Finally finished editing my video of a Bobcat in Carlton County in northern Minnesota. See the previous post for photos from this once-in-a-lifetime encounter at a friend’s cabin. I said it before, and I’ll say it again…truly a beautiful cat! Enjoy!
It is good to have a network of friends, and for many reasons—Friends you shoot with, friends who can give you critique and feedback, and friends who give you tips on wildlife locations. And my buddy Gene helped me with the latter. I think the text said something like “the bobcat came back this morning” This was monumental news! How could he state that so nonchalantly? I called him immediately and was set up on his property in a remote part of Carlton County, Minnesota the next day. A mere 25 minute drive from my house, I got there just after sunrise.
On the way up his long winding drive, a movement caught my eye. A winter-white Snowshoe Hare had hopped a few yards but was now sitting motionless. Too bad the Bobcat hadn’t seen this tasty meal. Witnessing a chase scene would have been a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
After about 45 minutes of sitting quietly, it was an unbelievable thrill when Gene whispered, “Here she comes.” (We’ll call her “she” as her size seems small and features delicate…Plus, what a pretty face!). She cautiously slipped between the hazel brush, slinking her way towards the road-killed deer that Gene had provided.
Sensing her surroundings with acute hearing and smell and vision, she crept closer, occasionally stopping to sit and relax, making sure the coast was clear. In the nearly 3 hours we sat there, she came in about four times, but retreating after a few minutes.
Bobcats have increased in Minnesota over the last few decades. In an article titled “Bountiful Bobcats” in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Jan/Feb 2014, the author quotes “From the 1970s up to about 2000, bobcat population numbers were fairly low and stable, according to John Erb, furbearer biologist for the Department of Natural Resources. But starting around 2000, the bobcat population increased rapidly. It grew for about eight years and now appears to be stabilized at about 5,200 in spring and 8,200 in fall. (That’s well above the levels observed from 1977 to 1997—about 1,700 in spring and 2,300 in fall.) Erb and other wildlife managers hope to better understand the causes and potential implications of this bobcat resurgence.” See the entire article here
The Volunteer article goes on to say, “An adult is roughly 3 feet long including its short, “bobbed” 4- to 7-inch tail. Adult males, or toms, can weigh more than 30 pounds and occasionally over 40. Adult females usually weigh 20 to 25 pounds.”
Why are they increasing? John Erb is the MN DNR’s furbearer biologist…”Erb suspects multiple reasons for the recent bobcat population explosion, although he stresses the need for more research to winnow out the causes. One possible factor is the changing climate. Minnesota is at the northern extent of bobcat distribution in North America. Bobcats are less efficient deep-snow predators than are Canada lynx, which have thicker fur, longer legs, and oversized paws.”
“Milder winters might be aiding survival rates, particularly for younger animals,” Erb says. “Female bobcats might also be coming through winter in better condition, so they might be having better reproductive output and survival of kittens.”
“Forest management could also be playing a role. Erb says disturbed and younger forests often provide dense cover and abundant edge habitat, which bobcats and some of their prey prefer. He believes this habitat has expanded due to increased logging that began in the mid-1980s, accelerated in the early 1990s, and continued until recent years. He points to a similar pattern of young forests, plentiful deer, and booming bobcat populations in the 1940s and ’50s, following turn-of-the-century logging, fires, and other forest disturbances.” From the article by Jacob Edson “Bountiful Bobcats” in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Jan/Feb 2014
“Another factor that could be affecting bobcat populations is the increase in deer and turkey populations. Bobcats prey on deer, particularly fawns, and scavenge on dead deer, especially during winter.” Surprisingly, Bobcats are also able to take down adult deer.
This fact really surprised me. Did you know that Lynx on average weigh less than Bobcats? They rarely top 25 pounds while Bobcat Toms can top 40 pounds! It is the very long legs and large feet of a Lynx that gives us the impression of a larger animal.
[Most images shot under low light with heavy overcast skies; Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second at ISO 1000. Firmly locked on tripod!]
[The two images of the Bobcat actually feeding at the deer carcass were taken at f5.6 at 1/160 second at ISO 1600]
[Continued from previous post]…There have been no Snowies in the Sax-Zim Bog this year so Dave and I headed to the urban “wilds” of Superior, Wisconsin (Duluth’s neighbor in the “Twin Ports”). We found two Snowies but they were not equally photogenic. One had been banded and painted by researchers so it could be identified from long distances. We got a few “insurance shots” and continued our search.
Snowy Owls have been wintering in the industrial areas of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin for many years. When I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early/mid 1980s, we would go down to the Port Terminal in the harbor (where all the warehouses and shipping docks were) and we could easily find a half dozen. There were probably a couple dozen wintering between there and Superior’s docks.
At that time, the harbor was a brushy mess crisscrossed by railroad tracks and dotted with junk piles and open garbage cans. It was the perfect environment for rabbits, pigeons, pheasants and rats…all great Snowy Owl food.
[All owl-in-flight shots taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens set at Shutter Priority 1/1250 second and auto ISO. ISO ranged from 640 to 800 and f-stop ranged from f5.6 to f8]
Less than a mile away, we found this stunning female/young male (You can’t really tell, but in general, the darker the bird the younger it is and more likely a female). Don’t get me wrong, I love the nearly pure white adult males, but the speckled patterning on this bird was very pleasing.
Of course she sat on every ugly perch she could find…telephone pole, chain-link fence, scoreboard (see below). So we waited until she pooped. Why?, you might ask. Raptors always seem to “jettison” excess waste which is weight they don’t need to carry with them when they fly. Then she did and I held down the finger on my Canon 7D with the Canon 400mm f5.6 set to AI focus so the lens would continue to focus on the flying bird.
When I left my house this morning (Dec 11th) I was a bit bummed as the skies were gray and the light flat. But when we started gaining elevation out of Duluth, a hoar frost wonderland began to appear. Every single bud, branch, needle and twig on every single tree was coated in a feathery frost. Spectacular! Now if we could only find some subjects! I was traveling with Dave Shaffer from Spooner, Wisconsin (one of the best Black Bear photographers in the country…see his images (all taken in the wild) at http://www.bearwitnessimages.com) and we were after one thing…Owls!
Most birders and photographers who love boreal birds have heard of northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It is a Mecca for those searching out lifers or photos of northern birds such as Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll and, of course, owls. Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl are regular nesters and can be found easily most winters. Boreal Owls, Snowy Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owl are much more rare.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/400, ISO 400, aperture priority]
Great Gray Owl atop a tiny Tamarack cloaked in hoar-frost, Sax-Zim Bog MN
After a couple hours of unfruitful searching, we spotted a dark blob far down the road. I knew instantly that it was a Great Gray…the Phantom of the North! This was Dave’s first ever Great Gray…a “lifer” in birder parlance. And what a bird! This guy (girl?) kept on hunting for over an hour as we watched and kept clicking the shutter.
This is probably my favorite image from the day. I lover the graceful curve of the Tamarack tip and the “bird in landscape” feel. It really gives you a sense of the boreal haunts of this magnificent bird. I tweaked the white balance to give it a more cool (blue) feel. Though these are the tallest owl in North America (30 inches tall!) they are all feathers and rank third in weight (behind Snowy and Great Horned).
Hoar Frost is relatively rare in the North Woods, but when it happens you better grab your camera and go! Here is a definition from http://www.weatheronline.com.uk
“Under clear frosty nights in winter soft ice crystals might form on vegetation or any object that has been chilled below freezing point by radiation cooling. This deposit of ice crystals is known as hoar-frost and may sometimes be so thick that it might look like snow. The interlocking ice crystals become attached to branches of trees, leafs, hedgerows and grass blades and are one of the most prominent features of a typical ‘winter wonderland’ day. However, the fine ‘feathers’, ‘needles’ and ‘spines’ might also be found on any other object that is exposed to supersaturated air below freezing temperature.
The relative humidity in supersaturated air is greater then 100% and the formation of hoar frost is similar to the formation of dew with the difference that the temperature of the object on which the hoar frost forms is well below 0°C, whereas this is not the case with dew. Hoar frost crystals often form intitially on the tips of plants or other objects.”
Great Grays are powered by voles—both Meadow Vole and Red-backed Vole. Some studies have shown that their diet is 97% voles. Their talons are tiny compared to Great Horneds which eat much larger prey (rabbits, squirrels). And voles must be in good supply as this guy caught two back to back within minutes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 500, aperture priority, tripod]
At dusk we found another Great Gray along McDavitt Road, about a mile or two from the other bird (as the raven flies). Thankfully Great Grays often pick photogenic perches in this stretch of road that has NO power poles or fence posts!
Sure the wildflowers are mostly done blooming but the mushrooms are peaking. Now is the perfect time to search out some of our mycological wonders. But put on your grubbiest jeans because to get really fantastic fungi photos, you need to get LOW…usually laying on your belly.
Getting eye-to-eye with “The King”… The King Bolete (Boletus edulis), Superior National Forest, Minnesota. August 26th. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with 1.4x tele-extender; f5.6 at 1/250 second, ISO 800; flash at -0.5ev]
1. GET DOWN AND DIRTY
There are a few species that grow on standing trees, some even sprout conveniently at head-height (Sulphur Shelf, Oyster Mushroom, Shelving Tooth, Birch Polypore) but the vast majority are on the forest floor or very low to the ground on fallen logs.
2. WIDE ANGLE FUN
If I find a relatively large mushroom in an uncluttered setting, I often like to play with a WIDE view to show the habitat of the fungus. I use a 10-20mm Sigma lens on a 1.6x crop-factor camera so the equivalent would be 16-32mm lens. This is WIDE.
Now get LOW and CLOSE to your subject. Use a very small aperture to get a very large depth-of-field…f11 to f22.
Wide angle views can be very interesting but you need to have a large specimen and get VERY close to it. Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria) Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. October 3
Comb Tooth (Hericium sp.) [Canon EOS XTi with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f22 at 1.3 seconds, ISO 400; on tripod] Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota; October 4th.
Suillus sp. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f13 at 1/100 second, ISO 800; flash at -0.33ev, handheld with camera braced on ground] September 26th.
This is rule 3 because almost every mushroom growing on the ground or on a log is surrounded by distracting elements—twigs and branches in the background, leaves covering part of the fungus, grasses and pine needles sticking up and into the frame, dirt on the cap, etc. A little harmless “groundskeeping” can help your images immensely. First, explore camera angles by moving around your subject with your camera in your hand. Once you’ve found the ideal view, put your camera on the tripod. Set your exposure with adequate depth of field (often f9, f11, f13 with small mushrooms). Now look through the viewfinder while using your depth of field preview button (if your camera has one). Do you notice any distracting elements in the frame? If so, we need to remove them. I don’t go as far as bringing tweezers and brushes, but I will pluck grasses, leaves and twigs from near the subject, brush away dirt from the cap with my hand, …For larger plants that are in the way, I’ll either hold them back with a log or small clamp. If the background is hopelessly cluttered, I may bring in a mossy log or some green leaves and prop them up about a foot from the subject.
Note the distracting grasses behind this lovely Amanita, and the debris on the cap. These are easily plucked and will improve your image 100 percent.
The “landscaped” version with distracting grasses and cap debris removed. Cloquet Forest, Carlton County, Minnesota [Canon 40D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 126mm; f7.1 at 1/25 second, ISO 200; flash at -1.0ev, tripod] August 30th.
4. USE A TRIPOD
There are several issues we’re trying to solve by using a tripod. Consider the following scenarios:
a.—You find a beautiful Amanita muscaria on the forest floor. It is a big mushroom and you want the stalk and cap in focus. You’ve forgotten your tripod so you have to hand-hold the shot. In order to even get 1/200 of a second, you have to crank up your ISO to 3200…a very “noisy” setting. But when you look at your photo on the camera’s LCD, you see that only a small portion of the fungus is in focus. You then see that the camera had to be at f5.6 to get 1/200 second. You really need f11 to get all in focus but now your shutter speed falls to 1/30 of a second and far too slow to hand-hold. Bummer.
b.—In scenario two, you’ve remembered your tripod…Hallelujah! Now you can shoot at f11 at a noise-free ISO 200 even though your shutter speed is now very slow. Unlike wildflowers that shake in the slightest breeze, mushrooms sit quite still and you can use very long exposures. Problems solved.
My workhorse “fungus lens” is a Canon 70-200mm f4. Usually I am putting the Canon 500D close-up lens to the front of it for macro work or shots of very small mushrooms. But occasionally, for larger mushrooms, or clusters of specimens, I will use the lens without the close-up attachment at the 200mm end. This also helps reduce background clutter because details quickly go out of focus at longer focal lengths.
Pinwheel Marasmius (Marasmius rotula) near Eagle River, Wisconsin.
This cluster of newly-emerging Pholiota squarrosoides (Sharp-scaly Pholiota) was the perfect subject for a telephoto lens shot. The background blurred nicely. Cook Co MN [Canon EOS XTi with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 104mm; f8 at 1/30 second, ISO 800; flash; Superior National Forest, Cook County, Minnesota. August 21st.
6. FUNGI IN THE LANDSCAPE
This is related to the tip above, but your specimen/s are often farther from the camera and the surrounding habitat becomes a major part of the subject (and is in focus).
Northern Tooth or Shelving Tooth (Climacodon septentrionale) is a large fungus growing on old (and dying hardwoods). I backed up and got the fungus in its natural habitat…Northern Hardwood Forest. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth MN [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f13 at 1/10 second, ISO 400; flash at -3.0ev, tripod] August 24th.
7. DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
Often just portions of your fungus subject can make for interesting photos. I’m talking about photogenic details here, not details that aid in identification (We’ll discuss that next post).
A close up of the scales on the cap of Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria), Hawk Ridge, Duluth, MN. October 3rd. [Canon XTi with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 78mm with Canon 500D close up lens attached; f10 at 1/200 second, ISO 400]
I love the under-cap maze-like pattern of Birch Lenzites (Lenzites betulina). I cranked up the contrast by clipping the blacks and whites in Levels in Photoshop. Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota
The “Brain Fungus” is one name for Gyromitra esculenta, the Conifer False Morel. It is a spring species that lives up to its name…This close up view is quite brain-like! BWCAW, Cook County, Minnesota.
8. FLASH…RIGHT-SIDE-UP & UPSIDE-DOWN
The vast majority of fungi photos need a little lighting help. Dark woods, messy backgrounds, contrasty, sun-dappled light or flat light, can all be cured with some additional light. Flash also makes your images look sharper. It is rare that I don’t use flash, an off-camera LED light, flashlight, or reflector to add light to an image. The pop-up flash on your camera is OK, but quite weak. I recommend a higher-powered flash that attaches to the hot shoe of your DSLR.
This first shot of Hollow-foot or Hollow-stemmed Suillus (Suillus cavipes) is okay…but notice that the flash created a shadow from the cap that blocks up all the detail of the stem. I think we can improve this.
9. LORD OF THE RING-LIGHT
LED ring lights are different than flashes. They emit a constant light via LED bulbs. You can use them either on your camera or as a stand-alone light source. They are not nearly as powerful as standard hot-shoe flashes, so you need to be very close to your subject. But they do offer a couple advantages; you can see exactly what your light will illuminate; and exposure is simple. I often use the LED light in conjunction with the reflector. Mine is the Polaroid Macro LED ring light (About $50 on Amazon)
This Pholiota mushroom cluster was photographed deep in the dark woods of Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota. I absolutely needed additional light on these gorgeous ‘shrooms. See the next photo on how I did that. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 176mm; f5.6 at 1/160 second, ISO 1250; ring light LED] September 10th.
I wanted side light in this case, so a flash on the camera would not achieve this. To get the sidelighting, I placed my Polaroid Macro LED ring light off to the side. It has its own power so I could use it off the camera. You can control the power of the LEDs as well.
I used the LED ring light to illuminate these tiny Blue Stain fungus cups. It was quite dark on the forest floor but I placed the ring light very close to these guys and also bounced some light in with a reflector. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 113mm and Canon 500D close up lens attached; f16 at 1/1000, ISO 1600; hand held (This is a case where I did not have my tripod with me (bad Sparky!) If I had a tripod, I could have shot at a much slower shutter speed and much lower ISO for a cleaner image); Skogstjarna (my land) Carlton County, Minnesota. August 25th.
10. BOUNCE IT, BOUNCE IT!
On sunny days when working in the dappled light of the forest floor, a reflector can really work wonders.
This is how this beautiful cluster of Coral fungi looked without any additional light. It is an okay image.
After doing some groundskeeping (adding a few more photogenic dead leaves to the upper left corner to hide some grasses and “black holes”), I reevaluated the shot. It still needed some “punch.” The coral fungus was in the shade, but I noticed a spot of sunlight hitting the forest floor off to my left. I unfolded my 24″ circular reflector and played with where I needed to place it to get light on the corals. Since my camera was on a tripod, all I had to do once the light was right, was press the shutter button. Bouncing some sunlight into the scene with a reflector creates a pleasing light and gives depth and dimension to the coral fungus cluster. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 109mm; f16 at 1/4 second, ISO 200; 24″ reflector; tripod]
Last August I escaped for a weekend to explore the Swamp River in a remote corner of Cook County in far northeast Minnesota. My goal was Moose and rare flora. But the highlights turned out to be a Timber Wolf pup that was playing along a dirt road near the canoe landing, and a feasting flock of Cedar Waxwings.
I took hundreds of photos and several videos (including playing otters) during those two days…some pretty good, I thought. After I got home, as usual, I downloaded them to an external hard drive. But before I could even really look at the photos, the hard drive crashed! I had duplicates of all the photos on the drive EXCEPT the most recent ones, including those from that weekend up north.
Fortunately, a computer guru was able to recover almost all of the images…Unfortunately, it cost quite a bit. But worth it! The lesson? YOU REALLY DON’T HAVE ANY PHOTOS UNTIL THEY ARE BACKED UP IN AT LEAST TWO PLACES. Ideally, every image should be backed up at home in two places, AND a full-size version should either be in the Cloud (Photoshelter, CrashPlan, BackBlaze, Carbonite, etc), or an off-site location (in case your house burns down). Do I follow this myself? I try, but I’m behind on backing up to the Cloud. I put my best stuff (as full-size jpegs) on Photoshelter at my http://www.sparkyphotos.com site.
Pups this time of year often can be seen near roads. The adults are likely nearby and may still be feeding the young. NEVER feed wolf pups! The last thing we need is a wolf getting acclimated to humans. If it ever approaches a human or dwelling in the future, it will probably be “removed.”
The following morning I canoed part of the Brule River off the Gunflint Trail…Once again, skunked on Moose. But the Mountain-ash berries (Sorbus sp.) were ripe and the Cedar Waxwing families were chowing down!
Gotta go now…Time to backup some photos!
Event 50 years ago changes my Life: Anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act & Boundary Waters Wilderness
Fifty years ago this week, September 3, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Wilderness Act which forever protected 54 wild areas totaling over 9 million acres, including the 1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). I was 13 months old, but this landmark act would change my life.
That’s a grandiose statement but it does have elements of truth. In high school I discovered birds and became a fanatical naturalist. I started to get “all granola-ey” and began reading the books by Sigurd Olson about the canoe country (Open Horizons, Listening Point, Singing Wilderness, Reflections from the North Country). My first week-long summer canoe trip to the Boundary Waters with my church youth group in 1979 was a bit of a let down. I didn’t see and feel everything Sig had written about. Seemed like the BWCA was nothing but rocks, trees and water. But a two-week expedition in 1980 really got me hooked. We really became immersed in the wilderness, experiencing some of the “timelessness” that Sig often wrote about.
I went on to work five summers, a fall and a winter in the BWCAW. Mainly as a canoe guide and naturalist. Wilderness Canoe Base on Fishhook Island on Seagull Lake became my second home (certainly my spiritual home) for a long period. My friend Chris Evavold and I even built a log cabin for the camp. It is really where I fell in love with wildness and winter; boreal forests and bogs; Moose and Marten; paddling and snowshoeing.
The BWCAW’s million acres extend nearly 150 miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border, butting up to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park on the north and to Voyageurs National Park on the west. The BWCAW encompasses OVER 1,000 LAKES, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 11 hiking trails and approximately 2,000 designated campsites. Truly a vast roadless area.
We owe those who fought for this wilderness a great debt of gratitude. If not for them, there would likely have been “a road to every lake” and a plethora of cabins and resorts, each with a boat, jet ski and other silence-busting contraptions.
The ancient ones. These 400-year-old Red Pines originated from seeds in the 1500s! Timo Rova inspects an old fire scar. Sadly these pines are now all gone. The 4th of July Big Blowdown in 1999 and the two forest fires since then, have finished them off. Seagull Lake, BWCAW.
I hope some of the seedlings scattered by the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire and the 2007 Ham Lake Fire will flourish and grow into Red Pine monarchs that will still be watching over canoeists in the year 2414. Happy Birthday BWCA!