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  • Writer's pictureVicki Wilmarth

Snow Birds

As much as I love photographing colorful Painted Buntings in the summer or energetic Yellow Warblers in the fall in the Texas Panhandle, winter snow storms bring another dimension to bird watching and photography here on the High Plains. During this winter of 2020-2021, Amarillo has had several big snows for me to enjoy.

But I have a confession. Many of my snow photos do not happen spontaneously. I set up photo spots in my backyard to get better photos during snow storms. It is a trick I learned from professional bird photographer Marie Read in her excellent book, Mastering Bird Photography. She says that some of her favorite and most-published images have been photographed using artificial perches that she arranged in her backyard. She can place a perch where it will get optimal light and a less busy background. She uses fallen branches, gnarled wood, and other perches with character.

So a walk around my backyard yielded all kinds of logs, stumps, and other props that I have now utilized in the snow to try to get more interesting photos. Here are some examples:

I leaned a log with an interesting hole against a stump to make a nice perch. The log caught a bit of snow above the hole and the bigger birds like a Blue Jay and a White-winged Dove found it comfortable to pause there long enough for me to get the shot.

My long-suffering husband, Rohn Butterfield, created a wispy perch for me out of a branch that he cable-tied to a piece of rebar driven into a stump. This perch gets the birds up to eye level, isn't as busy as many of our actual shrubs, and can be placed close to the back porch so I can get closer photos of the birds while using the house as a bird blind.

I've also utilized a metal work table on which I have placed unusual logs, pine cones, even an aqua vase for some color.

A old stump has often proved popular with my backyard birds when I place a bit of bird seed on it during a storm. I can locate this one very near the back door so that I don't disturb the birds while they are feeding (or fighting, as the case may be).

I know the importance of making sure the birds have food and water during any snow event. I don't just take their photos and then ignore them. We keep our feeders full year-round and now use a heater in our fountain to make sure the birds can get to fresh water while they are trying to weather the storm. During the Valentine's Day storm in 2021 (when the temperature dropped into negative numbers at night), Rohn even made homemade bark butter with oats, peanut butter, nuts and cornmeal to provide lots of calories and protein alongside with the suet that is always available to the birds in our backyard.

The birds aren't the only ones who enjoy the backyard buffet when the weather is bad.

Amarillo has had enough snow now. My rose bushes were already leafing out before this storm hit. Just like this Mockingbird who showed up on Valentine's Day, I'm starting to dream of warmer weather, sunny daffodils blooming and spring migratory birds visiting our backyard.

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