Photographing White-winged Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis)

White-winged Snowfinch is a common species in Switzerland, though not particularly easy to photograph unless you know where to look. Snowfinches are distributed widely throughout the higher regions of the Alps during the summer and can be encountered on almost any hike above 2000m. They are quite tame and unafraid of human activity, but are nonetheless difficult to approach as they are very lively and restless. It is therefore easier to observe and photograph Snowfinches in the winter, when they are very local and gregarious, congregating in flocks at feeding stations in various ski resorts (though by no means just any resort) throughout Switzerland.

Even in winter though, they rarely descend lower than 1400m. The challenge in photographing Snowfinches during the winter months is finding a ski resort or mountain village where bird feeders or left-over bread-crums attract them. Once such a place is found, it is likely that the birds will visit the same site throughout the winter, often at the same time of day. 

Light and therefore shutter-speed is usually not a problem at high altitude in the winter, as the snow acts like a huge reflector. Because of their restless behavior, fast shutter speeds are necessary to freeze the constant head movement. As for lenses, anything from wide-angle to 600mm telephoto can be used, depending on what image you are after. Over the past two winters, I have focused on portraits with a 500mm lens, but will certainly try flight shots and wide-angle in the coming years. The single biggest drawback to shooting Snowfinches in the winter is that you will not get any images of the black-beak, black bib breeding plumage. A high-altitude summer hike and some luck will be your best chance for that. Arosa and Davos are popular skiing destinations and host flocks of White-winged Snowfinch every winter.

White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalisWhite-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, resting on snow in the Swiss Alps of the canton St. Gallen

White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis in the wintry Swiss AlpsWhite-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, resting on snow in the Swiss Alps of the canton St. Gallen

White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis perched on a rock in the Swiss AlpsWhite-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, resting on lichen covered rock in the Swiss Alps of the canton St. Gallen

White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis SchneesperlingWhite-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, on lichen covered rock in the Valais Alps of Switzerland. Schneesperling im Wallis, Schweiz.

White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis Schneesperling SwitzerlandWhite-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, on lichen covered rock in the Valais Alps of Switzerland. Schneesperling im Wallis, Schweiz.

white-winged snowfinch schneesperling montifringilla nivalisWhite-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, perched on snow in the St.Gallen Alps of Switzerland. Schneesperling im Kanton St.Gallen, Schweiz.

white-winged snowfinch schneesperling montifringilla nivalis 1White-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, perched on snow in the St.Gallen Alps of Switzerland. Schneesperling im Kanton St.Gallen, Schweiz.

white-winged snowfinch schneesperling montifringilla nivalis 3White-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, perched on snow in the St.Gallen Alps of Switzerland. Schneesperling im Kanton St.Gallen, Schweiz.

white-winged snowfinch schneesperling montifringilla nivalis 4White-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis, perched on snow in the St.Gallen Alps of Switzerland. Schneesperling im Kanton St.Gallen, Schweiz.

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