High Key winter Geese, Swans and a Black-billed Magpie

White on White - Winter's DelightWhite on White – Winter’s Delight – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

This winter’s snow cover has given me many opportunities to photograph high key bird and wildlife images and while some people might not find high key photos to their tastes I find that I enjoy them because of their simplicity and how the high key background allows my eyes to focus clearly on my subject’s form and beauty.

I find this image of three Tundra Swans that I photographed along the Antelope Island causeway yesterday very appealing because it is white on white. The swan on the left must not have been feeding where the two on the right were because it doesn’t have the stained plumage that they do.

Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

This Tundra Swan stayed closer to the road than the three in the photo above so I was able to capture more detail in its plumage and in the snow that covered the frozen water of the Great Salt Lake.

Canada Geese landingCanada Geese landing – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

While I was photographing the Tundra Swans I heard the familiar call of Canada Geese flying in and as they got closer I started photographing them as they landed near the swans. I wish I would have had a little more light in both bird’s eyes but I find the poses rather dynamic and I like how I can see their shadows on the snow below them.

Black-billed Magpie on a snow-covered rockBlack-billed Magpie on a snow-covered rock – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

It is difficult to believe that Black-billed Magpies will start building or rebuilding their nest in just a few days. They take between 40 and 50 days creating or strengthening old nests and when I start to see them carrying twigs in their bills I know spring is just around the corner. Black-billed Magpies are very industrious when it comes to nests and they will build them even when snow is falling or when the bush they are building in is covered with it too.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Thank you all for your comments on these images!

  2. Hi! great photo’s and the swans and snow is so faierytail like! Love the Geese pic the best! You caugth a very beautiful image of them and the shadows,too. Keep up the great shots!

  3. I love white on white, high key, and just about any other interpretation that turns out as gorgeous as this. Because I don’t shoot much in snow (I’d like to), I still don’t have my exposure and WB down. I’ll shoot RAW so I have some room, but I’d like to perfect what you do here so well!

  4. These are gorgeous birds, lovely images. I love their black socks!

  5. It’s impressive how the Magpie looks so hardy and cheerful.

  6. More fantastic birds…..but the Magpie is a treat!

  7. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    In spite of the white on white and all the snow evident in the photos, I get the distinct feeling that Spring is emereging ever so imperceptibly. I love the Canadian Geese photo just the way it is. There’s a lyric motion between the two.

  8. I love everything about this series. We don’t have snow, tundra swans or magpies, so these are unique images for me.
    Very dramatic with the white on white. Appealing in my opinion.

  9. You did great with the white on white! Mine don’t usually turn out that fabulous!

  10. Is it the “high key” -ness of these photos that makes them appear like composed intense paintings? They are each worth studying.

    The magpie photo is my favorite, but that is probably just because as a new birder to the intermountain west I could ID them first. I continue to search for them as soon as I land at the Salt Lake City airport. I find them fascinating both behaviorally and visually!

  11. Even with the recent snowfall here, we’re also seeing signs of spring. The red-winged blackbirds are here and calling, the sap is running in the trees (I run the maple sugaring demonstration program at work), and the trees are beginning to get that hazy glow from the early buds.

  12. Beautiful creatures in winter, nicely photographed.

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