Posts from the ‘North Shore’ Category

Boreal Owl Bonanza!

First of all, let me say that Boreal Owls are the cutest bird in the entire world! About the size of a Kleenex box, nearly as wide as they are tall, the Boreal has bright yellow eyes with two black “tear drop” marks and a face framed by black. Immaculate white spots dot the forehead. This has been a great winter to see this most elusive of all owls in northern Minnesota.

Roughly every 4 years there is an increase in Boreal Owl sightings in Minnesota. Usually, late in the winter, a few may be spotted hunting in the daytime, which often means that they are hungry!…possibly starving. You see, Boreals are normally nocturnal hunters. So when voles are at a low cycle further north, the Boreals need to move in search of food. In late January of 2013 they started showing up in Sax-Zim and along the North Shore. Guide Chris Wood found SEVEN in one day along the Scenic 61 highway north of Duluth. This has been a huge IRRUPTION! (yes, irruption is the right word).

And since Boreal Owls are rarely seen, this influx of day-hunting Boreals is big news. Most of the folks I guide still need it for their life list. So irruption years become BUSY years for the local guides (and I’m no exception!). In fact, the tiny owl hadn’t even been recorded nesting in the Lower 48 until the spring/summer of 1978 when a Boreal Owl pair took up residence in a nest box in Tofte, Minnesota.

Here is a compilation of video from 4 different Boreals taken between January 27th and February 8th.

Boreal Owl Scenic 61 nr Stoney Point Duluth MN IMG_0074437
Boreal Owl preens nr Stoney Pt Scenic 61 St. Louis Co MN IMG_0074883
Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MNIMG_0074823
Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MN IMG_0074782
Boreal Owl sleeps Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MN IMG_0074762

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. BUT note that the top photo was taken with the 400mm AND stacked 2x and 1.4x teleconverters! Don’t let anyone tell you that you should NEVER stack teleconverters…I did and the photo turned out all right I think.

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Wolf Chase…A Near Miss

It was our first chance to get up the North Shore together in a long time. My folks cheerfully volunteered to drive up and watch the kids for the day. Bridget and I left Skogstjarna about 7am and headed towards Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail, driving through some rain, some fog, some drizzle on the way. Just south of the Caribou River I passed a truck who was driving quite slowly, brake lights on…As we passed him, I saw the Timber Wolf loping down the ditch parallel to Highway 61. I yelled out, “It’s a wolf!”…the only appropriate response to such a sighting. Bridget hadn’t seen it so we swung around to try and relocate him/her. I had forgotten the lesson every wildlife photographer visiting Yellowstone knows…You always slow down when you see brake lights…Someone has probably spotted something “good.”

We had barely pulled off the road when we spotted the wolf coming right towards us. He dropped down into a puddle not 40 feet from us and started lapping up the water. I had my camera with telephoto lens prepared and laying on the back seat. Bridget rolled down her window and I started shooting. I got off three shots before the wolf got up and trotted down the ditch behind us, in the process coming within 20 feet of Bridget. He paid us no attention. Hmmm, a thirsty wolf who is preoccupied…He must be hunting! Sure enough as we again turned the car around we found him weaving in and out of the woods at a determined pace. Prey was within striking distance but his nose couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Just then a small deer popped out of the forest and crossed the road. Twenty seconds later the wolf crossed the road, completely ignoring an oncoming car (see photo above). We sat patiently for another few minutes hoping to see this drama unfold, but we witnessed nothing but fog and silence.

Finally with time to “chimp,” I looked at my first three photos…All were soft, not sharp…I checked my camera settings. The camera had somehow been turned to Program mode which “decided” 1/125 of  a second was fast enough. Not even close! (photo immediately below) Oh well, the wolf was so close that I couldn’t even get his entire head in the frame with the 400mm.

It reminded me of a time during the “film days” when I happened upon a Timber Wolf loping along the same road but during peak fall colors. I had my camera ready, I rolled down the window (a crank window) and shot one “insurance shot.” The wolf had paused and was looking at me, framed by fall colors. I pressed the shutter…Nothing! I was out of film! You can see the result in the bottom image. A “memory shot” that was supposed to remind me always to have the camera handy and set to the proper settings for the unexpected that all wildlife photographers expect. I almost redeemed myself today.