A great wildlife image is usually the product of a carefully devised plan.
For example, blue jays are normally skittish creatures. So that perfect, close-up image of a blue jay was probably shot from the confines of a pre-placed blind. The very term "wildlife photography" describes an art form where subjects run, fly or otherwise hide from camera-bearing humans. That's their nature.
But certain opportunities come along for the impulsive and the impatient. Come winter, several species of birds migrate south into Minnesota. Some have little contact with humans in their usual Arctic environment and we might find them less fearful than other birds.
One of these birds is the pine grosbeak. Photographers will be comforted to know this colorful bird is generally calm enough to allow a close approach by clumsy humans bearing tripod-mounted cameras. Grosbeaks are relatively tame and, in most cases, have little fear of their human admirers. A photographer can get great grosbeak images outside the confines of a blind.
When the conditions are right — usually when there is a shortage of food in Canada — grosbeaks migrate south into Minnesota. So far this year flocks of pine grosbeak are found primarily in northern regions of the state. I have yet to see one in central Minnesota. This probably means the birds are finding adequate food including crabapples, mountain ash berries and the seeds of ash trees.
As winter wanes, the birds might move south as their fare is depleted. And if they come, you'll definitely notice the bright pink males first. Females and immature males are plumed in gray.
Photographers can capture the pine grosbeak simply by wandering around and trying to find the bird as it feeds on favorite foods. That's how I captured this image of a vibrant male. I spotted him eating crabapples a few winters ago. Several females and immature males also were filling their crops.
I cautiously moved to within photography distance of the feeding birds. Then I planted the legs of my tripod in the snow and began shooting frame after frame of the effervescent birds. And the birds just continued to feed, completely unfazed by my presence.
With their crops full of fruit, the flock of grosbeaks eventually flew away to digest their meals. But not before I captured a number of satisfying images, including this one, my favorite from the day. See the full-color version at www.startribune.com/outdoors.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.