Posts from the ‘gulls’ Category

Top Ten 2016 Creative Wildlife Images

I get bored with pretty portraits of wildlife, but I often fall into the routine of just filling the frame with the critter and not paying attention to composition, landscape and other creative ideas to pump a little life into my wildlife images. And I must admit, I didn’t make creativity a priority this year (2016). Let’s hope I can do better in ’17. But here are my “Top Thirteen” favorites…

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5287-1Bighorns play King of the Hill; Yellowstone National Park.
One of the wondrous things about Yellowstone is that you can observe wildlife going about their lives as if you were invisible. A century of protection has allowed critters the luxury of not being fearful of man. And so it was with this bachelor herd of Bighorn Sheep. The big old rams were laying down, resting, but the younger rams were playing “king of the hill,” taking turns knocking each other off this bluff-top boulder. By moving low, and slow, but in plain sight, we were able to get close enough to get some shots (and video) and enjoy their antics. Even though it was mid-April, many months removed from the rut, it was obvious that they were all still vying for position and dominance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5989Bighorn; Yellowstone National Park.
Kind of an Escher-esque image…It would be perfect if the left Bighorn was a couple inches farther right…But it’s unique enough as is. I like it for some odd reason.

bison-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6336Bison; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
I’d say this is my favorite image of 2016. Ryan and I were shooting along a backroad of “Teddy” before the sunrise, getting some cool subtle silhouettes…then the sun rose and we assumed we should move on so we would not be shooting into the sun. But It was a cool morning and I saw the breath from this Bison backlit and knew it would be a neat shot. So I hustled into a position where the Bison’s body would block the sun and backlight all the breath and steam coming off his body. I tweaked the white balance to add some “sunrise gold” color into the scene.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 158mm; 1/2000 sec at f22; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

rough-legged-hawk-along-cr29-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9069-1Rough-legged Hawk, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Mid October is a beautiful time in the Sax-Zim Bog…the Tamaracks are at their peak yellow-gold color and migrant hawks can be seen overhead. This bird-in-the-landscape photo captures both these fall highlights. Rough-legs breed in the Arctic, but move south in late fall. They hunt small rodents by hovering and watching…and that is exactly what this Rough-leg is doing. Sometimes the small-bird-in-big-landscape shot works well, and I think it does here.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

black-tern-thief-lake-wma-marshall-co-mn-img_1105Black Tern and Cattails; Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, Marshall County, Minnesota.
Did you do a double-take when first seeing this image? The cattails are only a reflection in a dead calm pond.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

bohemian-waxwing-wrenshall-city-park-crabapples-wrenshall-mn-img_2010Bohemian Waxwing; Wrenshall, Minnesota.
Kind of a blah photo straight out of the camera…but I saw some potential in it. I turned the gray skies into a dramatic white background by blowing out the whites in Aperture and Photoshop…then I “erased” a stray branch to strengthen the composition.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

coyote-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5688Coyote; Yellowstone National Park.
How often can you say you laid in the middle of the road to get a shot of a Coyote running at you? I wanted to get the canid right in the middle of the yellow lines so I laid right in the middle of the road. Strange composition but kind of fun.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/500 at f6.3; ISO 160; handheld]

img_1103-1Ducks and rushes, Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, NW Minnesota.
I reduced this image to its most important elements…the shapes of the rushes and the ducks in flight. I simply converted the image to black-and-white and clipped the whites in Photoshop.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

ivory-gull-juvenile-canal-park-duluth-mn-img_9439Ivory Gull, Duluth’s Canal Park, Minnesota.
A very rare bird in front of a very famous lighthouse. A bird-in-the-landscape photo with a twist. The Ivory Gull is an elusive small gull of the High Arctic…It is rare even in its breeding range! But sightings in the Lower 48 are very rare. And last winter there were TWO in the area. Birders came from all over the country to add this bird to their “Life List.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 98mm; 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 200; +2/3 EV; handheld]

little-blue-heron-st-louis-river-western-waterfront-trail-duluth-mn-img_7487Little Blue Heron, St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
Does something look strange about this photo? It should…It’s upside down! I like the painterly quality the flipped reflection gives this image.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

red-tailed-hawk-and-moon-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_3979Red-tailed Hawk; Yellowstone National Park.
This Red-tailed Hawk ruined my image of the moon! Just kidding…
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm;

trout-hatchery-durango-colorado-img_3558Trout, Durango, Colorado.
A slow shutter speed makes for a stylized photo of a swimming trout at the hatchery.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 200mm; 1/6 second at f32; ISO 100; handheld]

wild-turkey-skogstjarna-wrenshall-mn-img_2903Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
To get this extreme wide angle shot, I set my camera with a 10mm lens on a mini-tripod outside my back window with a remote trigger attached. When the turkeys came in for some cracked corn, I remotely tripped the shutter (from the comfort of my easy-chair!). Note the displaying Tom in the background. I have not yet perfected this idea, but hope to work on it more in 2017.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens at 13mm; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; remotely triggered from inside the house]

Northwest Minnesota—Part 1: Agassiz & Thief Lake WMAs, June 12-13, 2016

My first stop on this mid June excursion was Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in far northwest Minnesota. It was a gloomy, windy, rainy day in the aspen parklands but I had to make the most of a photographically-poor situation. Down a side road on the refuge I found a spot where Forster’s Terns were making pass after pass above a flooded creek/drainage ditch. At first I simply cranked up the ISO and took many shots to freeze these elegant birds in flight. But the gray skies got grayer, and the gloom got gloomier, so I altered my technique; now I switched to Shutter Priority mode and attempted to get some slow panning shots. My favorite Forster’s photos are below.

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_9943Forster’s Tern diving for fish in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I used Manual exposure setting as I wanted the image exposed properly for the white bird. And since the background was changing as the bird flew (from light sky to dark green leaves) I couldn’t trust Aperture Priority to get the right exposure.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; panning hand-held]

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_0497Forster’s Tern in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I desaturated the background in Aperture for a more dramatic look.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 second at f8; ISO 100; panning hand-held]

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_0131
EIGHT small fish in ONE DIVE! An amazing feat to accomplish in a head-first plunge that lasts one second max. There must have been very tight schools of fish to be so successful.

pelican IMG_0571American White Pelican at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.

van and tent IMG_3428Camping at Thief Lake WMA (My late great Honda Odyssey that lost in a battle with a rogue White-tailed Deer just weeks later)

Thief Lake WMA landscape IMG_0762Dawn at Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota.
I love this place in late spring/early summer. It is secluded, has tons of bird life, and a very cool “observation mound” from which you can scan the ginormous cattail marsh.

Red-winged Blackbird IMG_0708Red-winged Blackbird at Thief Lake WMA.

Thief Lake WMA observation mound IMG_3430Observation Mound at Thief Lake WMA.
[iPhone panorama]

Black Tern and cattail reflection IMG_1105Black Tern and cattail reflections.
This photo was a real surprise success..and I didn’t realize it until I got home and viewed it on the iMac. I really like the odd “M.C Esher-esque” juxtaposition of the bird and the “upside down” cattails (reflection). It was also a very pleasant surprise that the Black Tern’s wings mimicked the angle of the cattails without overlapping with them.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

ducks and reeds b&w IMG_1103Ducks flying across Thief Lake WMA.
This image was just begging to be converted to black-and-white; the strong shape elements of the graceful reeds and silhouetted ducks don’t need color to enhance.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Franklin's Gull Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1069Franklin’s Gull in flight over Thief Lake WMA.
My number one goal on this leg of the trip was to photograph what I consider to be one of the most beautiful gulls in North America…the Franklin’s Gull. I love the mat black head, white eye-ring and blood red bill. And the fact that they are not a gull I see that often makes them even more special.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held (for birds in flight, especially overhead, you almost HAVE to hand-hold your camera…a tripod restricts your movement too much]

Franklin's Gull Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1199Franklin’s Gull catching flying insect on the wing.
Flocks of Franklin’s Gulls forage in neighboring farm fields during the day. This flock was making repeated flights to catch aerial insects. I did not notice the bug until I got home and viewed this image large. I used Shutter Priority in order to make sure I froze the motion of the flying birds (though, this image is a bit soft due to movement so I should have used 1/2000 or 1/1600 second)
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 125; hand-held]

Marsh Wren IMG_0816Marsh Wren at Thief Lake WMA.
The Marsh Wren is a rare bird in northeast Minnesota, so I’m always thrilled when I can get a good shot of this cattail dweller. They are feisty little guys!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

Sharp-tailed Grouse in crop field near Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1331Sharp-tailed Grouse in soybean field near Minnesota’s Thief Lake WMA.

tractor burnt IMG_0561Burned tractor.
Wish I knew the story behind this “roasted” tractor!

Gulls in my Face! How to make gulls look sexy!

I love a couple things that most people dislike…gulls (no such thing as a “seagull”) and dark overcast skies for photography. And today I wanted to combine these two to create an artistic, out-of-the ordinary image.
How did I get so close to the gulls? Remember, these were all shot with a 10mm-20mm lens…So you need your subject to be VERY close in order to appear somewhat large in the frame. The answer is stale bread! Once in a while I buy a large bag of unsaleable bread products from the local day-old-bakery. They call these “wildlife bags” and for about $5 you can have lots of fun. The disturbing part is that this particular loaf I was using today was about 6 months old (It had been in my car all summer) and there was not a speck of mold on it! I just shudder to think what we are putting in our bodies. But gulls have stomachs of steel.
The look I wanted was a dark and gloomy sky with the gulls lit in flight with a flash. But to get this “cold-warm” look you need a special technique. First you set your camera’s white balance to “tungsten,” this makes the dark gray sky a pleasing blue. But if you just used straight-up flash on the gulls they would also look bluish. So you need to “warm up” the light from the flash. To do this, I velcroed on two 1/2 CTO gels…These are orange gels that turn the light from your flash a very warm hue…It would be the equivalent of setting your camera’s white balance to “shade.” for example.
I then enticed the Ring-billed Gulls to very close range with scraps of bread, bagel and english muffin. Most would come within 3 feet on foot…Not quite close enough. So I tried throwing the scraps in the air…that worked much better. So I’d throw the bread in the air and then hold the camera at arm’s length and just keep shooting. Fresh batteries allowed the flash to recycle fairly quickly but even so I lost many images to the flash not firing. The result is that the gulls white feathers are neutral to slightly warm instead of bluish…A much nicer look.
Flash is great fun…but it is not often used creatively on wildlife. I had a blast with this and if you want to be further inspired, read Joe McNally’s “Hot Shoe Diaries,” “The Moment it Clicks” or any of his flash books.

Flash with CTO gel in place.

25 Years Ago—Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay: Part 1


Sparky and Tyler (right) on Hudson’s Bay

Hard to believe but 25 years ago this week, my college/volleyball buddy Tyler Nelson and I jumped on a Via Rail train in Winnipeg and settled in for a 36 hour train ride to the far north outpost of Churchill, Manitoba.
Via Rail train

These Cree Indian girls were fascinated by our hairy legs…A very non-native American trait!

The soggy tundra and permafrost requires tripods to support the power lines.


It was snowing pretty good when we rolled into Churchill on June 18, 1987… And the Bay had just broken up so there were mini-icebergs everywhere. On the way up, I had told Tyler (a non-birder) that we were on the lookout for a small and very rare gull called the Ross’s Gull. I showed him the illustration in my Peterson’s Field Guide highlighting its black neck collar and pink belly.

And here is the hero bird! The Ross’s Gull. At the time, Churchill was the only known nesting area in North America as it was really more of a Russian/Siberian species. They nested right on the edge of town in the “granary ponds.” Unfortunately, they no longer nest in Churchill and birders don’t go there as often.

Shorebird in a tree? This was the first time I’d witnessed such a thing. This is a Hudsonian Godwit perched in a stunted “flag” spruce. Many species of shorebird nest in the Churchill area..and some even nest in trees!

The tundra around Churchill was not as treeless nor as dry as I expected. It was very wet and with many stunted Black Spruce. This is the most typical tundra we saw.

Of course we couldn’t afford to rent a car so the owner of the Kelsey Motor Lodge said we could use his pickup to get around. The only caveat was that we needed to drop him off and pick him up at work every day. So we did. The funny thing was that his work was only a couple hundred yards from the “Lodge.” He said nobody walks in Churchill because of the Polar Bears.

I think we were a bit ignorant or just foolhardy because we hiked many places where Polar Bears could be lurking. Normally far to the NW by now, a couple had been seen near town. Thankfully (?) we never saw one.

Sparky juggling snowballs…in mid June!

Stay tuned for part 2 coming in the next few days!

You’ll Probably HATE these Photos

You’ll probably hate these photos…But I love them!

It is a dilemna photographers deal with all the time…What do you do when you have a subject but the light is horrid? Well, you can go home…You can shoot regular images that you’ll probably throw away soon after downloading…Or you can put on your creative thinking cap and experiment!

First, I must confess that I love “seagulls.” I am a birder who’s been birding for over 30 years and I’ve seen most of North America’s regular species. Birders love a challenge and gull identification is a challenge! Most species have three or four plumages and many more variations. Lake Superior attracts quite a few species including some rarities from the Arctic and Siberia.

So one gloomy fall day, while scoping the gulls at the Superior Entry (between Duluth’s Park Point and Superior’s Wisconsin Point), I decided to start a feeding frenzy by chucking old Wonder Bread (old, but disturbingly not moldy after a month in my car) into the canal. Ravenous gulls converged on the soggy snack. I slowed the shutter to 1/15 or 1/8 second just to see what would happen. Instant impressionistic art! I love the motion of the gulls wings and the splashing water. At home, I played with the colors in Aperture…I tried black-and-white but it did nothing for me…But the pastel aquas and pinks I got by super saturating the images created a pleasing look.

There is no right or wrong in art. If it pleases you, the creator, then it is good. I know most of you will not like these at all…But for me they are a really interesting and pleasing result from a gloomy day.