Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 16, 2010

Abert’s Towhee

Filed under: behavior, Birds, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique — richditch @ 6:28 pm
Abert's Towhee

Abert's Towhee

Abert’s Towhee is a southwestern specialty associated with the lower Colorado River. I saw my first one on a visit to the Salton Sea in southern California in the mid 80’s. I was an eastern birder on a business trip to San Diego and was happy for the opportunity to add some western birds to my life list.

Now that I live in Arizona I get to see these understated birds every day of the year. They are easy to see at the Gilbert Water Ranch, where this shot was taken on February 6, 2010. And for the last couple of years we’ve enjoyed a pair of more daily in our back yard.

Like other towhees and sparrows they spend a lot of time on the ground, so that’s the first place anyone should look for them on a visit to the GWR. But they also get up in the low shrubs and even higher in some trees in the morning: especially when they are looking for a mate.

This bird made a brief stop in a low trailside shrub as I sat quietly on the other side of the path hoping for photos of an uncooperative sparrow.

I don’t often have birds so large in the frame, and normally I’d reject a shot that clips the tail as seen here. But this bird wasn’t shy and my 300 plus 2x was a bit too much lens to make a looser composition. I sacrificed the tail to make sure I had enough room around the head so the towhee wouldn’t look too crowded in the final image.

I find it difficult to get the color and tone “just right” on these birds – it is quite easy to get the browns too bright, or pick up a color cast. The warm early morning light helped me in this case.

I tried to get as much from the edges of this image as I could, so I first converted the raw file to Adobe’s DNG format, then used Adobe’s Recover Edges utility to pick up an extra 6 pixels along all four sides. Obviously, that wasn’t enough to “uncover” the tail tip.

For tis presentation I’ve cropped off the left edge for better balance, but kept everything else (including the extra few pixels on the other three sides).

Processing was minimal. I reduced exposure in Adobe Camera Raw and increased the warmth slightly. There’s a small bum in saturation in Photoshop CS3. After downsizing the image I applied Smart Sharpen selectively to the towhee only. Look for a tutorial on sharpening on my web site (coming soon) giving more details on how I normally do my sharpening.

Nikon D200, 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), Gitzo tripod, ISO 400, 1/500th second at f/5.6, natural light only (no fill flash).

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1 Comment »

  1. Very nice. I’ll give up a little bit of tail to see that great view of the birds toe nails (almost look like talons.)

    Comment by Bosque Bill — February 18, 2010 @ 9:32 am


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