Posts from the ‘owls’ Category

2017 Favorite BIRDS-IN-FLIGHT photos

Well, it’s New Years Eve 2017 and time to peruse all the photos I took in 2017 to find my favorites. By my count, I took roughly 25,000 photos and video in 2017…24,989 to be exact. And I emphasize that these are my favorites…they may not be the best photos, but something about them appeals to me. Over the next week I will post MY FAVORITES in these categories…
—Birds in Flight
—Bird Portraits
—Wildlife Behavior
—Creative Wildlife
—Insects
—Flora
—Landscapes
—Mammal Portraits
—Wildlife in the Landscape

Bald Eagle immature flight breakwall Wisconsin Point Superior WI DSC07699

Bald Eagle (immature) [Superior, Wisconsin]

Birk, Bjorn and I were going to the sandy beach of Wisconsin Point on Lake Superior for a summer swim when we spotted this immature Bald Eagle sitting on the breakwall. I knew that he would fly, and I knew that I wanted a panning shot. I quickly set my camera to 1/60 second and just then he flew. I panned with him and got a few shots where the face was sharp. I also the fact that this is an eye-level shot.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/60 sec. at f25; ISO 400; hand-held]

Bonaparte's Gull Goose Creek Road Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0047

Bonaparte’s Gull [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada]

The Bonaparte’s is an attractive gull. I love their orange legs and feet, and their black hood and white “eyebrow.” This one is delicately plucking insects off the surface off a taiga pond.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 sec at f5.6; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

Common Raven in flight over Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Duluth MN IMG_0283

Common Raven [Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

This Raven is taking a long, hard look at my plastic owl Earl. I love the curve of the wings and the glossy iridescence of the back feathers. Most folks think of the Raven as a black bird, but most photos in bright light show blues and iridescent colors.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Arctic Tern in flight Churchill MB Canada IMG_0804

Arctic Tern [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

The 90-degree angle of the wings is what put this image over the top for me. This was taken at an Arctic Tern colony along the shores of Hudson Bay in mid June.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/1600 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; +o.66 ev; hand-held]

Mallards taking flight western MN DSC03330

Mallard flock [Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota]

I like the pattern of the mass of Mallards as they take off from a ice-rimmed pond in April. The Mallard is more colorful from the back than from the front. I do wish I had more ducks in the top right corner of the image.

Common Raven in flight over Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory Duluth MN IMG_0285

Common Raven [Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota]

The view from high up on Summit Ledges at Hawk Ridge is spectacular in fall. Lake Superior is just out of the frame to the right. Hawks migrate past this ridge in autumn, but Ravens also zip by the overlook. I like the blotches of color in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 500; hand-held]

Northern Hawk Owl Zim Road Yoki Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC03029

Northern Hawk Owl [Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Not your conventional Hawk Owl photo, but interesting to me. I like that you can really see the long tail that gives this day-hunting owl its name…And I also like the salmon-colored sunset (enhanced in Lightroom) and the silhouette of the Tamarack cones.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f7.1; ISO 640; hand-held]

Red-throated Loon Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_2176

Red-throated Loon [Churchill, Manitoba, Canada on Hudson Bay]

Very few Red-throated Loons nest in the tundra around Churchill, but they do stage and feed on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay while migrating through in spring. On this June morning I saw over 60 Red-throated Loons flying by Cape Merry! Some might look at this image and yawn…but what really excites me about this very average photo, is that the Red-throated Loon is a rarely seen species, especially in breeding plumage. I guess that fact makes it one of my favorites.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 sec. at f7.1; ISO 400; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane motion blur panning flight Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0252

Sandhill Crane pair [Crex Meadows, Wisconsin]

A slow shutter while panning allowed for the feeling of motion on this pair of Sandhill Cranes. Their heads are fairly sharp while their wing tips blur to give the sense of speed. I wish there was a little more “breathing room” in front of the first bird, but it didn’t work out that way. I also like the muted tones of this very autumn landscape.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 sec. at f9; ISO 100; -0.66ev; hand-held]

Spruce Grouse display Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake County MN DSC04295

Spruce Grouse [Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

This guy, with his sexy red eyebrows, was displaying his heart out along a backwoods road. Hopefully he impressed a lurking female. Even though it was April, there was still fresh snow on the ground and snowflakes falling. I saw a Moose a few minutes later.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/800 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

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Top Ten Bird Photos 2016

This is an exercise I do every January…Pick my favorite nature images from the previous year. And I obviously don’t limit it to 10 images…It’s just too painful. So here is my “Top Eighteen” bird images of 2016. I’m also going to do a “Top Ten” for my favorite Creative Wildlife Images and Mammals.
I’m not saying these are the images that YOU are going to like best…nor are they images that are technically perfect, but they are, for various reasons, my favorites. So here they are in no particular order…

northern-cardinal-male-in-flowering-crabapple-mom-and-dads-house-new-hope-mn-img_6658Northern Cardinal, New Hope, Minnesota.
Do red and pink compliment each other? …or clash? I don’t mind the color combo of the red Northern Cardinal and pink-flowered crabapple in this photo…but I do think the touch of blue sky helps.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

american-goldfinche-img_8038American Goldfinch, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Would you be surprised if I told you I took this from the comfort of a camp chair in my yard? Well, I was in a blind, and the “pond” is actually a pool made from a 4×8 sheet of plywood and some 2x4s….an infinity pool for birds! I love how the yellow of the sunflowers matches the Goldfinch’s plumage. I was hoping for a better pose and head position but I’ll take it.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

barred-owl-cr18-near-hebron-cemetery-aitkin-co-mn-img_1504Barred Owl, Aitkin County, Minnesota.
Okay, to be honest, I was looking for Great Gray Owls when this Barred Owl appeared along a remote stretch of road. And unlike usual encounters with Barred Owls, this guy stuck around…He was very intent on some unseen rodent below the roadside snow. So I sat and watched. He finally plunged down but was unable to get the vole, but he paused long enough to get his portrait in early morning light.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld, braced on car window frame]

wild-turkey-in-snow-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2148Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
I never dreamed that I’d have Wild Turkeys in my woods in northeast Minnesota. In fact, I had to go to the extreme SE corner of the state in the 1980s just to add one to my state list…That’s about 300 miles south! But 30 years later, I have upwards of 30 that stop by my feeding station to load up on cracked corn. This guy seems to be wondering what that white stuff is falling from the sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/50 at f7.1; ISO 500; handheld, and taken through living room window]

black-backed-woodpecker-nest-norris-camp-beltrami-island-state-forest-lake-of-the-woods-co-mn-img_1405Black-backed Woodpecker nest, Norris Camp, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
Note how Black-backed Woodpeckers peal all the bark from around their nest hole…this is NOT done by Hairy Woodpeckers or other 4-toed woodpeckers. They also prefer living conifers with heart rot. I watched these busy parents and constantly begging young for a couple hours.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 320; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

black-bellied-plover-break-wall-wisconsin-point-superior-wi-img_7314Black-bellied Plover, Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior.
Shorebirds hold a special attraction for me. Partly because of where I live…in the middle of the country, but close to the “inland sea” of Lake Superior. I often scour the sandy beaches of Duluth, Minnesota’s Park Point and Superior, Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Point. I found this breeding plumaged Black-bellied Plover on the orange-lichened boulders of the Wisconsin Point breakwall. I like the contrast of the black and white bird, orange lichens and blue sky.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld, braced on rock]

broad-winged-hawk-nest-with-2-nestlings-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_5139Broad-winged Hawk nestlings, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Jessica Dexter and I found this nest during our Friends of Sax-Zim Bog BioBlitz in July. What alerted us was a splash of whitewash on the shrubs along the path…We looked up and Bingo! They both fledged successfully and many folks got to watch them through a spotting scope from a safe distance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L with 1/4x teleconverter; 1/180 at f8; ISO 200; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

calliope-hummingbird-male-park-point-duluth-mn-img_1964-1Calliope Hummingbird, Park Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
This was only the second Minnesota record of a Calliope Hummingbird…and the other was a late fall blah-plumaged bird. This male was in all his summer splendor! He flared his gorget when a “rival” Ruby-throated Hummingbird would come by. Many folks got to see this stunner over a couple days along a dune boardwalk at the Duluth shore of Lake Superior.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 1600; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

forsters-tern-agassiz-national-wildlife-refuge-nwr-marshall-co-mn-img_9758Forster’s Tern, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota.
Several Forster’s Terns were making a circuit along this creek outflow. And the fishing must have been great, for they frequently plunged head-first into the water, and like this one, came up with beakfuls of small fish. I like the graceful swoop of the tern’s long tail.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld, braced on car window frame]

gray-jay-family-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9304-1Gray Jay, Owl Avenue, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Gray Jay taking flight from a small spruce.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1000; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

great-gray-owl-admiral-road-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_8922Great Gray Owl, Admiral Road, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
I do have 100s of decent Great Gray Owl photos, but I like this one because it places the owl in its favored habitat…Black Spruce-Tamarack forest.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 400; handheld]

mountain-bluebird-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4505Mountain Bluebird, Yellowstone National Park, Montana.
Boring pose but I love the merging of blues from Mountain Bluebird to sky…Someone famous once said (can’t remember who), “the bluebird carries the sky on its back.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/2500 at f6.3; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-saw-whet-owl-near-burntside-lake-ely-mn-img_7214Northern Saw-whet Owl, near Ely, Minnesota.
My friend Bill Tefft found this nesting Northern Saw-whet Owl in an old Pileated Woodpecker cavity…and I jumped at the chance when he offered to escort me there. World’s cutest owl?
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 250; fill flash; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

northern-shrike-cranberry-road-lek-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_3277Northern Shrike, Sax-Zim Bog.
In early spring, the willows blush with bright red bark. A fantastic backdrop for this lingering Northern Shrike who will soon head north to its breeding grounds in northern Canada. The blue sky helps the shot as well.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

pine-grosbeak-male-welcome-center-owl-avenue-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9632Pine Grosbeak male, Welcome Center, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 800; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

ruffed-grouse-snow-carlton-co-mn-img_1106Ruffed Grouse, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Falling snow can be the bane or a boon to a wildlife photographer. The trick is to not use too fast a shutter speed. That will create distracting blobs of white. It is better to slow the shutter down a bit and get some motion in the falling flakes. Here I used 1/320 of a second.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; braced on car window frame]

savannah-sparrow-at-my-pool-skogstjarna-carlton-co-mn-img_2465Savannah Sparrow, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
Another visitor to my backyard bird pool set up. This Savannah Sparrow is enjoying a bath on a hot summer afternoon. I like the splashing water droplets.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 500; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

spruce-grouse-male-spruce-road-superior-national-forest-lake-co-mn-img_0659Spruce Grouse male, Spruce Road, Lake County, Minnesota.
I was guiding a couple from England when we found this male Spruce Grouse in far northern Minnesota…It was a lifer for both of them…the only one we got that day. He posed for us for quite awhile. They are a grouse of the boreal forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alaska and Canada.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/125 at f6.3; ISO 400; handheld]

The Barred of Aitkin County & the End of Winter?

Mississippi River and bridge at Palisade MN Aitkin Co MN IMG_1479Mississippi River at Palisade, Minnesota.
With temperatures predicted to be in the 50s (!) on Monday March 7th, I decided to take a cruise around Carlton and Aitkin Counties and see what I could find. The woods were still covered in snow, but the fields were pretty bare. I also included photos from March 11, 12 and 13 here. [UPDATE 3-14: We may be getting 2 to 7 inches of snow this week! Maybe the “End of Winter” title was a bit premature!]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1489Barred Owl about to pounce.
While cruising an Aitkin County bog for Great Gray Owls, I found this very focused Barred Owl. It was about to pounce on an unseen mice or vole along the road ditch.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 second at f5.6, ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1493
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 second at f5.6, ISO 800; handheld]

Barred Owl CR18 near Hebron Cemetery Aitkin Co MN IMG_1504Barred Owl in golden light.
The Barred did indeed pounce, but alas, came up empty-taloned. No meal for this guy/gal this morning. Normally nocturnal, the Barred Owl will hunt in the daylight when very hungry…and at this time of winter, many northern critters can be fighting hunger.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6, ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

IMG_1560Horned Larks [Aitkin County]
One of the first spring migrants in northern Minnesota is the early-nesting Horned Lark. Often showing up in late February or early March they are usually the first songbird migrants. Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles, Killdeer, American Kestrels, Canada Geese are other early movers in the Northland. Horned Larks nest in farm fields and short grass pastures.

IMG_1679Trumpeter Swans
A flock of 18 Trumpeter Swans rest in a central Minnesota field recently bare of snow.

Canada Goose pair Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1693

Canada Goose pair Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_1697Canada Goose
Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin is a major staging area for Sandhill Cranes in spring and fall (April and October) so I thought with the early spring that maybe, possibly some may have returned. But no. The only migrants amongst the completely frozen marshes was this Canada Goose and about 30 or 40 Trumpeter Swans, some of whom had already paired up and staked out nests.

Allocapnia Winter Stonefly St. Croix River at WI 35 WI IMG_1729Winter Stonefly
On warm March days, the Winter Stoneflies (Allocapnia species) often emerge from cold, clean fast flowing creeks and rivers. They are flightless and forage atop the snow for bits of algae.

IMG_1767High Falls of the Black River [Douglas County, Wisconsin]
A hidden gem in northwest Wisconsin…and only a dozen miles or so from our house. The Black River tumbles for 165 vertical feet over Big Manitou Falls forming the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. It is in Pattison State Park.

Rough-legged Hawk light morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1838Rough-legged Hawk, light morph [Carlton County, MN]

Rough-legged Hawk dark morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1867Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph [Carlton County, MN]

Rough-legged Hawk dark morph Carlton Co MN IMG_1876Rough-legged Hawk, dark morph [Carlton County, MN]
March 11th was a GORGEOUS spring day and the raptors were on the move north! I tallied 1 American Kestrel, 1 Merlin, 3 Northern Harriers, 7 Bald Eagles (2 immatures and 5 adults) and 6 Rough-legged Hawks including this light morph and dark morph birds. The Rough-legs are heading back to breed in the Arctic of northern Canada.

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1934Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1939Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_1926Wild Turkey Toms Displaying [Carlton County, MN]
We’ve had Wild Turkeys at our bird feeders for a number of years now…and every mid March the Tom’s start strutting their stuff. On March 10 and 11 I saw a Tom half puff up his feathers, but no full blown display..until the morning of March 12 when I took the three photos above. It is fun to watch them slowly erect their feathers when they notice a hen nearby, and then slowly strut and turn to show off their iridescent feathers and bright red wattle.

Northern Harrier with vole CR229 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_2020Northern Harrier with Vole [Sax-Zim Bog, MN]
Northern Harriers are back in town. These raptors are one of the earliest to return to the Sax-Zim Bog in NE Minnesota. They float over hayfields, marshes and meadows searching for mice and voles. This female has caught one. Males are a very striking white, gray and black. They were formerly called “Marsh Hawks.”

Bohemian Waxwing Wrenshall City Park crabapples Wrenshall MN IMG_1973Bohemian Waxwing [Wrenshall, MN]
One of our winter visitors from the Canadian North, the Bohemian Waxwing will soon be heading out of the area. A flock of 7 to 30 have been hanging out in my town’s city park for the last week, feasting and fueling up on crabapples.

Bohemian Waxwing Wrenshall City Park crabapples Wrenshall MN IMG_2010Bohemian Waxwing [Wrenshall, MN]
With a blah gray sky as a background, I tried to make the photo more interesting by turning it into a “high key” image. I blew out the whites so it would almost look like the bird has been clipped from the background.

 

Superior Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1567
Snowy Owl Superior Airport Bong Superior WI IMG_1497
[Continued from previous post]…There have been no Snowies in the Sax-Zim Bog this year so Dave and I headed to the urban “wilds” of Superior, Wisconsin (Duluth’s neighbor in the “Twin Ports”). We found two Snowies but they were not equally photogenic. One had been banded and painted by researchers so it could be identified from long distances. We got a few “insurance shots” and continued our search.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1562Snowy Owls have been wintering in the industrial areas of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin for many years. When I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early/mid 1980s, we would go down to the Port Terminal in the harbor (where all the warehouses and shipping docks were) and we could easily find a half dozen. There were probably a couple dozen wintering between there and Superior’s docks.

At that time, the harbor was a brushy mess crisscrossed by railroad tracks and dotted with junk piles and open garbage cans. It was the perfect environment for rabbits, pigeons, pheasants and rats…all great Snowy Owl food.
[All owl-in-flight shots taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens set at Shutter Priority 1/1250 second and auto ISO. ISO ranged from 640 to 800 and f-stop ranged from f5.6 to f8]

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1559
Less than a mile away, we found this stunning female/young male (You can’t really tell, but in general, the darker the bird the younger it is and more likely a female). Don’t get me wrong, I love the nearly pure white adult males, but the speckled patterning on this bird was very pleasing.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1561
Of course she sat on every ugly perch she could find…telephone pole, chain-link fence, scoreboard (see below). So we waited until she pooped. Why?, you might ask. Raptors always seem to “jettison” excess waste which is weight they don’t need to carry with them when they fly. Then she did and I held down the finger on my Canon 7D with the Canon 400mm f5.6 set to AI focus so the lens would continue to focus on the flying bird.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1569 FLATI couldn’t resist a little fun when I saw this Snowy land on the middle school’s baseball scoreboard. After all, she is a “guest from the tundra,” just with us for the winter!

Northern Owls in a Hoar Frost Wonderland

When I left my house this morning (Dec 11th) I was a bit bummed as the skies were gray and the light flat. But when we started gaining elevation out of Duluth, a hoar frost wonderland began to appear. Every single bud, branch, needle and twig on every single tree was coated in a feathery frost. Spectacular! Now if we could only find some subjects! I was traveling with Dave Shaffer from Spooner, Wisconsin (one of the best Black Bear photographers in the country…see his images (all taken in the wild) at http://www.bearwitnessimages.com) and we were after one thing…Owls!

Most birders and photographers who love boreal birds have heard of northern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It is a Mecca for those searching out lifers or photos of northern birds such as Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Pine Grosbeak, White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll and, of course, owls. Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl are regular nesters and can be found easily most winters. Boreal Owls, Snowy Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owl are much more rare.

Great Gray Owl hoar-frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1794[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/400, ISO 400, aperture priority]
Great Gray Owl atop a tiny Tamarack cloaked in hoar-frost, Sax-Zim Bog MN
After a couple hours of unfruitful searching, we spotted a dark blob far down the road. I knew instantly that it was a Great Gray…the Phantom of the North! This was Dave’s first ever Great Gray…a “lifer” in birder parlance. And what a bird! This guy (girl?) kept on hunting for over an hour as we watched and kept clicking the shutter.

This is probably my favorite image from the day. I lover the graceful curve of the Tamarack tip and the “bird in landscape” feel. It really gives you a sense of the boreal haunts of this magnificent bird. I tweaked the white balance to give it a more cool (blue) feel. Though these are the tallest owl in North America (30 inches tall!) they are all feathers and rank third in weight (behind Snowy and Great Horned).

Hoar frost Tamaracks Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1986Hoar Frost is relatively rare in the North Woods, but when it happens you better grab your camera and go! Here is a definition from http://www.weatheronline.com.uk
“Under clear frosty nights in winter soft ice crystals might form on vegetation or any object that has been chilled below freezing point by radiation cooling. This deposit of ice crystals is known as hoar-frost and may sometimes be so thick that it might look like snow. The interlocking ice crystals become attached to branches of trees, leafs, hedgerows and grass blades and are one of the most prominent features of a typical ‘winter wonderland’ day. However, the fine ‘feathers’, ‘needles’ and ‘spines’ might also be found on any other object that is exposed to supersaturated air below freezing temperature.

The relative humidity in supersaturated air is greater then 100% and the formation of hoar frost is similar to the formation of dew with the difference that the temperature of the object on which the hoar frost forms is well below 0°C, whereas this is not the case with dew. Hoar frost crystals often form intitially on the tips of plants or other objects.”

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1954
Great Grays are powered by voles—both Meadow Vole and Red-backed Vole. Some studies have shown that their diet is 97% voles. Their talons are tiny compared to Great Horneds which eat much larger prey (rabbits, squirrels). And voles must be in good supply as this guy caught two back to back within minutes.

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1592

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1592 - Version 2The two images above are just different crops of the same original image. Which do you like better? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320, ISO 400, aperture priority, tripod]

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1739[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320, ISO 640, aperture priority]

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1882 (1)[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 500, aperture priority, tripod]
At dusk we found another Great Gray along McDavitt Road, about a mile or two from the other bird (as the raven flies). Thankfully Great Grays often pick photogenic perches in this stretch of road that has NO power poles or fence posts!

Great Gray Owl hoar frost Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_1850[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/125, ISO 640, aperture priority, tripod]
The spruce boughs in the background hint at this bird’s wild far northern haunts.

Cactus in Minnesota?—Blue Mounds State Park: Part 2

Prickly Pear Cactus 3 1024x
CACTUS IN MINNESOTA?
Yes, actually two species of Prickly Pear Cactus occur in southwest Minnesota…Opuntia fragilis and Opuntia macrorhiza. And Blue Mounds State Park is a great place to see them for yourself. No, not giant cartoon-type cactus but a low-growing cactus with GORGEOUS and HUGE yellow blossoms. They should be blooming now! To make sure, call the park office in advance.
Purple Prairie Clover? 234_3452 copyIf you squint, you can almost imagine a time when tallgrass prairie covered the endless landscapes of southern and western Minnesota. And Purple Prairie-Clover (Dalea purpurea) was part of that rich mosaic of prairie wildflowers.
This species is a legume with a taproot that may reach down 6 feet into the soil! This root system helps prevent soil erosion. It is a true prairie plant that has evolved with fire, and does not tolerate shade. Pronghorns are even known to eat it.

Bison foursome Blue Mounds 153_5345 copyA looming thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to these grazing Bison. Don’t let me mislead you…There is a fence around the entire herd, and they are not always visible to park visitors.

Bison run blur Blue Mounds State Park Luverne MN _MG_5157 copyIn 1961, the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds’ herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

Coneflower Blue Mounds Rock Co MNNotice the deeply cut leaves and extemely reflexed ray petals of the Pinnate Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) (sometimes called Gray-headed Coneflower). To emphasize the incredible five-foot height of this prairie native, I crouched down with my wide angle lens and put the flowering heads “in the clouds” so to speak. This photo would not have had much impact if taken at “eye-level” with the flowers.

Gray Partridge near Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNGray Partridge, the bird formerly known as Hungarian Partridge, are not easy to find…anywhere. So I was very fortunate to run into this breeding-plumaged male near the park. They are one of the few birds that utilize seemingly barren crop fields that surround the park. I lost the original of this image when I dropped a hard drive years ago, but fortunately I printed a 4×6. This is a scan of that 4×6 print.

Turkey Vulture Blue Mounds State Park landscape Rock Co MN IMG_9978A Turkey Vulture soars over the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. This is the same tree and Sioux Quartzite outcrop as in another photo in this post.

Great Horned Owl cliff, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5237Cliffs can be habitat too. This Great Horned Owl has made a home of the Quartzite cliffs on the east side of the park. Hiking trails parallel the cliffs along the base and also on top of the bluff.

GHOW-SS in flight, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5240We rarely see Great Horned Owls in flight during the day. So when this guy took off, I held down the shutter. He/she then obligingly banked to reveal the full spread of its large wings and a full tail fan. The fact that he/she peeked over his/her shoulder at me was a bonus.

Rock Wren BlueMoundsSP-Stensaas (1)RARE FIND
I found this singing Rock Wren at the top of a cliff several Junes ago. The closest this western bird regularly breeds to Minnesota would be the Black Hills of South Dakota, over 300 miles away! Unfortunately, this guy did not find a mate here and likely moved on.

Tree and Sioux Quartzite Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNSome outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are more red than others, and this one also has excellent patterning with crusted green lichens. This scene is near the drive up to the Interpretive Center. The Box Elder (I think it’s a Box Elder) adds to the composition that might be a little boring without it.

Bison Rainbow Blue Mounds-Stensaas copyA dawn rainstorm spawned a sunrise rainbow. The clouds, 180 degrees from the rising sun, lit up a beautiful pink color. In order to get the entire arc of the rainbow, I used my 10mm lens (equivalent of a 16mm lens as it was on my camera with a 1.6 crop factor) and placed the Bison underneath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to lift his head, but to no avail. I still like this unique image.

Yellowstone May 2014—Snowbanks to Sandhills, Marmots to Mountain Bluebirds

Has it been a tough winter in Minnesota? Ja, sure ya betcha! Up near Lake Superior we had 84 days that were below zero, Eleven feet of snow, Minus 50 degree windchills, a couple days of minus 40 air temps, and snow on the ground until Mid May. In fact, when we left from Wrenshall on May 11, I still had snow in my ravine! So what’s a little more winter in Yellowstone? Temps ranged from 22 degrees to around 60 degrees, but there was still much residual snow from winter in the Hayden Valley. The Lamar Valley was snow free. It all depended on your elevation.

Sparky jump Hayden Valley snowbank Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7173 Twelve-foot high snow banks greeted us in several passes in the Hayden Valley on May 12th! I’m jumping as high as I can and nowhere near the top.

Mountain Bluebird on snow near Canyon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8187 Is there a more beautiful blue in Nature? The Mountain Bluebird actually seems to glow when seen in the right light. Though not technically iridescent, the blue color is created by tiny air pockets in the barbs of feathers which scatter incoming light. So we are seeing reflected light, not blue pigment in the feathers. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250, braced on car window frame]

Hayden Valley spring snow Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7191 The Hayden Valley in mid May. Snow-covered and beautiful. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens, f10 at 1/400, handheld]

Ryan and Sparky Hayden Valley snowbank Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7170 Ryan Marshik and Sparky dwarfed by a twelve-foot snowbank in the Hayden Valley.

Sandhill Crane near Norris in snow Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6898Sandhill Cranes nest in the Park. We found this guy between Mammoth and Norris. I like how the S-curve of his neck matches the curving stream. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/6400 (not sure why I had such a high ISO…A mistake for sure), braced on car window frame]

Hoary Marmot Marmota caligota near Norris Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6935

Hoary Marmot juvenile Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7498Juvenile Yellow-bellied Marmot. Adorable!

Hoary Marmot Marmota caligota near Norris Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6940 The three above are the very personable Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), a mountain-dwelling rodent that lives in talus slopes and boulder fields of the western U.S. The closest they get to Minnesota is the Black Hills of South Dakota. Their cousin the Hoary Marmot is found in British Columbia and Washington state (Marmota caligota).

Marmots have a “harem-polygynous” mating system in which the male defends two or three mates at the same time. They hibernate from September to May, which explains why we never see them on our fall trips in late September or early October. They are omnivorous but eat mainly plant material supplementing with grasshoppers, bird’s eggs, etc. Each colony is 10-20 individuals. Marmots can live to 15 years! When alarmed they give a high-pitched whistle, which is how they got their nickname..”Whistle Pig.”

Great Horned Owl Mammoth Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8927 We found out that there is a Great Horned Owl nest near the natural history museum/visitor center at Mammoth…and it has been there for years. We just stumbled upon it when we saw a photographer shooting something and went to investigate. A Black-billed Magpie was mercilessly harassing the owl…from only a foot away! (I got some video). [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250, tripod]

Pronghorn buck between Mammoth and Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6826 Male Pronghorn just sitting around chewing its cud…literally. When I watched my video of this buck, you can see the wave in his neck as he regurgitates food into his mouth to chew again. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f7.1 at 1/160, tripod]

Coyote close Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8180 It usually pays to stay out in the field until the sun goes down. We found this Coyote hunting the Hayden Valley sagebrush flats in golden light. He came quite close to me as this shot is barely cropped! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000, Handheld]

Coyote leap Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8123 He made some magnificent leaps in order to break through the crusty snow to get at small rodents but all were too far away for good photos…but I did get some video and this HIGHLY cropped image.