Posts from the ‘shorebirds’ Category

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]

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Prairie Spring—Western Minnesota’s Felton Prairie

It’s always good to get back out to the prairie…and western Minnesota’s Felton Prairie is always a nice escape from the North Woods. Just a few of my favorites from this mid May trip to Clay and Norman Counties. Enjoy! (pssst…We’re off to Florida…I’ll post photos when I get back)
Marbled Godwit Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1484Marbled Godwit…a very large and raucous shorebird that makes its home on medium-grass prairies.

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1642 (1)Brewer’s Blackbird

Brewer's Blackbird Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1243Brewer’s Blackbird

Upland Sandpiper Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1343Upland Sandpiper

White-tailed Deer near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1394

Northern Shoverler male near Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1408Northern Shoveler
Wind Turbines Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1381

Marbled Godwit Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1477Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1468Marbled Godwit

Western Meadowlark Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1539Western Meadowlark. Great to hear their melodious song since we get the less melodious Eastern Meadowlark near Wrenshall.

Northern Harrier Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1585Northern Harrier

Yellow Warbler Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1597Yellow Warbler

Swamp Sparrow Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1734Swamp Sparrow

Lark Sparrow Agassiz Dunes SNA Norman Co. MN IMG_1931Lark Sparrow a bit further north, near Agassiz Dunes SNA in Norman County

Sedge Wren Felton Prairie Clay Co MN IMG_1716Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren Felton Prairie Clay Co IMG_1694Sedge Wren

Bank Swallow colony Agassiz Dunes SNA Norman Co. MN IMG_1878Bank Swallow Colony in an old gravel pit…This colony has made this cut its home for many years.

25 Years Ago—Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay: Part 1


Sparky and Tyler (right) on Hudson’s Bay

Hard to believe but 25 years ago this week, my college/volleyball buddy Tyler Nelson and I jumped on a Via Rail train in Winnipeg and settled in for a 36 hour train ride to the far north outpost of Churchill, Manitoba.
Via Rail train

These Cree Indian girls were fascinated by our hairy legs…A very non-native American trait!

The soggy tundra and permafrost requires tripods to support the power lines.


It was snowing pretty good when we rolled into Churchill on June 18, 1987… And the Bay had just broken up so there were mini-icebergs everywhere. On the way up, I had told Tyler (a non-birder) that we were on the lookout for a small and very rare gull called the Ross’s Gull. I showed him the illustration in my Peterson’s Field Guide highlighting its black neck collar and pink belly.

And here is the hero bird! The Ross’s Gull. At the time, Churchill was the only known nesting area in North America as it was really more of a Russian/Siberian species. They nested right on the edge of town in the “granary ponds.” Unfortunately, they no longer nest in Churchill and birders don’t go there as often.

Shorebird in a tree? This was the first time I’d witnessed such a thing. This is a Hudsonian Godwit perched in a stunted “flag” spruce. Many species of shorebird nest in the Churchill area..and some even nest in trees!

The tundra around Churchill was not as treeless nor as dry as I expected. It was very wet and with many stunted Black Spruce. This is the most typical tundra we saw.

Of course we couldn’t afford to rent a car so the owner of the Kelsey Motor Lodge said we could use his pickup to get around. The only caveat was that we needed to drop him off and pick him up at work every day. So we did. The funny thing was that his work was only a couple hundred yards from the “Lodge.” He said nobody walks in Churchill because of the Polar Bears.

I think we were a bit ignorant or just foolhardy because we hiked many places where Polar Bears could be lurking. Normally far to the NW by now, a couple had been seen near town. Thankfully (?) we never saw one.

Sparky juggling snowballs…in mid June!

Stay tuned for part 2 coming in the next few days!

Shooting with Sparky Video: Wisconsin Point Shorebirds & Warblers (& flies!)


Sanderling in mainly white winter plumage on Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior

In this episode of Shooting with Sparky we travel to Wisconsin Point to photograph migrating shorebirds and warblers. In the video you’ll see that I find a cooperative pair of Sanderlings, a small shorebird that commonly winters on the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but only breeds in the farthest reaches of Arctic Canada and Greenland. Flocks stop off to feed on the beaches of Lake Superior on their way North in late spring. Note that one of the Sanderlings has very white feathers (winter plumage) and the other has more reddish-brown feathers (getting its breeding plumage). The whiter one seems to have only one functioning leg, but his buddy won’t abandon him and sticks close. I was able to crawl through the sand to get some frame-filling shots and then put it in reverse and leave them foraging on the beach surfline without flushing them…The goal of all wildlife photographers; leave your subject as you found them. Enjoy the video!

Watch this 3-minute video to see just how glamorous wildlife photography really is!


Colorado Potato Beetle


Gray Catbird


Sanderling fluffing its feathers


Sanderling getting its reddish breeding plumage

All with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Most at ISO 200, f7.1 at 1/250 with fill flash from Canon 430ex; most handheld and braced on binoculars.

Through Western Prairies…on the way to Daycare

Birk, Bjorn and I have a morning ritual…On the way to daycare—if everyone’s been good—we go “look for animals” on our special loop. It’s a real treat for Birk..Bjorn is usually sleeping. The 8-mile circuit takes us across a small river, through a WMA (Wildlife Management Area) and down a little-traveled dirt road through huge rolling hayfields (huge for mostly-wooded Carlton County Minnesota). On this little loop over the past year we’ve seen Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, Ruffed Grouse, and deer…plenty of deer.

Today, we found a bird I’ve only seen once before in Carlton County…an Upland Sandpiper…And it was cooperatively perched on a beautifully weathered, lichen-encrusted wooden fence post (see my blog post from June 29, 2010). Birk was as excited as me…of course, everything is exciting to him now. Bjorn continued to snore. And I was prepared; camera (switched on) with 400mm lens on the passenger seat, set to Shutter Priority (Tv) at 1/2000 second and auto ISO at f6.3. Rolling to a stop so we’d be between the sun and the bird, I simply rolled the window down (I guess we don’t “roll” windows down anymore..I hit a switch) and started shooting.

As is probably true with many who did a lot of shooting back in the “film days,” I am conservative when I hold down the shutter. Too conservative. Every activation of the shutter used to cost us about 50 cents (about 25 cents per frame for a roll of 36 Kodachrome, Velvia, etc and about 25 cents to develop each frame). I’ve missed many an action shot because I didn’t just “let ‘er rip.” Today I missed the take off as the Upland flew from its perch.

After dropping the kids off, I went back to the spot. Gorgeous spring day…sunny calm and temps in the low 50s. Then I heard it…the aerial song of the Upland Sandpiper…a slow rolling “wolf whistle” given from high in the air. Across the road the first Bobolinks of the year burst forth with their bubbly song. From a distant fenceline a Meadowlark sang. I felt as if I was back on the western prairies, and it felt good.

Vertical Upland Sandpiper: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, Tv Shutter priority at 1/2000 second at f5.6, Auto-ISO decided on ISO 250
Horizontal Upland Sandpiper: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, Tv Shutter priority at 1/2000 second at f5.6, Auto-ISO decided on ISO 320

Better in Black and White

Sanderlings are the sheep of shorelines. And not just any shorelines, mainly ocean beaches and ocean beach mimics like Lake Superior’s sandy Park Point. Like little flocks of sheep, they move down the beach, the birder or photographer or Sunday stroller herding them on. The Sanderlings hustle just ahead of the surging surf, staying mere inches from the waterline. It is amazing how they are able to feed on the run and still stay out of the water.

What are they doing here and what are they eating? Sanderlings nest in the High Arctic of Canada, Greenland, Norway and Arctic Russian islands. In North America they migrate thousands of kilometers down both coasts (and inland to a lesser extent) on their way to wintering grounds. Some find the sandy beaches of Lake Superior a fine substitute for oceanic surf. But they need some kind of surf. The retreating waves gives them access to tiny invertebrates.

The trick to photographing them is to find a flock working their way towards you. Now the uncomfortable part; you need to flop down in the sand bracing the camera on your camera bag (I’ve even stood my binoculars in the sand, resting the 400mm lens between the oculars for a lower perspective…The lower the better in shorebird photography. Getting to eye-level is the goal and that’s not easy with a 5 inch bird! These are my two favorites…It shows a bit of their personality; One is preening its feathers and the other has been surprised by a wave…For a shorebird, they sure don’t like getting wet!

Canon 10D, handheld, Canon 400mm f5.6 with 1.4x converter, f8 at 1/1000, ISO 400