Posts from the ‘Sax-Zim’ Category

Snowshoe Hare pair…one brown, one white—March 26th; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Deep in a Black Spruce/Tamarack bog on March 26th I encountered something quite amazing…and entirely new for me—A pair of courting Snowshoe Hares…one already turning brown (though there was about a foot of snow on the ground) and one still mostly white. This was in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog.

I was just standing quietly and listening for birds, when I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. It was these two hares chasing each other around the trunk of a spruce! They’d run at each other and then one would leap over the other one, stop momentarily and then continue their cavorting chase. They continued for a couple minutes but then they noticed me and stopped. They froze in position for about 20 minutes, but then again continued their courtship.
Snowshoe Hare pair leaping Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0725

Cavorting Snowshoe Hares in late March are probably courting. Their color has nothing to do with their sex…Some hares just turn brown earlier than others in spring. But turning brown in late March/early April can be a problem if the snowpack lingers late into April. They become easier to spot by predators such as Canada Lynx and wolves.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0865

One hare was farther along in its molt from winter white to summer brown. This change is brought on by increasing day length, and NOT by whether there is snow on the ground or not.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0839

Snowshoe Hares are normally crepuscular (more active at dawn/dusk) and nocturnal and can therefore avoid some diurnal hunters. Lynx and Northern Goshawks (females) are two of their historic predators.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0837

Snowshoe Hares tend to be on a 10-year boom-bust cycle, but this is more regular in the heart of their range in Canada and Alaska. Minnesota is at the south end of the range and the cycle here is not as regular.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0836

Freezing in place is a good strategy to avoid being noticed by predators….But they also think they are invisible to this photographer. Every Snowshoe Hare I’ve found in winter has used this method and I’ve been able to slowly get quite close to them.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0833

Hares in winter feed on the inner bark and buds of  shrubs and small trees.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0821

Surprisingly, Snowshoe Hares can have between 2 and 5 litters each year! Each litter can be from 1 to 8 leverets (young hares).

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0817

White pelage is a big help to Snowshoe Hares in remaining invisible during the snowy season.

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0811Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0801

I love the mix of colors in the pelage of the molting Snowshoe Hare.

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0788Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0786Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0775

It takes about a month for a Snowshoe Hare to turn from white to brown in spring (mostly April) and from brown to white in fall (mostly November).

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

Snowshoe Hare Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0710-2

[Snowshoe Hare in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog; March 26, 2018]

[**All photos with Canon 7D and Sigma 50-500mm lens]

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2017 Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos

American White Pelican flock loafing roost Fond du Lac Bridge St. Louis River Duluth MN DSC06929

Pelican Pouch (St. Louis River, Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota)

Most every spring now, a flock of 40 to 120 American White Pelicans stop over at the Fond du Lac, Duluth portion of the St. Louis River on their way to breeding colonies farther north. They spend most of their time loafing on the barely-above-water islands, preening, sleeping and squabbling. Not sure if this guy was yawning or if this is an aggressive act towards a Ring-billed Gull that flew low overhead. I intentionally underexposed the shot to show off the veins of the pelican, and block out the distracting background forest.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/400 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Arctic Tern colony Mouth of Eastern Creek Launch Road Churchill Manitoba Canada DSC09960

High-Key Tern (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

To make the red inner mouth of this Arctic Tern really pop, I decided to make this a “high-key” image by increasing the exposure of the shot so most of the highlights are overexposed.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens; Metabones adapter; 1/4000 sec. at f8; ISO 200; -2.33ev; hand-held]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton County MN DSC03720

Wild Turkey detail (Our home, Carlton County, Minnesota)

I took this image right out our living room window! And the only lens I had inside was my 400mm f5.6 lens. So I got some extreme close ups of a displaying Tom Turkey. The iridescence in their feathers is a coppery rainbow of colors.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/500 sec. at f6.3; ISO 5000; hand-held through our living room picture window]

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Raven Rainbow (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Two foreground snow mounds frame a friendly Raven looking for a handout. The background “rainbow” is just the way-out-of-focus trees and shadows. I took the color out of the Raven and made him totally black (they normally show blue iridescence in their feathers).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/400 sec at f2; ISO 100; +1.33ev; hand-held]

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Running Grizzly cub (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Panning at a VERY slow 1/20th of second, I tracked the running Grizzly cub as it hurried to get back to mama Griz. I like the streaks of snow, and the different background blur colors.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Hawk Owl Zim Road Yoki Road Sax-Zim Bog MN DSC03052

Northern Hawk Owl silhouette and Tamaracks (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)

The curvy trunks of the Tamaracks are appealing to me in this silhouette. The Hawk Owl is centered so I could frame her with the two background Tamaracks.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Metabones adapter; 1/2500 sec. at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane flock fly-in reflection Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0050

Sandhill crane flock reflection (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

As the cranes flew in to roost for the evening at the Crex Meadows marshes, I noticed their perfect reflection on the still open water. I tried to capture the interesting juxtaposition of sky and water. It is an interesting photo…not great…but unique.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 200mm; 1/250 sec. at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held]

 

Sandhill Crane motion blur panning flight Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0234

Sandhill Crane panning blur (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

Sometimes I like panning at “below-recommended” panning shutter speeds and seeing what I get. It is very low percentage shooting, but sometimes you create something pleasing. Though the crane’s head is not sharp, I still like the overall motion blur of this graceful flyer.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/25 sec. at f9; ISO 100; -0.66ev; hand-held]

 

Scoter flock Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada IMG_0098

Mixed Scoter flock (Hudson Bay at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada)

I was laying flat on my belly on the wet rock shoreline of Hudson Bay. And I was wishing I had the Sony A6500 instead of the Canon 7D…Why? Because the Sony has a tilting screen so I wouldn’t have had to contort my neck to look through the viewfinder of the Canon. I love the eye-level perspective and the narrow strip of in-focus water with the blurred foreground and background water framing the scoters. If you look closely you will see that all three North American scoter species are in the frame! Surf Scoter; Black Scoter; White-winged Scoter.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand-held while laying on beach]

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Bison fur (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

You can get close to Bison in Yellowstone…Really close! Of course, this was out the car window, so no threat of being gored! I love the wavy quality of their hair.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF200mm f2L IS USM lens; 1/2000 sec at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

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Blackbird Blur (Northwest Minnesota)

There are things to shoot even on bleak early spring gray rainy days. This migrating flock of Red-winged Blackbirds took off suddenly and I panned with them at a slow shutter speed.

Sandhill Crane flock fly-in Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_0125

Sandhill Crane orange silhouette flock (Crex Meadows, Wisconsin)

I tried combining two creative wildlife photography techniques in this image; I underexposed the image to create silhouettes of the flying cranes AND slowed the shutter to 1/25 of a second and panned with them as they flew. In this image, the heads and necks re fairly sharp, yet their wings show a pleasing blur that hints at their flapping motion.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens at 163mm; 1/25 sec. at f5.6; ISO 100; hand-held]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten 2016 Mammal Portraits

This is the last of my “Top Tens” from 2016…I guess I didn’t do much landscape photography last year so there won’t be a Top Ten Landscape 2016. Without further ado, here are my favorite mammal photos from 2016…(Most are from my April trip to Yellowstone and Teddy Roosevelt National Parks.

 

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5194Bighorn ram in Yellowstone National Park.
I like this desaturated look that I applied in Aperture. It gives a gritty feel that seems to fit for this species. It is a classic (boring?) head-on portrait, but I think it works in this shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/160 at f9; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

coyote-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4652Leaping for Lunch; Coyote in Yellowstone National Park
Voles are an important source of calories for Coyotes, and this guy is after one. Incredibly sharp hearing allows them to hear a vole under the snowpack. Once pinpointed, they leap high in the air in order to get enough force to break through the snow and get down to the vole’s tunnel. This time, he was unsuccessful.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm at 227mm; 1/4000 at f7.1; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

moose-cow-november-19-cr47-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_0093-1Young Moose; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota
I spent a fair amount of time with this tolerant young Moose cow along a backroad in northeastern Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. The Moose herd in Minnesota is not doing well, but this gal was looking to be in fine shape.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6L; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 320; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

black-bear-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_4898Paws-itively Black Bear in Yellowstone
Ridiculous to put this image in my favorites from 2016, but I like the light pattern on the sole of its hind paw.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/640 at f7.1; ISO 500; -1.0 EV; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

elk-young-bull-shedding-old-yellowstone-road-wy-img_4529Awkward Elk; Yellowstone.
This ratty looking young bull Elk was just too “cute” to not take a photo…and he stuck his tongue out at me just at the perfect moment. I was not offended!
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 300mm; 1/1600 at f5; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

grizzly-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5794Grizzly; Yellowstone National Park
I only included this image because, well, it’s a Grizzly!..and a good looking one.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/1000 at 5.6; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5211Bachelor herd of Bighorn Sheep in Yellowstone
Another desaturated image that works well here. This bachelor herd had all age groups from younger rams to battle-scarred old-timers. They are focused on some action that we weren’t privy to.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/200 at f8; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

mule-deer-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6225Mule Deer at sunrise; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Even deer can make a nice photo when in the right light. And I loved the morning sunrise light that made this nice and subtle silhouette.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/5000 at f5.6; ISO 640; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

red-fox-and-bison-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5509Red Fox and Bison; Yellowstone.
I only included this because how often do you see a Bison and a Red Fox together?

wild-horse-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6107Wild Horse family; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
I really don’t like the word “feral,” so I use the not-entirely-correct term “wild horse” instead. They are “wild” indeed in Teddy Roosevelt, and their behaviors and interactions with other bands is fascinating to observe. When we were there in April, the foals were still quite small.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 300mm; 1/400 at f5; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Whimberly Sidekick]

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]

Best Wildlife Photos of 2015 (non-bird)

I’m finally getting around to posting my favorite non-bird wildlife photos of 2015. This is as much an exercise in editing (and learning) for me, as it is sharing photos with you all. It’s always great fun to review the year’s adventures and try to whittle down the images. I give a far higher priority to photos that are a bit creative vs. a standard portrait in front light. I also tend to favor images that show some kind of animal behavior, such as the cooperative hunting between the Badger and Coyote. Enjoy!
Ermine Weasel Peary Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7542 Ermine of the Bog

My parents and sister and family came up north to see the newly-completed Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center where I am Executive Director. We had a nice visit on a cold February day and headed out on a tour of our lands. At the Friends’ Yellow-bellied Bog I saw something dash across the snow-covered road and I immediately recognized it as a winter-pelaged Short-tailed Weasel that we call Ermine. I quickly rolled the window down and started squeaking on my knuckle to attract its attention. This inquisitive guy made three lightning fast circles around our car, pausing only to look for the squeaking prey. He moved so fast that I only got a couple in focus, including this shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/4,000 second; ISO 250; handheld]
[Ermine (Short-tailed Weasel); Sax-Zim Bog, northern Minnesota]

Badger and Coyote hunting Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5687Huntin’ Buddies
I chose this image more for its rarity. Cooperative hunting between Badgers and Coyotes is a rarely seen behavior, limited to areas where their ranges overlap and where Coyotes are not persecuted by man, in this case, Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. In this large Black-tailed Prairie Dog village, the Badger would go head first down a hole and try to dig the Prairie Dog out, the Coyote stood attentively nearby, hoping for the ‘dog’ to pop out another of its escape holes. Mammalogists have proven that the Coyote benefits from this partnership by catching more Prairie Dogs than if it was hunting solo. It is assumed that the Badger benefits too, as possibly the Coyote may chase an “escapee” back down its hole and into the jaws of the Badger.
[Coyote and Badger; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bison backlit sunrise Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_5996 Backlit Bison

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; f5.6 at 1/8000 second; ISO 100; -3 ev; hand-held]
[Bison; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bison Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7032Horn of the Beast
I LOVE Bison! Can’t get enough of them. Every time I see a herd (in Yellowstone, Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park, Custer State Park in South Dakota, or here, in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park) it reminds me how close we (selfish and wasteful) humans came to wiping their millions off the face of the Earth. Plus, they are just MASSIVE beasts…beasts that let you get quite close. I love the texture of their hair/fur and the shape of the horn.
[Bison; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN Bobcat IMG_3390

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3373

Bobcat Lynx rufus Carlton Co MN IMG_3429 Pretty Kitty

Rarely do you get a chance to see, let alone photograph, a Bobcat in the daytime. But at a friends cabin in Carlton County, Minnesota last winter, I had that chance. After about 45 minutes of sitting quietly, it was an unbelievable thrill when Gene whispered, “Here she comes.” (We’ll call her “she” as her size seems small and features delicate…Plus, what a pretty face!). She cautiously slipped between the hazel brush, slinking her way towards the road-killed deer that Gene had provided. Sensing her surroundings with acute hearing and smell and vision, she crept closer, occasionally stopping to sit and relax, making sure the coast was clear. In the nearly 3 hours we sat there, she came in about four times, but retreating after a few minutes. I included three images of this rarely seen predator.

[Shot under low light with heavy overcast skies at dawn; Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second at ISO 1000. Firmly locked on tripod!]
[Bobcat; Blackhoof River Valley, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Coyote Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7224 Sliver Hunt
I’ve been trying to do more “Animal-in-the-Landscape” images in the last few years…mainly using my Canon 70-200mm f4 lens. Ryan spotted this distant hunting Coyote and we could see that it was working its way to the sliver of light illuminating the ridge top. What I liked about this scene was the spotlight like light, and the Coyote stepped right into it.
[Coyote; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

IMG_5509 Fat and Happy
I included this mediocre photo because it just makes me smile. This Black-tailed Prairie Dog appears well fed and ready to hibernate!

Like many mammals that become more sedentary in winter, the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs try to 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]
[Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

IMG_5818
Pronghorn 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]
[Pronghorns; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Antheraea polyphemus Polyphemus Moth Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_9367Polyphemus
One of our Giant Silkworm Moths, the Polyphemus lives up to its name with a wingspan as wide as your outstretched hand…up to six inches across! This one was attracted to my garage lights and I carefully moved it in the morning to a more attractive background.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4; f8 at 1/250; ISO 1000; flash at -2 2/3 ev]
[Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus); Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota]

Mule Deer Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_7551

Frosty Muley
It really helps to know how your camera sees versus how your eye sees. This pre-sunrise shot looked quite blah to my eye, but I knew the camera sees dawn shade as quite blue. I really like how the warm brown of the Muley contrasts with the cool blue frosty plants.
[Mule Deer; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

Pine Marten Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7940 Grandpa Marten
I was able to keep up with this American Marten (Pine Marten) as it hunted a logged area north of Ely, Minnesota. He/she loped along quite slowly and, that, combined with the very gray muzzle, led me to surmise that this was one old weasel!
[American (Pine) Marten; Echo Trail; Superior National Forest, Minnesota]

Porcupine silhouette Stone Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_7560 Porkie in Purple
April in to early May is the best time to see Porcupines in the North Woods. The Porkies seem giddy to get at the newly-sprouted catkins of willow and aspen. They relish these spring edibles and will crawl out on the most bendy branches to get at them. Sloth-like, they’ll reach out with their paws to pull inaccessible branches closer.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f8 at 1/250; ISO 800; tripod]
[Porcupine; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota]

Prairie Dog Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_6053 Late for Dinner
A fun shot of a prairie dog doing what prairie dogs do all day long…going in and out of their underground tunnels. I strongly underexposed this image to highlight the rim lighting of this prairie dog against the setting sun. I didn’t plan that I’d get an image of one going down its hole, but I just kept shooting and this was actually my favorite.
[Black-tailed Prairie Dog; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota]

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.

Gray Foxes from 20 Feet! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3716Twenty years ago, the Gray Fox was rarely seen in the North Woods of Minnesota. But they have now arrived! This is the second and third Gray Fox I have photographed in the Sax-Zim Bog in the last year. The first one I photographed was along the Creek Road in summer of 2013. I had seen something cross the road up ahead, and I thought it might have been a Pine Marten. I stopped the van, got out and gave a few calls on my predator mouth call. Within seconds, a Gray Fox burst out of the woods, looking, presumably, for the source of the call. I got a decent shot, but I was not really prepared. The first proof I had of a Gray Fox in the Sax-Zim Bog was one I “caught” one on my Trail Camera in the winter of 2011-12, very near where these two were photographed.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3770I first became aware that the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center feeders were being visited by this rare animal back in December. I found some scat that I couldn’t immediately identify. It was canid-like, but composed of sunflower seed shells and rodent hair. The only winter mammal I know that eats both is the Gray Fox.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3647Then in early February, some visitors got glimpses of a Gray Fox towards dusk. My friend Jason Mandich even managed to photograph one. The next day, our Welcome Center host, Heather-Marie, discovered that there were TWO Gray Fox coming to the feeders. The next afternoon, I was there…Ready and waiting…INSIDE the Welcome Center.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3703Then before 3pm, one arrived! …and then a second! Must be a mated pair as they seemed to get along quite well, feeding under the same feeder for quite a while. We barely breathed as we stood inside the Welcome Center. Then one headed our way, making its path for the feeder closest to the building. I shot through the windows of the Welcome Center, crouching down so I could shoot eye-level to the small fox.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3717FUN GRAY FOX FACTS: These very small canids are about two feet long, plus the 12 to 15 inch long bushy tail. Adults weigh from 8 to 14 pounds…the weight of a large house cat! They are found across the southern and eastern U.S. and south through Mexico, Central America to Columbia and Venezuela in South America.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3755A fox that can climb trees? Yes, the Gray Fox is very adept at climbing tree trunks, either for food or safety.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3751What do they eat? Well, we’ve established that they will eat sunflower seeds (Note this guy’s got a shell on his face). My friend Karl Bardon recently watched on eat for over an hour at his feeder. The scat I found at the Welcome Center is filled with sunflower seed shells and rodent hair. They are also reported to eat Cottontails, newly-dropped White-tailed Deer fawns, mice, voles, fruit and insects.

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3710The MN DNR website says that “breeding occurs in late winter, and gestation (time required for the young to develop) is about two months. Litter size averages four, and the young stay with their mother until autumn. Red and Gray Fox do not cross-breed in the wild.”

Gray Fox pair Welcome Center Owl Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_3700

[ALL IMAGES SHOT THROUGH WINDOW GLASS! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t shoot great wildlife shots through your windows. But you need to remember a few things:
1. Make sure your windows are clean! No smudgy kid finger and hand smears. Glass cleaner and crumpled newspaper works great.
2. Shoot straight through the glass…Make sure your lens is perpendicular to the glass. Shooting at an angle through windows often results in lower image quality.
3. Pray your subject is in good light…full morning or late afternoon sun, or high overcast. Deep shade reduces contrast and sun-dappled light makes for difficult exposures.

[all with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Most at ISO 400, f5.6 at 1/640 second, AI Servo AutoFocus mode (to track the moving subjects).]