I can’t imagine how many shots of songbirds I have taken in 50 years, but I can unequivocally say this is by far my favorite and most artistic. The moment this male cardinal, in all its glory, landed in this spot, I realized this was the perfect bird in the perfect position in the perfect place at the perfect time. The bright red bird rocketed out of the monochromatic background of the rocks and fresh snow.

I couldn’t have designed or painted a better background. Click. Mission accomplished, not because making that image was my objective; it wasn’t. I got out early that morning because of the gorgeous blanket of snow that had fallen overnight. I drove to Ludington State Park and hiked across the foot bridge to the far side of the Sable River and found a spot to hide myself, my tripod, my Nikon camera and 500-millimeter telephoto lens amidst some young pine in hopes of catching some shots of a mink or two coming out of an opening in the rocks as I had observed on a previous hike. Just as I had anticipated, a mink soon emerged. I was all set to capture the moment the mink’s splendid coat would be framed against the snow.

Photographers dream of what wildlife might do. As in this case, sometimes you can even visualize the finished picture on the wall. But of course it is up to the wildlife to decide for themselves where and how they present themselves and the course they will travel. We can’t pose them. For more than two hours I watched mink occasionally come out and go back in. Never did one of them set foot in the snow. I was getting more frustrated and colder by the minute. Suddenly a cardinal flew in. Fortunately, my camera was already trained and focused on the spot because cardinals almost never stay still for more than a few seconds.

Because I chose to get off the couch, because I got out early to take advantage of the fresh snow, because I had paid my dues spending a lot of time at the park, because I had previously seen the mink along the river in that location, and because I overcame the great disappointment of the lack of cooperation from the mink, because I stayed, I made a completely unexpected but better image that will be most pleasing to me for the rest of my life. Many of my favorite images did not come easy. That makes them especially rewarding.

Winter Spark

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