Whooping Crane VS Sandhill Crane BATTLE-Evening at Necedah NWR Wisconsin May 29

[May 29 & 30, 2019]

Okay, okay…I must admit that I chose this “click bait” title for the Youtube upload of this video. Bad Sparky!

But will it work? Will I get more views compared to the original title…”EVENING AT NECEDAH: Whooping Cranes, Trumpeter Swans and more”? Probably, but I will never really know for sure since you cannot upload duplicate content to Youtube.

Regardless of all that nonsense, this was a MAGICAL two evenings at southern Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I filmed 90 percent of this from the observation tower at the south end of the refuge. It was a dead calm and quiet evening.

A Whooping Crane was feeding along the marshy shoreline in the company of two Sandhill Cranes. Peaceful for a while, but then the MUCH LARGER Whooping Crane got too close to the intimidated Sandhills. Not really a “battle” per say, but the Sandhills definitely freaked out as the Whooper got close.

HISTORY—The world population of Whooping Cranes was down to 15 birds by 1941. Intense conservation efforts slowly allowed the population to build. The original group winters near Aransas NWR in south Texas and breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada (a permanent non-migratory group spends the year near Kissimmee, Florida).

But biologists felt that they had “too many eggs in one basket” and that a winter oil spill in the Gulf could wipe out the entire migratory population. They started searching for a new place to establish a migratory flock. Enter Necedah.

The Necedah flock was established in 2001 with a handful of cranes that were famously taught to migrate south to Florida by following a glider. The bold experiment worked and today there are 79 adults making the round trip migration from Florida to Wisconsin each year. By the way, Florida was chosen over Texas as another way to spread the risk of a natural disaster killing off ALL the Whoopers.

Whooping Cranes have NEVER been common in North America. Even before white Europeans arrived on the continent the population was estimated to be only 15,000 to 20,000 birds. And they only lay 1-3 eggs but usually two and often only one survives.

Black Flies have caused many nest failures and mortalities at Necedah. Nesting in late April and May is at the peak of Black Fly emergence so incubating females are so tormented by the tiny flies that they abandon the nest. So a new method called “forced re-nesting” has been implemented by biologists to counteract this. They remove the eggs from the first nest of the season, which forces the Whoopers to renest at a later date after the peak of Black Flies. Success rates and fledgings have increased using this method.

The world population is now up to 800 birds as of 2021.

I also got to see and film two other species that I rarely see in the North Woods…the most lovely Red-headed Woodpecker and the caterpillar-feasting Yellow-billed Cuckoo. A real treat!

[Shot with Panasonic GH5 and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on tripod]

“Warblers & Warren” in Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live 18 S2E3 May 28 2021

Even 25 degree temps in late May couldn’t put a damper on the breeding warblers of Sax-Zim Bog. Sparky sees Canada’s, Magnolias, Ovenbirds, Blackburnians, Nashvilles, Black-and-whites and several other warbler species. 

On May 28 he goes birding with Warren Woessner and Iris Freeman who made our boardwalk at the Warren Nelson Bog possible. They tell you about a warbler that we didn’t see, but heard very well…the premiere warbler of Sax-Zim.

We also eavesdrop on one of Head Naturalist Clinton’s school field trips, learn about an upcoming pollinator garden expansion, do some chores around the Welcome Center and tally the final numbers from our NINE Warbler Wednesday/Saturday field trips, including photos of the most rare species found on those excursions.

Virtually Live 17: S2E2 May 8, 2021

May Birding Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live 17 S2E2 May 8 2021

Sparky takes you along on an “early” spring birding trip in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. Only 25 degrees at the start, but the good birds warm things up…stunning male Black-and-white Warbler, lingering Evening Grosbeaks, Yellow Warbler, cooperative Merlin, and a very unexpected Great Gray Owl.

We also check in on the highlights from the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog “Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night” field trip (can you say “cooperative Great Gray”!). Also a cacophony of frogs (4 species), displaying Snipe and more.

And we see how we discovered a $500 bill and a blond woman’s wig in the Bog. What?!!

You never know what surprises might accompany an episode of Virtually Live!

Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

Pelican Antics & Pelicans from the Air: Two short films

Every spring for the last 10 years or so, a flock of between 30 and 120 American White Pelicans have stopped over along the St. Louis River near Fond du Lac Duluth, Minnesota. A great vantage point is Chamber’s Grove Park. The pelicans are probably on their way to large breeding colonies in the far north of Minnesota or possibly Manitoba.

I made these short videos a couple years ago, but am finally getting them out into the “webosphere.”

They are fascinating creatures to just sit and watch…Enjoy!

Watch an American White Pelican swallow a very large fish in slow motion.

This one is filmed entirely with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone…Note how the pelicans completely ignore it.

Virtually Live 16—Porcupines, Otters, Mink, Sandhill Cranes and more…”Early” spring in Sax-Zim Bog

NEW SEASON OF VIRTUALLY LIVE FROM SAX-ZIM BOG!

Virtually Live 16: Sax-Zim Bog in early Spring: Birding—S2E1 April 2021

Birding in the Sax-Zim Bog in April can often mean birding in snow…and we had snow on both mornings of shooting…April 14 & 19….but the birds are returning! In Virtually Live 16 (Season 2, Episode 1)  we search for Sandhill Cranes in the hopes of capturing video of them performing their courtship dance. Sparky finds a cooperative and cute Porcupine along Nichols Lake Road, Ring-necked Ducks on Nichols Lake, and he shares some very cool sightings from this past winter and early April—Great Gray Owl, Porcupine, River Otter, Mink.

Goose-a-Palooza! FIVE species of goose migrating through western Minnesota—March 19-20

It was just like the old-timers talk about….Flocks of geese everywhere! I hit it right again this year (thanks to eBird reports, the Minnesota Birding Facebook Group and intel from my birding buddies, Kim Risen and Steve Millard. Thanks guys!

Definitely got my much-needed dose of mega-goose migration on the prairie. The cacophony of goose cackles and swan honks is definitely worth the 8 hour round trip. The 25-35 mph winds made video and sound recording challenging but I did my best.

North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County, Minnesota was the hot spot. Five species of geese including tens of thousands of Snow Geese, thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese, and lesser amounts of Ross’s Geese, Canada Geese and Cackling Geese. But back roads in Grant and Ottertail and Traverse counties held numerous flocks. I’d see a smudge on the horizon, throw up my binoculars and the smudge would come to life as a massive flock of geese.

Tundra Swans were also moving in impressive numbers.

I also searched for Short-eared Owls in prairie areas (SNAs, WPAs, WMAs) and did flush one but did not see any hunting.

Three Ross’s Geese (note greenish base of the stubby bill that separates them from Snow Geese) [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Geese coming in to North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant County, Minnesota
Snow Geese and waxing moon [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Goose flock, silo, setting sun [Ottertail County, Minnesota]
Greater White-fronted Goose [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Northern Pintails [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Goose flock [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Geese and waxing moon [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Ducks and rising sun [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Greater White-fronted Geese [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]

All photos and video shot with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens. Additional video shot with Panasonic GH5 and Sigma 50-500mm lens (“toy” miniature time lapse), and iPhone 7+

Nemesis No More: Lewis’s Woodpecker… in Minnesota!

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

It has been a standing joke with my Uncle Howard about my lack of luck with the Lewis’s Woodpecker. You see, Howard lives at elevation near Durango, Colorado, and the Lewis’s is practically a backyard bird for him. Even on a visit to Howard and Judy’s with the family a few years ago, my jinx aura followed me and we only had one distant and poor look at a Lewis’s.

And each holiday season Howard sends us a DVD of his beautiful wildlife and landscape videos set to music. We always look forward to it and watch it as a family. But it seemed to me that there was always a cameo of a Lewis’s Woodpecker amongst the videos. I’m sure he wouldn’t do that just to rub it in 🙂

Rewind to the 1990s and early 2000s: I was birding around the country quite a bit then (pre-wife, pre-kids) and searched in FIVE western states before finding two Lewis’s in Utah. But it was a distant and poor look…and I did not get any photos.

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

Now fast forward back to January 2021. A Lewis’s Woodpecker shows up at a lake cabin in Morrison County, Minnesota. This is only the SEVENTH record ever for Minnesota. It’s normal range is the Rocky Mountain West with an outpost in the Black Hills of South Dakota…so this is exciting bird news in Minnesota. The bird was “discovered” (by white people) by Lewis & Clark on their 1804 expedition. Its common name honors Meriwether Lewis.

It is a larger woodpecker that is bigger than a Hairy or Red-bellied Woodpecker, but smaller than a Flicker. the pinkish-red belly contrasts beautifully with the glossy green-blue-black back, blue-gray “scarf” and red face and throat.

Unbelievably, the Lewis’s was visiting the suet feeders of a friend of mine, a regular visitor and donor to the Sax-Zim Bog. He is a professor at a local college and brings his students to the Bog each year.

I have photographed over 500 species of birds in the U.S and only have one really bad image of a Lewis’s, but life is busy and I didn’t make the time to drive the 5-hour round trip to see this Minnesota bird. Bridget and my sons, Birk & Bjorn, kept urging me to go. I assumed it was gone already, but I emailed Dr. Bill and found out that it was still there! So on Tuesday of this week (Feb 23) I made the trek.

There were two cars there when I pulled into his wooded oasis on a hill overlooking a lake…But the bird was there too, but flew off before I got my camera out. I only had an hour to watch the feeders before my appointment. The other folks left, and I got the prime spot. Dr. Bill asks that folks stay in their car since disturbing the bird would not be good.

I enjoyed the visiting Red-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Blue Jays and even a Pileated Woodpecker for about 45 minutes. But my meeting was coming up, so I was crossing my fingers that it would show up soon. Finally at the last possible moment it appeared in the huge oaks above. It gave me a really nice show, even stopping on a tree trunk at nearly eye-level (a much better photo than on a suet feeder or old deer rib cage!). I had kept the car turned off and the windows down to eliminate any “heat haze” created by shooting out of a warm car into 20 degree air. The Canon R5 and Canon RF 100-500mm lens did its job and I was thrilled!

Lewis’s Woodpecker jinx broken! Maybe I’ll make a holiday DVD for Howard and Judy this Christmas…and maybe, just maybe, there will be a short clip of this Lewis’s Woodpecker included 🙂

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens]

Ice Eagles: Bald Eagles fishing a frozen Mississippi River: Canon R5 Wildlife Photography Shooting with Sparky

During the icy grip of the February 2021 Polar Vortex cold snap, Sparky travels to the mostly frozen Mississippi River of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin to photograph Bald Eagles fishing open spots close to shore. He also looks for Golden Eagles inland in Houston and Winona Counties in Minnesota.

Bitter windchills means frozen toes and fingers, but the Canon R5 does an amazing job of autofocus while shooting super slow motion (4K 120fps) video of the eagles.

A trip to Old Frontenac Cemetery nets Sparky’s first photos and videos of Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota.

The trip ends at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg Wisconsin where an unexpected Gray Fox and Red Fox make a dusk appearance.

Virtually Live 15 Polar Vortex & The Wolf: Birding Sax-Zim Bog Feb 2021

[**I apologize to all my subscribers…I sometimes forget to post to my thephotonaturalist.com blog. Lately I’ve been posting everything to Facebook, Instagram and other social media, but forget to post here! This is one example. The Polar Vortex has moved on (about TWELVE days being below zero…only a few hours above zero during that entire time!) but I’m just getting around to putting Virtually Live 15 up here. So I promise to pay more attention to this blog in the upcoming year. Thanks!]

Put another log on the fire and enjoy this bitterly cool “Polar Vortex” episode of Virtually Live from Sax-Zim Bog!

Filmed over several days including the morning of February 11 with a record cold Minus-46F start to the day. Yikes!

How do our boreal birds survive this brutal weather? Sparky shares some physiological tricks our feathered fluffballs employ.

Then we flashback to warmer days and snowshoe with Sparky in Yellow-bellied Bog where he discovers an avian excavation. He then flashesback within the flashback to tell the tale of his wolf encounter in the woods.

We also visit the Welcome Center, Admiral Road feeders, Auggie’s Bogwalk at Fringed Gentian to see what birds and mammals are out and about in the below zero temps. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

Cameos by Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, Northern Hawk Owl, Evening Grosbeak, redpolls and even an Ermine.

Virtually Live 14 —BRRRRdathon 2021 Birding & Wildlife Photography Grand Marais Minnesota (Moose! )

The BRRRRdathon—World’s Coldest Birdathon episode of Virtually Live. The BRRRRdathon is an annual fundraiser for my non-profit, Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

This week we are birding in Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior just south of the Canadian Border. Sparky is participating in the Wintergreen non-motorized division. We go along with his fat bike birding. But he takes an early morning detour inland into the Superior National Forest where he finds an amorous bull and cow Moose! During the BRRRRdathon we see Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Crossbills and more. Find out who won this year’s event.