Monday, October 24, 2011

Spotted Towhee - another favorite

Now that I've been trying to photograph birds for a year and half, I have a whole new cadre of nemesis birds. Nate Swick recently discussed SSV's (Soul Satisfying Views). Might we add, SSP's (Soul Satisfying Photographs)? The Spotted Towhee has presented me numerous photography opportunities, but I have yet to get one of those stellar photos. My best photo to date is shown to the right in heavy shade. Fortunately, some of my Idaho birding friends shared some great Spotted Towhee photos in the May 2010 photo competition which was hosted on this website. Utah bird photographer Paul Higgins has some fantastic Spotted Towhee photos too. See some quality and SSP's below!

photo by Bob Davis
My first observation as a birder of the gorgeous Spotted Towhee occurred the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  My birder father-in-law had come down from Idaho to Arizona that week join me in some birding and to feast upon another large domestic bird.  Under a tree, there was a handsome Spotted Towhee scratching in the leaf litter.  Since that day, I've seen one or more Spotted Towhees on about seventy occasions.  Yet, this bird is one that I can never get enough of.  

Their behavior is just elusive enough that whenever you see one, you feel like you've accomplished something.  Oh, that fiery red eye!  The fantastic black and white contrast and the endearing warm rufous flanks.  Their songs and calls are easily recognizable...a sweet trilly song...and a wheezy-screechy call.    In Spring, the males are more likely to get up on top of a bush and sing their hearts out.  That's when I'll have to try again for some quality photos.
photo by Bob Whitlatch 
I have found Spotted Towhees throughout all of the seasons in Arizona, Utah, and Idaho.  The range map below shows some summer migration into the northern great plains region, which is confirmed by eBird sightings maps broken down by season.  Spotted Towhees are typically a western North America species, but are known to occasionally show up as in the eastern states during Spring and Fall migration.  There are also a few subspecies, but I haven't taken the time to learn them yet.

photo by Paul Higgins
photo by Paul Higgins
Now if I could just get a quality photo of another of my photo-nemeses - their green-tailed and rufous-capped cousin!!!
Green-tailed Towhee that continues to elude the focus on my camera.  This was taken at my lunch hour birding patch.


  1. At least the Towhees are always around. They're just waiting until you least expect it, and then they'll come pose for you, playing your heartstrings in the way only beautiful and aloof bird can.
    Fun post.

  2. I sure wish we got more towhee species here in Indiana! They are always so much for to observe and photograph.

  3. I agree, these birds are hard to photograph. I am amazed at the images you found to share.
    I usually just catch a glimpse of them before they dash under cover. So far I have deleted every attempted photograph.

  4. Different species out here in my 'patch' of Australia - but I have the same problems with my own nemesis birds!