I remarked in the podcast yesterday that we’d had some cold but boring weather recently, which is fairly typical for central North Carolina – it’s not a region that sees a lot of snow, but too far north for foliage to remain growing and green throughout the year. This means most of the winter sees grey and brown grasses and bare trees, and not a lot to photograph.
Only hours after that, however, the threatened winter storm finally rolled in and deposited roughly 5 cm of snow within about an hour. One small upshot of this was, with the bitter temperatures that we’d had leading up to it, the snow didn’t melt in contact with surfaces; this meant it swept off of cars effortlessly, and didn’t get that underlying layer of slush on the roads that makes them so slippery. I had to drive that evening but didn’t have to face either a long session clearing the car nor any real difficulty on the roads. Granted, I was still taking it slow.
So yesterday morning The Girlfriend and I got a brief chance to do some photos before a busy day, and checked out the nearby pond. We hadn’t seen it earlier, when I imagine the ice was nearly complete but clear; by this time, it had a healthy coating of snow, and the geese that were flying in seemed more than a little put-out that there was no water to be seen.
I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a songbird person, but there isn’t a lot else to photograph right now, and they were notably active around the pond. Most of them were reluctant to let me approach very closely, but I took what opportunities I could. Most of them were also trying their damnedest to remain within the thicket of branches at every opportunity, so nice portraits were difficult to obtain.
The sky was inordinately clear, the wind was gusty, and the snow could be dislodged instantly, so there was still a lot blowing around, and on occasion it would whip off of the ice in curling waves or even tiny tornadoes, ‘snow devils’ if you will, very cool to watch but too brief for me to capture with the camera. Because of these conditions, the scenic images of snow on branches or berries or pine cones weren’t really available, it all having blown off long before. And since the snow had rolled in during the night, I wasn’t going to get them when it was coming down, either. So it goes.
The sparrow below was one of many, but the only one out in the open enough to make a semi-decent image from. Like all of those that we saw, its feathers were fluffed out against the cold, creating nice insulating layers of air beneath. I’m tentatively identifying this as a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina,) but there are several species that have similar markings and can at least pass through the area, so I’m not putting it in writing.
Meanwhile, this Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) absolutely refused to adopt a striking pose or even peek out from behind the branches, but it wasn’t until I downloaded the pics and had a nice close look that I realized this was because it was feeding on some diminutive unidentified berries. Like I said, the patches of snow on branches were virtually gone, so no opportunity for a nice composition with the red cardinal, blue sky, white snow, and perhaps deep green pine needles (about the only use they can be put to.) But at least the light angle was decent. That’s not really enough to save the image, is it? Fine – be that way.
The best luck I had was with a northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos, which is perhaps the most expressive scientific name I’ve come across.) Clearly not concerned about my stealthy approach and more than accommodating about letting the sun hit its eye, I got a wide variety of shots and a few different poses, but settled on the one below both for the catchlight in the eye and for the flakes of blowing snow that can be seen in the air behind it. And yes, those are some really early buds on the branches back there – the weeping cherry in our yard has them too, don’t ask me why.
Examining this photo, I was struck by the negligible grip the feet seemed to have on the branch, not at all in tune with what I’d expect from such a gusty day. But as I was writing this post, a potential reason behind this occurred to me: the bird just might be minimizing its contact with the branch because the branch is so cold, and it’s thus conserving the heat in its toes. Someone with a greater knowledge of bird habits can tell me how (im)plausible this is…
And finally, a splash of brilliant color, with the barest hint of retained snow. I have no idea what kind of remarkably fecund berries these are, and they were in a neighbor’s yard so I was shooting from the road with a long lens, but I like the color and the shine. What I didn’t like was the telephone line cutting across the sky, out of focus in the background, so I crassly edited it out. Really, those damn things need to go.