Invisible! Floating Blind/Hide – Rushing Grebes North Dakota; Photographer Superpower!

Is it possible to get into the heart of a Western Grebe colony and witness the amazing and complex courtship of these water birds? It certainly is….if you use a floating blind/floating hide. In this episode of Shooting with Sparky he and Ryan take you out to central North Dakota’s prairie pothole region where spring bird courtship was in full swing! Western Grebes were the star of the show, performing their courtship rituals right in front of us including the “weed-dance,” “dip-shaking,” and of course, “rushing.”

Bird photography/Bird video from a floating blind is not an easy thing…but the Canon R5 makes it MUCH more possible. The animal-eye tracking works wonderfully when shooting at water level.

Other birds encountered included Eared Grebes, Red-necked Grebes, courting Forster’s Terns, American Avocets, Dunlin, and we visit an old friend at their nest, the Ferruginous Hawk.

http://www.thephotonaturalist.com

http://www.sparkyphotos.com

Part 3: Birding Chiricahua Mountains & Saguaro National Park SE Arizona July Bird Photography Herping

In this part 3 of Sparky’s “Monsoon Season” trip to southeast Arizona he birds around the Chiricahua Mountains and Portal, AZ.

This July trip yields some awesome reptiles (Striped Plateau Lizard, Sonoran Gophersnake, Arizona Box Turtle) and birds (Greater Pewee,  Gilded Flicker, Bridled Titmouse, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, etc).

http://www.thephotonaturalist.com

http://www.sparkyphotos.com

Birding & Bird Photography SE Arizona Part 2 July

In part 2 of Sparky’s Southeast Arizona trip he visits several landmark birding locations…Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, the Wayside Rest famous for the “Patagonia Wayside Picnic Table Effect,” Stateline Road near Rodeo, New Mexico, Foothills Road, Willow Tank, Portal Arizona’s feeders (including Dave Jasper’s yard). Bird highlights include Greater Roadrunner, Rose-throated Becard nest, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Thick-billed Kingbird (a lifer for Sparky), Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Vermillion Flycatcher, Phainopepla, Arizona Woodpecker, and Lesser Nighthawk. Sonoran Gophersnake, Black-tailed Rattlesnake and Western Diamondback Rattlesnake are the reptile highlights.

FIVE OWL SPECIES Mink Bobcat Ermine Wolf

Virtually Live 25 S2E10

In this episode of Virtually Live from the Sax-Zim Bog, Sparky Stensaas shares his favorite sightings from the last month, including FIVE SPECIES OF OWLS, MINK, BOBCAT, ERMINE & WOLF! All in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota from early February through early March.

Encounters with FIVE different owl species in Sax-Zim are highlighted… An adorable Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts below a feeder; A Great Gray plunges into the snow and pulls up a vole; chickadees help him find a Barred Owl soaking up the sun at Fringed Gentian Bog; a Snowy Owl NOT on a power pole!; and a Northern Hawk Owl returns to the Bog and performs and preens for the camera.

Sparky also shares some ETIQUETTE for watching and enjoying Great Grays without disturbing them.

In additIon, we watch a Mink hunt for fish, see an Ermine in hunting mode and enjoy a Bobcat just sitting there.

We also make a stop at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center to see what’s happening there: Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls in slow motion.

And lots more!

2021 “Top Ten” #6 Birds & Wildlife in the Landscape

Though I do still enjoy a beautiful “bird on a stick” frame-filling portrait, more satisfying to me now is a wider field of view showing the bird or mammal in its native habitat. It tells more of a story about how and where that critter lives. Here are my favorites from 2021

Common Redpoll in frosty branches; January; Skogstjarna Carlton County, MN

We had about three days of GORGEOUS rime ice in early January 2021. It coated everything in a huge area of northern Minnesota. Rime ice is basically dense fog that freezes. That is how it differs from hoar frost. In hindsight, I should have spent A LOT more time looking for subjects amongst this crazy backdrop since it only occurs rarely. I did find this Common Redpoll out my living room window though. Its red cap adds a much-needed splash of color to the scene.

Migrating geese; March; Western Minnesota

Maybe this is less “bird-in-the-landscape” and more “specks on the horizon” but the two flocks of geese (squint real hard!) add a lot to this rural western Minnesota farms cape.

Wild Turkey Toms displaying; April; Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota

It is not everyday that you can take a winner image while taking the garbage cans out to the road! Here three tom Wild Turkeys are in full display mode for the numerous hens just out of frame. I like the backlit feathers and aspen catkins.

Snow Geese and Moon; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

I didn’t even notice the moon until well into my trip to North Ottawa Impoundment. Then I had the “aha” moment, and started taking hundreds of photos pointing my camera straight up into the azure blue spring sky. I like this wider image that has the moon in line with the Snow Geese, and I also appreciate that the line of migrating geese goes from upper left to lower right corner of the frame.

Rock Pigeons and old warehouse; March; Superior, Wisconsin

Hey, this IS the native landscape for Rock Pigeons! They live/nest in this old warehouse in Superior, Wisconsin. I just like the symmetry of the windows as well as the texture and colors of the weathered boards and tin siding…oh, and the pigeons add to the photo too.

Porcupine and Willow catkins; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Porcupines are relatively easy to find in late spring in the Sax-Zim Bog due to the fact that they feast on willow and aspen catkins relatively low in the woods. I framed this fella with blobs of yellow by shooting through a flowering willow with a larger aperture.

Black Tern over marsh; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

I do love this shot….BUT…I wish I had left the tern more space on the right so I could crop it so the bird was more to the left of the frame.

Cottontail and Badlands; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The “Badlands” are really a land of plenty for the many critters that live there. Though it appears to be an inhospitable landscape, there is no shortage of wildlife that call it home such as this curious (cautious?) Cottontail.

Gilded Flickers on Saguaro; July; Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Gilded Flickers are close cousins to our Northern Flickers, but they are only found in their preferred Saguaro cactus habitat in Arizona and extreme SE California. They even excavate nest cavities in the prickly cacti.

Blue-winged Teal takeoff at sunset; May; Kidder County, North Dakota

Dusk in the floating blind. I thought shooting time was over, but I noticed the thunderheads turning pink on the horizon and wondered if I could get some ducks in the foreground. It didn’t take long before I maneuvered the blind into position for a raft of four Blue-winged Teal. But before I could get a shot, they jumped into the air and were gone. But I got lucky, as this frame turned out to be my favorite.

Common Nighthawk on fence post; June; South Dakota

Nighthawks are rarely seen in the full sun of daytime. They are primarily a bird of dusk when they take wing to suck up flying insects in the air. That tiny bill opens to reveal a huge gaping mouth, which is all the better for inhaling mosquitos.

White-tailed Deer in snowy field; April; Carlton County, Minnesota

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

Trumpeter Swan squabble on snow; March; near Danbury, Wisconsin

I intentionally included the meandering tracks of this early-returning pair of Trumpeter Swans as it lent a bit of visual interest. This would be a killer shot with more dramatic light.

Tufted Titmouse orange and blue; February; Old Frontenac Cemetery, Minnesota

You don’t often see Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota, and when you do they are usually tucked into an evergreen. I like the out-of-focus leaves that make orangish blobs of color that match the buffy sides of the titmouse.

Snow Geese; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

You build it and they will come. That is certainly true of the impoundment project called North Ottawa. Now every spring, tens of thousands of geese state here on their way north. Quite a sight, and an even more impressive auditory experience.

Bald Eagle nest; February; near Winona, Minnesota

I HAVE to get down here to photograph this nest in early spring next year. I love this shot, but it would even be better with the spring green of just-emerging leaves to warm up the scene. Big bird, big nest, big tree.

Rough-legged Hawks; March; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

On their way back to the Arctic, Rough-legged Hawks hunt open areas all over the upper midwest.

Great Gray Owl; February; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I just like the gray of the Great Gray amongst the white branches of the aspens. Last year’s leaves add a pop of subtle color.

Sharp-tailed Grouse; May; central North Dakota

This picture really shouts, “North Dakota.” A land of open country, grasslands, empty spaces, and prairie birds such as this lone Sharp-tailed Grouse.

River Otter; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

A River Otter sighting can brighten a gloomy spring day.

Red-breasted Mergansers; March; Lake Superior, Two Harbors, Minnesota

Northeast winds had stacked shards of blue ice along the shore at Lighthouse point on Lake Superior. I used a small aperture to keep the Red-breasted Mergansers in focus while giving some detail to the ice.

Varied Bunting; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

I just like the leading lines of the Ocotillo that bring the eye to a stunner of a bird; the Varied Bunting which is in full song.

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Montana isn’t the only ” big sky country”! North Dakota has its share of vast skyscapes. A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird sings to the sky its melodious song….STOP…let me rephrase that…A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird croaks out its grating call to any other blackbirds that might be nearby.

White-throated Swift; June; Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

Not many other birds share the same habitat as the White-throated Swift! Crevices in bare rock cliffs is where this relative of the swallow nest. And this one is swooping up into its retreat on the one and only Devil’s Tower.

Black-throated Sparrow; July; Stateline Road near Portal, Arizona

I just LOVE birds perched on rusty barbed wire…and especially if there is an old wood fence post in the frame as well. Jackpot! Black-throated Sparrow in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Arizona-New Mexico line.

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I like this photo of Evening Grosbeaks in white-barked Aspens …but I would LOVE it if there were a few more in the center of the frame…and if the others were looking into the center. Oh well.

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Just a tiny bit of rim light illuminates these Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Moody!

Eastern Meadowlark; April; Firebird WMA, Carlton County, Minnesota

Yellow bird amongst yellowish grasses in a snowy scene. An early-arriving Eastern Meadowlark is greeted by an April snowstorm.

Sagebrush Sparrow; June; near Pinedale, Wyoming

Maybe a portrait and not a bird-in-the-landscape but kind of in-between. Enjoyed a wonderful morning in the sagebrush flats south of Pinedale, Wyoming, and the surprisingly colorful Sagebrush Sparrow was a species I’d never photographed before.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

Just allow me one more “bird in frosty landscape” shot.

Western Grebe and submerged tree; May; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota

The water has been rising in central North Dakota for years. The last time I visited this spot six years ago, this tree was still on dry land! A lone Western Grebe confirms that this is now a permanent lake.

Great Gray Owl; January; Superior National Forest, Cook County, Minnesota

It is always fun to stumble upon a Great Gray in a spot where you don’t expect them. This was an early morning jaunt in the Superior National Forest to look for Moose (which I did find). I love its perch and wanted to include the whole thing in the photo.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

What can I say? I like birds in frosty landscapes!

Well, this concludes my “Top Tens” of 2021 posts. Now I better get out there and start shooting so I will have some Top Tens of 2022 to share next year!

All photos taken with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens

2021 “Top Ten” #5 Bird Behavior

“Is this just another category so you can show more bird photos Sparky?” Why, yes, yes it is! And just so you know…I do include flying as a behavior for some reason. I guess technically everything a bird does is “behavior,” so I’m good!

Bald Eagle and Goldeneyes; February; Mississippi River

I can feel my frozen finger tips by just looking at this photo. So COLD! Most of the Mississippi River was frozen at this point in February; only spots below locks and dams were open…and this spring-fed spot near Buffalo, Wisconsin. Though it appears this young Bald Eagle is preying on the Common Goldeneyes, it is actually plucking small fish from just below the surface. There were several eagles and they made multiple passes each. I just laid down on the snow with my Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens and started tracking them as they approached. The R5 did amazingly well, even in the well-below-zero-F temps. I like the monochromatic blue cast to this image.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Green Heron; October; Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

The critical moment. It has always been a thing of wonder to watch birds of all types landing on perches. Can you imagine the vision and motor skills this takes? How about a Great Gray Owl alighting on the tip top of a tiny spruce? It can’t even see the bough when it actally lands! This Green Heron made a perfect two-point landing I am proud to report.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 640; 0 ev; handheld]

American Avocets; May; Prairie Potholes of North Dakota

Courtship in American Avocets is highly stylized. This water-thrashing by the male is performed immediately before he mounts the female. The only way I was able to get this behavior shot from such close range was because I was invisible! My floating blind hides the human form which is what alarms much wildlife.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 100; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Not a great photo but kind of fun with all the “bird bickering” going on. This, of course, is common behavior at bird feeders. Evening Grosbeaks are some of the feistiest! Sax-Zim Bog is the best place to find big flocks in winter.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 2000; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Hooded Oriole; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

It is not only Carpenter Bees (in background) that find the blossoms of agaves irresistable! Hooded Orioles also make a beeline for the blooms where they can feast on nectar.

I waited a couple hours to get this shot. I chose a single blooming agave that was at or below eye level (most others were higher up so it would be a less interesting angle with a blah sky background). A few female Hoodeds came in but I really wanted a male. But I kind of blew it with the autofocus as it locked on the flower and not the bird (so don’t blow this photo up too much!).

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Wilson’s Phalarope preening; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Preening takes up a lot of a bird’s resting time. You’ve got to keep those feathers nice and aligned! The floating blind again worked its magic on this prairie pothole lake in North Dakota as I was able to approach this Wilson’s Phalarope closely…Not unnoticed, of course, it knew a big floating blob was only 10 yards away, but rather completely ignored. It didn’t care that the blob was close since it was not a human- or prey-shaped form.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Snow Geese and moon; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

In recent years massive numbers of geese have migrated through western Minnesota in spring. Part of this is due to the creation of the huge North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County. It is part of a multi-county watershed project that has benefited wildlife immensely.

I noticed the moon and intentionally shot straight up as flock after flock of Snow Geese headed north overhead.

In hindsight I should have shot with a MUCH smaller aperture to make the moon sharper in the image. After all I was only at ISO 200 and I could have got a clean image up to ISO 5000 or higher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1250 second at f5; ISO 200; 0 ev; handheld]

Wild Turkey courtship; May; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Human and Wild Turkey courtship have a few similarities: Males strutting their stuff to impress the ladies! The backlit feathers in early-morning light really make this shot.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 320; -2.0 ev; tripod]

American Avocets mating; May; central North Dakota

Prairie potholes aren’t just for ducks! Shorebirds benefit greatly as well. American Avocets mating in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

This Western Grebe is not just getting a drink; it is actually performing part of its courtship ritual. “Dip-shaking” is when one grebe faces another, extends its neck and dips its head in the water, lifting it slowly, water dripping from its open mouth. This behavior occurs just before “rushing,” in which both birds race across the water in a vertical position. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Black-throated Hummingbird and Agave; Box Canyon; Southeast Arizona

Ready for take-off! Black-throated Hummingbird showing its true colors (Shouldn’t they be called “Magenta-throated Hummingbirds??)

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; +0.33 ev; handheld but braced on car door frame]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I simply like the vibrant colors (and blurred wings) of this Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers in Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Black Tern; May; Stutsman County, North Dakota

Black Tern cruising over a prairie marsh in North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Arrowwood NWR, North Dakota

Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds showing off his white epaulets during his courtship song. Interestingly, Yellow-heads are dominant over Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/3200 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 ev; handheld]

American Avocet courtship; May; North Dakota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 400; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Northern Shoveler; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

Birds MUST preen their feathers in order to keep them in top shape. Preening aligns and locks the barbules on each feather. It also cleans the feathers and removes parasites. They also rub a waterproof substance from a body gland on the feathers to keep them from soaking through.

This Northern Shoveler was so busy preening that it paid my floating blind no attention at all.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

2021 “Top Ten” #4 Creative Wildlife

This is really where my heart is in regards to wildlife photography.

Black-capped Chickadee; January; Skogstjarna in Carlton County, Minnesota

Black-capped Chickadee wings iridesce when backlit by the sun. My fingers were frozen by the time I got the shot, but it was worth it 🙂 The electronic 30fps shutter on the Canon R5 sure helps in these situations!  As does prefocusing on the spot where the chickadee will be. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 270mm; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 800; -1.00 ev; tripod]

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake; July; San Pedro House Reserve, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Laying on the ground with a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is an experience I hadn’t had until my July trip to southeast Arizona. I creatively cropped this image to highlight its eye with the unique vertical pupil.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Sandhill Cranes; October; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

I’m the only photographer that goes to Crex Meadows on the day before a full moon to shoot silhouettes such as this…Yeah right! I was just one of a couple dozen photogs there this evening to try and get this type of shot. Why go on the day before the full moon? Well, that is the evening that the moon rises before the sun sets and you can get some decent light on the birds in front of the moon. It is pretty much impossible to get both the cranes and moon in sharp focus even with a f22 aperture. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Black Tern; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Probably my favorite image from Ryan and I’s trip to the prairie potholes of North Dakota this past May. It was one of those situations that you dream of….Your subject just keeps hanging around (in this case a flock of Black Terns) and the light keeps changing (sun, rain, dramatic clouds, rainbows, sunset). We shot a lot. But this image was my favorite…and the bird isn’t even in the shot! Just the reflection of a Black Tern, the rain drops forming concentric rings, and the blue-orange reflection in the water. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Red-breasted Merganser; February; Lake Superior; Two Harbors, Minnesota

I shot through a pile of blue ice to frame this Red-breasted Merganser on Lake Superior. Unique and creative to be sure, but not my favorite shot. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 363mm; 1/400 second at f7.1; ISO 160; +1.66 ev; handheld]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; July; Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds; Patagonia, Arizona

Despite my “freeze frame” in-flight photo of a Broad-billed Hummer that made my Top Ten Bird Portraits, I actually prefer this Broadbilled shot. I slowed the shutter to a crazy slow 1/60 of a second and took a bunch of photos. This was my favorite…Head/eyes sharp and side lit wings in motion.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 238mm; 1/60 second at f5; ISO 100; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Prairie Dog; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Apologies to my photo buddy Ryan (who hates “the dirty prairie dogs”), but I think they are darn cute and fun to watch. While waiting for Coyotes and Badgers in an unnamed valley in Theodore Roosevelt National Park I spent most of my time watching the antics of the “dogs.” The sun was setting and the rim light was developing nicely. I waited for this guy to stand up and throw his head back to give the warning call. It happens so quickly that I missed several but did get this one. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 160; -1.33 ev; tripod]

Great Gray Owl; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Spending time with a Great Gray all alone in Sax-Zim is like gold. And I enjoyed every minute of my solitude with this hunting owl. Maybe this shouldn’t be included in a Creative Wildlife category since it is just a frame plucked from a video clip. But I like the panning motion blur of the gliding Great Gray, which is inherent in video since it is shot at 1/60 second at 30fps.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/60 second; handheld]

Western Grebe; Chase Lake NWR; North Dakota

I selectively desaturated this Western Grebe’s portrait leaving the shockingly red eyes and straw yellow bill. I like the feel of this photo…and I also think the water droplets are kind of neat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f13; ISO 1600; +0.33 ev; on ballhead in floating blind]

Wild Turkey toms; April; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Sometimes good things can happen on your way to taking the garbage cans to the end of the driveway! I looked up and saw about 30 Wild Turkeys in neighbor Paul’s field. There were about a dozen toms and 15 or 20 hens. It was quite a scene…strutting, battles, chasing. And the best part was that it was all backlit creating some very cool images. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 160; -2.00 ev; handheld]

Blue Grosbeak; Box Canyon; Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

High key images are finding their way into my faves category more and more these days. And it is a great technique when you have a bird against a blaah gray sky. Even better if you can include an interesting branch. I got both in this shot of a Blue Grosbeak in SE Arizona. I could have taken the yellow out of the branches but decided that the color added something to the image. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 160; +0.33 ev; tripod]

Sandhill Cranes; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Another favorite from Crex Meadows “full moon-Sandhill Crane” shoot. The purple sky came out with some post processing in Lightroom. See above for more details on this evening at Crex.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Pied-billed Grebe; Kettle River, Carlton County, Minnesota

The thing about creative wildlife photos is that you often have to intentionally search for the creative possibilities in each situation. Since I was looking down on this PIed-billed Grebe, and it was flat gray light, it would have made a blaah portrait. But by intentionally shooting through the snow blobs on the willows it created a  surreal scene. It is nearly a black and white image, but I like the touch of red on the grebe’s throat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/320 second at f5; ISO 100; -0.66 ev; handheld]

Western Grebe; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota

I do love silhouettes, but there usually has to be something extra about the photo to make it a “top tenner.” In this image of a Western Grebe on Horsehead Lake in North Dakota, that something extra is the geometric shapes of the rushes and their reflection. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/400 second at f14; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

2021 “Top Ten” #3—Mammals

**OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I WILL BE POSTING 10 “TOP TEN” POSTS OF MY FAVORITE WILDLIFE & LANDSCAPE PHOTOS FROM 2021: Bird Portraits, Black-and-white Wildlife, Mammals, Humor, Animals in the Landscape, Creative Wildlife, Insects, Landscapes, Flora and Bird Behavior. (PSSST…Here’s a secret…I have a hard time narrowing down photos to actually my top 10…so there may be more than that in each post!)

Unlike birds, mammals are hard to target during an outing. They are often just difficult to find, let alone photograph. But sometimes you get lucky. Every single photo in this post was of a mammal I just happened upon (usually while looking for something else!). Below are my 11 favorite mammal photos from 2021.

Moose; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Interesting Moose behavior! I found this pair just after sunrise. I stayed quite a ways away so I would not disturb them and could watch some of their behavior. They stuck very close to each other and at one point the bull mounted the other Moose, who quickly moved to get him off. I assumed it was some very late mating behavior, but after looking at the photos on the computer, I realized both were bulls! The one had scars where his antlers had fallen off already. Likely siblings, and the mounting was just domination behavior over his brother. You can see the video of this eventful encounter here Virtually Live 14 [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 at f7.1; ISO 10,000; tripod]

White-nosed Coatimundi; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

After about 5 trips to SE Arizona over the last 25 years I finally saw a White-nosed Coatimundi. And this is embarrassing…I didn’t even know they existed in the U.S.! Bridget and I had seen a troop in Costa Rica years ago so I associated them with Central America. This cute guy was at the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. I suppose locals might see them as pests (?), but I enjoyed their antics. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 123mm; 1/640 at f5; ISO 640; handheld]

River Otter; March; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

It is always a treat to see a River Otter! This guy was poking his head out of holes in the ice. But I was never in the right spot to get the stellar photo I could see in my head. But this will do! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 800; +1 ev; handheld]

Bison and calf; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

“Red dogs” is what westerners call baby Bison. And Ryan and I found a nursery herd at Teddy Roosevelt one morning. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 at f8; ISO 320; handheld]

Moose; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

This is actually two bulls. Not easy to see, but the one on the left has the scars where his antlers fell off. I intentionally blew out the whites and added a white vignette. You can see the video of this eventful encounter here Virtually Live 14 [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens with 2x teleconverter; equivalent 836mm; 1/320 at f13; ISO 12,800; tripod]

Mink; April; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Why did this photo make my Top Ten? Only because its my best Mink photo ever! Which I realize is not saying much, but they have been a nemesis species for me over the years. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 at f9; ISO 800; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Gray Fox; February; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Okay Sparky….now why is this photo in your Top Ten mammals? Well, how often do you see a Gray Fox? You can see the video of this encounter (with a Red Fox and a Fisher) in my YouTube video called Ice Eagles [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 at f8; ISO 12,800; handheld]

Wild “feral” Horses; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

I guess the correct term is “feral horses,” but I really hate that term. I much prefer “Wild Horses” since they are truly wild and live in bands that have their own social hierarchy. The battles between bands can get intense, and “wild.” [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 363mm; 1/320 at f8; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Porcupine; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Porcupines are an exotic species to many Americans, but we often take them for granted in northern Minnesota. They are surprisingly difficult to photograph since they are often high in the trees, have small dark eyes that are hard to see in a photo, and rarely show much behavior. But this guy was darn cute eating his tree buds in spring. I intentionally shot through the yellow willow catkins to create a frame for this Porkie. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 at f7.1; ISO 1600; handheld]

White-tailed Deer family; August; Carlton County, Minnesota

I always keep my camera in my van just in case I run across a scene like this. Only 200 yards from my driveway I saw this doe and twin fawns in gorgeous light. Just a nice family portrait. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/500 at f13; ISO 3200; -1 ev; handheld]

Moose; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Yes, yes, the same two bulls on a frosty cold morning in the Superior National Forest in January. You can see the video of this eventful encounter here Virtually Live 14 [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens with 2x teleconverter; equivalent 836mm; 1/320 at f13; ISO 12,800; tripod]

2021 “Top Ten” #2—Black and White

**OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I WILL BE POSTING 10 “TOP TEN” POSTS OF MY FAVORITE WILDLIFE & LANDSCAPE PHOTOS FROM 2021: Bird Portraits, Black-and-white Wildlife, Mammals, Humor, Animals in the Landscape, Creative Wildlife, Insects, Landscapes, Flora and Bird Behavior.

Bald Eagle; Mississippi River near Buffalo, Wisconsin

Though it appears to be hunting the Common Goldeneyes, this immy Bald Eagle is actually spotting fish to nab.

Saguaro Cactus on Mount Lemmon, Arizona

Saguaros and thunderclouds

Cottontail; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Cottontail in the North Dakota Badlands

Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard; Madera Canyon, Arizona

This lizard appears to be armor plated.

Bison and calf; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Mom and calf and a little rimlight.

Bald Eagles; Mississippi River

When most of the Mississippi River is frozen, Bald Eagles concentrate at open water such as downstream from a lock and dam.

Stutsman County, North Dakota

Prairie potholes of North Dakota.

2021 “Top Ten” #1— Bird Portraits

**OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I WILL BE POSTING 10 “TOP TEN” POSTS OF MY FAVORITE WILDLIFE & LANDSCAPE PHOTOS FROM 2021: Bird Portraits, Black-and-white Wildlife, Mammals, Humor, Animals in the Landscape, Creative Wildlife, Insects, Landscapes, Flora and Bird Behavior. (PSSST…Here’s a secret…I have a hard time narrowing down photos to actually my top 10…so there may be more than that in each post!)

What a year! So good to have top-of-the-line equipment again! Thanks to a donation from a good friend, I am now shooting with the Canon R5 and a 100-500mm lens. Over the last couple years I’ve been mainly shooting video…and you can get away with inferior quality lenses when shooting moving pictures vs stills. So my bird photography suffered. But now with new equipment I am thrilled to be “back in the saddle” and shooting sharp birds.

Below are my favorite bird portraits from 2021. By my definition a bird portrait is one where the bird is the main focus of the image, and it is usually in good front light and not exhibiting any extraordinary behavior (that is for the “Behavior” category!). This is not my favorite style of shooting these days, but I do love it when I get a classic portrait of a species I don’t already have photos of. In fact, I have now photographed over 510 bird species in North America. You can see them all at sparkyphotos.com

Elegant Trogon; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

Probably one of the most exotic looking American birds, the Elegant Trogon is only found in a few wooded canyons in southeast Arizona. And Madera Canyon is where many folks find their lifer. I heard this guy’s hoarse grunts while walking up the canyon. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1250; 0 EV; handheld]

Wilson’s Phalarope; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Surprisingly the female Wilson’s Phalarope is more colorful than the male. This is the opposite of most birds. And the reason may surprise you…She acts more like a male bird and has several mates. She then lays eggs in multiple nests which the males tend! You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 400; +0.33 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Spruce Grouse; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

My old camera could NEVER have got this shot! It was before dawn when I ran into a flock of about 6 Spruce Grouse in far northern Minnesota. I always have the camera set to “Auto ISO” and in these dark conditions it ran all the way up to ISO 12,800! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 430mm; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Red-naped Sapsucker; June; Pinedale, Wyoming

The whole family was in exile in Pinedale, Wyoming after we totaled our car by hitting a deer at 60mph. We were just fine, but it meant an extra 4 days in Pinedale on the edge of the Wind River Range. I went for a walk along the river that flows right through town and found this cooperative male Red-naped Sapsucker…a species closely related to our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker but only found in the intermountain west. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 328mm; 1/2000 second at f6.3; ISO 2500; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Trumpeter Swan; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

I had heard the Trumpeters trumpeting before I ever saw them. The trail at this location goes below the level of the berm of this mitigation cattail marsh. I was able to sneak up to the edge of the pond and shoot through the cattails to get this portrait. I blew out the whites to create this high key image that shows the intricate detail in the bill. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Great Gray Owl; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I was leading a field trip for my organization Friends of Sax-Zim Bog when we spotted some photographers on McDavitt Road looking at something. Of course we stopped and then saw the Great Gray hunting voles along the roadside. The field trip was called “Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night” but this owl made no sounds…and neither did the participants as we watched this huge owl in silence. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 12,800; -0.33 EV; handheld]

Acorn Woodpecker; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

Acorn Woodpeckers are personality-plus birds. This one had just finished “stealing” sugar water from the hummingbirds by hanging from the edge of a hummingbird feeder. They also have a crazy loud (and annoying?) call. Acorns, as you might suspect, are their favorite food, and they stash hundreds to thousands of acorns in shallow holes they drill in certain “granary trees.” You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 4000; 0 EV; handheld]

Red Knot (left) and Ruddy Turnstone; May; Knife River, Minnesota

Some birders don’t care much for shorebirds; “They all look the same and are hard to identify,” they say. But check out these two beauties! The Ruddy Turnstone (right) has a harlequin face, and the Red Knot is, well, red! The Red Knot is an unusual visitor to the Duluth/North Shore area in spring. It is much more common on the East Coast. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/2500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; -0.33 EV; handheld while laying on the beach]

Eared Grebe; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Not “ears” at all, the golden feather tufts of the Eared Grebe give it its common name. I was chest deep in the lake when I took this photo from my floating blind. I wish I would have focused on the front bird instead of the back bird. I did set my camera to f13 to try and get both in focus, but it wasn’t enough. Oh well, I still like the image. I also LOVE their red eyes. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f13; ISO 2000; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Yellow-eyed Junco; July; Mount Lemmon, Arizona

Not your everyday Junco! This is the southern cousin to our Dark-eyed Junco…and like its name implies, it has the opposite of dark eyes. The Yellow-eyed Junco is only found in extreme SE Arizona and SW New Mexico where it just reaches into the U.S. from its main range in the mountains of Mexico. They are very trusting birds and this guy performed for me high up on Mount Lemmon near Phoenix. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1000; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Sandhill Crane; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

The day was “blaah” but I had to make the most of it since I drove all the way to Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows from my house an hour and a half away. I got low for this shot and I like the shallow depth of field and muted colors of this Sandhill Crane. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 1250; +0.33 EV; handheld]

Sagebrush Sparrow; June; near Pinedale, Wyoming

Sagebrush Sparrow on Sagebrush….what more do you need to say? Well, for one thing, I really like the background sage blurring into the lovely blue sky. I also was really into sparrows this summer and this one was a surprise. During our exile in Pinedale, Wyoming (read about it in the caption of the Red-naped Sapsucker above) I took an early morning excursion out to “The Mesa” south of Pinedale. It is a vast area of sagebrush where this species along with other sage specialists thrive—Sage Grouse, Brewer’s Sparrow and Sage Thrasher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 200; 0 EV; handheld]

Rivoli’s (Magnificent) Hummingbird; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I didn’t think much of this photo when I took it, but it came to life on the computer screen. The R5 and RF 100-500 lens creates incredibly sharp images, and I love the subtle rich colors of this Rivoli’s Hummingbird in the shade. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 2000; 0 EV; handheld]

Ross’s Geese; March; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

A spring trip to western Minnesota has to be timed perfectly…The massive goose flocks move through quickly and you have to be there when it happens. I timed it well this year and I was thrilled to get this rare-for-Minnesota photo of 3 Ross’s Geese in flight formation. They are not a common species in the state. You can join me on this trip via my YouTube video called Goose-a-palooza. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 200; 0 EV; handheld]

Bald Eagle; February; Mississippi River near Buffalo, Wisconsin

My fingers ache simply from seeing this image! It was minus-25F WCF when I was laying in the snow shooting eagles plucking fish out of some open water on the Mississippi River. Most of the river was frozen and the few pockets that remained open concentrated the eagles. I was thrilled how well the Canon R5 did with autofocusing on the flying eagles in both stills and video mode. You can feel my pain virtually by watching this ice cold video from the comfort of your living room chair Ice Eagles of the Mississippi. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1600 second at f7.1; ISO 250; 0 EV; handheld]

Pine Grosbeak; March; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Laying in the snow again produced a pretty neat photo of a pretty neat bird—male Pine Grosbeak. I love their coloration…Is it red? Or pink? Or burgundy? Or a combination of all three? [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 320; 0 EV; handheld]

Ferruginous Hawk; May; near Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Some birds hold special appeal to me, simply because I have dreamt of seeing them for so long that they become mythical. The Ferruginous Hawk is one such creature. Ryan and I found this stunning male out in the prairie potholes of North Dakota. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 160; -0.33 EV; handheld]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I know Broad-billed Hummingbirds are dirt common in SE Arizona…and that they can be bullies at a feeder…but c’mon! How gorgeous are they! Never get tired of them. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 2500; 0 EV; handheld]

Pomarine Jaeger; October; Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior

This brute of a jaeger had just flown a circle around me, coming within 15 feet of me to attack a gull on the beach of Wisconsin Point. That is how jaegers (“hunter” in German) make a living on Lake Superior during migration; they harass gulls until they cough up their last meal. The jaeger then scoops up the partially digested meal. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty fascinating! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1600 second at f8; ISO 4000; +1 EV; handheld]

Lewis’s Woodpecker; February; Minnesota

A major North American nemesis bird for me has been the Lewis’s Woodpecker. I had looked in over 6 western states over the last 30 years but only had glimpses in Utah and Colorado. So it is ironic that I got my best views of this western species in central Minnesota! It was coming to a feeder of a friend of mine and he was gracious enough to allow birders to come and see his high-profile guest. And what a dandy! Iridescent green back, rosy breast and red and silvery gray throat…Wow! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 2000; 0 EV; handheld]

Trumpeter Swan; May; Gordon Macquarrie Wetlands; Wisconsin

The floating blind makes you invisible…well, kind of. Canada Geese are hard to fool…and Trumpeter Swans (and Loons) seem very curious. This guy came withing 15 feet of my blind. I like this eye-level monochromatic peek through the cattail stalks. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 343mm; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; -0.66 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Western Grebes are just simply a funky bird. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Botteri’s Sparrow; July; near Box Canyon, Arizona

Maybe one of our most drab sparrows in America, but even the Botteri’s can look stunning on a Mesquite branch in early-morning light. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 343mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 EV; handheld]

American Avocet; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

You just simply could not get this shot without a floating blind. Since the Avocet doesn’t recognize the blob as a human, it can relax, and even sleep. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 800; +0.33 EV; on tripod head in floating blind]

Broad-tailed Hummingbird; June; Wind River Range, Wyoming

Thankfully you can’t tell that I took this photo off the deck of a mountain cabin in Wyoming. I put out a hummingbird feeder and this Broad-tailed found it within 24 hours. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 1250; 0 EV; handheld]

Swainson’s Hawk; May; Prairie potholes of Kidder County, North Dakota

Just a nice portrait of a beautiful raptor. The prairies and grasslands of the Great Plains are home to the Swainson’s Hawk. Ryan and I stumbled on this on in Kidder County, North Dakota. You can virtually join me on this trip via my YouTube video of the experience here: I’m Invisible! Floating Blind on the Prairie Potholes of North Dakota [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f9; ISO 100; -0.33 EV; handheld]

Ash-throated Flycatcher; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

Startled by a large Carpenter Bee, this Ash-throated Flycatcher threw open its wings to take off. I like the bit of motion in the wings (unplanned) and also the dreamy look of this image. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; 0 EV; handheld]

Yellow-eyed Junco; July; Mount Lemmon, Arizona

I find myself shooting wider and wider each year. This allows a bit of the bird’s habitat to show, and makes a better story. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1.

Elegant Trogon; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

Like woodpeckers, Elegant Trogons nest in tree cavities, but unlike woodpeckers, they do not excavate their own nest. Instead they use natural cavities, especially those in Sycamores where branches have fallen off leaving a nice cavity. You can see the video of this birding trip on YouTube here SE Arizona Birding & Photography Part 1. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/400 second at f7.1; ISO 320; 0 EV; handheld]

Pine Grosbeak; January; Wrenshall, Minnesota

A little bit of sidelighting helped this Pine Grosbeak photo push into the top ten (top thirty really). [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 400; 0 EV; handheld]