Fun in the Cold and Snow at Morton NWR, Noyac, NY « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Fun in the Cold and Snow at Morton NWR, Noyac, NY

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This image of a Northern Cardinal was created with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark III. ISO 320. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/320 sec. at f/11 set manually. (Should have been +1 2/3 stops….) Fill flash at -1 stop.

Morton NWR is located in Noyac, Long Island.   I was amazed to learn last year that bird feeding there is not only permitted but encouraged.   After Saturday’s blizzard I was anxious to get out in the snow and put some of what I had learned from Alan Murphy’s “Guide to Songbird Set-Up Photography” to good use.  Heading out to eastern Long Island on Sunday would have been borderline suicidal so I passed on that.  I woke early on Monday, packed my gear and warm clothing, and headed to the refuge.   Thinking that I might need to dig my way out at some point, I threw my Mom’s long-handled spade into the back seat of the car.   It took me a shade more than an hour to make the trip but when I arrived, I noted that the road into the parking lot had not been plowed.   I got my warm coat on, took the long-handled spade out of the back seat, and started digging my own parking space.  After about 30 minutes (when I was about half finished with my one car parking lot) I was wishing that I had brought my Mom’s real snow shovel.   

I stopped one guy with a plow on the front of an SUV; he stopped and was very nice but explained that it was his bosses truck and that he was forbidden to plow anything.   So back to work I went.  After another 15 minutes I was about 3/4 done when I spotted a bobcat with a snow plow on the front.  I waved the guy down and he stopped.  I asked him if I could pay him to finish plowing my spot.  He said, “No.  I will do it for free.”  One, two three and there was a beautiful practically effortless parking spot big enough for two cars.  I tried to give the guy a ten-spot for breakfast but he refused and drove off.

I wound up photographing for more than 7 hours.  I created the cardinal image above just before I left at 4pm.  By that time, my feet were frozen blocks of ice.  I was able to utilize many of the tips in Alan Murphy’s Guide to Songbird Set-up Photography to help me create better images.   The woodpecker image that follows was just one of many of those.   Be sure to click on each image to see a larger sharper version.

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Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark III. ISO 100. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops: 1/320 sec. at f/8 set manually. Fill flash at -1 stop.

Tips:  When I am working with songbirds at close range I remove my Better Beamer to avoid over-flashing the birds.   When working in bright sun I use more fill flash than I usually do.

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Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark III. ISO 250. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/200 sec. at f/11. Fill flash at -1 stop.

This is another one that was created by following  Alan’s directions explicitly.   His tip on the exact piece of equipment used for placing and adjusting the position of your selected perches is priceless.  You can learn more about Alan’s book or order a copy here:

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Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with a 25mm Extension tube and the EOS-1D Mark III. ISO 250. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops: 1/250 sec. at f/13 set manually. Fill flash at -1 stop.

OK, you have read this far; now we will share some tips for photographing in the snow.   If you are photographing during the height of the storm, always use flash as light levels will be very low.   Once the weather clears, you will often have bright blue skies and northwest winds.  Be sure to select a location that is sheltered from the wind, especially in the mornings when a wind from the north or west can kill you.    During the short days of winter the sun is so low in the sky in the northeast that you can photograph in nice light all day long. 

In places like Morton where the birds are accustomed to being fed, it is fun to create some images of them on the fresh snow.   Do not scatter the seed about as the individual kernels will be distracting.   Instead, poke a small hole in the snow and fill it with seed.  Attempt to photograph the birds as they come to the seed hole or wait their turn.

Wear your warmest boots and clothing.   Hand-warmers can save the day if it is in the low 20s or the teens.  Work right down sun angle.  In addition to Alan’s techniques, I used many of my own from the Practicalities chapter of “The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages on CD only):

Important BAA Note:  


First off, Jim Litzenberg, older-daughter Jennifer Morris, and I would like to wish each of you a safe and enjoyable holiday season.  With luck it will be filled with friends, family, good food, and at least a bit of photography.

Jennifer is flying to Islip on X-mas Eve day with husband Erik and children Sam and Maya to join the rest of the family that includes my Mom, my two sisters, her Mom, and her younger sister Alissa and her family (husband Ajiniaz and two sons, Ilyas and Idris).  And me <smile>

Jim will be in the office until noon on Thursday, DEC 24th and is then taking a rare and much needed vacation.  He will be able to ship or mail any order received before the close of business on Wednesday, DEC 23.   Both Jennifer and Jim will be back in the office on Monday, January 4, 2010.  PayPals and BAA On-Line Mail Order store orders will be processed and shipped on either January 4th or 5th. 

I will be back soon.

3 comments to Fun in the Cold and Snow at Morton NWR, Noyac, NY

  • Ken

    Art: Do you shoot most of your birds where they are, or do you use set-ups and hve the birds come to you as in your book.


    Clear Ken

  • Caroline

    Dear Arthur,
    I am the Student Conservation Intern working at the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. I wanted to inform you that bird feeding at Morton is highly discouraged. It is changing the natural behaviors of the wildlife there. They are growing dependent on humans for food, and research shows that this changes migratory patterns of the birds resulting in increased spread of disease and breeding between different species.
    In my opinion the worst part is the attraction of the Norway rat. This is an invasive species, and populations have increased due to the seed people have left behind at the refuge.
    Please do not promote the feeding of birds at Morton. This is a major issue.

    • I am quite confused as I have had several interactions with refuge staff members who have never said a word other than a friendly hello. And there are many on-line articles about feeding the wintering songbirds at the refuge. Please e-mail me the name and an e-mail address for the refuge manager. Thanks.