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Wildlife Photography in Winter’s Beauty

Pygmy Nuthatch perched in western juniper tree.
Pygmy Nuthatch perched in western juniper tree.

When we moved to our canyon in Grant County, Oregon over 12 years ago, we enthusiastically began to build a portfolio of wildlife photography in winter’s beauty. Our first subjects were winter songbirds visiting our bird feeders. However, wonderful captures of Oregon juncos, several species of nuthatches, chickadees and finches became repetitive, and eventually boring. As artistically pleasing as the juniper branches and rich colored trunks of the ponderosa pine were for backgrounds, the same species of birds were photographed over and over again. Little was new to add to our portfolio, so we slacked off mid-winter photography for a couple of years.

Mallard Ducks: I feel very fortunate that I timed my shutter release as to stop these mallards in flight.
Mallard Ducks: I feel very fortunate that I timed my shutter release as to stop these mallards in flight.

Then as gas prices improved in late 2015, we started to travel out to do photography from our vehicle along remote roads edging the local rivers. Now subjects were farther off and, with constantly changing snowy backgrounds in low light, our rate of successful shots dropped off dramatically. There is a real learning curve in successfully doing photography in snowy conditions. Just before that season, we also experienced nightmares with a new Canon camera that should never have been issued – the 60D. Its focus mechanism was faulty – producing inconsistent good results with lots of blurry subjects in between. Got rid of that camera, and eventually we acquired Canon’s 7MDII and the 5DSR.

Beaver: Typically nocturnal, beavers can be seen on river ice during winter afternoons.
Beaver: Noramlly nocturnal, beavers can be seen on river ice during winter afternoons.

With new cameras, there are learning curves, especially in the area of focus choices. The technology is so advanced in cameras with built-in (default) settings that it has taken quite a while to disable all the bells and whistles and get things under control. Whatever happened to the value of keeping things simple in order to manage the photographer’s quick response to fleeting wildlife? If you’re a high tech person, perhaps this is a non-issue. For someone who isn’t, it takes persistence to stick with it and figure out what will work for you.

Rough-legged Hawk: the only buteo that consistently lights in fine branched willows, brush and trees with small twigs. (Probably male.)
Rough-legged Hawk: the only buteo that consistently lights in fine branched willows, brush and trees with small twigs. (Probably male.)

 

Golden Eagle - lifting up from the rim rock where birds of prey were gathered to feed on a winter kill. (Photo: KSS)
Golden Eagle – lifting up from the rim rock where birds of prey were gathered to feed on a winter kill. (Photo: KSS)
Mule deer bucks in a blizzard of snow made it tricky to catch focus.
Mule deer bucks in a blizzard of snow made it tricky to catch focus.

During this current winter season (2016-2017), we have had the harshest weather we’ve experienced here. It has been a reminder why winter photography had not been a high priority in the past. We truly welcome the snowy backgrounds to frame our winter subjects, but we have dealt with very icy roads, sub-zero temperatures, wind, freeing rain followed by blizzard level snowfalls, and sometimes snow drifts that threaten to close the road behind us. It’s been hard on bare fingers, equipment and especially the wildlife.

Mountain Quail: Secretive and harder to find, family groups of these beautiful birds come down from the high country to forage along the rivers during deep snowy winters. (Photo: KSS)
Mountain Quail: Secretive and harder to find, family groups of these beautiful birds come down from higher country to forage along the rivers during deep snowy winters. (Photo: KSS)

We have posted here half a dozen special images from our recent photo shoots. These are just samples of dozens more images that we have developed into slideshows.

The promised slideshow is in two parts:

Winter Wildlife Photography (Part I) in Grant County, Oregon

Winter Wildlife Photography (Part II) in Grant County, Oregon

2 comments

  1. You mentioned the repetitiveness of shooting the same songbirds over and over… I now struggle with the same in my words of appreciation for your wonderful work.
    Your photos are at once fabulous, fantastic, spectacular, and marvelous, not to mention, inspiring. The new slide shows are incredible and enlightening, even for a long-time wildlife person. Thank you both for sharing your amazing winter world here in this compendium of memorable photos. And for the time and work it took to do so. May hundreds of folks discover them here on these pages… and revel in the good fortune that we still have such wildlife in our wildlands.

    • Canyonkat
      Canyonkat says:

      Thank you, Sherry & Deby. Your words carry a lot of weight with us – knowing your own lifelong dedication to preserving the natural world through sharing your art with others.

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