On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020).
I thought I had run out of subjects for the Winter Birds in Flyover Country series, but it turns out I had a few more opportunities to get out and see birds this week, so here’s another. One of those opportunities came up after we had a few days of snow and heavy overcast, when it was getting pretty boring to stay inside and just watch the feeders (although I did get my first COVID vaccine shot on one of those days, so that wasn’t boring!). It was still overcast, but the snow reflected a lot of light, and so I got a bunch of what is known in the portraiture biz as “high-key”, aka nearly shadowless, portraits of some of our local birds. Hope you enjoy them!
This one might be my favorite of the batch. American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) in the sunflower patch.
Another sunflower patch picture – American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), sitting on its lunch.
Adult White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) posing sweetly in the sunflowers.
First-year White-crowned Sparrow, watching the action in the sunflower patch.
Adult male Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), slate-colored version, hunting for seeds in the fluffy snow.
One of the other sights (and sounds!) of winters in Flyover Country would be the large flocks of Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) that are now winter-resident. Historically these flocks would fly right over us and winter on the Gulf Coast. For the last 20-25 years, they stop here and only leave if the winter gets exceptionally brutal. This is not one of those winters. If you look closely, just left of center in this flock, you can see the adult Bald Eagle that spooked them all into the air.
Adult male Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus). These are not colorful birds in general, but this one has plenty of subtle hues and textures to show off on an overcast day.
Another of the infinite varieties of the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). This is a young Krider’s Hawk (B. j. kriderii), a pale subspecies that breeds on the prairies of Alberta and the Dakotas. This bird was stunningly white underneath, as you can see. I hope it comes back next year as a full adult!
Finally, a bird that makes its living by feeding on other birds, a Merlin (Falco columbaris). If you have an older field guide you can find it under Pigeon Hawk. This is a first-year bird of the taiga subspecies (F. c. columbaris). I am really pleased with this shot simply because these are very small and very fast, and I have never gotten a decent in-flight shot of one in the past. These are only winter residents here, hopefully this one will make it through the winter and return to the boreal forest, find a mate, settle down, and raise more young Merlins this summer.