Posts from the ‘Bird Photography’ Category

Nemesis No More: Lewis’s Woodpecker… in Minnesota!

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

It has been a standing joke with my Uncle Howard about my lack of luck with the Lewis’s Woodpecker. You see, Howard lives at elevation near Durango, Colorado, and the Lewis’s is practically a backyard bird for him. Even on a visit to Howard and Judy’s with the family a few years ago, my jinx aura followed me and we only had one distant and poor look at a Lewis’s.

And each holiday season Howard sends us a DVD of his beautiful wildlife and landscape videos set to music. We always look forward to it and watch it as a family. But it seemed to me that there was always a cameo of a Lewis’s Woodpecker amongst the videos. I’m sure he wouldn’t do that just to rub it in 🙂

Rewind to the 1990s and early 2000s: I was birding around the country quite a bit then (pre-wife, pre-kids) and searched in FIVE western states before finding two Lewis’s in Utah. But it was a distant and poor look…and I did not get any photos.

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

Now fast forward back to January 2021. A Lewis’s Woodpecker shows up at a lake cabin in Morrison County, Minnesota. This is only the SEVENTH record ever for Minnesota. It’s normal range is the Rocky Mountain West with an outpost in the Black Hills of South Dakota…so this is exciting bird news in Minnesota. The bird was “discovered” (by white people) by Lewis & Clark on their 1804 expedition. Its common name honors Meriwether Lewis.

It is a larger woodpecker that is bigger than a Hairy or Red-bellied Woodpecker, but smaller than a Flicker. the pinkish-red belly contrasts beautifully with the glossy green-blue-black back, blue-gray “scarf” and red face and throat.

Unbelievably, the Lewis’s was visiting the suet feeders of a friend of mine, a regular visitor and donor to the Sax-Zim Bog. He is a professor at a local college and brings his students to the Bog each year.

I have photographed over 500 species of birds in the U.S and only have one really bad image of a Lewis’s, but life is busy and I didn’t make the time to drive the 5-hour round trip to see this Minnesota bird. Bridget and my sons, Birk & Bjorn, kept urging me to go. I assumed it was gone already, but I emailed Dr. Bill and found out that it was still there! So on Tuesday of this week (Feb 23) I made the trek.

There were two cars there when I pulled into his wooded oasis on a hill overlooking a lake…But the bird was there too, but flew off before I got my camera out. I only had an hour to watch the feeders before my appointment. The other folks left, and I got the prime spot. Dr. Bill asks that folks stay in their car since disturbing the bird would not be good.

I enjoyed the visiting Red-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Blue Jays and even a Pileated Woodpecker for about 45 minutes. But my meeting was coming up, so I was crossing my fingers that it would show up soon. Finally at the last possible moment it appeared in the huge oaks above. It gave me a really nice show, even stopping on a tree trunk at nearly eye-level (a much better photo than on a suet feeder or old deer rib cage!). I had kept the car turned off and the windows down to eliminate any “heat haze” created by shooting out of a warm car into 20 degree air. The Canon R5 and Canon RF 100-500mm lens did its job and I was thrilled!

Lewis’s Woodpecker jinx broken! Maybe I’ll make a holiday DVD for Howard and Judy this Christmas…and maybe, just maybe, there will be a short clip of this Lewis’s Woodpecker included 🙂

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens]

Virtually Live 14 —BRRRRdathon 2021 Birding & Wildlife Photography Grand Marais Minnesota (Moose! )

The BRRRRdathon—World’s Coldest Birdathon episode of Virtually Live. The BRRRRdathon is an annual fundraiser for my non-profit, Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

This week we are birding in Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior just south of the Canadian Border. Sparky is participating in the Wintergreen non-motorized division. We go along with his fat bike birding. But he takes an early morning detour inland into the Superior National Forest where he finds an amorous bull and cow Moose! During the BRRRRdathon we see Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Crossbills and more. Find out who won this year’s event.

Ghostly Great Horned Owl: Visitor from the Subarctic (video & photos)

December 27, 2020

A few days ago I went to see this pale beauty! Its been on my “owl bucket list” for a long time. Especially gratifying since I searched three times for the subarctic at Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, Minnesota a few years ago.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 5000; +1.0ev; tripod]

After a 4 hour drive from our homestead on the Wisconsin border of Minnesota, I arrived on the complete opposite side of the state on the North Dakota border. I had just about an hour before the sun set.

A wildlife photography friend had tipped me off to the location of this stunner. It had been seen on and off for a couple months. But as I began searching the numbers trees in the woods along the Red River of the North I started wondering if I would really find it.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

But then there it was! On a tree I thought I had looked at on my way in. Wow! What a pale beauty! The Subarctic (or Western Taiga) subspecies of Great Horned Owl is very pale or even white with black markings. But the disc around the eyes almost always shows some color. They can be mistaken for Snowy Owls if it weren’t for this trait (and of course their feather “horns” which on Snowies are tiny and usually hidden).

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 343mm; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 12,800; +0.0ev; tripod]

This boreal subspecies occasionally may mate and nest in northwestern Minnesota. This bird appeared to be a male since it seemed smaller in size. Females are significantly larger than males.

Thanks again to Matt Sorum who found this in Clay County a couple months ago!

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 428mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +1.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 363mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; +0.3ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 6400; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 254mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +2.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/125 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

HD Video of Subarctic Great Horned Owl

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Blue Cliffs & a Salty Lake:Virtual Birding Trip to Blue Mounds and Salt Lake Minnesota

July 27-28, 2020

I visit a great Salt Lake on the Minnesota-South Dakota border (“great” with a small g!) where I kayak out to see Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, 532 Franklin’s Gulls, Eared Grebes and many other interesting birds. Next stop is Yellow Medicine County and a cooperative pair of Western Kingbirds. Then on to camp and explore Blue Mounds State Park on the Coteau de Prairie where we find Blue Grosbeaks, Upland Sandpipers, booming Nighthawks and groups of close Turkey Vultures. Also a side trip to Touch the Sky Prairie NWR and many fascinating prairie wildflowers.

Virtually Live 10: LeConte’s Sparrows in flowers— Birding Sax-Zim Bog MN

This August 2020 episode explores Northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog in late summer. In this episode we go birding in the “slow” time of year. But a couple cooperative LeConte’s Sparrows in a flower-filled field steal the show. We also stop by Nichols Lake/Lake Nichols and bird the bog stretch of Admiral Road where we find Boreal Chickadees, Palm Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada jays and more.

Sparky also shows us the new platform and bench on Gray Jay Way trail north of the Welcome Center. And we go on a kayak journey on the Whiteface River where a pair of shy River Otters briefly make an appearance. Stunning emerald green and black Ebony Jewelwing damselflies perch along the riverbank.

Rednecks at Osakis (& Part 2: Birding Blind)

May 27, 2020

Grebe photography from a kayak: Shooting with Sparky

The trip ends with an unfortunate Sparky misadventure. But the day kayaking on Lake Osakis in west central Minnesota starts out beautifully with video of Western Grebes and Red-necked Grebes. Sparky also films diving Forster’s Terns, a Bald Eagle snatching a fish, American White Pelicans in flight, Marsh Wrens and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. [wildlife photography, bird video, wildlife video, Panasonic GH5, Shooting with Sparky episode]

500-mile daytrip Birding Minnesota June 12: Egret Rookery, Avocets, Western Grebes: Bird Photography

A LONG 500-mile day trip birding in west central Minnesota. Join me on this “Armchair birding tour” as I photograph American Avocets at the North Ottawa Impoundment (find a rare Snowy Egret), get super slow-motion video of Chimney Swifts in flight in downtown Osakis, shoot Western Grebes on Lake Osakis, and visit a Great Egret/Black-crowned Night-Heron/Double-crested Cormorant colony at Adam’s Park/Grotto Lake in Fergus Falls.

I also discover that a NASA astronaut was born and raised in tiny Vining, Minnesota (pop. 63), which is also the home of the world’s largest clothespin.

Slow-motion video with the Panasonic GH5 and Sigma 50-500mm lens.

Success Birding at Crex: Shooting with Sparky video

June 25, 2020

I had a great day birding at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area. It is near Grantsburg, Wisconsin and only an hour and 15 minute drive from our home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

Highlights include an Eastern Kingbird landing on the back of a Bald Eagle (!), singing Field Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Black Tern, Trumpeter Swans with cygnets, foraging Sandhill Crane, and a sighting of the rare Blanding’s Turtle. (and loads of deer flies!)

Wildflowers including 4 species of milkweed! (including the rare Dwarf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia), which was a lifer) and Butterfly Milkweed), also Spiderwort, Wood Lily, Prairie Larkspur and more.

Come along on this adventure!

Virtually Live 4 Birding/Photography Field Trip to Sax-Zim Bog May 4, 2020

Virtually Live 4 Birding Field Trip to Sax-Zim Bog May 4, 2020

The day starts out promising with sunny skies, calm winds and a very cooperative drake Wood Duck, and then it gets even better with some RARE BIRDS for Sax-Zim: the Meadowlark of the prairies, a sparrow not normally found in northeast Minnesota, a surprising warbler on territory, and a pair of grassland-loving shorebirds (Thanks to FOSZB Head Naturalist Clinton and his eagle-eyed wife Kristina!). A very FAT and cooperative “quill pig” is the “Superstar Mammal of the Day,” but what will be the Superstar Bird? Stick around for the surprise procreative ending to Sparky’s Virtually Live field trip!

Birding with Sparky 3: Virtually Live from Sax-Zim Bog: April 28, 2020

Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Join Executive Director Sparky Stensaas on a 5 hour birding, photography, video tour in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. We visit Nichols Lake, the Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk, Admiral Road willow flats and the Welcome Center. Wild Turkeys in full display, slow motion video of Wilson’s Snipe doing their aerial courtship display, Porcupine eating willow catkins.

NOTE: If you view in highest possible format, you can actually see the stiff outer tail feathers of the Wilson’s Snipe vibrating. The air rushing through these specially adapted feathers is what creates the “winnowing” aerial courtship display sound.