Posts from the ‘snow’ Category

Spring Snowstorm & early-returning Birds

On April 11-12 a ferocious spring blizzard hit Minnesota and affected most of the state. Winds in my home county (Carlton County) exceeded 50mph and created whiteout conditions. About 7-8 inches of snow fell but it was wet and windblown. The world was white again!

Some early migrants had already arrived in northern Minnesota. Males often arrive before females in order to set up shop in the best territories before the females arrive. But there is a great risk in arriving early in the North. You may get a great territory, but you’ll have to survive cold snaps, snowstorms, and lack of abundant food.

I decided to explore southern Carlton County to see how some of the migrants were faring. I drove along the thawed and flowing Kettle River, and also visited the brand new Wildlife Management Area called Firebird.

Red-tailed Hawk on wood fencepost in falling snow. Redtails vacate the North Woods in winter, avoiding the deep snow and bitter cold.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes arrived and began looking for food and a suitable nesting site.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

A Roughleg catches a vole! There must be an abundant population of these plump small rodents here, because there were many hawks; I saw 3 Roughlegs perched on 4 consecutive power poles! Also Northern Harriers and American Kestrels were out hunting here. I even saw an American Crow swoop down and catch a vole!

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

At least 6 Rough-legged Hawks hunted the fields and meadows of Firebird Wildlife Management Area the day after the storm. This large buteo nests in the Far North tundra and eats only lemmings. In their winter range in the northern U.S. they eat mainly voles. Though roughly the size of a Redtail, they have a much smaller beak and feet due to their dependence on small rodents such as voles. No rabbits for them!

This is the last fueling stop before heading back north for the breeding season.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

Red-tailed Hawk in the landscape of Carlton County

Eastern Phoebe in a snowfall. Surprisingly, this flycatcher will eat fruits and berries if no insects are available. I think this guy was catching early flying insects (midges?) along the open and flowing Kettle River.

 

Carlton County, Minnesota’s Kettle River.

Common Merganser along the Kettle River. His mate was just out of frame. ALL the lakes in the county are still frozen (even as of April 18), but rivers have opened up and this large duck is taking advantage of that.

Wilson’s Snipe on ice. These “shorebirds” don’t need a shore, only wet, waterlogged ground where they can probe for worms and other inverts. But they are extremely hardy and have been known to linger in the North even into December (if there is some open water to search for food).

 

Hermit Thrushes are the SECOND thrush to return to the North Woods in spring. American Robins are the first. Both can survive on berries just fine…No need for worms and insects now.

Hermit Thrush along the Kettle River

Killdeer wondering where its snow-free fields went.

 

Advertisements

Quinzhee Photo Blind

A quinzhee is an old Ojibwa Indian hunting shelter. When men were out hunting big game in the winter, they necessarily traveled light and brought no shelter with them. The quinzhee could be built in a few hours. First you mound up a huge pile of snow (We did it with a grain scoop; the Ojibwa did it with their snowshoes). Then a few hours later you hollow it out. Continue Reading

Hunting Hovering Hawk Owls


I published Duluth naturalist’s David Benson’s Owls of the North a few years ago…Great little book, if you haven’t seen it. Fascinating info on all our northern owls…including the Northern Hawk Owl. Here is an excerpt about Hawk Owl hunting:

Hawk Owls hunt from a convenient perch, searching for prey by sight and then swooping quickly down for the kill. They will chase prey short distances, and sometimes they hunt from perch to perch, dropping down for prey and then swinging up to a nearby perch if they fail to catch their target. Hawk Owls have also been seen hovering over potential prey—unusual behavior for an owl [see photos this post—Sparky]

Alone among owls, Hawk Owls have a falcon-like notch in their bill to sever the spinal cords of their prey. Owl species often use their bills in a similar way, and presumably the notch helps the Hawk Owl to do this with more efficiency.

Congruent with their daytime activity, Hawk Owls rely on sight more than hearing for hunting. Their ears are symmetrical, so they apparently do not need the kind of precision hearing used by most other owls. When scanning for prey, Hawk Owls lean forward almost to the horizontal and pump their tails (a most “un-owly” posture). When they strike, their drop off the perch can look almost like and accidental fall until they begin to glide to the kill.

—from Owls of the North by David Benson (Stone Ridge Press, 2008, ISBN-978-0-9760313-4-5)

Wishing you a Beauty-filled 2011

December 27th, 2010 Fillmore County near Spring Valley, Minnesota.

An inch of hoar frost covering every trunk, branch and twig turns this old barn, silo and windmill into a wondrous winter landscape.

First Staying Snow?

Well, a couple weeks after Duluth had 8 inches of snow, we got what may be our first sticking snow of the winter. Duluth was blessed with 11 inches of snow on the hill (and zero down by the lake) and we had about 5 or 6 inches. Cold temps are predicted for this week AND we are possibly getting another snowstorm this coming weekend so this snow may very well stay until March/April.

After church, Bjorn and I went out shooting (He was very helpful by sleeping soundly in his car seat for over an hour…I was even able to listen to the News from Lake Wobegan!). Six inches of wet snow stuck to every tree trunk, branch, twig and blade of grass creating a winter wonderland. I love driving backroads after a heavy snow. Snow simplifies normally blaaah landscapes, sometimes turning them into stunning scenes.

Our first stop was for a perched Bald Eagle on Spring Lake in Carlton County. Her interest was likely directed at several small flocks of Hooded and Common Mergansers that swam near the shore. Eagles are opportunistic, and a crippled or weak duck would make a nice early winter meal. She was a long ways away but one look through the 400mm convinced me that it would be a cool “bird in the landscape” photo. I had to position the tripod so the bird didn’t meld with the background dark spruces. She needed to have snowy trees behind her to be able to see her in the final image. I present two versions of that scene here. The horizontal image would look great printed large…It may be a bit disappointing viewed small as in this blog.

Barns and farm panoramas are also an interest of mine. I love the simplicity of this farm combined with the White Pines, red barn and white snow. I actually desaturated all other colors EXCEPT red in Aperture (not that there was much color anyway). Barns are disappearing and scenes like this may be difficult to find for the next generation of photographers.

Eagle images: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, 1/500 at f8, ISO 200, tripod
Barn image: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 at 70mm, 1/350 at f8, ISO 400, handheld


One Year Ago Today: Snow on Leaves


I’d been waiting for this day for a long time…A fluffy white snowfall on red maple leaves at the peak of their color. It happened one year ago today…October 10, 2009. I think Duluth got 2 inches of snow…In the Nemadji Valley we maybe got one inch; But it was enough to create a strange juxtaposition of snow on the ground with colorful leaves on the trees.

This October 10th has been quite the opposite of one year ago; The peak of color is long over—the maples peaking nearly two weeks ago, and it was over 70 degrees today!

While perusing my natural history journal last week, I came upon last year’s October 10 entry about the snowfall. I remembered I had driven through Jay Cooke State Park (Carlton Co., MN) and into Douglas County, Wisconsin looking for images. I’d never really looked at them, so had fun editing them today. These are my two favorites (plus a shot of our house). The red Sugar Maple leaves were in Jay Cooke and the yellow Quaking Aspens were just outside of Oliver, Wisconsin.

Maple leaves: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm, f9.5 at 1/90, ISO 400, tripod
Quaking Aspen: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 200mm, f9 at 1/250, ISO 400, handheld