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Reader Comments: White Tailed Ptarmigan

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I shot many more images of these birds and will be posting some more really excellent ones with incredible feather detail. Earlier that day, I spent 45 minutes with them. They make good company with their pleasant articulations. Staying still and not moving fast, they even resumed feeding while I “shot” them.

Readers advised me this is a White Tailed Ptarmigan—thank you. Comments below.

More about the White-Tailed Ptarmigan.

White Tailed Ptarmigan in Winter Plumage
f11 @ 1/200 sec handheld, ISO 800; 2018-11-15 16:13:45
[location “Conness Lakes”, altitude 10400 ft / 3170 m, 35°F / 1°C]
Hasselblad H6D-100C + Hasselblad HC 50mm f/3.5 II @ 33mm equiv (50mm)

[low-res image for bot]
White Tailed Ptarmigan in Winter Plumage
f11 @ 1/500 sec handheld, ISO 800; 2018-11-15 16:16:38
[location “Conness Lakes”, altitude 10400 ft / 3170 m, 35°F / 1°C]
Hasselblad H6D-100C + Hasselblad HC 50mm f/3.5 II @ 33mm equiv (50mm)

[low-res image for bot]
White Tailed Ptarmigan in Winter Plumage
f11 @ 1/250 sec handheld, ISO 800; 2018-11-15 16:18:35
[location “Conness Lakes”, altitude 10400 ft / 3170 m, 35°F / 1°C]
Hasselblad H6D-100C + Hasselblad HC 50mm f/3.5 II @ 33mm equiv (50mm)

[low-res image for bot]

From 2014:

Plumage Swap for Winter Snow
f13 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 64; 2014-10-29 13:32:37
NIKON D810 + 85.0 mm f/1.4

[low-res image for bot]

Wildlife biologist Mark C writes:

Well, I have to congratulate you… I have spent a lot of time up around Saddlebag Lake, Mt. Conness, etc, but I’ve never managed to see White-Tailed Ptarmigan there, let alone in winter plumage.

There is a very small introduced population up there; they are native to Colorado and points farther north (mainly Canada and Alaska). Here’s what they look like in summer: http://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/birds3/whitetailedptarmigan.shtml

DIGLLOYD: I’ve seen them before in 2014 within 1/4 mile of this location, and photographed them with the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 APO-Planar.

I’ve seen similar sized birds in the summer in Glacier Canyon / Dana Lakes, but they tend to fly off a short distance (often in a small covey), making them difficult to identify in camouflage plumage.

D. M. writes:

I'm just writing to let you know that the birds are White-tailed Ptarmigan in your recent blog photo with the caption "Ready for Winter (Grouse?)." A very cool bird, and tough to find unless you frequent those high elevations that you do.

A lot of very avid birders have trouble getting that one on their life list just because you have to go so far out of your way to find them (check the range map). I'm going to forward a link to share that photo with my falconer brother in Montana.

DIGLLOYD: I shot many more images and will be posting some more really excellent ones.

Sean S writes:

As someone who spends so much time in the alpine, I figure you would want to know more about ptarmigans - in reference to a recent photo labeled ‘(grouse?)’.

Ptarmigans can be distinguished from grouse by their feathery, almost fur-like, feet which have been adapted for colder conditions. They have become endeared to alpinists due to a peculiar survival technique - since they nest on the ground, when a potential predator wanders too close to their chicks the adults will bait the predator and lead them away from the nest. To us humans this comes across as being a temporary, but friendly, hiking companion who reminds of the wonders of the mountain environment.

DIGLLOYD: indeed they do not spook easily. Indeed they did not perceive me as a predator at all from what I observed—they resumed feeding while I was only ~2 meters away.

Blake Shaw writes:

Nice bird!

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-tailed_Ptarmigan/overview

DIGLLOYD: Blake does a lot of bird photography.

Mark C writes:

Down below treeline, most likely sooty grouse (formerly blue grouse, now split into dusky and sooty grouse). A small covey is probably a family group, especially in summer or autumn. Out in open sagebrush, from the Crowley Lake area up to about Bridgeport, one can sometimes see greater sage grouse, a big and increasingly rare lekking grouse (leks are open areas where groups of males display and females come to inspect and chose among them). Best places to see them are probably around Crowley Lake (in early spring) and near Bodie, but I’ve seen females + young at close to 11,000 feet in the White Mountains. http://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/birds3/bluegrouse.shtml http://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/birds3/duskygrouse.shtmlhttp://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/birds3/sagegrouse.shtml

DIGLLOYD: good info. The birds I referred to at Dana Lakes were at 10500 feet or higher, so most likely the White-Tailed Ptarmigan.


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