In winter, several boreal forest species move south (and east and west) in search of a more consistent food supply. Pine Grosbeaks (the rosy red birds are the males) and Bohemian Waxwings are two such species. Pine Grosbeaks do nest in the Rocky Mountains but Bohemians do not nest anywhere in the ‘Lower 48’ of the United States. Their main habitat is the vast boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.
But in winter, both species irrupt (not ‘erupt’) into areas far to the south of their summer range, sweeping into northern states to feed on seeds and fruit. Ironically, in winter, these birds of the northern wilds are drawn to suburban/urban yards, city parks and even corporate grounds where some highly desirable foods are to be found. Both love the fruit of domestic flowering crabapples and cultivated Mountain Ash. What makes the fruit from these trees desirable? The red fruits are persistent, remaining on the trees for the entire winter. And the freeze-thaw cycle of early winter makes the fruit sweeter and more palatable.
I live near Wrenshall…and I drive past their tiny city park often. Every time I pass, I scan the five crabapple trees for feeding birds. Over the last few years I’ve seen Pine Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, European Starlings, Purple Finches and even a Pileated Woodpecker who clings to the tiny branches picking berries in rapid succession. I still need to add other crabapple-eating species to my “Wrenshall Crabapple List” such as Ruffed Grouse, American Robin, Varied Thrush, and Townsend’s Solitaire.
The Wrenshall City Park set up is ideal…The trees are alone in the middle of the park so if the birds are low enough, you can get nice buttery bocah backgrounds…i.e. the background trees are far enough away so that shooting at f5.6 to f8 the trees will be pleasantly out of focus. Also there are no front windows to deal with (You should never photograph birds in the front yards of homes. Understandably, people get very nervous and uptight when you point a camera at their front window!)
These are the three favorites from two brutally cold hours spent with these guys on two different mornings…On Thursday, the windchill was about minus 30, and on Friday morning the air temp was about minus 20. They allowed me to get within 15 feet, almost completely ignoring me. I used a flash to brighten up the birds as it was heavy overcast. I quit when my fingers started to freeze.
Pine Grosbeak male; Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400, external flash, handheld
Bohemian Waxwing; Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f8 at 1/160, ISO 400, handheld
Pine Grosbeak and fruit wider; Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f7.1 at 1/250, ISO 400, external flash, handheld