Posts from the ‘Crex Meadows’ Category

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]


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]


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]


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]


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]











Awesomize your Autumn Wildlife Shots with Fall Color

Fall color can really make your wildlife images pop…But how do you incorporate colorful fall foliage into animal pics? It takes a bit of creative thinking because when most of us are out shooting, we are either focused on landscapes (and fall foliage) or concentrating on getting great wildlife portraits…but rarely are we thinking of combining both!

This sounds simple but how often do you find a subject in a spot where colorful leaves create a nice backdrop? Not often! But when you do, take advantage of the situation and shoot like crazy!

Bald Eagle in Quaking Aspen [October; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

Bald Eagle in Quaking Aspen [October; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

I just happened to stumble on this Bald Eagle perched in an aspen while driving around northern Minnesota. My car served as a blind and I was able to get a few shots out the window. Remember to stick your lens as far out the window as possible to avoid the shimmer of heat from your car escaping to the cool fall air.

Sandhill Cranes staging at Crex Meadows  [October 2008, near Grantsburg, Wisconsin]

Sandhill Cranes staging at Crex Meadows [October 2008, near Grantsburg, Wisconsin]

Sandhill Cranes congregate at Wisconsin’s Crex Meadows in late fall. The rusty red oaks compliment the red crowns of the Sandhill Cranes.

Northern Goshawk juv Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_0049859 A juvenile Northern Goshawk swoops across a backdrop of yellow aspens atop Duluth, Minnesota’s Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. I attracted it with the use of a plastic Great Horned Owl.

While calling for Moose, we inadvertently attracted the attention of this curious weasel [October; Superior National Forest, Cook County, MInnesota]

While calling for Moose, we inadvertantly attracted the attention of this curious weasel [October; Superior National Forest, Cook County, MInnesota]

A shallow depth-of-field turned the leaves in the background to pleasing blobs of color.

A near-adult Bald Eagle moves south over a northern Minnesota forest [September; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

A near-adult Bald Eagle moves south over a northern Minnesota forest [September; Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

N Hawk Owl TamaracksTamaracks reach peak color in mid October. Their yellow needles will soon drop, but for now, they glow. Northern Hawk Owl in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota.

Mule Deer buck yellow leaves Yellowstone National Park WY 770_7053Young Mule Deer buck and aspen leaves. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

This may actually be the easiest way to incorporate fall colors into your wildlife shots. Find a small pond, river edge, or lake margin that is lined with colorful trees. The leaves will reflect on the surface of the water if you position yourself at the right angle.
Pied-billed Grebe fall color reflection Rock Pond UMD Duluth MN IMG_0067366

Canada Goose Galesburg IL IMG_0034699 Warm yellow leaves reflect off the surface of a Galesburg, Illinois pond. A low angle and perfect evening light make for a great Canada Goose portrait. The open-billed expression adds to the photo.

Canada Goose fall color reflection Rock Pond UMD Duluth MN IMG_0067214Rock Pond on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus is ringed by beautiful Sugar Maples whose red leaves make amazing reflections.

A pair of migrating Canada Geese float in a pond reflecting fall colors [September; Rock Pond, Duluth, Minnesota]

A pair of migrating Canada Geese float in a pond reflecting fall colors [September; Rock Pond, Duluth, Minnesota]

It is often a tricky proposition to find a subject that you can frame with leaves, but if you do, it certainly makes a compelling image.

Though sometimes called "antelope," Pronghorns are not related to them [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Though sometimes called “antelope,” Pronghorns are not related to them [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Get real creative and try some slow shutter speeds with your wildlife subjects and fall color.
Snow Goose blur yellow tree_9397Snow Geese take off from a roosting pond in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Cottonwood leaves create the yellow backdrop.

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

Pine Siskins swirl in a winter feeding flock [September; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]

A drake Mallard takes off [September; Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota]

A drake Mallard takes off [September; Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota]

Panning with the Mallard at a slow shutter speed made for an interesting image.

Fog and mist can soften fall colors and create moody fall photos.

Trumpeter Swans Spring Lk Carlton Co MN IMG_0051024 Fog on Carlton County, Minnesota’s Spring Lake softens the scene, turning it into a watercolor-like photo.

From Namekagon through Crex Meadows

I had a speaking gig in southern Minnesota a couple weeks ago (Sept. 17 to be exact…I’m a bit behind on my editing!) but I didn’t feel like just driving the interstate (I-35) down to Austin…Much too boring. Why not get some photography in? So I drove south on Wisconsin 35…a 2-lane highway that gets me close to one of my all-time favorite wildlife photography locations…Crex Meadows.
spruce tree dawn silhouette WI IMG_6117sun breaking through fog WI IMG_6147Fog shrouded the low-lying spots along the highway, then as the sun rose, rays broke through, illuminating the mist, making it glow. I pulled the van over immediately, knowing the sun would burn this fog off quickly. I managed to get these ethereal shots…silhouette of an old spruce (above) and the sun rays in the fog.

Bald Eagle Namakagon River WI IMG_6216Further down the road, I crossed the Namekagon River (part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway). I stopped and spent some time here as the scene was changing from hazy foggy misty goodness to pure morning sun. This Bald Eagle magically appeared, hunting down the river corridor. I wish I’d captured the wings in a better position but I like the silhouette anyway.

Red-tailed Hawk Namakagon River WI IMG_6211An old White Pine along the river made a choice perch for this Red-tailed Hawk. I chose a wider view, giving the branch itself a bit of a starring role. I like the composition.

Red-tailed Hawk coughing up pellet Namakagon River WI IMG_6212Wildlife behavior is always interesting to capture, but not easily done. The Red-tail started making odd movements and I knew it was about to cough up a pellet. I fired off a series of shots. You can see the pellet falling to through the air. I wish I had time to take a video of this. Oh, well. (pellets are conglomerates of undigested bone and hair that are regurgitated by birds of prey and many other birds…including hummingbirds! In addition to nectar, they eat insects, some with hard wing cases or larger wings, that need to be coughed up.)

Pied-billed Grebe Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6428Pied-billed Grebes were very common at Crex Meadows this day. This pond had 5 hunting in fairly close proximity. I saw this guy struggling with a fish so I grabbed some shots as it flew off with its prize bullhead. It eventually was able to turn it in its bill so it could slide down its throat head first.

Paper Birch Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6412The first hints of fall color in a stand of Paper Birch.

Blue-winged Teal flock Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6549Blue-winged Teal flock.

Northern Harrier Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6547Northern Harriers spend much of their time gliding over marsh land and meadows searching (and listening) for voles, mice, shrews and small birds. Owl-like facial disks focus sounds in the grass on their ear holes thereby aiding in triangulating the location of unseen prey. The females, like this one, are brown; Males are a striking light gray. Both have the white band on the upper tail.

Sandhill Crane Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6252 (1)A lone Sandhill Crane forages along the shore. Crex Meadows is known for its huge concentration of fall migrating Sandhill Cranes. It is an important stop over for their migration.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6386Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you find a subject that is comfortable with your presence. You have to take advantage of these rare moments. This Short-billed Dowitcher (juvenile) allowed me to actually get out of the van and sit quietly at the edge of the water while it fed, waded, swam, bathed, and preened only 30 feet away! These are my best Short-billed Dowitcher pictures by far.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6341

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6382

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6357

Trumpeter Swan Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6534Trumpeter Swans nest in good numbers at Crex Meadows. This adult was one of a pair that had 4 nearly grown cygnets. Cygnets do not get their white plumage until they are a year old. Also note the pink on the juvenile’s bill.

[all wildlife shots with Canon 7D & Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, hand held]

Photo to Quilt

I got a wonderful surprise in the mail a while back. Unbeknownst to me, my friend from Wilderness Canoe Base, Beret (Borson) Nelson had created an art quilt based on one of my photos I had put in a blog post. It is an image I took at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin of 3 sunset-silhouetted Sandhill Cranes. The quilt piece is beautiful!

My father-in-law, with his amazing artistic eye, had it framed as a present.

Beret and her husband, Brett, met at Wilderness Canoe Base on the end of the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. I worked there too and that is where we all connected. Brett and Beret live outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Brett is a wildlife biologist. They have three kids. Neat family!

Beret says art quilting is a rapidly growing art form ….It is machine stitching called “free motion stitching” in which the feed mechanism is disengaged so you can sew in any direction. All those cattails and rushes are individually free stitched with the machine! Beret also uses an iron and fabric glue to layer hand cut shapes into the design. Beret recently won Grand Champion in the Art Quilt division at the fair this year…I can see why!

Late-season Cranes at Crex Meadows

I hadn’t been out shooting with Ryan for a long time. You know how it is…life gets in the way. So on Friday we headed down to Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin for a little “target practice.” Sandhill Cranes stage here in late autumn to fuel up for their next stage of migration. The cranes feed in area corn fields during the day, but return to roost in the safety of Crex Meadows marshes just before sunset.

When Ryan pointed out the rising moon, I knew what photo I wanted. It’s easy to get cranes flying in front of the moon…The hard part is getting enough depth of field for both to be in focus and yet have enough shutter speed to stop the motion of the flying cranes. So I stopped down to f16 and set the shutter speed to 1/500 and set the ISO to “Auto.” You need a fair amount of light to do this so it must be when the moon is rising before the sun sets but before it gets too high in the sky. Also the cranes need to be not too close and not too far away. It all came together in this shot, though the ISO did have to range up to 1250.

The trip was mainly about just getting out with a buddy…We both have more crane photos than we can count…We’ve been to Crex many times and also spent a glorious five days in New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache, a major wintering area for Lesser Sandhill Cranes (and they are even more tame than these Greaters).

Long story, short, I have some very nice Sandhill Crane portrait shots (sharp, beautiful light, etc) So, with the pressure off, it was time to experiment. And this may be my favorite photo from the entire trip (all 6 hours of it!). I slowed the shutter to 1/15 of a second and panned with the flocks as they came in to roost. I cropped it and converted it to black and white. It is the “essence” of crane flight. I love the abstract flow and motion, and the way you can almost see and feel their wings flapping. We joked with Sridhar, a fellow wildlife photographer from Minneapolis, about our mistakes becoming “fine art” photography…but this one was intentional…I promise!

A line of Greater Sandhill Cranes coming in from the west, flying through a streak of color as the sun set.

Top: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f/16 at 1/500 second at ISO 1250, tripod
Middle: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f/32 at 1/15 second at ISO 100, tripod
Bottom: Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 1.4x teleconverter; f/8 at 1/200 second at ISO 500, tripod

Found Treasure

I love it when you go back through photos you took a long time ago and find a hidden gem…an image you bypassed in the first round of editing. In this case I was looking for photos of my eldest son when I came upon images from a trip to Crex Meadows with Ryan Marshik in October of last year. Not sure why I dismissed this image at the time, but now it is one of my favorite all time Sandhill Crane photos.

In order for the moon and the cranes to be in focus, the birds had to be a long ways away. This was shot at f8 so there was enough depth of field to keep both sharp. This is NOT a double exposure or computer generated image. Maybe it would be better if the moon was in the upper left and the cranes were in the bottom right….But I don’t know, I kind of like the feeling that the cranes are MOVING…Migrating south…They’ve put the moon behind them and they have a long journey ahead.

Canon 7D, 400mm lens, f8, 1/1000, ISO 400, tripod with Wimberly Sidekick

Landing Gear Down

Previsualization is important, but the truth is—to quote the Rolling Stones—you don’t always get what you want. On this evening I wanted a nice full frame head-on shot of two to four Sandhill Cranes coming in for a landing, legs lowered, wings out. They would be in beautiful evening light. Didn’t happen. They all landed far out in the marsh.

But when reviewing  the images on my computer I found one photo with five cranes with their landing gear down…Yes, it was a mile away and in terrible light, but I made lemonade out of lemons. By tightly cropping the image and performing some extreme color shifts in Aperture, I created a pleasing (to me) graphic creation. Is it still a photograph? Sure. Is it faithful to what I witnessed that evening in the marsh? Not totally. Do I like it better than the original shown below? Heck, ya!

Canon XTi, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/1600, ISO 400, Tripod

The original below: