Top of the stem

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It’s Sunday, so it’s time for another photo of the week and the story behind the image.

There are three times a year when wildlife photography in Central Ohio is less than routine.

There's spring and fall, when migration increases the variety of birds in the area.

And there’s "goldfinch season," primarily July and August, when the male American Goldfinch sports its bright yellow breeding plumage and is active in area fields.

I photographed this male goldfinch in early July as it perched on a plant stem above a field. It was early morning, so the sun was still low as it illuminated the bird and the stem. The background is a blur of natural colors because I was closer to the bird than the bird was to the background plants.

The males’ bright yellow breeding plumage and black "cap" show up after the spring molt (I typically start seeing some bright-yellow males in June). But during the remainder of the year there is little distinctive about the goldfinch. Outside of the summer breeding season the male is an olive color and loses the black cap. Females remain a dull yellow-brown all year, although some will brighten slightly during the summer months. The wing and tail feathers remain black on the male year-round. The female has dark brown wing and tail feathers.

Goldfinch breed later in the year than most other birds. Courtship begins in late July and I typically start seeing juvenile goldfinch in the fields in late September. The immature goldfinch has a dull brown back and pale yellow underside. The white markings on the wings of the adult are replaced with a buff color on the juvenile.

Although American Goldfinch are plentiful in the area during summer and fall, they are still difficult to photograph. The birds blend with colors in the fields each season, which makes them difficult to see. And when one bird is startled and flies off, it’s joined by hundreds of others. So it takes quite a bit of patience to photograph goldfinch.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Date/time: July 7, 2007, 8:13 a.m.  
Location: 39°59’56” N, 83°15’21” W (Show in Google Maps)  
Camera: Canon EOS 20D  
Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter: 1/2000th second  
ISO: 200