Posts from the ‘creative wildlife photography’ Category

2021 “Top Ten” #5 Bird Behavior

“Is this just another category so you can show more bird photos Sparky?” Why, yes, yes it is! And just so you know…I do include flying as a behavior for some reason. I guess technically everything a bird does is “behavior,” so I’m good!

Bald Eagle and Goldeneyes; February; Mississippi River

I can feel my frozen finger tips by just looking at this photo. So COLD! Most of the Mississippi River was frozen at this point in February; only spots below locks and dams were open…and this spring-fed spot near Buffalo, Wisconsin. Though it appears this young Bald Eagle is preying on the Common Goldeneyes, it is actually plucking small fish from just below the surface. There were several eagles and they made multiple passes each. I just laid down on the snow with my Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens and started tracking them as they approached. The R5 did amazingly well, even in the well-below-zero-F temps. I like the monochromatic blue cast to this image.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Green Heron; October; Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

The critical moment. It has always been a thing of wonder to watch birds of all types landing on perches. Can you imagine the vision and motor skills this takes? How about a Great Gray Owl alighting on the tip top of a tiny spruce? It can’t even see the bough when it actally lands! This Green Heron made a perfect two-point landing I am proud to report.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 640; 0 ev; handheld]

American Avocets; May; Prairie Potholes of North Dakota

Courtship in American Avocets is highly stylized. This water-thrashing by the male is performed immediately before he mounts the female. The only way I was able to get this behavior shot from such close range was because I was invisible! My floating blind hides the human form which is what alarms much wildlife.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 100; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Not a great photo but kind of fun with all the “bird bickering” going on. This, of course, is common behavior at bird feeders. Evening Grosbeaks are some of the feistiest! Sax-Zim Bog is the best place to find big flocks in winter.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 2000; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Hooded Oriole; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

It is not only Carpenter Bees (in background) that find the blossoms of agaves irresistable! Hooded Orioles also make a beeline for the blooms where they can feast on nectar.

I waited a couple hours to get this shot. I chose a single blooming agave that was at or below eye level (most others were higher up so it would be a less interesting angle with a blah sky background). A few female Hoodeds came in but I really wanted a male. But I kind of blew it with the autofocus as it locked on the flower and not the bird (so don’t blow this photo up too much!).

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Wilson’s Phalarope preening; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Preening takes up a lot of a bird’s resting time. You’ve got to keep those feathers nice and aligned! The floating blind again worked its magic on this prairie pothole lake in North Dakota as I was able to approach this Wilson’s Phalarope closely…Not unnoticed, of course, it knew a big floating blob was only 10 yards away, but rather completely ignored. It didn’t care that the blob was close since it was not a human- or prey-shaped form.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Snow Geese and moon; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

In recent years massive numbers of geese have migrated through western Minnesota in spring. Part of this is due to the creation of the huge North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County. It is part of a multi-county watershed project that has benefited wildlife immensely.

I noticed the moon and intentionally shot straight up as flock after flock of Snow Geese headed north overhead.

In hindsight I should have shot with a MUCH smaller aperture to make the moon sharper in the image. After all I was only at ISO 200 and I could have got a clean image up to ISO 5000 or higher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1250 second at f5; ISO 200; 0 ev; handheld]

Wild Turkey courtship; May; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Human and Wild Turkey courtship have a few similarities: Males strutting their stuff to impress the ladies! The backlit feathers in early-morning light really make this shot.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 320; -2.0 ev; tripod]

American Avocets mating; May; central North Dakota

Prairie potholes aren’t just for ducks! Shorebirds benefit greatly as well. American Avocets mating in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

This Western Grebe is not just getting a drink; it is actually performing part of its courtship ritual. “Dip-shaking” is when one grebe faces another, extends its neck and dips its head in the water, lifting it slowly, water dripping from its open mouth. This behavior occurs just before “rushing,” in which both birds race across the water in a vertical position. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Black-throated Hummingbird and Agave; Box Canyon; Southeast Arizona

Ready for take-off! Black-throated Hummingbird showing its true colors (Shouldn’t they be called “Magenta-throated Hummingbirds??)

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; +0.33 ev; handheld but braced on car door frame]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I simply like the vibrant colors (and blurred wings) of this Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers in Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Black Tern; May; Stutsman County, North Dakota

Black Tern cruising over a prairie marsh in North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Arrowwood NWR, North Dakota

Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds showing off his white epaulets during his courtship song. Interestingly, Yellow-heads are dominant over Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/3200 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 ev; handheld]

American Avocet courtship; May; North Dakota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 400; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Northern Shoveler; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

Birds MUST preen their feathers in order to keep them in top shape. Preening aligns and locks the barbules on each feather. It also cleans the feathers and removes parasites. They also rub a waterproof substance from a body gland on the feathers to keep them from soaking through.

This Northern Shoveler was so busy preening that it paid my floating blind no attention at all.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

2021 “Top Ten” #4 Creative Wildlife

This is really where my heart is in regards to wildlife photography.

Black-capped Chickadee; January; Skogstjarna in Carlton County, Minnesota

Black-capped Chickadee wings iridesce when backlit by the sun. My fingers were frozen by the time I got the shot, but it was worth it 🙂 The electronic 30fps shutter on the Canon R5 sure helps in these situations!  As does prefocusing on the spot where the chickadee will be. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 270mm; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 800; -1.00 ev; tripod]

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake; July; San Pedro House Reserve, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Laying on the ground with a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is an experience I hadn’t had until my July trip to southeast Arizona. I creatively cropped this image to highlight its eye with the unique vertical pupil.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Sandhill Cranes; October; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

I’m the only photographer that goes to Crex Meadows on the day before a full moon to shoot silhouettes such as this…Yeah right! I was just one of a couple dozen photogs there this evening to try and get this type of shot. Why go on the day before the full moon? Well, that is the evening that the moon rises before the sun sets and you can get some decent light on the birds in front of the moon. It is pretty much impossible to get both the cranes and moon in sharp focus even with a f22 aperture. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Black Tern; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Probably my favorite image from Ryan and I’s trip to the prairie potholes of North Dakota this past May. It was one of those situations that you dream of….Your subject just keeps hanging around (in this case a flock of Black Terns) and the light keeps changing (sun, rain, dramatic clouds, rainbows, sunset). We shot a lot. But this image was my favorite…and the bird isn’t even in the shot! Just the reflection of a Black Tern, the rain drops forming concentric rings, and the blue-orange reflection in the water. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Red-breasted Merganser; February; Lake Superior; Two Harbors, Minnesota

I shot through a pile of blue ice to frame this Red-breasted Merganser on Lake Superior. Unique and creative to be sure, but not my favorite shot. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 363mm; 1/400 second at f7.1; ISO 160; +1.66 ev; handheld]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; July; Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds; Patagonia, Arizona

Despite my “freeze frame” in-flight photo of a Broad-billed Hummer that made my Top Ten Bird Portraits, I actually prefer this Broadbilled shot. I slowed the shutter to a crazy slow 1/60 of a second and took a bunch of photos. This was my favorite…Head/eyes sharp and side lit wings in motion.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 238mm; 1/60 second at f5; ISO 100; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Prairie Dog; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Apologies to my photo buddy Ryan (who hates “the dirty prairie dogs”), but I think they are darn cute and fun to watch. While waiting for Coyotes and Badgers in an unnamed valley in Theodore Roosevelt National Park I spent most of my time watching the antics of the “dogs.” The sun was setting and the rim light was developing nicely. I waited for this guy to stand up and throw his head back to give the warning call. It happens so quickly that I missed several but did get this one. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 160; -1.33 ev; tripod]

Great Gray Owl; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Spending time with a Great Gray all alone in Sax-Zim is like gold. And I enjoyed every minute of my solitude with this hunting owl. Maybe this shouldn’t be included in a Creative Wildlife category since it is just a frame plucked from a video clip. But I like the panning motion blur of the gliding Great Gray, which is inherent in video since it is shot at 1/60 second at 30fps.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/60 second; handheld]

Western Grebe; Chase Lake NWR; North Dakota

I selectively desaturated this Western Grebe’s portrait leaving the shockingly red eyes and straw yellow bill. I like the feel of this photo…and I also think the water droplets are kind of neat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f13; ISO 1600; +0.33 ev; on ballhead in floating blind]

Wild Turkey toms; April; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Sometimes good things can happen on your way to taking the garbage cans to the end of the driveway! I looked up and saw about 30 Wild Turkeys in neighbor Paul’s field. There were about a dozen toms and 15 or 20 hens. It was quite a scene…strutting, battles, chasing. And the best part was that it was all backlit creating some very cool images. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 160; -2.00 ev; handheld]

Blue Grosbeak; Box Canyon; Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

High key images are finding their way into my faves category more and more these days. And it is a great technique when you have a bird against a blaah gray sky. Even better if you can include an interesting branch. I got both in this shot of a Blue Grosbeak in SE Arizona. I could have taken the yellow out of the branches but decided that the color added something to the image. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 160; +0.33 ev; tripod]

Sandhill Cranes; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Another favorite from Crex Meadows “full moon-Sandhill Crane” shoot. The purple sky came out with some post processing in Lightroom. See above for more details on this evening at Crex.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Pied-billed Grebe; Kettle River, Carlton County, Minnesota

The thing about creative wildlife photos is that you often have to intentionally search for the creative possibilities in each situation. Since I was looking down on this PIed-billed Grebe, and it was flat gray light, it would have made a blaah portrait. But by intentionally shooting through the snow blobs on the willows it created a  surreal scene. It is nearly a black and white image, but I like the touch of red on the grebe’s throat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/320 second at f5; ISO 100; -0.66 ev; handheld]

Western Grebe; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota

I do love silhouettes, but there usually has to be something extra about the photo to make it a “top tenner.” In this image of a Western Grebe on Horsehead Lake in North Dakota, that something extra is the geometric shapes of the rushes and their reflection. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/400 second at f14; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Ice Eagles: Bald Eagles fishing a frozen Mississippi River: Canon R5 Wildlife Photography Shooting with Sparky

During the icy grip of the February 2021 Polar Vortex cold snap, Sparky travels to the mostly frozen Mississippi River of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin to photograph Bald Eagles fishing open spots close to shore. He also looks for Golden Eagles inland in Houston and Winona Counties in Minnesota.

Bitter windchills means frozen toes and fingers, but the Canon R5 does an amazing job of autofocus while shooting super slow motion (4K 120fps) video of the eagles.

A trip to Old Frontenac Cemetery nets Sparky’s first photos and videos of Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota.

The trip ends at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg Wisconsin where an unexpected Gray Fox and Red Fox make a dusk appearance.

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.

Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos of 2019 (Top Ten)

Creative photos of wildlife are often my goal, but rarely realized.

When we encounter an interesting critter in the field we first take a “record” shot (basically a snapshot). Now we at least have an identifiable image of the animal. Next we try and get a decent portrait. And once we have that, we can play around with exposures (silhouettes?), shutter speeds (often longer for blurs), wider angles (including some of the surrounding landscape) and different perspectives.

This is when it really gets fun! It is low percentage shooting to be sure, but the results are often much more interesting than another “bird on a stick” photo.

Common Raven breath (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens; 1/400 second; ISO 200; hand-held]

I’ve tried to get a photo like this with Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Cranes, and always failed miserably. But when Ryan and I came upon the resident pair of Raven beggars in the Hayden Valley in October, I saw my chance for redemption! The sun was low and the ravens vocal…a perfect combo for the “backlit breath” shot. Only one problem…the wind was very slightly blowing…and in the wrong direction…so their breath was blowing behind their heads. And also, the biggest puff of air usually comes after the Raven is already closing its bill. This one was the best of the bunch.

Bald Eagle in snowstorm (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 250; hand-held]

I like the monochromaticity (is that a word?) of this image. The heavy snow softens the distracting maze of aspens. I did lighten the whole image so that the whites of the snow were just blowing out. The Bald Eagle is waiting for its turn at a deer carcass.

Greater Prairie Chicken on lek (Polk County, Minnesota) April 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 73mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; hand-held]

You have to crawl into the photo blind at grouse/prairie chicken leks about an hour before sunrise in order not to spook the birds. But what do you do while you wait for enough light to take action shots? Well, you can record audio of the “booming” birds…or you can take long (and I mean looooong) exposure panning shots.

I really like how this one turned out. The bird is sharp enough, and I love how its orange eyebrows and air sac contrasts beautifully with the blues of the predawn grass.

Tundra Swans (near Nashua, Minnesota in Wilkin County) April 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

I had several nice “high key” images in 2019. I like this one of a flock of Tundra Swans winging their way through western Minnesota towards the tundra of northern Canada. I intentionally blew out the whites to make a more graphic image.

Bison herd at sunset (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f9; ISO 800; tripod]

I really do have more than enough Bison shots after 10 years of shooting in Yellowstone. But when we rolled up to this herd along Fountain Flat Drive I saw a scene developing. I decided to back off on the focal length to create a “wildlife-in-the-landscape” shot. And as the sun sank, the grass began glowing and the rimlight on the shaggy beasts was perfect. Of course I do wish more had their heads up, but that is wishful thinking with grazing Bison.

Common Ravens (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm; 1/500 second at f7.1 ISO 400; hand-held]

Not sure anybody else will agree with me here, but I love the feel of this image. It is just 3 Ravens in aspen woods in a snowstorm, but it evokes something in me. Can’t describe it…I’ll have to ponder this more.

Red-tailed Hawk (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 73mm; 1/125 second at f5.6; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

Can you find the hawk? Just a small silhouette of a Redtail contrasting with the stark dead tree silhouettes and backed by a gorgeous post sunset purple glow.

Northern Hawk Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Another “high key” image where I increased the exposure and adjusted the levels to clip the whites to create a more graphic image. I like how the Hawk Owl’s yellow eyes and beak, rusty plumage and green lichens pop on the white background. The overcast sky was just a gray blah background so this is one trick to salvage such images.

Zebra (San Diego Zoo, California) August 2019

Just a zebra in black and white. The zebra was in the sunlight, but its shelter was heavily shaded. Maybe not the most creative shot, but I love the graphic nature of the image…and what a striking animal!

Mule Deer and aspen leaves (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota) Oct. 2019

I increased the exposure and elevated the whites, and also decreased the contrast by opening up the shadows in Lightroom.

Bison (Badlands National Park, South Dakota) October 2019

The photo of the Bison is a result 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! You will either love or hate this photo.

Snow Goose blur (western Minnesota) April 2019

It was a stunning and unexpectedly massive goose migration in western Minnesota this April. I sounded like an old-timer telling Bridget and the kids about my experience…”You should’ve seen it…clouds of geese in the air. Skeins of geese overhead constantly. The air was filled with flocks!”

I played with some longer exposures while keeping the camera still. I did okay but the trees in the background aren’t as sharp as I’d like.

Trumpeter Swans (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 2019

I was taking landscape photos and video with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro when I passed over these early-returning Trumpeter Swans. The ignored the “whirring bird” over their heads completely. You don’t often see wildlife from above. I also like the colors in the water.

NEXT UP…Top Ten Landscape photos of 2019

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]