Posts from the ‘Prairie’ Category

Early Spring Wildlife of Teddy Roosevelt National Park

IMG_6173 (1)

On the way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I usually camp for a night at North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It breaks up the 16 hour drive home and allows us to get in some more shooting, and with a chance at several species which are not found at Yellowstone, specifically Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (feral horses, more accurately). The campground at Cottonwood is usually fairly deserted in early spring and late fall, and we only had to compete with a big bull Bison who was vigorously scratching his belly on a big rock in the campsite that we wanted. He eventually moved on and we could set up our tents.
We drive the 36-mile loop once in the late afternoon, and then again in the morning before we have to hit I-94 East for home…and the loop rarely disappoints. [April 19-20, 2016]

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6336 (1) Bison Eclipse of the Sun
Last October we had some fantastic dawn shooting when a herd of Bison were silhouetted by the orange foggy sunrise. We hoped for the same conditions on this trip, but the fog was more of a mist that hung in the valleys; you could actually see the water droplets floating in air. This led to a crazy “fogbow”, the first I’d ever seen.
I positioned myself low in the valley in order to get the Bison between me and the rising sun…and this is the result…perfect rim light. I only wish there had been a bit more color in the morning sky. (“warmed” the shot by upping the white balance to 7500k)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 158mm; f22 at 1/2000 second; ISO 200; tripod]

Fogbow Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_2904“Fogbow” over the prairie
I’d never witnessed a “fogbow” before. The morning fog was dense and you could actually see the suspended water droplets when backlit by the sun. My iPhone photo (above) actually turned out better than photos with my DSLR camera, probably due to the HDR feature on the iPhone.

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6248 (1)

Steaming Bison

[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f7.1 at 1/3200 second; ISO 640; tripod]

Mule Deer Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6229 (1)Mule Deer Dawn
No antlers this time of year (barely nubbins with velvet on the males), but the huge ears of Mule Deer make a distinctive silhouette.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 135mm; f5.6 at 1/5000 second; ISO 640; tripod]

Sharp-tailed Grouse eating buds Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6429 (1)Sharp-tailed Grouse eating buds
We had four species of gallinaceous birds during our brief visit—Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant, Gray Partridge (rare and unexpected), and many of these normally elusive birds, the Sharp-tailed Grouse. This guy was feeding on flower buds of a Box Elder tree (correct me if I’m wrong). We spent about 10 minutes watching his acrobatic and agile moves among the outer branches as he tried to access the outermost buds. Teddy Roosevelt may be one of the best places to see this sought-after species outside of the lekking season (when they dance at dawn on known leks).
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/4000 second; ISO 250; handheld, braced on car]

Wild Horse Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6107 (1)Wild Horse (feral horse) with foal
We probably saw about 40 different Wild Horses (yes, I know, feral horses) in our two loops of the Wildlife Drive. They were just dropping their foals, and we saw one little black guy that was so new that he still wobbled a bit.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/400 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Wild Horse Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6094 (1)Wild Horse (feral horse) with foal
Darn cute!
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/400 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Wild Horse Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6076 (1)Band of Wild Horses (feral horses)
The color variations of these horses never ceases to amaze me.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 100mm; f4.5 at 1/2000 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6491 (1)Relaxin’ Prairie Dog (or sunbathing? or hiding?)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/3200 second; ISO 250; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6473 (1)

Family Time (Black-tailed Prairie Dogs)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/1600 second; ISO 250; handheld]

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6140 (1)

Cuddly Companions (Black-tailed Prairie Dogs)
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f8 at 1/250 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Mountain Bluebird Teddy Roosevelt National Park Medora ND IMG_6449 (1)The Perfect Perch
…Just wish I had a better angle …and was a bit closer…and had better light. Oh well. Mountain Bluebird.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/6400 second; ISO 250; handheld]

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Backlit Bison Breath and Starry Skyscapes: Teddy Roosevelt Day 2

Day 2 in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park started early…REALLY EARLY! Ryan and I crawled out of our cozy cocoons at 2:27am. Time to try for some Milky Way landscapes! It is always good to plan night shoots with a buddy, because if you are like me, it takes a lot of gumption to go out late at night by yourself. Unfortunately, we hadn’t scouted too well the day before, so it took some driving to find a good spot with foreground interest in the dark.
Night Sky Hoodoos Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5950Hoodoos (eroded pinnacle-like landforms) and the Milky Way
Normally you’d like to keep your star exposures to under 30 seconds…That way star motion is minimized. Over 30 seconds, you start to get “star trails,” short streaks of light showing the movement of the stars in the sky.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f4 at 54 seconds; ISO 1600; tripod; headlamp to light hoodoos]

Night Sky Hoodoos Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5957Hoodoos and the Milky Way
We had to get up in the wee hours of the morning since the moon did not set until after midnight….and any moon can wash out the stars and make the Milky Way much harder to see. I lit the hoodoos with my headlamp. Experiment with how much light painting you need to do to get pleasing results.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f4 at 69 seconds; ISO 1600; tripod; headlamp to light hoodoos]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5999Bison backlit by morning sun.
There is one easy thing that can really help your wildlife photography (that doesn’t involve expensive equipment!) and that is to GET IN THE FIELD EARLY! Dawn is the time when crepuscular critters may still be active and diurnal animals are also moving around. In summer, the mornings are cool and wildlife is more energized, much more so than during the heat of midday.

We found a heard of Bison backlit by the sun which was giving us gorgeous rim lighting on the coats of the Bison. Underexposing by several stops highlighted their breath on this chilly morning.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/6400 second; ISO 100; 0 ev; hand held]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996Bison backlit by morning sun
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/8000 second; ISO 100; -3 ev; hand held]

Landscape Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6127
October is a great time to visit Teddy Roosevelt; Empty campgrounds, mild weather (25-60 degrees during our stay), golden grasses and abundant wildlife.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 STM lens; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 250; -2/3 ev; hand held]

Ryan Marshik Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6488Ryan Marshik shooting Bison at dusk
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f4 at 1/125 second; ISO 1250; tripod]

Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6200Band of Wild Horses (feral horses) in the rugged Teddy Roosevelt landscape
The wild horses of Teddy Roosevelt belong to many well-defined bands which do not mix socially.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens; f6.3 at 1/320 second; ISO 100; -2/3 ev; tripod]

Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6172Wild Horse (feral horse)
Details are sometimes more interesting than the entire subject.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/1250 second; ISO 400; tripod]

Prairie Sky Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6390
The North Unit Scenic Drive is an out-and-back road that travels from the bottom of the eroded landscape and climbs up through the badlands to the prairie grasslands at the top of the plateau.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens; f8 at 1/80 second; ISO 320; tripod]

Badlands landscape North Unit Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6354North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens; f9 at 1/400 second; ISO 320; -2/3 ev; hand held]

Cottonwoods Little Missouri River Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6299Big Cottonwood forests thrive in the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River (North Unit)
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens zoomed to 78mm; f14 at 1/200 second; ISO 320; hand held]

Cottonwoods Little Missouri River Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6297Big Cottonwood forests thrive in the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River (North Unit)
Mid day can be a slow time for wildlife photography, so search out scenics or macros where you can use this higher-angle sunlight to your advantage. I like how the tree trunks went black and the shaded hillside turned blue…not to mention the golden side lit grass.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens zoomed to 126mm; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 320; hand held]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6065
A pair of Prairie Dogs greeting each other with Bison “blobs” in background.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1600 second; ISO 320; -2 ev; tripod]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6053A Black-tailed Prairie Dog goes head first down its burrow at sunrise.
You have to have a good reason to shoot into the sun. It works best when the sun is low on the horizon. I had to under expose the image by nearly 3 stops to get the pleasing rim light on the fur of this chunky Prairie Dog.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/4000 second; ISO 320; -2 2/3 ev; tripod]

NEXT TIME: Day 3 in our late October Teddy Roosevelt Adventure

 

Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Day 1

Ryan Marshik and I busted out to North Dakota’s premiere wildlife hotspot last week. Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a treasure of the upper midwest. An easy 9-hour drive from Duluth, the park is a full 7 hours closer to us than our usual fall wildlife photography destination—Yellowstone.

Elk bull Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_4935[Bull Elk at Sunrise]
Our normal modus operandi is to get up in the dark, make breakfast and hit the wildlife auto loop by sunrise. The loop is a very manageable 25 miles and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on how many wildlife encounters you take advantage of). This bull Rocky Mountain Elk was our first sighting of the trip. Elk are rather unusual in the park, so this was a great surprise. He didn’t hang around though, and was soon over the top of the hill. I grabbed some hand-held window-braced shots.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; -1 2/3ev; ISO 800; handheld braced on car window]
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5059b
Least Chipmunk Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5051bLeast Chipmunk
We took the side road called “Buck Hill” where we rarely see anything…but you never know! Ryan spotted this cute little Least Chipmunk harvesting seeds in a short bush. Our motto is always “a bird in the hand”…which means that we try and shoot whatever subject is before us at the time instead of saying “Aah, it’s just a chipmunk…Let’s keep moving. Theirs probably a Coyote around the next bend.”
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
Prairie Dog buddies IMG_5128
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 second; -2/3ev; ISO 200; handheld]
Prairie Dog fat IMG_5509Fat Black-tailed Prairie Dog
Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try and put on a little fat for winter. This guys really accomplished his goal! These burrowing rodents are a blast to watch…And their “alarm” behavior is awesome; they stand upright and suddenly throw their paws straight up in the air and give a sharp “Yaah” call.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/1000 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; handheld braced on car window]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5617
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Badger Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5603Badger
Wherever there are Prairie Dogs, predators are sure to be near by. The formidable list of predators includes Golden Eagles, Coyotes and these guys, Badgers. I was really hoping to see either a Badger or Bobcat on this trip was thrilled when we found this guy hunting a Prairie Dog town. He was not shy either; pausing to pose for us at the mouth of his/her burrow. I’ll have a bizarre Badger tale to tell in one of the next blog posts.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/1600 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
IMG_1318Sparky on the hunt 🙂
Truth be told, we spend a great deal of time driving around looking for wildlife. But occasionally we get out and stalk some photo-prey. This is a very easy place to head out overland…No Grizzlies to worry about!…but also a myriad of trails made by the park’s Bison herds.

Landscape Teddy Roosevelt NP IMG_5093Though Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a badlands landscape, it is not as barren as the South Dakota Badlands. Much of the terrain is covered by grass, red cedars and sagebrush. There is even Prickly Pear Cactus. In summer there are rattlesnakes to be aware of, but the most dangerous thing in late fall would be an irate Bison bull.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f10 at 1/320 second; -1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5465
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second; -1/3ev; ISO 100; tripod]
Wild Horses Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5363“Wild” Horses (more accurately “Feral Horses”)
Though not a native animal to this part of North America, the horses here are very wild. [See this POST about some crazy wild horse interactions on a Teddy trip a couple years ago.] I do love their varied coats and wild manes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; -1ev; ISO 250; tripod]
Pronghorn herd Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5818Pronghorn herd
Late in the day we headed overland and came upon yet another massive Prairie Dog town, but on the fringes was a cautious herd of Pronghorns. They were in deep shade but I kind of like the subtle colors that the lighting conditions brought out. Pronghorns are very hard to photograph on sunny days…The whites of their fur blow out.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/160 second; -2/3ev; ISO 400; tripod]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5737Coyote
And sure enough, there were a couple Coyotes hunting the town. I like the contrast of the Coyote in blue shade with the sliver of warm sunset sunlight.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5795Coyote
She eventually came out into the sun and gave us close opportunities for some backlit shots. I love rim lighting!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/320 second; -1 1/3ev; ISO 200; tripod]
Elk bull sunset Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5906Bull Elk
The day ended as it had begun, with the sighting of a bull Elk. This one was well after sunset and the crazy high ISO I used created this photo with a painterly quality.
[Canon 7D with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; f1.8 at 1/200 second; -1ev; ISO 6400; handheld]

More Teddy Roosevelt blog posts coming soon!

SEE PREVIOUS TEDDY ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK POSTS HERE

Birding North Dakota’s Prairie—Part 2: Marsh Birds

Last blog post we talked about the prairie birds of central North Dakota’s Kidder and Stutsman Counties, and now we focus our lens on the county’s birds of lake and marsh. Where I live in Northeastern Minnesota, cattail marshes are a rare commodity, and even where present they don’t normally attract the western and southern species that are cattail specialists. So it was fantastic fun to get to see avocets and ibis, Ruddy Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, all at close range.

American Avocet flying Kidder County ND IMG_0889AMERICAN AVOCET
An exotic breeding bird of the prairie pothole region is the American Avocet. Not often seen in Minnesota, it is a fairly common bird in central North Dakota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6 ISO 320; handheld]

Pied-billed Grebe nest Kidder County ND IMG_0837PIED-BILLED GREBE FAMILY.
I stumbled across several active Pied-billed Grebe nests along the backroads and main roads. Unlike the ducks, male grebes are actively involved in raising the young. Juvenile Pied-billed Grebes are colorful stripy little guys.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f5.6 ISO 320 -0.67ev; braced on car window]

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0763WHITE-FACED IBIS

White-faced Ibis Kensal ND IMG_0746WHITE-FACED IBIS
Ibis in North Dakota? Yes, several species of herons and ibis have moved into the northern plains as breeding species since the 1970s, including White-faced Ibis.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/640 at f5.6 ISO 500; braced on car window]

Swamp Sparrow Horsehead Lake Kidder Co ND IMG_1295SWAMP SPARROW
A very common and vocal marsh dweller is the Swamp Sparrow. Its staccato trill often goes unnoticed as it becomes background noise in wet areas.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6 ISO 640; handheld]

IMG_1219HORSEHEAD LAKE
Horsehead Lake is well, shaped like a horse’s head. At least it used to be. Lakes all over this part of North Dakota have been rising dramatically over the last 20 years, probably the result of a natural wet cycle. But it is a great place to get up close and personal with many prairie wetland species.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1157YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_0989YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD

Yellow-headed Blackbird Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1185YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD
Most of us are quite familiar with the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbird, but the Yellow-headed is restricted to high-quality cattail marshes of central and western U.S. Their yellow feathers often look quite fluffy, more like a mane. They outcompete Red-wings for the best nesting sites, occupying the deepwater cattails near the center of the marsh and forcing the Redwings out to the less secure shallow-water fringes.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/320 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1112RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1091RUDDY DUCK
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6 ISO 320, -1 ev; braced on car window]

Ruddy Duck Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1084RUDDY DUCK
The male Ruddy Duck (right) is a dapper little fella. His blue bill and chestnut plumage are just part of his allure. He also performs a funny head-pumping display that evidently attracts and impresses the female (left).
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 at f22 ISO 320; braced on car window (Note: I was taking video previous to this photo and forgot to switch my camera settings…that is why the ridiculous f22 at 1/60…but I lucked out and it is sharp)]

IMG_1057AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS AT HORSEHEAD LAKE
A bucolic summer scene at Horsehead Lake in Kidder County, North Dakota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/400 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Black Tern Horsehead Lake Kidder County ND IMG_1053BLACK TERN
A bird of inland prairie cattail marshes, the Black Tern is rarely seen in the Duluth area, so it was fun to see several near Horsehead Lake in Kidder County.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Double-crested Cormorant Kidder County ND IMG_1388DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT
These water birds are a common sight along the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, and a sighting is often accompanied by the phrase “Oh, just a cormorant.” But they are impressive birds when seen in good light and at close distance. I especially like their azure blue eyes!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f5.6 ISO 320; braced on car window]

Birding North Dakota’s Prairie—Part 1: Grassland Birds

I have a very embarrassing secret…As of a month ago, I still needed Ferruginous Hawk for my Life List! Most of you may be saying “Huh?,” but the birders out there know what I mean. Seeing 600 of North America’s bird species is a Major milestone…and a month ago I was at 636 species and had yet to see this relatively common hawk of western North America (Sidebar: “North America” to bird listers is the Lower 48, Alaska and Canada…It does NOT include Hawaii or Mexico). So obviously the thing to do was to head out to central North Dakota’s Kidder County where the Ferruginous nest, and as one birder put it, “there’s one on nearly every hay bale!” More about how this saga unfolds below.

But after leaving Manitoba it seemed natural to swing through North Dakota on my way back to northern Minnesota and home in Wrenshall. Several of my birding friends had made MANY trips to Kidder and Stutsman County to see rare prairie birds and western raptors and soak in the abundance of ducks, shorebirds, and other marsh birds that inhabit the prairie pothole region. In fact, the major bird tour groups in North America (Wings and VENT) put this part of North Dakota on their tour itinerary each year. I had to check it out for myself…and I was not disappointed!

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1500UPLAND SANDPIPER
Lift off! An Upland Sandpiper takes wing from a prairie fence post. Though technically a shorebird, these long-necked, small-headed birds are really more at home in crop fields, hayfields, grazed meadows and native prairie. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 500; camera braced on car window]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1462UPLAND SANDPIPER
Though there are spots in Minnesota where these sandpipers still breed (including the Sax-Zim Bog), they have a stronghold on the northern prairies. In some Eastern states, Uplands find airports to their liking as nesting spots…These airports mimic prairies much farther west with their short grass, flat terrain and wide open spaces. In the boreal forest they may nest in large semi-dry sedge meaows in huge bogs. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 320; camera braced on car window]

Upland Sandpiper on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1478UPLAND SANDPIPER
When the Upland’s alight on a perch they have a neat habit of holding their wings over their back and then leisurely folding them. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; camera braced on car window]

Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0219Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge
My first stop was to see Stacy Whipp at Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. I’d met Stacy at the Sax-Zim Bog Winter Bird Festival a few years ago and knew that she is a very knowledgeable birder. Stacy helps organize the Potholes & Prairies Bird Festival and she gave me wonderful info and exact locations for many of my target species. These spots were fresh in her mind from her extensive scouting for the Festival and the field trips during the event.

Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0218Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge

Say's Phoebe Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0696SAY’S PHOEBE
My first truly Western bird of the trip was this Say’s Phoebe at the Arrowwood NWR Headquarters. Like “our” Eastern Phoebe, it has no problem with hunting near humans and their habitations. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Asclepias speciosa Showy Milkweed Kidder Co ND IMG_1512SHOWY MILKWEED (Asclepias speciosa)
A gorgeous western milkweed…cousin to our Common Milkweed

Sparky Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0720Sparky scanning the rolling prairies of central North Dakota. Ethanol subsidies and governmental mandates on ethanol usage have created high corn prices and the result has been that many farmers in this dryer part of North Dakota have converted grazing land (i.e. great prairie bird habitat) into sterile corn fields (and soybean fields).

iPhone panorama North Dakota Kidder Co IMG_0245IPHONE PANORAMA OF KIDDER COUNTY’S ROLLING GRASSLANDS

Swainson's Hawk Arrowwood NWR Stutsman County ND IMG_0729SWAINSON’S HAWK with Richardson’s Ground Squirrel in its talons. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/160 at f5.6; ISO 400; camera braced on car window]

Chestnut-collared Longspur Kidder County ND IMG_0962CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR with spider prey.
The longspurs are a colorful lot…at least the males in breeding plumage, and this Chestnut-collared Longspur is no exception. A bird strictly of the midgrass and long grass prairies, it was once a common Minnesota breeder but has been reduced by habitat loss (i.e. conversion of prairie to cropland) to survival in a few scattered prairies in the western fringe of the state. Ironically, cattle ranching is this species friend as grazing keeps the grasses shorter and hospitable to this picky species.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Swainson's Hawk Kidder Co ND IMG_1373SWAINSON’S HAWK
Swainson's Hawk fence post Kidder County ND IMG_0980 SWAINSON’S HAWK
I really think these are very attractive raptors, made more so by the fact that I don’t see them very often. They do nest in SW Minnesota but I rarely get to see them. Swainson’s Hawks are very common in this part of North Dakota. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 320; camera braced on car window]

Western Kingbird foggy fence spider web Kidder Co ND IMG_1347WESTERN KINGBIRD
While the days were warm (low 80s) the nights were nice and cool. And on this morning the combination meant dense fog in the valleys. Fortunately inclement weather can also be the photographers best friend, and in this case it created a moody shot of a Western Kingbird and a dew-covered orbweaver spider web. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 200; camera braced on car window]

Ferruginous Hawk on fence post Kidder Co ND IMG_1365FERRUGINOUS HAWK
[My pursuit of my lifer Ferruginous Hawk continued:] Sadly, I had to leave North Dakota without my lifer Ferruginous Hawk (insert sad-face here). I’d checked out the nest that Stacy said was active just a couple weeks before, but not a thing was stirring. I did snap a photo of yet another Swainson’s Hawk nearby and promptly forgot about it. Later that day I found three more Ferruginous Hawk nests…all empty. But, “Wait,” you’re saying “You have a photo of a Ferruginous Hawk in this blog post.” True, and here is the rest of the story. After arriving home and downloading all my memory cards, I discovered an image of a bulky and distant raptor. A major crop of the photo revealed that the bird was not “just another Swainson’s” but a juvenile FERRUGINOUS HAWK! Probably one that had just fledged from the nearby nest. I indeed had seen my Lifer Ferrug but had not known it at the time. We can argue about whether a bird identified later on your computer screen and not in the field can count as a new bird on your list, but I have no qualms about making Ferruginous Hawk #637 on my North American ABA Life List. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 200; camera braced on car window]

[NEXT POST WILL FEATURE THE WATER BIRDS AND SHOREBIRDS OF NORTH DAKOTA’S MARSHES]

Manitoba’s Oak Hammock Marsh

My road trip in late June led me from Wrenshall, Minnesota to a place I’d long wanted to visit. It is called Oak Hammock Marsh and it is about 30 minutes north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. This is how their website describes it…”Oak Hammock Marsh is one of North America’s birding hotspots and a great destination for people of all ages. This 36km2 Wildlife Management Area features a restored prairie marsh, aspen-oak bluff, waterfowl lure crops, artesian springs, some of Manitoba’s last remaining patches of tall-grass prairie and 30 kilometers of trails for you to explore. …the Interpretive Centre features wheelchair-accessible facilities including a 120-seat multimedia theatre, a scenic café, a gift shop, meeting rooms, rooftop observation deck, and interactive exhibits.” Visit their website for a bird list and more info.

sign Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0340

Oak Hammock Marsh Nature Center Manitoba IMG_0109

American Avocet Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0164American Avocet [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 320; tripod]

American Avocet Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0072American Avocet pair [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 125; tripod]

American Avocet Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0104American Avocet pair [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 125; tripod]

American Avocet Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0085American Avocet pair [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 125; tripod]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0404Black Tern over algae-splotched marsh

Killdeer nest Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0369Can you spot the Killdeer eggs? Yes, this is all the “nest” they need…just a scrape in the dirt of a parking pad. They prefer spots with much rocks-gravel in order to provide camouflage to their splotched eggs.

Killdeer nest Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0358Mom Killdeer is sitting tight to her nest as I crawl closer and closer. She eventually pops off the nest and tries to lure the vicious predator (me) away from her nest with a “broken-wing” display. I didn’t want to stress her unduly so I moved on. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/250 at f8; ISO 100; pop-up flash -2 2/3ev; hand-held while crawling on my belly]

Purple Martin nest box house Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0095It was good to see a very active Purple Martin nest box near the edge of the marsh. It is an all too rare sight in Minnesota these days. Purple Martins are actually giant swallows who feast on aerial insects, often near water.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0264Yellow-headed Blackbirds are rare in northeastern Minnesota, so it is a treat to see them and hear their raspy “song.” They actually outcompete Red-winged Blackbirds and claim the safer nest sites deep in the cattails forcing Red-wings to nest at the margins of the marsh.

American Coot and juvenile IMG_0190 - Version 2Adult Coot feeding one of her two colorful young.

Marsh Wren Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0203Marsh Wren in the cattails [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held]

Marsh Wren Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0207Marsh Wrens are very well named as they nest smack dab in the middle of dense stands of marsh cattails. Their “sewing machine” song (sounds like an old treadle sewing machine) rattles from many territorial birds along the walkways. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f6.3; ISO 100; hand-held]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0323Black Tern’s wings are paler than their jet black body. You really need at least 1/1600 of a second shutter speed to freeze the motion of the wings of terns and gulls in flight. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 200; hand-held]

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0239Black Tern

Black Tern Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0205Black Terns are quite rare in northeastern Minnesota, so it was a real treat to see this large colony. They don’t dive and plunge into the water like many of the “white terns” but rather delicately pluck aquatic critters and tiny fish off the surface. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/3200 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Ranunculus aquatilis White Water Crowfoot Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0284White Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) grows in the sluggish backwaters of the marsh.

Northern Shoveler hen flight Oak Hammock Marsh Selkirk MB IMG_0340Northern Shoveler hen in flight

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0647Not a great photo…But my best photo ever of a Nelson’s “Sharp-tailed” Sparrow. This shy cattail-lover is rarely seen in migration and nests in sedge and cattail marshes from north-central Minnesota (McGregor Marsh) up to northern Saskatchewan. Other populations nest along saltwater in NE North America and along Hudson’s Bay. Their subtle song has been described as someone dousing a hot poker in a vat of oil…and that’s about right. This guy appeared at dusk. The “tick-ticking” of a Yellow Rail joined several singing LeConte’s Sparrows as a big thunderhead rolled on south of me. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/60 at f5.6; ISO 1000; pop-up flash -2 2/3ev; hand-held]

LeConte's Sparrow Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0639LeConte’s Sparrows were “dirt common” in the northwest portion of Oak Hammock. They are fairly common in my home ground of the Sax-Zim Bog but this was amazing! Every wet meadow seemed to hold several. Photo taken at dusk. This is a fairly “noisy” photo because it was shot at ISO 2000(!) but it nicely shows the habitat and orangey color of this not-oft-seen bird. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 2000; pop-up flash -2 2/3ev; hand-held]

IMG_0187 I found this canid skull in the marsh. I love finding skulls as it is really the ultimate track of an animal.

Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0299

Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba IMG_0297This impressive multi-million dollar building is also the Headquarters of Ducks Unlimited Canada. The marsh buts right up to the walls and you can watch Black Terns and ducks right from the windows.

IMG_0307The mission of the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre is to connect people with wetlands and they do it via outdoor activities and indoor displays and classes.

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.