Posts from the ‘Top Tens’ 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]

2021 “Top Ten” #4 Creative Wildlife

This is really where my heart is in regards to wildlife photography.

Black-capped Chickadee; January; Skogstjarna in Carlton County, Minnesota

Black-capped Chickadee wings iridesce when backlit by the sun. My fingers were frozen by the time I got the shot, but it was worth it 🙂 The electronic 30fps shutter on the Canon R5 sure helps in these situations!  As does prefocusing on the spot where the chickadee will be. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 270mm; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 800; -1.00 ev; tripod]

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake; July; San Pedro House Reserve, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Laying on the ground with a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is an experience I hadn’t had until my July trip to southeast Arizona. I creatively cropped this image to highlight its eye with the unique vertical pupil.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 1000; 0 ev; handheld]

Sandhill Cranes; October; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

I’m the only photographer that goes to Crex Meadows on the day before a full moon to shoot silhouettes such as this…Yeah right! I was just one of a couple dozen photogs there this evening to try and get this type of shot. Why go on the day before the full moon? Well, that is the evening that the moon rises before the sun sets and you can get some decent light on the birds in front of the moon. It is pretty much impossible to get both the cranes and moon in sharp focus even with a f22 aperture. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Black Tern; May; Prairie potholes of North Dakota

Probably my favorite image from Ryan and I’s trip to the prairie potholes of North Dakota this past May. It was one of those situations that you dream of….Your subject just keeps hanging around (in this case a flock of Black Terns) and the light keeps changing (sun, rain, dramatic clouds, rainbows, sunset). We shot a lot. But this image was my favorite…and the bird isn’t even in the shot! Just the reflection of a Black Tern, the rain drops forming concentric rings, and the blue-orange reflection in the water. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 300mm; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; 0 ev; handheld]

Red-breasted Merganser; February; Lake Superior; Two Harbors, Minnesota

I shot through a pile of blue ice to frame this Red-breasted Merganser on Lake Superior. Unique and creative to be sure, but not my favorite shot. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 363mm; 1/400 second at f7.1; ISO 160; +1.66 ev; handheld]

Broad-billed Hummingbird; July; Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds; Patagonia, Arizona

Despite my “freeze frame” in-flight photo of a Broad-billed Hummer that made my Top Ten Bird Portraits, I actually prefer this Broadbilled shot. I slowed the shutter to a crazy slow 1/60 of a second and took a bunch of photos. This was my favorite…Head/eyes sharp and side lit wings in motion.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 238mm; 1/60 second at f5; ISO 100; -1.33 ev; handheld]

Prairie Dog; May; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Apologies to my photo buddy Ryan (who hates “the dirty prairie dogs”), but I think they are darn cute and fun to watch. While waiting for Coyotes and Badgers in an unnamed valley in Theodore Roosevelt National Park I spent most of my time watching the antics of the “dogs.” The sun was setting and the rim light was developing nicely. I waited for this guy to stand up and throw his head back to give the warning call. It happens so quickly that I missed several but did get this one. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f7.1; ISO 160; -1.33 ev; tripod]

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

Spending time with a Great Gray all alone in Sax-Zim is like gold. And I enjoyed every minute of my solitude with this hunting owl. Maybe this shouldn’t be included in a Creative Wildlife category since it is just a frame plucked from a video clip. But I like the panning motion blur of the gliding Great Gray, which is inherent in video since it is shot at 1/60 second at 30fps.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/60 second; handheld]

Western Grebe; Chase Lake NWR; North Dakota

I selectively desaturated this Western Grebe’s portrait leaving the shockingly red eyes and straw yellow bill. I like the feel of this photo…and I also think the water droplets are kind of neat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1250 second at f13; ISO 1600; +0.33 ev; on ballhead in floating blind]

Wild Turkey toms; April; Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Sometimes good things can happen on your way to taking the garbage cans to the end of the driveway! I looked up and saw about 30 Wild Turkeys in neighbor Paul’s field. There were about a dozen toms and 15 or 20 hens. It was quite a scene…strutting, battles, chasing. And the best part was that it was all backlit creating some very cool images. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/1000 second at f8; ISO 160; -2.00 ev; handheld]

Blue Grosbeak; Box Canyon; Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

High key images are finding their way into my faves category more and more these days. And it is a great technique when you have a bird against a blaah gray sky. Even better if you can include an interesting branch. I got both in this shot of a Blue Grosbeak in SE Arizona. I could have taken the yellow out of the branches but decided that the color added something to the image. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 160; +0.33 ev; tripod]

Sandhill Cranes; Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Another favorite from Crex Meadows “full moon-Sandhill Crane” shoot. The purple sky came out with some post processing in Lightroom. See above for more details on this evening at Crex.  [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 1600; 0 ev; tripod]

Pied-billed Grebe; Kettle River, Carlton County, Minnesota

The thing about creative wildlife photos is that you often have to intentionally search for the creative possibilities in each situation. Since I was looking down on this PIed-billed Grebe, and it was flat gray light, it would have made a blaah portrait. But by intentionally shooting through the snow blobs on the willows it created a  surreal scene. It is nearly a black and white image, but I like the touch of red on the grebe’s throat. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 200mm; 1/320 second at f5; ISO 100; -0.66 ev; handheld]

Western Grebe; Horsehead Lake; Kidder County, North Dakota

I do love silhouettes, but there usually has to be something extra about the photo to make it a “top tenner.” In this image of a Western Grebe on Horsehead Lake in North Dakota, that something extra is the geometric shapes of the rushes and their reflection. [Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens at 254mm; 1/400 second at f14; ISO 100; 0 ev; handheld]

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]

2021 “Top Ten” #2—Black and White

**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.

Bald Eagle; Mississippi River near Buffalo, Wisconsin

Though it appears to be hunting the Common Goldeneyes, this immy Bald Eagle is actually spotting fish to nab.

Saguaro Cactus on Mount Lemmon, Arizona

Saguaros and thunderclouds

Cottontail; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Cottontail in the North Dakota Badlands

Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard; Madera Canyon, Arizona

This lizard appears to be armor plated.

Bison and calf; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Mom and calf and a little rimlight.

Bald Eagles; Mississippi River

When most of the Mississippi River is frozen, Bald Eagles concentrate at open water such as downstream from a lock and dam.

Stutsman County, North Dakota

Prairie potholes of North Dakota.

2019 Favorite Landscapes (Top Ten…14 really)

Back in the slide film days I used to work much harder at getting good landscape images. We worked much slower in the film days. And I really put thought into good composition. But with the digital age, I’ve gotten a bit lazy. Too easy to just snap some quick photos with my iPhone and call it a landscape. But having access to a drone has made me think more about aerial landscapes and I’ve included four of those images here…Roughly 30 percent of my favorite landscape images this year were with the drone.

I do enjoy very wide images and so have also been using my 10mm Rokinon lens on the Sony A6500 body.

Here’s my faves from 2019.

(Duluth, Minnesota)
Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 2 seconds at f22; ISO 100; tripod]

Some of you may know where this little gem is located. The cedar tree that I used to include in my compositions here, is now tipped over. A long exposure made for a colorful pattern of swirling foam and leaves. Did I put that maple leaf on the rock? Only I know!

Meandering (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

I absolutely love the new perspectives the we can get with drone images. But I am still learning on how to be a good drone pilot (I have crashed my DJI Phantom 4 a few times).

Yucca Sky (New Mexico)
Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/4000 second at f2; ISO 200; hand-held]

I was passing through southwest New Mexico on my way to southeast Arizona for a birding trip when I saw this scene. I love the drama of Yuccas…and the clouds helped make this image. For this look I desaturated this image, and increased the “clarity” slider, in Lightroom.

Yellowstone Lake (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM lens at 70mm; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 800; hand-held]

Yes, a very simple “tree silhouette” landscape, but I like the vertical trunks contrasting with the horizontal bands of color in the sky. This is well past sunset.

Ice-out (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

You could only get a shot like this with a drone (or a really tall ladder!). I like the different shades of blue and yellow as the lake begins to thaw in spring.

Starry Pines (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

What do you do after you get back to your campground in Yellowstone? Eat dinner and take star photos! A headlamp briefly turned on illuminated my face.

Sunrise Fog (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

I’d seen photos like this taken from a plane in the “pre-drone” era. Knowing that I could never afford to rent a plane, I gave up on making an image like this. But a drone now allows some very unique shots at a fraction of the cost.

Firehole Spring Sunset (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/30 second at f22; ISO 320; hand-held]

Ryan and I have photographed this thermal feature in Yellowstone before, but on this evening it had a completely different feel due to the thick steam arising from the pool. We stood on the top rung of the barrier fence and held our cameras high to get a more pleasing angle on the scene.

Lake Superior ice (Lake County, Minnesota)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Aerial view of Lake Superior ice during break up. I converted to black and white for a more graphic image.

Alpen glow (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Follow the Yellow Tar Road (Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 18-55 mm lens at 18mm: 1/320 second at f16; hand-held]

I love the splash of color on this atypical landscape photo. What else can you do on an extremely gloomy day? Ryan got even lower to the road and also made a very cool image.

(Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Lamar Valley (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM lens at 70mm; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 125; tripod]

I’m not sure why Ryan and I had never noticed this big ol’ Cottonwood in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley before…Maybe because we were always looking for wildlife. But on this year’s trip Ryan saw it and named it the Zen Tree. It has wonderfully gracefully arced limbs and trunk, and it is very photogenic.

(near Tucson, Arizona)
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/60 second at f22; ISO 320; -1.33 ev; hand-held]

I actually had to stick my hand and camera into a bramble of spiny Cholla cactus stems to get this wide angle view of the Sonoran desert landscape near Tucson. I love how everything is framed by the Cholla (except the foreground Saguaro could be placed a bit better). Overall a unique view of a very unique habitat.

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

My Top Ten Bird Photos 2019

I’ve already posted my favorite “Bird-in-the-Landscape” photos, and Top Twelve Mammals of 2019, so now it is time for my Best Bird Portraits of the year. It is a fun exercise going through all the photos from the year and coming up with the best of the best…especially when you didn’t think you had such a great photographic year.

Gambel’s Quail (near Portal, Arizona)

I hadn’t been birding in Southeast Arizona for many years, so this June I headed down to reacquaint myself with birds of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert. Even the very common Gambel’s Quail was a treat to see after these many years. Their call (as this guy is performing) is memorable and distinctive.

Western Grebe (Lake Osakis, Minnesota)

What I really wanted this day was a photo of a mated pair of Western Grebes performing their courtship “run-across-the-water” dance performance. But the water was too choppy for that, but I did get a nice portrait of a spectacular bird.

Sandhill Crane adult and colt (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held from window of car]

Any time I can get birds in a field of flowers it is almost surely going to make a pleasing image. This adult and colt was molting into their winter gray from their iron-stained summer plumage.

Forster’s Tern (Upper Rice Lake, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from kayak]

A kayak provides an eye-level vantage for photographing hard-to-reach water birds …but it is also a difficult platform to work from since the kayak tends to spin once stopped. But I was able to get this shot of a Forster’s Tern on its nest with its reflection in the water.

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, Arizona)

I like the leading line of the branch and how the hummingbird’s wing is almost an extension of the sweep of the branch. The Rivoli’s Hummingbird’s iridescent feathers show well in this image high up in the Arizona Mountains.

See more Arizona hummingbird photos here

House Finch on Ocatillo (southeast Arizona)

It is only a House Finch, but I like the shape of the Ocatillo’s stalks and how the red blossom stalks match the bird’s plumage. The blue sky doesn’t hurt either!

House Finches are native to the western U.S. but were introduced to the East Coast in the 1940s (?). The arrived in Minnesota by the late 1980s but are still not extremely common.

Greater Prairie Chickens (Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod in blind]

Males battle on the dancing lek of the Greater Prairie Chickens. Battles are brief and often end in an aerial skirmish. I was in a blind from well before sun-up until all the males left at mid morning.

See more photos from my morning at the Prairie Chicken lek here

Yellow Rail (McGregor Marsh, Aitkin County, Minnesota)
[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens (Metabones adapter); 1/60 second at f5/6; ISO 1600; flash; hand-held while holding flashlight]

Not much of a photo huh? No it’s not technically a good bird photo but I included it because it is one of North America’s most rarely seen bird, and taken at 11pm in complete darkness in a cattail/sedge marsh with about a million mosquitos around my head. Plus, I was holding a flashlight in one hand and my camera in the other!

Read more about this adventure here (and see the video).

Spotted Owl (Hunter Canyon, Arizona)

Talk about well camouflaged! I have other photos that are tighter and more portrait-like, but I like this photo because it shows how their spotted plumage hides them in the dappled sunlight.

See more Spotted Owl photos here

Gambel’s Quail family (Portal, Arizona)

How cute are these little guys? I like their tiny top knots. One of the fun things to do in Southeast Arizona is to sit at a feeding station and just wait and see what comes in. I probably saw 25 species of birds in a couple hours while sitting in a lawn chair.

Elegant Trogon (near Portal, Arizona)

Another Southeast Arizona bird I hadn’t seen in ages…the Elegant Trogon. I was tipped off to a nest location so I spent a fair amount of time watching mom and dad come and go. The nest cavity was hard to see and I only had one tiny opening to get a photo. This is about the only decent image I got, but I did get video as well.

See more photos from the Cave Creek/Portal area of Arizona here

Greater Prairie Chicken (Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 2000; tripod in blind]

Another image of a Prairie Chicken battle. I like the blurred wing and unusual pose of this male.

See the VIDEO of my morning at the Prairie Chicken lek here

Red-necked Grebe and babies (Upper Rice Lake, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from kayak]

Too bad I wasn’t a bit closer when I took this photo. It is highly cropped. But I love the two baby Red-necked Grebes…especially the one peaking out from its mom’s wings.

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.

Sparky’s Top 10 Insect Photos 2018

Nothing too artsy fartsy here…Just some nice photos of some very cool insects (and a couple spiders). As you will be able to tell, the post is pretty heavy on moths. I have been beefing up my collection of moth photos, especially trying to capture them in a more natural setting. I attract them to our land (“Skogstjarna” in northern Minnesota) by leaving an outdoor light on at night. Then early in the morning I go out when the moths are still sluggish and gently move them to a more natural perch. It doesn’t always work so well on tiny moths since they can warm up more rapidly and fly off when I disturb their sleep.
I’ve also included some cool camouflage photos.

blue Karner Melissa Blue butterfly Lycaeides melissa samuelis Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Necedah WIIMG_2273

Karner Melissa Blue butterfly, Lycaeides Melissa samuelis, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Necedah, Wisconsin, July 19, 2018

I unintentionally planned my trip to Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge perfectly. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised to find that the nickel-sized Karner Blue butterfly was abundant, and easily the most common butterfly species out and about. Its caterpillar food plant is the native Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) which was just done blooming, but that doesn’t phase the adults which nectar on many flower species including the abundant roadside flower Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

This butterfly is a federally Endangered subspecies of the Melissa Blue.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 118mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f13; ISO 250; -0.33 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Skogstjarna Carlton Co MNIMG_1887

Lytrosis unitaria Common Lytrosis, 6720, Family Geometridae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota

Talk about well camouflaged! The Common Lytrosis moth is perfectly adapted to daytime perching on rough-barked trees (or stacked firewood in this case!)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/60 second at f8; ISO 1600; hand-held]

Nerice bidentata Double-toothed Prominent moth 93-0018 7929 Family Notodontidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0291

Nerice bidentata Double-toothed Prominent, moth, 93-0018, 7929, Family Notodontidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 13, 2018

The “double toothed” pattern of this moth breaks up its shape and makes it look as if it is just another spiky branch. Brilliant camouflage!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 109mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f9; ISO 100; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MNIMG_1493

Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia, male, butterfly, Felton WMA, Clay County, Minnesota, August 17, 2018

One of my main goals in going to northwest Minnesota in late summer was to find and photograph the rare Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia); a truly regal creature of tallgrass prairies. I had seen them at southwest Minnesota’s Blue Mounds State Park, and got some not-so-great photos at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois, but now I wanted some publication-quality images.

I had no luck on my first day, even though I scanned about a thousand Blazing Star flowers (a preferred nectar source). Then on day two I decided to hike out into the Felton WMA. Within about 20 yards I kicked up my first Regal, followed by half a dozen more in the next 15 minutes. But getting close to them is another story.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 200mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/1250 second at f4; ISO 250; hand-held]

fritillary Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia butterfly Felton WMA Clay County MNIMG_1630

Regal Fritillary Speyeria idalia, male, butterfly, and Bombus bumble bee, Felton WMA, Clay County, Minnesota, August 17, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 200mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/400 second at f4; ISO 100; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Bellura obliqua Cattail Borer 93-2517 9525 Family Noctuidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_0719

Bellura obliqua Cattail Borer 93-2517 9525 Family Noctuidae Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota, June 23, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 91mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f13; ISO 250; -1.66 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Biston betularia Pepper-and-Salt Geometer Peppered Moth 6640 Family Geometridae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0911

Biston betularia Pepper-and-Salt Geometer or Peppered Moth, 6640, Family Geometridae, Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota, June 8, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/60 second at f11; ISO 1600; hand-held]

Habrosyne scripta Lettered Habrosyne 6235 Family Depranidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0925

Habrosyne scripta Lettered Habrosyne, moth, 6235, Family Depranidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 8, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f11; ISO 320; +1 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Harrisimemna trisignata Harris's Three-Spot moth 93-1498 9286 Family Noctuidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0337

Harrisimemna trisignata Harris’s Three-Spot moth, 93-1498, 9286, Family Noctuidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 13, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 113mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f16; ISO 200; +0.33 ev; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Hyalophora cecropia Cecropia Moth far back on Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_7400

Hyalophora cecropia Cecropia moth far back on Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at the Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

[iPhone 7+]

Phyllodesma americana American Lappet Moth 7687 Family Lasiocampidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_0750

Phyllodesma americana American Lappet Moth, 7687, Family Lasiocampidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 23, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/60 second at f9; ISO 640; hand-held]

Smerinthus cerisyi One-eyed Sphinx 7822 Family Sphingidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MN IMG_0676

Smerinthus cerisyi One-eyed Sphinx, moth, 7822, Family Sphingidae, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota, June 23, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 140mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 640; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Amorpha juglandis Walnut Sphinx 7827 Family Sphingidae Skogstjarna Carlton County MNIMG_0801

Amorpha juglandis Walnut Sphinx 7827 Family Sphingidae Skogstjarna Carlton County, Minnesota, June 8, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 98mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/160 second at f10; ISO 800; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

Anastoechus barbatus bee fly Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MNIMG_1945

Anastoechus barbatus bee fly Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County, Minnesota, August 17, 2018

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f11; ISO 400; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County MNIMG_1232

Argiope trifasciata Banded Garden Spider Felton WMA Clay County, Minnesota

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 118mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 200; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Uloborus glomosus Feather-legged Orbweaver in web with multiple egg sacs Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at Warren Nelson Memorial Bog Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_1590

Uloborus glomosus Feather-legged Orbweaver in web with multiple egg sacs, spider, Warren Woessner Bog Boardwalk at Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 188mm with Canon 500D front-mounted close-up lens; 1/250 second at f22; ISO 800; pop-up fill flash; hand-held]

Sparky’s Top 10 Mammal Photos of 2018

Bighorn Battle (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

Yes, I know that it is not a razor sharp image, but it is probably my favorite mammal photo of the whole year. Battling male Bighorns has been on my “Most Wanted” list for a long time, and Ryan and I stumbled on a bachelor herd that was doing some spring sparring. We only had a second to jump out and grab some shots. We followed them into the foothills but lost track of them and never saw more interactions. The actual rut won’t happen until late fall.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/250 second at f8; ISO 100; hand-held]

Grizzly (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

Maybe not an exciting photo, but it is my first really good portrait of a Grizzly. Ryan and I waited at a carcass for a long time in order to see a Grizzly. This big boy finally arrived, swam/waded the river (that nearly swept him downstream) and started in on the carcass. He then wandered towards the gathered tourists and photographer. I really wanted him to step on this downed log, and he performed flawlessly.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/400 second at f4; ISO 1250; tripod]

Mountain Goat (Glacier National Park, Montana) July 2018

The only Mountain Goats I’ve ever seen were distant white specks in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Harney Peak) and in the northeast corner of Yellowstone, so it was very gratifying to see a small band up close on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. This one is searching for soil that is mineral/sodium rich. I like the pink/purple tone to the rocks and the half-shed winter coat.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/200 second at f7.1; ISO 400; hand-held]

Coyote in clover field (near Askov, Minnesota) September 1, 2018

Just before 8am this Coyote was still hunting this clover-filled meadow. He paused long enough for about 3 frames before heading for the woods. The early morning light and purple clover flowers helped slip this photo into the Top 10.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand-held]

Ermine in my woodpile (Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota)

My first thoughts when this Ermine ran out of my garage and into the wood pile was, Oh no! …the chickens! But the chickens had spotted him first and were making it known that this was their turf. They weren’t going to back down. The Ermine stuck around for a couple days, probably feeding on voles or mice, and then disappeared. The Ermine is actually a Short-tailed Weasel. In winter they turn from brown to white and folks call them Ermine.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6; 1/200 second at f5.6; ISO 2000; pop-up flash; hand-held]

Snowshoe Hares (Warren Nelson Memorial Bog, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) March 26, 2018

Yes, I know I’m lame for including THREE Snowshoe Hare photos in my Top 10. But they are honestly some of my favorites from 2018…especially since I’d always wanted to get good images of them, and only had a few. Interestingly, this was in late March and one was still mostly white and the other well on its way to turning brown. The photo showing one jumping over the other was probably part of their courtship as they were chasing each other all over the bog. It looked like play.

TOP: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

MIDDLE: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 244mm; 1/500 second at f6.3; ISO 640; hand-held]

BOTTOM: [Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 138mm; 1/250 second at f6.3; ISO 640; +1 ev; hand-held]

Black Bear sow and 3 cubs (Skogstjarna, our home, Carlton County, Minnesota) May 2018

We had visits from 6 different bears this spring/early summer at our home. This sow came with her 3 tiny cubs to check out our feeders (which were empty). Twins are more common than triplets in Black Bears. This is just an iPhone photo taken through our living room window. Fortunately, Bridget and the boys were able to enjoy the show.

Coyote working the fence line  (Galesburg, Illinois) March 2018

One of a pair of Coyotes working a rural fenceline in Illinois. It really blends in. I like this image because of the camouflage of the Coyote and the splash of color in the monochrome early spring landscape from the red barn.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 332mm; 1/800 second at f6.3; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

 

Uinta Ground Squirrel (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 28, 2018

A nice portrait of a Uinta Ground Squirrel. The blue background is not sky, but rather the cool shade of distant mountains. I also like the colorful foreground rock lichens.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM lens and Canon 2x tele-extender; 1/800 second at f4; ISO 200; hand-held]