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]

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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]

IMG_0353

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]

IMG_0592

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]

IMG_0303

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]

DSC03517

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]

DSC06680

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]

DSC06403

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]

DSC06487

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]

DSC06185

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]

2017 Favorite Bird Portraits

Part 2 of my Favorite 2017 Wildlife Photos. This time, bird portraits…Just nice photos of interesting birds.

DSC04811

Mountain Bluebird [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

The Mountain Bluebird is a very different blue than our familiar Eastern Bluebird. It is more sky blue and almost iridescent. I love the contrast between the snowy Yellowstone landscape and the blue bird. This early migrant risks weather like this to secure the best breeding territories.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/160 sec at f6.3; ISO 100: tripod]

IMG_0368

Common Raven [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Ravens in Minnesota are VERY SHY and fly as soon as you even touch the brake pedal. But in Yellowstone, they can be very gregarious. This guy wanted to join our winter picnic lunch. I converted this image to black and white because it basically already was back and white…a black bird on a snowy background. I took this with the Canon 200mm f2 lens which is extremely sharp and the detail in the bird’s feathers is amazing! You can event see the pine trees behind me in the reflection in the Raven’s eyes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/320 sec at f2; ISO 100; +1.66ev; hand-held]

Willow Ptarmigan Launch Road Golf Balls Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_1658

Willow Ptarmigan [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

This is probably the one photo that was my number 1 target for all of 2017. I knew I was going to Churchill, and I’d only caught a brief glimpse of this species once before (from a train to Churchill in 1987) so I really wanted to see and photograph a male Willow Ptarmigan…and colorful tundra flowers in the background would be a bonus. I got all my wishes!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 164mm; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f5; ISO 800; +o.66 ev; hand-held]

American Avocet Oak Hammock Marsh near Winnipeg Manitoba Canada DSC09378

American Avocet [Oak Hammock Marsh, near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada]

I love reflections, and this American Avocet made a compelling subject with its beautiful plumage. Oak Hammock Marsh near Winnipeg, Manitoba is a great place to see this “shorebird of the prairie.”

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held braced on railing]

Black-backed Woodpecker female Tamarack gold Orr Bog Walk Orr MN IMG_4321

Black-backed Woodpecker [Orr Bog Boardwalk, Orr, Minnesota]

Every autumn look for critters to photograph against the backdrop of brilliant yellow Tamarack trees. Their needles turn from green to yellow in mid October and make for stunning landscapes, reflections and backgrounds. This Black-backed Woodpecker obliged (though I wish there wasn’t the branch jutting out towards me that is out of focus).

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

Great Gray Owl Nichols Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MN SNY04166

Great Gray Owl [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Great Grays are built for the harsh climate of the boreal forest….wind, snow, cold can’t keep them from hunting for voles under the snow. This one was out at dusk listening intently for scurrying sounds under the snow pack. Shot at 1/60 second to allow the snow flakes to blur a bit….Fast shutter speeds in these conditions often turn the snow into distracting white spots.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/60 sec at f6.3; ISO 1250; tripod]

Common Loon Spring Lake Carlton County MN DSC03122

Common Loon [Carlton County, Minnesota]

My kayak is tiny, and really a whitewater boat. But I regularly take it out to a small lake near me to photograph a family of loons. The cockpit is cramped but I love the near eye-level intimate images you can get from being so low to the water. These loons tolerated my presence and would often come close to check me out.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from a small kayak]

 

 

Marsh Wren Cowhorn Lake Itasca County MN DSC02622

Marsh Wren [Itasca County, Minnesota]

The feisty Marsh Wren lives in cattail swamps across the northeast and northern plains but it is fairly uncommon in northeastern Minnesota. I took my kayak out to a wild lake near Grand Rapids and found

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/2500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held from small kayak]

Nelson's Sparrow wet tundra Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00933

Nelson’s Sparrow [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

What’s the matter with you, Sparky? Why would you put a sparrow as one of your favorites of 2017? Well, the Nelson’s Sparrow is an uncommon bird of restricted range (basically the northern plains and prairie provinces) and only found in very specific wetlands. They are normally very shy and don’t often come into the open. I found this male singing in a patch of tundra about a mile from the road.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/3200 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; tripod]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC09848

Pacific Loons [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Yet another tundra bird that I’ve always wanted to see and get a nice photo of. I like this composition but wish I’d had better light…and used a smaller aperture to get more of both birds in focus. But really stunning birds!

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; +o.66 ev; hand-held]

Short-eared Owl Stone Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0397

Short-eared Owl [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

A fun surprise on a cold early November day in the Sax-Zim Bog was the sudden appearance of a large raptor floating down the ditch line of a back road. At first I thought it was a Rough-legged Hawk but then it landed and I saw that it was a Short-eared Owl! My 9th owl species seen and photographed in the Sax-Zim Bog. I crawled across the icy road to get semi-close. I was careful not to spook her. The sun was getting low, so the light on her was beautiful. She hunted for another day but I wasn’t able to get another decent photo.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on an icy dirt road]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00630

Long-tailed Duck [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Another tundra bird that I’d always wanted to photograph in breeding plumage (and this male is nearly there, but note that the top of the head still has some white on it). Like their name implies, the long tail is an identifying characteristic but it is often dragging in the water. I like how visible it is in this photo.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 250: hand-held]

 

Lincoln's Sparrow Admiral Road feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC02271

Lincoln’s Sparrow [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Every bird has a distinct personality…I’m sure other birds know this…but we humans can sometimes notice the difference in how bold or shy certain individuals are. This Lincoln’s Sparrow, a denizen of open taiga-like Black Spruce bog, was one of the bold ones. He obligingly perched and sang for me while I shot lots of video and took many photos.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 250; tripod]

Eastern Kingbird Arkola Road-CR52 fencepost Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC08036

Eastern Kingbird [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Sure I’d prefer this Eastern Kingbird to be sitting on a more attractive perch, like a weathered wood post, but the real star here is the blurred out background of yellow flowers.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held and braced on car window frame]

Common Eider Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0623

Common Eider  [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Am I sounding like a broken record? Probably my number 2 target of 2017, and I knew I’d see them on my June trip to Churchill, but I never dreamed I’d be able to get eye-level with this gorgeous sea duck as it fed on Hudson Bay! Love the blue background.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

American Three-toed Woodpecker Julies Jewel of a Bog St. Louis County Cook MN DSC03775

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Simply and nice eye-level portrait of a rarely seen bird. The American Three-toed Woodpecker is a resident of deep Black Spruce bogs in the Far North. In Minnesota they are most common in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area along the Canadian border. But this year they seem to be more common as far south as the Duluth area. No one is sure why they sometimes make these irruptions south.

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

 

Surf Scoter White-winged Scoter Black Scoter Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0142

Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter  [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

Admittedly not a good photograph, but I had to include it because it is a very rare photo…All 3 North American species of scoters in one frame! Maybe only birders will get excited over this photo, but I’m pretty proud of it. These 3 were part of a much larger mixed flock floating and feeding on Hudson Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 164mm; Metabones adapter; 1/640 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; +1.0 ev; hand-held]

 

 

 

2017 Favorite BIRDS-IN-FLIGHT photos

Well, it’s New Years Eve 2017 and time to peruse all the photos I took in 2017 to find my favorites. By my count, I took roughly 25,000 photos and video in 2017…24,989 to be exact. And I emphasize that these are my favorites…they may not be the best photos, but something about them appeals to me. Over the next week I will post MY FAVORITES in these categories…
—Birds in Flight
—Bird Portraits
—Wildlife Behavior
—Creative Wildlife
—Insects
—Flora
—Landscapes
—Mammal Portraits
—Wildlife in the Landscape

Bald Eagle immature flight breakwall Wisconsin Point Superior WI DSC07699

Bald Eagle (immature) [Superior, Wisconsin]

Birk, Bjorn and I were going to the sandy beach of Wisconsin Point on Lake Superior for a summer swim when we spotted this immature Bald Eagle sitting on the breakwall. I knew that he would fly, and I knew that I wanted a panning shot. I quickly set my camera to 1/60 second and just then he flew. I panned with him and got a few shots where the face was sharp. I also the fact that this is an eye-level shot.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/60 sec. at f25; ISO 400; hand-held]

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0047

Bonaparte’s Gull [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

The Bonaparte’s is an attractive gull. I love their orange legs and feet, and their black hood and white “eyebrow.” This one is delicately plucking insects off the surface off a taiga pond.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

Common Raven in flight over Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Duluth MN IMG_0283

Common Raven [Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

This Raven is taking a long, hard look at my plastic owl Earl. I love the curve of the wings and the glossy iridescence of the back feathers. Most folks think of the Raven as a black bird, but most photos in bright light show blues and iridescent colors.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Arctic Tern in flight Churchill MB Canada IMG_0804

Arctic Tern [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

The 90-degree angle of the wings is what put this image over the top for me. This was taken at an Arctic Tern colony along the shores of Hudson Bay in mid June.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; +o.66 ev; hand-held]

Mallards taking flight western MN DSC03330

Mallard flock [Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota]

I like the pattern of the mass of Mallards as they take off from a ice-rimmed pond in April. The Mallard is more colorful from the back than from the front. I do wish I had more ducks in the top right corner of the image.

Common Raven in flight over Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Duluth MN IMG_0285

Common Raven [Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

The view from high up on Summit Ledges at Hawk Ridge is spectacular in fall. Lake Superior is just out of the frame to the right. Hawks migrate past this ridge in autumn, but Ravens also zip by the overlook. I like the blotches of color in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Northern Hawk Owl Zim Road Yoki Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC03029

Northern Hawk Owl [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Not your conventional Hawk Owl photo, but interesting to me. I like that you can really see the long tail that gives this day-hunting owl its name…And I also like the salmon-colored sunset (enhanced in Lightroom) and the silhouette of the Tamarack cones.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f7.1; ISO 640; hand-held]

Red-throated Loon Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2176

Red-throated Loon [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

Very few Red-throated Loons nest in the tundra around Churchill, but they do stage and feed on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay while migrating through in spring. On this June morning I saw over 60 Red-throated Loons flying by Cape Merry! Some might look at this image and yawn…but what really excites me about this very average photo, is that the Red-throated Loon is a rarely seen species, especially in breeding plumage. I guess that fact makes it one of my favorites.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 sec. at f7.1; ISO 400; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane motion blur panning flight Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0252

Sandhill Crane pair [Crex Meadows, Wisconsin]

A slow shutter while panning allowed for the feeling of motion on this pair of Sandhill Cranes. Their heads are fairly sharp while their wing tips blur to give the sense of speed. I wish there was a little more “breathing room” in front of the first bird, but it didn’t work out that way. I also like the muted tones of this very autumn landscape.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 sec. at f9; ISO 100; -0.66ev; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse display Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake County MN DSC04295

Spruce Grouse [Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

This guy, with his sexy red eyebrows, was displaying his heart out along a backwoods road. Hopefully he impressed a lurking female. Even though it was April, there was still fresh snow on the ground and snowflakes falling. I saw a Moose a few minutes later.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]