A quiet spring morning in the woods of western Maine. Not long after the sun breaks the horizon, a rapid trill splits the post-dawn air. A small brown bird hops up from the litter of the forest floor. A male Winter Wren starts his morning.
These tiny, secretive birds offer great opportunities for nature and wildlife photographers. The first place to start is to identify the bird’s habitat. Winter Wrens prefer areas of dense thickets and brush, possibly with a stream nearby. There is likely to be a fallen tree where the wren will select a nest site among the roots.
You’re likely to hear a Winter Wren before you see it, so learn to recognize its song. Here is a link to a recording of a Winter Wren.
So, you have successfully located a promising spot to look for a Winter Wren. How do you increase your chances of getting a photograph of the merry songster?
For starters, leave the camera in the bag for a while. Listen to the song. Note its direction and the time you heard it. Then listen to see if the wren sings again. Did it move closer or farther away? How long between the first and second song? This will give you clues as to the bird’s movement patterns.
Then watch for movement along the forest floor. Watch to see where the wren pops up into view. This can be on a perch in a logging cut. Note which direction it comes from. Often, they will return to the same spot each morning to sing. This may be near a fallen tree. Sometimes they will sit in that spot and sing repeatedly. Other times the wren only sings once before returning to the undergrowth to feed.
Patience really comes into play here. Some mornings a Winter Wren I have been photographing appears within a matter of minutes. Other mornings it takes an hour or more before it arrives.
Now you have identified perches the male wren uses regularly. Position yourself so that you have an unobstructed view of the perch with the light coming from behind you or on either side. Be sure not to approach within the wren’s “fight or flight” distance. Doing so will only spook the bird. In my most productive spot, I end up standing in the middle of a small logging cut leaning against a tree. The sun is coming over my shoulder. (See photograph #1. My spot was at the birch tree and cedar tree on the right. The fallen pine behind with the pulled-up roots was where the Winter Wren would perch to sing.)
Watch the background. Are there any distracting elements? Then keep your eyes on the prize. Eventually, you will be rewarded as a male Winter Wren breaks into his song … and you get the photograph!