Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Bluejay

Despite freezing temperatures, a blue jay goes wild in a bird bath.

Les Winkeler

From time to time I may have mentioned I hate snow.

Nothing good ever comes of it.

It’s cold. It’s inconvenient. It creates hazardous driving conditions. And, it almost always wreaks havoc with my schedule.

The only benefit of snow, other than a well-placed snowball in the back of a friend or colleague, is that it creates beautiful photographs.

You want to take a photo you can hang on your wall? Shoot a cardinal huddling against the cold on a snow-covered branch. It’s as irresistible as a kid with a puppy.

Take it a step farther — find a bluebird with a few snowflakes on its head.

The truly best thing about photographing birds in the snow? I can do it from the comfort of my bedroom.

The patio outside our bedroom has three bird feeders and a newly purchased heated bird bath — an excellent expenditure of $40. Standing inside my bedroom Monday morning, I spotted cardinals, house finches, three species of sparrows, cowbirds, grackles, starlings, goldfinches, juncos, doves — and a blue jay, a rare visitor to our feeders.

Over the years I’ve taken hundreds of photos of various species in the snow. So, I spent most of Monday morning simply watching through the window. I wasn’t moved to pick up my camera until a blue jay appeared on the scene.

Naturally, the angle from my bedroom window offered an obstructed view, so I had to cross the hall to the guest room. By that time, the blue jay had moved to the bird bath.

Capturing a few frames of a blue jay drinking while surrounded by snow —that sounded fine to me. 

Then, the blue jay did me one better. He hopped into the water and beat it into a froth with his wings. He shook his head side to side violently, creating his own whirlpool shower.

The shutter continued clicking away as the blue jay took a break to catch his breath. Much to my surprise, not to mention delight, he repeated the procedure. Again, my camera captured the wondrous sight, frame-by-frame.

It was an absolutely delightful, totally unexpected moment. It almost made me feel guilty about despising the snow … almost being the key word.

The blue jays appearance capped an interesting morning.

We had spent the weekend eagle watching in the Alton area. It’s well worth the time and effort. We spotted more than 20 eagles Saturday. Although we rarely got close enough for quality photos, it is breathtaking to watch these magnificent birds standing on ice floes floating down the river.

When we returned, it was already dark. I knew my feeders were empty, but I didn’t refill them until morning. And, not surprisingly, my yard was devoid of birds.

But, it’s amazing how quickly they return when you put out the buffet.

The backyard feeders were filled first. By the time I filled the patio feeders, the back yard was full of birds.

That would have been enough to make my day — if it hadn’t been for the blue jay.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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