Spring Snowstorm & early-returning Birds

On April 11-12 a ferocious spring blizzard hit Minnesota and affected most of the state. Winds in my home county (Carlton County) exceeded 50mph and created whiteout conditions. About 7-8 inches of snow fell but it was wet and windblown. The world was white again!

Some early migrants had already arrived in northern Minnesota. Males often arrive before females in order to set up shop in the best territories before the females arrive. But there is a great risk in arriving early in the North. You may get a great territory, but you’ll have to survive cold snaps, snowstorms, and lack of abundant food.

I decided to explore southern Carlton County to see how some of the migrants were faring. I drove along the thawed and flowing Kettle River, and also visited the brand new Wildlife Management Area called Firebird.

Red-tailed Hawk on wood fencepost in falling snow. Redtails vacate the North Woods in winter, avoiding the deep snow and bitter cold.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes arrived and began looking for food and a suitable nesting site.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

A Roughleg catches a vole! There must be an abundant population of these plump small rodents here, because there were many hawks; I saw 3 Roughlegs perched on 4 consecutive power poles! Also Northern Harriers and American Kestrels were out hunting here. I even saw an American Crow swoop down and catch a vole!

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

At least 6 Rough-legged Hawks hunted the fields and meadows of Firebird Wildlife Management Area the day after the storm. This large buteo nests in the Far North tundra and eats only lemmings. In their winter range in the northern U.S. they eat mainly voles. Though roughly the size of a Redtail, they have a much smaller beak and feet due to their dependence on small rodents such as voles. No rabbits for them!

This is the last fueling stop before heading back north for the breeding season.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

Red-tailed Hawk in the landscape of Carlton County

Eastern Phoebe in a snowfall. Surprisingly, this flycatcher will eat fruits and berries if no insects are available. I think this guy was catching early flying insects (midges?) along the open and flowing Kettle River.

 

Carlton County, Minnesota’s Kettle River.

Common Merganser along the Kettle River. His mate was just out of frame. ALL the lakes in the county are still frozen (even as of April 18), but rivers have opened up and this large duck is taking advantage of that.

Wilson’s Snipe on ice. These “shorebirds” don’t need a shore, only wet, waterlogged ground where they can probe for worms and other inverts. But they are extremely hardy and have been known to linger in the North even into December (if there is some open water to search for food).

 

Hermit Thrushes are the SECOND thrush to return to the North Woods in spring. American Robins are the first. Both can survive on berries just fine…No need for worms and insects now.

Hermit Thrush along the Kettle River

Killdeer wondering where its snow-free fields went.

 

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GOOSE-A-PALOOZA: 4 species of geese migrating through western Minnesota

April 1-2, 2019

I took a quick trip out to the prairies of west central Minnesota to witness the amazing GOOSE MIGRATION of 2019. April 1-2. Numbers like this haven’t been seen in Minnesota in many years. In fact, Steve Millard, who has lived in west central Minnesota for 46 years says he’s never seen the migration this good!

Reasons for this more easterly path of migration this year may be that the snowpack and a frozen James River in South Dakota have forced the geese to migrate farther east. I was mainly in Stevens, Grant, Wilkin and Otter Tail Counties. Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese dominated, but also some Canada Geese and a few Ross’s Geese. Several thousand Tundra Swans (870 in one flooded field near Nashua, Minnesota!) and constant skeins of geese overhead. The sounds are probably my favorite part of the experience.

There was lots of snow along windrows and shelter belts. Most lakes were still frozen but meltwater pools dotted many fields.

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3383

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

I really love Greater White-fronted Geese, and they were one reason I made this hasty trip out west. I rarely ever get to see them in big flocks, so I was thrilled to find this amazing bunch just 0.8 miles east of the city limits of Elbow Lake, Minnesota. You can see that they are all on “high alert” but they soon relaxed and continued preening, resting and sleeping.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 320; hand-held]

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3415

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF70-200mm f4L USM lens; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3436

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 2x teleconverter; 1/640 second at f11; ISO 640; hand-held; braced on car]

skeins of geese North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3489

Multiple skeins of geese overhead near North Ottawa Impoundment (Grant County, Minnesota) on April 1, 2019.

Steve Millard, who has lived in west central Minnesota for 46 years says he’s never seen a goose migration this good before!

[Canon 7D with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; 1/800 at f8; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Harrier North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3521

Northern Harrier at North Ottawa Impoundment (Grant County, Minnesota)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev (a mistake!…leftover from previous shots); hand-held]

Tundra Swans in flooded field near Nashua MN IMG_3673

Tundra Swan flock just east of Nashua, Minnesota (Wilkin County)

870 Tundra Swans settled into this flooded field along with Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese. The sun only shone for about 10 minutes on the two days I was out there.

flock of geese and old windmill IMG_3818

Snow Goose flock and old Windmill (Wilkin County)

I saw this old windmill about the same time I saw the flock of geese feeding in a cornfield. I knew that I wanted a shot of the flock in the air with the silhouette of the windmill, so I waited, and waited, and waited. Just as I was about to give up, something spooked the flock and they obligingly took wing. It would have been great if they’d come a bit closer, but I still like the shot.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 113mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; -0.66ev; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3870

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3877

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3878

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

The three photos above were a single flock of Snow Geese that had rested the night in a flooded field. I got a few photos of them sitting (below) before they erupted in unison. The sound was amazing…deafening. They quickly settled back down.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3901

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

99.9% of the birds you see in the above photo are Snow Geese….even the ones with dark bodies. If it has a white head, it is a Snow Goose (in this photo). The white-headed, dark-bodied geese were formerly a separate species called “Blue Goose.” We now know that they are the same species as Snow Goose. The goose in the front left corner that is all dark with an orange bill, is a Greater White-fronted Goose.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

IMG_3904

Two Ross’s Geese with Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

Mixed in with the massive flocks of Snows were scattered Ross’s Geese. These are much smaller birds with a short stubby bill and greenish patch at base of bill. They lack the “grinning patch” of Snow Geese. Ross’s also have a snowy white head, as compared to Snow Geese whose heads are often stained a bit yellowish. You can see two Ross’s together here in the front middle of the photo (one facing left and one facing right). They are all heading to the High Arctic to breed.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swans North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3960

“God Light” and a pair of Trumpeter Swans (North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant County, Minnesota)

[Canon 7D with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 49mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

IMG_3978

Farm fields were mostly free of snow, but anywhere there were trees you found huge drifts of snow still.

IMG_3991

Old Bait shop in Otter Tail County, Minnesota

Abandoned Rose City Store MN IMG_3358

Abandoned Rose City General Store in Rose City, Minnesota

Canada Lynx Jinx Broken!

CANADA LYNX JINX BROKEN! Finally got to watch a Lynx in the daytime!

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-2

March 21 in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota. (Single frame plucked from video clip).

As I came over a rise, there it was…A Canada Lynx walking right towards me on a remote forest road. It was 9:30 am and sunny. It saw me and bounded off the road and into the 3-foot deep snow. I stayed put thinking that it might come my way via the pine woods. And after a few tense minutes of me second-guessing my intuition, it did!

Their giant oversized paws allow them to float over deep powder snow as they hunt their favorite prey…Snowshoe Hares.

My only other encounter was about 30 years ago while doing owl surveys at night with my friend Dave Benson. That one appeared in our headlights, just sitting in the road. They are very mellow cats, and are rarely in a hurry…Unless in hot pursuit of a hare!


2-minute video (photo is just a single frame from the video).

Watch the video to see it walking over the deep snow (click gear icon on bottom right to change resolution to higher quality).

 

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-4

Single frame plucked from video clip

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-1

Single frame plucked from video clip

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-3

Single frame plucked from video clip

Bobcat at our House: Cute Kitty

March 16, 2019

A couple weeks ago Bridget and the boys got to watch this same Bobcat (likely the same one) go up to our rabbit pen and paw at the hardware cloth enclosure. A great experience from 6 feet away. PS The rabbits are just fine.

Bobcat Lynx rufus outside our living room window Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_2663

This morning the Bobcat was sitting just 20 feet away from our house for about 30 minutes at dawn. She’d sometimes glance towards our two pet rabbits who are kept outside but didn’t go over to the pen.  I got to watch her just “sitting pretty” for about a half hour. Bridget woke up and she got great looks too. The Bobcat even “meowed” a couple times. So cute!

She eventually sauntered away in the direction of our cabin. Since we have free-range chickens, I decided to distract our feline friend the next day with some wild food. I found two road-kill Snowshoe Hare and a deer rib cage which I put out in the woods. One Snowshoe Hare was gone the next morning.

Neat experience. Hopefully she will eat some of the Wild Turkeys that come to our feeders…It is a favored prey of Bobcats. Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota. (I don’t really know if this is a female…but this Bobcat was fairly small and has delicate features so I will call it a “she”)

Bobcat Lynx rufus outside our living room window Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_2706

Bobcat (Lynx Rufus) at our home in Carlton County, Minnesota (March 16, 2019)

All photos taken through our living room window (uncropped!)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/25 of a second at f5.6; ISO 3200 (!); +1 ev; braced on dining room divider wall and shot through living room window]

Video taken at dawn. So cute when she “meows” a couple times. No audio.

IMG_2133

Purrrdy the house cat watching a BOBCAT through our Living Room Window

Sparky’s Top 10 Mammal Photos of 2018

Bighorn Battle (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

Yes, I know that it is not a razor sharp image, but it is probably my favorite mammal photo of the whole year. Battling male Bighorns has been on my “Most Wanted” list for a long time, and Ryan and I stumbled on a bachelor herd that was doing some spring sparring. We only had a second to jump out and grab some shots. We followed them into the foothills but lost track of them and never saw more interactions. The actual rut won’t happen until late fall.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 100; hand-held]

Grizzly (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

Maybe not an exciting photo, but it is my first really good portrait of a Grizzly. Ryan and I waited at a carcass for a long time in order to see a Grizzly. This big boy finally arrived, swam/waded the river (that nearly swept him downstream) and started in on the carcass. He then wandered towards the gathered tourists and photographer. I really wanted him to step on this downed log, and he performed flawlessly.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/400 second at f4; ISO 1250; tripod]

Mountain Goat (Glacier National Park, Montana) July 2018

The only Mountain Goats I’ve ever seen were distant white specks in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Harney Peak) and in the northeast corner of Yellowstone, so it was very gratifying to see a small band up close on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. This one is searching for soil that is mineral/sodium rich. I like the pink/purple tone to the rocks and the half-shed winter coat.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/200 second at f7.1; ISO 400; hand-held]

Coyote in clover field (near Askov, Minnesota) September 1, 2018

Just before 8am this Coyote was still hunting this clover-filled meadow. He paused long enough for about 3 frames before heading for the woods. The early morning light and purple clover flowers helped slip this photo into the Top 10.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Ermine in my woodpile (Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota)

My first thoughts when this Ermine ran out of my garage and into the wood pile was, Oh no! …the chickens! But the chickens had spotted him first and were making it known that this was their turf. They weren’t going to back down. The Ermine stuck around for a couple days, probably feeding on voles or mice, and then disappeared. The Ermine is actually a Short-tailed Weasel. In winter they turn from brown to white and folks call them Ermine.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/200 second at f5.6; ISO 2000; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Snowshoe Hares (Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) March 26, 2018

Yes, I know I’m lame for including THREE Snowshoe Hare photos in my Top 10. But they are honestly some of my favorites from 2018…especially since I’d always wanted to get good images of them, and only had a few. Interestingly, this was in late March and one was still mostly white and the other well on its way to turning brown. The photo showing one jumping over the other was probably part of their courtship as they were chasing each other all over the bog. It looked like play.

TOP: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

MIDDLE: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 244mm; 1/500 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

BOTTOM: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 138mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 640; +1 ev; hand-held]

Black Bear sow and 3 cubs (Skogstjarna, our home, Carlton County, Minnesota) May 2018

We had visits from 6 different bears this spring/early summer at our home. This sow came with her 3 tiny cubs to check out our feeders (which were empty). Twins are more common than triplets in Black Bears. This is just an iPhone photo taken through our living room window. Fortunately, Bridget and the boys were able to enjoy the show.

Coyote working the fence line  (Galesburg, Illinois) March 2018

One of a pair of Coyotes working a rural fenceline in Illinois. It really blends in. I like this image because of the camouflage of the Coyote and the splash of color in the monochrome early spring landscape from the red barn.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 332mm; 1/800 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

 

Uinta Ground Squirrel (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 28, 2018

A nice portrait of a Uinta Ground Squirrel. The blue background is not sky, but rather the cool shade of distant mountains. I also like the colorful foreground rock lichens.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/800 second at f4; ISO 200; hand-held]

 

 

Sparky’s Top 10 Creative Wildlife Photos of 2018

I am bored of “bird on stick” photos…but I still take them. Every year I strive to get more creative with my wildlife photography. It’s often not easy to do….or at least not easy to remember to do something different. Get the portrait, but then think about how else you can shoot the subject…silhouette? slow shutter? animal-in-landscape? Of course, you can also get creative in “post” and do some interesting crops, or possibly convert an image to black and white. Have fun and play around!

Kingbird sunset silhouette (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

Smoke from Canadian forest fires made much of the day a hazy mess…making photography difficult. But as the sun set it turned into a fiery ball in the west. Now if I could find a subject to silhouette! Fortunately an Eastern Kingbird landed in a roadside bush. Not the most interesting pose to silhouette, but I love the contrast between the deep blue twilight sky and orange fireball sun.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 at f7.1; ISO 640; -2.0ev; hand-held]

Wild Horse (feral) in Teddy Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) April 30, 2018

A creative crop of a very curious wild horse (feral horse). I love their wild, human-like hair and big expressive eyes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swans (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 30, 2018

A black-and-white conversion that works well with these white subjects. Trumpeters are very curious and will sometimes swim towards you…A very nice behavior for photographers!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 200; hand-held]

Red-winged Blackbird sunrise (Tobin-Kimmes Wetlands, Douglas County, Wisconsin) May 12, 2018

I was looking for a different photo on this spring morning, but you always have to be open to other opportunities. The catkin-laced branches of this willow add to the image, as does the singing and displaying male Red-winged Blackbird.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f11; ISO 100; hand-held]

Sandhill Cranes and full moon (Crex Meadows Wildlife Refuge, Grantsburg, Wisconsin) October 22, 2018

Sandhill Cranes were streaming in to their nighttime watery roost at Crex Meadows as the nearly-full moon was rising. Many photographers had come to try and get crane-moon photos. This was my favorite as the cranes are very sharp and the sky had a tinge of purple.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 400; -1.0ev; tripod]

Tundra Swans (Upper Mississippi NWR, Brownsville, Minnesota) November 17, 2018

I wanted to see what would happen with a very long exposure (13 seconds on a tripod) as some Tundra Swans were still and some were still swimming around. I got this interesting photo of sharp sleeping swans and long white streaks showing the 13-second path of the swimming swans.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 13 seconds at f20; ISO 100; +1.66 ev; tripod]

Three displaying  Wild Turkey toms (Carlton County, Minnesota) May 29, 2018

It was a blah morning with gray skies when I ran across three tom Turkeys displaying on a dirt road. I positioned myself so I could silhouette their whole bodies against the sky. I then pushed the white balance slider all the way to the right in Lightroom (warmer=more yellow/orange)…Voila! Instant sunrise sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 at f7.1; ISO 640; -2.0ev; hand-held]

Bison fur detail (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 28, 2018

Love the texture of Bison hair.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens with Canon 2x teleconverter; 1/640 at f4; ISO 400; hand-held]

High key Sandhill Cranes in frosty field (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 27, 2018

Some photos you don’t think much about when you take them. But when you see them on your computer at home, some really strike your fancy. I liked both the position of the feeding cranes and the frosty grass. To make it a “high key” photo, I adjusted the white levels in Lightroom until the background became totally clipped (blown out…absolute white).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens with Canon 2x teleconverter; 1/500 at f4; ISO 200; hand-held]

Eastern Bluebird at Nana’s farm (Galesburg, Illinois) March 30, 2018

Just a quirky photo of an Eastern Bluebird and its silhouette on a barn wall.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 373mm; 1/1000 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

Mayflies at Midnight (St. Louis River, Fond du Lac Bridge, Duluth, Minnesota) July 12, 2018

Hexagenia Mayflies emerge en masse from large rivers in mid summer. Some years are bigger than others, and 2018 was a big year along the St. Louis River near Duluth. This is a long exposure of thousands of mayflies flying about a street light on the bridge. Their floppy flight makes interesting light patterns during the 1/4 second exposure.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4 second at f5.6; ISO 400; -1.0ev; hand-held, braced on car door frame]

Wild Turkey feathers up close (Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota)

Taken out my living room window! Love the iridescence on these stunning creatures.

 

Sparky’s Top-Ten Bird Photos of 2018

 

Okay, I’m cheating a bit on my Top 10 and have selected an extra two photos, so here is my 12 favorite bird images from 2018.

Eastern Kingbird feeding young (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I love Felton Prairie. It is a dry gravel prairie on the “Glacial Ridge” of western Minnesota. It is (was?) known as the only nesting site of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the state. I spent about an hour with this late-nesting Eastern Kingbird family (this was mid August).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Barred Owl on Owl Avenue (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) April 2, 2018

This photo was taken near dusk on a lonely bog-bordered road in the Sax-Zim Bog. I like the monotone feel of the photo. I also like that the owl is NOT looking at me, but watching (listening?) intently on something out of frame.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 203mm; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 3200]

Mature male Snowy Owl on hay bale (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) December 17, 2018

The very small size and very white plumage of this Snowy Owl indicates that this is an older male bird. It has been hunting the same fields in the Sax-Zim Bog for about a month. He often perches on hay bales, scanning the countryside for voles. I like the stark contrast between the white owl and the pink sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Bohemian Waxwing in Mountain-Ash (Two Harbors, Minnesota) November 12, 2018

I’ve photographed many Bohemian Waxwings over the years, but usually in crabapple trees, so I wanted to get photos and video of one in a Mountain-Ash (a native species). I found a small flock in a huge Mountain-Ash (that I’ve looked in many times before) in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota.

I only shot video, but was able to pull this still-image out of a 4K video clip.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens

Great Gray Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) February 27, 2018

Great Grays are amazing photo subjects…even if they are just staring into the snow. I had spend over an hour just watching this one sit in an aspen…waiting for it do something…anything! Then when I wasn’t ready (of course!), it launched into the air and plunged face first into the deep ditch snow only 20 yards from me. But it didn’t catch the vole on the plunge but it could still hear it under the deep snow. I slowly crawled over to the ditch and laid flat on the snow to get this eye-level shot. The Great Gray in this photo is not really looking into the snow, but rather listening by facing its huge facial disks towards the sound. Ear holes that are a slightly different size and shape can triangulate sound in order to pinpoint prey.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held while laying flat on the snow.]

Sanderling in near-breeding plumage (Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota) May 22, 2018

Shorebirds along the sandy beaches of Lake Superior are one of my favorite subjects. Most are heading to breeding grounds on the tundra of the Far North. This makes them seem more exotic and interesting. Sanderlings are one of the most common shorebirds on the beaches of Duluth’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point.

This one is in near breeding plumage with reddish head and breast. We usually see them in their white plumage as small flocks scoot ahead of us as we walk down the beach. I crawled through the sand to get in front of the Sanderlings and then would remain still as they worked their way towards me. I like this unique head-on angle.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held while laying flat on the sand.]

Great Gray Owl in heavy snow (Duluth, Minnesota) January 30, 2018

There was a mini-irruption of Great Gray Owls just north of Duluth last winter. In fact this guy was hunting right in the city limits of Duluth along Old Superior Street. I got to film him (her?) making several plunges into the deep but crusty snow. It was able to break through the crust to get at voles below.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Male Bufflehead (St. Louis River at Fond du Lac in Duluth, Minnesota) April 23, 2018

Every year when the ice goes out on the St. Louis River I try and get some eye-level (ice-level?) shots of waterfowl in their spring splendor. The ice went out quite late this year as this photo was taken in late April. Buffleheads are really difficult to photograph because they dive frequently. And it is very hard to capture the iridescence of their head feathers. They usually look all black and white. But the sun angle was just right for this photo to reveal the rainbow iridescence.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held while laying on the shoreline ice]

Eastern Kingbird catching grasshopper in mid-air (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I honestly just got lucky with this shot. I love images of grassland birds on old fence posts or rusty barbed wire fences (both of which are disappearing from the rural landscape) so I took some photos of this Eastern Kingbird. But I decided to wait patiently

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Three immature Bald Eagles (Douglas County, Wisconsin) April 9, 2018

A perfectly-arranged trio of subadult Bald Eagles in northwest Wisconsin. It takes 3-5 years for a Bald Eagle to attain its pristine white head and tail feathers. The bottom bird is probably a 2nd year bird, and the tip bird may be a 3rd year bird due to its Osprey-like face mask. The middle bird is also probably a 3rd year bird. I’m sure there was a road-killed deer somewhere nearby.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f7.1; ISO 320; hand-held from car window]

White-faced Ibis (Yellowstone National Park) April 30, 2018

I rarely get to see these birds but they migrate through Yellowstone National Park in the spring. This one was feeding on a newly-thawed pond. The sad part of this story is that I dropped a rented 2x teleconverter out of the car while trying to get out and photograph this bird. The fall put a scratch in the lens. I then had to buy the 2x from lensrentals.com. But I guess I’m glad to own this high-end teleconverter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 IS USM lens with 1.4x teleconverter;  1/250 second at f2.8; ISO 400; hand-held]

Snowy Owl (South Superior, Wisconsin) January 5, 2018

If I’d shot this photo with a wide-angle lens, you would have seen a gravel pit, railroad tracks and car repair place in the frame. This Snowy Owl was hunting in a semi-industrial area of Superior, Wisconsin. I waded through the deep snow to reach the spruce and began filming. The owl completely ignored me, but after about 10 minutes some distant movement caught its eye and off it went. I like the wing position as it lifts off.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.66ev; hand-held]