Posts from the ‘Trumpeter Swan’ Category

From Namekagon through Crex Meadows

I had a speaking gig in southern Minnesota a couple weeks ago (Sept. 17 to be exact…I’m a bit behind on my editing!) but I didn’t feel like just driving the interstate (I-35) down to Austin…Much too boring. Why not get some photography in? So I drove south on Wisconsin 35…a 2-lane highway that gets me close to one of my all-time favorite wildlife photography locations…Crex Meadows.
spruce tree dawn silhouette WI IMG_6117sun breaking through fog WI IMG_6147Fog shrouded the low-lying spots along the highway, then as the sun rose, rays broke through, illuminating the mist, making it glow. I pulled the van over immediately, knowing the sun would burn this fog off quickly. I managed to get these ethereal shots…silhouette of an old spruce (above) and the sun rays in the fog.

Bald Eagle Namakagon River WI IMG_6216Further down the road, I crossed the Namekagon River (part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway). I stopped and spent some time here as the scene was changing from hazy foggy misty goodness to pure morning sun. This Bald Eagle magically appeared, hunting down the river corridor. I wish I’d captured the wings in a better position but I like the silhouette anyway.

Red-tailed Hawk Namakagon River WI IMG_6211An old White Pine along the river made a choice perch for this Red-tailed Hawk. I chose a wider view, giving the branch itself a bit of a starring role. I like the composition.

Red-tailed Hawk coughing up pellet Namakagon River WI IMG_6212Wildlife behavior is always interesting to capture, but not easily done. The Red-tail started making odd movements and I knew it was about to cough up a pellet. I fired off a series of shots. You can see the pellet falling to through the air. I wish I had time to take a video of this. Oh, well. (pellets are conglomerates of undigested bone and hair that are regurgitated by birds of prey and many other birds…including hummingbirds! In addition to nectar, they eat insects, some with hard wing cases or larger wings, that need to be coughed up.)

Pied-billed Grebe Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6428Pied-billed Grebes were very common at Crex Meadows this day. This pond had 5 hunting in fairly close proximity. I saw this guy struggling with a fish so I grabbed some shots as it flew off with its prize bullhead. It eventually was able to turn it in its bill so it could slide down its throat head first.

Paper Birch Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6412The first hints of fall color in a stand of Paper Birch.

Blue-winged Teal flock Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6549Blue-winged Teal flock.

Northern Harrier Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6547Northern Harriers spend much of their time gliding over marsh land and meadows searching (and listening) for voles, mice, shrews and small birds. Owl-like facial disks focus sounds in the grass on their ear holes thereby aiding in triangulating the location of unseen prey. The females, like this one, are brown; Males are a striking light gray. Both have the white band on the upper tail.

Sandhill Crane Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6252 (1)A lone Sandhill Crane forages along the shore. Crex Meadows is known for its huge concentration of fall migrating Sandhill Cranes. It is an important stop over for their migration.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6386Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you find a subject that is comfortable with your presence. You have to take advantage of these rare moments. This Short-billed Dowitcher (juvenile) allowed me to actually get out of the van and sit quietly at the edge of the water while it fed, waded, swam, bathed, and preened only 30 feet away! These are my best Short-billed Dowitcher pictures by far.

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6398

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6341

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6382

Short-billed Dowitcher juvenile Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6357

Trumpeter Swan Crex Meadows Grantsburg WI IMG_6534Trumpeter Swans nest in good numbers at Crex Meadows. This adult was one of a pair that had 4 nearly grown cygnets. Cygnets do not get their white plumage until they are a year old. Also note the pink on the juvenile’s bill.

[all wildlife shots with Canon 7D & Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, hand held]

Subzero Swans: Shooting with Sparky video

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480
Heading north from my parent’s home I decided to stop by Monticello, Minnesota to photograph Trumpeter Swans wintering on the Mississippi River. Tucked into a suburban neighborhood on a cul-de-sac is a tiny lot-sized city park. Hundreds of swans winter here. The attractions for the swans are the Mississippi kept open by the discharge of a nuclear power plant and cracked corn. Sheila the Swan Lady began feeding a handful of swans years ago…and word got around the swan world. Now over 1500 Trumpeters winter here! Sheila has passed away, but her husband carries on, scattering hundreds of pounds of corn each day. Please put a few bucks in the donation box at the park to help support this feeding project.

It was cold…zero degrees…and I was plenty early, 45 minutes before sunrise. While dancing around to keep my feet warm, I set up my heavy tripod and got to work. You must stay behind a split rail fence so you are forced to shoot down on the subjects. Not the best angle. Eye level almost always gives animal images more impact. But occasionally swans will fly in at eye level. As the morning progresses, there is behavior and birds everywhere…a swan battle here, wing-flapping there, a flock of Goldeneyes rocketing past, a Bald Eagle overhead, a lamentation of swans flying in (yes…lamentation!). It is hard to swing the tripod head around fast enough to catch all the action.

Trumpeter Swan battle Monticello MN IMG_0073397

As the sun rose the light turned the river steam a very nice gold, silhouetting swans and trees. Several small flocks were flying by. I set Shutter Priority to 1/60 of a second and panned at as they flew past. I’ve had great luck with this on previous trips. But today I preferred my 1/1000 of a second motion-stopping images…Swan feathers translucent and back lit against the blue river.

Trumpeter Swans 2 flying backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073469

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073476

The noise…hundreds of Trumpeters trumpeting…has to be experienced to be believed. It is the highlight of any visit. And to me personally, the whole experience is unbelievable. I never would have believed this day would come. When I was in high school in the late 70s/early 80s, Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from Minnesota, which had not had a breeding pair since 1885. I remember seeing some captive Trumpeters at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Then the MN DNR and began a reintroduction program, bringing in eggs from South Dakota, Montana and Alaska. In 1987, 21 2-year old swans were released at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County. Today, the Minnesota population is over 2400 swans. An amazing success story.

More and more swans arrived, flying in towards the feeding area. But by now the light was getting “hot” and their white sunlit feathers were blowing out. The histogram was clipped on the white side. Not good. I packed up the gear and just enjoyed the cacophony of trumpeting Trumpeter Swans before heading home. Like they say, or if they don’t say it somebody should, “Any day shooting is better than a day in the office.”

Tips for shooting swans
1. Get there early! White swans in sunlight equals difficult exposures. Feathers tend to blow out to detailless white. I would even suggest getting there 30 minutes before sunrise. Any “steam” on the water may light up to a beautiful yellow-orange when the sun first peeks over the horizon.
2. Choose a lens that will bring the action closer but leave enough breathing room around the bird so sudden wing-stretching or flapping or fights will not leave part of a wing out of the frame. A 400mm on a crop-sensor camera works well as would a 500mm on a full-frame camera. But even a 300mm lens can yield very nice images. I also like to use my 70-200mm for some “bird in landscape” shots.
3. To stop the action, set your camera to Shutter Priority 1/1000 of a second and your ISO to Auto (if you have this feature).
4. Experiment! Pan with swimming birds as well as flying birds…1/80 to 1/60 second work best. Try some fill flash. Zoom. Use a wide angle lens for an “animal in the landscape” shot.

Trumpeter Swans flying blur panning Monticello MN IMG_0073429

Resources:
Trumpeter Swans at Monticello, Minnesota: Hundreds of Trumpeters, Canada Geese and ducks winter along the Mississippi River in Monticello, Minnesota. A tiny city park buried in a suburban neighborhood is access to the swans. Visit http://www.MonticelloChamber.com for more info and a downloadable pdf brochure.

Trumpeter Swan checking on young one Monticello MN IMG_0073411

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.
Flight shots taken at 1/1000 second on Shutter Priority with auto ISO

Mallard albino Monticello MN IMG_0073451Leucistic Mallard blends in well with the white adult Trumpeters and gray and white juveniles.

Monochrome Swans

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

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

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

Swans in the Mist

Not as exotic as “Gorillas in the Mist,” this scene revealed itself much closer to home when rounding a corner on our “Drive-to-Daycare Wildlife Loop #3.” Birk and Bjorn were fairly non-plussed. Birk went back to playing Angry Birds on my iPhone after a verbal pat on his dad’s back, “Oh swans, nice spot daddy” (“spot” is a birder term for finding a good bird). But I loved the moody scene. And overcast days are when you want to photograph pure white swans as the contrast between the white birds and surroundings is reduced and there is much less chance of blowing out the whites.

Unlike 20 years ago, when a birder would assume that any spring or fall swans seen in northern Minnesota would be Tundra Swans (“Whistling Swans” back then), today we assume that they are Trumpeter Swans (if the flock is under a dozen birds or so). Back from the brink of extinction in the Lower 48, the Trumpeters owe their “thrival” (thriving survival…yes, I made the term up) to Carrol Henderson and the Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife division. Back in the early 1980s, Carrol traveled to Alaska where the species was hanging on, and brought back a dozen or so eggs. They were hatched and raised in the Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Parks. Finally in 1987 several two-year olds were released into the wild. Today the Trumpeters are thriving, with 300 nesting pairs in Minnesota and several thousand wintering on the Mississippi River near Monticello. They are also nesting in Wisconsin and now even reclaiming historical territory in Ontario and Manitoba.

It’s good to have you back, my trumpeting friends!

Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6, 1/250 second at f5.6, ISO 160, lens braced on car door frame.