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Fox Sparrow

Text and Photography Copyright Bill Horn
All rights reserved.

Camera:    Nikon F5
Lens:        600/4 with TC 1.4E
Flash:       None used
Support:    Gitzo CF1548
Film:         Fuji Velvia
Exposure: 1/125th at f/8
Filter(s):     UV

Sparrows of all kinds are generally considered nuisance birds by many folks. Here in my home state of Oklahoma, we have our share of House and Field Sparrows, which can be quite a nuisance. Fox Sparrows on the other hand are relatively rare and only present for a brief time each year as they migrate to warmer winter homes. This image is special to me because I had tried in vain for three years to photograph them in a natural setting. My luck changed this past winter after a record snowstorm dumped over a foot of snow on our landscape.

As an avid bird photographer, I have found studying their habits and biology gives me numerous advantages in the field. Knowledge of where any given bird might be found, how it behaves and the ability to identify species encountered are a just a few of them. I knew a heavy snow would radically change the habits of all ground foraging species. The evening following the storm, I scouted a large wooded area behind my home, which opened into a clearing. At the edge of the clearing was a large brush pile that was previously left behind by woodcutters. I spotted a pair of Fox Sparrows perched at the far end of the brush pile, but they scattered upon my approach.

Early the next morning, I returned with my camera rig and a small bag of seeds. I scattered the seeds on the ground near the brush and set up 20 feet away. For the next 4 ½ hours I waited as numerous birds swarmed down from the brush pile and feverishly fed on the seeds, but no Fox Sparrows could be seen. Had the pair headed south earlier that morning? Just when my hands and feet were about to succumb to the 15-degree temperature, I saw them out of the corner of my eye. They slowly worked their way toward the seeds and I suddenly felt warm again. Finally, one flew down while the other “stood watch” in a small tree adjacent to the brush pile. I quickly focused, held my breath, and snapped 12 frames continuously before he jumped out of the frame. This image is the best of the 12, and for me, was worth the five-hour wait.


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