Stan Buman said the air temperature was not much above zero when this beautiful, puffed-up male Northern Cardinal perched on a frost-covered branch in western Iowa. He's a longtime wildlife photographer and Buman has learned to always have his photo gear handy while going to and from his job. He's an agronomist at an agricultural engineering firm in Carroll.
"We had a real heavy frost that morning," said Stan of the February 2008 day when he started off to work. Knowing that the frost might present some good photography opportunities, he stopped at Swan Lake State Park, where he says he takes about 70-80 percent of his bird photos. "There's a Trumpeter Swan restoration project and the swans are fed daily," he explained.
An aeration device keeps part of the lake unfrozen and cracked corn is placed in 30-gallon drums. "There are holes in the bottom of the drums where the geese reach in to feed," he said. In the process, the geese spill a lot of the grain, which attracts birds. "I knew where the birds would be, and so it was only a matter of setting up and waiting." But the best light and frost patterns appeared in a slightly different location, so he sprinkled some of the spillage near a place where the frost and branches presented better photo potential. Predictably, the birds followed the food and would perch in the frosty branches between nibbles. He shot the picture from about 30 feet away, using a Canon 1D Mark II camera, a 500mm lens on a tripod, and fill flash with a Better Beamer attachment.
Stan spent nearly two hours on that cold morning taking pictures (and presumably made it to work without any repercussions), but his endurance paid off with our cover photo, which says much about hardy Northern Cardinals and their ability to survive cold weather. -- E.M.