What are the odds? I took a compass bearing to head straight through the center of a large Black Spruce bog last week, hoping (but not really believing) that I’d possibly, just maybe, hear a begging young Great Gray Owl. Join me as I enter the dark and haunting bogs of the far northern Minnesota wilds in search of the elusive and giant phantom of the north—the Great Gray Owl! (How’s that for drama!)

Less than a hundred yards into the bog, I stopped dead in my tracks; There was a hunting Great Gray only about 50 feet from me and only 10 feet up in a spruce! She barely looked at me, and continued hunting. See how the adventure unfolded in the video below:

I especially like this Great Gray Owl photo because of several factors:
a. It was NOT shot along a road…like 99.9% of all Great Grey Owl images.
b. She is NOT looking at me…She (or he?) is busy hunting…too preoccupied to worry about a mere human.
c. I love the out of focus wispy Tamarack branches…Lends an air of wildness and hints at their bog habitat.

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 (sometimes with 1.4x or 2x teleconverter), tripod, processed in Aperture.
All video shot with equipment listed above at 1/60 second and processed in iMovie.



Every April, the lengthening days triggers something in the brains of male Sharp-tailed Grouse causing them to start dancing…They return to their leks—a term for the dancing grounds of grouse species. With hormones raging, they do their best and most dramatic display for the females lurking around the edges, pretending not to watch. Males fight other males in dramatic flurries, but more often than not, confrontation ends in “Mexican standoffs,” birds just facing off and staring at one another until one splits.

I’m in the blind 45 minutes before sunrise as the full moon sets to the west. It’s April 7th and a bit chilly…35 degrees? The grouse really rev up about 15 minutes before the sun peaks above the hayfield horizon. Their strictly-for-show purple air sacs inflate, their yellow “eyebrows” erect, and then they spread their wings and perform their foot-stampin’ dance. I’ve been to a fair number of Ojibwa/Anishinabe powwows, and some of their dances are similar. I’m sure the Ojibwa learned much from their feathered dancing friends…and ate quite a few too!

At one point, a Northern Harrier swoops in for a look…She’s not interested in grouse for a meal—too big for her rodent-sized appetite—but the sharptails hunker down anyway, and a few take flight. Then, surprisingly, a crow pops in for a look. He seems curious. It almost seems like he’d like to join in! But after a brief visit, the crow takes off. The Eastern Meadowlarks are back, singing loudly around the blind. One lands only feet from me, but I’m too slow to get any video. By about 9:00a.m. most of the sharptail’s energy is spent, and they drift off to the cover of the nearby willow brush.

For these motion/panning blurs, I wanted LOTS of blur…So I put the camera on Shutter Priority (Tv setting) and set the speed to 1/20 second and auto ISO. Then I waited for some action. At these shutter speeds, you are going to get very few keepers, very few that are even somewhat sharp (“low-percentage shooting”), BUT when you do get one, the image can be very satisfying because the background is so blurred that it becomes just a wash of color. [REMEMBER: you can always click on a photo to make it larger]

All shot at 1/20 of a second with a Canon 400mm and STACKED teleconverters (a 2x and 1.4x) with Canon 7D on tripod



Sanderling in mainly white winter plumage on Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior

In this episode of Shooting with Sparky we travel to Wisconsin Point to photograph migrating shorebirds and warblers. In the video you’ll see that I find a cooperative pair of Sanderlings, a small shorebird that commonly winters on the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but only breeds in the farthest reaches of Arctic Canada and Greenland. Flocks stop off to feed on the beaches of Lake Superior on their way North in late spring. Note that one of the Sanderlings has very white feathers (winter plumage) and the other has more reddish-brown feathers (getting its breeding plumage). The whiter one seems to have only one functioning leg, but his buddy won’t abandon him and sticks close. I was able to crawl through the sand to get some frame-filling shots and then put it in reverse and leave them foraging on the beach surfline without flushing them…The goal of all wildlife photographers; leave your subject as you found them. Enjoy the video!

Watch this 3-minute video to see just how glamorous wildlife photography really is!

All with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Most at ISO 200, f7.1 at 1/250 with fill flash from Canon 430ex; most handheld and braced on binoculars.



Well, it is Valentine’s Day after all…and the pair of River Otters appears to be a cuddly couple, nuzzling, hugging, rolling around together. But now the romantics may want to quit reading and just watch the video, as the lovey dovey couple is probably a female and last year’s pup. Males and females don’t stick together very long after mating. Most groups of multiple otters we see are probably mom and offspring. Sorry.

But their behavior is quite interesting. You see quite a bit of preening and allopreening (mutual preening in social animals that helps maintain bonds). Otters must preen often to keep their fur waterproof. They dry it off by rolling in the snow or ice, then “comb” the fur with their claws, and rub oils from their underfur into the hairs. They are also rather vocal…”talking” with chortles, snuffles, snorts, huffs, and growls. You’ll also see them munching minnows…On this day I didn’t witness them eating any other food.

This video was shot last week on the St. Louis River only about 7 miles from my house. I cross the river every day on the way to preschool/work and there are often River Otters lounging on the ice near open leads.



A mid December trip to an amazing National Wildlife Refuge and home to THOUSANDS of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and many other birds.