ISO 200 keeps resultant background graininess to a minimum “after the crop” on such images. You can try to reduce graininess in your bokeh with your computer but it will never look quite as good as getting it right in the field. This is one of several tricks of the trade I will be teaching at my workshop at Shaw Nature Reserve early next year. I’ll keep you posted on details of the workshop as they are worked out.

Common Yellowthroat #1:  Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC III Extender; 1/200 @ f/5.6; ISO 200; RAW Capture; Converted and Processed in Canon DPP

Common Yellowthroat #2:  Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC III Extender; 1/200 @ f/5.6; ISO 200; RAW Capture; Converted and Processed in Canon DPP

17 comments on “Flora and Fauna Converge as Art”

  1. Danny,

    I’m looking forward to meeting you and attending the workshop next year. Please sign me up if you are taking early reservations. I’ll make my schedule adjust to whatever date it turns out to be.

    Bill Brinkhorst

  2. I really appreciate the way you capture a lot of close-up details on whatever you are capturing, and bring our attention to these details. Thank you…even if I happened to see these birds in the field, I might not notice the yellow dust on the rump….! Now get yourself back home and eat the pork tenderloins that are barbequeing…don’t let Tolstoy get the lion’s share!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Deepa. I’m back home and the tenderloin is about ready for removal from the Weber Kettle. Oh, and it smells so good!!!!

  3. These shots are stunning.

  4. Wow, Danny, these images of the common yellowthroat are just plain gorgeous. Along with the spiderwort and creamy bokeh, it doesn’t get any better.


  5. This bird bears a remarkable similarity to the Yellow-bellied Fantail Flycatcher that we find in India: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow-bellied_Fantail

  6. I love the second image of the Common Yellow Throat. It is a great capture with how it is positioned on the stem of the Spiderwort. Your images continue to inspire me to produce wonderful artwork. Thanks for sharing the image of the Spiderwort. I have always wondered what this looked like ever since I read about it in the children’s novel “Sarah, Plain and Tall” by Patricia MacLachlan.

    • Wonderful to hear one of my images evoked some old memories. Icing on the cake for me. I almost called you yesterday as I was at a meeting at the Airport Renaissance Hotel which is up your way. I could have stopped and picked up my present from the kids. It ended up being a little late and I wanted to get back to Shaw to chase a hummingbird. Take care.

      • No problem, Danny. I had a full day yesterday of meetings. We will get together soon! Give me a call the next time. Did you catch the hummingbird? 🙂

      • No problem, Danny. We will meet up soon. Give me a call the next time. My question for you, did you catch the hummingbird? 🙂

      • Nothing better than I have already. I switched to quail and now they are frustrating me!

  7. WhAT A BEAUTIFUL SHOT Danny, of the spiderwort, and the Yellowthroat combination. That frame would make a very pretty portrait. You are truly a MASTER at work. Thanks for for sharing.


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