Posts from the ‘North Dakota’ 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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Backlit Bison Breath and Starry Skyscapes: Teddy Roosevelt Day 2

Day 2 in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park started early…REALLY EARLY! Ryan and I crawled out of our cozy cocoons at 2:27am. Time to try for some Milky Way landscapes! It is always good to plan night shoots with a buddy, because if you are like me, it takes a lot of gumption to go out late at night by yourself. Unfortunately, we hadn’t scouted too well the day before, so it took some driving to find a good spot with foreground interest in the dark.
Night Sky Hoodoos Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5950Hoodoos (eroded pinnacle-like landforms) and the Milky Way
Normally you’d like to keep your star exposures to under 30 seconds…That way star motion is minimized. Over 30 seconds, you start to get “star trails,” short streaks of light showing the movement of the stars in the sky.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f4 at 54 seconds; ISO 1600; tripod; headlamp to light hoodoos]

Night Sky Hoodoos Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5957Hoodoos and the Milky Way
We had to get up in the wee hours of the morning since the moon did not set until after midnight….and any moon can wash out the stars and make the Milky Way much harder to see. I lit the hoodoos with my headlamp. Experiment with how much light painting you need to do to get pleasing results.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f4 at 69 seconds; ISO 1600; tripod; headlamp to light hoodoos]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5999Bison backlit by morning sun.
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; f8 at 1/6400 second; ISO 100; 0 ev; hand held]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996Bison backlit by morning sun
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/8000 second; ISO 100; -3 ev; hand held]

Landscape Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6127
October is a great time to visit Teddy Roosevelt; Empty campgrounds, mild weather (25-60 degrees during our stay), golden grasses and abundant wildlife.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 STM lens; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 250; -2/3 ev; hand held]

Ryan Marshik Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6488Ryan Marshik shooting Bison at dusk
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f4 at 1/125 second; ISO 1250; tripod]

Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6200Band of Wild Horses (feral horses) in the rugged Teddy Roosevelt landscape
The wild horses of Teddy Roosevelt belong to many well-defined bands which do not mix socially.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 100; -2/3 ev; tripod]

Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6172Wild Horse (feral horse)
Details are sometimes more interesting than the entire subject.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/1250 second; ISO 400; tripod]

Prairie Sky Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6390
The North Unit Scenic Drive is an out-and-back road that travels from the bottom of the eroded landscape and climbs up through the badlands to the prairie grasslands at the top of the plateau.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens; f8 at 1/80 second; ISO 320; tripod]

Badlands landscape North Unit Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6354North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens; f9 at 1/400 second; ISO 320; -2/3 ev; hand held]

Cottonwoods Little Missouri River Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6299Big Cottonwood forests thrive in the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River (North Unit)
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens zoomed to 78mm; f14 at 1/200 second; ISO 320; hand held]

Cottonwoods Little Missouri River Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6297Big Cottonwood forests thrive in the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River (North Unit)
Mid day can be a slow time for wildlife photography, so search out scenics or macros where you can use this higher-angle sunlight to your advantage. I like how the tree trunks went black and the shaded hillside turned blue…not to mention the golden side lit grass.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens zoomed to 126mm; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 320; hand held]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6065
A pair of Prairie Dogs greeting each other with Bison “blobs” in background.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1600 second; ISO 320; -2 ev; tripod]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6053A Black-tailed Prairie Dog goes head first down its burrow at sunrise.
You have to have a good reason to shoot into the sun. It works best when the sun is low on the horizon. I had to under expose the image by nearly 3 stops to get the pleasing rim light on the fur of this chunky Prairie Dog.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/4000 second; ISO 320; -2 2/3 ev; tripod]

NEXT TIME: Day 3 in our late October Teddy Roosevelt Adventure

 

Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Day 1

Ryan Marshik and I busted out to North Dakota’s premiere wildlife hotspot last week. Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a treasure of the upper midwest. An easy 9-hour drive from Duluth, the park is a full 7 hours closer to us than our usual fall wildlife photography destination—Yellowstone.

Elk bull Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_4935[Bull Elk at Sunrise]
Our normal modus operandi is to get up in the dark, make breakfast and hit the wildlife auto loop by sunrise. The loop is a very manageable 25 miles and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on how many wildlife encounters you take advantage of). This bull Rocky Mountain Elk was our first sighting of the trip. Elk are rather unusual in the park, so this was a great surprise. He didn’t hang around though, and was soon over the top of the hill. I grabbed some hand-held window-braced shots.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; -1 2/3ev; ISO 800; handheld braced on car window]
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5059b
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5051bLeast Chipmunk
We took the side road called “Buck Hill” where we rarely see anything…but you never know! Ryan spotted this cute little Least Chipmunk harvesting seeds in a short bush. Our motto is always “a bird in the hand”…which means that we try and shoot whatever subject is before us at the time instead of saying “Aah, it’s just a chipmunk…Let’s keep moving. Theirs probably a Coyote around the next bend.”
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
Prairie Dog buddies IMG_5128
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 second; -2/3ev; ISO 200; handheld]
Prairie Dog fat IMG_5509Fat Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try and 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]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5617
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5603Badger
Wherever there are Prairie Dogs, predators are sure to be near by. The formidable list of predators includes Golden Eagles, Coyotes and these guys, Badgers. I was really hoping to see either a Badger or Bobcat on this trip was thrilled when we found this guy hunting a Prairie Dog town. He was not shy either; pausing to pose for us at the mouth of his/her burrow. I’ll have a bizarre Badger tale to tell in one of the next blog posts.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/1600 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
IMG_1318Sparky on the hunt 🙂
Truth be told, we spend a great deal of time driving around looking for wildlife. But occasionally we get out and stalk some photo-prey. This is a very easy place to head out overland…No Grizzlies to worry about!…but also a myriad of trails made by the park’s Bison herds.

Landscape Teddy Roosevelt NP IMG_5093Though Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a badlands landscape, it is not as barren as the South Dakota Badlands. Much of the terrain is covered by grass, red cedars and sagebrush. There is even Prickly Pear Cactus. In summer there are rattlesnakes to be aware of, but the most dangerous thing in late fall would be an irate Bison bull.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f10 at 1/320 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5465
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second; -1/3ev; ISO 100; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5363“Wild” Horses (more accurately “Feral Horses”)
Though not a native animal to this part of North America, the horses here are very wild. [See this POST about some crazy wild horse interactions on a Teddy trip a couple years ago.] I do love their varied coats and wild manes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 250; tripod]
Pronghorn herd Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5818Pronghorn 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]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5737Coyote
And sure enough, there were a couple Coyotes hunting the town. I like the contrast of the Coyote in blue shade with the sliver of warm sunset sunlight.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5795Coyote
She eventually came out into the sun and gave us close opportunities for some backlit shots. I love rim lighting!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Elk bull sunset Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5906Bull Elk
The day ended as it had begun, with the sighting of a bull Elk. This one was well after sunset and the crazy high ISO I used created this photo with a painterly quality.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; f1.8 at 1/200 second; -1ev; ISO 6400; handheld]

More Teddy Roosevelt blog posts coming soon!

SEE PREVIOUS TEDDY ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK POSTS HERE

Birding North Dakota’s Prairie—Part 2: Marsh Birds

Last blog post we talked about the prairie birds of central North Dakota’s Kidder and Stutsman Counties, and now we focus our lens on the county’s birds of lake and marsh. Where I live in Northeastern Minnesota, cattail marshes are a rare commodity, and even where present they don’t normally attract the western and southern species that are cattail specialists. So it was fantastic fun to get to see avocets and ibis, Ruddy Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, all at close range.

American Avocet flying Kidder County ND IMG_0889AMERICAN AVOCET
An exotic breeding bird of the prairie pothole region is the American Avocet. Not often seen in Minnesota, it is a fairly common bird in central North Dakota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6 ISO 320; handheld]

Pied-billed Grebe nest Kidder County ND IMG_0837PIED-BILLED GREBE FAMILY.
I stumbled across several active Pied-billed Grebe nests along the backroads and main roads. Unlike the ducks, male grebes are actively involved in raising the young. Juvenile Pied-billed Grebes are colorful stripy little guys.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f5.6 ISO 320 -0.67ev; braced on car window]

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0763WHITE-FACED IBIS

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0746WHITE-FACED IBIS
Ibis in North Dakota? Yes, several species of herons and ibis have moved into the northern plains as breeding species since the 1970s, including White-faced Ibis.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 at f5.6 ISO 500; braced on car window]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295SWAMP SPARROW
A very common and vocal marsh dweller is the Swamp Sparrow. Its staccato trill often goes unnoticed as it becomes background noise in wet areas.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6 ISO 640; handheld]

IMG_1219HORSEHEAD LAKE
Horsehead Lake is well, shaped like a horse’s head. At least it used to be. Lakes all over this part of North Dakota have been rising dramatically over the last 20 years, probably the result of a natural wet cycle. But it is a great place to get up close and personal with many prairie wetland species.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1157YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_0989YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1185YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD
Most of us are quite familiar with the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbird, but the Yellow-headed is restricted to high-quality cattail marshes of central and western U.S. Their yellow feathers often look quite fluffy, more like a mane. They outcompete Red-wings for the best nesting sites, occupying the deepwater cattails near the center of the marsh and forcing the Redwings out to the less secure shallow-water fringes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/320 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1112RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1091RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084RUDDY DUCK
The male Ruddy Duck (right) is a dapper little fella. His blue bill and chestnut plumage are just part of his allure. He also performs a funny head-pumping display that evidently attracts and impresses the female (left).
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 at f22 ISO 320; braced on car window (Note: I was taking video previous to this photo and forgot to switch my camera settings…that is why the ridiculous f22 at 1/60…but I lucked out and it is sharp)]

IMG_1057AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS AT HORSEHEAD LAKE
A bucolic summer scene at Horsehead Lake in Kidder County, North Dakota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Black Tern Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1053BLACK TERN
A bird of inland prairie cattail marshes, the Black Tern is rarely seen in the Duluth area, so it was fun to see several near Horsehead Lake in Kidder County.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Double-crested Cormorant Kidder County ND IMG_1388DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT
These water birds are a common sight along the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, and a sighting is often accompanied by the phrase “Oh, just a cormorant.” But they are impressive birds when seen in good light and at close distance. I especially like their azure blue eyes!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Birding North Dakota’s Prairie—Part 1: Grassland Birds

I have a very embarrassing secret…As of a month ago, I still needed Ferruginous Hawk for my Life List! Most of you may be saying “Huh?,” but the birders out there know what I mean. Seeing 600 of North America’s bird species is a Major milestone…and a month ago I was at 636 species and had yet to see this relatively common hawk of western North America (Sidebar: “North America” to bird listers is the Lower 48, Alaska and Canada…It does NOT include Hawaii or Mexico). So obviously the thing to do was to head out to central North Dakota’s Kidder County where the Ferruginous nest, and as one birder put it, “there’s one on nearly every hay bale!” More about how this saga unfolds below.

But after leaving Manitoba it seemed natural to swing through North Dakota on my way back to northern Minnesota and home in Wrenshall. Several of my birding friends had made MANY trips to Kidder and Stutsman County to see rare prairie birds and western raptors and soak in the abundance of ducks, shorebirds, and other marsh birds that inhabit the prairie pothole region. In fact, the major bird tour groups in North America (Wings and VENT) put this part of North Dakota on their tour itinerary each year. I had to check it out for myself…and I was not disappointed!

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1500UPLAND SANDPIPER
Lift off! An Upland Sandpiper takes wing from a prairie fence post. Though technically a shorebird, these long-necked, small-headed birds are really more at home in crop fields, hayfields, grazed meadows and native prairie. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 500; camera braced on car window]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1462UPLAND SANDPIPER
Though there are spots in Minnesota where these sandpipers still breed (including the Sax-Zim Bog), they have a stronghold on the northern prairies. In some Eastern states, Uplands find airports to their liking as nesting spots…These airports mimic prairies much farther west with their short grass, flat terrain and wide open spaces. In the boreal forest they may nest in large semi-dry sedge meaows in huge bogs. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 320; camera braced on car window]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1478UPLAND SANDPIPER
When the Upland’s alight on a perch they have a neat habit of holding their wings over their back and then leisurely folding them. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; camera braced on car window]

Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0219Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge
My first stop was to see Stacy Whipp at Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. I’d met Stacy at the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Bird Festival a few years ago and knew that she is a very knowledgeable birder. Stacy helps organize the Potholes & Prairies Bird Festival and she gave me wonderful info and exact locations for many of my target species. These spots were fresh in her mind from her extensive scouting for the Festival and the field trips during the event.

Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0218Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge

Say's Phoebe Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0696SAY’S PHOEBE
My first truly Western bird of the trip was this Say’s Phoebe at the Arrowwood NWR Headquarters. Like “our” Eastern Phoebe, it has no problem with hunting near humans and their habitations. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Asclepias speciosa Showy Milkweed Kidder Co ND IMG_1512SHOWY MILKWEED (Asclepias speciosa)
A gorgeous western milkweed…cousin to our Common Milkweed

Sparky Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0720Sparky scanning the rolling prairies of central North Dakota. Ethanol subsidies and governmental mandates on ethanol usage have created high corn prices and the result has been that many farmers in this dryer part of North Dakota have converted grazing land (i.e. great prairie bird habitat) into sterile corn fields (and soybean fields).

iPhone panorama North Dakota Kidder Co IMG_0245IPHONE PANORAMA OF KIDDER COUNTY’S ROLLING GRASSLANDS

Swainson's Hawk Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0729SWAINSON’S HAWK with Richardson’s Ground Squirrel in its talons. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/160 at f5.6; ISO 400; camera braced on car window]

Chestnut-collared Longspur Kidder County ND IMG_0962CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR with spider prey.
The longspurs are a colorful lot…at least the males in breeding plumage, and this Chestnut-collared Longspur is no exception. A bird strictly of the midgrass and long grass prairies, it was once a common Minnesota breeder but has been reduced by habitat loss (i.e. conversion of prairie to cropland) to survival in a few scattered prairies in the western fringe of the state. Ironically, cattle ranching is this species friend as grazing keeps the grasses shorter and hospitable to this picky species.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Swainson's Hawk Kidder Co ND IMG_1373SWAINSON’S HAWK
Swainson's Hawk fence post Kidder County ND IMG_0980 SWAINSON’S HAWK
I really think these are very attractive raptors, made more so by the fact that I don’t see them very often. They do nest in SW Minnesota but I rarely get to see them. Swainson’s Hawks are very common in this part of North Dakota. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; camera braced on car window]

Western Kingbird foggy fence spider web Kidder Co ND IMG_1347WESTERN KINGBIRD
While the days were warm (low 80s) the nights were nice and cool. And on this morning the combination meant dense fog in the valleys. Fortunately inclement weather can also be the photographers best friend, and in this case it created a moody shot of a Western Kingbird and a dew-covered orbweaver spider web. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 200; camera braced on car window]

Ferruginous Hawk on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1365FERRUGINOUS HAWK
[My pursuit of my lifer Ferruginous Hawk continued:] Sadly, I had to leave North Dakota without my lifer Ferruginous Hawk (insert sad-face here). I’d checked out the nest that Stacy said was active just a couple weeks before, but not a thing was stirring. I did snap a photo of yet another Swainson’s Hawk nearby and promptly forgot about it. Later that day I found three more Ferruginous Hawk nests…all empty. But, “Wait,” you’re saying “You have a photo of a Ferruginous Hawk in this blog post.” True, and here is the rest of the story. After arriving home and downloading all my memory cards, I discovered an image of a bulky and distant raptor. A major crop of the photo revealed that the bird was not “just another Swainson’s” but a juvenile FERRUGINOUS HAWK! Probably one that had just fledged from the nearby nest. I indeed had seen my Lifer Ferrug but had not known it at the time. We can argue about whether a bird identified later on your computer screen and not in the field can count as a new bird on your list, but I have no qualms about making Ferruginous Hawk #637 on my North American ABA Life List. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 200; camera braced on car window]

[NEXT POST WILL FEATURE THE WATER BIRDS AND SHOREBIRDS OF NORTH DAKOTA’S MARSHES]

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Wild Horses running Wild

On our way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I stayed the night in Medora, North Dakota and spent the next morning shooting in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It is a fantastic place for wildlife photography…and far less crowded than Yellowstone! Though it doesn’t have bears or Moose it does have Bison, Pronghorns, Coyote, Mule Deer and, in the North Unit, Elk and Bighorns. It also has two very photogenic species that Yellowstone lacks…Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (also Rattlesnakes in summer!).
Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339 copyThe band of wild horses and foals. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, tripod]

The morning dawned dismal and rainy but we weren’t about to pass up the amazing 25-mile?? wildlife auto loop. Coming around a bend, we actually saw a car parked along the road. We had to stop and see what was up. Off on a nearby hillside was what we thought was a researcher studying a band of wild horses. The horses then stared at us (or so we thought). A couple foals were in the herd too. We waited until she returned to the road and indeed she was researching the sex lives of the horses (basically). But she told us that she thought the horses had seen another band of horses. We went cross country to try and get some shots. After setting up on the same hillside we noticed the horses all switched their attention from us to something unseen to the east. Sure enough, there came into view another band of horses. The leader of the band near us got very animated and stiffened up. He then trotted over to the other band and the leader of that band came out to meet him.

They circled each other, posturing the whole while. The other male then kicked with both hind legs narrowly missing “our” male. Evidently our male “won” and the other band drifted off while he ran back towards us. It was a fantastic opportunity to get some panning, motion-blur shots.

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9293Panning with running animals at a slow shutter speed is low percentage shooting, but sometimes you get lucky and get the head sharp but still show the motion in the legs. You need to choose a slow enough shutter speed to convey motion but not too slow so there is no chance of any part of the animal being sharp. The best shutter speed to start with would be 1/60 to 1/30 of a second. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9304Nothing is sharp in this shot (I wish the head was a tiny bit sharp) but I love the power and speed of this stallion as conveyed by the motion blur.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9306[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9310Kicking stallion. I didn’t really like the color in this shot…Seemed to distract from the kicking horse. So I converted it to black and white but it was still lacking something for an image portraying such power and aggression. Then I played with the contrast and Voila! I really liked it. Aggression, strength, power, energy. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339The same photo as the top photo. Do you like it better in color or black and white?

MORE ABOUT WILD HORSES IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[From official park website: “Feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park do not fall under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but are managed by existing park regulations. For many years the National Park Service attempted to remove all the horses from the park. This policy was reversed in 1970 when the horse was recognized as part of the historical setting. The park now retains a herd of 70-110 animals so that visitors may experience the badlands scene as it appeared during the open range ranching era of Theodore Roosevelt. In order to maintain this population level, the horses are rounded up every few years, and surplus animals are sold at public auction. Today, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few areas in the West where free-roaming horses may be readily observed.

Wild horses have existed in the badlands of western North Dakota since the middle of the 19th century. While ranching near Medora in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

In a great many–indeed, in most–localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cowboys in the Medora area often captured wild badlands horses for use as ranch or rodeo stock. Prior to the establishment of the park in 1947, local ranchers used this area to graze their livestock. A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. Of the few small bands of horses that eluded capture, several were thought to be the descendants of horses that had run free in the badlands since at least the turn of the century.

Some of the horses in the park do bear a striking resemblance to the types of horses common in this area during the 19th century. As depicted in drawings and early photographs, local horses of that era were typically large-headed, short-backed, and a bit larger than the mustang of the southern Plains. They were often blue or red roans, many having “bald” (white) faces and patches of white on their sides. This color pattern, called an “apron,” may be familiar from the paintings of Frederic Remington and C.M. Russell, but is seldom seen in modern horses.

Wild horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Frequently a subdominant stallion will “run second” to the leader. Stallions herd their mares by extending their heads and necks low to the ground in a threatening gesture known as “snaking.” When a band is in flight, a dominant mare will take the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. Young stallions roam together in “bachelor” groups, sometimes in proximity to a stallion harem.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Bison calves

It was mid May and calving time in the Bison herds of Yellowstone and Teddy Roosevelt…And as the father of a 4-year-old and 5-year-old, I can really see the similarities in these wild babies and my kids…TONS of energy, lots of playing, stick close to mommy, and darn cute!

Bison calf and cow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9441Aaaah! How cute! I love this shot. It really shows the bond between mother and calf. A little nuzzling for reassurance.

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9476 HISTORY OF BISON IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
[from the official park website: “In 1956, 29 bison were brought from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and released in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here they roamed freely on 46,000 acres of park land and by 1962 the herd had increased to 145 animals. That year, 10 bulls and 10 cows were relocated to the 24,000-acre North Unit.”

“Though both units of the park can easily carry larger numbers of bison, park managers have currently set herd size at approximately 200 to 400 animals for the South Unit and 100 to 300 for the North Unit to maintain healthy range conditions.”

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9465Two adolescent bulls go head to head in a play battle.
[From park website: “Cow groups usually consist of 20-60 animals composed of cows, bulls under 3 years, and a few old bulls. The herd is led by an older cow. As they graze, the group will travel 10-15 miles each day moving at a speed of 5-6 miles per hour. Most bulls live alone or in bachelor groups of up to 20 animals. Bulls tend to become more solitary with age.”

Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9449[From park website: “Cows usually conceive for the first time as three-year olds. Though calves can be born at any time of the year, the calving season usually begins in April after a 9 month gestation period. Calves are orange-red in color and are up and moving within 3 hours of birth. They stay very close to their mother for the first few weeks. Cows are very protective of their young. Eventually, calves venture further away from their mothers, playing with other youngsters in nursery groups, while always under the watchful eyes of other cows within the herd. After 3 months, the orange-red baby coloration starts to change to dark brown and the hump and horns begin to form. Calves remain with their mothers for about a year, or until another calf is born.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT BISON AT THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK’S WEBSITE HERE