Posts from the ‘shorebirds’ Category

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]

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.

Superior Shorebirds & Friends at Wisconsin Point

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1030 [Dunlin resting above the wave line]
Shorebirds are some of our latest migrants in the northern reaches of Minnesota. Though flocks may begin appearing in late April, the mass movement doesn’t peak until late May. And so I took several opportunities to scope out the migration along one of Lake Superior’s most beautiful beaches…Wisconsin Point. Along with its “sister spit,” Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota, they create the world’s longest freshwater sand spit…nearly 10 miles long! Shorebirds moving north to their Arctic breeding grounds find the wide sand beaches and immense body of water familiar sights, and are likely reminded of their coastal wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Central and South America.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/1250 sec. ISO 200, handheld but braced on log]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1464 My technique in photographing shorebirds (shown in my video, Get Close & Get the Shot) is to move slowly in plain sight of the waders, crawling along the beach, then laying down in the sand as they get near. I try to get as close to eye level as possible (without grinding sand into my camera equipment!) as this gives a more intimate portrait. The success ration is not high as they often turn and start feeding in the opposite direction or scurry past so fast that getting a shot is almost impossible.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/800 sec. ISO 250, handheld but braced on log]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1291 [Dunlin]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/2500 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1032[Dunlin sleeping]
Considering that this Dunlin may have already flown a thousand miles from wintering beaches in the southeastern U.S. or Atlantic Coast, it’s no wonder she’s tuckered out. And she’s got a couple thousand more miles to go to get to breeding grounds in northern Canada and the North Slope of Alaska.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/1250 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Dunlin Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1292
Dunlin are easy to identify. They are the ones that look like their bellies have been dipped in black ink. Also note their longer drooping bill.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/2000 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Sanderling breeding plumage Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1312 We normally see Sanderlings in their “winter whites,” their pale non-breeding plumage. But this bird is already acquiring its reddish breeding plumage.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/2000 sec. ISO 200, handheld while laying on sand]

Shorebirds mixed flock Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1341This mixed flock of shorebirds contains Sanderlings, Dunlin and a rather rare visitor to Lake Superior…the Red Knot (the largest bird). I usually only see one or two of these each spring, and some years I miss them completely, so this was a real treat.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f6.3 at 1/1600 sec. ISO 200, handheld]

Red Knot Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1263[Red Knot]

Common Tern Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1482[Common Tern]
Terns seemingly float on buoyant wingbeats as they patrol shorelines for fish. Their head is angled down scanning the water for a likely meal and once a fish is spotted, they instantly tuck their wings in and go into a plummeting vertical dive into the water.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 sec. ISO 250, handheld]

Common Tern Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1519
As part of their courtship the male Common Tern flies around with a small fish which he offers to the female. Strangely, these terns LOVE to nest on dredge material…sand and dirt dug up from the Duluth-Superior bay and piled on to land. Due to this preference, Common Terns formerly nested right in the Port Terminal of Duluth, which was essentially built entirely on dredge. But an effort to move them out of this busy industrial area had little success until Interstate Island (a tiny 8 acre island in the St. Louis Estuary just upstream of the Blatnik Bridge which is divided by the Minnesota-Wisconsin state lines) was bulldozed and became an ideal sanctuary off limits to humans. Unfortunately, Ring-billed Gulls rule the island with 13,000 nest in a recent census. Common Tern nests numbered about 200. This is only one of two nesting locations in the Lake Superior region. Commons are listed as Endangered in Wisconsin and Threatened in Minnesota.

Caspian Tern Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1513 I LOVE Caspian Terns! Maybe it’s that I only see them passing through in late May, or maybe their exotic name (they also range across parts of Europe and Russia including the Caspian Sea) These mega-terns are giant versions of the diminutive Commons that perched nearby. Their pterodactyl-like croak signals their presence with authority! Like the Common Terns, Caspians live almost entirely on fish.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/3200 sec. ISO 250, handheld]

Redhead pair Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1581 [Redhead pair on the bayside of Wisconsin Point]
Redheads are attractive ducks of our western and midwestern pothole prairies. While not rare, they are certainly not common either, and always a treat to see. This flock of four was even tolerant of my semi-stealthy approach along the bank of the bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2000 sec. ISO 250, handheld]

American Redstart warbler Wisconsin Point Superior WI IMG_1203 [American Redstart
Hiking back to the car on the inland side of the wind-whipped point we found a very cooperative warbler, the American Redstart, proudly and emphatically defending his territory in song.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f7.1 at 1/2500 sec. ISO 1600, handheld]

Minnesota’s Wild West—Blue Mounds State Park

Blue Mounds State Park has always been a favorite place of mine. The expansive prairie, Bison herd, rocky cliffs, and Dakota Indian history add to the exotic flavor and very “western” feel in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Located in extreme southwest Minnesota, the park is part of the Prairie Coteau (Coteau des Prairie) landscape; A plateau that rises a couple hundred feet above the surrounding prairie in parts of eastern South Dakota, North Dakota and western Iowa and Minnesota.

I camped here over the Memorial Day Weekend. I was down with my folks for my cousin’s wedding but squeezed in a few hours of photography.

Quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0214The escarpment of Sioux Quartzite at Blue Mounds rises vertically about 100 feet from the surrounding prairie. Local lore insists that the Lakota (i.e. Dakota, Sioux) used to use the cliffs to their hunting advantage, stampeding herds of Bison off the edge and to their deaths, then collecting the carcasses at the bottom. Locals claim that early settlers found huge piles of Bison bones at the base of the cliffs. But the MN DNR claims that no evidence exists to substantiate this scenario.

Quartzite cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0210

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9935The best place in Minnesota to see Common Nighthawks in their natural habitat and performing their “booming” courtship flights is the parking lot area of Blue Mounds Interpretive Center off CR8. A startlingly loud “WHOOSH” comes from the sky just above you. Looking up you see Nighthawk going into a dive, air rushing over the leading edge of its arched wings to create the sound. The booming is used to attract mates, signal territory and possibly to drive off intruders. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9920Nighthawks are neither nocturnal nor a hawk. What they are is a member of the Caprimulgidae, or “Goatsuckers”, another unfortunate and inaccurate name. A possible story on how this name came to be may be rooted in European lore. There are relatives of this bird in England, and they will feed on aerial insects kicked up by herds of livestock. Maybe a shepherd 150 years ago noticed these birds flying around his goats one evening, then just by chance they gave poorly (milk) the next day. The shepherd puts 2 and 2 together and comes up with 5…The birds must have sucked the milk from his goats! Of course this is a ridiculous idea and not true in any aspect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Common Nighthawk near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_9939And here is the Nighthawk in flight! Though it is hard to believe that this bird’s tiny bill will open up to reveal a large gaping mouth, it is essential to their feeding style. At dusk and again in the morning, Nighthawks take to the air to feed on flying insects. They dive and perform aerial acrobatics as they inhale hundreds of mosquitos, midges, flies and other insects. Aerial Vacuum Cleaners! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Blue Mounds State Park Sioux Quartzite and Wild RosesThe rosey Sioux Quartzite compliments the pink of the Wild Roses.

Blue Grosbeak near Interpretive Center Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0423 The Blue Grosbeak is a rare bird in Minnesota. Blue Mounds State Park (especially near the Interpretive Center of CR8) is the best and easiest place to find them in the state. Here is a highly cropped image of a male..They are not easy to get close to! Minnesota is at the far northern edge of their U.S. range. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Wilson's Phalarope Hardwick Sewage Ponds Rock Co MN IMG_0324I took a side trip to the nearby Hardwick, Minnesota Sewage Ponds. Even though it was Memorial Day weekend, I found a very late Greater White-fronted Goose and this male Wilson’s Phalarope preening peacefully. Of course, we always want to get eye-level with our subjects so I had to crawl on the goose-poop laced grass of the sewage pond to get the shot. Who said wildlife photography is glamourous? [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Warbling Vireo near swimming beach Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0164I do not have many photos of Warbling Vireos (fairly uncommon in northern Minnesota) so I took the opportunity when there were several near the swimming beach defending their territories. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Orchard Oriole near swimming beach Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0146Not the Baltimore Oriole we are all familiar with, this is the smaller cousin, the Orchard Oriole. Found in wooded edges, farmsteads, groves, and backyards across southern Minnesota. This is my first semi-decent photo of one. I’ll take it! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 430EX flash and Better Beamer, handheld]

Canada Goose family sunset silhouette Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MN IMG_0088I can never pass up a good silhouette. This Canada Goose family was swimming on the small reservoir at sunset. I underexposed by a couple stops to create the silhouette and rich colors in the water. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, handheld]

Next time, more photos from past trips to Blue Mounds State Park in extreme SW Minnesota.

Top Twenty Bird Portraits 2013

I photographed nearly 250 species of birds in 2013…and it is always fun to look back over the year and pick my favorites (BTW I discovered that I kept nearly 10,000 bird images taken in 2013…And this is even after I deleted at least that many from my memory card before ever downloading). Most were taken very close to home in Carlton County, Minnesota. In fact, 15 were taken within 60 miles of home and 3 of those were taken on my land, and 2 were taken right from my living room! Only two images were taken outside of Minnesota…the dowitcher in Wisconsin and the oystercatcher in Florida. Previously I posted some of my favorite bird action shots. and Top Ten Creative Wildlife Shots. Here are my favorite bird portraits from 2013.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_7224April was a brutal month in northern Minnesota…Over 48 inches of snow in April alone! This photo exemplifies the mood of the month. This early-returning Yellow-rumped Warbler seems disgusted to find spring not yet sprung in the North Woods. Fortunately, these insect-eating birds will also feed on suet, which we had plenty of. Taken from my living room easy chair! My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/640 at f5.6, ISO 125, -⅔ EV, hand-held through our living room window!]

Wild Turkey Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_6665Amazingly, several of my favorites of the year were taken through our living room picture windows. This Wild Turkey tom had love on his mind in mid April and here he is showing off to the half dozen hens that surrounded him. See more photos and video here. My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/160 at f5.6, ISO 640, -⅓ EV, hand-held through our living room window!]

White-throated Sparrow Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0324Just a nice simple portrait of a White-throated Sparrow. I brought these lichen-crusted rocks back from Wyoming just for this purpose. I placed them on my picnic table, then put out cracked corn for the migrating sparrows and blackbirds. My blind was 20 yards away. I could sneak in there for brief sessions before dinner when the light hit the table just right. My house, Carlton Co, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 250, -⅔ EV, tripod in a blind]

Swamp Sparrow Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1734What I like about this photo is the graphic element of the vertical grass stalks with the Swamp Sparrow relatively small in the frame. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f6.3, ISO 200, hand-held but braced on bean bag on door window of car]

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398It’s not often that a shorebird allows your close approach…but this Short-billed Dowitcher did. I was able to sloooowly get out of my car and ease myself into the shoreline brush to get a closer shot. It was late in the fall migration so the dowitcher was very intent on feeding, gathering energy to continue its journey south. Crex Meadows, Wisconsin.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/800 at f7.1, ISO 250, hand-held]

Northern Shoverler male near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1408Early morning light on one of our most spectacular ducks—the Northern Shoveler. It is named for its oversized bill that is used to sift pond waters for micro-organisms. See more Felton Prairie shots here. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f5.6, ISO 500, hand-held]

Horned Grebe adult Park Pt bayside Duluth MN Horned Grebe Park Pt Duluth MN IMG_9081Ice-out was very late in spring 2013. This can be good for photographers as it forces spring-migrating waterfowl to the open water close to shore (where the ice melts first). This Horned Grebe really had its “horns” up, and was in peak spring plumage. Love the red eyes too! Park Point, Bayside of Lake Superior, Duluth Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/640 at f8, ISO 800, -⅓ EV, hand-held]

Great Gray Owlet stretching_0002This is actually a single frame from a clip of video I was shooting of this Great Gray Owlet. Because of that, the file is quite small and of limited use. I just like how the little guy was stretching its wings over its head.

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7402See the full story and video of this amazing experience here.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens, 1/60 at f9, ISO 100, Canon 420EX flash, hand-held. NOTE: Not the ideal settings! I should have shot at max flash sync speed of 1/250 at a bit higher ISO, but I’d just been shooting video (which is always at 1/60 second) and forgot to change my camera settings.]

Great Gray Owl nestling Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_7390 - Version 2The two images above were from June when a friend of mine, Kim Risen, discovered a Great Gray Owl nest deep in a Spruce-Tamarack bog. The young had fledged but were still begging to be fed by mommy from their ground perches. I crawled slowly up to them with my wide angle lens and flash, took a few shots, then crawled away again. Mom supervised the whole operation. Northern Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 20mm, 1/60 at f9, ISO 100, Canon 420EX flash, hand-held. NOTE: Not the ideal settings! I should have shot at max flash sync speed of 1/250 at a bit higher ISO, but I’d just been shooting video (which is always at 1/60 second) and forgot to change my camera settings.]

Great Gray Owl nest Hedbom Road Aitkin Co MN Great Gray Owl nestlings in nest Hedbom Rd Aitkin Co MN IMG_6410
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/60 at f5.6, ISO 1000, tripod from blind]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946I just like the vertical composition of this image. Tamaracks turn a vibrant yellow-gold in the bogs of October and this Gray Jay made one his tip-top perch. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/250 at f5.6, ISO 400, hand-held]

Boreal Chickadee and Black-capped Chickadee Admiral Rd feeder Sax-Zim Bog MNAnother Sax-Zim Bog photo. I like this image because it is our two species of chickadees together on one branch. The Boreal Chickadee is restricted to deep dark Black Spruce/Tamarack bogs while the Black-capped is found in nearly every habitat in the North Woods. Boreals are more attractive in person than they are shown in the field guides; I love their warm brown cap and olive back. Amazingly they do not eat sunflower seeds! In fact, at this feeder (Admiral Rd in the Sax-Zim Bog) they only feed on suet and peanut butter—Fat! In the bogs they feed on insects (eggs, adults, larvae) and carcasses. It is my belief that if enough of them could gang up, they’d bring down a Moose! Feast time! But seriously, they do not readily leave the Black Spruce/Tamarack forests and are never seen at feeders away from their bog security blanket.
[Taken at Admiral Rd feeders in the Sax-Zim Bog. I set up the branch and put some peanut butter behind the branch to attract the chickadees. Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 420EX flash with Better Beamer.]

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1642Brewer’s Blackbirds are actually anything but black…In the right light, their iridescent feathers show purples, bronzes and greens. A weathered fence post and rusty barbed wire adds to the prairie feel. See more Felton Prairie shots here. Felton Prairie, Western Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f6.3, ISO 250, -⅓ EV, hand-held, braced on car window frame]

Boreal Owl preens nr Stoney Pt Scenic 61 St. Louis Co MN IMG_0074883The winter of 2013 brought birders and photographers a special treat…an irruption of a rarely seen owl called the Boreal Owl. About the size of a small box of Kleenex, the Boreal Owl preys on voles but when vole numbers crash in areas north, they must move south in search of food. This little guy was photographed on an overcast day. It was a big surprise when I saw the image on the computer…I loved how the tree trunk’s lichens blurred to pleasing shades of green, and was especially excited about the oozing sap/pitch that turned blue in the shade, both contrasting nicely with the Boreal’s yellow eyes. See more of my photos and video of the irruption here. Near Stoney Point, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1250 at f5.6, ISO 3200, -⅓ EV, hand-held]

Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MNIMG_0074823It was a Boreal Owl irruption winter…the first in many years. The hungry owls had been driven south in search of food and ended up along the North Shore of Lake Superior near Duluth. The event was a treat for birders and photographers but was an ordeal for the owls. Fortunately, many seemed to be catching voles despite the deep snow. See more of my photos and video of the irruption here. Near Stoney Point, Duluth Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 100, tripod]

Bohemian Waxwing crabapple Duluth Zoo Duluth MN IMG_8418During a spring family outing to the Duluth Zoo, we stumbled on a very wild and non-captive flock of Bohemian Waxwings. The birds were happily feeding at head-height in a crabapple tree near the Siberian Lynx and Snow Leopard. I shot the birds as folks walked right by the tree without even noticing the birds (until they looked at me and wondered what I was photographing.) Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 160, -⅓ EV, hand-held]

Black Oystercatcher Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Meyers Beach FL IMG_4003A family vacation to Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida in June was filled with fun but cursed with bad weather (The kids didn’t even notice!). So when I took this shot of a Black Oystercatcher on a tidal shallow pool under heavy overcast skies, I didn’t think much would come of it. But when I got back home and saw it on the computer, I was ecstatic. The gray water and flat light actually work in this case. I blew out the whites to give the Oystercatcher a nice clean background. I love the curved sweep of its feathers as it preened. See more photos from the Florida trip here. Fort Meyers Beach, Florida
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 100, hand-held]

Bald Eagle CR4 Cemetary Rd Carlton Co MN IMG_0075839Bald Eagles often survive northern Minnesota winters feeding on roadkill White-tailed Deer. This one was doing just that. Can you see the blood on its bill? Carlton County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, 1/1000 at f6.3, ISO 250, hand-held braced on car window frame]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9999Every few years a flock of American White Pelicans stops by the St. Louis River near Fond du Lac, Duluth Minnesota. They usually spend a few weeks loafing, preening and fishing in a stretch of river near the bridge. They are always a blast to watch and I really enjoyed an afternoon with them in May. Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens with 1.4x tele-extender, 1/1600 at f8, ISO 100, tripod]

From Namekagon through Crex Meadows

I had a speaking gig in southern Minnesota a couple weeks ago (Sept. 17 to be exact…I’m a bit behind on my editing!) but I didn’t feel like just driving the interstate (I-35) down to Austin…Much too boring. Why not get some photography in? So I drove south on Wisconsin 35…a 2-lane highway that gets me close to one of my all-time favorite wildlife photography locations…Crex Meadows.
spruce tree dawn silhouette WI IMG_6117sun breaking through fog WI IMG_6147Fog shrouded the low-lying spots along the highway, then as the sun rose, rays broke through, illuminating the mist, making it glow. I pulled the van over immediately, knowing the sun would burn this fog off quickly. I managed to get these ethereal shots…silhouette of an old spruce (above) and the sun rays in the fog.

Bald Eagle Namakagon River WI IMG_6216Further down the road, I crossed the Namekagon River (part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway). I stopped and spent some time here as the scene was changing from hazy foggy misty goodness to pure morning sun. This Bald Eagle magically appeared, hunting down the river corridor. I wish I’d captured the wings in a better position but I like the silhouette anyway.

Red-tailed Hawk Namakagon River WI IMG_6211An old White Pine along the river made a choice perch for this Red-tailed Hawk. I chose a wider view, giving the branch itself a bit of a starring role. I like the composition.

Red-tailed Hawk coughing up pellet Namakagon River WI IMG_6212Wildlife behavior is always interesting to capture, but not easily done. The Red-tail started making odd movements and I knew it was about to cough up a pellet. I fired off a series of shots. You can see the pellet falling to through the air. I wish I had time to take a video of this. Oh, well. (pellets are conglomerates of undigested bone and hair that are regurgitated by birds of prey and many other birds…including hummingbirds! In addition to nectar, they eat insects, some with hard wing cases or larger wings, that need to be coughed up.)

Pied-billed Grebe Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6428Pied-billed Grebes were very common at Crex Meadows this day. This pond had 5 hunting in fairly close proximity. I saw this guy struggling with a fish so I grabbed some shots as it flew off with its prize bullhead. It eventually was able to turn it in its bill so it could slide down its throat head first.

Paper Birch Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6412The first hints of fall color in a stand of Paper Birch.

Blue-winged Teal flock Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6549Blue-winged Teal flock.

Northern Harrier Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6547Northern Harriers spend much of their time gliding over marsh land and meadows searching (and listening) for voles, mice, shrews and small birds. Owl-like facial disks focus sounds in the grass on their ear holes thereby aiding in triangulating the location of unseen prey. The females, like this one, are brown; Males are a striking light gray. Both have the white band on the upper tail.

Sandhill Crane Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6252 (1)A lone Sandhill Crane forages along the shore. Crex Meadows is known for its huge concentration of fall migrating Sandhill Cranes. It is an important stop over for their migration.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6386Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you find a subject that is comfortable with your presence. You have to take advantage of these rare moments. This Short-billed Dowitcher (juvenile) allowed me to actually get out of the van and sit quietly at the edge of the water while it fed, waded, swam, bathed, and preened only 30 feet away! These are my best Short-billed Dowitcher pictures by far.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6341

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6382

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6357

Trumpeter Swan Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6534Trumpeter Swans nest in good numbers at Crex Meadows. This adult was one of a pair that had 4 nearly grown cygnets. Cygnets do not get their white plumage until they are a year old. Also note the pink on the juvenile’s bill.

[all wildlife shots with Canon 7D & Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, hand held]

Florida Part 2: Beach Life

Fort Myers Beach panorama SMALLFLORIDA. I wish I could post the full-size photo of this panorama combining 4 images in Photoshop…It is 45 inches long! …and very sharp. Taken during a brief appearance of the sun near sunset along Fort Myers Beach. Handheld with the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.

American Oystercatcher stare Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3995 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher preening Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4000 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher fluffing Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4003 - Version 2The above images were just “G&G” images for me (“grab-and-go”)…I was walking the Estero Beach Lagoon when I saw these AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS lolling about. I didn’t put much effort into stalking them or even setting up my tripod because the light was FLAT and the only background was blah, colorless white water. Not a very interesting background. BUT when I got home and looked at these on the computer, I knew that they were my best photos of the trip. I really like the monochromatic water background…It is a nice contrast to the brown-black and orange of the oystercatcher. By the way, yes, oystercatchers do “catch” and eat oysters! (and many other bivalves including mussels and clams)

Frigatebirds 1 composite SMALLWhat a great name!…MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD. For me the name conjures up visions of the Caribbean and the tall ships that plied these waters centuries ago. An early naturalist likely noted that the birds often came to rest on the masts of these vessels far from any land and named them “frigate birds.” These are HUGE seabirds that effortlessly float in the sky, gliding on stiff Caribbean winds, wings that span nearly EIGHT FEET(!) firmly set. They can glide like this for HOURS, never once flapping their wings. You’ve probably seen them in some nature program before…They are the birds with the red air sacs on their throat that they inflate like a balloon during breeding and courtship. But on this trip I only managed a few flight silhouettes, distinctive as they are, under gray sky conditions. But I decided to get creative and combine 5 images of the same bird into one, making my own flock of five flying frigatebirds (say that 3-times fast!). A dramatic increase in contrast helped the final image pop.

Great Egret breeding face Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3838In the North Woods of Minnesota, we rarely get to see a Great Egret (found south in the state) and NEVER get to see them with their breeding plumage including their green facial skin. Snuck up on this guy at Estero Beach Lagoon.

Sandwich Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3538SANDWICH TERNS always remind me of my birding friends Parker Backstrom and Don Kienholz. Back in the mid 80s they were birding the Duluth Port Terminal on a gray, rainy, foggy May day when they spotted a strange tern with a yellow-tipped bill. It was a very-far-from-home Sandwich Tern, and a first state record for Minnesota! Dirt common in Florida as they hunt (fish) the ocean shorelines for small fish, plunging beak-first into the water.

Least Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3581LEAST TERN is the smallest and cutest tern in North America. I completely associate it with the Gulf Coast but amazingly, they also nest on braided, sandbar stretches of the Upper Missouri River in South Dakota (only an hour SW of the MN border), North Dakota and Montana.

Snowy Egret high key Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3824
Snowy Egret stalking beach Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3601SNOWY EGRET stalks critters along a busy Fort Myers beach. I didn’t think much of either of these photos UNTIL I made it a “HIGH-KEY” image, overexposing, and even blowing out completely the whites. I like the monochromatic effect and the contrasting black bill, legs and yellow feet.

Brown Pelican Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3636Who doesn’t love pelicans? And BROWN PELICANS are the native pelican in Florida. This adult was lazily flying along the beach, but would then suddenly plunge head-first into the surf and more often than not, come up with a fish in its pouch.

Common Ground-Dove Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3807COMMON GROUND-DOVES, like many of North America’s doves and pigeons, are taken for granted. But when you really study them, many have quite beautiful plumages, some with delicate scaling and subtle iridescence. This dove is native to the southern fringe of the U.S. from South Carolina to Florida to Texas, Arizona and S. California. When it flies, it reveals its stunning rusty red underwings.

Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3863
Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3866A lifer TIGER BEETLE! This beach tiger was a new one for me—Cicindela hamata lacerata. I love tiger beetles! Fast and furious, they pursue insect victims, pouncing on them in lightning fast attacks. And it really helps to be colored like the sand you hunt on.

Wilson's Plover Fort Myers Beach FLFunny story…WILSON’S PLOVER is a sand-colored shorebird restricted to the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, Virginia to Florida to Texas, BUT I’d just seen one the week before on Minnesota’s own version of an ocean beach—Duluth’s Park Point on Lake Superior. My friend Karl Bardon had found this lost wanderer, only Minnesota’s THIRD state record. Interestingly, I myself had found Wisconsin’s FIRST STATE RECORD of this species back in 2004(?) and just a few miles from here on Wisconsin Point. Anyway, good to see a Wilson’s in its native habitat for a change!

[All images taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens handheld]