Posts from the ‘Northern Hawk Owl’ Category

Top Ten Action Shots 2013

Action images are always one of the goals of a wildlife photographer. Nature is in constant motion, and capturing a frozen moment in time is always exciting. Here are my favorite action shots of 2013.
Blue-winged Teal Fond du Lac Bridge area Duluth MN IMG_9912Blue-winged Teal in flight. As you can see, even 1/1600 of a second didn’t entirely freeze this duck’s wings. But that’s okay. I think a bit of motion blur in the wings adds to the photo, making it a bit less static. Of course, this wouldn’t be acceptable for the head. Near the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, handheld]

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480Backlit Trumpeter Swans coming in for a landing. If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, Minnesota, you’ve got to make a mid-winter pilgrimage to this tiny city park in Monticello. This stretch of the Mississippi River stays open and ice-free the entire winter due to the nuclear power plant upstream. And the swans love it! They also get a free hand out from one of the local residents. I like the backlit wings and blue shadows of this image. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250 second, ISO 250, handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7856
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7840This is a shot that I’d dreamed of for quite a while…a Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing atop the snow in morning light. It happened this year (2013) on my first trip out to the DNR blind near the lek (dancing grounds). It was April 26th and there was 8 inches os snow still on the ground (We’d had 48 inches of snow in April alone!). It was cloudy on my drive out but the clouds cleared soon after I got there. Long enough to get my dream shot. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Killdeer CR201 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8053I like animal behavior shots. This is a pair of Killdeer mating soon after returning to the North Woods in late April. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 100, handheld]

Common Merganser flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_6969Common Merganser flying through a snowstorm in April. Duluth, Minnesota near the St. Louis River.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640 second, ISO 160, tripod from blind]

Belted Kingfisher Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_5805I placed this perch in a marsh in hopes a Belted Kingfisher would use it…and within 10 minutes or so, one did! It even caught a fish from the perch. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Bald Eagle nr nest Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_7764Out on a spring walk, I evidently got too close to a Bald Eagle nest. This bird made several passes at me, giving its very squeaky alarm call. Douglas County, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 200, handheld]

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A plastic owl festooned with feathers from a feather duster enticed this American Kestrel to come in for a closer look. The male of this small falcon species is rusty-red and blue, an attractive combo. Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. See the full story here
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Manual exposure f7.1 at 1/2000 second, ISO 500, handheld]

Northern Hawk Owl Kolu Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072702Northern Hawk Owl hovering. These owls of remote bogs from Minnesota to Alaska hunt during the daytime…A very convenient trait for the wildlife photographer! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/2500 second, ISO 640, handheld]

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My free Owls eBook for iPad/iPhone (and coffee-table book)

Bog Hunters is a gorgeous (if I do say so myself!) 40 page 12″x12″ coffee-table book that I made for a fundraiser for my non-profit Friends of Sax-Zim Bog (www.saxzim.org).

It is simply compelling photos of the BIG THREE northern owl species…Boreal Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and Great Gray Owl (Great Grey Owl for all my European friends). I also list locations of where the image was taken. There is also a spread of “bog neighbors.” This is not a how-to book, nor is it a natural history guide…just “perdy” pictures.

And now it is available for FREE download for those with iBooks on their iPad or iPhone.
Go to this link to download it:

FREE BOG HUNTERS EBOOK FOR IPAD/IPHONE

[WARNING: It took me several tries to download it to Bridget’s original/1st generation iPad1]

A large format print version…hardcover with lustre paper…is available as well. The price is a daunting $86.13 (shipping included) BUT I am only charging what Blurb.com is charging me to print a single copy. Here is a link:

CHECK OUT (OR PURCHASE) COFFEE-TABLE VERSION OF BOG HUNTERS

Here are some LOW-RES page spreads

BOG HUNTERS pg 14-15
Bog Hunters pg 16-17
Bog Hunters pg 24-25

Top Ten Winter Photo Tips

Okay, so much of the U.S. is snowless, but it won’t last. We will get snow and cold soon enough (fingers crossed). Here are some ideas to jump start your winter photography and get you out of the brown-gray-white-season blahs.

I will look at each tip in more depth in coming blog posts. Here they are in no particular order (paraphrased from David Letterman).

1. PATTERNS
Winter is a very graphic season. Elements of the landscape are softened and simplified. Isolate patterns for a winning image. [frost feathers on my Subaru’s door window against the sunrise; “pinkened” in Aperture]

2. COLORS
Winter is NOT just black and white (or brown). Seek out color to enliven winter shots. [Willows in late winter turn bright red and yellow]

3. BLACK & WHITE
Okay, I just told you to seek color. But monochrome winter shots can also make stunning black & whites [Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota]

4. TAME NORTHERN BIRDS
Maybe tolerant is a better word. Many of the northern/boreal birds that move south from Canada and winter in the northern U.S. are quite tolerant of humans. [Northern Hawk Owl]

5. HDR WINTERSCAPES
High Dynamic Range images are ideal for winter images where the contrast is too great to record in a single image. In this image of Lake Superior’s Split Rock Lighthouse, I took three images of different exposures and combined them in a program called Photomatix to get this interesting image.

6. SHADOWS
The sun stays low all day long so use it to your advantage with dramatic shadow images.

7. ICE IS NICE
Ice comes in many forms…icicles, lake ice, coatings on trees and bushes, icebergs…to name a few. Though usually clear or blue, try shooting ice at sunrise or sunset to add a bit of dramatic red/orange to the ice.

8. WEATHER PHENOMENON
Some interesting weather phenomenon occur in winter…like the “sun dog” pictured here…or sun pillars, steam from unfrozen lakes in cold temps, ice fog, etc. [sun dog over Canal Park lighthouse, Duluth, Minnesota]

9. BACKYARD BOUNTY
Winter is when most of us feed birds in our backyard (we start in early November when the local bears go night-night). Try setting up a blind to make natural looking bird images within feet of your house. [Brown Creeper on its way up to my suet cage]

10. NIGHT SKY
Night comes early in winter. Use it to your advantage. Star trails, full moon shots, aurora borealis, comets and more. [aurora borealis, Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Hunting Hovering Hawk Owls


I published Duluth naturalist’s David Benson’s Owls of the North a few years ago…Great little book, if you haven’t seen it. Fascinating info on all our northern owls…including the Northern Hawk Owl. Here is an excerpt about Hawk Owl hunting:

Hawk Owls hunt from a convenient perch, searching for prey by sight and then swooping quickly down for the kill. They will chase prey short distances, and sometimes they hunt from perch to perch, dropping down for prey and then swinging up to a nearby perch if they fail to catch their target. Hawk Owls have also been seen hovering over potential prey—unusual behavior for an owl [see photos this post—Sparky]

Alone among owls, Hawk Owls have a falcon-like notch in their bill to sever the spinal cords of their prey. Owl species often use their bills in a similar way, and presumably the notch helps the Hawk Owl to do this with more efficiency.

Congruent with their daytime activity, Hawk Owls rely on sight more than hearing for hunting. Their ears are symmetrical, so they apparently do not need the kind of precision hearing used by most other owls. When scanning for prey, Hawk Owls lean forward almost to the horizontal and pump their tails (a most “un-owly” posture). When they strike, their drop off the perch can look almost like and accidental fall until they begin to glide to the kill.

—from Owls of the North by David Benson (Stone Ridge Press, 2008, ISBN-978-0-9760313-4-5)

Happy Hawk Owl

Happiness is a sunny day in the Sax-Zim Bog with a happy Northern Hawk Owl. I say he’s happy because he caught several voles in the brief time I spent with him (her?) and cached every one. There must be an abundance of voles around under the 20 plus inches of snow on the ground to have such hunting success.

Caching is fairly common amongst boreal avian predators in times of plenty. Great Gray Owls do it, Northern Shrikes do it, Gray Jays do it, and so do Hawk Owls. I watched as he fluttered near an old aspen snag evidently trying to put one vole in a crevice. Once he dropped the vole and had to fly down to the snow and pick it up and try again. And another time he knocked a big piece of bark off as he apparently tried to cache it between the bark and the stump. In the deep freeze of winter the voles will stay good for a long time. And when hunting is slow, the hawk owl can go to the “fridge” and get a volesicle!

On a couple occasions he flew over 100 yards to nab a vole. Jumping off his favorite perch at the tip of a 60 foot Quaking Aspen, he rocketed straight for the unsuspecting rodent, making his final approach only a few feet off the ground, wings set as in the photo. The flight trajectory was not a straight line but rather an inverted arc.

Northern Hawk Owls are diurnal raptors, hunting in daylight hours. This makes them very viewer/birder friendly. Add to this the fact that they are generally unfazed by human presence and you have a very charismatic species. They are about the size of a football with a tail (the long tail gives them their “hawk” name); a wingspan of 22-28 inches. I dare say that if this owl was as large as a Great Gray, it would be even more legendary.

This owl is a circumpolar species, breeding across the boreal forest and boreal/hardwood transition forest of Canada, Alaska, Scandinavian and Siberia. But their breeding range only dips into the U.S in northern Minnesota. During low cycles of voles in Canada, they can irrupt into northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and other northern states. On my Sax-Zim MN Christmas Bird Count in December 2004 we had 42 (!) Hawk Owls in a 15-mile diameter circle.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/3200 TV, ISO 400

Northern Hawk Owl family

Some days you just get lucky. And today was one of those days. I awoke very early to be up on the Stoney River Forest Road in the Superior National Forest by dawn (Lake County in northern Minnesota). Unfortunately  the day dawned foggy and I struggled to find photo subjects. Driving slowly through a Black Spruce/Tamarack bog I spotted the delicate pink blossom of a blooming Bog Laurel. As I stepped out of the Subaru I heard a familiar sound—the begging call of a young owl. Sure enough, there were THREE juvenile Northern Hawk Owls calling from three different Tamaracks. I doused myself in bug dope (10% DEET!), put on my rubber boots and trudged into the bog. Long story short, I spent two hours watching, waiting and photographing this family. Mom (dad?) would come in every 20 to 40 minutes or so with a big, fat, juicy vole. She would fly in to one juvenile but instantly the other two would race to her to get their share…Talk about sibling rivalry!

This photo is the result of patience and luck. Most of the time the young birds were high up in the tippy tops of Tamaracks…with a gray sky background. Patience rewarded me with this bird only six feet off the ground. Luck had it that at some point mom/dad must have given a signal for the chicks that danger was near (and it wasn’t me because the adult ignored me). For at least 10 minutes all three youngsters froze…No begging, no looking around, no moving at all. I used this to get within 10 yards. Note that this guy has a precious vole clutched tightly in its talons…probably a gift from mom or dad.

I chose a vertical orientation to include the photogenic perch.

Canon 7D, 400mm f5.6 on tripod with Wimberly Sidekick, f5.6 at 1/250 at ISO 200.