Posts from the ‘bird in landscape’ Category

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]

The Barred of Aitkin County & the End of Winter?

Mississippi River and bridge at Palisade MN Aitkin Co MN IMG_1479Mississippi River at Palisade, Minnesota.
With temperatures predicted to be in the 50s (!) on Monday March 7th, I decided to take a cruise around Carlton and Aitkin Counties and see what I could find. The woods were still covered in snow, but the fields were pretty bare. I also included photos from March 11, 12 and 13 here. [UPDATE 3-14: We may be getting 2 to 7 inches of snow this week! Maybe the “End of Winter” title was a bit premature!]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1489Barred Owl about to pounce.
While cruising an Aitkin County bog for Great Gray Owls, I found this very focused Barred Owl. It was about to pounce on an unseen mice or vole along the road ditch.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 second at f5.6, ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1493
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 second at f5.6, ISO 800; handheld]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1504Barred Owl in golden light.
The Barred did indeed pounce, but alas, came up empty-taloned. No meal for this guy/gal this morning. Normally nocturnal, the Barred Owl will hunt in the daylight when very hungry…and at this time of winter, many northern critters can be fighting hunger.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6, ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

IMG_1560Horned Larks [Aitkin County]
One of the first spring migrants in northern Minnesota is the early-nesting Horned Lark. Often showing up in late February or early March they are usually the first songbird migrants. Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles, Killdeer, American Kestrels, Canada Geese are other early movers in the Northland. Horned Larks nest in farm fields and short grass pastures.

IMG_1679Trumpeter Swans
A flock of 18 Trumpeter Swans rest in a central Minnesota field recently bare of snow.

Canada Goose pair Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1693

Canada Goose pair Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1697Canada Goose
Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin is a major staging area for Sandhill Cranes in spring and fall (April and October) so I thought with the early spring that maybe, possibly some may have returned. But no. The only migrants amongst the completely frozen marshes was this Canada Goose and about 30 or 40 Trumpeter Swans, some of whom had already paired up and staked out nests.

Allocapnia Winter Stonefly St. Croix River at WI 35 WI IMG_1729Winter Stonefly
On warm March days, the Winter Stoneflies (Allocapnia species) often emerge from cold, clean fast flowing creeks and rivers. They are flightless and forage atop the snow for bits of algae.

IMG_1767High Falls of the Black River [Douglas County, Wisconsin]
A hidden gem in northwest Wisconsin…and only a dozen miles or so from our house. The Black River tumbles for 165 vertical feet over Big Manitou Falls forming the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. It is in Pattison State Park.

Rough-legged Hawk light morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1838Rough-legged Hawk, light morph [Carlton County, MN]

Rough-legged Hawk dark morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1867Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph [Carlton County, MN]

Rough-legged Hawk dark morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1876Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph [Carlton County, MN]
March 11th was a GORGEOUS spring day and the raptors were on the move north! I tallied 1 American Kestrel, 1 Merlin, 3 Northern Harriers, 7 Bald Eagles (2 immatures and 5 adults) and 6 Rough-legged Hawks including this light morph and dark morph birds. The Rough-legs are heading back to breed in the Arctic of northern Canada.

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1934Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1939Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1926Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]
We’ve had Wild Turkeys at our bird feeders for a number of years now…and every mid March the Tom’s start strutting their stuff. On March 10 and 11 I saw a Tom half puff up his feathers, but no full blown display..until the morning of March 12 when I took the three photos above. It is fun to watch them slowly erect their feathers when they notice a hen nearby, and then slowly strut and turn to show off their iridescent feathers and bright red wattle.

Northern Harrier with vole CR229 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2020Northern Harrier with Vole [Sax-Zim Bog, MN]
Northern Harriers are back in town. These raptors are one of the earliest to return to the Sax-Zim Bog in NE Minnesota. They float over hayfields, marshes and meadows searching for mice and voles. This female has caught one. Males are a very striking white, gray and black. They were formerly called “Marsh Hawks.”

Bohemian Waxwing Wrenshall City Park crabapples Wrenshall MN IMG_1973Bohemian Waxwing [Wrenshall, MN]
One of our winter visitors from the Canadian North, the Bohemian Waxwing will soon be heading out of the area. A flock of 7 to 30 have been hanging out in my town’s city park for the last week, feasting and fueling up on crabapples.

Bohemian Waxwing Wrenshall City Park crabapples Wrenshall MN IMG_2010Bohemian Waxwing [Wrenshall, MN]
With a blah gray sky as a background, I tried to make the photo more interesting by turning it into a “high key” image. I blew out the whites so it would almost look like the bird has been clipped from the background.

 

Best Bird Photos 2015

At the end of every year I look through all the photos I’ve taken in the last 12 months and pick my favorites. Throughout the year, I quickly star-rate my images in Aperture…3-stars are images that I’d like to explore more later. Then in December, I sort by all the 3-stars and upgrade a bunch to 4-star. In my final evaluation round I look for images that really stand out from the crowd. Creativity ranks quite high in my analysis of the finalists. A perfectly composed portrait is a very salable image, but quite boring in my mind. Here are the 20-some FIVE STAR BIRD PHOTOS FROM 2015 (in no particular order). Enjoy!
Barred Owl Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8448The Birch and the Barred
A Barred Owl leaps from its perch in a Paper Birch (Hey, that ryhymes!) It pays to be alert and watch for any sign that a raptor is about to fly. Make sure to have the camera on continuous focus, have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion, and hold the shutter down to fire off a bunch of photos.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250; hand-held]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7632Flight of the Barred
Continuous-focus shots of birds in flight in a snowfall is tricky business, but today’s cameras are pretty good at staying locked on to the main subject and not getting fooled into switching focus to falling flakes. Of course, the heavier the snowfall the harder this becomes. This is an uncropped image and I barely got both wingtips in the frame.
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 2000; hand-held]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0205Picky Eater
Black Terns are a dainty cousin to the gulls. They feed by plucking insects and small fish from the surface or just under the surface of freshwater marshes. Quite rare in northern Minnesota, they were very common at Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marsh north of Winnipeg (see my post about this wonderful place here)
[Black Tern; Oak Hammock Marsh, Winnipeg, Manitoba]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/3200; ISO 250;-0.33ev; hand-held]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1030 Peep Peek
Stalking shorebirds is frustrating work. You crawl on the sand down the beach, sometimes only to have the flock change direction and move away from you. But sometimes they cooperate quite nicely. This Dunlin even felt comfortable enough to take a quick cat nap right in front of me!
[Dunlin; Wisconsin Point beach on Lake Superior; Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/1250; ISO 200 -1.33ev;hand-held]

Golden Eagle immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4158 Gold on Gold
Choosing the right location at the right time of year is critical to getting great wildlife photos. And with migrating raptors, it is also crucial to know what weather will bring the birds closer to you. In this case, I knew that strong NW wind days would force the hawks and eagles and falcons to funnel down the shore of Lake Superior and right over Duluth’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. The strength of the wind would keep the birds relatively low (distant colorful trees make a more pleasing background than boring blue sky). I also had a plastic owl on a pole to attract the curious and furious raptors. It all came together when this immature Golden Eagle not only came in, but came in BELOW us! This rarely happens. And I got to share this moment with several other birders.
[Golden Eagle, immature; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Great Gray Owl Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3912 Great Gray Stare
Though Great Gray Owls hunt mainly with their incredible hearing, their bright yellow eyes is what captured my attention. I also love the symmetry of their face, including the big facial disks that collect sound like radar dishes and focus it on their ear holes. And some are incredibly tame, allowing close approach and letting me get this close up portrait.
[Great Gray Owl; Sax-Zim Bog; Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/60; ISO320; hand-held (this exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Lincoln's Sparrow backyard bird pool Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1077 Lincoln Bathed Here
I picked this photo because it represented success with a new idea I had this fall; I made an eye-level pond out of a couple saw horses, some plywood and a couple 2x4s (upcoming spring blog post). As I sat in my blind, I wondered if I’d ever get anything better than the frequent goldfinch bathers…then this gorgeous Lincoln’s Sparrow showed up…and even better, he got in the pool and started bathing. And the light was perfect! Success!
[Lincoln’s Sparrow; Skogstjarna; Carlton County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/250; ISO 320; flash; tripod]

Northern Goshawk immature Hawk Ridge Summit Ledges Duluth MN IMG_4068 Gos Attack
Fortunately this young Goshawk is attacking my plastic owl, Earl, and not me. Gos are fierce defenders of their nests and you don’t want to agitate a brooding mama. This technique is much safer. I placed the owl on a pole along a known migration route and waited. Most raptors dislike Great Horned Owls and they will readily harass a sitting owl. Focusing on a torpedo-like bird is a challenge, but sometimes you get lucky!
[Northern Goshawk; Hawk Ridge; Duluth, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 320; hand-held]

Pied-billed Grebe Stone Lake Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2272 Stone Lake Silhouette
Canoeing at dawn on a wild lake often produces some great photo opportunities. This morning on Stone Lake in the Sax-Zim Bog was quite foggy. But I like the silhouettes you can make on such mornings, and the graceful arced rushes add much to the composition.
[Pied-billed Grebe; Stone Lake; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f10 at 1/800; ISO 100; hand-held]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084 Marsh Ruddies
West Central North Dakota is a spectacular place for prairie breeding birds. I spent a couple days there in June photographing the western specialties, including this pair of Ruddy Ducks. I don’t get to see them that often in northeastern Minnesota, so it was a special treat. I chose this photo simply because it was a beautiful photo of a beautiful duck in a beautiful setting (I really like the yellow bladderwort flowers that add a little something extra.)
[Ruddy Duck pair; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f22 at 1/60; ISO 250; braced on car door frame (exposure was a mistake as I had just switched from taking video, which must be shot at 1/60 second)]

Barred Owl Peary Road near Yellow-bellied Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7695 - Version 2Perfect Perch
The sun barely peaked out from behind the clouds to cast some interesting light on this Barred Owl. And could you ask for a better perch?!
[Barred Owl; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Ruffed Grouse silhouette fall colors Hilpiper Rd Douglas Co WI IMG_0581 Stepping Out
This is one of those “G & G” (grab-and-go) shots that I NEVER thought would become one of my favorites of the year. I was just driving down a dirt road on my way to my “real” destination and preconceived photo goal, when I saw this Ruffed Grouse crossing the road. I stopped to get a shot out the window but was disappointed when she walked right into the deep shadows. But then I noticed the sun-lit fall foliage in the background and I had an idea. I dropped out of my van and lay on the road to get a low angle on the bird. I wanted to silhouette her against that fall color. I underexposed by a couple stops to make sure she went black. Success! Pays to keep an open mind when on a photo excursion, and be open to whatever happens in front of you. Zen and the Art of Wildlife Photography?
[Ruffed Grouse; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/320; ISO 400; -0.67ev; hand-held while laying on ground]

Snowy Owl adult male Menards Superior WI  IMG_4580 - Version 2 Landing Gear Down!
Was this photo taken in the Arctic, just as this adult male Snowy Owl was about to land on a snow-covered tundra hummock? Or was it preparing to touch down on a light pole at the Menards Store in the middle of Superior Wisconsin? I’ll let your imagination decide!
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin (oops! I just gave it away)]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/1600; ISO 200; hand-held]

Snowy Owl Menards Superior WI IMG_3701 High Key Snowy
I really do love playing with photos in Aperture (or Lightroom) and Photoshop. I make no apologies for it. You are either going to hate or love this photo. I turned it into a “high key” image, where the whites are blown out intentionally. I did this to show off the stunning yellow eyes of this Arctic visitor to the northland.
[Snowy Owl male; Superior, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/320; ISO 500; hand-held]

Sora Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8809 Rail Cool
To get a photo like this, you have to sit for hours in a wet marsh, soaked from foot to forearm and just hope this secretive bird emerges from the cattails. But since I didn’t have this much time or motivation, I simply sat on the edge of the road and played the call of a Sora on my iPhone. Cheating? Maybe, but far more efficient. I do always keep the bird’s welfare in mind, and don’t overdo the playing of calls.
[Sora (rail); Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/400; ISO 320; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2573
Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2588 As Pretty as her Spouse (Both Photos Above)
Once you actually find a Spruce Grouse, they are incredibly trusting and allow close approach. The trick is finding one! I photographed this hen from my belly while she picked for grit on a dirt road in far northern Minnesota, then she flew up to eye-level in a nearby spruce (how convenient!). Fortuitously there was also some yellow birch leaves in the background. I think female Spruce Grouse are as attractive as the males.
[Spruce Grouse hen; Superior National Forest; Lake County, Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f7.1 at 1/80; ISO 1250; tripod (only way I could get away with this exposure!)]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295 Flight of the Swampy
Flight shots are low percentage shooting….meaning you get very few “keepers” (shots that are sharp and in focus). But in this digital age, we have nothing to lose! In the film days, this show would have cost me $20!…$10 for a roll of Fuji Velvia and $10 for processing the 36 slides…OUCH!
[Swamp Sparrow; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; braced on car door frame]

Turkey Vulture sun bathing wings spread Tofte dump Cook Co MN IMG_9670Bathing Beauty?
Vultures often “sun bath” to dry their wings, but you don’t often get them doing it on such a nice perch in such nice light. Of course, this was at a municipal dump, but you can’t tell it from the photo!
[Turkey Vulture; Tofte Dump; North Shore of Minnesota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f8 at 1/1250; ISO 400; braced on car door frame]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1500 Take off!
You can only take so many photos of an Upland Sandpiper standing on a wooden fence post. So then you wait…and wait…and wait for it to do something else, like stretch or yawn or …fly! I was ready this time and just held down the shutter as it leapt from its perch.
[Upland Sandpiper; Kidder County, North Dakota]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f5.6 at 1/2000; ISO 500; hand-held]

Virginia Rail Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas County WI IMG_0222Yes Virginia, You are a Rail
I’d never managed to get a good photo of an adult Virginia Rail. I once had lots of fun with a juvenile Virginia from my floating blind (see blog post and photos here}. But this May day was my Lucky Day and it appeared from the cattails in perfect light…a gorgeous bird that is rarely seen. By the way, they are called “rails” because their body is incredibly thin when viewed head on, and this is actually the source of the phrase “thin as a rail.”
[Virginia Rail; Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands; Douglas County, Wisconsin]
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; f6.3 at 1/500; ISO 1/1000; -0.33ev; hand-held]

A Winter Drive through Carlton County

WHITE ON BLUE
On a sunny but very cold day in late February, I traveled out to western Carlton County in search of a Snowy Owl that had been reported there earlier in the month. I live in the NE corner of Carlton County just south of Duluth, Minnesota. I knew the odds of finding the owl were not in my favor but it was an excuse to see a part of the county I don’t usually traverse. The theme seemed to be “white on blue” with many white birds showing themselves (and a white church!), all on a backdrop of white snow, blue sky and deep blue shadows.

Rough-legged Hawk flying blue sky Finn Road Carlton Co MN IMG_5355A beautiful Rough-legged Hawk flew up from a field along Finn Road.
It was likely hunting voles, their favorite meal. Though they are nearly as large as a Red-tailed Hawk, they have much smaller talons and a relatively tiny beak for grabbing and eating small rodents. Red-tails on the other hand, can easily take large prey such as cottontail rabbits and so need the larger “equipment.”
This individual’s incomplete belly band tells me that this is an adult male…Females and immatures have a broad black belly band.
They nest in the arctic but move south in winter in search of daylight and small rodents. Minnesota is their “Arctic Riviera.”

Snow Bunting flock CR27 Carlton Co MN IMG_5442

Snow Bunting flock CR27 Carlton Co MN IMG_5430

Snow Bunting flock CR27 Carlton Co MN IMG_5460A DRIFT OF SNOW BUNTINGS
Another visitor from the arctic tundra that makes the northern states its winter home is the Snow Bunting. Flocks of these “snowbirds” feed on weed seeds along roads and railroad tracks and in farm fields. This flock was foraging actively but flew every time I tried to get close. This, unfortunately for the photographer, is the norm for this species.

Hoary Redpoll and Common Redpoll flock Carlton Co MN IMG_5410HOARY SURPRISE
Surprising was a lone Hoary Redpoll feeding with a flock of Common Redpolls along a country road. Hoaries and Commons are two more species that breed in the north of Canada and Alaska but winter in northern Minnesota. They are an irruptive species (like the Rough-leg above) which means that they move south in varying numbers from year to year depending on the supply of food in the north…Alder catkins and birch seeds for redpolls, and voles for Rough-legged Hawks. We are thrilled to have so many redpolls this year!
Hoaries are much rarer, averaging 1 for every 100 Commons. Note her (males would have a pinkish breast) very frosty white coloration and tiny cone-shaped bill (compared to the longer sharper bill on the Common behind her.)

Suomalainen Kirkko E.L.K. 1915 Autumba Carlton Co MN IMG_5330

Suomalainen Kirkko E.L.K. 1915 Autumba Carlton Co MN IMG_5335

Suomalainen Kirkko E.L.K. 1915 Autumba Carlton Co MN IMG_5352SUOMALAINEN KIRKKO
This old Finnish Lutheran church (Suomalainen Kirkko = Finnish Church) from 1915 was saved after its doors were closed. It was moved to this location near Hwy 73 and turned into a cultural center. I love the stark white and simple lines of this vernacular architectural gem.

I drove 95 miles and had a great time.
P.S. I did not find the Snowy Owl

Dream Come True: Witness to a Great Gray Owl nest

Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410Two Great Gray Owlets await mommy or daddy from their lofty nest in a large Tamarack.

I had the great fortune of having a good friend who was willing to share the location of a Great Gray Owl nest he had found recently. Kim Risen is a professional bird guide based out of Tamarack, Minnesota, who leads birding trips across the globe, from South Africa to South America to Costa Rica to Mexico and even in his ‘backyard’ of northern Minnesota. Kim found this nest on a June trip with a client. He’d seen young in this general vicinity several times over several different years. He graciously shared the site with me.

I first visited the Black Spruce/Tamarack bog with Kim and his wife Cindy on June 18th and made several more visits, the last on June 28th. Two owlets were in the nest until at least June 24th, then must have “flew the coup” around June 27th or 28th when we found them on the ground.

VIDEO SHOWING BEHAVIOR & COMMENTARY ON FAVORITE PHOTOS (7 MINUTES)

You can see more of my wildlife videos HERE

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7396Note mom in the bottom left corner of the image…She was never very far away. The young were generally silent…until they saw an adult when they gave a loud screech (can hear it late in the video). But the female often gave a rising “Whoop!” call. Robert Nero, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Great Gray Owls, says this call “is often given by the female on the nest as a means of communicating with the male.” Robert Taylor, author of The Great Gray Owl: On Silent Wings calls this is “food request call” and it is given more frequently during years of low vole supplies. It likely helps the male find the female too as he delivers the food to her so she can feed the owlets. May this also be the female’s form of communication with the owlets?…”You’re okay…I’m right here.”

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390On June 28th I went to photograph the owlets from my blind…But I saw no action in the nest. Just as I was contemplating this, I simultaneously heard my cell phone ring as well as a screech from ground level. I assumed the screech was one of the owlets who’d left the nest. It was Kim on the phone and he was in the bog and had seen the young on the ground. As he was talking I found one of the owlets ‘teed up’ on a stump… “Found one! Gotta go.” I set up my tripod and folding chair, then draped camo netting over myself and started shooting. The owlet stared at me for 20 minutes without taking its eyes off me, though its posture relaxed over this time. Then when he/she was comfortable that I was not a predator, the owlet started to look around, and even stretch.

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002STREEEEETCH! FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO CLIP. The young Great Grays often stretched like this…Working their flight muscles I imagine. Fortunately he was facing me head on and gave me this unique perspective. [Note that when you extract a frame from a HD video clip you only get a 1920x1080pixel image to work with…and it’s shot at 1/60 second…and its basically a jpeg. Very limited use, but fine for the web].

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7389Though the owlets can’t fly at this age, they sure can get around! They will walk across the bog then climb leaning trees and stumps by using their talons for grip and using their beak to grab branches like a parrot, pulling themselves up, wings held over their back for balance.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2 (1)The ticket to not alarming wild critters is to move slowly, stay low, avoid eye contact, and talk to them in a low soft voice (don’t whisper!). And stay in plain sight so you are not mistaken for a sneaky predator. I got very close to this owlet…Close enough to use my 10-20mm lens with full flash. I love the low angle and wide perspective which really puts the owl in its habitat.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7343

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7302Eye-level shot with Canon 400mm f5.6. I WISH I’d put my big flash and Better Beamer on! The images looked okay on the LCD but there is a weird greenish cast from the light filtering down through the canopy. Live and learn!

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7410The sibling to the owlet on the stump, is this fuzzball. I found him/her on a comfy cozy patch of super-soft Sphagnum moss. I laid on my belly, crawled towards her (got soaking wet!) and inched to within a foot of her/him. He/she began bill clacking, an alarm signal, so I snapped a few photos (full flash) and backed off.

I wish this little family well and hope they find many fat voles!

[All photos and video taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Sigma 10-20mm lens, Canon 580EX flash, Cabela’s Lightning Set pop-up blind, Manfrotto tripod]

Prairie Spring—Western Minnesota’s Felton Prairie

It’s always good to get back out to the prairie…and western Minnesota’s Felton Prairie is always a nice escape from the North Woods. Just a few of my favorites from this mid May trip to Clay and Norman Counties. Enjoy! (pssst…We’re off to Florida…I’ll post photos when I get back)
Marbled Godwit Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1484Marbled Godwit…a very large and raucous shorebird that makes its home on medium-grass prairies.

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1642 (1)Brewer’s Blackbird

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1243Brewer’s Blackbird

Upland Sandpiper Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1343Upland Sandpiper

White-tailed Deer near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1394

Northern Shoverler male near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1408Northern Shoveler
Wind Turbines Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1381

Marbled Godwit Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1477Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1468Marbled Godwit

Western Meadowlark Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1539Western Meadowlark. Great to hear their melodious song since we get the less melodious Eastern Meadowlark near Wrenshall.

Northern Harrier Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1585Northern Harrier

Yellow Warbler Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1597Yellow Warbler

Swamp Sparrow Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1734Swamp Sparrow

Lark Sparrow Agassiz Dunes SNA Norman Co. MN IMG_1931Lark Sparrow a bit further north, near Agassiz Dunes SNA in Norman County

Sedge Wren Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1716Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren Felton Prairie Clay Co IMG_1694Sedge Wren

Bank Swallow colony Agassiz Dunes SNA Norman Co. MN IMG_1878Bank Swallow Colony in an old gravel pit…This colony has made this cut its home for many years.

NW MN Part 3: Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge


After leaving the Big Bog, I headed west towards Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge…but first I had to get around Upper and Lower Red Lake…the largest inland lake in Minnesota. Agassiz is a huge refuge…61,000 acres, half of which is wetlands. (Click here to learn about the refuge) I was hoping to catch some big flights of ducks, geese or swans, especially since the ice just went out on the smaller ponds (late March). I arrived just before sunset…gorgeous light…now all I needed was a subject! Quiet…no visible birds or ducks…so I took this shot of my very long shadow…something we don’t get in the North Woods.


I did find a few ducks at sunset and took some silhouettes. I have been trying to think outside the box with my wildlife photography lately and so I thought why does the critter need to be in focus? That’s why I tried this shot. The idea came from a photo I took in Yellowstone a few years ago…a Bison in a snowstorm (click here to see image). but the autofocus on my camera locked on to the falling snow and not the bison…An accident, but the resulting image worked. I even entered it into the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest (THE most prestigious wildlife photography contest in the world). Amazingly it reached the “semi-finals” of the contest. This image doesn’t work very well but I wanted to share it to inspire all of us to think creatively.


I camped at the nearby Eckvoll WMA campground under a beautiful starry sky…but here’s where you end up sleeping when you forget your tent poles! The back of the Subaru is a little short so I woke up with a kink in my back. But I was not alone in the campground…a tiny Saw-whet Owl serenaded me from the nearby woods. “Toot…Toot…Toot…Toot” and on and on. I imitated his call by whistling and he came in to check me out. But never close enough so I could get the flashlight on him.

The next morning dawned cold and calm…but the ducks were shy and skittish..and there were not many of them. This Phragmites grass was the only image I liked.

Time to head to the prairies!