Wildlife photographer Peter Sulzle captures the lazuli bunting

Who’s flying over your neighbourhood?

This past spring, a friend introduced me to the lazuli bunting, a small, beautifully colored songbird that can be found in shrubby areas throughout B.C. When I was first told that they’d returned from Mexico for the year, I quickly flipped through my bird identification guide and was instantly drawn to the bird’s deep blue head and reddish upper chest. It didn’t take long to notice that this bird was very photogenic and I just had to spend some time seeking one out to capture it photographically.
My first task was to get to know its song and behaviours in the wild in order to locate it in the field. To my surprise, while listening to the lazuli buntings’ recorded song, it became clear that I had heard this bird in the past, but had never made an effort to identify it. Traditionally, I’ve always been a mammal photographer and frankly, I thought small songbirds were always too difficult to photograph. There was something about this bird however, that motivated me to give it a try.
A few days later, my search led me to the Tranquille Wildlife Management area just west of Kamloops, up in the higher elevations of Mount Lolo. I wandered through the area and heard the buntings as they sat on prominent perches and flew through the tall grasses. Their songs rose above the other birds in the area. As I looked through my binoculars and eyed one bird from a distance, I was moved by its wonderful markings and joyous tune.
Interestingly enough, every mature male lazuli bunting has its own unique song composed of many different notes. These notes are then learned by younger birds that create their own individual song in turn. When several birds inhabit the same area, the songs tend to sound very similar. These areas have been labelled “song neighbourhoods.”
So, as I became familiar with these birds, it was time to attempt some photography. I had several ideas in mind as to how I wanted the bird to be displayed, but thought back to what had drawn me to the bunting in the first place. I needed the right light and an uncluttered background to show off the color and texture of the bird’s feathers. I also wanted to include an interesting and natural perch from whence the bird could sing.
After about three days of shooting in two different areas, the image above is one of the better results. Bird observation and photography has always been a popular pastime and I encourage you to find out who’s flying over your neighbourhood. You might be surprised by what you discover.

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