05.14.17: Bobwhite walking

A Northern Bobwhite walks in the grass in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK ARCHIVES

Technical information

Date/time:
July 16, 2016,
8:58 a.m.

Location
40°6’55” N,
82°57'34" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Camera: 
Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Lens: 
Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 

Aperture: 
f/5.6

Shutter: 
1/1000th second

ISO: 
800

This photo of a Northern Bobwhite isn’t one of my more interesting or memorable bird photographs. It’s rather boring, to be honest. The composition is generic — just a bird walking in short grass. If I had to rank this photo among all my wildlife shots it wouldn’t make the top 1,000, or maybe even the top 10,000.

It’s not the quality of the photograph that persuaded me to post it as my photo of the week. It’s something more personal: the memories it evokes.

When I heard this bobwhite in a local park last summer (its whistled “bob-white” call was unmistakable), I was surprised. I hadn’t heard a bobwhite in a long, long time and I don’t think I’d seen one since the mid 1960s.

I immediately recalled sitting with my grandmother on the porch swing behind her house in Eastern Kentucky around 1960, listening to bobwhites in the tall grass that used to be a garden next door and watching them dart in and out looking for food. She told me how she used to watch and listen to bobwhites around her house when she was growing up.

I don’t know why I remembered that. It wasn’t a moment of importance. It was just a nice memory.

As I was thinking about this, a bobwhite emerged from the tall grass and started walking along the trail toward me. I grabbed a few shots before it disappeared into the field on the other side of the trail. I heard its call as I continued my photo-hike.

The fact that I hadn’t seen or heard a bobwhite in decades sent me to the Internet to do some research. It turns out that their population has been in rapid decline since the mid 1960s. According to one of my favorite sites for bird information, All About Birds, “Northern Bobwhites were once a common species in eastern North America, but experienced widespread, sharp declines between 1966 to 2014, up to 4% per year, resulting in a cumulative decline of 85%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.”  The species is considered to be threatened by various organizations that track bird populations.

The decline in bobwhite population is linked to the loss or degradation of the birds’ habitat. Higher levels of pesticides and herbicides in agricultural fields favored by bobwhites have reduced the insect and plant food that attract the birds.

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.