One good bird can make the the day when photographing birds in the field, yesterday that bird was a male Green-tailed Towhee I spotted perched on a shrub in a canyon in the Wasatch Mountains.
Green-tailed Towhees are migratory birds and are usually difficult to see because they spend their time foraging on the ground in shrubby habitats but when the males sing they do it from the tops of shrubs which makes them far more visible. A bit of movement, my keen eyesight and the song of this bird helped me zero in on its location. It was fairly far away but I took photos anyway because I don’t have many opportunities to photograph this species.
When the Green-tailed Towhee moved from one shrub top to another I followed it with my eyes and lens. I think they are striking birds with their rufous crowns, white throat markings, dark mustache stripes and greenish backs, wings and tails that contrast nicely from their gray plumage.
Once the towhee settled onto a new perch it would sing and look around. The towhee may still be looking for a mate which may be why he sang so frequently. Only the male Green-tailed Towhees sing which is how I know this bird is a male. Females do call.
Listen to a male Green-tailed Towhee singing here.
I kept hoping the Green-tailed Towhee would come a little closer so that it would fill more of my viewfinder.
And the Green-tailed Towhee did just that, it flew in and landed so close that for a few seconds all I could do was take portraits of it singing and be amazed at the fine details I could see through my viewfinder. I was shocked that it landed so close. I could almost count the rictal bristles between the towhee’s eye and bill.
I took off my teleconverter and was then able to photograph the entire Green-tailed Towhee, at times though when it moved I clipped the tail of the bird, it was just that close. I wasn’t happy about the out of focus shrub behind the bird’s tail but I was so delighted to have this towhee close that I just kept firing away.
Frame after frame of this rufous-crowned, green-tailed beauty was being stored in my camera’s memory card and in my own visual memory banks.
When the towhee flew off of the super close perch he didn’t go that far and I was able to keep photographing him on tall perches singing and looking around.
(In the interest of full disclosure I did remove an out of focus twig that was under the towhee’s tail in this frame in post processing)
And after dropping to the ground he popped back up to sing from the top of a sagebrush which thrilled me.
Then he moved on to a flowering shrub to belt out a few more songs…
Before moving on to the next flowering shrub. The towhee didn’t seemed bothered at all by the the vehicle on the side of the road with two big lenses stuck out of the window. He just kept singing.
Until a Red-tailed Hawk flew over. The towhee dove into a shrub and the Red-tailed Hawk continued its flight then dove on prey across the canyon. I thought after that the towhee might be reluctant to pop back up and continue his repertoire.
But he wasn’t done singing and I wasn’t done photographing him because not only did he pop back up but he came in a little closer again and picked a perch where nothing else was close and that gave me this nice clean background. In this frame he even tilted his head as if he were curious about something on the ground below him.
The Green-tailed Towhee gave me opportunities to photograph it in several poses from this perch, singing, not singing, its head turned towards the right and the left and sometimes staring right at my lens.
This one Green-tailed Towhee gave me the best views and images of this species I have to date. In total I spent 52 minutes photographing this male Green-tailed Towhee as it moved around from perch to perch in the canyon singing his little heart out. I probably took way too many images of him but I’ve learned over time to fill up my memory cards when a great opportunity with a cooperative bird comes along that way I don’t regret not having taken more.
I’m sure this Green-tailed Towhee will pop back up in posts here on my blog in the future much the same as he kept popping back up to sing in the mountains yesterday.
Life is good.
I wanted to mention that this bird was not called in using recorded calls, I know some people do that but I never do and because it is the breeding season for this species calls should never be used because the males will try to defend their territories and that wastes their valuable energy when they need it the most.