The winter season calls for modifications to how you dress, how you handle your equipment and how you approach the picture-making process itself. -Tim Fitzharris, National Audubon Society Guide to Nature Photography
In winter, even birds that don’t migrate can be hard to find. On these cold and snowy days, we see little on our walks: a junco pecking at frozen ground, a crow settled on a high tree limb. We thrill to spot what turns out to be a mockingbird, hunkered down in branches to escape the wind.
There is a solution, of course: a feeder. We had a feeder up, but after a black bear came to visit one summer day, we took it down. The advice on when we could put it up again was conflicting, so we left it down year-round. In winter, I missed having birds as subjects for one of my primary avocations.
Sometime back, I moved from taking pictures of our Hudson Valley surroundings to photographing birds. This was, at best, a Quixotic endeavor. For a long time, I had only the lens that came with my camera, so the photographs were mostly bird-specks on a vast ground. Still, I could enlarge them enough to check against a bird book or send to Mom for identification when in doubt.
In winter, without the feeder, our world felt blank without the birds. So this year, when the cold and snow came back in earnest, we hung the feeder once again. A tweet went out across the local avian community, and birds started visiting several times a day.
Fun for the whole family! Our cats stationed themselves at windows, commanding the best views. Their attention is fickle, though. N. is easily distracted: by a squirrel foraging for left-over acorns, by a blowing oak leaf, or by anybody passing through the room. Mrs. D sits high on a chair back, but facing inward. She’ll glance out the window now and then, but largely she’s preoccupied with keeping tabs on N’s whereabouts so she can nap in peace.
You’ve seen the bumper stickers . . . My other car is a bird blind. Well, it’s true. -Tim Fitzharris
It’s an odd thing to bird-watch through the window. The windows are well insulated, so no bird sounds get through: no cheeps or caws, no whir of wings, no beaks tapping against the bark. I was grateful for a break in the weather that allowed me to watch the birds outside.
Gone was the stillness; the air was full of sounds. The snow had melted, and while birds still visited the feeder, they soared off confidently to search the further ground. When the bitter cold returned, though, I was content to resume my indoor station, using the kitchen window as an ersatz blind.
I’ve more recently acquired a longer lens, but my photographic quest remains Quixotic: I’m not an early riser; I don’t relish sitting for hours in the cold or standing thigh-deep in a swamp; my lens, while longer, isn’t long enough for photographing birds; and I lack all sorts of essential equipment.
It’s of no consequence, as the birds that visit our feeder keep me fully occupied. And, as for the bear, unless better information comes our way, we’ll take Maxine Kumin’s advice on when to take the feeder down:
Do not fail to take your feeders in on April One
despite the arriving birds' insistent clamor
and do not put them out again
until the first of December.
For some spectacular photographs of birds go to Audubon Magazine Photography Awards.
A wonderful book Mom discovered and sent to me is Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song. (Thanks, Mom!)
For an invaluable online guide to birds and birdwatching, go to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.
The next Great Backyard Bird Count is February 12-15. Anyone can participate, including from a kitchen window. For more information, click on the GBBC button at the top of the blog.