Winter American Robin – Turdus migratorius

Winter American RobinWinter American Robin – Nikon D810, f9, 1/640, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

American Robins were first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1766 the species name Turdus migratorius. Turdus is the Latin word for “thrush” and migratorius comes from the Latin word migare which means “to go”. In many parts of North America American Robins are migratory though in some locations they are year round residents. Here in Utah I see them year round.

During the warmer months American Robins start to sing long before sunrise and if you have a window open you might even curse them because their dawn song goes on and on and on.  I love that song… as long as they aren’t right outside my window when I am trying to sleep.

Three states call the American Robin their state bird and quite a few songs have been written which feature them in the lyrics and they are also considered the harbingers of spring. American Robins are spoken about in Native American legends where the story is told that they got their red breast by fanning the dying flames of a fire to save a native American man and a child.

Personally, I love to see American Robins any time of the year and to watch them searching for prey. Common? Yes, but delightful too.


A Great Blue Heron hunkered down against winter’s brutal cold

A Great Blue Heron hunkered down against winter's brutal coldA Great Blue Heron hunkered down against winter’s brutal cold – Nikon D300, f9, 1/250, ISO 200, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400m, natural light, not baited

The official temperature at the SLC Airport this morning is 11°F so I guess it is time to pull out the gloves, hats, winter coats, boots and start layering my clothing to stay warm whenever I head out into the field. It even snowed a little in the valley yesterday and the mountains surrounding the valley are sporting white tops.

Last December I photographed this Great Blue Heron as it hunkered down against the brutal cold. I never used to think of Great Blues having to endure harsh winters until I moved here to Utah. When the water freezes over the Great Blue Herons start to hunt voles through the snow and that is fascinating to watch and photograph. When I photographed this Great Blue there was still some open water for it to hunt for prey in, but not much. I felt for the heron because there was still frost on its feathers from the cold night. It made me shiver.

These wading birds are tough!

Now, to find my gloves.

Life is good.


An American Coot munching on food

An American Coot munching on foodAn American Coot munching on food – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 350mm, natural light, not baited

As winter makes its approach here in northern Utah I tend to get excited about the raptors I will see but I try not to forget the common birds I see almost every time I go shooting.  American Coots are common birds and some folks might find them fairly plain but I like them and enjoy photographing them too.

There is a pond near where I live that in the winter and early spring can be a great place to spend an hour or two photographing ducks, grackles, grebes, songbirds and the almost always present American Coots. As long as there is open water there will be birds at the pond. This image was taken during the winter of 2009, my first official winter as a resident on Utah at that pond. Because there are many fisherman and people who walk around the pond the birds are acclimated to human presence and will come close if you have the patience to wait for them.

Photographing coots is challenging because of the high contrast between their black plumage and that ivory white bill but I enjoy the challenges. I’m able to set my tripod down low at the pond and sit on the ground behind the camera to photograph them at the pond even when there is snow on the ground.

So go ahead Old Man Winter, bring it on! I’ll meet you at the pond to photograph these old coots. :-)

Life is good.

Ring-billed Gull Age Progression

Juvenile Ring-billed GullJuvenile Ring-billed Gull – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/5000, ISO 800, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TX at 400mm, natural light

In February of 2011 I wrote about the age progression of Bald Eagles along with images to illustrate the ages, today I am doing the same but with Ring-billed Gulls. Sure, many people don’t think Ring-billed Gulls; or any gull species, are impressive as Bald Eagles or any raptor species but I don’t feel that way. They aren’t trash birds to me, they are simply birds and I am passionate about all of them.

Bald Eagles do have some thing in common though besides the most obvious ones that are feathers and flight. Bald Eagles and most gull species take several seasons to acquire their adult plumage.

The image above shows a juvenile Ring-billed Gull taken in September 2011 at Farmington Bay WMA, Utah.

First Winter Ring-billed GullFirst Winter Ring-billed Gull – Nikon D810, f8, 1/2500, ISO 6400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TX, natural light

This image shows a first winter Ring-billed Gull also taken at Farmington Bay WMA the end of this October. There are of course some similarities between this bird and the one at the top but the bill of this gull has more pink and the mantle has begun to show the pale gray that one expects with a Ring-billed Gull. Both birds still have dark eyes. Both these birds could also be called “hatch year birds”.

First summer Ring-billed GullFirst summer Ring-billed Gull – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 270mm, natural light

This image shows a first summer Ring-billed Gull taken at Fort De Soto County Park in Florida from the end of April 2008. The bill has a more yellow cast to it, the mottled plumage of the two previous birds is no longer evident, the mantle look even more gray than the first winter bird and there is more white showing on the belly, chest and throat.

Second Fall Ring-billed GullSecond Fall Ring-billed Gull – Nikon D200, handheld, f5.6, 1/2000, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Sibley’s Guide to birds doesn’t show an illustration of the second fall bird but this one taken in September 2012 at Fort De Soto doesn’t fit for first summer or second winter so I am calling it second fall. Typically by the second winter Ring-billed Gulls irises have turned pale colored and white spots have begun to show in the primaries, this ring-billed doesn’t quite fit for second winter.

Adult Ring-billed GullAdult Ring-billed Gull – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 220mm, natural light

This adult Ring-billed Gull was photographed at Fort De Soto County Park in March of 2009 and it is shown in breeding plumage. It has the red orbital ring, the red gape, pure white tail, belly, chest, throat and neck along with the white spots in the black primaries.

Identifying gulls can be complicated because of age progression and the varied plumage as they age along with some gulls having similar sizes and shapes but I don’t find Ring-billed Gulls too difficult to ID.

I hope you enjoyed this post on the age progression of Ring-billed Gulls.