Posts from the ‘Churchill’ Category

2017 Favorite Mammal Portraits

Arctic Hare Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_1174

Arctic Hare [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Talk about a cooperative subject! This Arctic Hare (my first ever!) was browsing willows on the tundra near Hudson Bay. She’d eat a while, then sit and rest and look about. I like this wider shot as it shows a bit of habitat and I love the translucent orange eyeball that contrasts nicely with the vegetation. The hare’s curly pelage also blends with the curvy stems of the foreground flora.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 371mm; 1/500 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

Beaver composite frame extraction from video Stickney Road Sax-Zim Bog MN ADJUSTED

Beaver [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Beaver are rarely seen out and about in winter, but this guy must have run out of food and had to risk coming out of the safety of the lodge to eat. I took video of him plowing through the snow to get fresh willows. Because I shot few stills, this is actually a single frame extracted from a video clip, and that is why the shutter speed is a very slow 1/60 second. Fortunately the Beaver was still for a split second and the photo is sharp.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/60 sec. at f14; ISO 200; tripod]

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Grizzly cub [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Kids will be kids! “Coming through Mom!”

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

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Yellow-bellied Marmot [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

I just like the blue and green background…and its a nice photo of a marmot.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

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Grizzly cub [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

What can I say? CUTE! Like a cuddly 200 pound teddy bear.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

Cottontail rabbit Skogstjarna Carlton County MN DSC01933

Cottontail [Carlton County, Minnesota]

This photo was taken about as close to home as possible…Only about 20 feet from my front door! I laid down on the gravel of our driveway and slowly crawled closer. Always good to get eye level to your subject. Just a cute critter.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/1250 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Harbor Seal Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0648

Harbor Seal [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

Every photographer hopes his mammalian subject will yawn. Yawning in a still image can look like a ferocious growl. Not sure what this Harbor Seal was doing but the open pink mouth contrasts nicely with the blue water of Hudson Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

Moose cow yearling in snow Blue Spruce Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC02589

Moose [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

This photo was taken on the last day of February but I believe it is the same young cow Moose that I found a couple miles away in early November. She was a very tolerant critter…especially for a Moose! Several of us were able to shoot quite close to her as she browsed willows. She would mostly ignore us, but occasionally steal a glance to make sure we didn’t get too close. I like how the shaded woods turned a pleasing purple and the red willows were beginning to pop.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; -0.33 ev; tripod]

Pine Marten American Marten Admiral Road feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC01095

Pine Marten [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Marten are cute as a button, but also ferocious hunters. They are able to hunt down Red Squirrels in the trees! Clinton Nienhaus and I were watching a roadside bird feeding station when this guy came from the bog and started feasting on peanut butter left out for the Boreal Chickadees. He paused to lick his lips. Hey buddy, you missed a spot!

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

White-tailed Deer bucks CR133 Meadowlands Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_5023

White-tailed Deer bucks [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

I was on my way home from doing some work on our Welcome Center in Sax-Zim Bog when I spotted these two bucks browsing in a hayfield along the road. Unlike most bucks, they did not bolt the minute I slowed the car. In fact, they came closer and closer even after I got out of the car! Maybe it was the many deer flies that made them crazy that day.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

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Grizzly and cub  [Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Ryan and I had a chance this spring to spend much time with a sow Grizzly and her yearling cub. They played and dug grubs and roots, and the cub would even nurse, all the time, ignoring the photographers. I like the eye-level perspective and the fact that they seem to be gazing at the same thing.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod]

Arctic Hare Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-9

Arctic Hare  [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

How can you not love a face like this? Like in the other Arctic Hare photo in this post, I love the translucent orange eyes and the oversized black and white ears. He seems to be eyeing me up…wondering if I’m a threat or just a harmless crawling photographer.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 321mm; 1/320 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

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2017 Favorite BIRDS-IN-FLIGHT photos

Well, it’s New Years Eve 2017 and time to peruse all the photos I took in 2017 to find my favorites. By my count, I took roughly 25,000 photos and video in 2017…24,989 to be exact. And I emphasize that these are my favorites…they may not be the best photos, but something about them appeals to me. Over the next week I will post MY FAVORITES in these categories…
—Birds in Flight
—Bird Portraits
—Wildlife Behavior
—Creative Wildlife
—Insects
—Flora
—Landscapes
—Mammal Portraits
—Wildlife in the Landscape

Bald Eagle immature flight breakwall Wisconsin Point Superior WI DSC07699

Bald Eagle (immature) [Superior, Wisconsin]

Birk, Bjorn and I were going to the sandy beach of Wisconsin Point on Lake Superior for a summer swim when we spotted this immature Bald Eagle sitting on the breakwall. I knew that he would fly, and I knew that I wanted a panning shot. I quickly set my camera to 1/60 second and just then he flew. I panned with him and got a few shots where the face was sharp. I also the fact that this is an eye-level shot.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/60 sec. at f25; ISO 400; hand-held]

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0047

Bonaparte’s Gull [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

The Bonaparte’s is an attractive gull. I love their orange legs and feet, and their black hood and white “eyebrow.” This one is delicately plucking insects off the surface off a taiga pond.

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

Common Raven in flight over Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Duluth MN IMG_0283

Common Raven [Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

This Raven is taking a long, hard look at my plastic owl Earl. I love the curve of the wings and the glossy iridescence of the back feathers. Most folks think of the Raven as a black bird, but most photos in bright light show blues and iridescent colors.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Arctic Tern in flight Churchill MB Canada IMG_0804

Arctic Tern [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

The 90-degree angle of the wings is what put this image over the top for me. This was taken at an Arctic Tern colony along the shores of Hudson Bay in mid June.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; +o.66 ev; hand-held]

Mallards taking flight western MN DSC03330

Mallard flock [Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota]

I like the pattern of the mass of Mallards as they take off from a ice-rimmed pond in April. The Mallard is more colorful from the back than from the front. I do wish I had more ducks in the top right corner of the image.

Common Raven in flight over Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Duluth MN IMG_0285

Common Raven [Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

The view from high up on Summit Ledges at Hawk Ridge is spectacular in fall. Lake Superior is just out of the frame to the right. Hawks migrate past this ridge in autumn, but Ravens also zip by the overlook. I like the blotches of color in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Northern Hawk Owl Zim Road Yoki Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC03029

Northern Hawk Owl [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Not your conventional Hawk Owl photo, but interesting to me. I like that you can really see the long tail that gives this day-hunting owl its name…And I also like the salmon-colored sunset (enhanced in Lightroom) and the silhouette of the Tamarack cones.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f7.1; ISO 640; hand-held]

Red-throated Loon Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2176

Red-throated Loon [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

Very few Red-throated Loons nest in the tundra around Churchill, but they do stage and feed on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay while migrating through in spring. On this June morning I saw over 60 Red-throated Loons flying by Cape Merry! Some might look at this image and yawn…but what really excites me about this very average photo, is that the Red-throated Loon is a rarely seen species, especially in breeding plumage. I guess that fact makes it one of my favorites.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 sec. at f7.1; ISO 400; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane motion blur panning flight Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0252

Sandhill Crane pair [Crex Meadows, Wisconsin]

A slow shutter while panning allowed for the feeling of motion on this pair of Sandhill Cranes. Their heads are fairly sharp while their wing tips blur to give the sense of speed. I wish there was a little more “breathing room” in front of the first bird, but it didn’t work out that way. I also like the muted tones of this very autumn landscape.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 sec. at f9; ISO 100; -0.66ev; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse display Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake County MN DSC04295

Spruce Grouse [Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

This guy, with his sexy red eyebrows, was displaying his heart out along a backwoods road. Hopefully he impressed a lurking female. Even though it was April, there was still fresh snow on the ground and snowflakes falling. I saw a Moose a few minutes later.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

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

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Shorebirds in trees!

Shorebirds and Gulls in trees?! On my 1987 trip, I remember how amazed and surprised I was that shorebirds and gulls would perch in the tip tops of stunted spruces on the taiga/tundra. And the Bonaparte’s Gulls nest in spruces…Craaazy!

I must confess that on this trip I didn’t see as many shorebirds in trees, but did get photos of Hudsonian Godwit and Lesser Yellowlegs in the treetops.

Why are shorebirds found in trees on their breeding grounds? After all, they nest on the ground and would want to remain unnoticed. I imagine for the males it is a convenient and conspicuous post from which to watch over your territory and your mate.

 

 


Hudsonian Godwit is aptly named for the bulk of the population breeds in a relatively small area along the south shore of Hudson Bay.

Map of the migration route (yellow) and breeding range (red) of the Hudsonian Godwit. Churchill is located along Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba.


I spotted this Hudsonian Godwit in a tree from about a quarter mile away, so off I trudged onto the very wet and uneven Hudsonian Lowlands (i.e. wet tundra). I approached slowly and stopped a ways away and got some “insurance shots.” After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I’d approach another 1o yards. I repeated this process til I got quite close. Turns out he was watching over a nesting female who sat quietly on a ground nest on the tundra.

Hudsonian Godwit pair fly over tundra along Twin Lakes Road, Churchill, Manitoba.


Lesser Yellowlegs can be identified by their….wait for it….their yellow legs! But to complicate things a bit, they have a larger cousin called the Greater Yellowlegs. But note the Lesser’s thin bill that is only as long as its head; Greater’s bill is longer than its head and more stout.


Lesser Yellowlegs landing on tundra pond.


Red-necked Phalaropes just pass through the Churchill area in late May to mid June; They are on their way to breeding grounds in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska.

They have a very unique way of feeding…they spin around in circles picking insects off the surface of the water.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; Tripod]


Semipalmated Plovers make their shallow scraped depression of a nest on rocky flats such as this. There could have been a nest here with the female sitting quietly but I was too busy following this one around.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


Semipalmated Plover

Crawling on ground covered in smallish sharp rocks is no fun…but it is essential to getting eye-level shots of shorebirds. And eye-level is where its at with shorebirds; a photo taken while standing of a subject on the ground is just not very engaging.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


I was constantly trying to position myself so that I could get the tundra birds in front of, or adjacent to, the arctic wildflowers, especially the pinks of Lapland Rosebay. I did not have much luck, but did manage a background of the flowers in this shot of a Semipalmated Plover.

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


Semipalmated Plovers superficially resemble Killdeer (also a plover), but they are much smaller, have a two-toned black and orange bill, and only have one black “necklace.”

[Sony A6500 with Metabones adapter and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; hand-held while laying on the ground]


American Golden Plover is at home on the tundra. This gorgeous shorebird is in full breeding plumage. When we see them in Minnesota, it is in migration and they are often already molting into their blaah non-breeding plumage.

Churchill is the extreme south outpost of the breeding range of the American Golden Plover. Most nest in the vast arctic of Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavat.

Unfortunately, this is as close as I got to this species on this trip…Next time!

“Short-billed” Dowitcher? Yes, that is their official common name even though they have a very long bill. What gives? Well, everything is relative, and their cousin, you guessed it, the Long-billed Dowitcher, has an even longer bill! The Long-billed nests even farther north than Hudson Bay, breeding along the Arctic Ocean coast in Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/500 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


The last rays of the days sunlight spotlight a single Short-billed Dowitcher, his companions already in the lengthening shadows. I really like this unique shot, but I will frame it differently next time so as not to have the bird right in the middle of the image.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


Three populations of Short-billed Dowitcher inhabit North America; the Pacific and Atlantic populations are not as bright orange and show more neck, breast and flank spotting. The Churchill/Hudson Bay population is of the “prairie” population that extends west to the prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Also found in the southern parts of the Northwest Territories and Nunavit.

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


The Short-billed Dowitcher is THE dowitcher nesting on the tundra along Hudson Bay. It is a stocky and colorful shorebird that sometimes allows close approach. This one was with a mixed flock of shorebirds foraging along Goose Creek Road, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

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

 


Short-billed Dowitcher along Goose Creek Road, Churchill, Manitoba

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held while laying on the ground]


The Solitary Sandpiper has a unique place in Minnesota’s avifauna…It is one of the only species of bird that is only known to breed in the Lower 48 in Minnesota. My friend Karl Bardon discovered one of the most recent confirmed Minnesota breeding records when several years ago he found a couple young Solitaries scrambling across a remote dirt road in the far northern part of the state just south of the Canadian border.


Least Sandpipers are one of North America’s “peeps;” a group of small sometimes-difficult-to-identify shorebirds. Leasts can be told by their very small size and greenish-yellow legs. Like most of North America’s peeps, they breed on the tundra of the Far North.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/2000 sec at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand-held]


Whimbrels are big and bulky birds….but they are still considered shorebirds. Always a treat for me to see, as I only see them every few years in Minnesota…and usually just a glimpse. My last Minnesota sighting was along Duluth’s Park Point on Lake Superior when a flock of seven appeared out of the fog and landed on the sandy beach. This was in May and they were just stopping over to rest on their way to the tundra to breed…Who knows…maybe even on their way to the Churchill area!


I did not find any shorebird nests while in Churchill, but I was a bit early. This pair had set up territory on the tundra though.


Whimbrel

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: Tundra Wildflowers & Landscapes

Though the main purpose of my trip was to photograph and video the birds of the tundra, I also got in a bit of landscape and flora photography. Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) was by far the most dominant wildflower (actually a dwarf shrub) in the landscape. The showy purple-pink flowers dotted the tundra and edges of the boreal forests. At only a few inches high, it is funny to think of this as the same genus of the much larger Rhododendrons and Azaleas that are more familiar to us in “the south.”

I learned that the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens makes a pretty darn good macro lens due to its amazing close focusing ability. You’ll see many “telephoto macro” images below using this lens.

I also used the iPhone 7+ for several landscape photos. Post processing them with Snapseed on the phone.


Oversized inch-long catkins dwarf the willow they belong to. I believe this is Salix arctica or Arctic Willow. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 287 mm; 1/320 sec at f5; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Edge of the boreal forest on a road off of Goose Creek Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+ and post processed with Snapseed on the phone]

 


An interesting phenomenon I witnessed was the mirage of icebergs on Hudson Bay. Low floating pans of ice appeared to be giant walls of icebergs or a glacier when viewed through the heat shimmer of midday. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Willows, dwarfed Spruce, water pools and scoured bedrock dot the landscape along the shores of Hudson Bay. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Quartz veins on bedrock decorated with lichens. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/400 sec at f10; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]


Lichens [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Lapland Rosebay at the base of a lichen encrusted boulder. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 135 mm; 1/250 sec at f11; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]


Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is actually a dwarf rhododendron shrub that enlivens the tundra in early summer (mid June).

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]


The dwarf rhododendron called Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is only a few inches tall (3 – 18 inches around Hudson Bay), but it has spectacular purple-pink blossoms. It is in the Family Ericaceae along with other small shrubs including blueberries, cranberries, Leatherleaf, Bog Rosemary, Bog Laurel and azaleas.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. This dwarf shrub grows around the world at farn northern latitudes. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/100 sec at f13; ISO 400; +1 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


An island of Lapland Rosebay on the edge of the boreal forest along Twin Lakes Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]


Lapland Rosebay and Reindeer lichens. Caribou in winter paw through the snow to get at and feed on Reindeer lichen, which is also known as “Caribou Moss.” [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

 


Lichen pattern

 


The white flower with red speckled petals is Saxifraga tricuspidata or Prickly Saxifrage (a.k.a Three-toothed Saxifrage), one of the most common Saxifrages in the Arctic. It is a colonizer of bedrock, taking hold in cracks. Its Inuktitut name is kakilahan.


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) ?? Not quite sure. The leaves below are not Dryas leaves, but maybe from another flower?


Interesting boulder with more resistant quartz veins.


The tundra is extremely colorful in the fall, but equally so in June in spots.

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) is a member of the rose family. It is a circumpolar species and is found across Arctic Canada into Alaska and west through Siberia. It is also found at high eleveations in the Rocky Mountains. This species exhibits “heliotropism” as the flower faces and tracks the sun as it moves across the landscape. This may be more attractive to insects as it creates a warmer microclimate. [Launch Road tundra; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 286 mm; 1/320 sec at f6.3; -1 ev; ISO 100; handheld]

 


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) range map


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) had gone to seed in the warmer parts of the Churchill area. Styles of the pistil elongate, twist and become fluffy heads from which the feathery seeds disperse in the wind. [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 263 mm; 1/400 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]


Gulls, jaegers, terns, loons, sea ducks…All can be seen at the tip of Cape Merry (remnant ice chunks float in the background). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Speedboat in the Arctic? No, just a wonderfully shaped ice floe drifting past Cape Merry. It upended and sank a minute later. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Ice chunks on Hudson Bay and steel gray skies greeted me as I arrived in Churchill on June 16th.


Ice floated in and out of the shoreline areas of Hudson Bay during my entire visit (June 16-20). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


“Flag Spruce” dot the tundra in clumps such as this. They are shaped by the harsh winter conditions; snowpack covers the lower branches, protecting them from the strong ground winds that carry ice chunks and scour the middle trunk of all its branches. The tip of the spruces still carry needle-bearing branches (the “flag”) as they are above the effects of the ice-scouring forces. [Launch Road, Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+]


You may recognize the blueberry type pink flower of this ground hugging shrub. This is likely a species of Vaccinium but I’m not sure which.


Net-veined Willow (Salix reticulata) is a ground-hugging dwarf willow that span less than the diameter of a quarter on the tundra. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f4.5; ISO 100; handheld]


A pair of large willow catkins greet the start of another tundra summer.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Arctic Hare

This Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus) was a lifer mammal for me! [A “lifer” is the first sighting of a species that you’ve never seen before.] I found this cooperative critter on June 19th near the Northern Studies Center in a patch of willows and I spent a fair amount of time getting close.

I first got some “insurance shots” out the window of the truck. Then I slowly opened the door and dropped slowly to the ground. I got some eye-level shots. I crawled closer and closer (not too much fun on the hard gravel). Eventually I realized that this Hare cared little about me, realizing, I suppose, that I wasn’t a threat.

He/she is obviously molting from the winter white pelage to the summer browns but I like the patchy color and especially the black and white oversized ears. Willow was on today’s lunch menu and the Arctic Hare kept on browsing while I kept on snapping!

**All photos taken with Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens…Most at 400mm (some wider shots at 120mm); 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand held] All processed in Lightroom

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-4
Arctic Hare near Churchill Manitoba

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-9
Arctic Hares are not the only lagomorph living around Churchill; Snowshoe Hares also live here, but mainly in the boreal spruce forests. I saw 2 Snowshoe Hares in the understory along Twin Lakes Road.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Arctic Hares have long legs like jackrabbits (another kind of hare). They can run at speeds close to 40 mph! And they may need a burst of speed when being chased by Arctic Fox, Red Fox, Wolf, Lynx or Snowy Owl.

arctic_hare_range

This range map of Arctic Hare by the Canadian Geographic is inaccurate; It doesn’t show that the population does indeed extend into Manitoba at least as far south as Churchill.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-3
Hares differ from rabbits in having longer hind legs, living in open habitats (tundra, prairie, desert), not building a burrow or nest, having furred young that are born with eyes open.

Arctic Hare molting running Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-5
Note the long hind legs of the Arctic Hare that allow them to run at speeds up to 40 mph.

Arctic Hare molting eating willows Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-7
Favorite Food! Willows comprise 95% of an Arctic hare’s diet, one study found.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-8
“Southern” Arctic Hares, the ones that live around Churchill and in Labrador and Newfoundland, molt from winter white to gray/brown summer pelage. Those that inhabit the Far North where summer is even shorter, remain white year round.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-10
The Arctic Hare is one of the largest hare species anywhere. They are 17-28 inches long when stretched out, average 6-12 pounds (though some may reach 15 pounds).

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-11
Arctic Hare amongst the willows

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-14
Churchill is one of the few places where Snowshoe Hares overlap in range with the Arctic Hare.

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-15
Molting Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-16
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-17
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-18
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada-19
Arctic Hare

Arctic Hare molting Lepus arcticus Churchill Northern Studies Center Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Hare