Visitor from the High Arctic: Duluth Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull!

Duluth Minnesota

Canal Park January 1, 2016

Rediscovered by Larry and Jan Kraemer at WLSSD. Eating salmon filet just beyond green gate on north pier ( Thanks Pedar!)…12 feet away!

My 3rd Ivory Gull in Minnesota …and what a stunning bird!Ivory Gull Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_8995imageimageimageimageimageimageIvory Gull Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_8995imageimage

Best Bird Photos 2015

At the end of every year I look through all the photos I’ve taken in the last 12 months and pick my favorites. Throughout the year, I quickly star-rate my images in Aperture…3-stars are images that I’d like to explore more later. Then in December, I sort by all the 3-stars and upgrade a bunch to 4-star. In my final evaluation round I look for images that really stand out from the crowd. Creativity ranks quite high in my analysis of the finalists. A perfectly composed portrait is a very salable image, but quite boring in my mind. Here are the 20-some FIVE STAR BIRD PHOTOS FROM 2015 (in no particular order). Enjoy!
Barred Owl Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8448The Birch and the Barred
A Barred Owl leaps from its perch in a Paper Birch (Hey, that ryhymes!) It pays to be alert and watch for any sign that a raptor is about to fly. Make sure to have the camera on continuous focus, have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion, and hold the shutter down to fire off a bunch of photos.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250; hand-held]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7632Flight of the Barred
Continuous-focus shots of birds in flight in a snowfall is tricky business, but today’s cameras are pretty good at staying locked on to the main subject and not getting fooled into switching focus to falling flakes. Of course, the heavier the snowfall the harder this becomes. This is an uncropped image and I barely got both wingtips in the frame.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 2000; hand-held]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0205Picky Eater
Black Terns are a dainty cousin to the gulls. They feed by plucking insects and small fish from the surface or just under the surface of freshwater marshes. Quite rare in northern Minnesota, they were very common at Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marsh north of Winnipeg (see my post about this wonderful place here)
[Black Tern; Oak Hammock Marsh, Winnipeg, Manitoba]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250;-0.33ev; hand-held]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1030 Peep Peek
Stalking shorebirds is frustrating work. You crawl on the sand down the beach, sometimes only to have the flock change direction and move away from you. But sometimes they cooperate quite nicely. This Dunlin even felt comfortable enough to take a quick cat nap right in front of me!
[Dunlin; Wisconsin Point beach on Lake Superior; Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/1250; ISO 200 -1.33ev;hand-held]

Golden Eagle immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4158 Gold on Gold
Choosing the right location at the right time of year is critical to getting great wildlife photos. And with migrating raptors, it is also crucial to know what weather will bring the birds closer to you. In this case, I knew that strong NW wind days would force the hawks and eagles and falcons to funnel down the shore of Lake Superior and right over Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. The strength of the wind would keep the birds relatively low (distant colorful trees make a more pleasing background than boring blue sky). I also had a plastic owl on a pole to attract the curious and furious raptors. It all came together when this immature Golden Eagle not only came in, but came in BELOW us! This rarely happens. And I got to share this moment with several other birders.
[Golden Eagle, immature; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Great Gray Owl Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3912 Great Gray Stare
Though Great Gray Owls hunt mainly with their incredible hearing, their bright yellow eyes is what captured my attention. I also love the symmetry of their face, including the big facial disks that collect sound like radar dishes and focus it on their ear holes. And some are incredibly tame, allowing close approach and letting me get this close up portrait.
[Great Gray Owl; Sax-Zim Bog; Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/60; ISO320; hand-held (this exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Lincoln's Sparrow backyard bird pool Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1077 Lincoln Bathed Here
I picked this photo because it represented success with a new idea I had this fall; I made an eye-level pond out of a couple saw horses, some plywood and a couple 2x4s (upcoming spring blog post). As I sat in my blind, I wondered if I’d ever get anything better than the frequent goldfinch bathers…then this gorgeous Lincoln’s Sparrow showed up…and even better, he got in the pool and started bathing. And the light was perfect! Success!
[Lincoln’s Sparrow; Skogstjarna; Carlton County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/250; ISO 320; flash; tripod]

Northern Goshawk immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4068 Gos Attack
Fortunately this young Goshawk is attacking my plastic owl, Earl, and not me. Gos are fierce defenders of their nests and you don’t want to agitate a brooding mama. This technique is much safer. I placed the owl on a pole along a known migration route and waited. Most raptors dislike Great Horned Owls and they will readily harass a sitting owl. Focusing on a torpedo-like bird is a challenge, but sometimes you get lucky!
[Northern Goshawk; Hawk Ridge; Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Pied-billed Grebe Stone Lake Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2272 Stone Lake Silhouette
Canoeing at dawn on a wild lake often produces some great photo opportunities. This morning on Stone Lake in the Sax-Zim Bog was quite foggy. But I like the silhouettes you can make on such mornings, and the graceful arced rushes add much to the composition.
[Pied-billed Grebe; Stone Lake; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f10 at 1/800; ISO 100; hand-held]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084 Marsh Ruddies
West Central North Dakota is a spectacular place for prairie breeding birds. I spent a couple days there in June photographing the western specialties, including this pair of Ruddy Ducks. I don’t get to see them that often in northeastern Minnesota, so it was a special treat. I chose this photo simply because it was a beautiful photo of a beautiful duck in a beautiful setting (I really like the yellow bladderwort flowers that add a little something extra.)
[Ruddy Duck pair; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f22 at 1/60; ISO 250; braced on car door frame (exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from taking video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7695 - Version 2Perfect Perch
The sun barely peaked out from behind the clouds to cast some interesting light on this Barred Owl. And could you ask for a better perch?!
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Ruffed Grouse silhouette fall colors Hilpiper Rd Douglas Co WI IMG_0581 Stepping Out
This is one of those “G & G” (grab-and-go) shots that I NEVER thought would become one of my favorites of the year. I was just driving down a dirt road on my way to my “real” destination and preconceived photo goal, when I saw this Ruffed Grouse crossing the road. I stopped to get a shot out the window but was disappointed when she walked right into the deep shadows. But then I noticed the sun-lit fall foliage in the background and I had an idea. I dropped out of my van and lay on the road to get a low angle on the bird. I wanted to silhouette her against that fall color. I underexposed by a couple stops to make sure she went black. Success! Pays to keep an open mind when on a photo excursion, and be open to whatever happens in front of you. Zen and the Art of Wildlife Photography?
[Ruffed Grouse; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/320; ISO 400; -0.67ev; hand-held while laying on ground]

Snowy Owl adult male Menards Superior WI  IMG_4580 - Version 2 Landing Gear Down!
Was this photo taken in the Arctic, just as this adult male Snowy Owl was about to land on a snow-covered tundra hummock? Or was it preparing to touch down on a light pole at the Menards Store in the middle of Superior Wisconsin? I’ll let your imagination decide!
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin (oops! I just gave it away)]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 200; hand-held]

Snowy Owl Menards Superior WI IMG_3701 High Key Snowy
I really do love playing with photos in Aperture (or Lightroom) and Photoshop. I make no apologies for it. You are either going to hate or love this photo. I turned it into a “high key” image, where the whites are blown out intentionally. I did this to show off the stunning yellow eyes of this Arctic visitor to the northland.
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/320; ISO 500; hand-held]

Sora Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8809 Rail Cool
To get a photo like this, you have to sit for hours in a wet marsh, soaked from foot to forearm and just hope this secretive bird emerges from the cattails. But since I didn’t have this much time or motivation, I simply sat on the edge of the road and played the call of a Sora on my iPhone. Cheating? Maybe, but far more efficient. I do always keep the bird’s welfare in mind, and don’t overdo the playing of calls.
[Sora (rail); Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/400; ISO 320; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2573
Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2588 As Pretty as her Spouse (Both Photos Above)
Once you actually find a Spruce Grouse, they are incredibly trusting and allow close approach. The trick is finding one! I photographed this hen from my belly while she picked for grit on a dirt road in far northern Minnesota, then she flew up to eye-level in a nearby spruce (how convenient!). Fortuitously there was also some yellow birch leaves in the background. I think female Spruce Grouse are as attractive as the males.
[Spruce Grouse hen; Superior National Forest; Lake County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/80; ISO 1250; tripod (only way I could get away with this exposure!)]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295 Flight of the Swampy
Flight shots are low percentage shooting….meaning you get very few “keepers” (shots that are sharp and in focus). But in this digital age, we have nothing to lose! In the film days, this show would have cost me $20!…$10 for a roll of Fuji Velvia and $10 for processing the 36 slides…OUCH!
[Swamp Sparrow; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; braced on car door frame]

Turkey Vulture sun bathing wings spread Tofte dump Cook Co MN IMG_9670Bathing Beauty?
Vultures often “sun bath” to dry their wings, but you don’t often get them doing it on such a nice perch in such nice light. Of course, this was at a municipal dump, but you can’t tell it from the photo!
[Turkey Vulture; Tofte Dump; North Shore of Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f8 at 1/1250; ISO 400; braced on car door frame]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1500 Take off!
You can only take so many photos of an Upland Sandpiper standing on a wooden fence post. So then you wait…and wait…and wait for it to do something else, like stretch or yawn or …fly! I was ready this time and just held down the shutter as it leapt from its perch.
[Upland Sandpiper; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 500; hand-held]

Virginia Rail Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas County WI IMG_0222Yes Virginia, You are a Rail
I’d never managed to get a good photo of an adult Virginia Rail. I once had lots of fun with a juvenile Virginia from my floating blind (see blog post and photos here}. But this May day was my Lucky Day and it appeared from the cattails in perfect light…a gorgeous bird that is rarely seen. By the way, they are called “rails” because their body is incredibly thin when viewed head on, and this is actually the source of the phrase “thin as a rail.”
[Virginia Rail; Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/500; ISO 1/1000; -0.33ev; hand-held]

Backlit Bison Breath and Starry Skyscapes: Teddy Roosevelt Day 2

Day 2 in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park started early…REALLY EARLY! Ryan and I crawled out of our cozy cocoons at 2:27am. Time to try for some Milky Way landscapes! It is always good to plan night shoots with a buddy, because if you are like me, it takes a lot of gumption to go out late at night by yourself. Unfortunately, we hadn’t scouted too well the day before, so it took some driving to find a good spot with foreground interest in the dark.
Night Sky Hoodoos Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5950Hoodoos (eroded pinnacle-like landforms) and the Milky Way
Normally you’d like to keep your star exposures to under 30 seconds…That way star motion is minimized. Over 30 seconds, you start to get “star trails,” short streaks of light showing the movement of the stars in the sky.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f4 at 54 seconds; ISO 1600; tripod; headlamp to light hoodoos]

Night Sky Hoodoos Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5957Hoodoos and the Milky Way
We had to get up in the wee hours of the morning since the moon did not set until after midnight….and any moon can wash out the stars and make the Milky Way much harder to see. I lit the hoodoos with my headlamp. Experiment with how much light painting you need to do to get pleasing results.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f4 at 69 seconds; ISO 1600; tripod; headlamp to light hoodoos]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5999Bison backlit by morning sun.
There is one easy thing that can really help your wildlife photography (that doesn’t involve expensive equipment!) and that is to GET IN THE FIELD EARLY! Dawn is the time when crepuscular critters may still be active and diurnal animals are also moving around. In summer, the mornings are cool and wildlife is more energized, much more so than during the heat of midday.

We found a heard of Bison backlit by the sun which was giving us gorgeous rim lighting on the coats of the Bison. Underexposing by several stops highlighted their breath on this chilly morning.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/6400 second; ISO 100; 0 ev; hand held]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996Bison backlit by morning sun
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/8000 second; ISO 100; -3 ev; hand held]

Landscape Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6127
October is a great time to visit Teddy Roosevelt; Empty campgrounds, mild weather (25-60 degrees during our stay), golden grasses and abundant wildlife.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 STM lens; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 250; -2/3 ev; hand held]

Ryan Marshik Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6488Ryan Marshik shooting Bison at dusk
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f4 at 1/125 second; ISO 1250; tripod]

Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6200Band of Wild Horses (feral horses) in the rugged Teddy Roosevelt landscape
The wild horses of Teddy Roosevelt belong to many well-defined bands which do not mix socially.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 100; -2/3 ev; tripod]

Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6172Wild Horse (feral horse)
Details are sometimes more interesting than the entire subject.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/1250 second; ISO 400; tripod]

Prairie Sky Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6390
The North Unit Scenic Drive is an out-and-back road that travels from the bottom of the eroded landscape and climbs up through the badlands to the prairie grasslands at the top of the plateau.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens; f8 at 1/80 second; ISO 320; tripod]

Badlands landscape North Unit Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6354North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens; f9 at 1/400 second; ISO 320; -2/3 ev; hand held]

Cottonwoods Little Missouri River Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6299Big Cottonwood forests thrive in the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River (North Unit)
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens zoomed to 78mm; f14 at 1/200 second; ISO 320; hand held]

Cottonwoods Little Missouri River Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6297Big Cottonwood forests thrive in the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River (North Unit)
Mid day can be a slow time for wildlife photography, so search out scenics or macros where you can use this higher-angle sunlight to your advantage. I like how the tree trunks went black and the shaded hillside turned blue…not to mention the golden side lit grass.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens zoomed to 126mm; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 320; hand held]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6065
A pair of Prairie Dogs greeting each other with Bison “blobs” in background.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1600 second; ISO 320; -2 ev; tripod]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6053A Black-tailed Prairie Dog goes head first down its burrow at sunrise.
You have to have a good reason to shoot into the sun. It works best when the sun is low on the horizon. I had to under expose the image by nearly 3 stops to get the pleasing rim light on the fur of this chunky Prairie Dog.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/4000 second; ISO 320; -2 2/3 ev; tripod]

NEXT TIME: Day 3 in our late October Teddy Roosevelt Adventure

 

Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Day 1

Ryan Marshik and I busted out to North Dakota’s premiere wildlife hotspot last week. Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a treasure of the upper midwest. An easy 9-hour drive from Duluth, the park is a full 7 hours closer to us than our usual fall wildlife photography destination—Yellowstone.

Elk bull Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_4935[Bull Elk at Sunrise]
Our normal modus operandi is to get up in the dark, make breakfast and hit the wildlife auto loop by sunrise. The loop is a very manageable 25 miles and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on how many wildlife encounters you take advantage of). This bull Rocky Mountain Elk was our first sighting of the trip. Elk are rather unusual in the park, so this was a great surprise. He didn’t hang around though, and was soon over the top of the hill. I grabbed some hand-held window-braced shots.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; -1 2/3ev; ISO 800; handheld braced on car window]
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5059b
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5051bLeast Chipmunk
We took the side road called “Buck Hill” where we rarely see anything…but you never know! Ryan spotted this cute little Least Chipmunk harvesting seeds in a short bush. Our motto is always “a bird in the hand”…which means that we try and shoot whatever subject is before us at the time instead of saying “Aah, it’s just a chipmunk…Let’s keep moving. Theirs probably a Coyote around the next bend.”
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
Prairie Dog buddies IMG_5128
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 second; -2/3ev; ISO 200; handheld]
Prairie Dog fat IMG_5509Fat Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try and put on a little fat for winter. This guys really accomplished his goal! These burrowing rodents are a blast to watch…And their “alarm” behavior is awesome; they stand upright and suddenly throw their paws straight up in the air and give a sharp “Yaah” call.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5617
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5603Badger
Wherever there are Prairie Dogs, predators are sure to be near by. The formidable list of predators includes Golden Eagles, Coyotes and these guys, Badgers. I was really hoping to see either a Badger or Bobcat on this trip was thrilled when we found this guy hunting a Prairie Dog town. He was not shy either; pausing to pose for us at the mouth of his/her burrow. I’ll have a bizarre Badger tale to tell in one of the next blog posts.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/1600 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
IMG_1318Sparky on the hunt :)
Truth be told, we spend a great deal of time driving around looking for wildlife. But occasionally we get out and stalk some photo-prey. This is a very easy place to head out overland…No Grizzlies to worry about!…but also a myriad of trails made by the park’s Bison herds.

Landscape Teddy Roosevelt NP IMG_5093Though Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a badlands landscape, it is not as barren as the South Dakota Badlands. Much of the terrain is covered by grass, red cedars and sagebrush. There is even Prickly Pear Cactus. In summer there are rattlesnakes to be aware of, but the most dangerous thing in late fall would be an irate Bison bull.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f10 at 1/320 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5465
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second; -1/3ev; ISO 100; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5363“Wild” Horses (more accurately “Feral Horses”)
Though not a native animal to this part of North America, the horses here are very wild. [See this POST about some crazy wild horse interactions on a Teddy trip a couple years ago.] I do love their varied coats and wild manes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 250; tripod]
Pronghorn herd Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5818Pronghorn herd
Late in the day we headed overland and came upon yet another massive Prairie Dog town, but on the fringes was a cautious herd of Pronghorns. They were in deep shade but I kind of like the subtle colors that the lighting conditions brought out. Pronghorns are very hard to photograph on sunny days…The whites of their fur blow out.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/160 second; -2/3ev; ISO 400; tripod]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5737Coyote
And sure enough, there were a couple Coyotes hunting the town. I like the contrast of the Coyote in blue shade with the sliver of warm sunset sunlight.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5795Coyote
She eventually came out into the sun and gave us close opportunities for some backlit shots. I love rim lighting!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Elk bull sunset Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5906Bull Elk
The day ended as it had begun, with the sighting of a bull Elk. This one was well after sunset and the crazy high ISO I used created this photo with a painterly quality.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; f1.8 at 1/200 second; -1ev; ISO 6400; handheld]

More Teddy Roosevelt blog posts coming soon!

SEE PREVIOUS TEDDY ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK POSTS HERE

Spruce Grouse in the Superior National Forest

It is very fortunate for birders and wildlife photographers that Spruce Grouse like to forage along roadsides. If we had to blindly wander around the bogs and boreal forests of the North Woods in search of them, we may never see one! In fact, in fall they become even more visible along the dirt byways of the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. I’m not saying you can count on seeing one on every outing, but put on enough backroad miles during early morning hours, and your odds are pretty good.

These photos are all from late September and early October in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota.
Winter buries the landscape and Spruce Grouse adapt quite nicely to the new and harsh conditions. Sprouting scales on their toes, the grouse effectively double the surface area of their feet, which is a great aid in walking over deep fluffy snow. Their food preference changes from bugs, buds, leaves and berries to a strict diet of spruce and jack pine needles.

Spruce Grouse male Stoney River Forest Road Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2492[Male Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
I found this cooperative male while he was foraging along the road edge. I got a few “insurance shots” from a distance, then slowly worked my way closer. I crawled on my knees then would drop down to my belly to get eye level shots. I repeated this about every 10 feet until he filled the frame!

Spruce Grouse male Stoney River Forest Road Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2474[Male Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
I just used my pop-up flash to fill in some shadows and reveal the true colors of the bird. Sometimes when a bird is in the shade, and your camera is set to auto White Balance, your photos (including the bird) will look quite blue. Flash helps this. You may have to fix the eye reflection later in Photoshop, but that only takes a few seconds.

Spruce Grouse male Stoney River Forest Road Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2486[Male Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2509[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
Hen Spruce Grouse are arguably as attractive as the males…albeit in subtler tones.

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2595[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
After a passing hunter in a truck spooked her, she only flew a short ways up into a nearby spruce. She let me photograph and video her for quite a while. A fantastic treat!

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2609[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2588[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2573[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
A portrait can really be enhanced with a touch of color. I positioned myself so that some background yellow aspen leaves would make a colorful blob behind the hen’s head.

Spruce Grouse Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_0921 Logging trucks are a real hazard to foraging Spruce Grouse. Their trusting nature often keeps them on the roads longer than they should.

Awesomize your Autumn Wildlife Shots with Fall Color

Fall color can really make your wildlife images pop…But how do you incorporate colorful fall foliage into animal pics? It takes a bit of creative thinking because when most of us are out shooting, we are either focused on landscapes (and fall foliage) or concentrating on getting great wildlife portraits…but rarely are we thinking of combining both!

COLORFUL LEAVES AS BACKGROUND
This sounds simple but how often do you find a subject in a spot where colorful leaves create a nice backdrop? Not often! But when you do, take advantage of the situation and shoot like crazy!

Bald Eagle in Quaking Aspen [October; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

Bald Eagle in Quaking Aspen [October; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

I just happened to stumble on this Bald Eagle perched in an aspen while driving around northern Minnesota. My car served as a blind and I was able to get a few shots out the window. Remember to stick your lens as far out the window as possible to avoid the shimmer of heat from your car escaping to the cool fall air.

Sandhill Cranes staging at Crex Meadows  [October 2008, near Grantsburg, Wisconsin]

Sandhill Cranes staging at Crex Meadows [October 2008, near Grantsburg, Wisconsin]

Sandhill Cranes congregate at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows in late fall. The rusty red oaks compliment the red crowns of the Sandhill Cranes.

Northern Goshawk juv Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_0049859 A juvenile Northern Goshawk swoops across a backdrop of yellow aspens atop Duluth, Minnesota’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. I attracted it with the use of a plastic Great Horned Owl.

While calling for Moose, we inadvertently attracted the attention of this curious weasel [October; Superior National Forest, Cook County, MInnesota]

While calling for Moose, we inadvertantly attracted the attention of this curious weasel [October; Superior National Forest, Cook County, MInnesota]

A shallow depth-of-field turned the leaves in the background to pleasing blobs of color.

A near-adult Bald Eagle moves south over a northern Minnesota forest [September; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

A near-adult Bald Eagle moves south over a northern Minnesota forest [September; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

N Hawk Owl TamaracksTamaracks reach peak color in mid October. Their yellow needles will soon drop, but for now, they glow. Northern Hawk Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota.

Mule Deer buck yellow leaves Yellowstone National Park WY 770_7053Young Mule Deer buck and aspen leaves. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

REFLECT ON THIS
This may actually be the easiest way to incorporate fall colors into your wildlife shots. Find a small pond, river edge, or lake margin that is lined with colorful trees. The leaves will reflect on the surface of the water if you position yourself at the right angle.
Pied-billed Grebe fall color reflection Rock Pond UMD Duluth MN IMG_0067366

Canada Goose Galesburg IL IMG_0034699 Warm yellow leaves reflect off the surface of a Galesburg, Illinois pond. A low angle and perfect evening light make for a great Canada Goose portrait. The open-billed expression adds to the photo.

Canada Goose fall color reflection Rock Pond UMD Duluth MN IMG_0067214Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus is ringed by beautiful Sugar Maples whose red leaves make amazing reflections.

A pair of migrating Canada Geese float in a pond reflecting fall colors [September; Rock Pond, Duluth, Minnesota]

A pair of migrating Canada Geese float in a pond reflecting fall colors [September; Rock Pond, Duluth, Minnesota]

FRAME WITH LEAVES
It is often a tricky proposition to find a subject that you can frame with leaves, but if you do, it certainly makes a compelling image.

Though sometimes called "antelope," Pronghorns are not related to them [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Though sometimes called “antelope,” Pronghorns are not related to them [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

MOTION BLURS WITH FALL COLOR
Get real creative and try some slow shutter speeds with your wildlife subjects and fall color.
Snow Goose blur yellow tree_9397Snow Geese take off from a roosting pond in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Cottonwood leaves create the yellow backdrop.

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

A drake Mallard takes off [September; Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota]

A drake Mallard takes off [September; Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota]

Panning with the Mallard at a slow shutter speed made for an interesting image.

FOG FOR BUCOLIC FALL SCENES
Fog and mist can soften fall colors and create moody fall photos.

Trumpeter Swans Spring Lk Carlton Co MN IMG_0051024 Fog on Carlton County, Minnesota’s Spring Lake softens the scene, turning it into a watercolor-like photo.

Birding North Dakota’s Prairie—Part 2: Marsh Birds

Last blog post we talked about the prairie birds of central North Dakota’s Kidder and Stutsman Counties, and now we focus our lens on the county’s birds of lake and marsh. Where I live in Northeastern Minnesota, cattail marshes are a rare commodity, and even where present they don’t normally attract the western and southern species that are cattail specialists. So it was fantastic fun to get to see avocets and ibis, Ruddy Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, all at close range.

American Avocet flying Kidder County ND IMG_0889AMERICAN AVOCET
An exotic breeding bird of the prairie pothole region is the American Avocet. Not often seen in Minnesota, it is a fairly common bird in central North Dakota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6 ISO 320; handheld]

Pied-billed Grebe nest Kidder County ND IMG_0837PIED-BILLED GREBE FAMILY.
I stumbled across several active Pied-billed Grebe nests along the backroads and main roads. Unlike the ducks, male grebes are actively involved in raising the young. Juvenile Pied-billed Grebes are colorful stripy little guys.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f5.6 ISO 320 -0.67ev; braced on car window]

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0763WHITE-FACED IBIS

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0746WHITE-FACED IBIS
Ibis in North Dakota? Yes, several species of herons and ibis have moved into the northern plains as breeding species since the 1970s, including White-faced Ibis.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 at f5.6 ISO 500; braced on car window]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295SWAMP SPARROW
A very common and vocal marsh dweller is the Swamp Sparrow. Its staccato trill often goes unnoticed as it becomes background noise in wet areas.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6 ISO 640; handheld]

IMG_1219HORSEHEAD LAKE
Horsehead Lake is well, shaped like a horse’s head. At least it used to be. Lakes all over this part of North Dakota have been rising dramatically over the last 20 years, probably the result of a natural wet cycle. But it is a great place to get up close and personal with many prairie wetland species.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1157YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_0989YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1185YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD
Most of us are quite familiar with the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbird, but the Yellow-headed is restricted to high-quality cattail marshes of central and western U.S. Their yellow feathers often look quite fluffy, more like a mane. They outcompete Red-wings for the best nesting sites, occupying the deepwater cattails near the center of the marsh and forcing the Redwings out to the less secure shallow-water fringes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/320 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1112RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1091RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084RUDDY DUCK
The male Ruddy Duck (right) is a dapper little fella. His blue bill and chestnut plumage are just part of his allure. He also performs a funny head-pumping display that evidently attracts and impresses the female (left).
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 at f22 ISO 320; braced on car window (Note: I was taking video previous to this photo and forgot to switch my camera settings…that is why the ridiculous f22 at 1/60…but I lucked out and it is sharp)]

IMG_1057AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS AT HORSEHEAD LAKE
A bucolic summer scene at Horsehead Lake in Kidder County, North Dakota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Black Tern Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1053BLACK TERN
A bird of inland prairie cattail marshes, the Black Tern is rarely seen in the Duluth area, so it was fun to see several near Horsehead Lake in Kidder County.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Double-crested Cormorant Kidder County ND IMG_1388DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT
These water birds are a common sight along the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, and a sighting is often accompanied by the phrase “Oh, just a cormorant.” But they are impressive birds when seen in good light and at close distance. I especially like their azure blue eyes!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

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