It’s time to get ready for the winter wildlife photography season

Winter is a prime time to photograph the wildlife of the west. The furry animals sport their shiny winter coats. There are fewer birds, but the ones that remain are generally easier to photograph.

Animals and birds can be anywhere, but prime locations include national and provincial parks. Rural areas are just as productive, especially for deer, American antelope, fox or coyote. In early or late winter, any open water usually attracts birds.

A highlight of the winter wildlife is finding Snowy Owls, an iconic Canadian bird featured on our $ 50 bill. These brilliant white birds are residents of the Arctic, but some head south to the Prairies for a winter vacation. They particularly like the grain fields of western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta.

Our primary research area is southwest of Saskatoon, along secondary roads in the Rosetown-Eston area. Their favorite places may vary from year to year. Last winter, for example, several traveled to southeast Saskatchewan. Check with local nature societies or birding forums for updates.

Owls blend in with the snowy landscape and can therefore be difficult to spot. Look for them on perches such as utility poles, fence posts, or balls. They are scary easily, so the best way to photograph them is to stay in your vehicle and use a telephoto lens.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of winter photography is that wildlife comes to you. A backyard bird feeder is especially effective in the winter when other food sources are scarce.

A seed mix with a high proportion of sunflower will appeal to a wide variety of species. Tallow feeders attract woodpeckers and nuthatches. Blue jays are especially fond of peanuts, and they can quickly clean up anything you put out.

A coil feeder, also known as a crown feeder, is great for peanuts because jays have to work in it to get the nuts out, which makes them last longer and offers more chances for photography.

Chickadees are among the easiest to attract. Common finches also tend to be widespread, varying in color from an indefinable grayish brown to yellow and even bright red.

What exactly you can attract depends on the location and may include crossbills, redpolls, or grosbeaks. Our favorite winter visitors are the elegant-looking Bohemian waxwaxers who normally travel in large herds and quickly clean up any leftover fruit and berries on the trees.

Watch for beavers on your outings this winter. | Robin and Arlene Karpan photo

We like to position our bird feeders with photography in mind, as we prefer to have the birds in a natural setting rather than directly at the feeder. Birds tend to approach a feeder in stages, landing on nearby branches first for a few seconds.

By placing a feeder near tree branches on a logical route to the feeder, it is often possible to photograph birds here. Another option we use is to tie a dead branch to the side of a feeder, giving them yet another place to land.

When planning these resting spots, keep in mind where you will be photographing and how the background will appear. Try to choose an attractive or clean and simple background to make the bird stand out.

Sometimes we photograph from the open window of our dining room. It faces an ornamental tree where the dried berries turn red in winter, bringing some background color. The feeder is located just below and in front of the tree, so birds often land on a branch to feed.

A dead branch attached to the feeder is positioned so that the background is a light area covered with snow, creating a clean white backdrop.

Photographing through an open window is ideal as there is no glass to interfere with the quality of the photo. You can stay partially hidden, not to say warm, without disturbing the birds.

If you don’t have a window that opens, or prefer not to let in the cold, it’s still possible to shoot through a window. Keep the camera lens as close to the glass as possible to minimize glare.

Arlene and Robin Karpan are well-traveled writers who live in Saskatoon. Contact: [email protected]

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