Honored! TWO photos in Top 100 of Yellowstone Forever contest

HONORED to have these two photos selected for the Top 100 in the YELLOWSTONE FOREVER Photo Contest run by Nature’s Best Magazine.  They may or may not be included in the magazine.
One is a Pine Siskin flock in flight as I panned with them (taken years ago while waiting for a Grizzly at a carcass) and the other is from just last spring…an image of some young Bighorn rams playing King of the Hill. Ryan Marshik and I leave in a few weeks for Yellowstone…Hoping for more mountain magic!

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5287-1

Pine Siskin flock Yellowstone _MG_3753

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

You can see a slide show of the Top 100 here

Top Ten 2016 Mammal Portraits

This is the last of my “Top Tens” from 2016…I guess I didn’t do much landscape photography last year so there won’t be a Top Ten Landscape 2016. Without further ado, here are my favorite mammal photos from 2016…(Most are from my April trip to Yellowstone and Teddy Roosevelt National Parks.

 

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5194Bighorn ram in Yellowstone National Park.
I like this desaturated look that I applied in Aperture. It gives a gritty feel that seems to fit for this species. It is a classic (boring?) head-on portrait, but I think it works in this shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/160 at f9; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

coyote-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4652Leaping for Lunch; Coyote in Yellowstone National Park
Voles are an important source of calories for Coyotes, and this guy is after one. Incredibly sharp hearing allows them to hear a vole under the snowpack. Once pinpointed, they leap high in the air in order to get enough force to break through the snow and get down to the vole’s tunnel. This time, he was unsuccessful.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm at 227mm; 1/4000 at f7.1; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

moose-cow-november-19-cr47-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_0093-1Young Moose; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota
I spent a fair amount of time with this tolerant young Moose cow along a backroad in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. The Moose herd in Minnesota is not doing well, but this gal was looking to be in fine shape.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6L; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 320; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

black-bear-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4898Paws-itively Black Bear in Yellowstone
Ridiculous to put this image in my favorites from 2016, but I like the light pattern on the sole of its hind paw.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/640 at f7.1; ISO 500; -1.0 EV; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

elk-young-bull-shedding-old-yellowstone-road-wy-img_4529Awkward Elk; Yellowstone.
This ratty looking young bull Elk was just too “cute” to not take a photo…and he stuck his tongue out at me just at the perfect moment. I was not offended!
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 300mm; 1/1600 at f5; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

grizzly-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5794Grizzly; Yellowstone National Park
I only included this image because, well, it’s a Grizzly!..and a good looking one.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/1000 at 5.6; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5211Bachelor herd of Bighorn Sheep in Yellowstone
Another desaturated image that works well here. This bachelor herd had all age groups from younger rams to battle-scarred old-timers. They are focused on some action that we weren’t privy to.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/200 at f8; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

mule-deer-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6225Mule Deer at sunrise; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Even deer can make a nice photo when in the right light. And I loved the morning sunrise light that made this nice and subtle silhouette.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/5000 at f5.6; ISO 640; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

red-fox-and-bison-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5509Red Fox and Bison; Yellowstone.
I only included this because how often do you see a Bison and a Red Fox together?

wild-horse-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6107Wild Horse family; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
I really don’t like the word “feral,” so I use the not-entirely-correct term “wild horse” instead. They are “wild” indeed in Teddy Roosevelt, and their behaviors and interactions with other bands is fascinating to observe. When we were there in April, the foals were still quite small.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 300mm; 1/400 at f5; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

Top Ten 2016 Creative Wildlife Images

I get bored with pretty portraits of wildlife, but I often fall into the routine of just filling the frame with the critter and not paying attention to composition, landscape and other creative ideas to pump a little life into my wildlife images. And I must admit, I didn’t make creativity a priority this year (2016). Let’s hope I can do better in ’17. But here are my “Top Thirteen” favorites…

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5287-1Bighorns play King of the Hill; Yellowstone National Park.
One of the wondrous things about Yellowstone is that you can observe wildlife going about their lives as if you were invisible. A century of protection has allowed critters the luxury of not being fearful of man. And so it was with this bachelor herd of Bighorn Sheep. The big old rams were laying down, resting, but the younger rams were playing “king of the hill,” taking turns knocking each other off this bluff-top boulder. By moving low, and slow, but in plain sight, we were able to get close enough to get some shots (and video) and enjoy their antics. Even though it was mid-April, many months removed from the rut, it was obvious that they were all still vying for position and dominance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5989Bighorn; Yellowstone National Park.
Kind of an Escher-esque image…It would be perfect if the left Bighorn was a couple inches farther right…But it’s unique enough as is. I like it for some odd reason.

bison-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6336Bison; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
I’d say this is my favorite image of 2016. Ryan and I were shooting along a backroad of “Teddy” before the sunrise, getting some cool subtle silhouettes…then the sun rose and we assumed we should move on so we would not be shooting into the sun. But It was a cool morning and I saw the breath from this Bison backlit and knew it would be a neat shot. So I hustled into a position where the Bison’s body would block the sun and backlight all the breath and steam coming off his body. I tweaked the white balance to add some “sunrise gold” color into the scene.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 158mm; 1/2000 sec at f22; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

rough-legged-hawk-along-cr29-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9069-1Rough-legged Hawk, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Mid October is a beautiful time in the Sax-Zim Bog…the Tamaracks are at their peak yellow-gold color and migrant hawks can be seen overhead. This bird-in-the-landscape photo captures both these fall highlights. Rough-legs breed in the Arctic, but move south in late fall. They hunt small rodents by hovering and watching…and that is exactly what this Rough-leg is doing. Sometimes the small-bird-in-big-landscape shot works well, and I think it does here.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

black-tern-thief-lake-wma-marshall-co-mn-img_1105Black Tern and Cattails; Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, Marshall County, Minnesota.
Did you do a double-take when first seeing this image? The cattails are only a reflection in a dead calm pond.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

bohemian-waxwing-wrenshall-city-park-crabapples-wrenshall-mn-img_2010Bohemian Waxwing; Wrenshall, Minnesota.
Kind of a blah photo straight out of the camera…but I saw some potential in it. I turned the gray skies into a dramatic white background by blowing out the whites in Aperture and Photoshop…then I “erased” a stray branch to strengthen the composition.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

coyote-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5688Coyote; Yellowstone National Park.
How often can you say you laid in the middle of the road to get a shot of a Coyote running at you? I wanted to get the canid right in the middle of the yellow lines so I laid right in the middle of the road. Strange composition but kind of fun.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/500 at f6.3; ISO 160; handheld]

img_1103-1Ducks and rushes, Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, NW Minnesota.
I reduced this image to its most important elements…the shapes of the rushes and the ducks in flight. I simply converted the image to black-and-white and clipped the whites in Photoshop.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

ivory-gull-juvenile-canal-park-duluth-mn-img_9439Ivory Gull, Duluth’s Canal Park, Minnesota.
A very rare bird in front of a very famous lighthouse. A bird-in-the-landscape photo with a twist. The Ivory Gull is an elusive small gull of the High Arctic…It is rare even in its breeding range! But sightings in the Lower 48 are very rare. And last winter there were TWO in the area. Birders came from all over the country to add this bird to their “Life List.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 98mm; 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 200; +2/3 EV; handheld]

little-blue-heron-st-louis-river-western-waterfront-trail-duluth-mn-img_7487Little Blue Heron, St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
Does something look strange about this photo? It should…It’s upside down! I like the painterly quality the flipped reflection gives this image.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

red-tailed-hawk-and-moon-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_3979Red-tailed Hawk; Yellowstone National Park.
This Red-tailed Hawk ruined my image of the moon! Just kidding…
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm;

trout-hatchery-durango-colorado-img_3558Trout, Durango, Colorado.
A slow shutter speed makes for a stylized photo of a swimming trout at the hatchery.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 200mm; 1/6 second at f32; ISO 100; handheld]

wild-turkey-skogstjarna-wrenshall-mn-img_2903Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
To get this extreme wide angle shot, I set my camera with a 10mm lens on a mini-tripod outside my back window with a remote trigger attached. When the turkeys came in for some cracked corn, I remotely tripped the shutter (from the comfort of my easy-chair!). Note the displaying Tom in the background. I have not yet perfected this idea, but hope to work on it more in 2017.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens at 13mm; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; remotely triggered from inside the house]

Top Ten Bird Photos 2016

This is an exercise I do every January…Pick my favorite nature images from the previous year. And I obviously don’t limit it to 10 images…It’s just too painful. So here is my “Top Eighteen” bird images of 2016. I’m also going to do a “Top Ten” for my favorite Creative Wildlife Images and Mammals.
I’m not saying these are the images that YOU are going to like best…nor are they images that are technically perfect, but they are, for various reasons, my favorites. So here they are in no particular order…

northern-cardinal-male-in-flowering-crabapple-mom-and-dads-house-new-hope-mn-img_6658Northern Cardinal, New Hope, Minnesota.
Do red and pink compliment each other? …or clash? I don’t mind the color combo of the red Northern Cardinal and pink-flowered crabapple in this photo…but I do think the touch of blue sky helps.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

american-goldfinche-img_8038American Goldfinch, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Would you be surprised if I told you I took this from the comfort of a camp chair in my yard? Well, I was in a blind, and the “pond” is actually a pool made from a 4×8 sheet of plywood and some 2x4s….an infinity pool for birds! I love how the yellow of the sunflowers matches the Goldfinch’s plumage. I was hoping for a better pose and head position but I’ll take it.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

barred-owl-cr18-near-hebron-cemetery-aitkin-co-mn-img_1504Barred Owl, Aitkin County, Minnesota.
Okay, to be honest, I was looking for Great Gray Owls when this Barred Owl appeared along a remote stretch of road. And unlike usual encounters with Barred Owls, this guy stuck around…He was very intent on some unseen rodent below the roadside snow. So I sat and watched. He finally plunged down but was unable to get the vole, but he paused long enough to get his portrait in early morning light.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld, braced on car window frame]

wild-turkey-in-snow-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2148Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
I never dreamed that I’d have Wild Turkeys in my woods in northeast Minnesota. In fact, I had to go to the extreme SE corner of the state in the 1980s just to add one to my state list…That’s about 300 miles south! But 30 years later, I have upwards of 30 that stop by my feeding station to load up on cracked corn. This guy seems to be wondering what that white stuff is falling from the sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/50 at f7.1; ISO 500; handheld, and taken through living room window]

black-backed-woodpecker-nest-norris-camp-beltrami-island-state-forest-lake-of-the-woods-co-mn-img_1405Black-backed Woodpecker nest, Norris Camp, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
Note how Black-backed Woodpeckers peal all the bark from around their nest hole…this is NOT done by Hairy Woodpeckers or other 4-toed woodpeckers. They also prefer living conifers with heart rot. I watched these busy parents and constantly begging young for a couple hours.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

black-bellied-plover-break-wall-wisconsin-point-superior-wi-img_7314Black-bellied Plover, Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior.
Shorebirds hold a special attraction for me. Partly because of where I live…in the middle of the country, but close to the “inland sea” of Lake Superior. I often scour the sandy beaches of Duluth, Minnesota’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point. I found this breeding plumaged Black-bellied Plover on the orange-lichened boulders of the Wisconsin Point breakwall. I like the contrast of the black and white bird, orange lichens and blue sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld, braced on rock]

broad-winged-hawk-nest-with-2-nestlings-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_5139Broad-winged Hawk nestlings, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Jessica Dexter and I found this nest during our Friends of Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz in July. What alerted us was a splash of whitewash on the shrubs along the path…We looked up and Bingo! They both fledged successfully and many folks got to watch them through a spotting scope from a safe distance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L with 1/4x teleconverter; 1/180 at f8; ISO 200; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

calliope-hummingbird-male-park-point-duluth-mn-img_1964-1Calliope Hummingbird, Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
This was only the second Minnesota record of a Calliope Hummingbird…and the other was a late fall blah-plumaged bird. This male was in all his summer splendor! He flared his gorget when a “rival” Ruby-throated Hummingbird would come by. Many folks got to see this stunner over a couple days along a dune boardwalk at the Duluth shore of Lake Superior.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 1600; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

forsters-tern-agassiz-national-wildlife-refuge-nwr-marshall-co-mn-img_9758Forster’s Tern, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota.
Several Forster’s Terns were making a circuit along this creek outflow. And the fishing must have been great, for they frequently plunged head-first into the water, and like this one, came up with beakfuls of small fish. I like the graceful swoop of the tern’s long tail.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld, braced on car window frame]

gray-jay-family-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9304-1Gray Jay, Owl Avenue, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Gray Jay taking flight from a small spruce.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1000; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

great-gray-owl-admiral-road-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_8922Great Gray Owl, Admiral Road, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
I do have 100s of decent Great Gray Owl photos, but I like this one because it places the owl in its favored habitat…Black Spruce-Tamarack forest.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 400; handheld]

mountain-bluebird-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4505Mountain Bluebird, Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
Boring pose but I love the merging of blues from Mountain Bluebird to sky…Someone famous once said (can’t remember who), “the bluebird carries the sky on its back.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2500 at f6.3; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-saw-whet-owl-near-burntside-lake-ely-mn-img_7214Northern Saw-whet Owl, near Ely, Minnesota.
My friend Bill Tefft found this nesting Northern Saw-whet Owl in an old Pileated Woodpecker cavity…and I jumped at the chance when he offered to escort me there. World’s cutest owl?
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 250; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-shrike-cranberry-road-lek-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_3277Northern Shrike, Sax-Zim Bog.
In early spring, the willows blush with bright red bark. A fantastic backdrop for this lingering Northern Shrike who will soon head north to its breeding grounds in northern Canada. The blue sky helps the shot as well.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

pine-grosbeak-male-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9632Pine Grosbeak male, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 800; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

ruffed-grouse-snow-carlton-co-mn-img_1106Ruffed Grouse, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Falling snow can be the bane or a boon to a wildlife photographer. The trick is to not use too fast a shutter speed. That will create distracting blobs of white. It is better to slow the shutter down a bit and get some motion in the falling flakes. Here I used 1/320 of a second.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; braced on car window frame]

savannah-sparrow-at-my-pool-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2465Savannah Sparrow, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Another visitor to my backyard bird pool set up. This Savannah Sparrow is enjoying a bath on a hot summer afternoon. I like the splashing water droplets.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

spruce-grouse-male-spruce-road-superior-national-forest-lake-co-mn-img_0659Spruce Grouse male, Spruce Road, Lake County, Minnesota.
I was guiding a couple from England when we found this male Spruce Grouse in far northern Minnesota…It was a lifer for both of them…the only one we got that day. He posed for us for quite awhile. They are a grouse of the boreal forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alaska and Canada.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/125 at f6.3; ISO 400; handheld]

Up the Gunflint in early September

September 2, 2016:

Every time we start working on a new Kollath-Stensaas field guide to the North Woods, I get obsessed with the topic at hand. This time it is dragonflies…and I’ve been out multiple times a week since late July (I got a very late start and wish my obsession would have kicked in about May 20th when the first dragonflies are emerging). And so with net and camera stowed, I headed 2 1/2 hours up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail. By leaving at 4:30am I was able to be out shooting by 7:30am. No Moose or Black Bear, but I did hear a Black-backed Woodpecker along the Lima Grade, but my real quarry was odonates (dragonflies & damselflies).

IMG_4533

I spent most of the day along the Lima Grade in the Superior National Forest on the edge of the Boundary Waters in Cook County, Minnesota. Road conditions are fine but you hope you don’t meet too many folks headed in the other direction!

Common Raven South Brule Road Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7483

An unusually tame Common Raven voices her displeasure at my attention. Normally, northern ravens skidaddle at the first hint that you may even be thinking about tapping the brake of your vehicle. She let me stop and even stick my 400mm lens out the window for a few seconds before flapping off. [South Brule Road, Cook County, Minnesota]IMG_7584

Beaver pond gloriously ringed with Bidens cernua, Nodding Bur-Marigold. This is where I spent a couple hours hanging out and waiting for dragonflies.katydid Oblong-winged Katydid Amblycorypha oblongifolia Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7624

Insect photography requires quite a bit of discomfort….sometimes from other insects such as mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies, etc….and sometimes from contorting your body into unnatural positions to get the right angle. To make a creative shot of this Oblong-winged Katydid.IMG_7635

darner Shadow Darner Aeshna umbrosa male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7715darner Shadow Darner Aeshna umbrosa male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7716IMG_4538

The three photos above are of the Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) that I netted as he patrolled this small roadside pond. They are one of the most handsome of darners, me thinks. Note his wedge-type claspers, straight-edged thoracic stripes that are yellowish on the bottom transitioning to blue-green at the top.darner Variable Darner Aeshna interrupta male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7730

The “spotted” form of Variable Darner (Aeshna interrupta) shows two pairs of two spots on its thorax.

darner Variable Darner Aeshna interrupta male Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7542

Face and multi-faceted eyes of the Variable Darner.darner Zigzag Darner Aeshna sitchensis Lima Mountain Road Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7807

Late in the afternoon, I finally found one of my target species along a stretch of Lima Mountain Road…A Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis)…only the second one I’ve ever seen! (The first was years ago at Hartley Park in the city limits of Duluth). This dragonfly of the far north makes its home in boggy areas from Alaska to Labrador, reaching south into the northern Rockies (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana), northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and northern New England. Unlike most darners, these guys prefer to perch on the ground, and once you locate one (usually on a gravel road like the one above). It is easily recognizable by its brown and light blue abdomen, narrow “zigzag” thorax stripes, small size for a darner, and its habit of perching on the ground.

darner Variable Darner Aeshna interrupta striped form green form female Lima Grade Superior National Forest Cook Co MN IMG_7757

Didn’t I just say that Zigzag Darners were partly identified by their habit of perching on the ground? Well, I guess Variable Darners do it too, as I saw TWO green-form females also perching on the surface of gravel roads (both on the Lima Grade).

IMG_7362IMG_7365

My first and last stop of the day was Artist’s Point in Grand Marais where I found a “Jesus Mallard” walking on water.rock signatures Artist's Point Grand Marais MN IMG_7409rock signatures Artist's Point Grand Marais MN IMG_7414

Now that’s graffiti! It speaks to an earlier time when folks had more time to spend on their vandalism…Note that Hilda Brekken (no doubt a Norwegian farmer’s daughter) even pecked her name and hometown into the rock-hard rock in CURSIVE! She likely traveled by train to Duluth from Osakis, Minnesota then took the America (a supply boat) up the North Shore to Grand Marais. There was NO ROAD to this part of Minnesota in 1901 (date of this “pecked petroglyph”). The North Shore road was not constructed until 1920s, and not fully paved until 1933.

Artist's Point Lake Superior Grand Marais MN IMG_7814The quaint harbor of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

[All macro photo taken with Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with Canon 500D close up lens attachment, handheld]

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado—July 6, 2016

To be honest, at first I was not thrilled about making the side journey to see this national park…but we’d bought the “National Parks Passport” book and so I thought why not get another stamp in our passport. It would also be good to get the kids out of the car for a bit.
But Holy Cow! This place is impressive! Massive dunes tower above the flat valley floor with a backdrop of Rocky Mountain peaks (Sangre de Cristo Range)…a strange sight. Photography-wise, I loved the shapes and silhouettes of the stark landscape and I took many photos (and for the most part kept the sand grains out of my equipment).
The geology of how these dunes came to be is quite complicated and a bit unknown, so I’m not going to try and explain it (not that I understand it anyway) so you’ll have to Google it for yourself. What is fascinating, is that the shape and size of the major dune field has not changed much at all in 140 years! (See historic & modern photo below). North America’s largest dunes cover about 38 square miles and reach heights of 750 feet from the valley floor.
The kids could have cared less about the geology, and they just wanted to play in the giant sand box, along with about 100 other visitors (200?). They had a blast, as you can see from the photos below.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4269Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4267Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

dunes Great Sand Dunes 1873-2011Amazingly, the shape and size of the major dunes has not changed significantly in the last 140 years! (from the National Park Service website).

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4403Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4309Birk Stensaas at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4308Bjorn Stensaas at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4305Bjorn Stensaas at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4295Bjorn and Birk Stensaas at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4288Bjorn and Birk Stensaas at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4259Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado IMG_4252Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Northwest Minnesota—Part 2: Norris Camp & Big Bog, June 12-13, 2016

Heading east from Thief Lake WMA I decided to check out Norris Camp, a remote Minnesota DNR station in the Beltrami Island State Forest that I’d heard had a nesting Black-backed Woodpecker. I was pretty sure that I was too late as most woodpeckers had fledged young already. But I was in luck! And I spent a couple hours with this pair of rarely seen boreal woodpeckers.

Black-backed Woodpecker nest Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1467 (1)Black-backed Woodpecker nest at Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest; Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
The folks at the camp pointed out that this was the same mated pair that nested on the grounds last summer. How did they know? Notice the band on the adult’s leg; they actually banded them last year and both the male and female returned to nest only 100 yards from last year’s nest. Woodpeckers NEVER use the same cavity twice but always excavate a new nest; it may be in the same tree but usually not. In this case, the tree they used last year had blown down since last summer. I don’t know much about site fidelity or mate fidelity in woodpeckers but this was a very interesting anecdote that I will for follow up on.
Also note the male’s yellow cap; the female shows only black on the head. He’s feeding a young male who is already sporting his jaunty yellow forehead feathers.

Black-backed Woodpecker nest Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1380Black-backed Woodpecker nest at Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest; Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

arctic Macoun's Arctic Oeneis macounii near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1427 (1)Macoun’s Arctic (Oenis macounii) at Norris Camp, Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
While waiting and watching at the Black-backed Woodpecker nest, I was treated to a lifer butterfly. Not 20 feet away I noticed an orange butterfly that was repeatedly landing on the same fallen log. I finally took a closer look and lo and behold, a Macoun’s Arctic! This species only flies every other year in the North Woods so I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. They are found in openings in sandy Jack Pine forests, and that is exactly the habitat I was in. Males use the same perch as they wait for females.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 184mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/1250 at f7.1; ISO 320; -0.67ev; hand-held]

arctic Macoun's Arctic Oeneis macounii near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1434 (1)Macoun’s Arctic (Oenis macounii) at Norris Camp, Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
When perched with wings folded, the Macoun’s Arctic is well camouflaged, like just another piece of bark. This species has a fairly limited range in North America extending from the North Shore of Lake Superior west and north to Churchill, Manitoba, British Columbia and just extending north into the Northwest Territories.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 135mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 320; -0.67ev; hand-held]

blue Silvery Blue Glaucopsyche lygdamus Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1669 (1)Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 100mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/1250 at f7.1; ISO 320; -0.67ev; hand-held]

Aquilegia canadensis Wild Columbine Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1347Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Polygala paucifolia Fringed Polygala Gaywings near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1567Fringed Polygala or Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Corydalis sempervirens Pale Corydalis Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1623Pale Corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Cypripedium arietinum Ram's-head Ladyslipper near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1543Ram’s-head Ladyslipper (Cypripedium arietinum) near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
One of my favorite orchids found in the bogs of north central Minnesota, the Ram’s-head Ladyslipper. This small group was past prime as you can tell by the collapsed dorsal sepal on top of the slipper pouch. This may mean that the flower had already been pollinated. It is a very small ladyslipper, maybe 6 inches tall. This group was growing in a Cedar bog.

Cypripedium arietinum Ram's-head Ladyslipper near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1550Ram’s-head Ladyslipper (Cypripedium arietinum) near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 113mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 at f8; ISO 250; -0.67ev; tripod]

Cypripedium parviflorum Yellow Ladyslipper Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1709Yellow Ladyslipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Platanthera hookeri Hooker's Orchid near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1607Mosquito on Hooker’s Orchid (Platanthera hookeri) in a Cedar bog near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota

Platanthera hookeri Hooker's Orchid near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1577Hooker’s Orchid (Platanthera hookeri) in a Cedar bog near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 104mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/100 at f6.3; ISO 400; -0.67ev; tripod]

Big Bog sign IMG_3441

My last stop was Big Bog State Recreation Area (SRA) near Waskish, Minnesota on Red Lake. This is the largest patterned peatland in the lower 48, and massive in size. It was once home to Minnesota’s last wild Caribou herd which disappeared in the 1930s and 40s. Their trails can still be seen from the air.
The boardwalks is one mile long and a very pleasant hike. MANY interpretive signs highlight the human and natural history of the Big Bog.

Big Bog Boardwalk IMG_3443A portion of the mile-long Big Bog SRA boardwalk near Waskish, Minnesota.

Tamarack cones IMG_1758Tamarack cones along the bog boardwalk.

fritillary Bog Fritillary boardwalk Big Bog SRA Beltrami Co MN IMG_1779Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) on the Big Bog SRA boardwalk.
This was my lifer Bog Fritillary! Unfortunately I mistook it for a different, more common species, and I didn’t take the time to get a really good photo. Oh well, just a reason to go back!
I was going to camp overnight in the area, but I got a text message on my phone that a Calliope Hummingbird had shown up in Duluth…in breeding plumage! This is a bird of the mountain west that has only been recorded in Minnesota a couple times…and never in its stunning breeding plumage. This was reason enough to head for home.