Individual birds, like humans, have different personalities and tolerances. Today, I met a rare LeConte’s Sparrow who was extremely tolerant of this lumbering, fleece-clad and bug-dope-laced human. Turns out, the LeConte’s wasn’t lazy at all, just focused on finding a mate through song and willing to share his space with me.

It was 5-something in the morning and the sun had not quite cleared the horizon’s spruce trees in the Sax-Zim Bog when I heard the soft “tick-zheeeeeeee” of this colorful sparrow (colorful for a sparrow, that is!). I quickly put my 400mm on the 7D and attached a flash with the Better Beamer (a flash attachment that concentrates the beam of the flash by use of a plastic Fresnel lens).

Slowly I sloshed my way into the very wet meadow. I took a few “insurance” shots (like the wide image below) just in case he flew. But he held his ground. I would move about ten feet and then stop, kneel (to get eye level with him…Always better for a more intimate portrait) and take some photos. When I felt he was at ease, I’d move closer. I noticed I was shooting at an angle where a blade of grass was between me and the sparrow, so I shifted right and got a clear shot. Eventually he let me get within about 15 feet…Near the close-focusing minimum of my lens! I shot mostly when he was singing…The open beak adds some action to the image.

The best part? I retreated without the LeConte’s ever leaving his perch. He was still singing away as I turned and left. This may be the ultimate goal in wildlife stalking…Getting close, getting the shot, not disturbing the subject, and leaving the animal in the exact state in which you found it.

Here is a little wider interpretation…I like it because it places the LeConte’s in its habitat…wet, sedgey, grassy swales. I also like the contrast of the Purpletop grass with the yellow sparrow and green stalks.

This sparrow is highly sought by birders because of its very limited breeding range in the United States. Most come to north central Minnesota or central North Dakota to add this species to their life list. Sax-Zim Bog between Duluth and the Iron Range is one of the best places to find them. A guide often helps in the search because they can be tough to find and even harder to hear. Their song is very soft and high-pitched. I remember one client that was watching a male LeConte’s sing through the scope I set up…but he couldn’t hear him…Right there and then he realized he’d lost his hearing in the upper range.
The LeConte’s was named by John James Audubon for his friend John LeConte of New York, a famous entomologist.

A portrait showing the beautiful face pattern and back markings. Also note the sharp tail feathers. A pop of the flash helps bring out the colors in this “pre-sunrise” image.

Top: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/400; Auto ISO chose ISO 800; hand-held
Middle: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/500; Auto ISO chose ISO 1600; hand-held
Bottom: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/250; Auto ISO chose ISO 800; Canon 430EX flash with Better Beamer: hand-held