Posts from the ‘best of’ Category

Sparky’s Top-Ten Bird Photos of 2018

 

Okay, I’m cheating a bit on my Top 10 and have selected an extra two photos, so here is my 12 favorite bird images from 2018.

Eastern Kingbird feeding young (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I love Felton Prairie. It is a dry gravel prairie on the “Glacial Ridge” of western Minnesota. It is (was?) known as the only nesting site of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the state. I spent about an hour with this late-nesting Eastern Kingbird family (this was mid August).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Barred Owl on Owl Avenue (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) April 2, 2018

This photo was taken near dusk on a lonely bog-bordered road in the Sax-Zim Bog. I like the monotone feel of the photo. I also like that the owl is NOT looking at me, but watching (listening?) intently on something out of frame.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 203mm; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 3200]

Mature male Snowy Owl on hay bale (Sax-Zim Bog, St. Louis County, Minnesota) December 17, 2018

The very small size and very white plumage of this Snowy Owl indicates that this is an older male bird. It has been hunting the same fields in the Sax-Zim Bog for about a month. He often perches on hay bales, scanning the countryside for voles. I like the stark contrast between the white owl and the pink sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Bohemian Waxwing in Mountain-Ash (Two Harbors, Minnesota) November 12, 2018

I’ve photographed many Bohemian Waxwings over the years, but usually in crabapple trees, so I wanted to get photos and video of one in a Mountain-Ash (a native species). I found a small flock in a huge Mountain-Ash (that I’ve looked in many times before) in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota.

I only shot video, but was able to pull this still-image out of a 4K video clip.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens

Great Gray Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) February 27, 2018

Great Grays are amazing photo subjects…even if they are just staring into the snow. I had spend over an hour just watching this one sit in an aspen…waiting for it do something…anything! Then when I wasn’t ready (of course!), it launched into the air and plunged face first into the deep ditch snow only 20 yards from me. But it didn’t catch the vole on the plunge but it could still hear it under the deep snow. I slowly crawled over to the ditch and laid flat on the snow to get this eye-level shot. The Great Gray in this photo is not really looking into the snow, but rather listening by facing its huge facial disks towards the sound. Ear holes that are a slightly different size and shape can triangulate sound in order to pinpoint prey.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; pop-up flash; hand-held while laying flat on the snow.]

Sanderling in near-breeding plumage (Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota) May 22, 2018

Shorebirds along the sandy beaches of Lake Superior are one of my favorite subjects. Most are heading to breeding grounds on the tundra of the Far North. This makes them seem more exotic and interesting. Sanderlings are one of the most common shorebirds on the beaches of Duluth’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point.

This one is in near breeding plumage with reddish head and breast. We usually see them in their white plumage as small flocks scoot ahead of us as we walk down the beach. I crawled through the sand to get in front of the Sanderlings and then would remain still as they worked their way towards me. I like this unique head-on angle.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held while laying flat on the sand.]

Great Gray Owl in heavy snow (Duluth, Minnesota) January 30, 2018

There was a mini-irruption of Great Gray Owls just north of Duluth last winter. In fact this guy was hunting right in the city limits of Duluth along Old Superior Street. I got to film him (her?) making several plunges into the deep but crusty snow. It was able to break through the crust to get at voles below.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Male Bufflehead (St. Louis River at Fond du Lac in Duluth, Minnesota) April 23, 2018

Every year when the ice goes out on the St. Louis River I try and get some eye-level (ice-level?) shots of waterfowl in their spring splendor. The ice went out quite late this year as this photo was taken in late April. Buffleheads are really difficult to photograph because they dive frequently. And it is very hard to capture the iridescence of their head feathers. They usually look all black and white. But the sun angle was just right for this photo to reveal the rainbow iridescence.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held while laying on the shoreline ice]

Eastern Kingbird catching grasshopper in mid-air (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

I honestly just got lucky with this shot. I love images of grassland birds on old fence posts or rusty barbed wire fences (both of which are disappearing from the rural landscape) so I took some photos of this Eastern Kingbird. But I decided to wait patiently

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from inside car.]

Three immature Bald Eagles (Douglas County, Wisconsin) April 9, 2018

A perfectly-arranged trio of subadult Bald Eagles in northwest Wisconsin. It takes 3-5 years for a Bald Eagle to attain its pristine white head and tail feathers. The bottom bird is probably a 2nd year bird, and the tip bird may be a 3rd year bird due to its Osprey-like face mask. The middle bird is also probably a 3rd year bird. I’m sure there was a road-killed deer somewhere nearby.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2000 second at f7.1; ISO 320; hand-held from car window]

White-faced Ibis (Yellowstone National Park) April 30, 2018

I rarely get to see these birds but they migrate through Yellowstone National Park in the spring. This one was feeding on a newly-thawed pond. The sad part of this story is that I dropped a rented 2x teleconverter out of the car while trying to get out and photograph this bird. The fall put a scratch in the lens. I then had to buy the 2x from lensrentals.com. But I guess I’m glad to own this high-end teleconverter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 IS USM lens with 1.4x teleconverter;  1/250 second at f2.8; ISO 400; hand-held]

Snowy Owl (South Superior, Wisconsin) January 5, 2018

If I’d shot this photo with a wide-angle lens, you would have seen a gravel pit, railroad tracks and car repair place in the frame. This Snowy Owl was hunting in a semi-industrial area of Superior, Wisconsin. I waded through the deep snow to reach the spruce and began filming. The owl completely ignored me, but after about 10 minutes some distant movement caught its eye and off it went. I like the wing position as it lifts off.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.66ev; hand-held]

 

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]