Posts from the ‘bird in landscape’ Category

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Parasitic Jaegers at Home

Though jaegers look superficially like a species of gull, they have a quite different lifestyle (can birds have lifestyles?). “Jaeger” is the German word for “hunter” and that is exactly how the Parasitic Jaeger makes its living on the tundra.

I found this active pair (*June 18, 2017) on a stretch of open tundra near a large pool of open water south of Launch Road. They were very curious about me…buzzing me once, but not in an aggressive manner (so I assumed they had not yet nested). But they constantly came and “visited me,” by landing nearby even as I moved away from them. This one landed very close to me on several occasions. She would then pose…as if to say, take another picture of me already!

Parasitic Jaeger yawning or trying to cough up a pellet. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Since the Parasitic Jaeger diet is mostly birds and some small rodents, they do need to cough up pellets of indigestible bones and fur. Maybe that is what this one is getting ready to do. Or maybe it was just a stretch or yawn. It was NOT screeching at me! No vocalization at all.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 330mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 100; braced on moss hummock]

Parasitic Jaeger landing on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

The tundra here was bordered by a small stand of Black Spruces. The jaegers only flew over the tundra and ponds.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

They are not totally dependent on lemmings and voles as are many arctic predators, including their cousins the Long-tailed Jaeger and Pomarine Jaeger; this allows them to survive and thrive even during times of low lemming populations. Small songbirds, shorebirds, lemmings, voles, ducks, ptarmigan, fish, insects, carrion and eggs of many species are all on the menu.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.66 ev; handheld]

 

Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2019Parasitic Jaeger pair nuzzling on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

This behavior shown in the above two photos could be related to nest site selection…An article on birdsna.org (Birds of North America online) says this….

“Usually male initiates choice of a nest site by walking or flying toward a suitable site and uttering the Nest Call. At the site, both birds produce Squeaking. Male usually has neck withdrawn and beak pointing downward; female lowers her neck and pecks at male’s beak (sometimes male pecks at female’s beak). Meanwhile nesting-building movements occur mostly by the female (Scraping, Sideways Building; Perdeck 1963).”

If so, the female is doing the nuzzling and pecking at his beak in order to confirm that this is an acceptable nest site.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Songbirds are the main course for most nesting Parasitic Jaegers on the tundra. Studies have shown the percentage of passerines in their diet ranges from 75 to 93 percent!

If vole or lemming numbers are high, then they will eat proportionately more small rodents.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Breeding range of the Parasitic Jaeger matches the range of its preferred habitat…tundra. Churchill is at the southern edge of the tundra in North America. Being circumpolar species, they also breed in Norway, Greenland, Scotland, Iceland and Siberia.

In winter, they mostly range over the oceans from southern coasts of U.S., Mexico south to both offshore coasts of South America.  Feeds by forcing gulls to disgorge their last meal in flight and swooping down to catch the regurgitated mass.

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Parasitics will hunt cooperatively, with pairs working in tandem to find and kill prey. For accessing goose and loon eggs, one bird may harass the adult off the nest and keep her distracted while the other swoops in and steals an egg.

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

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra pond. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra pond. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger alighting on hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Another case where this pair seemed genuinely curious about me…and not mad or aggressive. This one landed only a short distance away. They occasionally made low flights over my head.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/6400 second at f5.6; ISO 250; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/8000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight over tundra. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/5000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

Female Parasitic Jaegers are 15 to 20% larger than males. This is true for many hawks, falcons, eagles and owls too.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

 

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 349mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 200; braced on moss hummock]

 

Parasitic Jaeger rests on tundra hummock with the Ithica ship wreck on Hudson Bay in background.

Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/250 second at f22; ISO 1000; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger in flight. Churchill, Manitoba, June 2017

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 160; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_1880Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC01314Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC01267Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2139Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2108Parasitic Jaeger Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2021

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Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Loons, Ducks & Swans on Tundra Ponds

The vast tundra of Canada and Alaska is the preferred breeding grounds for several species of waterfowl that we see only in migration in Minnesota. Long-tailed Ducks winter on Lake Superior and we see them occasionally close to Duluth; Pacific Loons are rare  (or rarely seen?) visitors to the North Shore of Lake Superior in spring and fall; Tundra Swans migrate through Minnesota in April and October with large flocks congregating along the Mississippi River, St. Louis River and on northern rice paddies. But In Churchill I got to see all three in their breeding splendor…and closer than my normal scope-views of birds on Lake Superior.

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-7Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

In the field guides, the Pacific Loon looks very similar to the Common Loon, but when you see them in person, the Pacific Loon is quite different and stunning with a silvery sheen to their velvety head.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/125 seconds at f10; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-6Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

When I started birding in the late 1970s, this species was known as the “Arctic Loon,” a name that I wish it retained as in my mind it IS a bird of the Arctic. The species was split into two full species in 1985; the Arctic Loon is now the species that breeds in Eurasia including Siberia and western Alaska.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

 

pacific_loon_range

The Pacific Loon breeds in the Arctic but winters along the west coast of the U.S and Canada on the Pacific Ocean. A few can be seen each year inland, especially on Lake Superior at Duluth.

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-8Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-5Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaPacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/800 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-9Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-10Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Canada Goose Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose takes off from a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

The ubiquitous waterfowl on the tundra and taiga was the Canada Goose. Notice that I did not say “tundra and taiga ponds” as I saw few actually on the water. Most were foraging on the tundra or on nests (as in photo below). This one did not care for my attention and took off in a hurry. I intentionally slowed down the shutter speed to show some motion.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/200 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Canada Goose nest nesting Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose on nest near Churchill, Manitoba

Canada Goose nest with eggs Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose nest on the shore of a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00617Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

One of my photo goals was a decent portrait of a Long-tailed Duck drake…and I got it! But I was nervous at the start as my first attempts at sneaking up on this species were complete failures….They saw me coming and quickly paddled across to the other side of the pone. But one afternoon I got lucky….This male was very intent on pursuing the female pictured farther down this blog. There were low shrubs lining the pond so I crouched low and moved when they dove. When they came up, I froze. A couple rounds of this and I was to the edge of the pond and shot through an opening in the shrubs.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00606Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00605Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

This male is transitioning from its winter white feathers to the black breeding plumage. Note that the top of the head is still whitish and when in full breeding plumage it will be black on top as in photo below.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0744Long-tailed Duck pair on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

Male and female Long-tailed Ducks on a tundra pond.

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Long-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4Long-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaLong-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

LTDUrange_300_3x5

You can see from this map that you won’t be seeing any Long-tailed Ducks in the Lower 48 during the summer. The closest breeding to Minnesota is the Hudson Bay Lowlands which includes the area around Churchill, Manitoba.

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Long-tailed Duck pair (female in front) flying over a taiga pond near Churchill, Manitoba

What do you do when you have drab light due to heavy overcast conditions? What you don’t do is give up and head back to the motel. You have to get creative! By slowing the shutter to 1/250 second and panning with the flying Long-tailed Ducks I got a nice series of motion blur photos.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaLong-tailed Duck pair (female in front) flying over a taiga pond near Churchill, Manitoba

The male (right) displays his namesake long tail. They were formerly called “oldsquaw” because their odd chattering reminded some early explorer of native women talking.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Shoveler female Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Northern Shoveler rests on a taiga pond along Goose Creek Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The Northern Shoveler should maybe be called the “Northern Sifter” or “Northern Strainer” as it really doesn’t “shovel” through the muck with its oversized bill. Between the upper bill and lower you can see the lamellae that strain insects from pondwater.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Shoveler female Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaNorthern Shoveler rests on a taiga pond along Goose Creek Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The female is quite drab compared to the gaudy chestnut, white and iridescent green of the male, but her out-of-proportion bill makes her easily identifiable.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Tundra Swan and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The name fits! Tundra Swans nest on the tundra of Canada and Alaska. When I started birding in the 1970s these birds were known as “Whistling Swans” due to their song.

“Lewis and Clark provided the first written description of the Tundra Swan during their expedition to the West, where the birds’ whistle-like calls prompted Meriwether Lewis to dub them “whistling swans.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.com]

I am so used to seeing Trumpeter Swans on almost every backwoods pond in Minnesota that at first I assumed these were Trumpeters too. But a close look revealed the yellow “tear” patch on their face that confirmed that these were breeding Tundra Swans.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

tundra_swan_range

There are really TWO populations of Tundra Swans….the population that breeds in the eastern Arctic, including Churchill, winter on the eastern seaboard of the U.S mainly in Chesapeake Bay where they feed on clams….and the western Arctic breeding grounds population that winter in the western U.S.

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Tundra Swan pair and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

Halfway Point Road is a great (but rough) road that accesses some very nice dry tundra. A couple ponds held breeding pairs of Tundra Swans, Herring Gulls and Long-tailed Ducks.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1000 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaTundra Swan pair and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

Click on the image to make it full size in order to really see the yellow patch near the eye that most Tundra Swans possess. Trumpeters never show this spot of color.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1000 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Willow Ptarmigan

I can’t really even remember my Lifer Willow Ptarmigan any more…I looked back in my journal from my Churchill trip in June 1987 for the details. It was a glimpse of a male along the railroad tracks near a remote Cree village in Manitoba as I rode the rickety rails of the “Muskeg Express”…a 36 hour one-way train ride from Winnipeg to Churchill. Not much of a look for such a gorgeous bird.

Because of this most unsatisfying sighting, the “chicken of the tundra” was high on my “Most Wanted” list. But several 16 hour days passed and I still had not spotted one. A photo group I ran into seemed to consider them commonplace. I was nervous. But finally, late in the day, late in my trip, along Twin Lakes Road, I finally found my first male…A gorgeous male in transitional plumage from winter’s white to summers reddish brown.

 

Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

This male’s plumage is actually called the “courtship plumage” and it will soon change to breeding plumage…The male’s white back feathers will turn the same reddish brown as the head and chest. By late fall, they will be entirely white except for the black outer tail feathers.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/160 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba on summer tundra

One of my goals for my bird photography on this trip was to get images of different species with tundra wildflowers in the frame…and late in the trip I was finally successful with this ptarmigan. The flowers are Lapland Rosebay.

The Willow Ptarmigan is a circumpolar species and can also be found in Scandinavia and Siberia. It is known as “Willow Grouse” in Europe…A subspecies that lives in Great Britain is called “Red Grouse” and doesn’t turn white in winter.

Amazingly, there was an irruption of Willow Ptarmigan into Minnesota in the winter of 1933-34! Several showed up in the remote country of northwest Minnesota near Roseau, hundreds of miles from their normal winter range. The first record of this species for Minnesota was a bird shot on April 20, 1914 in Lake of the Woods County on the Canadian border. Another bird found its way south to this same county in 1964.


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Willow Ptarmigan are about the same size as our Ruffed Grouse (and Spruce Grouse). Average length is 15 inches with a wingspan of about 2 feet. They weigh a little over a pound.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 271mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

The call of the Willow Ptarmigan is craaaazy! I love it! Listen for yourself.


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 278mm; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 124mm; 1/500 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

“The Willow Ptarmigan is the only grouse in the world in which the male is regularly involved in parental care. Pairs remain together from the beginning of the breeding season until their chicks are independent.” from Cornell’s http://www.allaboutbirds.com

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Summer Willow Ptarmigan on tundra near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; handheld]

 


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

 

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 170mm; 1/640 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 170mm; 1/1250 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan male in courtship plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 164mm; 1/500 at f5; ISO 800; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

This is one of the first photos I got of Willow Ptarmigan. I was hoping he would jump up on that rock behind him, but no luck. I sloooowly stalked this guy and he eventually walked through the Lapland Rosebay flowers patches.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/160 at f11; ISO 400; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Like its cousin the Spruce Grouse, the Willow Ptarmigan sports sexy red “eyebrows,” which it can erect.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/320 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow Ptarmigan male in near breeding plumage near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Here is another male I found along Twin Lakes Road…Note that this one’s plumage is more advanced towards breeding plumage than the male in the previous photos. His back feathers are turning from white to red.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Often times, laying dead flat on the ground (road, beach, lawn) can give you the best angle on a subject…It puts you actually a bit below eye-level which is ideal for intimate and engaging portraits.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 sec at f6.3; ISO 200; handheld, laying on the ground]


Willow and Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

As their name implies, willow is the primary food of this grouse species. One source says that Arctic Willow catkins and buds are the primary food. Will also eat berries…and twigs and spruce/pine needles in winter

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 234mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 800; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

I really wanted to get some “bird in the landscape” photos on this trip. I did get a few, and I do like this one but I wish the bird stood out a bit more from the surrounding greenery.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 234mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 800; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

The female is understandable more cryptically colored than the male. She needs to be very inconspicuous when on the ground nest. She really blends in to her surroundings. In fact, I would not have seen her at all if not for the antics of the male that alerted me that he was trying to impress someone.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld; laying on ground]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

Red “eyebrows” can be erected when in courtship mode.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld; laying on ground]

 


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

I saw several ptarmigan along this stretch of Twin Lakes Road.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 255mm; 1/1250 at f5; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Willow Ptarmigan near Churchill Manitoba Canada

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld; laying on ground]
A calling male Willow Ptarmigan (see video above to hear their hilarious call).

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Northern edge of the Boreal Forest

The Boreal forest blankets a vast area of bedrock across Canada and into Alaska. In the Lower 48, the Boreal forest dips down into Minnesota, Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan and northern New England. If you include the vast boreal forests of Siberia, the Boreal biome is the largest “intact” forest in the world…even larger than the tropical rain forests that ring the equator. It is a MAJOR carbon sink for the planet. But the Boreal forest peters out as it transitions to tundra in colder climes. Churchill area on Hudson Bay is a transition zone from Boreal forest to treeless Tundra.

Characteristic trees of the Boreal forest include White Spruce, Black Spruce and Tamarack…and all three survive around Churchill (White Spruce on the drier ridges and Black Spruce in the wet bogs). Since I’m from northern Minnesota, the birds in this biome are pretty familiar to me, and so the tundra birds of Churchill were a much higher photographic target. BUT…there are several nesting species that I really wanted to digitally capture. Blackpoll Warblers and Orange-crowned Warblers only pass through Minnesota in migration. They are two of the eastern warbler species that do not breed in Minnesota’s vast North Woods. Fortunately they do breed in Ontario and Manitoba and I had good luck finding them in the Churchill area.

Best roads for Boreal forest in the Churchill area are the Twin Lakes Road and the Old Dene Village loop at the start of Goose Creek Road. If someone blindfolded me and parachuted me in to some of these spots, I wouldn’t have known if I was in Minnesota or the U.P. of Michigan or Maine or Siberia! But the staccato songs of the Blackpoll Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler would have given it away, as this pair of species do not breed in any of the aforementioned locations.

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

After I learned the song of the Blackpoll Warbler (they do not sing while migrating through northern Minnesota in spring), I found them in many stands of Black Spruce trees.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

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Boreal forest along the Twin Lakes Road (note Bonaparte’s Gull in tip top of spruce). Spruces and Tamarack (not yet “needled” out in foreground)

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The orange feet and legs of the Blackpoll Warbler are distinctive…and shockingly bright.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Blackpoll Warbler male (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Blackpoll Warbler plucking an ant off a willow catkin. (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Blackpoll Warbler Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2

Blackpoll Warbler (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 371mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Bonaparte’s Gull (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

A gull that nests in trees?! Yes, absolutely. The Bonaparte’s Gull is a true denizen of the Boreal forest, a mixed up place where flycatchers nest on the ground and gulls nest in the trees! Of course, not all flycatchers nest on the ground and not all gulls nest in trees (Herring Gulls build their nests directly on top of tiny rock islands on larger lakes), but the Bonaparte’s has really taken to “skyscraper living.” Andy why not? A lofty location affords protection from egg and nestling predators of the four-legged kind (fox especially)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/250 at f8; ISO 100; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Bonaparte’s Gull (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

One of my photo goals was to get a nice shot of a Bonaparte’s perched in the tip top of a spruce…and I think I did it! I will share some video later.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Bonaparte’s Gull yawning(?) as it loafs on a tiny island in the backwaters of the Churchill River (near the observation platform on Goose Creek Road) (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 371mm; 1/60 at f18; ISO 100; hand held] **NOTE that I had just switched over from shooting video (at the required 1/60 second) and that explains the TERRIBLE settings for this shot. I only got lucky that this is sharp.

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Bonaparte’s Gull plucking insects off the surface of a lake along Twin Lakes Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The Bonaparte’s Gull is named, not for Napoleon Bonaparte (you probably could have figured that out!), but for his nephew Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who made important contributions to American ornithology while an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1820s. This Bonaparte was a contemporary of John James Audubon.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

 

 

Gray Jay juvenile Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Juvenile Gray Jay along the Old Dene Village loop (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

The proposed “National Bird” of Canada! …the Gray Jay (or “Canada Jay”…and I guess I should spell Gray, “Grey”). This is a juvenile as denoted by its very dark gray plumage and pink gape (corner of the mouth). There was a whole family group…2 adults and 2, possibly 3, juveniles…that I “squeeked” in by sucking on the palm of my hand. These are VERY curious birds, and any disturbance in “their” woods, and they will investigate.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Orange-crowned Warbler along Old Dene Village Loop (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

Trust me…they do have an orange crown! But it is mainly visible when they erect their head feathers when agitated.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Orange-crowned Warbler along Launch Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Orange-crowned Warbler Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Orange-crowned Warbler along Launch Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you can probably see the “orange crown” for which this mostly drab warbler is named. Its preferred habitat (around Churchill) is wet willowy areas, especially with spruce forest nearby.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

American Tree Sparrow Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
American Tree Sparrow along Goose Creek Road (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

This is another species that only passes through northern Minnesota in migration. The American Tree Sparrow breeds mostly in Canada and Alaska and winters almost entirely in the Lower 48 (but not northern Minnesota…too cold I guess). Note the rusty red cap and eye line, gray face and single spot on the unstreaked breast.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

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Fox Sparrow singing from spruce perch. (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

I only saw a couple of these gorgeous sparrows while in Churchill. They migrate through my land in northern Minnesota in spring, jumping back and forth in the leaf litter below my feeders, scratching up seeds. But alas, they do not breed in Minnesota and continue north to nest in the Boreal forests. Their reddish rusty plumage, velvety gray feathers, and bold breast spotting make them a visual treat. Now who said sparrows can’t be beautiful?!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Rusty Blackbird (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

There are records of Rusty Blackbirds nesting in Minnesota…but only a handful and they were in very remote wooded swamps in the far northern reaches of the state.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4
Rusty Blackbird female in spruce (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Rusty Blackbird Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada
Rusty Blackbird male (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

“Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species. The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years (Greenberg and Droege, 1999) and scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause. They are relatively uncommon denizens of wooded swamps, breeding in the boreal forest and wintering in the eastern U.S. ” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]

This fact really bewilders me…Like Cornell (owner of the website) says, the decline is puzzling since their habitat is remote wooded swamps of the vast Boreal forest…a habitat that is rarely touched by development (the swamp part, anyway).

What also is curious to me, is how they arrived at this amazing percentage of decline. As far as I can see, the data is from Breeding Bird Survey Routes (VERY FEW routes in their main breeding areas of boreal Canada) and winter Christmas Bird Count data (this data is probably better, but still not very comprehensive).

“Several hypotheses have been suggested to explain the decline.  Loss of wooded wetlands in southeastern wintering grounds is a likely contributor, as over 80% of this habitat has been converted to agriculture and other land uses.  Other possible factors on the wintering grounds include increased competition for food with other blackbird species – such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles – as well as increased exposure to an unknown disease to which it has not developed strong immunity.” [from http://www.rustyblackbird.org]

HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED TO HELP SOLVE THIS MYSTERY? Participate in the March-April Rusty Blackbird Spring Blitz…Get details here

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; at 400mm; 1/2500 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]

Spruce Grouse Twin Lakes Road at intersection with Cook Street Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Spruce Grouse at intersection of “Cook Street” (just a 2 rut track) and Twin Lakes Road (narrow gravel road). (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

I’ve seen and photographed MANY Spruce Grouse in northern Minnesota, so I didn’t work too hard to get nice photos of this uncooperative guy. Sadly, a photo tour group that really wanted to see and photograph this species could not locate this highly desirable species even after trying for several days. That is the nature of birding…and wildlife photography.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; hand held]

Spruce Grouse Twin Lakes Road at intersection with Cook Street Churchill Manitoba Canada
Male Spruce Grouse (Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay; Canada)

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; hand held]

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]