Posts from the ‘Great Gray Owl’ Category

FIVE OWL SPECIES Mink Bobcat Ermine Wolf

Virtually Live 25 S2E10

In this episode of Virtually Live from the Sax-Zim Bog, Sparky Stensaas shares his favorite sightings from the last month, including FIVE SPECIES OF OWLS, MINK, BOBCAT, ERMINE & WOLF! All in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota from early February through early March.

Encounters with FIVE different owl species in Sax-Zim are highlighted… An adorable Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts below a feeder; A Great Gray plunges into the snow and pulls up a vole; chickadees help him find a Barred Owl soaking up the sun at Fringed Gentian Bog; a Snowy Owl NOT on a power pole!; and a Northern Hawk Owl returns to the Bog and performs and preens for the camera.

Sparky also shares some ETIQUETTE for watching and enjoying Great Grays without disturbing them.

In additIon, we watch a Mink hunt for fish, see an Ermine in hunting mode and enjoy a Bobcat just sitting there.

We also make a stop at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center to see what’s happening there: Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls in slow motion.

And lots more!

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]

Virtually Live 17: S2E2 May 8, 2021

May Birding Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live 17 S2E2 May 8 2021

Sparky takes you along on an “early” spring birding trip in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. Only 25 degrees at the start, but the good birds warm things up…stunning male Black-and-white Warbler, lingering Evening Grosbeaks, Yellow Warbler, cooperative Merlin, and a very unexpected Great Gray Owl.

We also check in on the highlights from the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog “Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night” field trip (can you say “cooperative Great Gray”!). Also a cacophony of frogs (4 species), displaying Snipe and more.

And we see how we discovered a $500 bill and a blond woman’s wig in the Bog. What?!!

You never know what surprises might accompany an episode of Virtually Live!

Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog

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

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

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

Virtually Live 13 Christmas Bird Count Sax-Zim Bog: Great Gray Owl, Fisher, Short-eared Owl Dec 2020

My 35th year as compiler of the Sax-Zim Christmas Bird Count turned out to be a record-breaker despite teams having to social distance. 13 hardy participants brave -10 below zero F windchills in northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog to turn up 39 species!

We also find a species NEVER recorded on the count before (revealed in the video). And I find several owls and gets some crazy cool images of a Great Gray Owl plummeting and pouncing on suspected vole victims.

We find Boreal Chickadees, accidentally film some Black-billed Magpies at the “Bison Farm,” make a visit to Loretta’s grosbeak-rich feeders and have a yummy lunch at the Wilbert Cafe.

I also share some exciting recent sightings of a Fisher chasing Snowshoe Hare and a Short-eared Owl on Stone Lake Road.

Thanks to all CBC Participants: Bill Tefft, Lori Williams, Frank Nicoletti, Abbie Valine, Dave David Benson, Lars Benson, John Ellis, Sparky Stensaas, Sarah Beaster, Clinton Dexter-Nienhaus, Kristina Dexter-Nienhaus, Tony Anthony Hertzel, Tommy Hertzel

Virtually Live 6 Birding Field Trip to the Sax-Zim Bog; May 19, 2020

Number six! I enjoy doing these …especially the birding! Not so much fun to come home and download 4 memory cards (two cameras, sound recorder, Go Pro) and then edit 200 clips into a 15-20 minute video before bed. Long day! (I have to upload to Youtube overnight due to our family usage of WiFi during the day).

Highlights of this trip include a hunting Great Gray Owl, a dirt-eating Porcupine, breeding White-winged Crossbills, juvenile Canada jays and 10 species of warblers including Magnolia, Northern Waterthrush, Black and white Warbler, tour of the new MOTUS tower and more. Sponsored by Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

Northern Owls in a Hoar Frost Wonderland

When I left my house this morning (Dec 11th) I was a bit bummed as the skies were gray and the light flat. But when we started gaining elevation out of Duluth, a hoar frost wonderland began to appear. Every single bud, branch, needle and twig on every single tree was coated in a feathery frost. Spectacular! Now if we could only find some subjects! I was traveling with Dave Shaffer from Spooner, Wisconsin (one of the best Black Bear photographers in the country…see his images (all taken in the wild) at http://www.bearwitnessimages.com) and we were after one thing…Owls!

Most birders and photographers who love boreal birds have heard of northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It is a Mecca for those searching out lifers or photos of northern birds such as Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll and, of course, owls. Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl are regular nesters and can be found easily most winters. Boreal Owls, Snowy Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owl are much more rare.

Great Gray Owl hoar-frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1794[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/400, ISO 400, aperture priority]
Great Gray Owl atop a tiny Tamarack cloaked in hoar-frost, Sax-Zim Bog MN
After a couple hours of unfruitful searching, we spotted a dark blob far down the road. I knew instantly that it was a Great Gray…the Phantom of the North! This was Dave’s first ever Great Gray…a “lifer” in birder parlance. And what a bird! This guy (girl?) kept on hunting for over an hour as we watched and kept clicking the shutter.

This is probably my favorite image from the day. I lover the graceful curve of the Tamarack tip and the “bird in landscape” feel. It really gives you a sense of the boreal haunts of this magnificent bird. I tweaked the white balance to give it a more cool (blue) feel. Though these are the tallest owl in North America (30 inches tall!) they are all feathers and rank third in weight (behind Snowy and Great Horned).

Hoar frost Tamaracks Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1986Hoar Frost is relatively rare in the North Woods, but when it happens you better grab your camera and go! Here is a definition from http://www.weatheronline.com.uk
“Under clear frosty nights in winter soft ice crystals might form on vegetation or any object that has been chilled below freezing point by radiation cooling. This deposit of ice crystals is known as hoar-frost and may sometimes be so thick that it might look like snow. The interlocking ice crystals become attached to branches of trees, leafs, hedgerows and grass blades and are one of the most prominent features of a typical ‘winter wonderland’ day. However, the fine ‘feathers’, ‘needles’ and ‘spines’ might also be found on any other object that is exposed to supersaturated air below freezing temperature.

The relative humidity in supersaturated air is greater then 100% and the formation of hoar frost is similar to the formation of dew with the difference that the temperature of the object on which the hoar frost forms is well below 0°C, whereas this is not the case with dew. Hoar frost crystals often form intitially on the tips of plants or other objects.”

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1954
Great Grays are powered by voles—both Meadow Vole and Red-backed Vole. Some studies have shown that their diet is 97% voles. Their talons are tiny compared to Great Horneds which eat much larger prey (rabbits, squirrels). And voles must be in good supply as this guy caught two back to back within minutes.

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1592

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1592 - Version 2The two images above are just different crops of the same original image. Which do you like better? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320, ISO 400, aperture priority, tripod]

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1739[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320, ISO 640, aperture priority]

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1882 (1)[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 500, aperture priority, tripod]
At dusk we found another Great Gray along McDavitt Road, about a mile or two from the other bird (as the raven flies). Thankfully Great Grays often pick photogenic perches in this stretch of road that has NO power poles or fence posts!

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1850[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 640, aperture priority, tripod]
The spruce boughs in the background hint at this bird’s wild far northern haunts.

Top Twenty Bird Portraits 2013

I photographed nearly 250 species of birds in 2013…and it is always fun to look back over the year and pick my favorites (BTW I discovered that I kept nearly 10,000 bird images taken in 2013…And this is even after I deleted at least that many from my memory card before ever downloading). Most were taken very close to home in Carlton County, Minnesota. In fact, 15 were taken within 60 miles of home and 3 of those were taken on my land, and 2 were taken right from my living room! Only two images were taken outside of Minnesota…the dowitcher in Wisconsin and the oystercatcher in Florida. Previously I posted some of my favorite bird action shots. and Top Ten Creative Wildlife Shots. Here are my favorite bird portraits from 2013.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7224April was a brutal month in northern Minnesota…Over 48 inches of snow in April alone! This photo exemplifies the mood of the month. This early-returning Yellow-rumped Warbler seems disgusted to find spring not yet sprung in the North Woods. Fortunately, these insect-eating birds will also feed on suet, which we had plenty of. Taken from my living room easy chair! My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/640 at f5.6, ISO 125, -â…” EV, hand-held through our living room window!]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6665Amazingly, several of my favorites of the year were taken through our living room picture windows. This Wild Turkey tom had love on his mind in mid April and here he is showing off to the half dozen hens that surrounded him. See more photos and video here. My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/160 at f5.6, ISO 640, -â…“ EV, hand-held through our living room window!]

White-throated Sparrow Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0324Just a nice simple portrait of a White-throated Sparrow. I brought these lichen-crusted rocks back from Wyoming just for this purpose. I placed them on my picnic table, then put out cracked corn for the migrating sparrows and blackbirds. My blind was 20 yards away. I could sneak in there for brief sessions before dinner when the light hit the table just right. My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 250, -â…” EV, tripod in a blind]

Swamp Sparrow Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1734What I like about this photo is the graphic element of the vertical grass stalks with the Swamp Sparrow relatively small in the frame. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f6.3, ISO 200, hand-held but braced on bean bag on door window of car]

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398It’s not often that a shorebird allows your close approach…but this Short-billed Dowitcher did. I was able to sloooowly get out of my car and ease myself into the shoreline brush to get a closer shot. It was late in the fall migration so the dowitcher was very intent on feeding, gathering energy to continue its journey south. Crex Meadows, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/800 at f7.1, ISO 250, hand-held]

Northern Shoverler male near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1408Early morning light on one of our most spectacular ducks—the Northern Shoveler. It is named for its oversized bill that is used to sift pond waters for micro-organisms. See more Felton Prairie shots here. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f5.6, ISO 500, hand-held]

Horned Grebe adult Park Pt bayside Duluth MN Horned Grebe Park Pt Duluth MN IMG_9081Ice-out was very late in spring 2013. This can be good for photographers as it forces spring-migrating waterfowl to the open water close to shore (where the ice melts first). This Horned Grebe really had its “horns” up, and was in peak spring plumage. Love the red eyes too! Park Point, Bayside of Lake Superior, Duluth Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/640 at f8, ISO 800, -â…“ EV, hand-held]

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002This is actually a single frame from a clip of video I was shooting of this Great Gray Owlet. Because of that, the file is quite small and of limited use. I just like how the little guy was stretching its wings over its head.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7402See the full story and video of this amazing experience here.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens, 1/60 at f9, ISO 100, Canon 420EX flash, hand-held. NOTE: Not the ideal settings! I should have shot at max flash sync speed of 1/250 at a bit higher ISO, but I’d just been shooting video (which is always at 1/60 second) and forgot to change my camera settings.]

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2The two images above were from June when a friend of mine, Kim Risen, discovered a Great Gray Owl nest deep in a Spruce-Tamarack bog. The young had fledged but were still begging to be fed by mommy from their ground perches. I crawled slowly up to them with my wide angle lens and flash, took a few shots, then crawled away again. Mom supervised the whole operation. Northern Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 20mm, 1/60 at f9, ISO 100, Canon 420EX flash, hand-held. NOTE: Not the ideal settings! I should have shot at max flash sync speed of 1/250 at a bit higher ISO, but I’d just been shooting video (which is always at 1/60 second) and forgot to change my camera settings.]

Great Gray Owl nest Hedbom Road Aitkin Co MN Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/60 at f5.6, ISO 1000, tripod from blind]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946I just like the vertical composition of this image. Tamaracks turn a vibrant yellow-gold in the bogs of October and this Gray Jay made one his tip-top perch. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/250 at f5.6, ISO 400, hand-held]

Boreal Chickadee and Black-capped Chickadee Admiral Rd feeder Sax-Zim Bog MNAnother Sax-Zim Bog photo. I like this image because it is our two species of chickadees together on one branch. The Boreal Chickadee is restricted to deep dark Black Spruce/Tamarack bogs while the Black-capped is found in nearly every habitat in the North Woods. Boreals are more attractive in person than they are shown in the field guides; I love their warm brown cap and olive back. Amazingly they do not eat sunflower seeds! In fact, at this feeder (Admiral Rd in the Sax-Zim Bog) they only feed on suet and peanut butter—Fat! In the bogs they feed on insects (eggs, adults, larvae) and carcasses. It is my belief that if enough of them could gang up, they’d bring down a Moose! Feast time! But seriously, they do not readily leave the Black Spruce/Tamarack forests and are never seen at feeders away from their bog security blanket.
[Taken at Admiral Rd feeders in the Sax-Zim Bog. I set up the branch and put some peanut butter behind the branch to attract the chickadees. Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 420EX flash with Better Beamer.]

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1642Brewer’s Blackbirds are actually anything but black…In the right light, their iridescent feathers show purples, bronzes and greens. A weathered fence post and rusty barbed wire adds to the prairie feel. See more Felton Prairie shots here. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f6.3, ISO 250, -â…“ EV, hand-held, braced on car window frame]

Boreal Owl preens nr Stoney Pt Scenic 61 St. Louis Co MN IMG_0074883The winter of 2013 brought birders and photographers a special treat…an irruption of a rarely seen owl called the Boreal Owl. About the size of a small box of Kleenex, the Boreal Owl preys on voles but when vole numbers crash in areas north, they must move south in search of food. This little guy was photographed on an overcast day. It was a big surprise when I saw the image on the computer…I loved how the tree trunk’s lichens blurred to pleasing shades of green, and was especially excited about the oozing sap/pitch that turned blue in the shade, both contrasting nicely with the Boreal’s yellow eyes. See more of my photos and video of the irruption here. Near Stoney Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f5.6, ISO 3200, -â…“ EV, hand-held]

Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MNIMG_0074823It was a Boreal Owl irruption winter…the first in many years. The hungry owls had been driven south in search of food and ended up along the North Shore of Lake Superior near Duluth. The event was a treat for birders and photographers but was an ordeal for the owls. Fortunately, many seemed to be catching voles despite the deep snow. See more of my photos and video of the irruption here. Near Stoney Point, Duluth Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 100, tripod]

Bohemian Waxwing crabapple Duluth Zoo Duluth MN IMG_8418During a spring family outing to the Duluth Zoo, we stumbled on a very wild and non-captive flock of Bohemian Waxwings. The birds were happily feeding at head-height in a crabapple tree near the Siberian Lynx and Snow Leopard. I shot the birds as folks walked right by the tree without even noticing the birds (until they looked at me and wondered what I was photographing.) Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 160, -â…“ EV, hand-held]

Black Oystercatcher Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Meyers Beach FL IMG_4003A family vacation to Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida in June was filled with fun but cursed with bad weather (The kids didn’t even notice!). So when I took this shot of a Black Oystercatcher on a tidal shallow pool under heavy overcast skies, I didn’t think much would come of it. But when I got back home and saw it on the computer, I was ecstatic. The gray water and flat light actually work in this case. I blew out the whites to give the Oystercatcher a nice clean background. I love the curved sweep of its feathers as it preened. See more photos from the Florida trip here. Fort Meyers Beach, Florida
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 100, hand-held]

Bald Eagle CR4 Cemetary Rd Carlton Co MN IMG_0075839Bald Eagles often survive northern Minnesota winters feeding on roadkill White-tailed Deer. This one was doing just that. Can you see the blood on its bill? Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f6.3, ISO 250, hand-held braced on car window frame]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9999Every few years a flock of American White Pelicans stops by the St. Louis River near Fond du Lac, Duluth Minnesota. They usually spend a few weeks loafing, preening and fishing in a stretch of river near the bridge. They are always a blast to watch and I really enjoyed an afternoon with them in May. Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with 1.4x tele-extender, 1/1600 at f8, ISO 100, tripod]

Dream Come True: Witness to a Great Gray Owl nest

Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410Two Great Gray Owlets await mommy or daddy from their lofty nest in a large Tamarack.

I had the great fortune of having a good friend who was willing to share the location of a Great Gray Owl nest he had found recently. Kim Risen is a professional bird guide based out of Tamarack, Minnesota, who leads birding trips across the globe, from South Africa to South America to Costa Rica to Mexico and even in his ‘backyard’ of northern Minnesota. Kim found this nest on a June trip with a client. He’d seen young in this general vicinity several times over several different years. He graciously shared the site with me.

I first visited the Black Spruce/Tamarack bog with Kim and his wife Cindy on June 18th and made several more visits, the last on June 28th. Two owlets were in the nest until at least June 24th, then must have “flew the coup” around June 27th or 28th when we found them on the ground.

VIDEO SHOWING BEHAVIOR & COMMENTARY ON FAVORITE PHOTOS (7 MINUTES)

You can see more of my wildlife videos HERE

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7396Note mom in the bottom left corner of the image…She was never very far away. The young were generally silent…until they saw an adult when they gave a loud screech (can hear it late in the video). But the female often gave a rising “Whoop!” call. Robert Nero, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Great Gray Owls, says this call “is often given by the female on the nest as a means of communicating with the male.” Robert Taylor, author of The Great Gray Owl: On Silent Wings calls this is “food request call” and it is given more frequently during years of low vole supplies. It likely helps the male find the female too as he delivers the food to her so she can feed the owlets. May this also be the female’s form of communication with the owlets?…”You’re okay…I’m right here.”

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390On June 28th I went to photograph the owlets from my blind…But I saw no action in the nest. Just as I was contemplating this, I simultaneously heard my cell phone ring as well as a screech from ground level. I assumed the screech was one of the owlets who’d left the nest. It was Kim on the phone and he was in the bog and had seen the young on the ground. As he was talking I found one of the owlets ‘teed up’ on a stump… “Found one! Gotta go.” I set up my tripod and folding chair, then draped camo netting over myself and started shooting. The owlet stared at me for 20 minutes without taking its eyes off me, though its posture relaxed over this time. Then when he/she was comfortable that I was not a predator, the owlet started to look around, and even stretch.

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002STREEEEETCH! FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO CLIP. The young Great Grays often stretched like this…Working their flight muscles I imagine. Fortunately he was facing me head on and gave me this unique perspective. [Note that when you extract a frame from a HD video clip you only get a 1920x1080pixel image to work with…and it’s shot at 1/60 second…and its basically a jpeg. Very limited use, but fine for the web].

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7389Though the owlets can’t fly at this age, they sure can get around! They will walk across the bog then climb leaning trees and stumps by using their talons for grip and using their beak to grab branches like a parrot, pulling themselves up, wings held over their back for balance.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2 (1)The ticket to not alarming wild critters is to move slowly, stay low, avoid eye contact, and talk to them in a low soft voice (don’t whisper!). And stay in plain sight so you are not mistaken for a sneaky predator. I got very close to this owlet…Close enough to use my 10-20mm lens with full flash. I love the low angle and wide perspective which really puts the owl in its habitat.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7343

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7302Eye-level shot with Canon 400mm f5.6. I WISH I’d put my big flash and Better Beamer on! The images looked okay on the LCD but there is a weird greenish cast from the light filtering down through the canopy. Live and learn!

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7410The sibling to the owlet on the stump, is this fuzzball. I found him/her on a comfy cozy patch of super-soft Sphagnum moss. I laid on my belly, crawled towards her (got soaking wet!) and inched to within a foot of her/him. He/she began bill clacking, an alarm signal, so I snapped a few photos (full flash) and backed off.

I wish this little family well and hope they find many fat voles!

[All photos and video taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Sigma 10-20mm lens, Canon 580EX flash, Cabela’s Lightning Set pop-up blind, Manfrotto tripod]

Top Twenty Images of 2012

2012 is gone and I’ve had a chance to look at all my images from the year and pick my favorites. Time helps clear your vision. Some images I was crazy about right after I took them, are no longer exciting to me. Here I present my favorite images of 2012 in reverse order…Maybe not the most saleable nor necessarily the best portraits (which can be boring), but the shots that I kept coming back to..the ones that intrigued me…or were difficult to get…or were the most creative. And this last bit about creativity brings me to my big announcement for 2013…I will be releasing a new video: GET CREATIVE: WILDLIFE IMAGES BEYOND THE PORTRAIT this year. Stay tuned!

near Saginaw, Minnesota St. Louis County #20—The surprise image of the year…I was perusing photos from my June work for the Minnesota County Biological Survey when I found this very underexposed, blaah image. But then I saw the potential as a high-contrast black and white image. The result was a very graphic silhouette of a foraging Pine Warbler amongst the long delicate needles of a Red Pine. St. Louis County, Minnesota.

07-Best2012 Ruby-throated Hummingbird female and Liatris Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0064370 #19—I spent much quality time with our backyard hummers this summer. We mainly hosted females but occasionally a bully male would show up…but never when my camera was in place. I was using flash and a Better Beamer to throw light onto the hummer but in this shot the flash did not fire. But I like the resulting softer look…No harsh light blasting the tiny bird. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

11-Best2012 blurred leaves Rock Pond Duluth MN IMG_0067511 #18—Fall leaves always seem to vex me…I have a hard time creating interesting images of the stunning scenes around me in late September/early October. On this windy day I used a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to render the leaves a colorful blur while the trunks remained relatively still. I like the contrast of white vs. orange and blur vs. sharp. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota.

16-Best2012 Bald Eagle from firetower at Big Bog SRA Koochiching Co MN IMG_0055770 (1) #17—Eye-level Bald Eagle shots are not easy to come by! And this one has a story…It was taken 80 feet up in a firetower! I was visiting Big Bog State Recreation Area in far north central Minnesota and decided to climb the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of Lower Red Lake and surrounding forests. Some distant eagles caught my attention and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one flies past me in my aerial perch…And the miraculous part is that one did! It was not a gleaming white and black adult but rather a dramatically patterned youngster. I panned with the bird and amazingly it came out razor sharp.

18-Best2012 Swans geese St. Louis River fog Fond du Lac MN IMG_0055161 #16—I cross this bridge over the St.Louis River on the outskirts of Duluth every day on the way to work. It has many moods and this hazy spring afternoon created a bucolic and blue still life of swans, ducks, ice and trees.

IMG_0070171 #15—My youngest son, Bjorn, shows great promise as a wildlife photographer…At least he looks good in khaki!

19-Best2012 Cedar Waxwing Gunflint Trail Brule River Cook Co MN File0113 #14—Not a set-up! A fortuitous find that resulted in a very nice portrait with a little behavior too. This very rarely happens but it did this August morning on the Gunflint Trail. I’d just returned from a early morning paddle on the Brule River, loaded up the canoe and was pulling out of the dirt parking area when I spotted the foraging Cedar Waxwings in a heavily-fruited Mountain Ash.

15-Best2012 water lily File0169 #13—Just a very pleasing composition (to me anyway)…a water lily on dark water taken from a low angle to get the reflection. I also love the purplish lily pads. Cook County, Minnesota.

04-Best2012 Lower Yellowstone Falls IMG_0067608 #12—A very long exposure with my 10mm Sigma lens was made possible by a 9-stop ND filter. I love the soft ethereal feel of the powerful Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, belying the thunderous roar. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

17-Best2012 Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002136 #11—I had to include this portrait as I have been trying to get a decent winter Snowshoe Hare photo for years! And on this snowy Sax-Zim Bog day, I succeeded! The hare really felt it was invisible and stayed put as I crawled closer and closer through the snow.

12-Best2012 Abandoned house and tree Itasca Co nr Northome MN IMG_0055660_59_58_tonemapped 88-0-7-4-10 #10—Seems like I always slip in a non-nature subject. I really enjoy photographing vernacular architecture, including abandoned buildings like this farmhouse. A HDR image and sepia color finished it off. Itasca County, Minnesota.

10-Best2012 Polyphemus Moth Antheraea polyphemus detail Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0057753 #9—Abstract macro image of a Polyphemus Moth’s wings turned upside down to create a strange “face” complete with big blue eyes and a puckered mouth. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

05-Best2012 Swinging bridge flood IMG_0058741 #8—The banner headline of 2012 for us Duluthians/Carltonians was the Great Flood of June. It affected all of us dramatically. But my most powerful image was this shot of the raging St. Louis River taking out the historic and much loved Swinging Bridge of Jay Cooke State Park. Read more here.

08-Best2012 Sharp-tailed Grouse Carlton Co MN IMG_0056142 #7—A rite of spring, the congregation of Sharp-tailed Grouse at their dancing grounds or leks, is an event I hate to miss. But it is always difficult shooting. They are most active just before sunrise when the light is poor…And it is April so the weather is often cloudy and windy. Visibility in the cramped blind is not great either. This time I resorted to a slow shutter speed and panning. I love the shot as it conveys the manic intensity of the males as they dance, pursue females, and chase off rival males. Carlton County, Minnesota.

09-Best2012 Moose bull called in Dumbell Rd Superior National Forest MN nr Isabella IMG_0066747 #6—One of the few straight-up wildlife portraits in the collection, but I had to include it. Much has been made of the dramatic decline of Moose in Minnesota…and it makes me very sad. They are one of my favorite mammals. I learned to call Moose years ago…imitating the sound of a female. After a several-year dry spell, I was able to call this young bull in this fall. Intense moments followed as he was deciding whether I was a cow Moose or some stupid human. Thankfully he came to the right conclusion! See the video here.

14-Best2012 abstract river rocks IMG_0069193 #5—Can you tell what this is? Colorful river rocks below a Yellowstone National Park stream. It’s funny…I really don’t like abstract painting but I love much abstract photography.

06-Best2012 Ring-billed Gull Duluth MN tungsten w-2 1-2 CTO gels on flash IMG_0065801 #4—Two icons of Duluth in one shot! The Aerial Lift Bridge and a Ring-billed Gull. Not your typical wildlife shot but one that is certainly unique. In this technique I learned from flash/lighting guru ??? you set your camera to tungsten white balance (to turn the dark brooding sky blue) and then use a flash with an orange CTO gel to throw a very warm light on the subject, in this case, a Ring-billed Gull.

13-Best2012 IMG_0068269 #3—Often times I’ll get home from a trip and when viewing my images in Aperture, I’ll come across an unexpected prize. It’s like Christmas as a kid! I thought I knew what my favorites would be from viewing them in the field on the back of my camera…but I’m often wrong. This is one such image. It was taken into the sunlight to backlight the Bison’s fur…but it was mostly a “G&G” shot (grab-and-go)…No premeditation, No tripod…Jump out of the car and “snap.” But after converting the image to sepia, I really loved it. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

02-Best2012 Monarch IA IMG_0065536 #2—I really concentrated on wide-angle wildlife this year and this may be my favorite. Crawling on my knees for hours on an Iowa prairie in September finally netted me this image. Read the whole story here. Northeast Iowa.

01-Best2012 Great Gray Owl peek-a-boo McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0058141 #1—Drumroll please…My personal favorite from 2012. Read the whole story of this bog encounter here. See the video here. I like the Great Gray Owl’s furtive glance around the trunk of a spruce…It lends an air of mystery. It is very “Brandenburg’s-wolf-peek-esque” if you’ve ever seen his famous photo. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.