Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Redwing blackbird

with 21 comments


On the dozenth day of this month I spent time at Cypress Creek Park along Lake Travis. At one point I noticed a redwing blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, had settled near me atop the remains of a dead tree. I went to my camera bag, took off my macro lens and attached my telephoto lens, turned around, and found the bird had flown away. Off with the telephoto lens, back on with the macro. Except a moment later the blackbird came back. Another round of lens changing, and this time I managed to get three avian pictures. Even without the blackbird the spiderwebbed dead whitened tree called for a portrait.



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For decades I watched the television program CBS Sunday Morning, first with its original host, Charles Kuralt, and later with its second host, Charles Osgood. What I and presumably everyone else in the program’s audience enjoyed about it was that its stories were what you would call “human interest,” not dealing with politics or current world events. Beginning in 2018, however, after the third host took over, politicized and ideological segments began appearing. Needless to say—it’s CBS after all—those segments leaned in one and only one ideological direction. Things got to the point where I gave up watching the show I’d looked forward to for decades.

This past Sunday, I’m not sure why, I turned on the show for the first time in several years and caught a few of its stories. One, about the son of singer/songwriter Jim Croce, was fine, just like in the old days. Another feature was not. It was a narrated animation about how “ravenous for ancient sunshine” we are today. The narrator talked about Kentucky, a state that mines plenty of coal, which is a major fuel in the generation of electricity. Coal, the narrator explained, was formed aeons ago from trees. He stated the average amount of electricity a Kentucky home uses, then worked backwards to determine how much coal and therefore how many ancient trees a Kentucky home consumes each year. The program made it seem as if the burning of coal formed from trees millions of years ago is just like cutting down vast forests of trees today. That’s disingenuous. The trees that turned into coal died millions of years ago. Refraining from burning coal today isn’t magically going to bring those trees back to life.

Then the narrator launched into a similarly disingenuous shtik about oil, which he told us formed from microscopic organisms millions of years ago. It turns out we now use up the equivalent of trillions upon trillions of those ancient organisms when we burn petroleum to get energy. Once again the program seemed to suggest that burning oil that formed millions of years ago somehow amounts to destroying trillions of organisms that are currently alive.

Hey, I can play that game too. Let me talk about how many zillion photons of light a solar panel steals from the sun every day. What’s more, those photons were generated just eight minutes earlier—the time it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth—not millions of years ago like the trees and microscopic organisms that went into the making of coal and oil. If consuming the byproducts of entities that died millions of years in the past is bad, then for solar panels to consume photons born of the sun’s fiery womb just eight minutes earlier is downright solar infanticide.

I told you I could be just as disingenuous as the people on CBS Sunday Morning.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2022 at 4:32 AM

21 Responses

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  1. The redwing blackbird looks as though it has a good story to tell devoid of politics or ideology. The human interest in its broadcast is probably you. The spiders weave a good tale too.


    June 22, 2022 at 5:04 AM

    • I’d willingly let the redwing blackbird regale me with its good story if only I knew its language. And I like how cleverly you made me into its human interest, and the spiders into spinners of tales.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 22, 2022 at 6:31 AM

      • The redwing blackbird image reminded me of the way I watch the two blackbirds in my garden and of the way they watch me. Together we make a kind of story but what the plot is, or the language is, remains a mystery.


        June 22, 2022 at 6:57 AM

        • It will fall to you rather than the blackbirds to elucidate that mystery and perhaps even report on it in a post.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 22, 2022 at 8:32 AM

  2. Dead tree, cattail, cornstalk: redwing blackbirds love to perch high and alone, which makes them great subjects for photos. Of course, the tree in this instance makes for a fine image all on its own, but the bird’s a perfect addition. I’m told some photographers sneer a bit at images they call “bird on a stick,” but I happen to like them. Despite years of seeing these on cattails in our marshes, these blackbirds always recall Iowa cornfields for me.


    June 22, 2022 at 7:38 AM

    • Ah, you can take the girl out of the cornfield but not the cornfield out of the girl. “Bird on a stick” or not, I’m with you, and I wasn’t about to pass up my chance for a picture, even if it took multiple rounds of lens swapping.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 22, 2022 at 8:35 AM

  3. It looks like it might be saying to you, “Hurry up with the lens change pal, I ain’t got all day.”

    I listen to them almost all summer as a good flock of them live in the reeds beyond the golf course. They are a good looking black bird, aren’t they?


    June 22, 2022 at 7:52 AM

  4. Nice post



    June 22, 2022 at 8:49 AM

  5. How lucky can you get, Steve! The redwing blackbird came back. It looks like it was even singing for you.

    Peter Klopp

    June 22, 2022 at 9:42 AM

  6. We need to start carrying 3 or 4 cameras around our necks all with different lenses. 🙂 I do love red-winged blackbirds. They’re very common in many areas around here but I never tire of them. I love how you captured this one with its tail raised a bit.

    Todd Henson

    June 22, 2022 at 5:55 PM

    • I’ve seen some photographers carrying two cameras. In the old days one might have had color film and the other black and white film, or one might have had a wide-angle lens and the other a telephoto lens. Zoom lenses and digital cameras have partly but not fully gotten us past that, and the time lost changing lenses can still lose us a picture.

      Redwing blackbirds range pretty far as a species. I photographed a male and a female in Illinois five years ago. I don’t know how typical it is for one to have the upraised tail you mentioned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 22, 2022 at 6:01 PM

  7. Oh, I remember these birds, or something like them with the same name. They may have been smaller. They lived around the riparian areas of the Santa Clara Valley a very long time ago. They may still live there, but I can not remember the last time I noticed.


    June 22, 2022 at 9:48 PM

    • Yes, the map at the All About Birds link in my text shows redwing blackbirds all year long throughout California.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 22, 2022 at 10:05 PM

      • Yes, but they seem to be more evident in rural areas, as if they dislike urban areas. Also, they seem to prefer to be near water, particularly lakes surrounded by tall grasses. I can remember them perched ‘diagonally’ on the tops of vertical cattail blooms.


        June 22, 2022 at 10:50 PM

  8. On again, off again, on again, bingo. Sometimes birds will perch for a while and others just fly all over the place. Whenever I try to make images of these birds at Poor Farm Swamp that’s the story. Sometimes they return to the same perch but often not. Frustrating but elating when you finally get the shot.

    Steve Gingold

    June 26, 2022 at 10:49 AM

    • Your first sentence nicely summarizes what I went through that day. I’ve had greater success with dragonflies returning to perches from which they’ve been disturbed than with birds. This time I lucked out with the blackbird, but we all have our tales of the many that got away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 26, 2022 at 11:19 AM

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