Wintertime in Wyoming can be wildly brutal, or the weather can be like it is right now, here in the Wind River Canyon, with blue sky, no clouds and the temperature at 44 degrees. The last of our snow is melting fast. I've personally seen 42 below zero with wind chills at a staggering 70 something below! The one thing to keep in mind is that it can only get better.....
The above weather report is a definition of the hearty birds that reside in my ecological niche of Wyoming, specifically the Wind River Canyon. Sure, we do get scary storms driven by mountain winds that can kill, or you could go snow-blind without your sunglasses. And trust me when I say that frostbite hurts like hell itself. Camera batteries quit, lenses frost over, and the color of my fingertips became an odd shade of blue!
The most surprising bird that spends winters in the canyon is our American Robin (Turdus migratorius). I couldn't possibly have come up with a funnier Latin-name! They spend the winter here because of the easy food source; millions of juniper berries. One winter afternoon I had one that allowed me to get stupid close; it's a favorite photograph of mine. American Robin/Portrait ~ Wind River CanyonPortrait of an American Robin-Photographed in Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. One of my favorite Wyoming winter birds is the Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi), because their whistle and song can be heard all winter long. Their winter food source is the same as the robin; juniper berries. In warm months they catch bugs in mid-air. They also can hover in mid-air while snatching flying bugs or snagging a juniper berry. While it's only for a few seconds at best, it really is a sight to see; and so far impossible for me to photograph. The photograph below was taken right after a blizzard swept through the Wind River Canyon. Townsend's Solitaire-Wind River Canyon-WYTownsend's Solitaire with Juniper Berry in Wyoming. Several finch species spend all year in the canyon Cassin's Finch, Male in Bloom, Wind River Canyon, WyomingCassin's Finch, Male in Bloom this Spring, Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. eating sunflower seeds from my bird feeders, but in winter they are surprisingly dull in appearance. The House Finch, Cassin's Finch, and American Goldfinch are regulars at my bird feeders. In springtime the male's plumage blooms, but in winter they make boring models. Here is a male Cassin's Finch in full spring bloom.
I purchased a clear-plastic bird feeder that attaches to a window with suction-cups. For months there was no interest in it at all, no matter what I put in it. As the weather turned to snow several of the finches now use it as their breakfast spot, and we have our coffee two feet away; they've learned not to fear us.
One day after an especially nasty blizzard a bird showed up that even I had never seen before in the Wind River Canyon----a Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra). I ended up on my belly in the snow mere feet away, so close that a portrait of him was now easily possible. I had never seen one before and have never seen one since. Red Crossbill_A Portrait, Wind River CanyonRed Crossbill portrait photographed in Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. In winter, Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis) can be seen from the windows of my cabin overlooking the Wind River. They are a common bird and seen nation-wide, so an uncommon bird-photo seems appropriate. I had in mind the work of a popular woman artist, and this was the real challenge; work the software accordingly. Canadian Geese, In Flight-Wind River Canyon,WyomingCanadian Geese in flight in the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. My favorite winter bird is the famously brave Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli). They don't seem to be afraid of much, and sit impatiently nearby as I refill their feeder, calling to me to hurry up; everyone loves a chickadee. When I'm bored, cold and lonely it's great to spend time with them----it's better than a cup of coffee. Mountain Chickadee - Wind River Canyon, WyomingMountain Chickadee in the Snow-Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. On a winter's day, if you are sneaky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a bird digging a hole in a tree or maybe even in the ground. They are in the woodpecker family, a family of birds that may be seen in Wyoming and the canyon. Woodpeckers are not in the abundance they once were, mainly due to loss-of-habitat. The species that I've seen and gotten to photograph in the Wind River Canyon are the Red-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus), the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), and my personal little favorite the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens). If you listen closely and are very lucky, it's possible to hear them hammering away at a tree in the Wind River Canyon. Northern Flicker, Red-Shafted - Wind River Canyon, WyomingNorthern "Red-shafted" Flicker photographed in the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. Hairy Woodpecker, Mother & Son-Wind River Canyon,WyomingHairy Woodpeckers in Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. Downy Woodpecker (m), Wind River Canyon, WyomingA beautiful male Downy Woodpecker in the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming. I've never really attempted to photograph ducks in the canyon, due to cost considerations of giant lenses, and honestly a lack of interest on my part. But this all adds up to a yearly winter's obsession of mine; trying to photograph Bald Eagles in the Wind River Canyon. While they don't nest in the canyon, they do hunt for fish up and down the Wind River; and this is the challenge. They sometimes fly right over my house, yet try and find one when you want one, which is the real trick in photographing Bald Eagles in the canyon. Keep an eye open at all times, and hope luck is on your side; and it won't be. Here are a few Bald Eagle photographs that are favorites. Bald Eagle, Wind River Canyon, WyomingBald Eagle in-Flight photographed in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming. Bald Eagle, Wind River Canyon, WyomingBald Eagle in The Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. Bald Eagle, Valentine's Day, Wind River Canyon, WyomingBald Eagle photographed in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming, by Michael John Balog - HogbatsPhotography.com One winter we had a rare-bird show up and he spent the entire winter with us. He was really out of his usual territory, and it surprised the daylights out of us. Every day we would look forward to seeing him at our feeders. Anything blue in the winter is exciting, except those fingertips. It was a beautiful specimen of a Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). Steller's Jay-Wind River Canyon, WyomingSteller's Jay photographed in Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. Some winters we see them, some winters we don't, and we don't know why. They're small and cute and fun to photograph. They really like the suet blocks I get for the birds, and they are not much bigger than my real obsession, hummingbirds. I'm blogging now about the adorable Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), we also have the White-breasted Nuthatch, but I have never seen one in the winter. They are known as the "upside-down bird" for a reason; they are acrobats on the pines, running up and down the branches and trunks. Red-breasted Nuthatch, Wind River CanyonRed-breasted Nuthatch male in the Wind River Canyon in the state of Wyoming. Red-breasted Nuthatch-"October Morning"-Wind River Canyon, WyomingRed-breasted Nuthatch trying to keep warm on a cold morning in October, photographed in the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. This isn't every winter wild bird I've ever seen in the Wind River Canyon, and I probably skipped over somebody in this Wind River Canyon Blog. I enjoy winter here in the canyon; it's amazingly beautiful, but eventually it's always nice when spring finally arrives!
All photographs and wildlife stories are produced by Michael John Balog and all copyrights belong to the artist. Visit www.HogbatsPhotography.com for more images of wild birds, Bighorn Sheep and hummingbirds all photographed in Wyoming and the magical Wind River Canyon.
Thank you for your valuable time!