Posts from the ‘St. Louis River’ Category

Christmas Coyote

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1439
CALLING IN A CANID
I drive over the bridge spanning the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac/Duluth (MN) at least 4 times a week, and I always check for eagles, otters, or whatever else might be utilizing this wild stretch of river. A couple days ago, I spotted something running along the far shore…but I was driving and it was so far away that I couldn’t tell if it was an otter, fox, coyote or wolf. I stopped and backed up so I could get the binoculars on it. But it was gone. Not sure why, but I decided to give a few calls on my Johnny Stewart predator call (that I always keep in my car). Almost instantly a Coyote came around the bend in the river, running towards the bridge on the frozen river.

I hustled back to the car, grabbed my camera with 400mm lens (which is also ALWAYS in my car) and hid behind the snow bank up against the bridge railing. Conveniently there was a hole in the snow bank where I could look through the bridge railing. She was coming fast and I tried to start shooting but my lens had frosted over. Frantically I tried to scrape the ice off the front of my lens with my glove (not usually a recommended practice!), then I tried shooting again but the lens would not focus! I found that I had the camera set to AI Servo focus mode and quickly switched it to Single Shot focus, which worked. In the process, I had breathed on the viewfinder and fogged it up…And now I couldn’t find the Coyote while looking through the camera! All this happened in a few seconds and by now the Coyote had slowed to a trot. I gave a few more calls (imitating what, I’m not sure!). A quick swipe of the viewfinder allowed me a passable view and I quickly started shooting, trusting that my autofocus was doing its job!

Well, that Coyote never saw me and came to a stop right underneath me, trying to figure out where the “wounded rabbit” was. I couldn’t resist a couple shots looking straight down on her from 40 feet above (NOT a good angle for wildlife photography!). And as I peeked over the top of the snow bank, she saw me and trotted off, turning back a couple times to make sure she hadn’t missed an easy meal. I really wished I had a dead rabbit to throw to her. As you can see, she was a beautiful animal. (Not sure if the Coyote was a male or female, but I choose to call it “her”)
Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1424[Taken looking straight down from the bridge…40 feet (?) above the river]
SHUTTER PRIORITY SURE THING
This was the perfect scenario for shooting with Shutter Priority. It was fairly early in the morning and overcast. I knew I wanted sharp Coyote images. If I’d had my camera set to Aperture Priority, I may have ended up with slower shutter speeds and the Coyote would be blurred. Yes, the image might be less “noisy,” but I’d rather have a sharp, useable, noisy image, then a blurred, un-useable, cleaner image that I’d delete anyway. So I set the camera to Shutter Priority 1/400 second (a compromise, to be sure, as it would freeze a walking/trotting Coyote but not a running Coyote) and Auto ISO. The camera automatically keeps the aperture at f5.6, 1/400 and lets the ISO range up and down…In this case from ISO 1000 to 1600. These settings allowed me to get sharp images in low light. This portrait was taken at ISO 1600 on a Canon 7D—a camera not known for its high ISO capabilities…and you don’t even notice the digital noise.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1428

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1384BIONIC HEARING
When I got home that evening, I calculated that the Coyote had heard my mouth call from 1/3 of a mile away! Never underestimate the senses of wild critters…Deer hunters know this very well! I do feel bad that this Coyote expended energy on a “wild goose chase,”…and I will not use this call on a Coyote in this area again this winter. I really only use the Johnny Stewart predator call when I see a critter duck into the woods and I try and get them back out into the open. My success rate is probably 2 to 5%.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1401

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1432HIGH KEY IMAGES
In these two images, I blew out the whites in Photoshop. I didn’t really need any detail in the snow and I like the look. So I moved the right slider in the Levels palette to the left until it completely clipped the whites.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1381

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1446I really like “Animal in the Landscape” shots. These two are examples of that. It places your critter in its habitat and maybe tells more of a story than a “head and shoulders” shot.

[ALL IMAGES: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 (handheld but braced on snowbank), Tv (Shutter Priority) 1/400 second at f5.6. Auto ISO (ISO ranged between ISO 1000 to 1600 for these images)]

Top Twenty Images of 2012

2012 is gone and I’ve had a chance to look at all my images from the year and pick my favorites. Time helps clear your vision. Some images I was crazy about right after I took them, are no longer exciting to me. Here I present my favorite images of 2012 in reverse order…Maybe not the most saleable nor necessarily the best portraits (which can be boring), but the shots that I kept coming back to..the ones that intrigued me…or were difficult to get…or were the most creative. And this last bit about creativity brings me to my big announcement for 2013…I will be releasing a new video: GET CREATIVE: WILDLIFE IMAGES BEYOND THE PORTRAIT this year. Stay tuned!

near Saginaw, Minnesota St. Louis County #20—The surprise image of the year…I was perusing photos from my June work for the Minnesota County Biological Survey when I found this very underexposed, blaah image. But then I saw the potential as a high-contrast black and white image. The result was a very graphic silhouette of a foraging Pine Warbler amongst the long delicate needles of a Red Pine. St. Louis County, Minnesota.

07-Best2012 Ruby-throated Hummingbird female and Liatris Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0064370 #19—I spent much quality time with our backyard hummers this summer. We mainly hosted females but occasionally a bully male would show up…but never when my camera was in place. I was using flash and a Better Beamer to throw light onto the hummer but in this shot the flash did not fire. But I like the resulting softer look…No harsh light blasting the tiny bird. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

11-Best2012 blurred leaves Rock Pond Duluth MN IMG_0067511 #18—Fall leaves always seem to vex me…I have a hard time creating interesting images of the stunning scenes around me in late September/early October. On this windy day I used a tripod and a very slow shutter speed to render the leaves a colorful blur while the trunks remained relatively still. I like the contrast of white vs. orange and blur vs. sharp. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth, Minnesota.

16-Best2012 Bald Eagle from firetower at Big Bog SRA Koochiching Co MN IMG_0055770 (1) #17—Eye-level Bald Eagle shots are not easy to come by! And this one has a story…It was taken 80 feet up in a firetower! I was visiting Big Bog State Recreation Area in far north central Minnesota and decided to climb the tower to get a bird’s-eye view of Lower Red Lake and surrounding forests. Some distant eagles caught my attention and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one flies past me in my aerial perch…And the miraculous part is that one did! It was not a gleaming white and black adult but rather a dramatically patterned youngster. I panned with the bird and amazingly it came out razor sharp.

18-Best2012 Swans geese St. Louis River fog Fond du Lac MN IMG_0055161 #16—I cross this bridge over the St.Louis River on the outskirts of Duluth every day on the way to work. It has many moods and this hazy spring afternoon created a bucolic and blue still life of swans, ducks, ice and trees.

IMG_0070171 #15—My youngest son, Bjorn, shows great promise as a wildlife photographer…At least he looks good in khaki!

19-Best2012 Cedar Waxwing Gunflint Trail Brule River Cook Co MN File0113 #14—Not a set-up! A fortuitous find that resulted in a very nice portrait with a little behavior too. This very rarely happens but it did this August morning on the Gunflint Trail. I’d just returned from a early morning paddle on the Brule River, loaded up the canoe and was pulling out of the dirt parking area when I spotted the foraging Cedar Waxwings in a heavily-fruited Mountain Ash.

15-Best2012 water lily File0169 #13—Just a very pleasing composition (to me anyway)…a water lily on dark water taken from a low angle to get the reflection. I also love the purplish lily pads. Cook County, Minnesota.

04-Best2012 Lower Yellowstone Falls IMG_0067608 #12—A very long exposure with my 10mm Sigma lens was made possible by a 9-stop ND filter. I love the soft ethereal feel of the powerful Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, belying the thunderous roar. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

17-Best2012 Snowshoe Hare Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0002136 #11—I had to include this portrait as I have been trying to get a decent winter Snowshoe Hare photo for years! And on this snowy Sax-Zim Bog day, I succeeded! The hare really felt it was invisible and stayed put as I crawled closer and closer through the snow.

12-Best2012 Abandoned house and tree Itasca Co nr Northome MN IMG_0055660_59_58_tonemapped 88-0-7-4-10 #10—Seems like I always slip in a non-nature subject. I really enjoy photographing vernacular architecture, including abandoned buildings like this farmhouse. A HDR image and sepia color finished it off. Itasca County, Minnesota.

10-Best2012 Polyphemus Moth Antheraea polyphemus detail Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_0057753 #9—Abstract macro image of a Polyphemus Moth’s wings turned upside down to create a strange “face” complete with big blue eyes and a puckered mouth. My home in Carlton County, Minnesota.

05-Best2012 Swinging bridge flood IMG_0058741 #8—The banner headline of 2012 for us Duluthians/Carltonians was the Great Flood of June. It affected all of us dramatically. But my most powerful image was this shot of the raging St. Louis River taking out the historic and much loved Swinging Bridge of Jay Cooke State Park. Read more here.

08-Best2012 Sharp-tailed Grouse Carlton Co MN IMG_0056142 #7—A rite of spring, the congregation of Sharp-tailed Grouse at their dancing grounds or leks, is an event I hate to miss. But it is always difficult shooting. They are most active just before sunrise when the light is poor…And it is April so the weather is often cloudy and windy. Visibility in the cramped blind is not great either. This time I resorted to a slow shutter speed and panning. I love the shot as it conveys the manic intensity of the males as they dance, pursue females, and chase off rival males. Carlton County, Minnesota.

09-Best2012 Moose bull called in Dumbell Rd Superior National Forest MN nr Isabella IMG_0066747 #6—One of the few straight-up wildlife portraits in the collection, but I had to include it. Much has been made of the dramatic decline of Moose in Minnesota…and it makes me very sad. They are one of my favorite mammals. I learned to call Moose years ago…imitating the sound of a female. After a several-year dry spell, I was able to call this young bull in this fall. Intense moments followed as he was deciding whether I was a cow Moose or some stupid human. Thankfully he came to the right conclusion! See the video here.

14-Best2012 abstract river rocks IMG_0069193 #5—Can you tell what this is? Colorful river rocks below a Yellowstone National Park stream. It’s funny…I really don’t like abstract painting but I love much abstract photography.

06-Best2012 Ring-billed Gull Duluth MN tungsten w-2 1-2 CTO gels on flash IMG_0065801 #4—Two icons of Duluth in one shot! The Aerial Lift Bridge and a Ring-billed Gull. Not your typical wildlife shot but one that is certainly unique. In this technique I learned from flash/lighting guru ??? you set your camera to tungsten white balance (to turn the dark brooding sky blue) and then use a flash with an orange CTO gel to throw a very warm light on the subject, in this case, a Ring-billed Gull.

13-Best2012 IMG_0068269 #3—Often times I’ll get home from a trip and when viewing my images in Aperture, I’ll come across an unexpected prize. It’s like Christmas as a kid! I thought I knew what my favorites would be from viewing them in the field on the back of my camera…but I’m often wrong. This is one such image. It was taken into the sunlight to backlight the Bison’s fur…but it was mostly a “G&G” shot (grab-and-go)…No premeditation, No tripod…Jump out of the car and “snap.” But after converting the image to sepia, I really loved it. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

02-Best2012 Monarch IA IMG_0065536 #2—I really concentrated on wide-angle wildlife this year and this may be my favorite. Crawling on my knees for hours on an Iowa prairie in September finally netted me this image. Read the whole story here. Northeast Iowa.

01-Best2012 Great Gray Owl peek-a-boo McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_0058141 #1—Drumroll please…My personal favorite from 2012. Read the whole story of this bog encounter here. See the video here. I like the Great Gray Owl’s furtive glance around the trunk of a spruce…It lends an air of mystery. It is very “Brandenburg’s-wolf-peek-esque” if you’ve ever seen his famous photo. Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.

Flood 2012—Jay Cooke State Park’s MANGLED Swinging Bridge

This is my flood video from Jay Cooke State Park…only a few miles from our house [Taken morning of June 22nd].
The swinging bridge is normally about 25 feet above the river this time of year! (see below photo for “normal” water levels and span)
It is a suspension bridge that spans 126 feet of river. The stone support pillars were built by the CCC but the bridge itself was replaced after the 1950 flood.
The river set a new all-time record flood height yesterday, eclipsing the 1950 spring-runoff flood. That’s what 9 inches of rain in 24 hours will do!

Monochrome Swans

I drive over the bridge that spans the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac nearly every day…And the scene is rarely the same. And this day was no exception. With temps in the 60s and even 70s recently, the snow has melted and the river is opening up. And when the river opens up, the migrant birds appear instantly. Often my first spring Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Flicker, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, and Trumpeter Swans are seen/heard from the bridge. On this day, dense fogs created a dreamscape of gray and white. The silhouetted trees and islands really make the shot. I like the shape of the sweeping horizontal limbs on the right. It took many shots to get both Trumpeter Swans with their heads up since they feed almost constantly, heads submerged. I also like the 3 Canada Geese just loafing on the “iceberg.” I tweaked the color balance to the blue side to add a bit of a feeling of winter turning to spring. Moody!

[Note: This image looks better the larger it is, so click on it once to see a larger image, then click again to see it at its max size.]

Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens, tripod

Lovey Dovey River Otters

Well, it is Valentine’s Day after all…and the pair of River Otters appears to be a cuddly couple, nuzzling, hugging, rolling around together. But now the romantics may want to quit reading and just watch the video, as the lovey dovey couple is probably a female and last year’s pup. Males and females don’t stick together very long after mating. Most groups of multiple otters we see are probably mom and offspring. Sorry.

But their behavior is quite interesting. You see quite a bit of preening and allopreening (mutual preening in social animals that helps maintain bonds). Otters must preen often to keep their fur waterproof. They dry it off by rolling in the snow or ice, then “comb” the fur with their claws, and rub oils from their underfur into the hairs. They are also rather vocal…”talking” with chortles, snuffles, snorts, huffs, and growls. You’ll also see them munching minnows…On this day I didn’t witness them eating any other food.

This video was shot last week on the St. Louis River only about 7 miles from my house. I cross the river every day on the way to preschool/work and there are often River Otters lounging on the ice near open leads.

Daffy Duck-Displays

That’s “daffy duck-displays” not “Daffy Duck displays!” For years I’ve been trying to capture the comic breeding displays of the Hooded Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes. Mostly unsuccessful in years past, this spring I did have a modicum of success. When several males are vying for one female, the action gets intense. Male Goldeneyes extend their necks vertically then throw their head violently backwards at the same time as their tail end comes up (so far that their feet actually come out of the water!) and bleat a cute toy-like buzz [See video below].

Hooded Mergansers have a similar display but with a Vegas-worthy addition—they fan their black and white head feathers into an out-of-proportion crest. The Hooded Merg pictured below is only at “half mast” …but check out the video to see the full-on craziness of a bunch of sex-addled males along the St. Louis River in late March.

The video shows the displays better than the stills. To see the full-sized video go to http://www.vimeo.com/23114536

Stills and Video with the Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, AT-897 shotgun microphone, Gitzo tripod.

Otterly Funtastic!

Late March is when River Otters seem to become more visible on the St. Louis River. Maybe it’s because the river ice is breaking up and they spend more time loafing/feeding/playing on the shelf ice conveniently located next to open water. Or maybe that’s when I stop on the Fond du Lac bridge to scan for critters.

Just recently I spotted a family group (five total) using a thin crack in the ice as their access to the river’s surface. I set up my camera and tripod so I could just peek over the edge of the railing and so not disturb them. I watched them for at least 45 minutes. One would come to the surface and drop two or three minnows from its mouth onto the ice, munching the bunch quickly before slipping effortlessly and silently back into the water. Sometimes two would appear and they would bask in the morning sun for a brief minute. One spent a couple of minutes preening its dense water repellant fur.

I love otters…They just seem to love life. Play is as important to them as eating it seems. When traveling overland in winter and across wind-swept lakes, they will run and slide on their bellies for great distances…run…slide…run…slide. I’ve seen three together on the ice, rolling, tussling, having a grand time. We could learn something from otters…Like my mother always said, “Work hard, Play hard” (at least I think she said that).

Most of these images are looking down on the otters from 40 feet up on a bridge…Not a great technique for wildlife photography. You don’t get as intimate a portrait as with eye-level images. The last shot is eye-level and it was taken a week ago on another stretch of the St. Louis when I crawled on my belly across the ice to the shelf’s edge. Every time the otter dove, I’d work my way closer. The otter was fine with me until I crossed that invisible line of his comfort zone…and then he was gone.