Posts from the ‘North Dakota’ Category

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!


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]

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)]

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).


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]


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?

[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.

[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.”


Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Prairie Dogs and friends

Ryan and I often break up the 17 hour drive home to Minnesota from Yellowstone with a night and half a day in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. The 36-mile auto loop is a fantastic road for wildlife photography…And no crowds!
Prairie Dog village Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9549 Prairie Dogs are truly charismatic critters. How can you not like them? Well, I guess cattle ranchers hate them as cows can step in a hole and break their legs. But they’ve been successfully eradicated on much of the private lands of the west.

We tried this unique shot last year but came up empty (Not every wildlife photo must be taken with a telephoto lens!). We placed our cameras with a wide angle lens near the mouth of a Prairie Dog hole…then we retreated to the hillside and waited to trigger the shutter remotely. But Prairie Dogs have interconnected tunnels with many exits/entrances, and they usually outsmarted us. And the same thing seemed to be happening to us this time, but after we had given up and were heading back to the car, one Prairie Dog seemed reluctant to go down his hole as I approached. Maybe curious, maybe young, maybe not too experienced, but “brave” enough to poke his head out to check out the “three-legged predator” just outside his home. “Click” …got the shot. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 16mm, f13 at 1/800, tripod with remote trigger]

IMG_6144 The North Dakota badlands are much more lush and green than the South Dakota badlands [iPhone!]

Lark Sparrow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9227 Lark Sparrows are very common in Teddy Roosevelt but rare in northern Minnesota. It was a real treat to see and hear many along the auto loop. This guy posed in the tip top of a Rocky Mountain Juniper. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250 (max flash sync speed), Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer attachment (to extend the reach of the flash), handheld]

Western Meadowlark Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9366 Western Meadowlarks are a symbolic bird of the grasslands of the American West. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/400, handheld from car (This is an exposure between firings of the flash…The flash needs to recycle after every firing, so it is best to set your exposure so even between firings you get a decent exposure of your subject.]

Mule Deer Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9381 Check out those ears! Mule Deer, in fact, are named for their ears which are oversized as in Mules. It was a very dark, rainy, gray day so the color balance was a bit weird so I converted the image to black-and-white for better effect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, handheld from car]

Teddy Roosevelt N.P.—Hoodoos AFTER Sunset

Part 5 of 6 from a mid October trip to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The fun doesn’t stop after the sun goes down! In reality, often the last thing you want to do on an exhausting photo trip is go back into the field after dark. You’re tired, and you know the alarm will go off WAY before sunrise but you do it. And it is always a blast!…The kind of fun that was hard to imagine in the film days.

Today’s digital SLRs are capable of amazing low-light images. In the “film days” we were limited to ISO 400 film…and that was often unacceptably grainy. Now I can shoot at ISO 12,800! (that’s not a typo) and there are other cameras that can go beyond that. The image above was taken at night with only a flashlight illuminating the hoodoos. I was able to make a relatively short exposure (30seconds) due to the High ISO capability of the Canon 7D (though not nearly as good as the Nikon D3 series). Of course, you always want to shoot the lowest ISO for the least amount of noise. In this case I used ISO 1600. A short exposure also limits the movement of the stars in the final image. Click on the image to get a better look at the stars.

How big do you think the hoodoos are in the image below? It is really a miniature landscape as each hoodoo is only 12-24 inches tall. Did you think they were many feet tall? The image was taken with the Sigma 10-20mm lens from a very low angle as I wanted the hoodoos to appear large and silhouetted against the sunset. I kept the camera moving in a circular motion while clicking the shutter and popping the flash. The flash froze the hoodoos but the slow shutter speed and motion blurred the sky colors.

The bottom image is an HDR created in Photomatix Pro. I like these surreal artsy images known as High Dynamic Range. Some people hate them. The program takes several of your images of a scene with a great range of contrast and combines them into one image with a medium exposure. In this case I combined only two exposures—one for the foreground and one for the sky. You can then tweak the look from natural to bizarre. Fun stuff. Note that it is the same hoodoos as the previous image and taken only minutes apart!

Stars & Hoodoos: Canon 7D, Sigma 10-20mm at 10mm, f4 at 30seconds, ISO 1600, flashlight, tripod
Hoodoos Sunset: Canon 7D, Sigma 10-20mm at 10mm, f16 at 1/20 second, ISO 200, flash at -2EV, handheld
HDR Hoodoos: Canon 7D, Sigma 10-20mm at 10mm, f16 at 2 exposures, ISO 200, tripod

Teddy Roosevelt N.P—A Crazy Landscape

Part 6 of 6 from a mid October trip to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

After a successful morning shoot and a lunch at our grasshopper-infested campsite, we headed over to the South Unit visitor center for a history lesson on Teddy Roosevelt’s connection to this place (He said he never would have been president if it wasn’t for his ranching/cowboying experience in the badlands of North Dakota). It was now over 70 degrees when we headed back out on the wildlife loop. But there is more than wildlife along the 36-mile drive. Erosion formed the carved landscape so most of the scenery is BELOW the surrounding plains! This makes sunset/surise images difficult. You have to work to find good light at either end of the day. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Teddy Roosevelt N.P.—Animals in the Landscape

The animal doesn’t always have to fill the frame! Is that news to you? More and more, I’m placing the animal smaller in the frame to show its environment and habitat. This gives a sense of place to the image. British wildlife photographer Andy Rouse just came out with a book called The Living Landscape and in it he talks about his evolution in wildlife photography to showing more habitat. Tom Mangelsen is another world-renowned photographer that also adeptly creates stunning images where the critter is small in the frame. He even does it within film-based panorama images!
Next time you’re out and had enough of frame-filling images, put away the long lens and grab your 70-200 (or wider!) and have some fun.

Teddy Roosevelt N.P.—Atypical Wildlife Images

**Just a note: Just click on the images to see them in a larger format.

“How can I make a unique image of a Bison?” I thought to myself. On our many trips to Yellowstone, we’ve photographed hundreds of Bison over the years. It takes something new and unique to make us want to stop and get our gear out and even attempt to make an image. Great light, a stampede, rolling in dust, fighting. But how about a backlit resting Bison? Doesn’t sound like much, but I like the backlit red “mane” and the fact that he’s looking over the edge of a precipice.

The most exciting wildlife encounter we had on the trip wasn’t really even an encounter. We had followed a game trail down to the Little Missouri River in the North Unit. Ryan popped out of the brush and onto the mud flats bordering the water. Amongst the Raccoon tracks, Mule Deer tracks and Bison tracks he found huge cat tracks. Nearly 4 inches across. The lack of claw imprints (cats can retract their claws), the fact that the track was wider than long, and the oval shape of the toe prints led us to believe they were Mountain Lion/Cougar tracks. The park wildlife biologist later confirmed it and said that they are a rarely seen but regular visitor to the park feeding on Mule Deer and Porcupine!

The last image is a running blur of a Pronghorn. Try slowing the shutter speed and panning to create an image that shows speed. While Pronghorn can top 60mph, this one was just bounding away at less than half speed.

Bison Backlit: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f16 at 1/250, ISO 200, handheld from car

Mountain Lion tracks: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f16 at 1/90, ISO 800, handheld

Pronghorn blur: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/60 (Shutter Priority with auto ISO as I wanted only 1/60 second at f5.6), ISO 250, handheld