Sparky all dressed up with SOMEWHERE to go!
Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands, Douglas County, Wisconsin

It was a gorgeous afternoon in Duluth yesterday…Absolutely clear, sunny, and about 70 degrees. I knew I had to get out of the office and into my floating blind ASAP (“floating hide” according to the Brits). So Bridget and I picked up the kids at daycare and grabbed a take-out Hugo’s Pizza on the way home (1/2 green olive and black olive, and 1/2 sausage and mushroom if you must know…Best pizza in Duluth…Thin and greasy!) This expedited the usually lengthy dinner circus so I could get out to the marsh before sunset.

Fortunately for me, we live only five miles from one of the best and most expansive cattail marshes for many miles around. Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands is a string of manmade wetland mitigation ponds created in 1993 on 470 acres by the Wisconsin DNR to replace wetlands lost through the construction of US53, WI35 and WI13. I stepped into my new neoprene waders that Bridget got me for father’s day…Luxurious compared to the last few pairs of leaky hand-me downs. Pulled on my camo mask and eased the PVC floating blind into the water. There’s a few things you seem to conveniently forget between your trips…
1. Swamp gas really stinks!
2. Leeches thrive in these ponds
3. Muck and pond weeds are not easy to crawl through
4. Cold water ALWAYS spills over the top of your waders just as you’re leaning over to take an award-winning shot.
5. Every thing your leg bumps into under water MUST be a feisty Snapping Turtle
6. …and Wood Ducks are notoriously spooky!

It was nice just being out…even though it was under the dome of visibility-limiting camo netting. Not a breath of wind…Not a cloud on the horizon. A pair of striped juvenile Pied-billed Grebes gave me the slip…Too bad, they are interesting looking birds, Then in quick succession a female Mallard and two Wood Ducks wanted no part of this floating green and brown blob with one giant eye. But then I spotted a pair of loafing juvenile Wood Ducks. They seemed pretty relaxed on their log, so I slowly worked my way towards them.

juvenile Wood Ducks [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/1000 ISO 200]

Sora [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/1000 ISO 200]

Time to head home…So I plucked a few leeches off me, jettisoned about 100 pounds of pond weeds that were clinging to my legs, and waded to the narrow canal leading to my take out point…Then a movement caught my eye…It was a juvenile Sora coming out of its safe zone in the cattails to feed on a tiny mudflat. The light was golden and hit the Sora like a spotlight. I underexposed by a stop and a half so to keep the background black and keep the bird from blowing out. I was less than 25 feet away!

Virginia Rail juvenile stretching [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/250 ISO 1000]

A second rail was coming out to the flats…I assumed it was a second Sora, but turned out to be a Virginia Rail…Even more unusual than the Sora. It is a bird restricted to cattail marshes and we have few this far north. This was a juvenile also…Not as colorful as the adult but still a striking bird. By now the spotlight of sun was gone and it only backlit its hind end. But this rail put on a show. Check out the brief video clip (excuse the slight motion from trying to keep the blind stable while shooting). This is the real beauty of the floating blind…You could NEVER get this close to any rail, let alone watch it feeding, bathing and stretching. Oh, and did I mention that a Muskrat swam within five feet of me?

Virginia Rail juvenile [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/200 ISO 640]

frog [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 on ball head with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/1000 ISO 200]

p.s. I have instructions on how to make a floating blind on my DVD (and much more video): Get Close & Get the Shot: Wildlife Photography Tips & Tricks. Available for purchase (DVD or download) at www.getclosevideo.com

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