Female Lapland Longspur- Calcarius lapponicus

by Bryce W. Robinson

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If you understand tundra topography, then you’ll know what I’m speaking of when I refer to polygons. As everything in the tundra is a ground hugger, photography has presented a challenge. If you look at the other photos of shorebirds I’ve posted so far, you’ll notice the overwhelming presence of grass. I’ve resorted to lying on my belly, elbows on the ground, to get the low angle of the birds that creates the image I most desire. A problem has arisen, as I get low, the grass between me and my subject obscures the image. Frustrating…

I do have one ally, in polygons. The polygons are caused by water freezing and thawing on the surface soil of the tundra. When the water collects and freezes, it splits the soil, causing interesting patterns all across the tundra. Each time it thaws, the result is water troughs surrounding small, risen, dry land. Polygons… Each time the process happens, it increases the polygon effect. When I fly out of the area, I’ll try and take a photo of the polygons from above. It is an interesting sight.

There is an area near one of my survey plots that lacks the thick layer of grass typical of the tundra. It is mostly bare soil, with lichens and moss as ground cover, and some flowers. It is a beautiful area, but the main reason I like it is the deep polygon troughs that the lack of vegetation has allowed. The bare ground also allows a clear view between me and my subjects.

Today I was making my way through this area, and I came upon a group of Lapland Longspurs. The birds were very vocal, and excited. Soon I found the reason, a small but able fledgling, doing its best to avoid me. With the female nearby and very attentive, I took my opportunity and utilized the low troughs of the polygons to my advantage. The result was a collection of the best female longspur photos I have to date.

I’ve been trying for decent male longspur photos, but I keep coming away empty handed. Hopefully soon.