Posts from the ‘Pileated Woodpecker’ Category

Snowy Owls & other birds—Glacial Ridge NWR March 9-10

Last week I posted photos of the amazing hoarfrost that greeted me at sunrise in northwest Minnesota’s Polk County on Friday March 9th. This time we will concentrate on the wildlife I saw over these 2 days (actually 1 1/2 days). Most of my time was spent in the 57 square mile Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge east of Crookston, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2004.

My main purpose for this trip to far northwest Minnesota was picking up a pallet of books in Pembina, North Dakota, but my photographic goal was to get slow-motion video of a Snowy Owl in flight. I ended up having six sightings of FOUR different Snowy Owls….A success even without getting any video.

Snowy Owl in Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. I saw 3 different Snowies in the western part of the refuge. Unfortunately all were sitting on telephone poles…Not the most photogenic perch. But my goal was slow-motion video of Snowy Owls in flight….but most were just patiently watching the landscape for any mammalian movement.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; hand-held]

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse in the frosty landscape of western Minnesota.

This gal (?) was the most tolerant of the four Snowy Owls I saw over the two days. But unfortunately she was sitting right above a busy highway in Kittson County and a State Trooper urged me to move on. I asked for a few minutes longer and he said that was fine. But I could have spent a couple hours with this beautiful owl. I did get video of it stretching and fluffing its feathers.

Kittson County is the extreme northwest county in Minnesota. It is a LONG WAYS from anything! In fact, Kim Eckert claims that if you were in Minneapolis and wanted to get here, it would be faster to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and then drive southeast to Kittson County than to drive here from the Twin Cities!

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/640 sec. at f10; ISO 100; tripod]

Excavating a nest cavity or just feeding? Hard to tell but this female Pileated Woodpecker (no red mustache and the red on the head doesn’t reach the bill) was busy chiseling away at a very oval hole.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.33 ev; braced on car window frame]

Rough-legged Hawk taking flight from the railroad tracks bisecting Glacial Ridge NWR. I  really think the Roughleg is one of the most beautiful buteo hawks in North America. They nest on the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska but spend the winter in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Their tiny bill and feet are perfect for feeding on small rodents, especially voles and lemmings.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.66 ev; braced on car window frame]

Finally! A Snowy Owl on an eye-level and photogenic perch! But alas, it was about a half mile away. Let’s call these “bird in the landscape” photos. I actually think they would look pretty cool printed large (like 4 feet wide!).

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky in the Polk County, Minnesota portion of the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail on a gorgeous late winter day.

Very small and very white Snowy Owl (so likely a male) atop very large power pole just outside Glacial Ridge NWR. The day before he was in the refuge, and hunting from a smaller power pole.

Coyote hunting in northwest Minnesota’s aspen parkland.

Note the beautiful barring on the breast and belly of this Greater Prairie Chicken. Glacial Ridge is a real stronghold for this prairie species in Minnesota. I (conservatively) saw 28 prairie chickens on Saturday March 10 in Glacial Ridge.

Rough-legged Hawks were mostly absent from NE Minnesota this winter, but there were good numbers at Glacial Ridge on this weekend. I saw 15 in just the eastern part of the refuge in one morning.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f6.3; ISO 640; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Both Sharp-tailed Grouse (pictured above) and Greater Prairie Chickens were feeding along the railroad tracks that bisect Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe there is spilled grain along the tracks. I saw a total of 48 Sharptails in the refuge on March 10th.

Either Sharp-tailed Grouse or Greater Prairie Chicken tracks in the snow.

 

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Snow Buntings were beginning to head north to their tundra breeding grounds in northern Canada. I saw many flocks along US75 between Crookston and the North Dakota border near Canada…441 total with one flock totaling about 150 birds. But this Snow Bunting was all alone and I saw him on two consecutive days along the same stretch of deserted road. I even got video of him feeding on plant seeds that were peaking above the crusty snow.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/1000 sec. at f10; ISO 320; hand-held]

Fenceline border between private and public lands adjacent to Glacial Ridge NWR.

Pair of Bald Eagles…The Bald Eagles are beginning to think about nesting in far NW Minnesota. I saw two pairs that were actually IN/AT THE NEST already…even though there was no open water anywhere around. This duo at Glacial Ridge was actually an adult and immature.

BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

NW MN trip

March 9-10, 2018

Between Crookston and St. Vincent in Kittson County along US75

441 Snow Buntings

373 Horned Larks

Glacial Ridge NWR (March 9 and 10)

15 Rough-legged Hawks

48 Sharp-tailed Grouse

28 Greater Prairie Chickens

3 Snowy Owls (CR446 mainly)…including a very white and little male

1 Pileated Woodpecker

Snowy Owl along US75 at milepost 379.5 just south of Kennedy in Kittson County (March 9)

Meadowlark sp. near Lake Bronson in Kittson County (March 9) (spring migrant)

3 Bald Eagle nests with pairs occupying nest (Polk and Kittson Counties)

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The Home Life of Woodpeckers

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest St. Louis Co MN IMG_3194Usually I don’t recommend photographing birds while at the nest. This is especially true of songbirds who are easily disturbed and may even abandon a nest with eggs if the photographer is too intrusive. But woodpeckers are a bit more tolerant, especially once you can hear the young begging and calling from the cavity. At this stage, mom and dad are making frequent trips to the nest just to keep the babies full and happy. You don’t even need a blind as they will usually tolerate your quiet presence. But don’t overstay your welcome! A half hour to an hour or so is probably plenty. After that, the parents may become annoyed with the unwanted attention.

EQUIPMENT and TECHNIQUE
Ideally you’ll find a nest that is not too high in the tree. Eye-level would be wonderful but this rarely happens. Cavities up to about 20 feet in the tree are workable. Look for an angle that is more of a side-view than a straight-on shot that will only get you many “back shots.” Then look for an uncluttered background. For me the perfect scenario is a background mix of blue sky and green leaves that is a fair distance away so they blur nicely into green and blue blobs of color (see the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest photo below).
A flash is essential in many situations. Dappled sunlight is a very tough photographic situation and most nests are deep in the woods. A flash alone will be better than no flash, but a flash with a Better Beamer attached will throw your light much farther. Grab your tripod for rock solid shots. Since you know exactly where the action is going to happen, it is easy to set up your tripod/camera combo in exactly the perfect spot. Then, when a bird comes in, you don’t even have to look through the camera, just press and hold the shutter. And since with flash your shutter synch speed will likely be 1/200 or 1/250 of a second, the tripod will help keep your images sharp.

Northern Flicker nest nestlings Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_3474A Northern Flicker pair decided to nest right along our driveway this summer. And they chose an interesting site. They excavated a hole in a “widow maker” …a large branch that had broken off the main tree but was still hanging by a “thread.” But the branch stayed intact and they survived. It was fun to watch them feed the young ones. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f8 at 1/250 second, ISO 1600, Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer, hand held]

Golden-fronted Woodpecker peeks out of nest cavity Krenmueller Farms LRGV TX IMG_0136Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are the southern cousin to our Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Note their golden yellow nape and the red atop the head (only the males show this mark).This male in a nest cavity in south Texas near the Rio Grande River was not calling, just yawning. Raising kids is tiring work! [Canon XTi with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and 1.4x teleconverter, f8 at 1/125 second, ISO 400, -1.0 ev, tripod]

Northern Flicker nest Carlton Co MN IMG_0020496Northern Flicker in nest cavity, Carlton County, Minnesota. Flickers often excavate nest holes in living aspen trees, though most trees likely suffer from heart rot. The [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 ISO 400, braced on car door]

Northern Flicker feedin young Cook Co MN sky added IMG_0009408Northern Flicker feeding young in nest along the Gunflint Trail, Cook County, Minnesota. Cavity is in a pine that was amidst a burn following a forest fire. [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f7.1 at 1/250 second, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer, tripod]

Pileated Woodpecker Gooseberry Falls S.P. MN IMG_012497Thanks to Paul Sundberg for sharing this Pileated Woodpecker nest location a few years ago. It was in a very photogenic Paper Birch too! Look closely and you can see that the male (red “mustache”) is doing some “house cleaning” by removing the young’s fecal sacs from the cavity. He will fly off and dump them away from the nest so as not to advertise its location to predators with a pile at the base of the home tree. [Canon XTi with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer, tripod]

Pileated Woodpecker Gooseberry Falls S.P. MN IMG_012467 (1)Male Pileated feeding the crew. The female lacks the red “mustache.” Abandoned Pileated nest cavities (the birds never reuse a nest hole) are readily adopted by many species including Flying Squirrels, Red Squirrels, Pine Marten, bats, nesting ducks (Wood Ducks, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead), nesting owls (Boreal and Saw-whet), other woodpeckers (Hairy, Northern Flicker) and Kestrel. Pileateds are true “keystone” species in the North Woods…a species that is very important to the habitat and to many other species.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at nest Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0022246A few years ago we had a nesting Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near the house. This female (no yellow on throat) brings a beak full of ants to the youngsters. I like how the blue sky and green leaves background blurred in this shot. A Better Beamer on my flash lit up the bird nicely.

Hairy Woodpecker baby peeks out of cavity CR8 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0036982A juvenile Hairy Woodpecker boy begs from his aspen home (aspen tree, not Aspen, Colorado!) Baby woodpeckers can be LOUD when hungry. This is usually how I find the nest cavities.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest St. Louis Co MN IMG_3235

Northern Flicker nest cavity Alango Twp? CR25 St. Louis Co MN IMG_2350The Northern Flicker was actually my “trigger bird” many years ago. A trigger bird is the one that got one excited about birding. As a kid I was a fanatical collector of many things—baseball cards, beer cans, barbed wire, to name just a few. When I was 13 I saw a strange bird land on the light pole in front of our house. It had many field marks—spots on the breast, a red mark, a black “moustache”, and lots of yellow. I somehow found out it was a Yellow-shafted Flicker (now called Northern Flicker) and I wondered how many other birds were around. I basically started “collecting” bird sightings. This led to a lifelong fascination with birds, and eventually wildlife photography. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 1000, braced on car window]

Northern Flicker nest cavity Alango Twp? CR25 St. Louis Co MN IMG_2332My flash had run out of batteries and dusk was approaching, but I didn’t want to miss the shot. What to do? I simply cranked up the ISO to 3200 and kept shooting. I was even able to freeze the action as this Flicker fluffed her feathers. Sure its “noisier’ than if I would have shot it at ISO 200, but I still got the shot. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250, ISO 3200, braced on car window]

Black-backed Woodpecker feeds young Fond du Lac State Forest MN IMG_012381Black-backed Woodpeckers are a bird of remote boreal forests. Then NEVER come to bird feeders and rarely leave their Black Spruce/Tamarack bogs. You can usually tell their cavities by the ring around the hole that has been completely debarked. This female is feeding a young male (note his yellow cap). Interestingly, the following year another Black-backed nest was occupied just above this one in the same Tamarack. Was it the same adults? Or one of the offspring? Black-backeds often nest in living spruce, tamarack and pine near water or other openings in bogs, burns, and upland spruce-fir forests.