03.19/Northern Cardinals

Featured for March: Spot of color on a winter day

As I was sorting through many hundreds of photos of Northern Cardinals to select the onces to use in my featured gallery this month I noticed one common theme reoccurring in the images I selected.

Almost all of them were taken in winter. Many have snow in the background. Some even had snowflakes on the bird's feathers or floating around the bird.

Cardinals are year-round residents of Central Ohio, hanging around for the hot summers and for the cold, snowy winters when other birds head for warmer climates. The cardinals provide interesting spots of colors among the numerous brown or gray birds found in the area in winter.

I see cardinals in the summer but have very few photos of them with green leaves. That’s because cardinals are extremely shy birds, flying off quickly if they detect motion. There’s little to keep them in one spot when I approach in the summer.

The vast majority of my photos of cardinals are taken during the winter months in Blendon Woods Metro Park. The park has a viewing shed that provides bird watchers with a chance to watch a variety of waterfowl on a nearby pond during winter months (the pond has an aeration system so it doesn’t freeze solid in the winter).

The park also has a well-stocked bird feeder to the side of the shed. That’s why I go. 

I use the shed as a photographer’s blind, keeping me out the birds’ sight while protecting me from wind and snow (the shed isn’t heated, so I have to deal with the cold). Cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, a variety of sparrows, woodpeckers, Blue Jays and a number of other species queue up on surrounding limbs, bushes or fallen logs while they wait for a spot at the feeder. That’s when I get my shots.

Winter in Ohio tends to be extremely gray — dreary, overcast skies result in dreary, dim lighting and poor photos — so I often set up several flash units on wireless remotes when I’m shooting at Blendon Woods. I aim the flashes at areas where I anticipate seeing birds and set the exposure so the flash supplements the available light instead of serving as the primary light source. 

The male Northern Cardinal is a familiar red. But female Northern Cardinals can be difficult to see, especially in most fall or winter environments. Their subtle color (yellow-brown with touches of red on the crest, back and tail) blends in with their surroundings in brown fields or autumn trees.

I add a new featured gallery the first of each month. The numbers in the gallery title represent the month and year it was featured. Last month’s featured gallery, with photos from Washington, D.C., has been moved to my featured gallery archives. 

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