And to that, we add “blue”

super clear sky over snowy pond
Now, here’s one significant advantage North Carolina winters have over New York. New York will be largely overcast and grey throughout the winter months, I mean like almost constantly, and the tendency is, if the sun does actually appear, it’s because a pressure system (don’t ask me whether high or low) moved in and dropped the temperatures like a bitch. But here in NC, it’s fairly common to have brilliantly clear sunny days almost immediately following a storm, and it does make for better shooting conditions.

snow-laden longneedle pine conesIn fact, while the temperature was lower this morning than it was during the storm yesterday, the sun was doing more than its part and got a head start on melting this all off, but it’s got a long ways to go. Notably though, when I was out in the direct sunlight, I actually started getting a bit hot, and I think I may have picked up a little color today; granted, only on my face, but that’s all anyone’s going to see of me for a few months anyway. I can save a little on the spray-tan.

It was also a damn sight easier to keep the equipment dry, but one still had to be wary of sudden tiny avalanches as the heavy loads broke free of branches and came cascading down, usually without any warning whatsoever. There was still no breeze, so generally the collapses occurred at random, though occasionally when disturbed by a bird.

Speaking of birds, the geese and ducks from yesterday were nowhere to be seen, which is just as well, since the pond had frozen solid by this point. And not even skatingly so; it was partially from accumulated snow and so not terribly smooth, and I’m sure not very thick at all. It likely wouldn’t have supported the weight of an average dog, much less a person. But I wasn’t interested in skating anyway (and in fact, haven’t ice-skated since I was five, which pretty much means “never” since you couldn’t call what I did “skating.”)

bright sun over frozen pond
snow cascading off of trees right into cameraIt should be obvious that I under-exposed the above image, by 1 1/3 stops, in order to keep the sun’s glare from overpowering the sky, and I touched out a little bit of lens flare too – nothing very serious. More curious is the warped starburst around the sun, which I’m guessing is an artifact of the aspherical lens.

Not far away, I got caught in one of those snow showers, and quickly pointed the camera directly into it – made for a dramatic photo that illustrates the conditions, but of course I had to clean a lot of snow off the camera and lens, and out of the lens hood. Still not half as bad as the deluge yesterday (can I use the word “deluge” when referring to snow? Somebody call Merriam-Webster and see if it only applies to liquid water.) But yeah, Douglas Adams’ advice applies extremely well to nature photographers: always keep a towel handy. And don’t take the disposable rain ponchos out of your bag for any reason.

And then, not far from that, I pointed the camera straight up to take advantage of the branches framing that sky. Once again, none of this is ice, or even adhering to the branches very well; just a liberal coating that has so-far remained undisturbed. In fact, right there at the top of the opening, you can see another little cloud of snow breaking away from the branches.

clear blue sky framed by snow-covered branches
All of that was well and good, and opportunities for more compelling landscape pics than I normally get around here, but the real captures were yet to come. Rounding the pond and passing by a small dead stump, I started hearing the taps of a (I thought) woodpecker, and could tell from the direction that they had to be coming from that very stump, not four meters away. I still had the wide-angle lens attached, and though I didn’t see any sign of the bird yet, I started switching to the longer lens. Before I had fully completed this operation, the noisemaker appeared from a very subtle opening near the top of the trunk and watched me suspiciously.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla watching warily from hollow trunkThat’s a brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla,) a bird that I’ve never seen in the wild, though I’d handled one during my wildlife rehab days. It was, apparently, doing some work on its nesting hollow, which is quite gratifying to see since this is within easy access and visibility (if not exactly at the best sun angle.) I had the chance for just one frame before it hopped from the opening and flew up high in a nearby tree, and I knew it wasn’t likely to come back down while I stood there, so I quietly moved on. My intention was to return a couple of minutes later to see if I could get a few more images of it, and I amused myself with more landscape pics before I made my way back, getting the 100-300 L lens affixed before I came into range, and watching the opening carefully. My efforts paid off nicely.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla in profile at nest opening
The bird wasn’t missing the sounds of the camera as I was firing off my shots, but I was remaining motionless and it didn’t seem to be making the connection between the sounds and this unmoving person nearby, looking around in all directions while I loaded the memory card.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla still not sure what to make of the situation

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla hanging upside-down from nearby branch
It even hopped up to a nearby bush and hung upside-down in the wonderfully gravity-defying way of nuthatches, before returning to its nest hollow; I hadn’t moved. It disappeared into its hollow and re-emerged a couple of times, curious but never so alarmed that it felt the need to fly away, and even flashed its telltale pale head spot. I can, unfortunately, relate.

(mostly) brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla showing identifying white mark on back of head
After, really, quite a few frames, I moved on while it was inside its hollow again. We’ll have to see what happens – whether it finds a mate and if eggs are laid, but it would be nice to be able to check on some young in the spring, and with luck I’ve got a little head start on habituating them to humans nearby.

Now, remember how I said yesterday that it would be better to have bright light on the snow-covered berries? Of course you do; I’m being insulting. Those berries sit right alongside the entrance to the pond area, so naturally I was checking them out. On entry, the sun wasn’t quite high enough to throw light onto them, so I saved them for when I was about to leave. As I approached however, I could see another bird sitting nearby, and it soon revealed itself as a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos.) I had to go for this particular pose, since it wasn’t turning to face me – or at least, not aligning its body in my direction anyway. I’m not sure what motives to ascribe to this.

mockingbird Mimus polyglottos being rude
I fired off a few frames and watched to see if it would do anything interesting before I moved on to the berries, and the bird was more than obliging, and again not too concerned with my presence; there’s even a chance it was the same one I’d photographed about two weeks ago, since the shooting locations were only about 75 meters apart, well within a territorial range. And my patience paid off, because the bird popped down to a cluster of berries and started picking out a couple.

mockingbird Mimus polyglottos selecting a choice berry
And I just kept the frames firing.

mockingbird Mimus polyglottos with berry
No, I don’t know what kind of berries these are, and I would have thought they’d have been polished off long ago, but perhaps there’s something about freezing temperatures.

mockingbird Mimus polyglottos starting to swallow berry

mockingbird Mimus polyglottos with berry almost gone
And there it goes.

mockingbird Mimus polyglottos and no more berry
Ya gotta appreciate it when your subject is so cooperative. I waited around a little longer, but after two berries, the mockingbird seemed to think I was now a little too threatening and went back to the wire to keep an eye on me.

And yes, I did not neglect the berries myself. It only took three attempts over two weeks time.

unidentified berries with snow cap, bright light, and blue sky