Posts from the ‘Snowy Owl’ Category

Snowy Owls & other birds—Glacial Ridge NWR March 9-10

Last week I posted photos of the amazing hoarfrost that greeted me at sunrise in northwest Minnesota’s Polk County on Friday March 9th. This time we will concentrate on the wildlife I saw over these 2 days (actually 1 1/2 days). Most of my time was spent in the 57 square mile Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge east of Crookston, Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2004.

My main purpose for this trip to far northwest Minnesota was picking up a pallet of books in Pembina, North Dakota, but my photographic goal was to get slow-motion video of a Snowy Owl in flight. I ended up having six sightings of FOUR different Snowy Owls….A success even without getting any video.

Snowy Owl in Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. I saw 3 different Snowies in the western part of the refuge. Unfortunately all were sitting on telephone poles…Not the most photogenic perch. But my goal was slow-motion video of Snowy Owls in flight….but most were just patiently watching the landscape for any mammalian movement.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; hand-held]

Three Sharp-tailed Grouse in the frosty landscape of western Minnesota.

This gal (?) was the most tolerant of the four Snowy Owls I saw over the two days. But unfortunately she was sitting right above a busy highway in Kittson County and a State Trooper urged me to move on. I asked for a few minutes longer and he said that was fine. But I could have spent a couple hours with this beautiful owl. I did get video of it stretching and fluffing its feathers.

Kittson County is the extreme northwest county in Minnesota. It is a LONG WAYS from anything! In fact, Kim Eckert claims that if you were in Minneapolis and wanted to get here, it would be faster to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and then drive southeast to Kittson County than to drive here from the Twin Cities!

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/640 sec. at f10; ISO 100; tripod]

Excavating a nest cavity or just feeding? Hard to tell but this female Pileated Woodpecker (no red mustache and the red on the head doesn’t reach the bill) was busy chiseling away at a very oval hole.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.33 ev; braced on car window frame]

Rough-legged Hawk taking flight from the railroad tracks bisecting Glacial Ridge NWR. I  really think the Roughleg is one of the most beautiful buteo hawks in North America. They nest on the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska but spend the winter in southern Canada and the northern U.S. Their tiny bill and feet are perfect for feeding on small rodents, especially voles and lemmings.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 1600; +1.66 ev; braced on car window frame]

Finally! A Snowy Owl on an eye-level and photogenic perch! But alas, it was about a half mile away. Let’s call these “bird in the landscape” photos. I actually think they would look pretty cool printed large (like 4 feet wide!).

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/800 sec. at f9; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky in the Polk County, Minnesota portion of the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail on a gorgeous late winter day.

Very small and very white Snowy Owl (so likely a male) atop very large power pole just outside Glacial Ridge NWR. The day before he was in the refuge, and hunting from a smaller power pole.

Coyote hunting in northwest Minnesota’s aspen parkland.

Note the beautiful barring on the breast and belly of this Greater Prairie Chicken. Glacial Ridge is a real stronghold for this prairie species in Minnesota. I (conservatively) saw 28 prairie chickens on Saturday March 10 in Glacial Ridge.

Rough-legged Hawks were mostly absent from NE Minnesota this winter, but there were good numbers at Glacial Ridge on this weekend. I saw 15 in just the eastern part of the refuge in one morning.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f6.3; ISO 640; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Both Sharp-tailed Grouse (pictured above) and Greater Prairie Chickens were feeding along the railroad tracks that bisect Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. Maybe there is spilled grain along the tracks. I saw a total of 48 Sharptails in the refuge on March 10th.

Either Sharp-tailed Grouse or Greater Prairie Chicken tracks in the snow.

 

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 sec. at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev; hand-held]

Snow Buntings were beginning to head north to their tundra breeding grounds in northern Canada. I saw many flocks along US75 between Crookston and the North Dakota border near Canada…441 total with one flock totaling about 150 birds. But this Snow Bunting was all alone and I saw him on two consecutive days along the same stretch of deserted road. I even got video of him feeding on plant seeds that were peaking above the crusty snow.

[Sony A6500 with Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.2 OS HSM lens; 1/1000 sec. at f10; ISO 320; hand-held]

Fenceline border between private and public lands adjacent to Glacial Ridge NWR.

Pair of Bald Eagles…The Bald Eagles are beginning to think about nesting in far NW Minnesota. I saw two pairs that were actually IN/AT THE NEST already…even though there was no open water anywhere around. This duo at Glacial Ridge was actually an adult and immature.

BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

NW MN trip

March 9-10, 2018

Between Crookston and St. Vincent in Kittson County along US75

441 Snow Buntings

373 Horned Larks

Glacial Ridge NWR (March 9 and 10)

15 Rough-legged Hawks

48 Sharp-tailed Grouse

28 Greater Prairie Chickens

3 Snowy Owls (CR446 mainly)…including a very white and little male

1 Pileated Woodpecker

Snowy Owl along US75 at milepost 379.5 just south of Kennedy in Kittson County (March 9)

Meadowlark sp. near Lake Bronson in Kittson County (March 9) (spring migrant)

3 Bald Eagle nests with pairs occupying nest (Polk and Kittson Counties)

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Superior Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1567
Snowy Owl Superior Airport Bong Superior WI IMG_1497
[Continued from previous post]…There have been no Snowies in the Sax-Zim Bog this year so Dave and I headed to the urban “wilds” of Superior, Wisconsin (Duluth’s neighbor in the “Twin Ports”). We found two Snowies but they were not equally photogenic. One had been banded and painted by researchers so it could be identified from long distances. We got a few “insurance shots” and continued our search.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1562Snowy Owls have been wintering in the industrial areas of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin for many years. When I was in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early/mid 1980s, we would go down to the Port Terminal in the harbor (where all the warehouses and shipping docks were) and we could easily find a half dozen. There were probably a couple dozen wintering between there and Superior’s docks.

At that time, the harbor was a brushy mess crisscrossed by railroad tracks and dotted with junk piles and open garbage cans. It was the perfect environment for rabbits, pigeons, pheasants and rats…all great Snowy Owl food.
[All owl-in-flight shots taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens set at Shutter Priority 1/1250 second and auto ISO. ISO ranged from 640 to 800 and f-stop ranged from f5.6 to f8]

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1559
Less than a mile away, we found this stunning female/young male (You can’t really tell, but in general, the darker the bird the younger it is and more likely a female). Don’t get me wrong, I love the nearly pure white adult males, but the speckled patterning on this bird was very pleasing.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1561
Of course she sat on every ugly perch she could find…telephone pole, chain-link fence, scoreboard (see below). So we waited until she pooped. Why?, you might ask. Raptors always seem to “jettison” excess waste which is weight they don’t need to carry with them when they fly. Then she did and I held down the finger on my Canon 7D with the Canon 400mm f5.6 set to AI focus so the lens would continue to focus on the flying bird.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Superior WI IMG_1569 FLATI couldn’t resist a little fun when I saw this Snowy land on the middle school’s baseball scoreboard. After all, she is a “guest from the tundra,” just with us for the winter!

White Critters of Winter

Ermine Owl Ave feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_4463Winter white is still all around us, even on this relatively late date of March 23rd…Still about 24 inches of snow in the woods…and we’ve had nearly 4 feet of snow since mid February. So I thought it was fitting for a photo round up of some of our white winter critters. The Ermine above was photographed near a feeding station in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota. Two Ermine were regularly feasting on deer rib cages and chunks of suet put out for the birds. They are quick critters and photographing them was a real challenge. In summer, they have brown pelage, but in winter they acquire a winter white coat save the black tip on their tail (photo below). It is one of the only mammals that has a different name in winter…Long-tailed Weasels become Ermine when they turn white. Note that some have a greenish tinge to their fur.
Ermine tail Owl Ave feeders Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_4457Ermine Sax-Zim MN IMG_0018358Fast critters! Ermine are carnivores and specialize in squeezing their narrow body in mice and vole tunnels.

Glaucous Gull Canal Park Duluth MN IMG_0072569The Glaucous Gull is a big bruiser of a gull…even larger than our Herring Gull. It is an arctic bird that nests only in the Far North including the North Slope of Alaska, Ellesmere Island, northern Labrador and Baffin Island. But we are fortunate that a few winter on the Great Lakes, especially in late fall and early winter when there is little ice on Lake Superior. This juvenile bird (note all white plumage and pink bill with black tip) was photographed in evening light against a dark background of the breakwall in Duluth’s Canal Park.

Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Sparky Stensaas IMG_0074842Snowy Owl Superior Middle School Sparky Stensaas IMG_0076189Snowy Owl Bong Airport Superior WI IMG_0074505 (1)The above Snow Owls were all photographed in nearby Superior Wisconsin near the Bong Airport…a suitable substitute for arctic tundra for this Snowy. Most of the birds we see in winter are young birds. They gravitate to the industrial ports of Duluth and Superior where there is plenty of food—pigeons, mice, voles, rabbits. To get a good viewing/hunting vantage point, they perch on light poles, buildings (including right above the main entrance to the Superior Middle School!), fences, and even spruce trees—an odd sight for a tundra-dwelling bird).

Snow Bunting Crex Meadows WI IMG_4878 (1)I love the black and white plumage of this lone male Snow Bunting that I recently photographed near Crex Meadows, Wisconsin. Note that he is nearly in spring breeding plumage, his back will become pure black as will his bill, but he’s worn off the yellowish and brown feather tips of winter. This is unusual in birds who usually go through a complete molt in spring. Snow Buntings only molt once, in the fall. They rely on the feather wear to reveal their spring plumage. They only grace us with their presence in late fall and winter, heading back north to their tundra homes in spring. Males arrive in the arctic when there is still snow and below zero temps to set up territories. Females return about three weeks later.

Northern Shrike nr Northwestern Middle School Poplar WI IMG_4031Shrikes are pint-sized bird predators who are only winter visitors to our “balmy” northern U.S. climes. They “tee-up” on tree tops in open areas to scan for small birds and mice/voles. They also appreciate our bird feeders…a real shrike smorgasboard! They nest in the taiga across Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavit, east to the northern Labrador Peninsula (northern Quebec and Newfoundland ). They are heading back north now. This cooperative dude was photographed near Poplar, Wisconsin. He allowed me to walk right up to him (usually they fly the instant you apply your car brakes!)
Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002192 copyRemaining motionless in a snow-blanketed environment is a good survival strategy unless a photographer has already spotted you alongside a Sax-Zim Bog road. This Snowshoe Hare is perfectly adapted to deep snow and extreme cold…and you need any advantage you can when you have feline predators such as Bobcat and Lynx after you.
Hoary Redpoll Matt Moses yard Solway Twp St. Louis Co MN IMG_4280Hoary Redpoll Admiral Road Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0076263It was a banner winter for Hoary Redpolls in northern Minnesota. Normally there is a ratio of about 1:100 Hoary’s vs. Common Redpolls. Hoary’s, like their name implies, are paler, whiter, frostier than Common’s, with limited streaking on their flanks, a stubby bill and “pushed in” face and very limited streaking on their rump. Both are winter visitors from the Arctic. They are still around but will soon be heading north.

Trumpeter Swans 2 flying backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073469How could I forget the largest white winter bird of all? The Trumpeter Swans congregate in the thousands on the Mississippi River near Monticello, Minnesota. A nuclear power plant keeps the river open even in the coldest temps.

Mallard albino Monticello MN IMG_0073451Leucistic Mallard. Okay, not naturally a white bird, but this Mallard was photographed this winter, and it is white-ish 🙂

[All photographed with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. All hand-held]

**PLEASE SPONSOR ME in my BIG HALF YEAR FOR THE BOG effort to photograph 150 species of birds in Minnesota before June 30th. I am over 60 species now. This is a fundraiser for my non-profit organization…Friends of Sax-Zim Bog. You can pledge per species or in a lump sum. I also have a gallery of images linked here too. THANKS!
SPARKY’S BIG HALF YEAR LINK HERE

GOOGLE PLUS GALLERY OF ALL MY BEST BIRD PHOTOS FROM 2013 HERE