For the cover of our December 2009 issue, we knew we wanted a shot of a winter finch -- one of a handful of hardy northern songbirds that wander unpredictably each year -- but we didn't know which one. We would have been happy with a Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, or Purple Finch, but when we saw Marie Read's beautiful, engaging photo of a Common Redpoll, we knew we had our bird.
Read is a talented nature photographer from Ithaca, New York, and a special friend of ours. We've been publishing her work for 20 years.
The annual movements of redpolls and other winter finches are the subject of Paul Kerlinger's December "On the Move" column, in which he calls them "maybe birds" -- maybe they'll show up, maybe they won't. Winter finches, he writes, "keep us guessing and add spice to our birding after the warblers, vireos, and others have left for warmer regions."
When I've watched winter finches, I've usually been at a park or other green space with plenty of natural seeds to lure in the birds. I don't normally think of them as backyard birds. But that's just what Read's subject was. "This redpoll was one of several that was coming to the feeders in my backyard in the winter of 2004," she told me.
Like almost all photographers today, Read uses digital equipment. But back when she took this photo, she was still shooting on film. "I used a Nikon F5 camera, 500mm lens, and 1.4x teleconverter. I switched to digital photography and Canon equipment the next year."
"The red-osier dogwood that the bird is perched in is a shrub that's been growing wild in my overgrown and very unmanicured yard for years," she says. "In fact, it's the same one that gave me my very first Birder's World cover back in 1991. In winter, I move my bird feeders around the yard so that they are near the shrubbery where I want the birds to land."
Read says the shrub is now in a totally different place than it was originally.
"A beaver dam broke behind my property a few years ago, and the yard was totally flooded. The shrub was uprooted and washed downstream, where it got caught against a culvert right by my house -- not in a photogenic location. It's been growing there ever since! Ever year I look at it and think I'll dig it up and put it back where it's supposed to be, but I never do. It makes a lovely colorful backdrop for bird images."
We couldn't agree more. --Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor
Read about the December 2009 issue of Birder's World magazine.
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