Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Winter Wildlife Watching - Cold Weather Doesn't Have to Hamper Your Nature Photography

Last year, this was just about all the
wildlife photography available in my
I’ve been an avid photographer for most of my adult life, and I love wildlife and nature photography. What I don’t like, though, is being cold. So, most of my winter nature photography – unless I can arrange to be in the tropics, or a place like California, Nevada, or Arizona, with mild winters – has consisted of photos of the deer that come to my backyard in winter here in North Potomac, Maryland.

I like (trying) to get good photos of birds, maybe because it’s so difficult to do well. I’d never really thought of doing bird photography in winter except for the occasional shots of the Canada geese that winter in this area. But, then, my daughter and her husband moved to Woodbine in Howard County – a beautiful rural area, where they have six acres of forest for their yard. They put in bird feeders, and as the weather began getting cold in November I noticed the number of birds of different species still around their house.

That gave me an idea, and thanks to my daughter who bought us a feeder in December, I wanted to see if I could do some winter wildlife watching beyond the occasional deer.

My wife and I installed the feeder in our backyard, in one of the trees that are on our property. Just beyond that is a really nice undeveloped forest park, which is home to deer, fox, badger, squirrels, chipmunks, and many species of birds. I’ve been trying, for instance, to get a picture of a blue jay for the past two years to no avail – until this winter.
Nuthatches feeding during one of this
year's snowfalls.

It took the birds about three weeks to discover the feeder. But, when they did, they began visiting in significant numbers. First came the white-breasted nuthatches, followed by the dark-eyed juncos. Within a week, we also had cardinals and a blue jay dropping in. These are shy birds, so my photos of them aren’t as sharp as I like – I got myself a new camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T5, in January, which is far superior to my Canon PowerShot or Fuji Film Finepix – so I think I have that problem solved.

Back to the wildlife watching. There are mixed views on whether or not winter bird feeding is a good idea. The general opinion, though, is that it is helpful, as this article on the Nature Conservancy blog says. What it is good for, as the photos you see here attest, is attracting birds – and, it turns out, other animals as well – when the weather is not what you might think good for such activities. Between my backyard and my daughter’s place, I’ve managed to get more photos of wildlife (primarily birds) this year than ever before, except when I was in southern Africa.
A cardinal.
Finally got a photo of an elusive blue jay.   
In southern Africa, especially Zimbabwe,
I was able to photograph nature all
year long.

First came the birds, followed quickly as you might imagine by the squirrels. Thankfully, our feeder is squirrel proof, so these pesky little critters are relegated to scarfing up the seeds the birds scatter on the ground. After the birds, the deer came in greater numbers this year than previously. And, to my surprise, the fox actually came to the edge of the forest long enough for me to get some good shots. I think they were attracted by the squirrels, that were smart enough to make themselves scarce, so there’s been no bloodshed – yet.

So, if you want a great bird watching winter, consider installing a feeder in your backyard.  

Not one, but two red fox visit my backyard.

Deer foraging in the snow.

The squirrels, you always get the squirrels.

Canada goose flying over my house.