Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Avian remains two days apart

with 17 comments

At Brushy Creek Lake Park on December 14th I found a small white feather covered with dewdrops. Two days later while walking a trail in my neighborhood I somehow noticed a small dead bird on the ground. Shannon Westveer has identified it as a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina). It didn’t seem to have been dead for long but already ants had found it. Because you might not care to see that scene, I’ve not included a photograph in today’s post but only a link to it that you can click if you wish. And this sparrow, seen or unseen, may remind you of a New Testament passage: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

✢        ✢        ✢

As someone who has taught math and statistics, and of course as a citizen, I find it disturbing when a governmental agency cites a flawed study to support an agenda, then refuses to disavow the study even after the many problems with it, including persistent lack of transparency, are pointed out. You can read about that in David Zweig’s article “The CDC’s Flawed Case for Wearing Masks in School” in the December 2021 issue of The Atlantic, which by no stretch of the imagination qualifies as a right-wing publication. In fact David Zweig has written for plenty of left-leaning organizations; among them are The New Yorker, The New York Times, CNN, Salon, Slate, The New Republic, and New York Magazine.

You can also get a much more detailed and animated account in a December 17th Megyn Kelly interview with David Zweig that goes from about 1:00 to about 49:00 in this YouTube video. (The timeline slider lets you skip through a couple of two-minute commercials; one or two very brief commercials dismiss themselves, and in another one or two you can click to dismiss the ads.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2021 at 4:35 AM

17 Responses

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  1. The photo of the bird is beautiful. It wasn’t quite what I expected when you said the ants already had found it; the ant below the beak couldn’t have been better placed, photographically speaking. The colors and detail are stunning, and the addition of the verse perfect.


    December 23, 2021 at 9:17 AM

    • Hey, now that’s an enthusiastic response. With a tricky subject like a dead bird I never know how people will react. The ants kept moving around on the sparrow fairly quickly, so I took several pictures and hoped the ants’ positions would look good in at least one take. The details in the feathers appealed to me, and I understand, given your background, how the quoted verses would also appeal to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 23, 2021 at 9:30 AM

      • The dead bird makes a more interesting image than I would have expected – still beautiful, if sad. The feather is very striking. The shapes of the dew drops make a lovely contrast to the long lines of the feathers and the curves in both give a harmony – lovely!

        Ann Mackay

        December 24, 2021 at 11:45 AM

        • I like your appraisal, and I’m glad the sparrow proved enticing rather than off-putting. As for the feather, I was quite happy with the way the image came out. Photographers see many possibilities but not all of them pan out.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 24, 2021 at 12:08 PM

  2. That feather is lovely. It looks like it’s covered in jewels!


    December 23, 2021 at 10:43 AM

  3. Feathers are so beautiful and you captured this one well. Dewdrops decorate everything nicely, don’t they?

    I clicked on the photo of the Chipping Sparrow; very sad that it was no longer singing, but the photo itself is stunning.


    December 23, 2021 at 2:56 PM

    • Yes, those droplets dew wonders for pictures. I referred to them as dew drops but they actually came from morning fog.

      I’m surprised that i saw the sparrow, inconspicuous as it was on the ground with dry vegetation around it. I guess it was just close enough to the trail for me to spot it. I’d have liked a living portrait, but then the subject wouldn’t have let me get that close.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 23, 2021 at 4:27 PM

  4. I truly loved the feather with dewdrops! Outstanding! I also found the chipping sparrow beautiful in death. As you know, I often photograph death in the wild, and I think it’s wise to post a link to the image. Many folks are troubled by such images, but I use them to study many aspects of the subject. Your photo shows the real beauty of the feathers, the interesting camouflage in its final resting place in the grasses, and small detail of perhaps tiny eggs or parasites that live on and are carried along by the host. There is fascination in all aspects of life and death.


    December 24, 2021 at 7:42 AM

    • I’ve done other visual studies of feathers, yet I don’t remember ever before photographing one with droplets on it. This feather was small, so I contended with the problem of getting all the parts in focus. Fortunately flash came to the rescue.

      You’re not the only commenter to mention finding the sparrow beautiful in death. As you live so much in nature and have photographed dead animals yourself, your attitude toward this sparrow isn’t surprising. Even for people who don’t like to look at dead animals, in this case the death seems to have been recent and there wasn’t yet the decay that would turn people off.

      I’m reminded now of how Charles Baudelaire wrote a poem about a subject poets almost never bring up: a carcass. If you’re interested, you can find the original French followed by several English translations at


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2021 at 8:11 AM

  5. This is a favorite among your recent postings. B&W was a great choice!


    December 28, 2021 at 4:31 PM

    • Actually this is a full-color photograph, meaning that I did no conversion to black and white. The feather was white and the background black, so a de facto black and white photograph is what I got straight out of the camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2021 at 4:44 PM

  6. […] on December 12th I reported on how the people in charge of the Centers for Disease control were continuing to put forward a […]

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