Posts from the ‘Superior National Forest’ Category

2021 “Top Ten” #6 Birds & Wildlife in the Landscape

Though I do still enjoy a beautiful “bird on a stick” frame-filling portrait, more satisfying to me now is a wider field of view showing the bird or mammal in its native habitat. It tells more of a story about how and where that critter lives. Here are my favorites from 2021

Common Redpoll in frosty branches; January; Skogstjarna Carlton County, MN

We had about three days of GORGEOUS rime ice in early January 2021. It coated everything in a huge area of northern Minnesota. Rime ice is basically dense fog that freezes. That is how it differs from hoar frost. In hindsight, I should have spent A LOT more time looking for subjects amongst this crazy backdrop since it only occurs rarely. I did find this Common Redpoll out my living room window though. Its red cap adds a much-needed splash of color to the scene.

Migrating geese; March; Western Minnesota

Maybe this is less “bird-in-the-landscape” and more “specks on the horizon” but the two flocks of geese (squint real hard!) add a lot to this rural western Minnesota farms cape.

Wild Turkey Toms displaying; April; Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota

It is not everyday that you can take a winner image while taking the garbage cans out to the road! Here three tom Wild Turkeys are in full display mode for the numerous hens just out of frame. I like the backlit feathers and aspen catkins.

Snow Geese and Moon; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

I didn’t even notice the moon until well into my trip to North Ottawa Impoundment. Then I had the “aha” moment, and started taking hundreds of photos pointing my camera straight up into the azure blue spring sky. I like this wider image that has the moon in line with the Snow Geese, and I also appreciate that the line of migrating geese goes from upper left to lower right corner of the frame.

Rock Pigeons and old warehouse; March; Superior, Wisconsin

Hey, this IS the native landscape for Rock Pigeons! They live/nest in this old warehouse in Superior, Wisconsin. I just like the symmetry of the windows as well as the texture and colors of the weathered boards and tin siding…oh, and the pigeons add to the photo too.

Porcupine and Willow catkins; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Porcupines are relatively easy to find in late spring in the Sax-Zim Bog due to the fact that they feast on willow and aspen catkins relatively low in the woods. I framed this fella with blobs of yellow by shooting through a flowering willow with a larger aperture.

Black Tern over marsh; May; Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota

I do love this shot….BUT…I wish I had left the tern more space on the right so I could crop it so the bird was more to the left of the frame.

Cottontail and Badlands; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The “Badlands” are really a land of plenty for the many critters that live there. Though it appears to be an inhospitable landscape, there is no shortage of wildlife that call it home such as this curious (cautious?) Cottontail.

Gilded Flickers on Saguaro; July; Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Gilded Flickers are close cousins to our Northern Flickers, but they are only found in their preferred Saguaro cactus habitat in Arizona and extreme SE California. They even excavate nest cavities in the prickly cacti.

Blue-winged Teal takeoff at sunset; May; Kidder County, North Dakota

Dusk in the floating blind. I thought shooting time was over, but I noticed the thunderheads turning pink on the horizon and wondered if I could get some ducks in the foreground. It didn’t take long before I maneuvered the blind into position for a raft of four Blue-winged Teal. But before I could get a shot, they jumped into the air and were gone. But I got lucky, as this frame turned out to be my favorite.

Common Nighthawk on fence post; June; South Dakota

Nighthawks are rarely seen in the full sun of daytime. They are primarily a bird of dusk when they take wing to suck up flying insects in the air. That tiny bill opens to reveal a huge gaping mouth, which is all the better for inhaling mosquitos.

White-tailed Deer in snowy field; April; Carlton County, Minnesota

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

Trumpeter Swan squabble on snow; March; near Danbury, Wisconsin

I intentionally included the meandering tracks of this early-returning pair of Trumpeter Swans as it lent a bit of visual interest. This would be a killer shot with more dramatic light.

Tufted Titmouse orange and blue; February; Old Frontenac Cemetery, Minnesota

You don’t often see Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota, and when you do they are usually tucked into an evergreen. I like the out-of-focus leaves that make orangish blobs of color that match the buffy sides of the titmouse.

Snow Geese; March; North Ottawa Impoundment; Grant County, Minnesota

You build it and they will come. That is certainly true of the impoundment project called North Ottawa. Now every spring, tens of thousands of geese state here on their way north. Quite a sight, and an even more impressive auditory experience.

Bald Eagle nest; February; near Winona, Minnesota

I HAVE to get down here to photograph this nest in early spring next year. I love this shot, but it would even be better with the spring green of just-emerging leaves to warm up the scene. Big bird, big nest, big tree.

Rough-legged Hawks; March; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

On their way back to the Arctic, Rough-legged Hawks hunt open areas all over the upper midwest.

Great Gray Owl; February; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I just like the gray of the Great Gray amongst the white branches of the aspens. Last year’s leaves add a pop of subtle color.

Sharp-tailed Grouse; May; central North Dakota

This picture really shouts, “North Dakota.” A land of open country, grasslands, empty spaces, and prairie birds such as this lone Sharp-tailed Grouse.

River Otter; April; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

A River Otter sighting can brighten a gloomy spring day.

Red-breasted Mergansers; March; Lake Superior, Two Harbors, Minnesota

Northeast winds had stacked shards of blue ice along the shore at Lighthouse point on Lake Superior. I used a small aperture to keep the Red-breasted Mergansers in focus while giving some detail to the ice.

Varied Bunting; July; Box Canyon, Arizona

I just like the leading lines of the Ocotillo that bring the eye to a stunner of a bird; the Varied Bunting which is in full song.

Yellow-headed Blackbird; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Montana isn’t the only ” big sky country”! North Dakota has its share of vast skyscapes. A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird sings to the sky its melodious song….STOP…let me rephrase that…A lone Yellow-headed Blackbird croaks out its grating call to any other blackbirds that might be nearby.

White-throated Swift; June; Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

Not many other birds share the same habitat as the White-throated Swift! Crevices in bare rock cliffs is where this relative of the swallow nest. And this one is swooping up into its retreat on the one and only Devil’s Tower.

Black-throated Sparrow; July; Stateline Road near Portal, Arizona

I just LOVE birds perched on rusty barbed wire…and especially if there is an old wood fence post in the frame as well. Jackpot! Black-throated Sparrow in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Arizona-New Mexico line.

Evening Grosbeaks; January; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

I like this photo of Evening Grosbeaks in white-barked Aspens …but I would LOVE it if there were a few more in the center of the frame…and if the others were looking into the center. Oh well.

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Just a tiny bit of rim light illuminates these Black-tailed Prairie Dogs at sunset in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Moody!

Eastern Meadowlark; April; Firebird WMA, Carlton County, Minnesota

Yellow bird amongst yellowish grasses in a snowy scene. An early-arriving Eastern Meadowlark is greeted by an April snowstorm.

Sagebrush Sparrow; June; near Pinedale, Wyoming

Maybe a portrait and not a bird-in-the-landscape but kind of in-between. Enjoyed a wonderful morning in the sagebrush flats south of Pinedale, Wyoming, and the surprisingly colorful Sagebrush Sparrow was a species I’d never photographed before.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

Just allow me one more “bird in frosty landscape” shot.

Western Grebe and submerged tree; May; Horsehead Lake, Kidder County, North Dakota

The water has been rising in central North Dakota for years. The last time I visited this spot six years ago, this tree was still on dry land! A lone Western Grebe confirms that this is now a permanent lake.

Great Gray Owl; January; Superior National Forest, Cook County, Minnesota

It is always fun to stumble upon a Great Gray in a spot where you don’t expect them. This was an early morning jaunt in the Superior National Forest to look for Moose (which I did find). I love its perch and wanted to include the whole thing in the photo.

Bald Eagle in frosty tree; January; Carlton County, Minnesota

What can I say? I like birds in frosty landscapes!

Well, this concludes my “Top Tens” of 2021 posts. Now I better get out there and start shooting so I will have some Top Tens of 2022 to share next year!

All photos taken with Canon R5 and Canon 100-500mm lens

2021 “Top Ten” #3—Mammals

**OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I WILL BE POSTING 10 “TOP TEN” POSTS OF MY FAVORITE WILDLIFE & LANDSCAPE PHOTOS FROM 2021: Bird Portraits, Black-and-white Wildlife, Mammals, Humor, Animals in the Landscape, Creative Wildlife, Insects, Landscapes, Flora and Bird Behavior. (PSSST…Here’s a secret…I have a hard time narrowing down photos to actually my top 10…so there may be more than that in each post!)

Unlike birds, mammals are hard to target during an outing. They are often just difficult to find, let alone photograph. But sometimes you get lucky. Every single photo in this post was of a mammal I just happened upon (usually while looking for something else!). Below are my 11 favorite mammal photos from 2021.

Moose; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Interesting Moose behavior! I found this pair just after sunrise. I stayed quite a ways away so I would not disturb them and could watch some of their behavior. They stuck very close to each other and at one point the bull mounted the other Moose, who quickly moved to get him off. I assumed it was some very late mating behavior, but after looking at the photos on the computer, I realized both were bulls! The one had scars where his antlers had fallen off already. Likely siblings, and the mounting was just domination behavior over his brother. You can see the video of this eventful encounter here Virtually Live 14 [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 at f7.1; ISO 10,000; tripod]

White-nosed Coatimundi; July; Madera Canyon, Arizona

After about 5 trips to SE Arizona over the last 25 years I finally saw a White-nosed Coatimundi. And this is embarrassing…I didn’t even know they existed in the U.S.! Bridget and I had seen a troop in Costa Rica years ago so I associated them with Central America. This cute guy was at the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. I suppose locals might see them as pests (?), but I enjoyed their antics. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 123mm; 1/640 at f5; ISO 640; handheld]

River Otter; March; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

It is always a treat to see a River Otter! This guy was poking his head out of holes in the ice. But I was never in the right spot to get the stellar photo I could see in my head. But this will do! [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 800; +1 ev; handheld]

Bison and calf; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

“Red dogs” is what westerners call baby Bison. And Ryan and I found a nursery herd at Teddy Roosevelt one morning. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 at f8; ISO 320; handheld]

Moose; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

This is actually two bulls. Not easy to see, but the one on the left has the scars where his antlers fell off. I intentionally blew out the whites and added a white vignette. You can see the video of this eventful encounter here Virtually Live 14 [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens with 2x teleconverter; equivalent 836mm; 1/320 at f13; ISO 12,800; tripod]

Mink; April; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Why did this photo make my Top Ten? Only because its my best Mink photo ever! Which I realize is not saying much, but they have been a nemesis species for me over the years. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 at f9; ISO 800; +0.66 ev; handheld]

Gray Fox; February; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Okay Sparky….now why is this photo in your Top Ten mammals? Well, how often do you see a Gray Fox? You can see the video of this encounter (with a Red Fox and a Fisher) in my YouTube video called Ice Eagles [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 at f8; ISO 12,800; handheld]

Wild “feral” Horses; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

I guess the correct term is “feral horses,” but I really hate that term. I much prefer “Wild Horses” since they are truly wild and live in bands that have their own social hierarchy. The battles between bands can get intense, and “wild.” [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 363mm; 1/320 at f8; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Porcupine; May; Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

Porcupines are an exotic species to many Americans, but we often take them for granted in northern Minnesota. They are surprisingly difficult to photograph since they are often high in the trees, have small dark eyes that are hard to see in a photo, and rarely show much behavior. But this guy was darn cute eating his tree buds in spring. I intentionally shot through the yellow willow catkins to create a frame for this Porkie. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 at f7.1; ISO 1600; handheld]

White-tailed Deer family; August; Carlton County, Minnesota

I always keep my camera in my van just in case I run across a scene like this. Only 200 yards from my driveway I saw this doe and twin fawns in gorgeous light. Just a nice family portrait. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/500 at f13; ISO 3200; -1 ev; handheld]

Moose; January; Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Yes, yes, the same two bulls on a frosty cold morning in the Superior National Forest in January. You can see the video of this eventful encounter here Virtually Live 14 [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens with 2x teleconverter; equivalent 836mm; 1/320 at f13; ISO 12,800; tripod]

Virtually Live 14 —BRRRRdathon 2021 Birding & Wildlife Photography Grand Marais Minnesota (Moose! )

The BRRRRdathon—World’s Coldest Birdathon episode of Virtually Live. The BRRRRdathon is an annual fundraiser for my non-profit, Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

This week we are birding in Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior just south of the Canadian Border. Sparky is participating in the Wintergreen non-motorized division. We go along with his fat bike birding. But he takes an early morning detour inland into the Superior National Forest where he finds an amorous bull and cow Moose! During the BRRRRdathon we see Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Crossbills and more. Find out who won this year’s event.

“Moosey & Sprucey” Trip to the Superior National Forest: Shooting with Sparky episode

Come along on a wildlife photography and video day trip in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest (April 17, 2020). This Shooting with Sparky episode takes you along as I search for Moose and displaying Spruce Grouse. Guest appearances by drumming Ruffed Grouse, Red Crossbills, Saw-whet Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Trailing Arbutus and more. Enjoy this virtual field trip!

Top Ten Mammal photos 2019

Here are my favorite mammal photos taken in 2019. It was a pretty good year for locating and photographing the “four-leggeds.”

Prairie Dogs (Badlands National Park, South Dakota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod]

I call this the “Group Back Rub.” This is from October when Ryan and I were enroute to Yellowstone. I took this while we were waiting for a Burrowing Owl to poke its head out of a prairie dog hole. Let’s just say that Ryan doesn’t appreciate prairie dogs or their high level of cuteness. If its his turn to drive, I really have to plead for him to stop for a prairie dog colony. I love photographing them and their antics.

Bobcat (Sax-Zim Bog)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/250 second; Flash; ISO 640; -+1.0 ev; hand-held braced on car door]

Due to the deep snows and cold temps of the winter of 2018-19, many critters had a tough time finding food. At least 9 Bobcats were seen in the Sax-Zim Bog including a mom with 2 young. This was likely one of the young who camped out at a road-killed deer (note ribs in background). Bobcats are gorgeous and cute at the same time. A flash helped make this image Uber-sharp on a heavy overcast day.

Bison in snowstorm (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

This is the start of the snowstorm that closed Yellowstone down for 36 hours at the start of our time in the park. These three ruled the road between Madison and West Yellowstone.

Ermine (Short-tailed Weasel) at Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 250; hand-held]

While guiding a group from Outward Bound along the Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at the Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, this little guy popped out of a snow burrow and immediately emerged from a nearby hole. They are unbelievably fast critters! They hunt voles in their subnivean tunnels (their long thin body shape helps in this pursuit) but also feed on carcasses.

Ermine is the name for Least Weasel, Long-tailed Weasel and Short-tailed Weasel when in their winter white coat (this is a Short-tailed Weasel).

He stayed still for approximately 1.5 seconds but I was able to snap off a couple shots. It will be in the MN Conservation Volunteer magazine next month.

Baboon baby and mom at San Diego Zoo

Something a bit different…an image from a zoo of a mama Baboon gently grooming her baby. Just darn cute!

Red Fox hunting a snowy field (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 500; +0.33ev; hand-held]

This is a real “mammal in the landscape” photo. But I think it works because of the Red Fox looks sharp with the red of the willows, both of which contrast with the white of the symmetrical aspens.

Mule Deer (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 1000; hand-held]

Arriving in Teddy Roosevelt National Park we were greeted with this young Mule Deer buck browsing on some roadside shrubs. An early October snowstorm provided the backdrop.

Canada Lynx (Superior National Forest, Minnesota)
[single video frame plucked from 4K video]

Not a great photo…so why is it included here? Because it was the first Canada Lynx I’ve seen in the daylight…and I got some images! I lucked into this mellow cat up in the Superior National Forest in late March and got to spend a few minutes with it as it sauntered through the forest, then sat for a while before moving on in its never-ending search for Snowshoe Hares.

Read more and see the video HERE

Grizzly eating Rose hips (Wyoming)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]

Sometimes trying to predict where a wild animal might intersect with our own path pays off. We saw this Grizzly making its way across the North Fork of the Shoshone River just outside Yellowstone. She went into the woods so we moved up the road to a pullout and waited. And, believe it or not, she came out of the woods and headed in our direction. But it was not us she wanted to investigate, but rather a stand of Wild Rose whose hips were in full ripeness. It was a joy to watch her delicately plucking the fruits from the bush a couple at a time. Not once did she look in our direction, and when she was filled, she moved off.

Read more of this story HERE

Red Fox pups playing (Carlton County, Minnesota)
[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens attached with Metabones adapter; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 800; hand-held]

On may way to photograph Loons one early summer morning I stumbled across a trio of romping Red Fox pups. I stayed with them for nearly an hour and enjoyed their antics. The loons could wait.

It seemed that only two would wrestle at a time, never all three. I took many photos and quite a bit of video.

Leaping for Lunch; Red Fox (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 250; +0.33ev; hand-held]

This mellow Red Fox tolerated my presence for about 10 minutes as it hunted for voles along a minimum maintenance road and a farm field in the Sax-Zim Bog. Occasionally it would hear the sound of a vole under the crusty snow; its ears would rotate forward towards the sound, it would then rock back on its haunches, then launch high into the air to get enough force to break through the crusty snow to get a the vole.

Pine Marten (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second; ISO 200; tripod

Pine Martens LOOOVE peanut butter! And suet. And carcasses. So they are occasionally attracted to bird feeding stations in the Sax-Zim Bog. They use this food to supplement their normal diet of Ruffed Grouse, voles and squirrels. There were at least two, and possibly three coming to this feeder. They ignored the nearby birders and photographers for the most part. It is ALWAYS a treat to see these guys.

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.

Canada Lynx Jinx Broken!

CANADA LYNX JINX BROKEN! Finally got to watch a Lynx in the daytime!

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-2

March 21 in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota. (Single frame plucked from video clip).

As I came over a rise, there it was…A Canada Lynx walking right towards me on a remote forest road. It was 9:30 am and sunny. It saw me and bounded off the road and into the 3-foot deep snow. I stayed put thinking that it might come my way via the pine woods. And after a few tense minutes of me second-guessing my intuition, it did!

Their giant oversized paws allow them to float over deep powder snow as they hunt their favorite prey…Snowshoe Hares.

My only other encounter was about 30 years ago while doing owl surveys at night with my friend Dave Benson. That one appeared in our headlights, just sitting in the road. They are very mellow cats, and are rarely in a hurry…Unless in hot pursuit of a hare!


2-minute video (photo is just a single frame from the video).

Watch the video to see it walking over the deep snow (click gear icon on bottom right to change resolution to higher quality).

 

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-4

Single frame plucked from video clip

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-1

Single frame plucked from video clip

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis Sawbill Trail near Hogcreek Road Cook County MN P1033207-3

Single frame plucked from video clip

Spruce Grouse in the Superior National Forest

It is very fortunate for birders and wildlife photographers that Spruce Grouse like to forage along roadsides. If we had to blindly wander around the bogs and boreal forests of the North Woods in search of them, we may never see one! In fact, in fall they become even more visible along the dirt byways of the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. I’m not saying you can count on seeing one on every outing, but put on enough backroad miles during early morning hours, and your odds are pretty good.

These photos are all from late September and early October in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota.
Winter buries the landscape and Spruce Grouse adapt quite nicely to the new and harsh conditions. Sprouting scales on their toes, the grouse effectively double the surface area of their feet, which is a great aid in walking over deep fluffy snow. Their food preference changes from bugs, buds, leaves and berries to a strict diet of spruce and jack pine needles.

Spruce Grouse male Stoney River Forest Road Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2492[Male Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
I found this cooperative male while he was foraging along the road edge. I got a few “insurance shots” from a distance, then slowly worked my way closer. I crawled on my knees then would drop down to my belly to get eye level shots. I repeated this about every 10 feet until he filled the frame!

Spruce Grouse male Stoney River Forest Road Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2474[Male Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
I just used my pop-up flash to fill in some shadows and reveal the true colors of the bird. Sometimes when a bird is in the shade, and your camera is set to auto White Balance, your photos (including the bird) will look quite blue. Flash helps this. You may have to fix the eye reflection later in Photoshop, but that only takes a few seconds.

Spruce Grouse male Stoney River Forest Road Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2486[Male Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2509[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
Hen Spruce Grouse are arguably as attractive as the males…albeit in subtler tones.

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2595[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
After a passing hunter in a truck spooked her, she only flew a short ways up into a nearby spruce. She let me photograph and video her for quite a while. A fantastic treat!

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2609[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2588[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]

Spruce Grouse female hen Sawbill Landing Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_2573[Female (hen) Spruce Grouse, Superior National Forest, Lake County, Minnesota]
A portrait can really be enhanced with a touch of color. I positioned myself so that some background yellow aspen leaves would make a colorful blob behind the hen’s head.

Spruce Grouse Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_0921 Logging trucks are a real hazard to foraging Spruce Grouse. Their trusting nature often keeps them on the roads longer than they should.

A Superior Day—Pine Marten, Red Crossbills, Black-backed Woodpeckers & More

May 4th, 2015

I spent the day up in the Superior National Forest and Echo Trail, north and east of Ely, Minnesota just south of the Canadian border. It was a beautiful “May the Fourth be With You” day…Low about 35 and high in the 50s, sunny and calm. It was good to get out and exercise my shutter finger. And there was plenty to shoot!

Pine Marten Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7940

A grizzled Pine Marten (American Marten) along the Echo Trail, Ely, MN [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; f5.6 at 1/500 second at ISO 400; handheld]

World’s Oldest Pine Marten?

Coming around a corner, I spotted a Woodchuck along the road. At least that’s what I thought it was. But when I got it in my binoculars, I discovered it was a Pine Marten! But an interesting looking Marten that had a very white face. Its grizzled muzzle reminded me of an old dog who’s going gray. I got a few “insurance” shots from a long ways away, then eased the van forward. But this old-timer was moving slow, even his bounding gait seemed like that of an old timer who needs a new hip. So I continued the pursuit on foot. As he moved into a recently logged area, I pished and used my predator call to get his attention, but this veteran was too smart for me. He quickly realized I was no threat and continued poking his nose under brush searching for voles. But for a photographer, it was a bit frustrating as he only gave me good looks at his back. Finally he paused very briefly and looked over his shoulder at me. I fired off a barrage of shots. All were sharp but I had “too much lens,” as photographers say. My 400mm f5.6 lens on a Canon 7D is the equivalent of 640mm, and I clipped his tail. In hindsight I should have grabbed a frame that focused lower down and captured his entire tail. He finally had enough of me and loped off into the dense woods. Hope you make it through another winter, my friend.

Red Crossbill Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7882

A juvenile Red Crossbill comes begging for food from dad (Echo Trail, Ely, MN)

Nesting in Winter?

Maybe you’ve heard this amazing fact…Red Crossbills have been recorded nesting in every month of the year! How can this be? Well, this bird relies completely on one food source…the seeds of pines. Even their nestlings are fed regurgitated seeds. So when this wandering species finds an abundant source of food such as a Red Pines laden with cones along Ely’s Echo Trail, their little bird brains do some mental calculations and determine that, yes, there is enough food here to sustain our family, and so courtship and nesting begins. That brings us to this morning and explains what I witnessed.

I put on the brakes for two birds in the middle of the dirt road. It was a male and female Red Crossbill eating dirt. It is well known that all crossbills seem to crave minerals, like salt, that are concentrated in some soils. This was interesting, but what happened next was even more fascinating and something I had not witnessed in years.

The male flew up in a tree and was quickly surrounded by chipping birds. He continued to move lower in the tree and was followed by the striped birds. Then I realized that these were juvenile Red Crossbills begging for food from daddy. Working backwards, I calculated that these crossbills likely nested in these, or nearby pines, in late winter! How does a couple-ounce bird keep fragile and very small eggs from freezing at Minus 20 F temperatures?

Red Crossbill female and juvenile Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7865

Juvenile Red Crossbill (striped bird left) and adult female Red Crossbill (right).

Red Crossbill juvenile May 4 Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7893

I really did not know what a juvenile Red Crossbill looked like until this morning. They are very distinctive with a boldly striped/streaked body. Three young ones were begging from their daddy, and maybe from their mom, but I did not witness that.

Red Crossbill Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7848

Red Crossbill Echo Trail Ely MN IMG_7855

Red Crossbills (as well as White-winged Crossbills) are often seen feeding on snow or dirt along backcountry roads. It is known that they crave salt, and they are likely ingesting soil that is saturated with road salt.

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The Snowshoe Hares have almost reclaimed their brown summer pelage, only their legs, feet and belly remain white. While driving down this road early in the morning I flushed a Northern Goshawk from the road. When I got closer I could see that it had killed a Snowshoe Hare and was feeding on it. I wish I would have been paying better attention so I could have watched through binoculars. I lingered, hoping it would return. But I knew it wouldn’t come near when I was only a hundred yards away. Like all raptors, the female Goshawk is quite a bit larger than the male. She is able to easily prey on hares, while the male, being smaller, prefers smaller game like Ruffed Grouse.

boat landing Big Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8003

A classic Northern Minnesota scene. You just have to drive down a road like this to see what’s at the end.

Epigaea repens Trailing Arbutus Echo Trail near Moose River Ely MN IMG_7956

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is a fragrant early spring wildflower found in dry pine stands. It is a member of the Ericaceae  and related to blueberries, cranberries, wintergreen and leatherleaf to name a few. The evergreen leaves are broadly oval with nearly parallel sides, which helps separate them from Wintergreen which has more football-shaped leaves. If you are lucky enough to find a stand of these uncommon beauties, kneel down and take a good sniff of their fragrant blossoms.

snow in woods Echo Trail MN IMG_8037

Though we had a relatively mild winter, some rogue patches of winter snow could still be found in ravines.

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The Red Maples were in peak flower, and the aspen leaves were just opening up.

Cicindela longilabris White-lipped Tiger Beetle Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8028

Boreal Long-lipped Tiger Beetle (Cicindela longilabris)
These half-inch-long beetles are ferocious predators…at least to other half-inch long critters. You can find them along sandy or gravel paths on sunny days in spring and fall. Like their common name implies, they are a creature of the Great North Woods, occurring from New England to the Western Great Lakes and north across Canada from Labrador to Alaska. Found in openings in the coniferous forests. Also at high elevations in western mountains.

Cicindela longilabris White-lipped Tiger Beetle Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8017

The “white lip” is actually the labrum and it is very visible and a good field mark in identifying this tiger beetle. They also have unmarked dark elytra.

Broad-winged Hawk Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8033

The Broad-wings are back from their wintering grounds in South America. Millions exit the U.S and Canada in September and October and head for warmer climes. Unlike their mammal-eating cousins such as the Red-tailed Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk, Broad-wings thrive on a diet of reptiles (snakes) and amphibians (frogs). And their timing on returning to the North Woods is no accident…four species of frogs are very vocal and active in ponds now, and the Garter Snakes have emerged from hibernation. The Broad-wing buffet is set!

Broad-winged Hawk Stoney River Forest Road Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8295

Black-backed Woodpecker Pagami Creek Fire burn Isabella Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8198

Black-backed Woodpecker Pagami Creek Fire burn Isabella Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8239

Mating Game

I found a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers EXACTLY in the same spot I last saw them 7 months ago. Now I don’t know if they are the same birds, but I’d like to think so. The area is in a four-year old burn called the Pagami Creek Fire. The charred Jack Pines are a veritable grocery store for the woodpeckers. Wood-boring beetle grubs invade the dead and dying trees. I watched as the male dug out one fat white grub and one skinny yellowish grub. Yummy!

I ran into photographer friend Jason Mandich and we spent some time with these incredibly tame birds. Interestingly, they seemed to get quite agitated when they heard the nearby song of a White-throated Sparrow.

Several times, the female would perch on an angled branch, more horizontal than vertical, and hold her body parallel to the branch. The male would fly over and approach her. I imagine this was part of their mating ritual, but I did not witness any actual mating.

Black-backed Woodpecker Pagami Creek Fire burn Isabella Lake Superior National Forest Lake Co MN IMG_8274

I guess they have black backs for a reason! I wonder if their solid black backs are an adaptation to feeding on the charred trunks of trees in burns. Seems like it would be a handy trait when trying to avoid aerial predators. Note how this guy almost disappears.

IMG_8279 - Version 2

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I loved the pattern of these stacked pulpwood logs with the single needled branch hanging on. I also played with the image a bit to turn it into a more graphic black-and-white illustration.

Coyote hunting MN23 near Skogstjarna Carlton Co MN IMG_8354

Just a mile from home, and in the dim light of dusk, I spotted a Coyote on a hillside. She was hunting actively and I watched her catch two voles from the same patch of tall grass. It was far too dark for good photos but I couldn’t keep myself from taking a couple shots with the lens braced on the car window. She would not have allowed me to get out and set up a tripod. I do like the deep blue dusk sky.

Tamarack-ulous!

It is the time of year when almost all the deciduous trees are past peak and many have lost all their leaves. But there is one amazing tree that is just coming into its full glory…The Tamarack. This is our only deciduous coniferous tree. What? It means that though it has needles like spruces, fir, pine, they all drop off the tree every fall (deciduous)…But before they do, they turn an amazing yellow-gold, making the bogs blaze with color.

Tamarack Reflections Lima Mtn Road Cook Co MN SparkyStensaas 778_7861 (1)Sadly, this scene will never be repeated…These perfectly situated Tamaracks along the Lima Mountain Road in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest have all succumbed to the Eastern Larch Beetle.

FUN TAMARACK FACTS
1. The name “tamarack” comes from the Algonquin people of eastern Canada and means “wood used for snowshoes.” The Algonquins also gave us the name “moose.”
2. Also known as “larch” and “hackmatack”
3. Grows from Labrador to the Yukon and Alaska, south to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan east to Indiana, New York, Maryland. But the largest pure stands in the Lower 48 are in Minnesota.
4. Latin name is Larix laricina
5. Extremely cold tolerant! Can survive winter temps down to MINUS 85 F!
6. Also very rot resistant…In fact, when we built our house, our builder suggested Tamarack for the front porch. We had a local mill saw it up for us.
7. Eastern Larch Beetle (Dendroctonus simplex) is a native enemy of the Tamarack. Outbreaks in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota have been quite severe in recent years. A bane to the trees, is a boon to woodpeckers, bringing in irruptions of Am. Three-toed Woodpeckers and Black-backed Woodpeckers who flake bark from the trunks to get to the juicy grubs beneath. These rarely seen birds also bring in throngs of birders to see the birds.

Northern Hawk Owl NHOW-SS (Friesens Test)Ryan Marshik and I found this Northern Hawk Owl on a early November foray to Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog. It was perfectly teed up on a Black Spruce with a background of slightly-past-prime Tamaracks. Ryan quickly and graciously loaned me his Canon 500mm f4 and 1.4 extender and we were able to get this shot out the window of the car.
[Canon 10D, Canon 500mm f4 lens w/1.4x tele-extender, f5.6 at 1/160 second at ISO 400 (taken in 2004)]

Tamarack Yellow Motion Blur Toivola Swamp Sax-Zim Bog MNA very windy day in the Toivola Swamp adjacent to the Sax-Zim Bog. I decided to interpret the Tamarack gold in a new way…Leave the shutter open for a longer exposure and let the wind do its thing. And the amazing thing is that I like the result!
[Taken in the “film days”…Can you believe it?! …Probably with a Nikon FM2]

Gray Jay in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8946Taken just a few days ago in the Sax-Zim Bog as the Tamaracks were approaching peak color. This curious Gray Jay came in to my squeaks. I like the fact that the Jay shares the starring role with the wispy yellow Tamarack foliage.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250, ISO 400, Canon 420EX flash (without Better Beamer)]

Tamaracks McDavitt Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_9306Tamaracks and a brooding sky, Oct 21, Sax-Zim Bog.
[Canon 7D and Tamron 60mm f2 lens]

Hairy Woodpecker in gold Tamarack Admiral Rd Sax-Zim Bog MN IMG_8934A bit of yellow Tamarack foliage adds nice contrast to the primarily black-and-white Hairy Woodpecker. The red bar on the back of his head makes this Hairy a He and not a She. Sax-Zim Bog, MN.
[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens]