Posts from the ‘Loon’ Category

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Loons, Ducks & Swans on Tundra Ponds

The vast tundra of Canada and Alaska is the preferred breeding grounds for several species of waterfowl that we see only in migration in Minnesota. Long-tailed Ducks winter on Lake Superior and we see them occasionally close to Duluth; Pacific Loons are rare  (or rarely seen?) visitors to the North Shore of Lake Superior in spring and fall; Tundra Swans migrate through Minnesota in April and October with large flocks congregating along the Mississippi River, St. Louis River and on northern rice paddies. But In Churchill I got to see all three in their breeding splendor…and closer than my normal scope-views of birds on Lake Superior.

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-7Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

In the field guides, the Pacific Loon looks very similar to the Common Loon, but when you see them in person, the Pacific Loon is quite different and stunning with a silvery sheen to their velvety head.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/125 seconds at f10; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-6Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

When I started birding in the late 1970s, this species was known as the “Arctic Loon,” a name that I wish it retained as in my mind it IS a bird of the Arctic. The species was split into two full species in 1985; the Arctic Loon is now the species that breeds in Eurasia including Siberia and western Alaska.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

 

pacific_loon_range

The Pacific Loon breeds in the Arctic but winters along the west coast of the U.S and Canada on the Pacific Ocean. A few can be seen each year inland, especially on Lake Superior at Duluth.

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-8Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-5Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaPacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/800 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/400 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Pacific Loon on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-9Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Pacific Loon Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-10Pacific Loon pair on an inland tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/1000 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Canada Goose Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose takes off from a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

The ubiquitous waterfowl on the tundra and taiga was the Canada Goose. Notice that I did not say “tundra and taiga ponds” as I saw few actually on the water. Most were foraging on the tundra or on nests (as in photo below). This one did not care for my attention and took off in a hurry. I intentionally slowed down the shutter speed to show some motion.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/200 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Canada Goose nest nesting Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose on nest near Churchill, Manitoba

Canada Goose nest with eggs Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaCanada Goose nest on the shore of a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00617Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

One of my photo goals was a decent portrait of a Long-tailed Duck drake…and I got it! But I was nervous at the start as my first attempts at sneaking up on this species were complete failures….They saw me coming and quickly paddled across to the other side of the pone. But one afternoon I got lucky….This male was very intent on pursuing the female pictured farther down this blog. There were low shrubs lining the pond so I crouched low and moved when they dove. When they came up, I froze. A couple rounds of this and I was to the edge of the pond and shot through an opening in the shrubs.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held while laying down on belly in brush at edge of pond]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00606Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC00605Long-tailed Duck male on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

This male is transitioning from its winter white feathers to the black breeding plumage. Note that the top of the head is still whitish and when in full breeding plumage it will be black on top as in photo below.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0744Long-tailed Duck pair on a tundra pond near Churchill, Manitoba

Male and female Long-tailed Ducks on a tundra pond.

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Long-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-4Long-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck Twin Lakes Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaLong-tailed Duck female on a taiga pond along Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

LTDUrange_300_3x5

You can see from this map that you won’t be seeing any Long-tailed Ducks in the Lower 48 during the summer. The closest breeding to Minnesota is the Hudson Bay Lowlands which includes the area around Churchill, Manitoba.

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Long-tailed Duck pair (female in front) flying over a taiga pond near Churchill, Manitoba

What do you do when you have drab light due to heavy overcast conditions? What you don’t do is give up and head back to the motel. You have to get creative! By slowing the shutter to 1/250 second and panning with the flying Long-tailed Ducks I got a nice series of motion blur photos.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Long-tailed Duck pair Launch Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaLong-tailed Duck pair (female in front) flying over a taiga pond near Churchill, Manitoba

The male (right) displays his namesake long tail. They were formerly called “oldsquaw” because their odd chattering reminded some early explorer of native women talking.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Shoveler female Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Northern Shoveler rests on a taiga pond along Goose Creek Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The Northern Shoveler should maybe be called the “Northern Sifter” or “Northern Strainer” as it really doesn’t “shovel” through the muck with its oversized bill. Between the upper bill and lower you can see the lamellae that strain insects from pondwater.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Shoveler female Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaNorthern Shoveler rests on a taiga pond along Goose Creek Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The female is quite drab compared to the gaudy chestnut, white and iridescent green of the male, but her out-of-proportion bill makes her easily identifiable.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f5.6; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-3Tundra Swan and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

The name fits! Tundra Swans nest on the tundra of Canada and Alaska. When I started birding in the 1970s these birds were known as “Whistling Swans” due to their song.

“Lewis and Clark provided the first written description of the Tundra Swan during their expedition to the West, where the birds’ whistle-like calls prompted Meriwether Lewis to dub them “whistling swans.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.com]

I am so used to seeing Trumpeter Swans on almost every backwoods pond in Minnesota that at first I assumed these were Trumpeters too. But a close look revealed the yellow “tear” patch on their face that confirmed that these were breeding Tundra Swans.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1250 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

tundra_swan_range

There are really TWO populations of Tundra Swans….the population that breeds in the eastern Arctic, including Churchill, winter on the eastern seaboard of the U.S mainly in Chesapeake Bay where they feed on clams….and the western Arctic breeding grounds population that winter in the western U.S.

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba Canada-2Tundra Swan pair and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

Halfway Point Road is a great (but rough) road that accesses some very nice dry tundra. A couple ponds held breeding pairs of Tundra Swans, Herring Gulls and Long-tailed Ducks.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1000 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

Tundra Swan Halfway Point Road Churchill Manitoba CanadaTundra Swan pair and Hudson Bay along Halfway Point Road near Churchill, Manitoba

Click on the image to make it full size in order to really see the yellow patch near the eye that most Tundra Swans possess. Trumpeters never show this spot of color.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 L lens; 1/1000 seconds at f7.1; ISO 200; hand-held]

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Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Scoters, Loons, Mergansers, Eiders, Seals, Beluga Whales and more
June 16-20, 2017

Cape Merry is a stony point of land at the junction of the  Churchill River and Hudson Bay…and I started several of my mornings on the Cape. It was just me, an insulated mug of coffee and two cameras. A great way to start a morning in the low arctic. At this time of year (third week in June) the sun is rising, for all practical purposes, in the north (okay, slightly northeast); and sitting on the shoreline rocks, you face northwest and so have beautiful light in the early morning. Sunrise during my entire visit was at 4:05 am…but I couldn’t quite muster getting up and out THAT early…especially since sunset was at 10:30pm. So I compromised and got up at 5ish and got out to the Cape by 5:30am.

My alarm would roust me out of my very cozy bed in the Polar Inn at 5am. I had all my gear ready to go, and would quickly don long underwear (top and bottom), pants, fleece jacket, and wind/rain jacket. I also wore my winter hat nearly constantly for the first 3 days. Knee-high rubber boots were my footwear of choice for the entire trip.


Cape Merry looking across the Churchill River to old Fort Churchill.

Ice on Hudson Bay in the distance.

map
Churchill on Hudson Bay is only accessible by air. The train quit running in May. It is some of the most southerly tundra in North America (other than mountain alpine tundra in the Rockies).

churchill_area_map-roads
Cape Merry (#1) is the point separating the town site of Churchill from Hudson Bay and the mouth of the Churchill River. This is where I sat for several mornings photographing sea birds, whales and seals as they fed at the mouth of the river.


Common Eider male

One of my “Most Wanted to Photograph” birds on this trip was the Common Eider. We just don’t see them in Minnesota. They are an “ocean duck” in the Lower 48. The first morning I saw a flock loafing in the shallows of the shoreline of Hudson Bay. It was gray skies and heavy overcast so no photos. But patience pays off, and on my third morning on the Cape, I had this male come swimming right towards me. I hunkered down amongst the rocks and got as close to eye level as I could.

“The eider’s nest is built close to the sea and is lined with eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast. This soft and warm lining has long been harvested for filling pillows and quilts, but in more recent years has been largely replaced by down from domestic farm-geese and synthetic alternatives. Although eiderdown pillows or quilts are now a rarity, eiderdown harvesting continues and is sustainable, as it can be done after the ducklings leave the nest with no harm to the birds.” [from http://www.wikipedia.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Common Eider male

I stayed low and still but kept shooting as this stunning male kept getting closer and closer. All my horizons were a bit kittywompus due to the contorted position I was shooting from, but I fixed that in Lightroom.

Eiders spend their winters with the Belugas in the Arctic Ocean, feeding in small open-water pools called “polynia.” They return to the Churchill area in May to nest along the coast. But they also utilize inland lakes near Churchill. They are also found in Siberia.

“Mother Common Eiders lead their young to water, and often are accompanied by nonbreeding hens that participate in chick protection. Broods often come together to form “crèches” of a few to over 150 ducklings. Attacks by predators may cause several broods to cluster together into a crèche. Once formed, a crèche tends to stay together throughout the brood rearing period, although some of the different females attending it may leave” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Sparky Stensaas shooting at Cape Merry, Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay. I spent 3 mornings nestled into the rocks at the mouth of the Churchill River shooting anything that flew or swam by.


Common Eider male in flight

These are LARGE ducks! And I wanted an in-flight shot showing their black and white wing pattern. This is okay…But I hope to do better on my next trip.

Eiders can fly at 70 mph!

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev, hand held]

Common Eider male in flight

At nearly 5 pounds (sometimes nearly 7 pounds!) they are the heaviest diving duck in North America…and at 2 feet long with a 3 foot wingspan, the largest as well.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev; hand held]


Common Eider pair

“This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. The eider will eat mussels by swallowing them whole; the shells are then crushed in their gizzard and excreted. When eating a crab, the eider will remove all of its claws and legs, and then eat the body in a similar fashion.” [from http://www.wikipedia.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Common Merganser flock takes off from a dead calm Hudson Bay

Seven males and one female run across the still waters of Hudson Bay in order to get airborne.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and Metabones adapter; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]


Harbor Seals loaf on the shoreline rocks of Cape Merry.

The seals were a source of much entertainment. They were cautious of me, but very curious as well. After a few days they even got used to me (I think…maybe I’m anthropomorphizing). As the tide on Hudson Bay went out (yes, it has a tide…and a quite dramatic tide), it would expose shallow rocks which the seals loved to sun on. These rocky loafing spots are called “haulouts.” There seemed to be a hierarchy as to who got what position…or maybe it was first come, first served.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and Metabones adapter; 1/125 second at f8; ISO 100; tripod]


Harbor Seal basking in the early morning light.

Adult Harbor Seals can reach 6 feet in length and weigh nearly 300 pounds. Females can live to 30 or 35 years, while most males only survive to age 20 to 25. They eat fish and other sea creatures.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal buddies?

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Polar Bear meal…Harbor Seal

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal yawning revealing pink mouth lining.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal

“Do I look fat in this blubber?”

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 second at f8; ISO 320;  +0.66 ev; hand held]


Red-breasted Merganser pair

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


Red-breasted Merganser male

Perched amongst the rocks of Cape Merry, I was somewhat hidden from the waterfowl and loons that were either flying towards the river, or from the river to Hudson Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev; hand held]

Red-throated Loon pair fly low over the Churchill River.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


Red-throated Loon in flight.

Another species on my “Must See and Photograph in Churchill” list. And, boy did I get to see a bunch! One morning, about 65 Red-throated Loons flew past the point of Cape Merry. Most were flying from the Churchill River to Hudson Bay. Many landed on the Bay…more like “belly flopped” on the Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f7.1; ISO 400; hand held]


Scoters and Beluga Whale…How often do you see that?!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/320 second at f8; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Three species of Scoters and ice floes on Hudson Bay

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]

Three species of Scoters and ice floes on Hudson Bay

I got as low as I could to make this very shallow depth of field image of three species of Scoters on Hudson Bay. In fact, I had to lay right on the beach and strain my neck to see through the viewfinder. But I LOVE how it turned out. Surf Scoters (big orange and white bill), Black Scoters (yellow knob on bill) and White-winged Scoters (strangely shaped orange bill with white around eye). Ice floes in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Surf Scoter pair in flight

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


The Trifecta of Scoter Species! Hudson Bay

All three North American Scoter species in one shot! Love it! From left to right: Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter (Velvet Scoter in Europe/England).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Black Scoter coming in for a landing

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


White-winged Scoter

The White-winged is an odd looking but strangely attractive Scoter species. I think I like the British name better…Velvet Scoter; it really fits the soft plumage of this sea duck.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]

Pacific Loon coming in for a landing on Hudson Bay

Not a great photo but I was just so thrilled to see a “new” species of loon (other than our Common Loon that is ubiquitous in Northern Minnesota), that I had to include it. Note the silvery sheen to the head. I will have more photos of this species on my “Tundra” post that will be forthcoming.

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

Parasitic Jaeger

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


Parasitic Jaeger

Jaegers “make their living” by harassing gulls in flight until they cough up their last meal. The jaeger then swoops down and catches the “gull vomit” in mid air and eats it. Not really “vomit,” the regurgitated mass is a solid.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Parasitic Jaeger

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; hand held]


Beluga Whale trio

Every early summer thousands of Belugas migrate down from the Arctic Ocean to the mouth of the Churchill River. They begin arriving in mid June and stay until September. What brings them here? The answer is, of course, food!… Abundant populations of a little skinny fish called the Capelin, to be exact. They resemble Smelt (a reference for all my Duluth/Lake Superior friends), only reaching 5-8 inches in length. Incredible concentrations of this fish occur here in July when they spawn along the shores. Arctic Terns and other birds also enjoy the fishy bounty.


Beluga Whale trio with one spouting.

SOME INTERESTING BELUGA FACTS…

  • Belugas are the only white whale
  • “Beluga” means “the white one” in Russian
  • Young are brown-gray when born
  • Average length is 10-13 feet for adults
  • Mature males weigh between 990 and 2,200 pounds; females 550-1540
  • They can hold their breath for 20 minutes
  • Belugas have flexible lips that can “smile”
  • Communicate with facial expressions, sounds, slapping water
  • Unique among the toothed whales for being able to move head in many directions due to flexible neck
  • The lack of a dorsal fin is thought to be an adaptation to living under ice.
  • 60,000 Belugas live in the western Hudson Bay region. About 3,000 of those are found at Churchill
  • In the wild Belugas average lifespan is 15 years, but some may reach 40 or 50 years old.
  • Only predators are the Polar Bear and Killer Whale (Orca)


Beluga Whale mouth of the Churchill River

If you look closely, you can see what looks like “prop scars” on the back of this Beluga Whale. Since these whales feed in the shallow waters of the Churchill River, they can sometimes be nicked by a boat’s propeller.

My timing was quite good as the Belugas were numerous and close to shore. They come in to the Churchill River and feed on the abundant Capelin…a small fish…that is abundant here. Belugas are hard to photograph as they rarely stick their head out of the water, never breach, and they are very white. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to be in their company. One still and quiet afternoon I got to hear the sounds made by the Belugas as I ate lunch on the beach. It was an impressive array of grunts and bellows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Beluga Whale pair spouting

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

Belugas aren’t the only ones feasting on the abundant Capelin fish along the shores of Cape Merry; Arctic Terns are also imbibing. That’s a good meal for a tern!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]

Arctic Tern Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Tern plucking a Capelin fish from the waters of Hudson Bay

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]
NEXT BLOG POST: Churchill 2017: North Edge of the Boreal Forest

Event 50 years ago changes my Life: Anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act & Boundary Waters Wilderness

Aerial lake BWCAW August 1985Fifty years ago this week, September 3, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Wilderness Act which forever protected 54 wild areas totaling over 9 million acres, including the 1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). I was 13 months old, but this landmark act would change my life.

That’s a grandiose statement but it does have elements of truth. In high school I discovered birds and became a fanatical naturalist. I started to get “all granola-ey” and began reading the books by Sigurd Olson about the canoe country (Open Horizons, Listening Point, Singing Wilderness, Reflections from the North Country). My first week-long summer canoe trip to the Boundary Waters with my church youth group in 1979 was a bit of a let down. I didn’t see and feel everything Sig had written about. Seemed like the BWCA was nothing but rocks, trees and water. But a two-week expedition in 1980 really got me hooked. We really became immersed in the wilderness, experiencing some of the “timelessness” that Sig often wrote about.

I went on to work five summers, a fall and a winter in the BWCAW. Mainly as a canoe guide and naturalist. Wilderness Canoe Base on Fishhook Island on Seagull Lake became my second home (certainly my spiritual home) for a long period. My friend Chris Evavold and I even built a log cabin for the camp. It is really where I fell in love with wildness and winter; boreal forests and bogs; Moose and Marten; paddling and snowshoeing.

Old Fisher Map Boundary Waters BWCA map SMALLI loved the old Fisher Maps. Believe it or not, this is what we used to navigate by; the red dots are campsites…fire grate, tent pad, G.L. (“government latrine”…basically a wood box in the woods).

The BWCAW’s million acres extend nearly 150 miles along the Minnesota-Ontario border, butting up to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park on the north and to Voyageurs National Park on the west. The BWCAW encompasses OVER 1,000 LAKES, 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 11 hiking trails and approximately 2,000 designated campsites. Truly a vast roadless area.

Moose Antler BWCAW Oct 1996A shed Moose antler returning to the earth near Alpine Lake (until I picked it up…It now hangs on my friends outhouse!)

Stensaas-portage Little Indian Sioux BWCAWTravel in the Boundary Waters is primarily by canoe. Portage on the Little Indian Sioux River, BWCAW.

Peter Lake BWCAW MayA peaceful evening on Peter Lake, BWCAW.

Little Indian Sioux BWCAW MN SparkyStensaasLittle Indian Sioux River, BWCAW.

Larch Lake BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0008505Larch Lake, BWCAW

Gray Jay [Winter; BWCA Minnesota]Gray Jay comes to visit our campsite on a winter Boundary Waters trip. I learned that they’ll eat all your gorp…except the M&Ms!

Laurentian Tiger Beetle Cicindela denikei Seagull River BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0010481A rare Laurentian Tiger Beetle (Cicindela denikei) shimmers emerald green on its substrate of Saganaga granite. Lake Saganaga, BWCAW.

Common Loon calling BWCAW IMG_002475Nothing says wilderness in Minnesota like a calling Loon. Their haunting cries echo across still waters. Twin Lake, BWCAW.

Stensaas-BWCA1 IMG_0008672We owe those who fought for this wilderness a great debt of gratitude. If not for them, there would likely have been “a road to every lake” and a plethora of cabins and resorts, each with a boat, jet ski and other silence-busting contraptions.

Fog and canoe Bower Trout Lk BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0008630Floating on a cloud. Dense fog creates a surreal scene on this solo paddle on Bower Trout Lake, BWCAW.

BWCAW lake sunrise BWW-105Sunrises somewhere near Brule Lake, BWCAW.

Seagull River BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0010373Rushes along the Seagull River create a dramatic pattern.

Blue fog Bower Trout Lk BWCAW Cook Co MN IMG_0008653Blue Fog on Bower-Trout Lake, BWCAW. A cartographers mistake led to the name…It was supposed to be “Lower Trout Lake.”

Common Loon Blue Fog Twin Lake Cook Co MN IMG_002870Common Loon in blue dawn. Twin Lake, BWCAW.

Erin-Jon-Sam-BWCA winter copyA winter camping trip out of Ely into the Boundary Waters. Back to front: Sam Cook, Jon Farchmin, Erin Dewitt. Summer isn’t the only time to experience the “B-dub.”

Timo & Red Pine_Seagull Lake BWCAWThe ancient ones. These 400-year-old Red Pines originated from seeds in the 1500s! Timo Rova inspects an old fire scar. Sadly these pines are now all gone. The 4th of July Big Blowdown in 1999 and the two forest fires since then, have finished them off. Seagull Lake, BWCAW.

I hope some of the seedlings scattered by the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire and the 2007 Ham Lake Fire will flourish and grow into Red Pine monarchs that will still be watching over canoeists in the year 2414. Happy Birthday BWCA!