Posts from the ‘creative wildlife photography’ Category

A Grizzly Welcome -Yellowstone Day 1

***Just a note to my subscribers that I have now ponied up for the “Premium” plan so you won’t have to wade through those annoying ads placed into my posts.

October 6-7, 2019

Since we were coming from the South Dakota Badlands, Ryan Marshik and I headed towards the Yellowstone East Entrance. The country between Cody, Wyoming and the park is stellar, and as we got closer, we started thinking, “Hey, we might even have some shooting light by the time we get into Yellowstone!”

But even before we got to the park, we had our first bear sighting. It was a Grizzly crossing the Northfork Shoshone River. We managed a few snaps but it was soon into the brush…but on our side of the river. So we decided to pull over in a locked entrance to a campground. And we didn’t have to wait long! The Grizzly was working its way towards us…and completely ignoring the two Minnesota guys laying on the ground pointing big barrel-shaped things toward it. Within a minute the bear was too close for comfort and we retreated to the vehicle.

But then a large patch of Wild Rose hips caught her attention. And she began delicately plucking the ripe fruit only 20 yards from us. It was dusk and we kept cranking our ISO up. I ended up at my max for my old Canon 7D…ISO 6400. Some noise in the photos, but I’d MUCH rather have a sharp and grainy/noisy photos of a Grizzly than a blurry noise-free shot!

These images took quite a bit of working in Lightroom to get to the images below.

Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear at dusk near Northfork Shoshone River
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/160 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eat dusk near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
Black and white image
Grizzly Bear eat dusk near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; 1/160 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/200 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]

Eventually she sauntered within 2 feet of our SUV. A really neat encounter. Made better by the fact that we didn’t have to share it with the typical Yellowstone “shooting gallery.”

Red-tailed Hawk silhouette in old burn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Due to our wonderful “bear delay,” we didn’t get inside the park until sunset. But Ryan spotted this perched Red-tailed Hawk which made for a neat silhouette.

Burned pines and Yellowstone Lake sunset; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Red-tailed Hawk silhouette in old burn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 800; hand-held]
Ryan shooting the sunset and burned pines scene

We camped in the Madison Campground, and headed out in the early morning, excited to see the Hayden Valley again. The last seven years had been spring trips, and almost every time the road through the valley had still not been opened up by the time we arrived.

And we found this cooperative Raven. In all likelihood, it is probably the same begging Common Raven that I photographed here years ago. It is such a treat to be able to get close to these birds since in Minnesota they are so spooky that you can’t even touch the brake pedal and they are gone.

Video of the Raven’s backlit breath while calling was my goal, but I also tried some stills. Like Ryan said, it would have been better if the slight breeze hadn’t been blowing their breath behind them. Interestingly, the biggest puff of breath didn’t come until their beak was already half closed again…and not when it was fully open.

Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/320 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]

I intentionally darkened this image, and increased contrast, in Lightroom to make it a more dramatic photo.

Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/400 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]
Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Note nictating membrane over eye (in middle of “blinking”)
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/400 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]
Can you find the Grizzly?

We were photographing the Coyote below when Ryan spotted this distant Grizzly. We knew we were somewhere near a carcass by the small Raven congregation and 3 Coyotes milling around. We had walked out into this meadow near Canyon to check it out. We later learned that it was a carcass that had been picked over, and this Grizz was probably checking on it…Just in case.

Grizzly in morning light near Canyon; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Note the distinctive shoulder hump of the Grizzly (Black Bears lack this). Its shape is highlighted by rim light of the rising sun.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 500; tripod]
Coyote licking his chops near old carcass; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f6.3; ISO 100; -0.66ev; tripod]
Coyote leaping for voles in frosty meadow near Canyon; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 100; -0.66ev; tripod]
Ryan shooting our Raven friend in Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake (colder than it looks!), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake (colder than it looks!), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sparky on Mount Washburn pass, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Evening stars at our campsite in Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm lens; 20 seconds at f18; ISO 320; tripod (and flashlight to illuminate my face)

Day 2-3 in Yellowstone coming soon

Prairie Dog Group Back Rub and Peek-a-Boo Burrowing Owls in the South Dakota Badlands: October 5-6

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

Ryan Marshik and I moved our annual Yellowstone trip to fall this year. We hadn’t “done fall” since 2012. Only late April-early May spring trips from 2013-18. And this time we were NOT going to go through the relative torture of driving 17 hours straight to Yellowstone. No siree. This time we decided to make our first stop South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.

We had high expectations for beautiful landscapes and Bighorn rams, and a slight hope for a Burrowing Owl. Ryan had a report from a friend of a location from this summer where a Burrowing Owl had set up camp in a Prairie Dog town.

GROUP BACK RUB! Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)

Well, we found the Prairie Dogs! Ryan doesn’t care for these rodents at all. But this is where the Burrowing Owl had been reported, so he tolerated them.

I love these “Group Backrub” photos. This is a family group of young ones and an adult.

GROUP BACK RUB! Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Bighorn ewe
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm; 1/200 second at f10; ISO 3200; -hand-held)
Bison and Badlands
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm; 1/100 second at f8; ISO 3200; hand-held)
Bison scratching his belly on wood post (processed as black and white in Lightroom)
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens; 1/60 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 800; hand-held)
Bison sunset
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
Badlands sunset
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens; 1/60 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 640; hand-held)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; hand-held)

Ryan’s “owl intel” paid off! The next morning we drove by the spot where his friend Sandra had seen one in the summer. I saw a very round blob and yelled, “Stop!” Sure enough, a Burrowing Owl was soaking up the first rays of sun on a cool morning. But as we stopped the car and fired off a few shots, it retreated to the safety of its abandoned Prairie Dog hole.

A few minutes later, we found a second Burrowing Owl about 100 yards away. This one was in perfect light, but crouched down when we stopped the car, and hid in the burrow when we got out.

We set up our tripods across the road from the owl and laid down to shoot at eye level. But this guy wasn’t having it. He’d only peek above the rim of his safe hidey-hole, and even after an hour and a half didn’t show any more of himself than the top of his head and two eyes. But a very neat experience none the less.

Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens with Canon 2x-extender; 1/800 second at f11; ISO 400; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f11 at 1/1250 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; hand-held)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Black-tailed Prairie Dog family
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
Horned Lark
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens with Canon 2x-extender; 1/640 second at f11; ISO 400; -0.33 ev; tripod)

The 3 photos above are results of me playing around with Lightroom controls and experiencing a “haccident”… a happy accident. By sliding the Luminance slider to 100 and the Detail slider to 0 under the Noise Reduction panel, you reduce the detail in the image and it creates a painterly quality to the photo. No Photoshop filters here!

Chicken of the Prairie: A Morning in a Greater Prairie-Chicken Blind—Part 1

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4767

Greater Prairie-Chicken battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

April 26, 2019

Photographers and Birders never really get to enjoy the benefits of staying in a hotel. And this was true for me on Friday morning. I rolled in to Crookston, Minnesota late (after a 4 1/2 hour drive) and after packing my photo/video/sound gear it was already 11pm. Not much time to sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30am. No complimentary breakfast for spring/summer birders! Two granola bars would have to suffice. I had to be in the blind by 4:50am.

Even at that dark hour, the birds had beat me to the lek. Reflectors had marked the 300 yard path to the Greater Prairie-Chicken blind at Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area in Polk County, Minnesota (in the northwestern part of the state). Honestly it was one of the nicest grouse blinds I’ve ever been in. Spacious and roomy with semi-comfy stools, and even a plywood floor! But like all blinds constructed for the public and not specifically for photographers, it lacked a low-angle shooting window. Photographers like to get eye-level shots. It makes the images more intimate and helps isolate the subject from its background. The addition of two “shooting windows” about a foot off the floor/ground would be really nice.

But as spectacular as their displays are, the sounds these guys make are simply mesmerizing. Crazy cackles, hoots, booms against a background of overhead winnowing of snipe and singing Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks. I even heard a couple Greater Yellowlegs and a Marbled Godwit. A true spring chorus!

I am far more familiar with Sharp-tailed Grouse displays, and in comparison, the Prairie-Chickens dance less and fight more. Sharptails perform fancy footwork dance displays and inflate purple throat sacs. Greater Prairie-Chickens do less dancing and seem to rely more on their impressive yellow-pink throat sacs and erected feather tufts. They also seem to face off with other males frequently.

By 9am, the energy level had dissipated and the birds melted into the brushy landscape.

**I WILL POST A VIDEO, INCLUDING SOUNDS AND SLOW MOTION, OF THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN DISPLAYS SOON. STAY TUNED!

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5098

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

The male’s display is

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5166

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

At the peak of displaying, I counted about 15 Greater Prairie-Chickens…Maybe 12 males and 3 females. In this photo you can see 4 males displaying.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5113

Though there were no low angle shooting windows in the blind, I did manage to lay on my belly and shoot a couple shots under the canvas blind’s zippered door. I like the out of focus red dogwoods/willows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5123

Greater Prairie-Chicken male at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4941

Greater Prairie-Chicken males at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4601

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4918

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Prairie-Chickens are a bird of open prairie and brushy grasslands. This part of Minnesota has thousands of acres of such habitat preserved in many Nature Conservency sites, DNR Wildlife Management Areas and the massive Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (along the old beach line of Glacial Lake Agassiz).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens; 1/800 at f4; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4836

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The sun came up at 6:18am and the photography really kicked into high gear. I took over 1200 photos but “chimped and trashed” 700 of those, keeping about 500.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4887

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Love the head-on view!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4769

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Brief aerial “battles” were fairly common during my 4 hours in the blind. Most often they would face-off and then one would back off and wander away. But occasionally fights would erupt.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4768

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5011

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4979

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying n a shrub! at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Now here’s something you don’t see every day…A displaying Prairie-Chicken in a shrub!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5033

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5017

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5040

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4730

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4759

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying for female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4674

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4634

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4566

Greater Prairie-Chicken male in shrub at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4558

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 176mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Three males displaying just before the sun came up at 6:18am. They had been on the lek since before 5am and would continue until 9am. It takes a lot of energy to impress the ladies!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 70mm; 1/250 at f4; ISO 400; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4859

Greater Prairie-Chicken female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The females were more in evidence than at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek (in my experience). But I saw no mating taking place. She lacks the male’s fancy throat sacs and feather plumes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4878

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4430

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Not much to do photographically in the pre-dawn hour…Too dark. But what is fun is to slow your shutter speed way down and crank up the ISO and try some panning motion blurs. I got about 4 good photos that I’ve included here.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4384

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Love this motion blur at a very slow 1/3 of a second. I left the blue pre-twilight background but increased the white balance in the bird to a warmer hue. I do wish it was framed on the left instead of running out of the frame, but I can live with that.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/3 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4467

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4433

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

You can shoot before dawn! I love the artistic/painterly quality of these early morning motion blurs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5284

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/40 at f9; ISO 100; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5367

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5238

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Another front view of this amazing bird of the prairies.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5181

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

This young male (in front) was constantly trying to display in the center of the lek. But the older males (?) would immediately attack him and drive him from the center fo the lek to the fringes. They would even bite his back. I am assuming that he is just a younger individual and has not yet earned his rightful place.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4826

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

 

Sparky’s Top 10 Creative Wildlife Photos of 2018

I am bored of “bird on stick” photos…but I still take them. Every year I strive to get more creative with my wildlife photography. It’s often not easy to do….or at least not easy to remember to do something different. Get the portrait, but then think about how else you can shoot the subject…silhouette? slow shutter? animal-in-landscape? Of course, you can also get creative in “post” and do some interesting crops, or possibly convert an image to black and white. Have fun and play around!

Kingbird sunset silhouette (Felton Prairie, Clay County, Minnesota) August 16, 2018

Smoke from Canadian forest fires made much of the day a hazy mess…making photography difficult. But as the sun set it turned into a fiery ball in the west. Now if I could find a subject to silhouette! Fortunately an Eastern Kingbird landed in a roadside bush. Not the most interesting pose to silhouette, but I love the contrast between the deep blue twilight sky and orange fireball sun.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 at f7.1; ISO 640; -2.0ev; hand-held]

Wild Horse (feral) in Teddy Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) April 30, 2018

A creative crop of a very curious wild horse (feral horse). I love their wild, human-like hair and big expressive eyes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swans (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 30, 2018

A black-and-white conversion that works well with these white subjects. Trumpeters are very curious and will sometimes swim towards you…A very nice behavior for photographers!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 200; hand-held]

Red-winged Blackbird sunrise (Tobin-Kimmes Wetlands, Douglas County, Wisconsin) May 12, 2018

I was looking for a different photo on this spring morning, but you always have to be open to other opportunities. The catkin-laced branches of this willow add to the image, as does the singing and displaying male Red-winged Blackbird.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f11; ISO 100; hand-held]

Sandhill Cranes and full moon (Crex Meadows Wildlife Refuge, Grantsburg, Wisconsin) October 22, 2018

Sandhill Cranes were streaming in to their nighttime watery roost at Crex Meadows as the nearly-full moon was rising. Many photographers had come to try and get crane-moon photos. This was my favorite as the cranes are very sharp and the sky had a tinge of purple.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 400; -1.0ev; tripod]

Tundra Swans (Upper Mississippi NWR, Brownsville, Minnesota) November 17, 2018

I wanted to see what would happen with a very long exposure (13 seconds on a tripod) as some Tundra Swans were still and some were still swimming around. I got this interesting photo of sharp sleeping swans and long white streaks showing the 13-second path of the swimming swans.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 13 seconds at f20; ISO 100; +1.66 ev; tripod]

Three displaying  Wild Turkey toms (Carlton County, Minnesota) May 29, 2018

It was a blah morning with gray skies when I ran across three tom Turkeys displaying on a dirt road. I positioned myself so I could silhouette their whole bodies against the sky. I then pushed the white balance slider all the way to the right in Lightroom (warmer=more yellow/orange)…Voila! Instant sunrise sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 at f7.1; ISO 640; -2.0ev; hand-held]

Bison fur detail (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 28, 2018

Love the texture of Bison hair.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens with Canon 2x teleconverter; 1/640 at f4; ISO 400; hand-held]

High key Sandhill Cranes in frosty field (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 27, 2018

Some photos you don’t think much about when you take them. But when you see them on your computer at home, some really strike your fancy. I liked both the position of the feeding cranes and the frosty grass. To make it a “high key” photo, I adjusted the white levels in Lightroom until the background became totally clipped (blown out…absolute white).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2 L IS USM lens with Canon 2x teleconverter; 1/500 at f4; ISO 200; hand-held]

Eastern Bluebird at Nana’s farm (Galesburg, Illinois) March 30, 2018

Just a quirky photo of an Eastern Bluebird and its silhouette on a barn wall.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 373mm; 1/1000 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

Mayflies at Midnight (St. Louis River, Fond du Lac Bridge, Duluth, Minnesota) July 12, 2018

Hexagenia Mayflies emerge en masse from large rivers in mid summer. Some years are bigger than others, and 2018 was a big year along the St. Louis River near Duluth. This is a long exposure of thousands of mayflies flying about a street light on the bridge. Their floppy flight makes interesting light patterns during the 1/4 second exposure.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4 second at f5.6; ISO 400; -1.0ev; hand-held, braced on car door frame]

Wild Turkey feathers up close (Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota)

Taken out my living room window! Love the iridescence on these stunning creatures.

 

Sandhill Cranes under a full Moon: Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Copy 1 IMG_2106

October 22, 2018 (Monday)

**ALL OF THE BELOW PHOTOS ARE SINGLE FRAMES AS TAKEN…I DID NOT “ADD THE MOON IN PHOTOSHOP”

I ran into several photographer friends down in Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows Wildlife Area yesterday. I guess we were all thinking the same thing…Two days before the full moon is a perfect time to try and photograph Sandhill Cranes in front of a massive moon.

Lauren the naturalist gave me three locations to try for the dusk fly-in of the Sandhill Cranes. One was my “usual spot” along the Main Dike Road. I didn’t want to risk a new spot today so I stuck with my normal spot.

I ran into fellow photographer Mike Dec and we decided to shoot from the same spot. The wind was blowing strong out of the northwest, but the temp was in the low 50s. Cold fingers and shaking tripod!

Sandhills by the thousands roost in the wildlife reserve over night. The shallow-water marshes are basically inaccessible to most predators, and there is also safety in numbers. During the day the cranes feed in harvested corn fields outside the refuge and then fly in a bit before sunset. THOUSANDS roost here in the late autumn.

I was shooting slow-motion 180 fps video with the Panasonic GH5 on a tripod while trying to shoot stills with my Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens hand held. Every time a flock was approaching the moon at what seemed the proper trajectory to pass right in front, Mike and I alerted each other.

But focusing on the cranes was a challenge and I missed some shots because of my camera/lenses inability to lock on to a bird.

A memorable evening! Plan on being at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows next late October.

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1886

The moon rose large behind a stand of oaks but there was little contrast between the sky and the moon. But over the next half hour the moon began to pop as the sky turned from blue to twilight purple. This flock of cranes were lit by the last orange rays of the setting sun.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 640; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

 

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1835Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1846

Before the moon rose at 5:47pm, I took some flight shots with slow shutter speeds. I have so many sharp flight shots that I really don’t need more. Time to get a bit creative! So I slowed the shutter way down to 1/10 of a second at f20; ISO 100. The results are “very artistic” and impressionistic. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/10 second at f20; ISO 100; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015] (top photo at 1/30 second)

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1931

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1956

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI P1044348

This is a single frame extracted from a HD slow motion video. Not the sharpest shot, but still very pleasing in a painterly way.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm f4/5-6.1 lens; 1/320 second; tripod; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2046

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 118mm; 1/100 second at f9; ISO 1000; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1822Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI P1044352Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI P1044354

A couple “selective focus” shots. Basically impossible to get both the cranes and moon in sharp focus in the same shot (unless the cranes were about 2 miles away) so I tried some photos where I focused on the moon instead of the cranes.

These are single frames extracted from a HD slow motion video.

[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm f4/5-6.1 lens; 1/320 second; tripod; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2119

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 400;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2313Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2251Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2297

The above three photos of the roosting Sandhill Cranes were taken well AFTER SUNSET. Long exposures on a tripod. As usual, I was the last car at the spot. You never know what image might present itself after the “main show” is over.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO400;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2106Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2106-2

The above two photos are probably my favorites from the entire shoot. The top is the uncrossed version, and the bottom is cropped to just 4 cranes. I like that they are very SHARP for being hand-held (way to go “steady Sparky”!). I also really like the even spread of cranes and the position of the legs and wings of the crane silhouetted by the moon. And of course, the purple sky color is a bonus.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO400;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2204

As the moon continued to rise after sunset, the color was washed from the sky. The only option was to catch a flock as they passed right in front of the moon.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO1600;-1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_2399

On my way out of Crex Meadows I saw this sight; three Trumpeter Swans silhouetted by the nearly-full moon’s reflection on a marsh. I took a bunch of handheld shots at ISO 12,800(!!), but should have set up a tripod since most are unusable.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 200mm; 1/60 second at f5.6; ISO 12,800; -1.0 ev; hand-held; processed in Lightroom CC 2015]

2017 Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos

American White Pelican flock loafing roost Fond du Lac Bridge St. Louis River Duluth MN DSC06929

Pelican Pouch (St. Louis River, Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota)

Most every spring now, a flock of 40 to 120 American White Pelicans stop over at the Fond du Lac, Duluth portion of the St. Louis River on their way to breeding colonies farther north. They spend most of their time loafing on the barely-above-water islands, preening, sleeping and squabbling. Not sure if this guy was yawning or if this is an aggressive act towards a Ring-billed Gull that flew low overhead. I intentionally underexposed the shot to show off the veins of the pelican, and block out the distracting background forest.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Arctic Tern colony Mouth of Eastern Creek Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC09960

High-Key Tern (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

To make the red inner mouth of this Arctic Tern really pop, I decided to make this a “high-key” image by increasing the exposure of the shot so most of the highlights are overexposed.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/4000 sec. at f8; ISO 200; -2.33ev; hand-held]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton County MN DSC03720

Wild Turkey detail (Our home, Carlton County, Minnesota)

I took this image right out our living room window! And the only lens I had inside was my 400mm f5.6 lens. So I got some extreme close ups of a displaying Tom Turkey. The iridescence in their feathers is a coppery rainbow of colors.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f6.3; ISO 5000; hand-held through our living room picture window]

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Raven Rainbow (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Two foreground snow mounds frame a friendly Raven looking for a handout. The background “rainbow” is just the way-out-of-focus trees and shadows. I took the color out of the Raven and made him totally black (they normally show blue iridescence in their feathers).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/400 sec at f2; ISO 100; +1.33ev; hand-held]

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Running Grizzly cub (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Panning at a VERY slow 1/20th of second, I tracked the running Grizzly cub as it hurried to get back to mama Griz. I like the streaks of snow, and the different background blur colors.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Hawk Owl Zim Road Yoki Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC03052

Northern Hawk Owl silhouette and Tamaracks (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)

The curvy trunks of the Tamaracks are appealing to me in this silhouette. The Hawk Owl is centered so I could frame her with the two background Tamaracks.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/2500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane flock fly-in reflection Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0050

Sandhill crane flock reflection (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

As the cranes flew in to roost for the evening at the Crex Meadows marshes, I noticed their perfect reflection on the still open water. I tried to capture the interesting juxtaposition of sky and water. It is an interesting photo…not great…but unique.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 200mm; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held]

 

Sandhill Crane motion blur panning flight Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0234

Sandhill Crane panning blur (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

Sometimes I like panning at “below-recommended” panning shutter speeds and seeing what I get. It is very low percentage shooting, but sometimes you create something pleasing. Though the crane’s head is not sharp, I still like the overall motion blur of this graceful flyer.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/25 sec. at f9; ISO 100; -0.66ev; hand-held]

 

Scoter flock Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0098

Mixed Scoter flock (Hudson Bay at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

I was laying flat on my belly on the wet rock shoreline of Hudson Bay. And I was wishing I had the Sony A6500 instead of the Canon 7D…Why? Because the Sony has a tilting screen so I wouldn’t have had to contort my neck to look through the viewfinder of the Canon. I love the eye-level perspective and the narrow strip of in-focus water with the blurred foreground and background water framing the scoters. If you look closely you will see that all three North American scoter species are in the frame! Surf Scoter; Black Scoter; White-winged Scoter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand-held while laying on beach]

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Bison fur (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

You can get close to Bison in Yellowstone…Really close! Of course, this was out the car window, so no threat of being gored! I love the wavy quality of their hair.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/2000 sec at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

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Blackbird Blur (Northwest Minnesota)

There are things to shoot even on bleak early spring gray rainy days. This migrating flock of Red-winged Blackbirds took off suddenly and I panned with them at a slow shutter speed.

Sandhill Crane flock fly-in Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0125

Sandhill Crane orange silhouette flock (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

I tried combining two creative wildlife photography techniques in this image; I underexposed the image to create silhouettes of the flying cranes AND slowed the shutter to 1/25 of a second and panned with them as they flew. In this image, the heads and necks re fairly sharp, yet their wings show a pleasing blur that hints at their flapping motion.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 163mm; 1/25 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held]