Posts from the ‘moths’ Category

Best Wildlife Photos of 2015 (non-bird)

I’m finally getting around to posting my favorite non-bird wildlife photos of 2015. This is as much an exercise in editing (and learning) for me, as it is sharing photos with you all. It’s always great fun to review the year’s adventures and try to whittle down the images. I give a far higher priority to photos that are a bit creative vs. a standard portrait in front light. I also tend to favor images that show some kind of animal behavior, such as the cooperative hunting between the Badger and Coyote. Enjoy!
Ermine Weasel Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7542 Ermine of the Bog

My parents and sister and family came up north to see the newly-completed Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center where I am Executive Director. We had a nice visit on a cold February day and headed out on a tour of our lands. At the Friends’ Yellow-bellied Bog I saw something dash across the snow-covered road and I immediately recognized it as a winter-pelaged Short-tailed Weasel that we call Ermine. I quickly rolled the window down and started squeaking on my knuckle to attract its attention. This inquisitive guy made three lightning fast circles around our car, pausing only to look for the squeaking prey. He moved so fast that I only got a couple in focus, including this shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/4,000 second; ISO 250; handheld]
[Ermine (Short-tailed Weasel); Sax-Zim Bog, northern Minnesota]

Badger and Coyote hunting Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5687Huntin’ Buddies
I chose this image more for its rarity. Cooperative hunting between Badgers and Coyotes is a rarely seen behavior, limited to areas where their ranges overlap and where Coyotes are not persecuted by man, in this case, Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. In this large Black-tailed Prairie Dog village, the Badger would go head first down a hole and try to dig the Prairie Dog out, the Coyote stood attentively nearby, hoping for the ‘dog’ to pop out another of its escape holes. Mammalogists have proven that the Coyote benefits from this partnership by catching more Prairie Dogs than if it was hunting solo. It is assumed that the Badger benefits too, as possibly the Coyote may chase an “escapee” back down its hole and into the jaws of the Badger.
[Coyote and Badger; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996 Backlit Bison

There is one easy thing that can really help your wildlife photography (that doesn’t involve expensive equipment!) and that is to GET IN THE FIELD EARLY! Dawn is the time when crepuscular critters may still be active and diurnal animals are also moving around. In summer, the mornings are cool and wildlife is more energized, much more so than during the heat of midday.

We found a heard of Bison backlit by the sun which was giving us gorgeous rim lighting on the coats of the Bison. Underexposing by several stops highlighted their breath on this chilly morning.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/8000 second; ISO 100; -3 ev; hand-held]
[Bison; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7032Horn of the Beast
I LOVE Bison! Can’t get enough of them. Every time I see a herd (in Yellowstone, Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park, Custer State Park in South Dakota, or here, in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park) it reminds me how close we (selfish and wasteful) humans came to wiping their millions off the face of the Earth. Plus, they are just MASSIVE beasts…beasts that let you get quite close. I love the texture of their hair/fur and the shape of the horn.
[Bison; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN Bobcat IMG_3390

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3373

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3429 Pretty Kitty

Rarely do you get a chance to see, let alone photograph, a Bobcat in the daytime. But at a friends cabin in Carlton County, Minnesota last winter, I had that chance. After about 45 minutes of sitting quietly, it was an unbelievable thrill when Gene whispered, “Here she comes.” (We’ll call her “she” as her size seems small and features delicate…Plus, what a pretty face!). She cautiously slipped between the hazel brush, slinking her way towards the road-killed deer that Gene had provided. Sensing her surroundings with acute hearing and smell and vision, she crept closer, occasionally stopping to sit and relax, making sure the coast was clear. In the nearly 3 hours we sat there, she came in about four times, but retreating after a few minutes. I included three images of this rarely seen predator.

[Shot under low light with heavy overcast skies at dawn; Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second at ISO 1000. Firmly locked on tripod!]
[Bobcat; Blackhoof River Valley, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7224 Sliver Hunt
I’ve been trying to do more “Animal-in-the-Landscape” images in the last few years…mainly using my Canon 70-200mm f4 lens. Ryan spotted this distant hunting Coyote and we could see that it was working its way to the sliver of light illuminating the ridge top. What I liked about this scene was the spotlight like light, and the Coyote stepped right into it.
[Coyote; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

IMG_5509 Fat and Happy
I included this mediocre photo because it just makes me smile. This Black-tailed Prairie Dog appears well fed and ready to hibernate!

Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try to put on a little fat for winter. This guys really accomplished his goal! These burrowing rodents are a blast to watch…And their “alarm” behavior is awesome; they stand upright and suddenly throw their paws straight up in the air and give a sharp “Yaah” call.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
[Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

IMG_5818
Pronghorn herd
Late in the day we headed overland and came upon yet another massive Prairie Dog town, but on the fringes was a cautious herd of Pronghorns. They were in deep shade but I kind of like the subtle colors that the lighting conditions brought out. Pronghorns are very hard to photograph on sunny days…The whites of their fur blow out.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/160 second; -2/3ev; ISO 400; tripod]
[Pronghorns; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Antheraea polyphemus Polyphemus Moth Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_9367Polyphemus
One of our Giant Silkworm Moths, the Polyphemus lives up to its name with a wingspan as wide as your outstretched hand…up to six inches across! This one was attracted to my garage lights and I carefully moved it in the morning to a more attractive background.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4; f8 at 1/250; ISO 1000; flash at -2 2/3 ev]
[Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus); Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Mule Deer Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7551

Frosty Muley
It really helps to know how your camera sees versus how your eye sees. This pre-sunrise shot looked quite blah to my eye, but I knew the camera sees dawn shade as quite blue. I really like how the warm brown of the Muley contrasts with the cool blue frosty plants.
[Mule Deer; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Pine Marten Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7940 Grandpa Marten
I was able to keep up with this American Marten (Pine Marten) as it hunted a logged area north of Ely, Minnesota. He/she loped along quite slowly and, that, combined with the very gray muzzle, led me to surmise that this was one old weasel!
[American (Pine) Marten; Echo Trail; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

Porcupine silhouette Stone Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7560 Porkie in Purple
April in to early May is the best time to see Porcupines in the North Woods. The Porkies seem giddy to get at the newly-sprouted catkins of willow and aspen. They relish these spring edibles and will crawl out on the most bendy branches to get at them. Sloth-like, they’ll reach out with their paws to pull inaccessible branches closer.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/250; ISO 800; tripod]
[Porcupine; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6053 Late for Dinner
A fun shot of a prairie dog doing what prairie dogs do all day long…going in and out of their underground tunnels. I strongly underexposed this image to highlight the rim lighting of this prairie dog against the setting sun. I didn’t plan that I’d get an image of one going down its hole, but I just kept shooting and this was actually my favorite.
[Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

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Grand Slam of the Giant Silkworm Moths!

Last year I got the “Trifecta of Mega Moths” …Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna; But this year I added the Promethea to get the GRAND SLAM!
All were photographed between my house and garage. My technique is simple…Leave the garage light on all night then go out in the morning and try (emphasize the word “try”) to move them gently to a more photogenic perch. You have to go out very early (5:30 to 6:30 am) before they warm up and fly off.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6573CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia) The genus is named after Cecrops I, the mythical first king of Athens, and it is certainly the KING of North American moths…It is one of the showiest and largest with a wingspan approaching 6 inches. Caterpillars are especially fond of maple leaves but also feed on tamarack, spruce, birch and cherry. Sparse population in the “wild” as there may only be a couple adults in a square mile of forest, BUT some residential populations can be quite dense. Males may FLY 20 MILES (!) over several nights, and mate with several females.

Cecropia moth Hyalophora cecropia Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6580CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia)

Luna Moth Actias luna Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7524LUNA MOTH (Actias luna) Luna the Goddess, was the ancient Roman divine personification of the Moon. Caterpillars much prefer the Paper Birch leaves in the north woods. This is my best Luna photo in a long while…Unfortunately it is on the T-111 siding on my garage. When I tried to move it, it started its flopping-Arching defense and escaped.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7544PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7537PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea) Prometheus, a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gifts humanity with fire” (Wikipedia). Adults live for a week and may fly 20 miles in that time period. This is a female but the darker male is day-flying and may mimic the unpalatable swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillars feed on black cherry, ash and perhaps, lilac.

Promethea moth Callosamia promethea Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7529PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea)

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7850POLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus) Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. And a semi-appropriate name as this huge moth shows one striking “eye” on each hindwing. The thought is that bird predators will attach the false eyes on the hindwings and do little damage to the moth itself. Caterpillars feed on birch, maple, willow and oak.

Polyphemus moth Antheraea polyphemus Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7855 copyPOLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus)The “face” of a Polyphemus when viewed at close range…complete with eyebrows!

HOME MOTH PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
1. Leave a garage/exterior house light on overnight (but don’t overdo it…leave the light off for a couple of nights between sessions, otherwise Gray Treefrogs, squirrels and birds will feast on your moths at dawn)
2. Go out early and see what the light brought in. Get outside between 5:30 and 6:30am before the moths warm up and start flying away.
3. Take “record” shots of moths perched on your garage or house siding, or porch. Then try to move them to better perches using native plants, trees. I slowly slip a flat piece of wood (about the size of a shim) under the moth until it clings to it. Then I move to my backdrop of choice and ease them onto that.
4. I have my flash and basic exposure set already…You can use a pop-up flash or hot-shoe flash, but you really should use some flash to make your subject pop.
5. I like to set a manual exposure that keeps my shutter at between 1/160 and 1/250 when using the pop-up flash (which synchs at 1/250 max). Sometimes, for larger moths, I can use my hot shoe flash set to Hi-speed synch to get higher shutter speeds. Remember, much of your shooting will be early in the morning and you may have to crank up the ISO to get these shutter speeds.
6. Now here is the part that has really improved my moth/insect shots..I switch the camera to live view and manual focus. Now when I see my favored composition in the viewfinder, I magnify the live view to 5x power. I now simply move my body/hands/camera in and out until the key part of the subject is razor-sharp in the live view viewfinder and click the shutter. I guarantee this technique will improve your moth and insect images!

[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Tamron f2 100mm macro lens (all images used manual focus). All handheld…Many taken at ISO 1600 or higher!]

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.

Trifecta of Mega Moths: The Giant Silkworm Moths


Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia)

It has been a FANTASTIC year for butterflies and moths. Why? I’m not sure but there has been some speculation that the mild winter allowed more hibernators to survive. This would explain the incredible explosion of Mourning Cloak butterflies but what about the moths that winter as eggs or cocoons?

I’ve been keeping one single garage light on (compact flourescent bulb!) for the last few weeks, and I’ve managed to attract dozens of species, including my personal trifecta of giant silkworm moths in the family Saturniidae—Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus), Luna Moth (Actias luna) and the Cecropia (Hyalophora cecropia).

All were photographed near my house and garage. In the morning I check “my catch”…the moths that have been attracted to the light overnight. I then carefully maneuver them onto a stick and move them to a more attractive setting than my garage’s T-111 siding!


Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

The Polyphemus is just as large (6-inch wingspan) as the Cecropia, but more common in our area.”Polyphemus” refers to the one-eyed giant son of Poseidon in Greek mythology.

In southern New England there was a reported decline in giant silkworm moth populations. It was speculated that pesticides, habitat loss, increased lighting at night had all contributed to this decline. But there was little evidence for any of this…even that there was a decline. But it was discovered that a fly introduced to control the Gypsy Moth was parasitizing the caterpillars of these large silkworm moths. The fly is Compsilura concinnata. I have not seen any reports of declines in the North Woods.


Luna Moth (Actias luna)

Luna Moths (like all giant silkworm moths in the Saturniidae) are living batteries, running on energy stored when in the ravenous caterpillar stage. In fact, the adults have non-functional mouthparts. Adults only live about a week. Females mate, lay eggs and die. Males mate and die.

Unfortunately for me, this specimen was 12 feet up in a spruce and in harsh light. This photo was one of my “insurance shots” before I tried to clip the branch to move it into shaded light. That failed miserably (for me) as the Luna flew skyward and disappeared to the north.


Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

It is surmised that the lifelike “eyes” on the Polyphemus’s hindwings startle potential predators giving them an extra second to escape.

The Cecropia is one of our largest North Woods moth having a 6 inch wingspan. Amazingly, males may fly more than 20 miles over several nights in search of females. The females release a pheromone that the males key in on. Populations are often thin with only a few adults per square mile, BUT, surprisingly populations can be quite dense in some suburban areas.

A good field guide will really inspire your moth study. Our Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods by Jim Sogaard shows over 300 species of moths (and their caterpillars) including 9 species of Giant Silkworm Moths. Jim shares ID tips, Life Cycle, Range, Caterpillar foods for each species. Order it through Amazon.com.