Posts from the ‘prairie potholes’ Category

Invisible! Floating Blind/Hide – Rushing Grebes North Dakota; Photographer Superpower!

Is it possible to get into the heart of a Western Grebe colony and witness the amazing and complex courtship of these water birds? It certainly is….if you use a floating blind/floating hide. In this episode of Shooting with Sparky he and Ryan take you out to central North Dakota’s prairie pothole region where spring bird courtship was in full swing! Western Grebes were the star of the show, performing their courtship rituals right in front of us including the “weed-dance,” “dip-shaking,” and of course, “rushing.”

Bird photography/Bird video from a floating blind is not an easy thing…but the Canon R5 makes it MUCH more possible. The animal-eye tracking works wonderfully when shooting at water level.

Other birds encountered included Eared Grebes, Red-necked Grebes, courting Forster’s Terns, American Avocets, Dunlin, and we visit an old friend at their nest, the Ferruginous Hawk.

http://www.thephotonaturalist.com

http://www.sparkyphotos.com

2021 “Top Ten” #6 Birds & Wildlife in the Landscape

Though I do still enjoy a beautiful “bird on a stick” frame-filling portrait, more satisfying to me now is a wider field of view showing the bird or mammal in its native habitat. It tells more of a story about how and where that critter lives. Here are my favorites from 2021

Common Redpoll in frosty branches; January; Skogstjarna Carlton County, MN

We had about three days of GORGEOUS rime ice in early January 2021. It coated everything in a huge area of northern Minnesota. Rime ice is basically dense fog that freezes. That is how it differs from hoar frost. In hindsight, I should have spent A LOT more time looking for subjects amongst this crazy backdrop since it only occurs rarely. I did find this Common Redpoll out my living room window though. Its red cap adds a much-needed splash of color to the scene.

Migrating geese; March; Western Minnesota

Maybe this is less “bird-in-the-landscape” and more “specks on the horizon” but the two flocks of geese (squint real hard!) add a lot to this rural western Minnesota farms cape.

Wild Turkey Toms displaying; April; Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota

It is not everyday that you can take a winner image while taking the garbage cans out to the road! Here three tom Wild Turkeys are in full display mode for the numerous hens just out of frame. I like the backlit feathers and aspen catkins.

Snow Geese and Moon; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

I didn’t even notice the moon until well into my trip to North Ottawa Impoundment. Then I had the “aha” moment, and started taking hundreds of photos pointing my camera straight up into the azure blue spring sky. I like this wider image that has the moon in line with the Snow Geese, and I also appreciate that the line of migrating geese goes from upper left to lower right corner of the frame.

Rock Pigeons and old warehouse; March; Superior, Wisconsin

Hey, this IS the native landscape for Rock Pigeons! They live/nest in this old warehouse in Superior, Wisconsin. I just like the symmetry of the windows as well as the texture and colors of the weathered boards and tin siding…oh, and the pigeons add to the photo too.

Porcupine and Willow catkins; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Porcupines are relatively easy to find in late spring in the Sax-Zim Bog due to the fact that they feast on willow and aspen catkins relatively low in the woods. I framed this fella with blobs of yellow by shooting through a flowering willow with a larger aperture.

Black Tern over marsh; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

I do love this shot….BUT…I wish I had left the tern more space on the right so I could crop it so the bird was more to the left of the frame.

Cottontail and Badlands; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The “Badlands” are really a land of plenty for the many critters that live there. Though it appears to be an inhospitable landscape, there is no shortage of wildlife that call it home such as this curious (cautious?) Cottontail.

Gilded Flickers on Saguaro; July; Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Gilded Flickers are close cousins to our Northern Flickers, but they are only found in their preferred Saguaro cactus habitat in Arizona and extreme SE California. They even excavate nest cavities in the prickly cacti.

Blue-winged Teal takeoff at sunset; May; Kidder County, North Dakota

Dusk in the floating blind. I thought shooting time was over, but I noticed the thunderheads turning pink on the horizon and wondered if I could get some ducks in the foreground. It didn’t take long before I maneuvered the blind into position for a raft of four Blue-winged Teal. But before I could get a shot, they jumped into the air and were gone. But I got lucky, as this frame turned out to be my favorite.

Common Nighthawk on fence post; June; South Dakota

Nighthawks are rarely seen in the full sun of daytime. They are primarily a bird of dusk when they take wing to suck up flying insects in the air. That tiny bill opens to reveal a huge gaping mouth, which is all the better for inhaling mosquitos.

White-tailed Deer in snowy field; April; Carlton County, Minnesota

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

Trumpeter Swan squabble on snow; March; near Danbury, Wisconsin

I intentionally included the meandering tracks of this early-returning pair of Trumpeter Swans as it lent a bit of visual interest. This would be a killer shot with more dramatic light.

Tufted Titmouse orange and blue; February; Old Frontenac Cemetery, Minnesota

You don’t often see Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota, and when you do they are usually tucked into an evergreen. I like the out-of-focus leaves that make orangish blobs of color that match the buffy sides of the titmouse.

Snow Geese; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

You build it and they will come. That is certainly true of the impoundment project called North Ottawa. Now every spring, tens of thousands of geese state here on their way north. Quite a sight, and an even more impressive auditory experience.

Bald Eagle nest; February; near Winona, Minnesota

I HAVE to get down here to photograph this nest in early spring next year. I love this shot, but it would even be better with the spring green of just-emerging leaves to warm up the scene. Big bird, big nest, big tree.

Rough-legged Hawks; March; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

On their way back to the Arctic, Rough-legged Hawks hunt open areas all over the upper midwest.

Great Gray Owl; February; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I just like the gray of the Great Gray amongst the white branches of the aspens. Last year’s leaves add a pop of subtle color.

Sharp-tailed Grouse; May; central North Dakota

This picture really shouts, “North Dakota.” A land of open country, grasslands, empty spaces, and prairie birds such as this lone Sharp-tailed Grouse.

River Otter; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

A River Otter sighting can brighten a gloomy spring day.

Red-breasted Mergansers; March; Lake Superior, Two Harbors, Minnesota

Northeast winds had stacked shards of blue ice along the shore at Lighthouse point on Lake Superior. I used a small aperture to keep the Red-breasted Mergansers in focus while giving some detail to the ice.

Varied Bunting; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

I just like the leading lines of the Ocotillo that bring the eye to a stunner of a bird; the Varied Bunting which is in full song.

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Montana isn’t the only ” big sky country”! North Dakota has its share of vast skyscapes. A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird sings to the sky its melodious song….STOP…let me rephrase that…A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird croaks out its grating call to any other blackbirds that might be nearby.

White-throated Swift; June; Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

Not many other birds share the same habitat as the White-throated Swift! Crevices in bare rock cliffs is where this relative of the swallow nest. And this one is swooping up into its retreat on the one and only Devil’s Tower.

Black-throated Sparrow; July; Stateline Road near Portal, Arizona

I just LOVE birds perched on rusty barbed wire…and especially if there is an old wood fence post in the frame as well. Jackpot! Black-throated Sparrow in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Arizona-New Mexico line.

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I like this photo of Evening Grosbeaks in white-barked Aspens …but I would LOVE it if there were a few more in the center of the frame…and if the others were looking into the center. Oh well.

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Just a tiny bit of rim light illuminates these Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Moody!

Eastern Meadowlark; April; Firebird WMA, Carlton County, Minnesota

Yellow bird amongst yellowish grasses in a snowy scene. An early-arriving Eastern Meadowlark is greeted by an April snowstorm.

Sagebrush Sparrow; June; near Pinedale, Wyoming

Maybe a portrait and not a bird-in-the-landscape but kind of in-between. Enjoyed a wonderful morning in the sagebrush flats south of Pinedale, Wyoming, and the surprisingly colorful Sagebrush Sparrow was a species I’d never photographed before.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

Just allow me one more “bird in frosty landscape” shot.

Western Grebe and submerged tree; May; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota

The water has been rising in central North Dakota for years. The last time I visited this spot six years ago, this tree was still on dry land! A lone Western Grebe confirms that this is now a permanent lake.

Great Gray Owl; January; Superior National Forest, Cook County, Minnesota

It is always fun to stumble upon a Great Gray in a spot where you don’t expect them. This was an early morning jaunt in the Superior National Forest to look for Moose (which I did find). I love its perch and wanted to include the whole thing in the photo.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

What can I say? I like birds in frosty landscapes!

Well, this concludes my “Top Tens” of 2021 posts. Now I better get out there and start shooting so I will have some Top Tens of 2022 to share next year!

All photos taken with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens

2021 “Top Ten” #5 Bird Behavior

“Is this just another category so you can show more bird photos Sparky?” Why, yes, yes it is! And just so you know…I do include flying as a behavior for some reason. I guess technically everything a bird does is “behavior,” so I’m good!

Bald Eagle and Goldeneyes; February; Mississippi River

I can feel my frozen finger tips by just looking at this photo. So COLD! Most of the Mississippi River was frozen at this point in February; only spots below locks and dams were open…and this spring-fed spot near Buffalo, Wisconsin. Though it appears this young Bald Eagle is preying on the Common Goldeneyes, it is actually plucking small fish from just below the surface. There were several eagles and they made multiple passes each. I just laid down on the snow with my Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens and started tracking them as they approached. The R5 did amazingly well, even in the well-below-zero-F temps. I like the monochromatic blue cast to this image.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Green Heron; October; Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

The critical moment. It has always been a thing of wonder to watch birds of all types landing on perches. Can you imagine the vision and motor skills this takes? How about a Great Gray Owl alighting on the tip top of a tiny spruce? It can’t even see the bough when it actally lands! This Green Heron made a perfect two-point landing I am proud to report.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 640; 0 ev; handheld]

American Avocets; May; Prairie Potholes of North Dakota

Courtship in American Avocets is highly stylized. This water-thrashing by the male is performed immediately before he mounts the female. The only way I was able to get this behavior shot from such close range was because I was invisible! My floating blind hides the human form which is what alarms much wildlife.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 100; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Not a great photo but kind of fun with all the “bird bickering” going on. This, of course, is common behavior at bird feeders. Evening Grosbeaks are some of the feistiest! Sax-Zim Bog is the best place to find big flocks in winter.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 2000; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Hooded Oriole; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

It is not only Carpenter Bees (in background) that find the blossoms of agaves irresistable! Hooded Orioles also make a beeline for the blooms where they can feast on nectar.

I waited a couple hours to get this shot. I chose a single blooming agave that was at or below eye level (most others were higher up so it would be a less interesting angle with a blah sky background). A few female Hoodeds came in but I really wanted a male. But I kind of blew it with the autofocus as it locked on the flower and not the bird (so don’t blow this photo up too much!).

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Wilson’s Phalarope preening; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Preening takes up a lot of a bird’s resting time. You’ve got to keep those feathers nice and aligned! The floating blind again worked its magic on this prairie pothole lake in North Dakota as I was able to approach this Wilson’s Phalarope closely…Not unnoticed, of course, it knew a big floating blob was only 10 yards away, but rather completely ignored. It didn’t care that the blob was close since it was not a human- or prey-shaped form.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Snow Geese and moon; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

In recent years massive numbers of geese have migrated through western Minnesota in spring. Part of this is due to the creation of the huge North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County. It is part of a multi-county watershed project that has benefited wildlife immensely.

I noticed the moon and intentionally shot straight up as flock after flock of Snow Geese headed north overhead.

In hindsight I should have shot with a MUCH smaller aperture to make the moon sharper in the image. After all I was only at ISO 200 and I could have got a clean image up to ISO 5000 or higher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1250 second at f5; ISO 200; 0 ev; handheld]

Wild Turkey courtship; May; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Human and Wild Turkey courtship have a few similarities: Males strutting their stuff to impress the ladies! The backlit feathers in early-morning light really make this shot.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 320; -2.0 ev; tripod]

American Avocets mating; May; central North Dakota

Prairie potholes aren’t just for ducks! Shorebirds benefit greatly as well. American Avocets mating in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

This Western Grebe is not just getting a drink; it is actually performing part of its courtship ritual. “Dip-shaking” is when one grebe faces another, extends its neck and dips its head in the water, lifting it slowly, water dripping from its open mouth. This behavior occurs just before “rushing,” in which both birds race across the water in a vertical position. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Black-throated Hummingbird and Agave; Box Canyon; Southeast Arizona

Ready for take-off! Black-throated Hummingbird showing its true colors (Shouldn’t they be called “Magenta-throated Hummingbirds??)

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; +0.33 ev; handheld but braced on car door frame]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I simply like the vibrant colors (and blurred wings) of this Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers in Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Black Tern; May; Stutsman County, North Dakota

Black Tern cruising over a prairie marsh in North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Arrowwood NWR, North Dakota

Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds showing off his white epaulets during his courtship song. Interestingly, Yellow-heads are dominant over Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/3200 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 ev; handheld]

American Avocet courtship; May; North Dakota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 400; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Northern Shoveler; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

Birds MUST preen their feathers in order to keep them in top shape. Preening aligns and locks the barbules on each feather. It also cleans the feathers and removes parasites. They also rub a waterproof substance from a body gland on the feathers to keep them from soaking through.

This Northern Shoveler was so busy preening that it paid my floating blind no attention at all.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

I’m Invisible! Floating Blind Hide Bird Photography Prairie Potholes of North Dakota: Birding Canon R5

Ryan Marshik and I go on a bird photography video trip to the prairie pothole region of North Dakota …specifically Kidder and Stutsman counties west of Jamestown. We use our floating blinds in some alkaline lakes and cattail marshes to photograph ducks, grebes, shorebirds, gulls and more. 

Sparky risks his Canon R5 by putting it only inches above the water line in the floating hide/floating blind.

From the blind/hide we witness Western Grebes doing their rushing display/dance, Franklin’s Gulls courting, Willet courtship, mating ritual of the American Avocet, Eared Grebes dancing, Northern Shoveler’s and Wilson’s Phalarope preening and much more.

We also find a Ferruginous Hawk nest.

What a great place…and only 7 hours from home!