BRAINERD, MINN. – Twenty degrees below zero, and 20 inches of snow. That’s what we’ve experienced so far this December. Yet winter is only a few days old.
I assume you’re not overly excited by those figures, unless you sell snow removal equipment, or lean toward snowmobiling or skiing as a winter pastime.
Or if you’re a wildlife photographer.
I was able, in part, at least, to capture the images on this page because of snow and cold. Deep snow often concentrates wildlife because traveling through snow requires more energy. The long-tailed weasel, for example, not only restricted its home range but also left tracks in the snow that revealed to me the best location to attempt to capture a photo of him (or her).
That was also true for the mink. Analyzing its daily comings and goings was relatively easy; the tattletale snow told me a story.
Weasels and mink are difficult photo subjects. They are cagey, and lightning-fast. If they have one downfall, it’s that they are a bit curious. The weasel was aware of my presence, yet it paused briefly before darting away.
I photographed the ruffed grouse shortly after sunset when the temperature was minus-5. On that evening, three grouse fed in a crabapple tree while there was still ample light for photography. A snowstorm the day before, and the cold weather on that day, brought the birds out early (yes, grouse often feed very late in the day). The hungry birds needed to fill their crops before going to roost for the night.
Cedar waxwings also respond to snow and cold by feeding more frequently. Waxwings are unusually tame birds, and photographing them is fun because a photo blind is not needed.
Find moving water in central Minnesota and you’ll likely find overwintering trumpeter swans. Obviously, cold temperatures concentrate the big waterfowl in predictable, ice-free locations.
I’m always careful to not stress winter wildlife. Old Man Winter has unleashed his fury early this season. I hope this pattern does not continue.
For the sake of the wildlife.
Bill Marchel on Twitter: @billmarchel