Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 5, 2012

Abert’s Towhee at Gilbert Water Ranch

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light — richditch @ 6:14 pm
Abert's Towhee

Abert's Towhee

Abert’s Towhee (Pipilo aberti) is a southwestern desert specialty closely associated with the Colorado River and its tributaries. It is easy to overlook due to its understated colors, its preferences for feeding on the ground and under bushes, and its limited range. I saw my lifer when I was still a New Jersey birder on a quick side trip to the Salton Sea that I tied to a business trip in San Diego.

Within its range it is rather common, and see them on most visits to parks around Phoenix, They’ve even moved into our urban back yard where they work hard to get their share of the handouts my wife provides for the thrashers and mockingbirds.

Abert's Towhee

Abert's Towhee

The best place to see one (or many) that I know of is the Gilbert Water Ranch, where I spend a lot of time taking photos like these three images taken February 2, 2012 after the gate was unlocked.

Abert's Towhee

Abert's Towhee

They have a distinctive “peep” call a little like a whistle, and they give it a lot even from cover so they are easy to locate once you know what to listen for.

For these photos I simply set up my usual avian rig (Nikon D300, AF-S 300/2.8 lens with TC20E III 2x converter, tripod with gimbal head) near a spot with good morning light where the White-crowned Sparrows were coming to feed and waited.



  1. Rich, I don’t think you have talked about this before. Each of your towhee photos is 720 pixels wide, but a different height. Of course, if you want to make a print that fits standard photo frames you want a set aspect ratio. But for web photos, are there standard aspect ratios? I’ve been using 4:3, as that’s what computer screens used to be, and I made several of my photos to be desktop backgrounds. But almost all laptops are now 16:9 like the widescreen televisions. I would have difficulty turning my digital SLR photos (3:2 ratio) into 16:9 desktop backgrounds. And 3:2 is a bit too tall for vertical photos on the web.

    I have seen 4:3, 7:6, and 5:4 as recommended aspect ratios that are more esthetically pleasing. However, if I could crop to any aspect ratio, then I could “cut out” distracting details out of photos. Of course, I can crop to any aspect ratio I want, but I haven’t been. I’ve been sticking strictly to 4:3 or 3:2 (1200×900 or 1200×800 pixels), thinking that a standard size looks better (to someone).

    If you have some photos at different aspect ratios that would discuss this matter, it might make an interesting future post–set me straight!


    Comment by nwbackyardbirder — February 8, 2012 @ 10:01 am

  2. My view since I started photography over 40 years ago has always been that the aspect ratio of the image should be determined by the composition that best serves the subject. When I had the time for B&W film in the 70’s and early 80’s I did all my own developing and printing, and I had printing easels with movable blades that allowed me to print to any aspect ratio I wanted. I used standard sized paper, usually 8×10 or 11×14, and I’d end up with variable sized white borders on my prints. If I wanted to frame any of these in a standard frame then I’d cut my own matte as needed for each image regardless of size.

    My digital images get the same treatment, and I crop almost every image to the proportions that look best to my eye. Usually that’s a rectangle that approximates the 2:3 ratio of the sensor in the camera, but sometimes it is a narrower rectangle, and sometimes it approaches a square. For web posting it makes absolutely no sense to stick with an arbitrary aspect ratio dictated by a frame that won’t be used for it anyway.

    720 pixels is my standard small size. That’s big enough to give a decent look at the image without causing problems on small computer screens. I also make a larger version of each image that has 1200 pixels on the longer side: this image gives much better detail. Both of these sizes were select3ed because they are the standard at a nature photography critique web site I post at every week (I’ve been doing so since 2001 or so when the standard size was a tiny 600 pixels).

    I used to make a version that was 1400 or 1500 pixels for “landscape” format images so it could be used as a desktop image on my computers. I wanted the image to fill the monitor without leaving borders on any side. But my laptop has a much wider screen than my desktop so things that work well on one don’t work so well on the other. Now I just use the 1200 pixel version and set the borders I get to white: it lets me see the entire image as if it was being presented in a custom white matte.

    I’ll consider making this into a regular blog post with appropriate images when I have time to dig up some oddly shaped images to illustrate. In the meantime here’s an image I’ve already posted on this blog that is closer to square because that’s what the subject demanded of me.

    Comment by richditch — February 8, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

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