The Home Life of Woodpeckers

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest St. Louis Co MN IMG_3194Usually I don’t recommend photographing birds while at the nest. This is especially true of songbirds who are easily disturbed and may even abandon a nest with eggs if the photographer is too intrusive. But woodpeckers are a bit more tolerant, especially once you can hear the young begging and calling from the cavity. At this stage, mom and dad are making frequent trips to the nest just to keep the babies full and happy. You don’t even need a blind as they will usually tolerate your quiet presence. But don’t overstay your welcome! A half hour to an hour or so is probably plenty. After that, the parents may become annoyed with the unwanted attention.

EQUIPMENT and TECHNIQUE
Ideally you’ll find a nest that is not too high in the tree. Eye-level would be wonderful but this rarely happens. Cavities up to about 20 feet in the tree are workable. Look for an angle that is more of a side-view than a straight-on shot that will only get you many “back shots.” Then look for an uncluttered background. For me the perfect scenario is a background mix of blue sky and green leaves that is a fair distance away so they blur nicely into green and blue blobs of color (see the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest photo below).
A flash is essential in many situations. Dappled sunlight is a very tough photographic situation and most nests are deep in the woods. A flash alone will be better than no flash, but a flash with a Better Beamer attached will throw your light much farther. Grab your tripod for rock solid shots. Since you know exactly where the action is going to happen, it is easy to set up your tripod/camera combo in exactly the perfect spot. Then, when a bird comes in, you don’t even have to look through the camera, just press and hold the shutter. And since with flash your shutter synch speed will likely be 1/200 or 1/250 of a second, the tripod will help keep your images sharp.

Northern Flicker nest nestlings Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_3474A Northern Flicker pair decided to nest right along our driveway this summer. And they chose an interesting site. They excavated a hole in a “widow maker” …a large branch that had broken off the main tree but was still hanging by a “thread.” But the branch stayed intact and they survived. It was fun to watch them feed the young ones. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f8 at 1/250 second, ISO 1600, Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer, hand held]

Golden-fronted Woodpecker peeks out of nest cavity Krenmueller Farms LRGV TX IMG_0136Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are the southern cousin to our Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Note their golden yellow nape and the red atop the head (only the males show this mark).This male in a nest cavity in south Texas near the Rio Grande River was not calling, just yawning. Raising kids is tiring work! [Canon XTi with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 1.4x teleconverter, f8 at 1/125 second, ISO 400, -1.0 ev, tripod]

Northern Flicker nest Carlton Co MN IMG_0020496Northern Flicker in nest cavity, Carlton County, Minnesota. Flickers often excavate nest holes in living aspen trees, though most trees likely suffer from heart rot. The [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 ISO 400, braced on car door]

Northern Flicker feedin young Cook Co MN sky added IMG_0009408Northern Flicker feeding young in nest along the Gunflint Trail, Cook County, Minnesota. Cavity is in a pine that was amidst a burn following a forest fire. [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f7.1 at 1/250 second, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer, tripod]

Pileated Woodpecker Gooseberry Falls S.P. MN IMG_012497Thanks to Paul Sundberg for sharing this Pileated Woodpecker nest location a few years ago. It was in a very photogenic Paper Birch too! Look closely and you can see that the male (red “mustache”) is doing some “house cleaning” by removing the young’s fecal sacs from the cavity. He will fly off and dump them away from the nest so as not to advertise its location to predators with a pile at the base of the home tree. [Canon XTi with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer, tripod]

Pileated Woodpecker Gooseberry Falls S.P. MN IMG_012467 (1)Male Pileated feeding the crew. The female lacks the red “mustache.” Abandoned Pileated nest cavities (the birds never reuse a nest hole) are readily adopted by many species including Flying Squirrels, Red Squirrels, Pine Marten, bats, nesting ducks (Wood Ducks, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead), nesting owls (Boreal and Saw-whet), other woodpeckers (Hairy, Northern Flicker) and Kestrel. Pileateds are true “keystone” species in the North Woods…a species that is very important to the habitat and to many other species.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at nest Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0022246A few years ago we had a nesting Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near the house. This female (no yellow on throat) brings a beak full of ants to the youngsters. I like how the blue sky and green leaves background blurred in this shot. A Better Beamer on my flash lit up the bird nicely.

Hairy Woodpecker baby peeks out of cavity CR8 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0036982A juvenile Hairy Woodpecker boy begs from his aspen home (aspen tree, not Aspen, Colorado!) Baby woodpeckers can be LOUD when hungry. This is usually how I find the nest cavities.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest St. Louis Co MN IMG_3235

Northern Flicker nest cavity Alango Twp? CR25 St. Louis Co MN IMG_2350The Northern Flicker was actually my “trigger bird” many years ago. A trigger bird is the one that got one excited about birding. As a kid I was a fanatical collector of many things—baseball cards, beer cans, barbed wire, to name just a few. When I was 13 I saw a strange bird land on the light pole in front of our house. It had many field marks—spots on the breast, a red mark, a black “moustache”, and lots of yellow. I somehow found out it was a Yellow-shafted Flicker (now called Northern Flicker) and I wondered how many other birds were around. I basically started “collecting” bird sightings. This led to a lifelong fascination with birds, and eventually wildlife photography. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 1000, braced on car window]

Northern Flicker nest cavity Alango Twp? CR25 St. Louis Co MN IMG_2332My flash had run out of batteries and dusk was approaching, but I didn’t want to miss the shot. What to do? I simply cranked up the ISO to 3200 and kept shooting. I was even able to freeze the action as this Flicker fluffed her feathers. Sure its “noisier’ than if I would have shot it at ISO 200, but I still got the shot. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250, ISO 3200, braced on car window]

Black-backed Woodpecker feeds young Fond du Lac State Forest MN IMG_012381Black-backed Woodpeckers are a bird of remote boreal forests. Then NEVER come to bird feeders and rarely leave their Black Spruce/Tamarack bogs. You can usually tell their cavities by the ring around the hole that has been completely debarked. This female is feeding a young male (note his yellow cap). Interestingly, the following year another Black-backed nest was occupied just above this one in the same Tamarack. Was it the same adults? Or one of the offspring? Black-backeds often nest in living spruce, tamarack and pine near water or other openings in bogs, burns, and upland spruce-fir forests.

 

 

 

Cactus in Minnesota?—Blue Mounds State Park: Part 2

Prickly Pear Cactus 3 1024x
CACTUS IN MINNESOTA?
Yes, actually two species of Prickly Pear Cactus occur in southwest Minnesota…Opuntia fragilis and Opuntia macrorhiza. And Blue Mounds State Park is a great place to see them for yourself. No, not giant cartoon-type cactus but a low-growing cactus with GORGEOUS and HUGE yellow blossoms. They should be blooming now! To make sure, call the park office in advance.
Purple Prairie Clover? 234_3452 copyIf you squint, you can almost imagine a time when tallgrass prairie covered the endless landscapes of southern and western Minnesota. And Purple Prairie-Clover (Dalea purpurea) was part of that rich mosaic of prairie wildflowers.
This species is a legume with a taproot that may reach down 6 feet into the soil! This root system helps prevent soil erosion. It is a true prairie plant that has evolved with fire, and does not tolerate shade. Pronghorns are even known to eat it.

Bison foursome Blue Mounds 153_5345 copyA looming thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to these grazing Bison. Don’t let me mislead you…There is a fence around the entire herd, and they are not always visible to park visitors.

Bison run blur Blue Mounds State Park Luverne MN _MG_5157 copyIn 1961, the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds’ herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

Coneflower Blue Mounds Rock Co MNNotice the deeply cut leaves and extemely reflexed ray petals of the Pinnate Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) (sometimes called Gray-headed Coneflower). To emphasize the incredible five-foot height of this prairie native, I crouched down with my wide angle lens and put the flowering heads “in the clouds” so to speak. This photo would not have had much impact if taken at “eye-level” with the flowers.

Gray Partridge near Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNGray Partridge, the bird formerly known as Hungarian Partridge, are not easy to find…anywhere. So I was very fortunate to run into this breeding-plumaged male near the park. They are one of the few birds that utilize seemingly barren crop fields that surround the park. I lost the original of this image when I dropped a hard drive years ago, but fortunately I printed a 4×6. This is a scan of that 4×6 print.

Turkey Vulture Blue Mounds State Park landscape Rock Co MN IMG_9978A Turkey Vulture soars over the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. This is the same tree and Sioux Quartzite outcrop as in another photo in this post.

Great Horned Owl cliff, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5237Cliffs can be habitat too. This Great Horned Owl has made a home of the Quartzite cliffs on the east side of the park. Hiking trails parallel the cliffs along the base and also on top of the bluff.

GHOW-SS in flight, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5240We rarely see Great Horned Owls in flight during the day. So when this guy took off, I held down the shutter. He/she then obligingly banked to reveal the full spread of its large wings and a full tail fan. The fact that he/she peeked over his/her shoulder at me was a bonus.

Rock Wren BlueMoundsSP-Stensaas (1)RARE FIND
I found this singing Rock Wren at the top of a cliff several Junes ago. The closest this western bird regularly breeds to Minnesota would be the Black Hills of South Dakota, over 300 miles away! Unfortunately, this guy did not find a mate here and likely moved on.

Tree and Sioux Quartzite Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNSome outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are more red than others, and this one also has excellent patterning with crusted green lichens. This scene is near the drive up to the Interpretive Center. The Box Elder (I think it’s a Box Elder) adds to the composition that might be a little boring without it.

Bison Rainbow Blue Mounds-Stensaas copyA dawn rainstorm spawned a sunrise rainbow. The clouds, 180 degrees from the rising sun, lit up a beautiful pink color. In order to get the entire arc of the rainbow, I used my 10mm lens (equivalent of a 16mm lens as it was on my camera with a 1.6 crop factor) and placed the Bison underneath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to lift his head, but to no avail. I still like this unique image.

Minnesota’s Wild West—Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park has always been a favorite place of mine. The expansive prairie, Bison herd, rocky cliffs, and Dakota Indian history add to the exotic flavor and very “western” feel in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Located in extreme southwest Minnesota, the park is part of the Prairie Coteau (Coteau des Prairie) landscape; A plateau that rises a couple hundred feet above the surrounding prairie in parts of eastern South Dakota, North Dakota and western Iowa and Minnesota.

I camped here over the Memorial Day Weekend. I was down with my folks for my cousin’s wedding but squeezed in a few hours of photography.

Quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0214The escarpment of Sioux Quartzite at Blue Mounds rises vertically about 100 feet from the surrounding prairie. Local lore insists that the Lakota (i.e. Dakota, Sioux) used to use the cliffs to their hunting advantage, stampeding herds of Bison off the edge and to their deaths, then collecting the carcasses at the bottom. Locals claim that early settlers found huge piles of Bison bones at the base of the cliffs. But the MN DNR claims that no evidence exists to substantiate this scenario.

Quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0210

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9935The best place in Minnesota to see Common Nighthawks in their natural habitat and performing their “booming” courtship flights is the parking lot area of Blue Mounds Interpretive Center off CR8. A startlingly loud “WHOOSH” comes from the sky just above you. Looking up you see Nighthawk going into a dive, air rushing over the leading edge of its arched wings to create the sound. The booming is used to attract mates, signal territory and possibly to drive off intruders. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9920Nighthawks are neither nocturnal nor a hawk. What they are is a member of the Caprimulgidae, or “Goatsuckers”, another unfortunate and inaccurate name. A possible story on how this name came to be may be rooted in European lore. There are relatives of this bird in England, and they will feed on aerial insects kicked up by herds of livestock. Maybe a shepherd 150 years ago noticed these birds flying around his goats one evening, then just by chance they gave poorly (milk) the next day. The shepherd puts 2 and 2 together and comes up with 5…The birds must have sucked the milk from his goats! Of course this is a ridiculous idea and not true in any aspect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9939And here is the Nighthawk in flight! Though it is hard to believe that this bird’s tiny bill will open up to reveal a large gaping mouth, it is essential to their feeding style. At dusk and again in the morning, Nighthawks take to the air to feed on flying insects. They dive and perform aerial acrobatics as they inhale hundreds of mosquitos, midges, flies and other insects. Aerial Vacuum Cleaners! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Blue Mounds State Park Sioux Quartzite and Wild RosesThe rosey Sioux Quartzite compliments the pink of the Wild Roses.

Blue Grosbeak near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0423 The Blue Grosbeak is a rare bird in Minnesota. Blue Mounds State Park (especially near the Interpretive Center of CR8) is the best and easiest place to find them in the state. Here is a highly cropped image of a male..They are not easy to get close to! Minnesota is at the far northern edge of their U.S. range. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Wilson's Phalarope Hardwick Sewage Ponds Rock Co MN IMG_0324I took a side trip to the nearby Hardwick, Minnesota Sewage Ponds. Even though it was Memorial Day weekend, I found a very late Greater White-fronted Goose and this male Wilson’s Phalarope preening peacefully. Of course, we always want to get eye-level with our subjects so I had to crawl on the goose-poop laced grass of the sewage pond to get the shot. Who said wildlife photography is glamourous? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Warbling Vireo near swimming beach Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0164I do not have many photos of Warbling Vireos (fairly uncommon in northern Minnesota) so I took the opportunity when there were several near the swimming beach defending their territories. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Orchard Oriole near swimming beach Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0146Not the Baltimore Oriole we are all familiar with, this is the smaller cousin, the Orchard Oriole. Found in wooded edges, farmsteads, groves, and backyards across southern Minnesota. This is my first semi-decent photo of one. I’ll take it! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Canada Goose family sunset silhouette Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0088I can never pass up a good silhouette. This Canada Goose family was swimming on the small reservoir at sunset. I underexposed by a couple stops to create the silhouette and rich colors in the water. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Next time, more photos from past trips to Blue Mounds State Park in extreme SW Minnesota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Wild Horses running Wild

On our way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I stayed the night in Medora, North Dakota and spent the next morning shooting in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It is a fantastic place for wildlife photography…and far less crowded than Yellowstone! Though it doesn’t have bears or Moose it does have Bison, Pronghorns, Coyote, Mule Deer and, in the North Unit, Elk and Bighorns. It also has two very photogenic species that Yellowstone lacks…Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (also Rattlesnakes in summer!).
Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339 copyThe band of wild horses and foals. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, tripod]

The morning dawned dismal and rainy but we weren’t about to pass up the amazing 25-mile?? wildlife auto loop. Coming around a bend, we actually saw a car parked along the road. We had to stop and see what was up. Off on a nearby hillside was what we thought was a researcher studying a band of wild horses. The horses then stared at us (or so we thought). A couple foals were in the herd too. We waited until she returned to the road and indeed she was researching the sex lives of the horses (basically). But she told us that she thought the horses had seen another band of horses. We went cross country to try and get some shots. After setting up on the same hillside we noticed the horses all switched their attention from us to something unseen to the east. Sure enough, there came into view another band of horses. The leader of the band near us got very animated and stiffened up. He then trotted over to the other band and the leader of that band came out to meet him.

They circled each other, posturing the whole while. The other male then kicked with both hind legs narrowly missing “our” male. Evidently our male “won” and the other band drifted off while he ran back towards us. It was a fantastic opportunity to get some panning, motion-blur shots.

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9293Panning with running animals at a slow shutter speed is low percentage shooting, but sometimes you get lucky and get the head sharp but still show the motion in the legs. You need to choose a slow enough shutter speed to convey motion but not too slow so there is no chance of any part of the animal being sharp. The best shutter speed to start with would be 1/60 to 1/30 of a second. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9304Nothing is sharp in this shot (I wish the head was a tiny bit sharp) but I love the power and speed of this stallion as conveyed by the motion blur.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9306[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9310Kicking stallion. I didn’t really like the color in this shot…Seemed to distract from the kicking horse. So I converted it to black and white but it was still lacking something for an image portraying such power and aggression. Then I played with the contrast and Voila! I really liked it. Aggression, strength, power, energy. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339The same photo as the top photo. Do you like it better in color or black and white?

MORE ABOUT WILD HORSES IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[From official park website: “Feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park do not fall under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but are managed by existing park regulations. For many years the National Park Service attempted to remove all the horses from the park. This policy was reversed in 1970 when the horse was recognized as part of the historical setting. The park now retains a herd of 70-110 animals so that visitors may experience the badlands scene as it appeared during the open range ranching era of Theodore Roosevelt. In order to maintain this population level, the horses are rounded up every few years, and surplus animals are sold at public auction. Today, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few areas in the West where free-roaming horses may be readily observed.

Wild horses have existed in the badlands of western North Dakota since the middle of the 19th century. While ranching near Medora in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

In a great many–indeed, in most–localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cowboys in the Medora area often captured wild badlands horses for use as ranch or rodeo stock. Prior to the establishment of the park in 1947, local ranchers used this area to graze their livestock. A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. Of the few small bands of horses that eluded capture, several were thought to be the descendants of horses that had run free in the badlands since at least the turn of the century.

Some of the horses in the park do bear a striking resemblance to the types of horses common in this area during the 19th century. As depicted in drawings and early photographs, local horses of that era were typically large-headed, short-backed, and a bit larger than the mustang of the southern Plains. They were often blue or red roans, many having “bald” (white) faces and patches of white on their sides. This color pattern, called an “apron,” may be familiar from the paintings of Frederic Remington and C.M. Russell, but is seldom seen in modern horses.

Wild horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Frequently a subdominant stallion will “run second” to the leader. Stallions herd their mares by extending their heads and necks low to the ground in a threatening gesture known as “snaking.” When a band is in flight, a dominant mare will take the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. Young stallions roam together in “bachelor” groups, sometimes in proximity to a stallion harem.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Bison calves

It was mid May and calving time in the Bison herds of Yellowstone and Teddy Roosevelt…And as the father of a 4-year-old and 5-year-old, I can really see the similarities in these wild babies and my kids…TONS of energy, lots of playing, stick close to mommy, and darn cute!

Bison calf and cow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9441Aaaah! How cute! I love this shot. It really shows the bond between mother and calf. A little nuzzling for reassurance.

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9476 HISTORY OF BISON IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[from the official park website: “In 1956, 29 bison were brought from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and released in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here they roamed freely on 46,000 acres of park land and by 1962 the herd had increased to 145 animals. That year, 10 bulls and 10 cows were relocated to the 24,000-acre North Unit.”

“Though both units of the park can easily carry larger numbers of bison, park managers have currently set herd size at approximately 200 to 400 animals for the South Unit and 100 to 300 for the North Unit to maintain healthy range conditions.”

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9465Two adolescent bulls go head to head in a play battle.
[From park website: “Cow groups usually consist of 20-60 animals composed of cows, bulls under 3 years, and a few old bulls. The herd is led by an older cow. As they graze, the group will travel 10-15 miles each day moving at a speed of 5-6 miles per hour. Most bulls live alone or in bachelor groups of up to 20 animals. Bulls tend to become more solitary with age.”

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9449[From park website: “Cows usually conceive for the first time as three-year olds. Though calves can be born at any time of the year, the calving season usually begins in April after a 9 month gestation period. Calves are orange-red in color and are up and moving within 3 hours of birth. They stay very close to their mother for the first few weeks. Cows are very protective of their young. Eventually, calves venture further away from their mothers, playing with other youngsters in nursery groups, while always under the watchful eyes of other cows within the herd. After 3 months, the orange-red baby coloration starts to change to dark brown and the hump and horns begin to form. Calves remain with their mothers for about a year, or until another calf is born.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT BISON AT THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE HERE

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Prairie Dogs and friends

Ryan and I often break up the 17 hour drive home to Minnesota from Yellowstone with a night and half a day in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. The 36-mile auto loop is a fantastic road for wildlife photography…And no crowds!
Prairie Dog village Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9549 Prairie Dogs are truly charismatic critters. How can you not like them? Well, I guess cattle ranchers hate them as cows can step in a hole and break their legs. But they’ve been successfully eradicated on much of the private lands of the west.

We tried this unique shot last year but came up empty (Not every wildlife photo must be taken with a telephoto lens!). We placed our cameras with a wide angle lens near the mouth of a Prairie Dog hole…then we retreated to the hillside and waited to trigger the shutter remotely. But Prairie Dogs have interconnected tunnels with many exits/entrances, and they usually outsmarted us. And the same thing seemed to be happening to us this time, but after we had given up and were heading back to the car, one Prairie Dog seemed reluctant to go down his hole as I approached. Maybe curious, maybe young, maybe not too experienced, but “brave” enough to poke his head out to check out the “three-legged predator” just outside his home. “Click” …got the shot. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 16mm, f13 at 1/800, tripod with remote trigger]

IMG_6144 The North Dakota badlands are much more lush and green than the South Dakota badlands [iPhone!]

Lark Sparrow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9227 Lark Sparrows are very common in Teddy Roosevelt but rare in northern Minnesota. It was a real treat to see and hear many along the auto loop. This guy posed in the tip top of a Rocky Mountain Juniper. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250 (max flash sync speed), Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer attachment (to extend the reach of the flash), handheld]

Western Meadowlark Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9366 Western Meadowlarks are a symbolic bird of the grasslands of the American West. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/400, handheld from car (This is an exposure between firings of the flash...The flash needs to recycle after every firing, so it is best to set your exposure so even between firings you get a decent exposure of your subject.]

Mule Deer Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9381 Check out those ears! Mule Deer, in fact, are named for their ears which are oversized as in Mules. It was a very dark, rainy, gray day so the color balance was a bit weird so I converted the image to black-and-white for better effect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, handheld from car]

Yellowstone May 2014—Getting Creative

Bison Frosty face near Norris Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7449Bridget specifically said “No frosty Bison photos! You have enough of them” But this one is a bit different. I converted the image to black and white then clipped the whites and blacks of the histogram to make a more high contrast image. It more accurately reflects what I remember from the Bison encounter than the original image. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250, handheld]

Harlequin Ducks LeHardy Rapids Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7346I used a long exposure on these Harlequin Ducks to allow the river to blur nicely. But you have to take many photos as the ducks were constantly fidgeting.

Elk herd frosty morning Mammoth to Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8230 [Canon 7D with Canon 85mm f1.2 lens, f1.2 at 1/2000, handheld]

Elk herd frosty morning Mammoth to Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8242The two images above were taken early in the morning between Mammoth and Tower Junction. You don’t always need the sun at your back! Backlighting can really be quite dramatic. I love how the rim light defines the elk’s shapes and makes the spring leaves pop. Also keep in mind that shadows often show as blue to our cameras and it contrasts nicely with the green leaves. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, -1EV, handheld]

Bighorn ewe reflection Mammoth to Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6790Did you do a double take when you looked at this image? This is a reflection of a Bighorn ewe that I flipped 180 degrees. Have fun and experiment! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1250, handheld]

Ryan Marshik silhouette Nikon 600mm tripod Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8119Shapes often tell as much of a story as detailed subjects. I underexpeosed by nearly two stops to get this silhouette of Ryan hauling his 600mm f4 on a tripod across the snowy Hayden Valley. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/6400, -1 2/3 EV handheld]

Grizzly silhouette Mary's Bay Yellowstone Lake Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_9054 - Version 2Our wildlife subjects don’t always need to be large in the frame. But we really have to work to remember this and actually shoot “animal in the landscape” shots. Ryan and I had followed (by car) this sow and second-year cub for a while, but they cut up this steep hillside. I turned the camera vertical to emphasize the tall trees. Her backlit breath was a bonus. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, handheld]

Common Raven Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7195 I rented the Canon 85mm f1.2 lens for this trip specifically to play with extremely shallow depth of field in wildlife photography. This lens is commonly used in portrait photography to achieve very shallow DOF. This obliging Raven allowed me to get quite close and the result is a unique critter image with only an inch or two of in focus bird. [Canon 7D with Canon 85mm f1.2 lens, f1.2 at 1/2500 sec., handheld]

Yellowstone Falls long exposure visitors Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7824This is a very different perspective on one of the most visited sites in Yellowstone…the Falls of the Yellowstone River. I set up my tripod back from the overlook and put on the wide angle lens. Then I attached a B+W 9-stop ND (neutral density filter to slow down the exposure in order to record the motion of visitors gawking at the falls (and taking selfies!). Of course, there were a dozen people here just before I got set up, then they all vanished. Where’s the bus of Japanese tourists when you want them! [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens and B+W 9-stop ND filter, f11 at 15 seconds, ISO 100, tripod]

Moonrise full at Silver Gate Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8216 Though the full moon ruined any plans we had for star trail photos, it made up for it during this moonrise at Silver Gate. The only way to get a large moon in your photos is to use a very long telephoto lens. But put an “earthbound” element into your photo to give the full moon scale. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/125, tripod]

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