Posts from the ‘Sharp-tailed Grouse’ Category

Northwest Minnesota—Part 1: Agassiz & Thief Lake WMAs, June 12-13, 2016

My first stop on this mid June excursion was Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in far northwest Minnesota. It was a gloomy, windy, rainy day in the aspen parklands but I had to make the most of a photographically-poor situation. Down a side road on the refuge I found a spot where Forster’s Terns were making pass after pass above a flooded creek/drainage ditch. At first I simply cranked up the ISO and took many shots to freeze these elegant birds in flight. But the gray skies got grayer, and the gloom got gloomier, so I altered my technique; now I switched to Shutter Priority mode and attempted to get some slow panning shots. My favorite Forster’s photos are below.

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_9943Forster’s Tern diving for fish in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I used Manual exposure setting as I wanted the image exposed properly for the white bird. And since the background was changing as the bird flew (from light sky to dark green leaves) I couldn’t trust Aperture Priority to get the right exposure.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; panning hand-held]

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_0497Forster’s Tern in Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.
I desaturated the background in Aperture for a more dramatic look.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/60 second at f8; ISO 100; panning hand-held]

Forster's Tern Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge NWR Marshall Co MN IMG_0131
EIGHT small fish in ONE DIVE! An amazing feat to accomplish in a head-first plunge that lasts one second max. There must have been very tight schools of fish to be so successful.

pelican IMG_0571American White Pelican at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge.

van and tent IMG_3428Camping at Thief Lake WMA (My late great Honda Odyssey that lost in a battle with a rogue White-tailed Deer just weeks later)

Thief Lake WMA landscape IMG_0762Dawn at Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota.
I love this place in late spring/early summer. It is secluded, has tons of bird life, and a very cool “observation mound” from which you can scan the ginormous cattail marsh.

Red-winged Blackbird IMG_0708Red-winged Blackbird at Thief Lake WMA.

Thief Lake WMA observation mound IMG_3430Observation Mound at Thief Lake WMA.
[iPhone panorama]

Black Tern and cattail reflection IMG_1105Black Tern and cattail reflections.
This photo was a real surprise success..and I didn’t realize it until I got home and viewed it on the iMac. I really like the odd “M.C Esher-esque” juxtaposition of the bird and the “upside down” cattails (reflection). It was also a very pleasant surprise that the Black Tern’s wings mimicked the angle of the cattails without overlapping with them.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

ducks and reeds b&w IMG_1103Ducks flying across Thief Lake WMA.
This image was just begging to be converted to black-and-white; the strong shape elements of the graceful reeds and silhouetted ducks don’t need color to enhance.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

Franklin's Gull Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1069Franklin’s Gull in flight over Thief Lake WMA.
My number one goal on this leg of the trip was to photograph what I consider to be one of the most beautiful gulls in North America…the Franklin’s Gull. I love the mat black head, white eye-ring and blood red bill. And the fact that they are not a gull I see that often makes them even more special.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held (for birds in flight, especially overhead, you almost HAVE to hand-hold your camera…a tripod restricts your movement too much]

Franklin's Gull Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1199Franklin’s Gull catching flying insect on the wing.
Flocks of Franklin’s Gulls forage in neighboring farm fields during the day. This flock was making repeated flights to catch aerial insects. I did not notice the bug until I got home and viewed this image large. I used Shutter Priority in order to make sure I froze the motion of the flying birds (though, this image is a bit soft due to movement so I should have used 1/2000 or 1/1600 second)
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 125; hand-held]

Marsh Wren IMG_0816Marsh Wren at Thief Lake WMA.
The Marsh Wren is a rare bird in northeast Minnesota, so I’m always thrilled when I can get a good shot of this cattail dweller. They are feisty little guys!
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

Sharp-tailed Grouse in crop field near Thief Lake WMA Marshall Co MN IMG_1331Sharp-tailed Grouse in soybean field near Minnesota’s Thief Lake WMA.

tractor burnt IMG_0561Burned tractor.
Wish I knew the story behind this “roasted” tractor!

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]

Top Ten Action Shots 2013

Action images are always one of the goals of a wildlife photographer. Nature is in constant motion, and capturing a frozen moment in time is always exciting. Here are my favorite action shots of 2013.
Blue-winged Teal Fond du Lac Bridge area Duluth MN IMG_9912Blue-winged Teal in flight. As you can see, even 1/1600 of a second didn’t entirely freeze this duck’s wings. But that’s okay. I think a bit of motion blur in the wings adds to the photo, making it a bit less static. Of course, this wouldn’t be acceptable for the head. Near the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, handheld]

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480Backlit Trumpeter Swans coming in for a landing. If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, Minnesota, you’ve got to make a mid-winter pilgrimage to this tiny city park in Monticello. This stretch of the Mississippi River stays open and ice-free the entire winter due to the nuclear power plant upstream. And the swans love it! They also get a free hand out from one of the local residents. I like the backlit wings and blue shadows of this image. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250 second, ISO 250, handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7856
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Sharp-tailed Grouse lek blind Kettle River Twp Carlton Co MN IMG_7840This is a shot that I’d dreamed of for quite a while…a Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing atop the snow in morning light. It happened this year (2013) on my first trip out to the DNR blind near the lek (dancing grounds). It was April 26th and there was 8 inches os snow still on the ground (We’d had 48 inches of snow in April alone!). It was cloudy on my drive out but the clouds cleared soon after I got there. Long enough to get my dream shot. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Killdeer CR201 Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8053I like animal behavior shots. This is a pair of Killdeer mating soon after returning to the North Woods in late April. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/1600 second, ISO 100, handheld]

Common Merganser flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_6969Common Merganser flying through a snowstorm in April. Duluth, Minnesota near the St. Louis River.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640 second, ISO 160, tripod from blind]

Belted Kingfisher Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_5805I placed this perch in a marsh in hopes a Belted Kingfisher would use it…and within 10 minutes or so, one did! It even caught a fish from the perch. See the full story here.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000 second, ISO 320, tripod from blind]

Bald Eagle nr nest Kimmes-Tobin Wetlands Douglas Co WI IMG_7764Out on a spring walk, I evidently got too close to a Bald Eagle nest. This bird made several passes at me, giving its very squeaky alarm call. Douglas County, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 200, handheld]

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A plastic owl festooned with feathers from a feather duster enticed this American Kestrel to come in for a closer look. The male of this small falcon species is rusty-red and blue, an attractive combo. Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. See the full story here
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Manual exposure f7.1 at 1/2000 second, ISO 500, handheld]

Northern Hawk Owl Kolu Ave Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072702Northern Hawk Owl hovering. These owls of remote bogs from Minnesota to Alaska hunt during the daytime…A very convenient trait for the wildlife photographer! Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/2500 second, ISO 640, handheld]

Top Ten Creative Wildlife Images 2013

It’s that time of year to take stock of our shooting fortunes from the year past. For me, it was a mixed bag. I wanted to do more wildlife video but didn’t find the time for much. 2013 was also the year of the “Feathered & Furry 500,” my attempt to photograph 500 species of animals in Minnesota in one year [More on this in a post in the near-future]. And I did rack up a pretty big list…including over 220 species of birds. But I was also trying to be creative in my shots….More than the usual perfect light portrait.
In the next few days I will also post more “Top Tens” from 2013…Stay tuned!
Here are my favorites in no particular order:
American Crow CR4 Carlton Co MN IMG_7002American Crow in snowstorm. Taken near my house on the way to the gas station to get some milk for the family…The lesson? Always have your camera in the car. I really didn’t do much to the photo as the scene was already extremely contrasty. I did tweak the Levels and Curves to clip the whites and blacks in Aperture. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, ISO 160, handheld but braced on car window]

Black-capped Chickadee landing on feeder Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN MG_0074299Chickadee landing on feeder at dawn. I “previsioned” this shot but just had to wait for the right morning and get up the gumption to shoot in the cold of a winter morning. I underexposed by nearly two stops in order to put the backlit wing feathers in a medium tonal range. Yes, it could have been better if part of the bird wasn’t blocked by the feeder. My house, Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 second, ISO 3200, Handheld]

European Starlings Aerial Lift Bridge Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9944European Starlings and Aerial Lift Bridge. I was photographing gulls in Duluth’s Canal Park when a large flock of starlings spooked from the bridge. I instinctively threw up my camera and started shooting. I really like the pattern and composition of this very “graphic” image, especially how the steel girders are all kind of converging in the center. The birds are nicely spaced too. Check the color version/variation below. Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f9 at 1/400 second, ISO 800, Handheld]

Bald Eagle CR4 Cemetary Rd Carlton Co MN IMG_0075809Bald Eagle Landscape. I didn’t “see” this composition when I clicked the shutter…I just pointed my lens out the window when I saw and eagle land there. Only later did I see the nice composition of vertical aspen trunks contrasting with the blueish background of distant pines. A bird-in-the-landscape shot that works. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/800 second, ISO 640, Handheld but braced on car window]

Herring Gulls lighthouse sunset Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9938This is one of 3 images in this Top Ten that were taken within minutes of each other (the others were the startling/bridge silhouettes). Fortuitously, the gulls all perched in perfect locations to make this interesting silhouette. Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f18 at 1/400 second, ISO 800, Handheld]

Common Redpoll Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0076238Common Redpoll on snowy road. I laid flat on a snow-covered road to get this unique portrait of a Common Redpoll, a winter visitor to northern Minnesota. I blew out the whites to improve the high-key look of this shot. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1600 second, ISO 200, Handheld while laying on ground]

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484Two Trumpeter Swans landing. Sepia tool in Aperture really helped this shot…The color version wasn’t bad, but the colors were a bit weird. If this happens to you, try and play with black-and-white or sepia color. Mississippi River, Monticello, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1600 second, ISO 250, Handheld]

European Starlings Aerial Lift Bridge Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_9946 (see details on similar photo above)
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f9 at 1/400 second, ISO 800 Handheld]

American Crow CR4 Carlton Co MNIMG_7004American Crow in snowstorm Wide. Taken only seconds after the image at the top of the post but with a 10-20mm lens instead of a 400mm lens! I like the simple composition of 3 stark tree silhouettes and one bird tiny in the frame. Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm, f6.3 at 1/640 second, ISO 160 Handheld]

Mallard blurIMG_0074579Mallard blur. A very slow shutter speed to portray frantically feeding Mallards on Lake Superior. Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f20 at 0.6 seconds, ISO 100 Handheld]

Sharp-tailed Grouse Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0072674Two Sharp-tailed Grouse in Tamaracks. One of my favorite images of the year (You may certainly disagree!) But I just love the composition of the one distant bird more obvious, then the closer bird more hidden in the trees. I wish I could say I designed this shot, but it was just a “haccident” (happy accident). Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1000 second, ISO 160, tripod]

Top Twenty Images of 2012

2012 is gone and I’ve had a chance to look at all my images from the year and pick my favorites. Time helps clear your vision. Some images I was crazy about right after I took them, are no longer exciting to me. Here I present my favorite images of 2012 in reverse order…Maybe not the most saleable nor necessarily the best portraits (which can be boring), but the shots that I kept coming back to..the ones that intrigued me…or were difficult to get…or were the most creative. And this last bit about creativity brings me to my big announcement for 2013…I will be releasing a new video: GET CREATIVE: WILDLIFE IMAGES BEYOND THE PORTRAIT this year. Stay tuned!

near Saginaw, Minnesota St. Louis County #20—The surprise image of the year…I was perusing photos from my June work for the Minnesota County Biological Survey when I found this very underexposed, blaah image. But then I saw the potential as a high-contrast black and white image. The result was a very graphic silhouette of a foraging Pine Warbler amongst the long delicate needles of a Red Pine. St. Louis County, Minnesota.

07-Best2012 Ruby-throated Hummingbird female and Liatris Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0064370 #19—I spent much quality time with our backyard hummers this summer. We mainly hosted females but occasionally a bully male would show up…but never when my camera was in place. I was using flash and a Better Beamer to throw light onto the hummer but in this shot the flash did not fire. But I like the resulting softer look…No harsh light blasting the tiny bird. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

11-Best2012 blurred leaves Rock Pond Duluth MN IMG_0067511 #18—Fall leaves always seem to vex me…I have a hard time creating interesting images of the stunning scenes around me in late September/early October. On this windy day I used a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to render the leaves a colorful blur while the trunks remained relatively still. I like the contrast of white vs. orange and blur vs. sharp. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota.

16-Best2012 Bald Eagle from firetower at Big Bog SRA Koochiching Co MN IMG_0055770 (1) #17—Eye-level Bald Eagle shots are not easy to come by! And this one has a story…It was taken 80 feet up in a firetower! I was visiting Big Bog State Recreation Area in far north central Minnesota and decided to climb the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of Lower Red Lake and surrounding forests. Some distant eagles caught my attention and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one flies past me in my aerial perch…And the miraculous part is that one did! It was not a gleaming white and black adult but rather a dramatically patterned youngster. I panned with the bird and amazingly it came out razor sharp.

18-Best2012 Swans geese St. Louis River fog Fond du Lac MN IMG_0055161 #16—I cross this bridge over the St.Louis River on the outskirts of Duluth every day on the way to work. It has many moods and this hazy spring afternoon created a bucolic and blue still life of swans, ducks, ice and trees.

IMG_0070171 #15—My youngest son, Bjorn, shows great promise as a wildlife photographer…At least he looks good in khaki!

19-Best2012 Cedar Waxwing Gunflint Trail Brule River Cook Co MN File0113 #14—Not a set-up! A fortuitous find that resulted in a very nice portrait with a little behavior too. This very rarely happens but it did this August morning on the Gunflint Trail. I’d just returned from a early morning paddle on the Brule River, loaded up the canoe and was pulling out of the dirt parking area when I spotted the foraging Cedar Waxwings in a heavily-fruited Mountain Ash.

15-Best2012 water lily File0169 #13—Just a very pleasing composition (to me anyway)…a water lily on dark water taken from a low angle to get the reflection. I also love the purplish lily pads. Cook County, Minnesota.

04-Best2012 Lower Yellowstone Falls IMG_0067608 #12—A very long exposure with my 10mm Sigma lens was made possible by a 9-stop ND filter. I love the soft ethereal feel of the powerful Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, belying the thunderous roar. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

17-Best2012 Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002136 #11—I had to include this portrait as I have been trying to get a decent winter Snowshoe Hare photo for years! And on this snowy Sax-Zim Bog day, I succeeded! The hare really felt it was invisible and stayed put as I crawled closer and closer through the snow.

12-Best2012 Abandoned house and tree Itasca Co nr Northome MN IMG_0055660_59_58_tonemapped 88-0-7-4-10 #10—Seems like I always slip in a non-nature subject. I really enjoy photographing vernacular architecture, including abandoned buildings like this farmhouse. A HDR image and sepia color finished it off. Itasca County, Minnesota.

10-Best2012 Polyphemus Moth Antheraea polyphemus detail Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0057753 #9—Abstract macro image of a Polyphemus Moth’s wings turned upside down to create a strange “face” complete with big blue eyes and a puckered mouth. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

05-Best2012 Swinging bridge flood IMG_0058741 #8—The banner headline of 2012 for us Duluthians/Carltonians was the Great Flood of June. It affected all of us dramatically. But my most powerful image was this shot of the raging St. Louis River taking out the historic and much loved Swinging Bridge of Jay Cooke State Park. Read more here.

08-Best2012 Sharp-tailed Grouse Carlton Co MN IMG_0056142 #7—A rite of spring, the congregation of Sharp-tailed Grouse at their dancing grounds or leks, is an event I hate to miss. But it is always difficult shooting. They are most active just before sunrise when the light is poor…And it is April so the weather is often cloudy and windy. Visibility in the cramped blind is not great either. This time I resorted to a slow shutter speed and panning. I love the shot as it conveys the manic intensity of the males as they dance, pursue females, and chase off rival males. Carlton County, Minnesota.

09-Best2012 Moose bull called in Dumbell Rd Superior National Forest MN nr Isabella IMG_0066747 #6—One of the few straight-up wildlife portraits in the collection, but I had to include it. Much has been made of the dramatic decline of Moose in Minnesota…and it makes me very sad. They are one of my favorite mammals. I learned to call Moose years ago…imitating the sound of a female. After a several-year dry spell, I was able to call this young bull in this fall. Intense moments followed as he was deciding whether I was a cow Moose or some stupid human. Thankfully he came to the right conclusion! See the video here.

14-Best2012 abstract river rocks IMG_0069193 #5—Can you tell what this is? Colorful river rocks below a Yellowstone National Park stream. It’s funny…I really don’t like abstract painting but I love much abstract photography.

06-Best2012 Ring-billed Gull Duluth MN tungsten w-2 1-2 CTO gels on flash IMG_0065801 #4—Two icons of Duluth in one shot! The Aerial Lift Bridge and a Ring-billed Gull. Not your typical wildlife shot but one that is certainly unique. In this technique I learned from flash/lighting guru ??? you set your camera to tungsten white balance (to turn the dark brooding sky blue) and then use a flash with an orange CTO gel to throw a very warm light on the subject, in this case, a Ring-billed Gull.

13-Best2012 IMG_0068269 #3—Often times I’ll get home from a trip and when viewing my images in Aperture, I’ll come across an unexpected prize. It’s like Christmas as a kid! I thought I knew what my favorites would be from viewing them in the field on the back of my camera…but I’m often wrong. This is one such image. It was taken into the sunlight to backlight the Bison’s fur…but it was mostly a “G&G” shot (grab-and-go)…No premeditation, No tripod…Jump out of the car and “snap.” But after converting the image to sepia, I really loved it. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

02-Best2012 Monarch IA IMG_0065536 #2—I really concentrated on wide-angle wildlife this year and this may be my favorite. Crawling on my knees for hours on an Iowa prairie in September finally netted me this image. Read the whole story here. Northeast Iowa.

01-Best2012 Great Gray Owl peek-a-boo McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0058141 #1—Drumroll please…My personal favorite from 2012. Read the whole story of this bog encounter here. See the video here. I like the Great Gray Owl’s furtive glance around the trunk of a spruce…It lends an air of mystery. It is very “Brandenburg’s-wolf-peek-esque” if you’ve ever seen his famous photo. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.

Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek: Shooting with Sparky

I’m introducing a new feature to The PhotoNaturalist site…Shooting with Sparky. These will be short 5-minute videos taken “on location” during a wildlife or landscape shoot. I’ll keep them together in a sidebar link called “Shooting with Sparky.”

Every April, the lengthening days triggers something in the brains of male Sharp-tailed Grouse causing them to start dancing…They return to their leks—a term for the dancing grounds of grouse species. With hormones raging, they do their best and most dramatic display for the females lurking around the edges, pretending not to watch. Males fight other males in dramatic flurries, but more often than not, confrontation ends in “Mexican standoffs,” birds just facing off and staring at one another until one splits.

I’m in the blind 45 minutes before sunrise as the full moon sets to the west. It’s April 7th and a bit chilly…35 degrees? The grouse really rev up about 15 minutes before the sun peaks above the hayfield horizon. Their strictly-for-show purple air sacs inflate, their yellow “eyebrows” erect, and then they spread their wings and perform their foot-stampin’ dance. I’ve been to a fair number of Ojibwa/Anishinabe powwows, and some of their dances are similar. I’m sure the Ojibwa learned much from their feathered dancing friends…and ate quite a few too!

At one point, a Northern Harrier swoops in for a look…She’s not interested in grouse for a meal—too big for her rodent-sized appetite—but the sharptails hunker down anyway, and a few take flight. Then, surprisingly, a crow pops in for a look. He seems curious. It almost seems like he’d like to join in! But after a brief visit, the crow takes off. The Eastern Meadowlarks are back, singing loudly around the blind. One lands only feet from me, but I’m too slow to get any video. By about 9:00a.m. most of the sharptail’s energy is spent, and they drift off to the cover of the nearby willow brush.




For these motion/panning blurs, I wanted LOTS of blur…So I put the camera on Shutter Priority (Tv setting) and set the speed to 1/20 second and auto ISO. Then I waited for some action. At these shutter speeds, you are going to get very few keepers, very few that are even somewhat sharp (“low-percentage shooting”), BUT when you do get one, the image can be very satisfying because the background is so blurred that it becomes just a wash of color. [REMEMBER: you can always click on a photo to make it larger]

All shot at 1/20 of a second with a Canon 400mm and STACKED teleconverters (a 2x and 1.4x) with Canon 7D on tripod