Posts from the ‘Snow Geese’ Category

2021 “Top Ten” #5 Bird Behavior

“Is this just another category so you can show more bird photos Sparky?” Why, yes, yes it is! And just so you know…I do include flying as a behavior for some reason. I guess technically everything a bird does is “behavior,” so I’m good!

Bald Eagle and Goldeneyes; February; Mississippi River

I can feel my frozen finger tips by just looking at this photo. So COLD! Most of the Mississippi River was frozen at this point in February; only spots below locks and dams were open…and this spring-fed spot near Buffalo, Wisconsin. Though it appears this young Bald Eagle is preying on the Common Goldeneyes, it is actually plucking small fish from just below the surface. There were several eagles and they made multiple passes each. I just laid down on the snow with my Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens and started tracking them as they approached. The R5 did amazingly well, even in the well-below-zero-F temps. I like the monochromatic blue cast to this image.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

Green Heron; October; Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

The critical moment. It has always been a thing of wonder to watch birds of all types landing on perches. Can you imagine the vision and motor skills this takes? How about a Great Gray Owl alighting on the tip top of a tiny spruce? It can’t even see the bough when it actally lands! This Green Heron made a perfect two-point landing I am proud to report.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 640; 0 ev; handheld]

American Avocets; May; Prairie Potholes of North Dakota

Courtship in American Avocets is highly stylized. This water-thrashing by the male is performed immediately before he mounts the female. The only way I was able to get this behavior shot from such close range was because I was invisible! My floating blind hides the human form which is what alarms much wildlife.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 100; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Not a great photo but kind of fun with all the “bird bickering” going on. This, of course, is common behavior at bird feeders. Evening Grosbeaks are some of the feistiest! Sax-Zim Bog is the best place to find big flocks in winter.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/800 second at f7.1; ISO 2000; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Hooded Oriole; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

It is not only Carpenter Bees (in background) that find the blossoms of agaves irresistable! Hooded Orioles also make a beeline for the blooms where they can feast on nectar.

I waited a couple hours to get this shot. I chose a single blooming agave that was at or below eye level (most others were higher up so it would be a less interesting angle with a blah sky background). A few female Hoodeds came in but I really wanted a male. But I kind of blew it with the autofocus as it locked on the flower and not the bird (so don’t blow this photo up too much!).

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; 0 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Wilson’s Phalarope preening; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

Preening takes up a lot of a bird’s resting time. You’ve got to keep those feathers nice and aligned! The floating blind again worked its magic on this prairie pothole lake in North Dakota as I was able to approach this Wilson’s Phalarope closely…Not unnoticed, of course, it knew a big floating blob was only 10 yards away, but rather completely ignored. It didn’t care that the blob was close since it was not a human- or prey-shaped form.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Snow Geese and moon; North Ottawa Impoundment, Minnesota

In recent years massive numbers of geese have migrated through western Minnesota in spring. Part of this is due to the creation of the huge North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County. It is part of a multi-county watershed project that has benefited wildlife immensely.

I noticed the moon and intentionally shot straight up as flock after flock of Snow Geese headed north overhead.

In hindsight I should have shot with a MUCH smaller aperture to make the moon sharper in the image. After all I was only at ISO 200 and I could have got a clean image up to ISO 5000 or higher. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/1250 second at f5; ISO 200; 0 ev; handheld]

Wild Turkey courtship; May; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Human and Wild Turkey courtship have a few similarities: Males strutting their stuff to impress the ladies! The backlit feathers in early-morning light really make this shot.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 320; -2.0 ev; tripod]

American Avocets mating; May; central North Dakota

Prairie potholes aren’t just for ducks! Shorebirds benefit greatly as well. American Avocets mating in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 472mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Western Grebe; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

This Western Grebe is not just getting a drink; it is actually performing part of its courtship ritual. “Dip-shaking” is when one grebe faces another, extends its neck and dips its head in the water, lifting it slowly, water dripping from its open mouth. This behavior occurs just before “rushing,” in which both birds race across the water in a vertical position. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 428mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Black-throated Hummingbird and Agave; Box Canyon; Southeast Arizona

Ready for take-off! Black-throated Hummingbird showing its true colors (Shouldn’t they be called “Magenta-throated Hummingbirds??)

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f8; ISO 800; +0.33 ev; handheld but braced on car door frame]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; Madera Canyon, Arizona

I simply like the vibrant colors (and blurred wings) of this Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding on garden flowers in Madera Canyon in southeast Arizona.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Black Tern; May; Stutsman County, North Dakota

Black Tern cruising over a prairie marsh in North Dakota.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Arrowwood NWR, North Dakota

Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds showing off his white epaulets during his courtship song. Interestingly, Yellow-heads are dominant over Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/3200 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; +0.33 ev; handheld]

American Avocet courtship; May; North Dakota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 451mm; 1/1250 second at f6.3; ISO 400; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Northern Shoveler; May; prairie potholes of North Dakota

Birds MUST preen their feathers in order to keep them in top shape. Preening aligns and locks the barbules on each feather. It also cleans the feathers and removes parasites. They also rub a waterproof substance from a body gland on the feathers to keep them from soaking through.

This Northern Shoveler was so busy preening that it paid my floating blind no attention at all.

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f7.1; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; on tripod head in floating blind]

Goose-a-Palooza! FIVE species of goose migrating through western Minnesota—March 19-20

It was just like the old-timers talk about….Flocks of geese everywhere! I hit it right again this year (thanks to eBird reports, the Minnesota Birding Facebook Group and intel from my birding buddies, Kim Risen and Steve Millard. Thanks guys!

Definitely got my much-needed dose of mega-goose migration on the prairie. The cacophony of goose cackles and swan honks is definitely worth the 8 hour round trip. The 25-35 mph winds made video and sound recording challenging but I did my best.

North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County, Minnesota was the hot spot. Five species of geese including tens of thousands of Snow Geese, thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese, and lesser amounts of Ross’s Geese, Canada Geese and Cackling Geese. But back roads in Grant and Ottertail and Traverse counties held numerous flocks. I’d see a smudge on the horizon, throw up my binoculars and the smudge would come to life as a massive flock of geese.

Tundra Swans were also moving in impressive numbers.

I also searched for Short-eared Owls in prairie areas (SNAs, WPAs, WMAs) and did flush one but did not see any hunting.

Three Ross’s Geese (note greenish base of the stubby bill that separates them from Snow Geese) [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Geese coming in to North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant County, Minnesota
Snow Geese and waxing moon [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Goose flock, silo, setting sun [Ottertail County, Minnesota]
Greater White-fronted Goose [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Northern Pintails [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Goose flock [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Snow Geese and waxing moon [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Ducks and rising sun [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]
Greater White-fronted Geese [North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota]

All photos and video shot with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens. Additional video shot with Panasonic GH5 and Sigma 50-500mm lens (“toy” miniature time lapse), and iPhone 7+

Favorite Creative Wildlife Photos of 2019 (Top Ten)

Creative photos of wildlife are often my goal, but rarely realized.

When we encounter an interesting critter in the field we first take a “record” shot (basically a snapshot). Now we at least have an identifiable image of the animal. Next we try and get a decent portrait. And once we have that, we can play around with exposures (silhouettes?), shutter speeds (often longer for blurs), wider angles (including some of the surrounding landscape) and different perspectives.

This is when it really gets fun! It is low percentage shooting to be sure, but the results are often much more interesting than another “bird on a stick” photo.

Common Raven breath (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens; 1/400 second; ISO 200; hand-held]

I’ve tried to get a photo like this with Red-winged Blackbirds and Sandhill Cranes, and always failed miserably. But when Ryan and I came upon the resident pair of Raven beggars in the Hayden Valley in October, I saw my chance for redemption! The sun was low and the ravens vocal…a perfect combo for the “backlit breath” shot. Only one problem…the wind was very slightly blowing…and in the wrong direction…so their breath was blowing behind their heads. And also, the biggest puff of air usually comes after the Raven is already closing its bill. This one was the best of the bunch.

Bald Eagle in snowstorm (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 250; hand-held]

I like the monochromaticity (is that a word?) of this image. The heavy snow softens the distracting maze of aspens. I did lighten the whole image so that the whites of the snow were just blowing out. The Bald Eagle is waiting for its turn at a deer carcass.

Greater Prairie Chicken on lek (Polk County, Minnesota) April 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 73mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; hand-held]

You have to crawl into the photo blind at grouse/prairie chicken leks about an hour before sunrise in order not to spook the birds. But what do you do while you wait for enough light to take action shots? Well, you can record audio of the “booming” birds…or you can take long (and I mean looooong) exposure panning shots.

I really like how this one turned out. The bird is sharp enough, and I love how its orange eyebrows and air sac contrasts beautifully with the blues of the predawn grass.

Tundra Swans (near Nashua, Minnesota in Wilkin County) April 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

I had several nice “high key” images in 2019. I like this one of a flock of Tundra Swans winging their way through western Minnesota towards the tundra of northern Canada. I intentionally blew out the whites to make a more graphic image.

Bison herd at sunset (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f9; ISO 800; tripod]

I really do have more than enough Bison shots after 10 years of shooting in Yellowstone. But when we rolled up to this herd along Fountain Flat Drive I saw a scene developing. I decided to back off on the focal length to create a “wildlife-in-the-landscape” shot. And as the sun sank, the grass began glowing and the rimlight on the shaggy beasts was perfect. Of course I do wish more had their heads up, but that is wishful thinking with grazing Bison.

Common Ravens (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 70mm; 1/500 second at f7.1 ISO 400; hand-held]

Not sure anybody else will agree with me here, but I love the feel of this image. It is just 3 Ravens in aspen woods in a snowstorm, but it evokes something in me. Can’t describe it…I’ll have to ponder this more.

Red-tailed Hawk (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) October 2019
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 lens at 73mm; 1/125 second at f5.6; -0.33 ev; hand-held]

Can you find the hawk? Just a small silhouette of a Redtail contrasting with the stark dead tree silhouettes and backed by a gorgeous post sunset purple glow.

Northern Hawk Owl (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f4 L USM lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; hand-held]

Another “high key” image where I increased the exposure and adjusted the levels to clip the whites to create a more graphic image. I like how the Hawk Owl’s yellow eyes and beak, rusty plumage and green lichens pop on the white background. The overcast sky was just a gray blah background so this is one trick to salvage such images.

Zebra (San Diego Zoo, California) August 2019

Just a zebra in black and white. The zebra was in the sunlight, but its shelter was heavily shaded. Maybe not the most creative shot, but I love the graphic nature of the image…and what a striking animal!

Mule Deer and aspen leaves (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota) Oct. 2019

I increased the exposure and elevated the whites, and also decreased the contrast by opening up the shadows in Lightroom.

Bison (Badlands National Park, South Dakota) October 2019

The photo of the Bison is a result of me playing around with Lightroom controls and experiencing a “haccident”… a happy accident. By sliding the Luminance slider to 100 and the Detail slider to 0 under the Noise Reduction panel, you reduce the detail in the image and it creates a painterly quality to the photo. No Photoshop filters here! You will either love or hate this photo.

Snow Goose blur (western Minnesota) April 2019

It was a stunning and unexpectedly massive goose migration in western Minnesota this April. I sounded like an old-timer telling Bridget and the kids about my experience…”You should’ve seen it…clouds of geese in the air. Skeins of geese overhead constantly. The air was filled with flocks!”

I played with some longer exposures while keeping the camera still. I did okay but the trees in the background aren’t as sharp as I’d like.

Trumpeter Swans (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 2019

I was taking landscape photos and video with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro when I passed over these early-returning Trumpeter Swans. The ignored the “whirring bird” over their heads completely. You don’t often see wildlife from above. I also like the colors in the water.

NEXT UP…Top Ten Landscape photos of 2019

Top Ten Birds-in-the-Landscape Photos 2019

More and more I like photos that show the bird and its habitat. One of my favorite artists, Robert Bateman, often placed the birds quite tiny in the surrounding landscape…so tiny sometimes that you really had to search!

These photos tell more of a story than close up bird portraits, they often have to be viewed in a larger format to fully appreciate them. So go ahead and click on each image to see them larger.

Snowy Owl on haybale in the Sax-Zim Bog (St. Louis County, Minnesota)

This very white mature male Snowy Owl hung around the Sax-Zim Bog all winter, and he spent most of his time in just two fields. This field had hay bales which made a convenient perch in which to scan and listen for voles.

Red-tailed Hawk (Carlton County, Minnesota)

I do love old fencelines with weathered and lichen-covered posts, and I scan for subjects perched on them. Fortunately this day I ran across a hunting Red-tailed Hawk that actually allowed me time to get my camera out the car window and snap a few shots. I think the falling snow adds a lot to this image, as does the red tail feathers which add a spot of color.

Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus WMA, Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 100mm; 1/800 second at f4; +0.33ev; ISO 250; tripod]

Dawn in the aspen parkland of northwest Minnesota and a Greater Prairie Chicken booms on its lek. This spring courtship display is the essence of prairies on the Great Plains. About 18 other prairie chickens are just out of frame. I spent about 5 hours in a blind watching and filming their antics. No better way to spend a spring morning!

See the expanded blog post with many photos here

See the link to the Shooting with Sparky Greater Prairie Chickens video here

Mountain Bluebirds in snowstorm (Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 400; tripod]

Half way through our epic journey home from Yellowstone in a massive stalled out blizzard, Ryan and I stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a night. The early October storm caught many birds off guard and this flock of Mountain Bluebirds were feeding on the only snow-free spot available, the recently plowed road shoulder. But they would perch on this nearby barbed wire fence.

Greater White-fronted Geese in April (Western Minnesota)

I had never seen anything like the congregation of geese in western Minnesota this past April.  It was like stepping back in to an old-timer’s memory when they reminisce about “the skies filled with flock after flock of geese.” And there were literally flock after flock of geese filling the skies. (Where have I heard that before?). These Greater White-fronted Geese filled the frozen marsh.

Northern Saw-whet Owl in nest cavity (Superior National Forest, St. Louis County, Minnesota)

Abandoned Pileated Woodpecker cavities provide homes for many critters in the North Woods including Flying Squirrels, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Pine Marten, and owls such as this Northern Saw-whet Owl. I have scratched on 100s of trees with Pileated cavities over the years, but never found a Saw-whet, but this spring I got lucky. I wish I could have checked on the cavity more times, but other commitments got in the way. I hope she raised a brood of little Saw-whets.

Early-returning Trumpeter Swans on Stone Lake (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)

A classic northern Minnesota scene that we would not have seen 30 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of the Minnesota DNR, Carrol Henderson and many others, we now have a “bumper crop” of Trumpeter Swans each spring. They arrive at first ice-out to claim the best nesting territories.

Snow Geese on the Minnesota prairie in April (Western Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 113mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Like a Les Kouba painting from the 1970s, this scene includes a flock of geese and a weathered windmill in the farm country of western Minnesota.

Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Superior (Two Harbors, Minnesota)

I guess the icy landscape of Minnesota’s North Shore dominates the birds in this photo. But it is how you often see Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Superior; bobbing and diving in the icy waters of Lake Superior.

American Robin, Eastern Bluebird and Mountain Bluebirds (Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 second at f5.6; ISO 1000; tripod]

Three species of thrushes wait out an early October snowstorm in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota: Eastern Bluebird, American Robain and Mountain Bluebirds.

Gambel’s Quail (Portal, Arizona)

A week in southeastern Arizona allowed me to finally thaw out from the long winter. And I got to see many desert and mountain specialty birds that I hadn’t seen in 20-plus years. This Gambel’s Quail is singing from about the best perch available in the Chihuahuan Desert…a huge stalk of a Yucca.

Snow Geese (Western Minnesota)
Trumpeter Swans (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[DJI Phantom 4 Pro]

Winter was finally loosening its grip in mid April in northern Minnesota. Lakes were starting to open up and any patch of blue was occupied by early-returning Trumpeter Swans in order to claim the best nesting territories. A drone allowed me to get this shot. The swans never even looked up at the strange “whirring bird” over their heads.

Snow Goose Explosion

I love it when an image you thought nothing of when making it in the field becomes a favorite. Some images just come alive on the screen and this is one of those images. I almost didn’t take the picture because the barn would “ruin” the image…But it does exactly the opposite…It tells a story. Snow Geese migrate by the millions through the heartland of North America. Flooded prairie and farmland fields can be major stopovers for weary birds.

This image was taken in Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northcentral South Dakota. It was late March but snow and ice and  cold still dominated the landscape. The Snow Geese sleep on the backwaters of the James River at night and then feed on corn in neighboring farm fields during the day. This group was spooked by some unseen threat. The sound is as impressive as the sight!

Canon 40D, 400mm f5.6 on tripod, f8 at 1/640 second at ISO 400