Endangered Karner Blue butterfly at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that the nickel-sized Karner Blue butterfly was abundant, and easily the most common butterfly species out and about at south-central Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on this cool day July 20th. Its only known caterpillar food plant is the native Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) which was just done blooming, but that doesn’t phase the adults which nectar on many flower species including the abundant roadside flower Bird’s-foot Trefoil. Interestingly, the Karner Blue caterpillars will not use the escaped Lupine that we often see along the roadsides of northern Minnesota (Lupinus polyphyllus).

This Karner Blue butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) of the Melissa Blue (Lycaeides melissa). It is intimately tied to its food plant, Wild Lupine, which grows in sandy pine-oak savanna, a rare landscape in the 21st century.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2529

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f9; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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The very limited range of the Karner Blue (in dark blue) contrasting with the historic range (in light blue). Range is overlain atop the range of Wild Blue Lupine in pink.

[from American Entomologist; Vol. 61 Issue 2]

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2528

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2352

A beautiful Karner Blue nectaring on Bird’s-foot Trefoil? Appearances can be deceiving. After I took a bunch of photos of this Karner Blue, I noticed that it hadn’t changed positions in a while…A sure sign that a predator had nabbed it. But I thought I would see the Karner Blue in the grasp of a crab spider but I was surprised to see it in the grasp of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata pensylvanica). And the name of this bug says it all…It waits motionless on flowers for a victim to land nearby and then with lightning speed nabs it with its mantid-like front legs. See the close-ups below.

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Karner Blue butterfly captured by and in the grasp of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata pensylvanica); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2340

Karner Blue butterfly captured by and in the grasp of a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata pensylvanica); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2301

The blue upper sides of a male Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The male Karner Blue is bright iridescent blue above.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2298

The blue upper sides of a male Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2273

Female Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2256

The upper sides of a female Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Bird’s-foot Trefoil; Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Female Karner Blues show less blue above, but a bright orange submarginal band on hindwings.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2251

The upper sides of a female Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) on Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Female Karner Blues show less blue above, but a bright orange submarginal band on hindwings.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2221

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2215

Karner Blue (Melissa Blue) butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis); Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0246

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Though the Wild Lupine was mostly done blooming at Necedah NWR during my July 20 visit, I am posting some photos of when it was at peak of bloom at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin on June 4, 2018. This is the main caterpillar food for the endangered Karner Blue subspecies of the Melissa Blue butterfly. The Karner Blue’s range is limited by the presence of this flower.

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0365
Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0371

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

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Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0375

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Lupinus perennis Wild Lupine Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0243

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) on June 4 at Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

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Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7289

Whooping Cranes, Karner Blue Butterflies, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Barrens Tiger Beetles…These are the reasons I made my first visit to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge near Nacedah, Wisconsin on July 20th. I was headed from my home in Wrenshall, Minnesota to pick up my kids at the home of my brother- and sister-in-law’s in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

I ended up spending 6 hours here! This is one of those refuges that welcomes visitors and really concentrates on education, unlike many of our National Wildlife Refuges.

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7253

I hiked the 1.75 mile Boghaunter Trail and Boardwalk. It is named for the very rare Ringed Boghaunter dragonfly that lives in this fen. They emerge in May and have a short flight period so I did not see one on this trip…But I will be back!

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2528

Karner Melissa Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI

I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that the nickel-sized Karner Blue butterfly was abundant, and easily the most common butterfly species out and about. Its caterpillar food plant is the native Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) which was just done blooming, but that doesn’t phase the adults which nectar on many flower species including the abundant roadside flower Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

This butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies of the Melissa Blue.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f9; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Calopogon tuberosus Swamp Pink orchid fen Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2387

Swamp-Pink or Grass-Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Swamp-Pink (or Grass-Pink) orchids dotted the fen near the Boardwalk along the Boghaunter Trail. This species likes fens that are not as acidic as bogs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 98mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/160 sec. at f13; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2512

Cicindelidia punctulata subspecies punctulata Punctured Tiger Beetle Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2582

Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia punctulata) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Though I did not find my lifer Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle, I did see many of the small Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindela punctulata) named for the colorful pits on its elytra (wing covers). The are ferocious predators of other insects which it stalks on open sandy soil.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

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Pine barrens savannah Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah, Wisconsin

Necedah NWR protects some of the original Pine barrens/savannah landscape of pre-settlement Wisconsin. Pines were mainly Red (Norway) Pine and Jack Pine. This spot was thick with Red-headed Woodpeckers.

[iPhone 7+]

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2283

Red-headed Woodpecker Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The habitat in the photo above is perfect for the Red-headed Woodpecker, a species which loves open savannah type landscapes with larger trees in which it excavates its nest cavities.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/4000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.33ev; hand-held]

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Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Ant on Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). The lupines were WAY past peak, and only a few remained in flower.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 131mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f8; ISO 250; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2535

A “bachelor” group of American White Pelicans.

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Sandhill Crane feather Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Whoopers are not the only crane at Necedah; a Sandhill Crane feather is stained with iron-rich mud which the Sandhill coats its feathers with.

[iPhone 7+]

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7265

Remains of a small bird; a snack for a bird of prey.

[iPhone 7+]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2466

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 163mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/100 sec. at f11; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2481

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/640 sec. at f7.1; -0.66ev; ISO 100; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7272

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow Beauty Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7268

Virginia Meadow Beauty a.k.a. Handsome Harry wildflower (Rhexia virginica) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[iPhone 7+]

I’d never heard of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty) until I read the first Necedah NWR brochure I picked up. It is at the far northeastern edge of its range in Central Wisconsin. It is most common along the East Coast and Southeast U.S. It prefers open, wet and acidic sites.

Also known by the fun name, “Handsome Harry.” It is in the Melastomataceae, a family of mostly tropical wildflowers. The pink petals are asymetrical in shape, and the stamens are bright yellow, thick and bent. A very cool “lifer” for me.

Rhexia virginica range map

Range map of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow-Beauty or Handsome Harry). As you can see it reaches its northeastern range limit in south central Wisconsin.

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2565

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 126mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/200 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

skipper Northern Broken-Dash Wallengrenia egeremet Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2553

Northern Broken-Dash skipper (Wallengrenia egeremet) on Liatris “Gay Feather” Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

The above two photos are of a Northern Broken-Dash butterfly on Liatris wildflower (Gay-Feather).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 145mm with Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2403

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2406

Plastron of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2417

Plastron and yellow throat of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

turtle Blanding's Turtle Emydoidea blandingii Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_2421

Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

You don’t see Blanding’s Turtles every day so I was very excited to find this large (and presumably old) specimen along the boardwalk on Boghaunter Trail. He was shy but I flipped him over to examine the beautiful red-marked carapace, and his bright yellow throat. Don’t worry, I quickly tipped him back upright after I snapped a few photos.

“One of the most critically imperiled turtles to be found in North America is the Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), named for William Blanding, a Philadelphia naturalist who first described it. They are found from Ontario, Canada; south to Iowa and back east as far as New York. There is a small population of about 300 found in Nova Scotia. The highest population densities are found in the Great Lakes region. They are listed as state endangered or a species of special concern in nearly every state they are found in. The biggest threat these turtles face is the loss of habitat due to agriculture and from major modifications to streams and rivers, such as dam building. Blanding’s turtles have very specific habitat requirements that include marshes, sloughs, ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, and vernal pools with shallow water, soft bottoms and large amounts of aquatic vegetation.” [Text from the Rattlesnake Education & Awareness Blog]

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Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Interpretive displays at Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

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Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WI IMG_7294

Crane sculpture outside Visitor Center Headquarters Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Snowshoe Hare pair…one brown, one white—March 26th; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Deep in a Black Spruce/Tamarack bog on March 26th I encountered something quite amazing…and entirely new for me—A pair of courting Snowshoe Hares…one already turning brown (though there was about a foot of snow on the ground) and one still mostly white. This was in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog.

I was just standing quietly and listening for birds, when I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. It was these two hares chasing each other around the trunk of a spruce! They’d run at each other and then one would leap over the other one, stop momentarily and then continue their cavorting chase. They continued for a couple minutes but then they noticed me and stopped. They froze in position for about 20 minutes, but then again continued their courtship.
Snowshoe Hare pair leaping Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0725

Cavorting Snowshoe Hares in late March are probably courting. Their color has nothing to do with their sex…Some hares just turn brown earlier than others in spring. But turning brown in late March/early April can be a problem if the snowpack lingers late into April. They become easier to spot by predators such as Canada Lynx and wolves.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0865

One hare was farther along in its molt from winter white to summer brown. This change is brought on by increasing day length, and NOT by whether there is snow on the ground or not.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0839

Snowshoe Hares are normally crepuscular (more active at dawn/dusk) and nocturnal and can therefore avoid some diurnal hunters. Lynx and Northern Goshawks (females) are two of their historic predators.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0837

Snowshoe Hares tend to be on a 10-year boom-bust cycle, but this is more regular in the heart of their range in Canada and Alaska. Minnesota is at the south end of the range and the cycle here is not as regular.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0836

Freezing in place is a good strategy to avoid being noticed by predators….But they also think they are invisible to this photographer. Every Snowshoe Hare I’ve found in winter has used this method and I’ve been able to slowly get quite close to them.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0833

Hares in winter feed on the inner bark and buds of  shrubs and small trees.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0821

Surprisingly, Snowshoe Hares can have between 2 and 5 litters each year! Each litter can be from 1 to 8 leverets (young hares).

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0817

White pelage is a big help to Snowshoe Hares in remaining invisible during the snowy season.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0811Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0801

I love the mix of colors in the pelage of the molting Snowshoe Hare.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0788Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0786Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0775

It takes about a month for a Snowshoe Hare to turn from white to brown in spring (mostly April) and from brown to white in fall (mostly November).

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0710-2

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

[**All photos with Canon 7D and Sigma 50-500mm lens]

Snowy Owls & other birds—Glacial Ridge NWR March 9-10

Last week I posted photos of the amazing hoarfrost that greeted me at sunrise in northwest Minnesota’s Polk County on Friday March 9th. This time we will concentrate on the wildlife I saw over these 2 days (actually 1 1/2 days). Most of my time was spent in the 57 square mile Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge east of Crookston, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2004.

My main purpose for this trip to far northwest Minnesota was picking up a pallet of books in Pembina, North Dakota, but my photographic goal was to get slow-motion video of a Snowy Owl in flight. I ended up having six sightings of FOUR different Snowy Owls….A success even without getting any video.

Snowy Owl in Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. I saw 3 different Snowies in the western part of the refuge. Unfortunately all were sitting on telephone poles…Not the most photogenic perch. But my goal was slow-motion video of Snowy Owls in flight….but most were just patiently watching the landscape for any mammalian movement.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; hand-held]

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse in the frosty landscape of western Minnesota.

This gal (?) was the most tolerant of the four Snowy Owls I saw over the two days. But unfortunately she was sitting right above a busy highway in Kittson County and a State Trooper urged me to move on. I asked for a few minutes longer and he said that was fine. But I could have spent a couple hours with this beautiful owl. I did get video of it stretching and fluffing its feathers.

Kittson County is the extreme northwest county in Minnesota. It is a LONG WAYS from anything! In fact, Kim Eckert claims that if you were in Minneapolis and wanted to get here, it would be faster to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and then drive southeast to Kittson County than to drive here from the Twin Cities!

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/640 sec. at f10; ISO 100; tripod]

Excavating a nest cavity or just feeding? Hard to tell but this female Pileated Woodpecker (no red mustache and the red on the head doesn’t reach the bill) was busy chiseling away at a very oval hole.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.33 ev; braced on car window frame]

Rough-legged Hawk taking flight from the railroad tracks bisecting Glacial Ridge NWR. I  really think the Roughleg is one of the most beautiful buteo hawks in North America. They nest on the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska but spend the winter in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Their tiny bill and feet are perfect for feeding on small rodents, especially voles and lemmings.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.66 ev; braced on car window frame]

Finally! A Snowy Owl on an eye-level and photogenic perch! But alas, it was about a half mile away. Let’s call these “bird in the landscape” photos. I actually think they would look pretty cool printed large (like 4 feet wide!).

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky in the Polk County, Minnesota portion of the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail on a gorgeous late winter day.

Very small and very white Snowy Owl (so likely a male) atop very large power pole just outside Glacial Ridge NWR. The day before he was in the refuge, and hunting from a smaller power pole.

Coyote hunting in northwest Minnesota’s aspen parkland.

Note the beautiful barring on the breast and belly of this Greater Prairie Chicken. Glacial Ridge is a real stronghold for this prairie species in Minnesota. I (conservatively) saw 28 prairie chickens on Saturday March 10 in Glacial Ridge.

Rough-legged Hawks were mostly absent from NE Minnesota this winter, but there were good numbers at Glacial Ridge on this weekend. I saw 15 in just the eastern part of the refuge in one morning.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f6.3; ISO 640; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Both Sharp-tailed Grouse (pictured above) and Greater Prairie Chickens were feeding along the railroad tracks that bisect Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe there is spilled grain along the tracks. I saw a total of 48 Sharptails in the refuge on March 10th.

Either Sharp-tailed Grouse or Greater Prairie Chicken tracks in the snow.

 

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Snow Buntings were beginning to head north to their tundra breeding grounds in northern Canada. I saw many flocks along US75 between Crookston and the North Dakota border near Canada…441 total with one flock totaling about 150 birds. But this Snow Bunting was all alone and I saw him on two consecutive days along the same stretch of deserted road. I even got video of him feeding on plant seeds that were peaking above the crusty snow.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/1000 sec. at f10; ISO 320; hand-held]

Fenceline border between private and public lands adjacent to Glacial Ridge NWR.

Pair of Bald Eagles…The Bald Eagles are beginning to think about nesting in far NW Minnesota. I saw two pairs that were actually IN/AT THE NEST already…even though there was no open water anywhere around. This duo at Glacial Ridge was actually an adult and immature.

BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

NW MN trip

March 9-10, 2018

Between Crookston and St. Vincent in Kittson County along US75

441 Snow Buntings

373 Horned Larks

Glacial Ridge NWR (March 9 and 10)

15 Rough-legged Hawks

48 Sharp-tailed Grouse

28 Greater Prairie Chickens

3 Snowy Owls (CR446 mainly)…including a very white and little male

1 Pileated Woodpecker

Snowy Owl along US75 at milepost 379.5 just south of Kennedy in Kittson County (March 9)

Meadowlark sp. near Lake Bronson in Kittson County (March 9) (spring migrant)

3 Bald Eagle nests with pairs occupying nest (Polk and Kittson Counties)

Hoar Frost Morning—Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge-March 9-10

There were 20 cases of books waiting for me in Pembina, North Dakota. My printer is in Altona, Manitoba and they kindly brought a pallet of books just across the U.S. border so I wouldn’t have to pay duty. And since I was going all the way there, why not do some photography on the way?!

I left Wrenshall at 3:20 am so I could be in far western Minnesota by sunrise. And I made it! Since the radio in the van doesn’t work, podcasts keep me entertained. As I turned off US2 into Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, I knew it was going to be a spectacular morning. Thick coats of hoarfrost coated everything! Every twig, branch, blade of grass, strand of barbed wire held a coating of thick feathery frost.

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2004 and is Minnesota’s newest addition to the NWR system. It is a vast area, that will eventually encompass 37,000 acres (57 square miles)

It is described by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as “the largest tallgrass prairie and wetland restoration project in U.S. history.” [from wikipedia.com]

 

Conditions were PERFECT for hoarfrost formation….Temperatures at sunrise were near ZERO degrees F and dead calm, and the day before had been above freezing so I imagine moisture from the melting snow provided the “raw material” for spectacular hoarfrost formation.

Here is some info from http://www.wikipedia.org:

“Hoar frost (also hoarfrost, radiation frost, or pruina) refers to white ice crystals deposited on the ground or loosely attached to exposed objects, such as wires or leaves.[4] They form on cold, clear nights when conditions are such that heat radiates out to the open air faster than it can be replaced from nearby sources, such as wind or warm objects. Under suitable circumstances, objects cool to below the frost point[5] of the surrounding air, well below the freezing point of water. Such freezing may be promoted by effects such as flood frost or frost pocket.[6] These occur when ground-level radiation loses cool air until it flows downhill and accumulates in pockets of very cold air in valleys and hollows. Hoar frost may freeze in such low-lying cold air even when the air temperature a few feet above ground is well above freezing.

The word hoar comes from an Old English adjective that means “showing signs of old age”. In this context, it refers to the frost that makes trees and bushes look like white hair.

Hoar frost may have different names depending on where it forms:

  • Air hoar is a deposit of hoar frost on objects above the surface, such as tree branches, plant stems, and wires.”

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens]

Sharp-tailed Grouse in frosty meadow. I ended up seeing 48 Sharp-tails in Glacial Ridge on Saturday.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens]

 

Hoarfrost on barbed wire fence.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens]

 

Cottonwoods on the edge of the prairie.

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm manual lens]

 

Coyote in frosty meadow. I tried squeaking and pishing to bring her closer, and it worked…kind of. She came back towards me, but only within about 200 yards.

2017 Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos

American White Pelican flock loafing roost Fond du Lac Bridge St. Louis River Duluth MN DSC06929

Pelican Pouch (St. Louis River, Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota)

Most every spring now, a flock of 40 to 120 American White Pelicans stop over at the Fond du Lac, Duluth portion of the St. Louis River on their way to breeding colonies farther north. They spend most of their time loafing on the barely-above-water islands, preening, sleeping and squabbling. Not sure if this guy was yawning or if this is an aggressive act towards a Ring-billed Gull that flew low overhead. I intentionally underexposed the shot to show off the veins of the pelican, and block out the distracting background forest.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Arctic Tern colony Mouth of Eastern Creek Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC09960

High-Key Tern (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

To make the red inner mouth of this Arctic Tern really pop, I decided to make this a “high-key” image by increasing the exposure of the shot so most of the highlights are overexposed.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/4000 sec. at f8; ISO 200; -2.33ev; hand-held]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton County MN DSC03720

Wild Turkey detail (Our home, Carlton County, Minnesota)

I took this image right out our living room window! And the only lens I had inside was my 400mm f5.6 lens. So I got some extreme close ups of a displaying Tom Turkey. The iridescence in their feathers is a coppery rainbow of colors.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f6.3; ISO 5000; hand-held through our living room picture window]

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Raven Rainbow (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Two foreground snow mounds frame a friendly Raven looking for a handout. The background “rainbow” is just the way-out-of-focus trees and shadows. I took the color out of the Raven and made him totally black (they normally show blue iridescence in their feathers).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/400 sec at f2; ISO 100; +1.33ev; hand-held]

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Running Grizzly cub (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Panning at a VERY slow 1/20th of second, I tracked the running Grizzly cub as it hurried to get back to mama Griz. I like the streaks of snow, and the different background blur colors.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Hawk Owl Zim Road Yoki Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC03052

Northern Hawk Owl silhouette and Tamaracks (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)

The curvy trunks of the Tamaracks are appealing to me in this silhouette. The Hawk Owl is centered so I could frame her with the two background Tamaracks.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/2500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane flock fly-in reflection Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0050

Sandhill crane flock reflection (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

As the cranes flew in to roost for the evening at the Crex Meadows marshes, I noticed their perfect reflection on the still open water. I tried to capture the interesting juxtaposition of sky and water. It is an interesting photo…not great…but unique.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 200mm; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held]

 

Sandhill Crane motion blur panning flight Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0234

Sandhill Crane panning blur (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

Sometimes I like panning at “below-recommended” panning shutter speeds and seeing what I get. It is very low percentage shooting, but sometimes you create something pleasing. Though the crane’s head is not sharp, I still like the overall motion blur of this graceful flyer.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/25 sec. at f9; ISO 100; -0.66ev; hand-held]

 

Scoter flock Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0098

Mixed Scoter flock (Hudson Bay at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

I was laying flat on my belly on the wet rock shoreline of Hudson Bay. And I was wishing I had the Sony A6500 instead of the Canon 7D…Why? Because the Sony has a tilting screen so I wouldn’t have had to contort my neck to look through the viewfinder of the Canon. I love the eye-level perspective and the narrow strip of in-focus water with the blurred foreground and background water framing the scoters. If you look closely you will see that all three North American scoter species are in the frame! Surf Scoter; Black Scoter; White-winged Scoter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand-held while laying on beach]

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Bison fur (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

You can get close to Bison in Yellowstone…Really close! Of course, this was out the car window, so no threat of being gored! I love the wavy quality of their hair.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/2000 sec at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

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Blackbird Blur (Northwest Minnesota)

There are things to shoot even on bleak early spring gray rainy days. This migrating flock of Red-winged Blackbirds took off suddenly and I panned with them at a slow shutter speed.

Sandhill Crane flock fly-in Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0125

Sandhill Crane orange silhouette flock (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

I tried combining two creative wildlife photography techniques in this image; I underexposed the image to create silhouettes of the flying cranes AND slowed the shutter to 1/25 of a second and panned with them as they flew. In this image, the heads and necks re fairly sharp, yet their wings show a pleasing blur that hints at their flapping motion.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 163mm; 1/25 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Favorite Mammal Portraits

Arctic Hare Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_1174

Arctic Hare [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Talk about a cooperative subject! This Arctic Hare (my first ever!) was browsing willows on the tundra near Hudson Bay. She’d eat a while, then sit and rest and look about. I like this wider shot as it shows a bit of habitat and I love the translucent orange eyeball that contrasts nicely with the vegetation. The hare’s curly pelage also blends with the curvy stems of the foreground flora.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 371mm; 1/500 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

Beaver composite frame extraction from video Stickney Road Sax-Zim Bog MN ADJUSTED

Beaver [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Beaver are rarely seen out and about in winter, but this guy must have run out of food and had to risk coming out of the safety of the lodge to eat. I took video of him plowing through the snow to get fresh willows. Because I shot few stills, this is actually a single frame extracted from a video clip, and that is why the shutter speed is a very slow 1/60 second. Fortunately the Beaver was still for a split second and the photo is sharp.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/60 sec. at f14; ISO 200; tripod]

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Grizzly cub [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Kids will be kids! “Coming through Mom!”

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

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Yellow-bellied Marmot [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

I just like the blue and green background…and its a nice photo of a marmot.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

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Grizzly cub [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

What can I say? CUTE! Like a cuddly 200 pound teddy bear.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

Cottontail rabbit Skogstjarna Carlton County MN DSC01933

Cottontail [Carlton County, Minnesota]

This photo was taken about as close to home as possible…Only about 20 feet from my front door! I laid down on the gravel of our driveway and slowly crawled closer. Always good to get eye level to your subject. Just a cute critter.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/1250 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Harbor Seal Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0648

Harbor Seal [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Every photographer hopes his mammalian subject will yawn. Yawning in a still image can look like a ferocious growl. Not sure what this Harbor Seal was doing but the open pink mouth contrasts nicely with the blue water of Hudson Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

Moose cow yearling in snow Blue Spruce Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC02589

Moose [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

This photo was taken on the last day of February but I believe it is the same young cow Moose that I found a couple miles away in early November. She was a very tolerant critter…especially for a Moose! Several of us were able to shoot quite close to her as she browsed willows. She would mostly ignore us, but occasionally steal a glance to make sure we didn’t get too close. I like how the shaded woods turned a pleasing purple and the red willows were beginning to pop.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; -0.33 ev; tripod]

Pine Marten American Marten Admiral Road feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC01095

Pine Marten [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Marten are cute as a button, but also ferocious hunters. They are able to hunt down Red Squirrels in the trees! Clinton Nienhaus and I were watching a roadside bird feeding station when this guy came from the bog and started feasting on peanut butter left out for the Boreal Chickadees. He paused to lick his lips. Hey buddy, you missed a spot!

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

White-tailed Deer bucks CR133 Meadowlands Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_5023

White-tailed Deer bucks [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

I was on my way home from doing some work on our Welcome Center in Sax-Zim Bog when I spotted these two bucks browsing in a hayfield along the road. Unlike most bucks, they did not bolt the minute I slowed the car. In fact, they came closer and closer even after I got out of the car! Maybe it was the many deer flies that made them crazy that day.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

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Grizzly and cub  [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Ryan and I had a chance this spring to spend much time with a sow Grizzly and her yearling cub. They played and dug grubs and roots, and the cub would even nurse, all the time, ignoring the photographers. I like the eye-level perspective and the fact that they seem to be gazing at the same thing.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod]

Arctic Hare Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-9

Arctic Hare  [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

How can you not love a face like this? Like in the other Arctic Hare photo in this post, I love the translucent orange eyes and the oversized black and white ears. He seems to be eyeing me up…wondering if I’m a threat or just a harmless crawling photographer.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 321mm; 1/320 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]