Posts from the ‘wildflowers’ Category

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 3

Patagonia is a very small town that looms large in the legacy of American birding. It is a must-bird site for all visiting birdwatchers. I hit two of the most famous spots; Paton Center for Hummingbirds (formerly the home of Wally and Marion Paton and their plethora of hummingbird feeders) and the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.

The handsome and well named Gray Hawk is a specialty of the Patagonia area. They nest along the Sonoita Creek. I almost got too good of a look at this guy as he left off the edge of the dirt road as I rounded a corner. Here he is being harassed by a Kingbird. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the focus on this shot.
Cassin’s Kingbird at The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary
My lucky day! …but this Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) had to endure being manhandled by me for a few minutes. He/she was huge and hefty! (Let’s call it a “she.”) The carapace was almost two iPhone 7+ long! And it probably weighed about 10 pounds (total guess…but she was heavy!).
I love tortoises. The Sonoran Desert Tortoise can reach 15 inches in carapace length. This gal measured at 10.5 to 11 inches long so I imagine she is quite old. They eat all kinds of vegetation including cacti. I’ve also caught and “played” with the much smaller Texas Tortoise in, you guessed it, Texas. I helped this gal across the dirt road and off into the brush.
I was quietly walking a deserted and narrow dirt road west of Patagonia when I heard rustling in the brush. I stayed very still and watched this Javelina forage for about 10 minutes. As far as I know it never saw me.
Wally and Marion Paton’s home in Patagonia, Arizona has been a Mecca for birders and hummingbird enthusiasts for decades. I was here in 1994 and our group sat quietly under the canopy in their backyard waiting for the rare Violet-crowned Hummingbird to show. It did and I got my lifer Violet-crowned.
Wally and Marion passed away a few years ago and the Tucson Audubon Society stepped in to save this treasured and beloved location. Donations from birders and birding organizations helped buy the house and acreage. It is now loaded with gardens and paths and ponds…and of course, hummingbird feeders…and the Violet-crowns still come to feed.
This is the renovated hummingbird watching area at the Paton’s…now called the “Paton Center for Hummingbirds”
And the star of the show arrived! Several Violet-crowned Hummers fed at the Paton Center’s feeders and perched obligingly for us photographers.
Canyon Towhees in the underbrush.
Wildflower gardens and paths at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, Arizona.
Common Checkered-Skipper at the wildflower gardens at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, Arizona.
White Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora) is a large and beautiful wildflower in southeast Arizona.
“The oil of the white prickly poppy was used as a fine lubricant during WWII. It was found that the oil content of the seed is 25.8% which is similar to the oil content found in soybeans.”
—Quote from wikipedia.com
Vermilion Flycatcher along the dirt road to Sonoita Creek.
Any riparian area in the desert southwest USA is going to be an oasis for birds. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary is no exception. Unfortunately I arrived just an hour before closing so was not able to explore much.
Sparky and huge Cottonwood along Sonoita Creek.
Phainopepla at Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.
Broad-billed Hummer at the Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.

Easter Flower of the Prairie—Pasqueflowers bloom

April 26, 2019: Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County, Minnesota.

It had been several decades since I’d seen a blooming Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) [Othern synonyms: Anemone patens or Pulsatilla nuttalliana]. They are a true harbinger of spring on western prairies, and are often pushing up when snow still dots the landscape.

My main reason for driving 4 1/2 hours one-way from my homestead in Carlton County, Minnesota to the northwest corner of the state was to spend a morning with Greater Prairie-Chickens. I only had about 24 hours for the entire trip. But I wondered if I could get a bonus photo subject and find a clump of Pasqueflowers. I really didn’t think I’d find any, but while slowly cruising down a “Minimum Maintenance” dirt road, dots of color in the mainly brown landscape caught my eye. And, Yes!, it was a cluster of just blooming “Easter Flowers.”

It is the state flower of South Dakota and the Provincial flower of Manitoba. This species grows around the globe and can be found in the western U.S., Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China. Other names for this spring beauty are Prairie Crocus, Easter Flower, Windflower, Cutleaf Anemone, and Prairie Smoke in reference to its long wispy seed plumes.

The name Pasqueflower has its roots in the Christian celebration of Easter. The name for Easter in Latin and Greek is Pascha, and Hebrew Pasach,which originally referred to Passover. Many languages use this root for their current name for Easter (Påske in Norwegian, Pascua in Spanish, Pasqua in Italian, and Pâques in French). This flower gained its common name from its association with blooming at the time of Easter, likely in its range in Europe.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5453

Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens) at Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge; Polk County, Minnesota

[Most photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm f4 lens (some with Canon 500D close up lens attached to 70-200mm lens]

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5459

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5417

 

anepat-1

Range of the Pasqueflower in Minnesota. Note that it is mainly a prairie/grassland species so is absent from Northeastern and Northcentral parts of the state.

anepat

Range of Pasqueflower in the U.S. It is also found in Europe, Finland, Russia, Mongolia and China.

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5514

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5411

I’ve never seen white Pasqueflowers! Interesting that this clump was the only white ones amidst many purple clusters (see photo below).

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN MG_5526

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5492

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5540

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5559

Pasqueflower Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5564

Franklin's Gull flock over Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5403

A flock of migrating Franklin’s Gulls over Glacial Ridge NWR. One of the most beautiful gulls in the world. They nest in massive colonies in remote marshes such as those in NW Minnesota’s Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and Thief Lake WMA. Tens of thousands may nest in the same marsh!

36 Hours on the Prairie: Wildflowers

[August 17 & 18, 2018: I made a quick dash to the prairies of Western Minnesota in mid August. Much of my time is spent in the boreal forest and bogs of northeast Minnesota, and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic. So off to the wide open prairies! I started at Otter Tail County’s Maplewood State Park, then on to Wilkin County (Town Hall Prairie, Western Prairie, Rothsay WMA) and continued north to the huge Felton Prairie complex in Clay County. The next day I hit Felton area again and headed north to the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County]

Wildflowers on the tallgrass prairie peak in mid July to early August, but there were still plenty of showy plants in full bloom in mid August. It is energizing to be in an unfamiliar habitat and meeting new species, or at least species I hadn’t seen in many years. The Liatris were in full bloom on many of the dry sites. You may know Liatris as Gay Feather or Blazing-Star, but did you know that there are a bunch of different species in Minnesota? I didn’t. I even found a white variant of the normally pink-flowered forb (photos below). Monarchs and Regal Fritillaries love to nectar on Liatris.

Pink-flowered Wild Onion (Allium stellatum) was new to me, and is now one of my favorites.

I was really surprised to find Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) growing on the dry soils of Felton Prairie (Clay County, Minnesota). I am most familiar with this delicate beauty clinging to tiny cracks in the igneous rocks on the Shore of Lake Superior! But this is a very adaptable and hardy species that can be found in many habitats.

Wild Four-o-clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea) is a native prairie species that can also be found in waste places. The “four-o-clock” in our domestic gardens was cultivated from a related European species. The name comes from the fact that this plant opens only in late afternoon. In fact the Latin “nyctaginea” means “night blooming” from the Greek.
[Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (Polk County, Minnesota)]

You can bet that I will be back out on the prairies next spring and summer to see more of our tallgrass prairie’s fantastic flowers.

**You can click on the photos below to see details on species and location.

 

Churchill on Hudson Bay 2017: Tundra Wildflowers & Landscapes

Though the main purpose of my trip was to photograph and video the birds of the tundra, I also got in a bit of landscape and flora photography. Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) was by far the most dominant wildflower (actually a dwarf shrub) in the landscape. The showy purple-pink flowers dotted the tundra and edges of the boreal forests. At only a few inches high, it is funny to think of this as the same genus of the much larger Rhododendrons and Azaleas that are more familiar to us in “the south.”

I learned that the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens makes a pretty darn good macro lens due to its amazing close focusing ability. You’ll see many “telephoto macro” images below using this lens.

I also used the iPhone 7+ for several landscape photos. Post processing them with Snapseed on the phone.


Oversized inch-long catkins dwarf the willow they belong to. I believe this is Salix arctica or Arctic Willow. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 287 mm; 1/320 sec at f5; ISO 320; +0.66 ev; handheld]


Edge of the boreal forest on a road off of Goose Creek Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+ and post processed with Snapseed on the phone]

 


An interesting phenomenon I witnessed was the mirage of icebergs on Hudson Bay. Low floating pans of ice appeared to be giant walls of icebergs or a glacier when viewed through the heat shimmer of midday. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Willows, dwarfed Spruce, water pools and scoured bedrock dot the landscape along the shores of Hudson Bay. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Quartz veins on bedrock decorated with lichens. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/400 sec at f10; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]


Lichens [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Lapland Rosebay at the base of a lichen encrusted boulder. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 135 mm; 1/250 sec at f11; ISO 640; +1.33 ev; handheld]


Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is actually a dwarf rhododendron shrub that enlivens the tundra in early summer (mid June).

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]


The dwarf rhododendron called Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is only a few inches tall (3 – 18 inches around Hudson Bay), but it has spectacular purple-pink blossoms. It is in the Family Ericaceae along with other small shrubs including blueberries, cranberries, Leatherleaf, Bog Rosemary, Bog Laurel and azaleas.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/640 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. This dwarf shrub grows around the world at farn northern latitudes. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 100 mm; 1/100 sec at f13; ISO 400; +1 ev; handheld]

Lapland Rosebay and spruce. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


An island of Lapland Rosebay on the edge of the boreal forest along Twin Lakes Road. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 10mm lens; 1/160 sec at ??; ISO 320; handheld]


Lapland Rosebay and Reindeer lichens. Caribou in winter paw through the snow to get at and feed on Reindeer lichen, which is also known as “Caribou Moss.” [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

 


Lichen pattern

 


The white flower with red speckled petals is Saxifraga tricuspidata or Prickly Saxifrage (a.k.a Three-toothed Saxifrage), one of the most common Saxifrages in the Arctic. It is a colonizer of bedrock, taking hold in cracks. Its Inuktitut name is kakilahan.


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) ?? Not quite sure. The leaves below are not Dryas leaves, but maybe from another flower?


Interesting boulder with more resistant quartz veins.


The tundra is extremely colorful in the fall, but equally so in June in spots.

Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) is a member of the rose family. It is a circumpolar species and is found across Arctic Canada into Alaska and west through Siberia. It is also found at high eleveations in the Rocky Mountains. This species exhibits “heliotropism” as the flower faces and tracks the sun as it moves across the landscape. This may be more attractive to insects as it creates a warmer microclimate. [Launch Road tundra; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 286 mm; 1/320 sec at f6.3; -1 ev; ISO 100; handheld]

 


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) range map


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) had gone to seed in the warmer parts of the Churchill area. Styles of the pistil elongate, twist and become fluffy heads from which the feathery seeds disperse in the wind. [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]


Northern White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia) [Cook Street off Twin Lakes Road; Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 263 mm; 1/400 sec at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; handheld]


Gulls, jaegers, terns, loons, sea ducks…All can be seen at the tip of Cape Merry (remnant ice chunks float in the background). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Speedboat in the Arctic? No, just a wonderfully shaped ice floe drifting past Cape Merry. It upended and sank a minute later. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


Ice chunks on Hudson Bay and steel gray skies greeted me as I arrived in Churchill on June 16th.


Ice floated in and out of the shoreline areas of Hudson Bay during my entire visit (June 16-20). [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]


“Flag Spruce” dot the tundra in clumps such as this. They are shaped by the harsh winter conditions; snowpack covers the lower branches, protecting them from the strong ground winds that carry ice chunks and scour the middle trunk of all its branches. The tip of the spruces still carry needle-bearing branches (the “flag”) as they are above the effects of the ice-scouring forces. [Launch Road, Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[iPhone 7+]


You may recognize the blueberry type pink flower of this ground hugging shrub. This is likely a species of Vaccinium but I’m not sure which.


Net-veined Willow (Salix reticulata) is a ground-hugging dwarf willow that span less than the diameter of a quarter on the tundra. [Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay]

[Sony A6500 with with Canon 50mm f1.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f4.5; ISO 100; handheld]


A pair of large willow catkins greet the start of another tundra summer.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400 mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Yellowstone 2017 #2—Wildlife photography with the Canon 200mm f2 lens

No, sadly I don’t own this Canon 200mm EF IS USM f2.0 lens…(only $5,699 from Adorama canon 200mm f2 adorama)…but I rented it from http://www.lensrentals.com for a couple hundred bucks for a week. I DIDN’T WANT TO GIVE IT BACK!

I used it on my Canon 7D (my new Sony A6500 always had the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on it for 4K video usage) and I often hand held it, even though it weighs a hefty 5.6 pounds! Here are a few things I loved…

  1. Incredibly sharp lens!
  2. Lovely “bokeh” at f2.0 (the buttery backgrounds caused by the shallow depth of field when shooting wide open at f2.
  3. Snappy focus
  4. Solid feel
  5. Image stabilization that really worked
  6. Able to shoot hand held in low light situations due to the “fast” f2.0 aperture.

Now, I’m not a techy photographer, but I could instantly tell when I downloaded and viewed my photos on the large computer screen that this lens creates very sharp photos with beautiful backgrounds. I shot almost every image with this lens wide open at f2.0.

BUT you need the right subject in the right situation for this lens to shine. Before we went on this trip I searched Flickr for all images shot with “Canon 200mm f2” lens. 90% were portraits of people. And the reason for this is that you need a fairly large subject (human, Bison, Pronghorn) at a fairly close distance. This rarely happens in wildlife photography…But in Yellowstone, the wildlife is used to humans so you can get quite close. And it’s open country. Ideally you also need some stuff in the foreground and background in order to show off the shallow depth of field. Look especially at the foreground and background in the photos below…You could never get this kind of bokeh (blurred background/foreground) with other telephoto lenses at this distance.

OR you need smaller subjects shot at close range (Raven, Harlequin Duck, Shooting Star flower). The lens only focuses to 6.2 feet at the close end, but you could add extension tubes for real dreamy background close up work.

Conclusion? All in all, a magnificent lens…for the right situations. Really not sure how much use it would get in northern Minnesota where the wildlife is usually in thick cover, and often only seen briefly. It would be very cool for large northern owls (who are quite tame), but probably does not justify a nearly $6,000 purchase. Maybe I could justify it by adding a 2x extender and making it into a 400mm f4 lens…Naah. BUT I will definitely rent it again on a future Yellowstone National Park trip.

Common Raven black and white Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0368

Talk about sharp…Wow! I zoomed in on the reflection in the eye of the Raven and could easily see and count the pine trees in the background.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison snowy sagebrush Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0045

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1600 at f2; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Harlequin Duck pair male female low angle Madison River Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0187

The lens is great for eye-level water shots in order to separate the subject from the background on lakes, river. With other lenses (such as the 70-200mm f4 lens) the background would be much more detailed and the birds lost in the composition. Also note the Trumpeter swan photo below.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +1 ev; tripod; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

 

Bison herd aspens wide Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-05004

Here is an example of an image that may not look too different with another lens as I shot it at f4.5.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/320 at f4.5; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Common Raven snow rainbow background Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0353

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/400 at f2; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

 

Bison head on snowy woods Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0238

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison heard formation crossing river low angle Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0296

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison heard formation crossing river Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0300

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/500 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Common Raven snow falling black and white Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0335

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; +1.33 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

 

 

Trumpeter Swan Gibbon River? Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0427

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/2500 at f2; ISO 100; +1 ev; tripod; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Upper Falls Yellowstone River Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0484

Not sure why I shot this at f2.0….Should have shot at f8. No need for shallow depth of field here.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100;  -0.66 ev; tripod; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison standing facing me Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0521

This lens really shines with low angle photography. This was shot BELOW eye-level and makes the Bison look quite ominous…And I was not too comfortable being this close.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1000 at f2; ISO 100; -0.5 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Pronghorn broadside Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0699

Classic photo with the f2 lens…A boring image with any other lens, but the blurred background and foreground created by shooting at f2.0 make this less than boring (But not that great either).

Shooting Star wildflower Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0746

Love this! The ONLY sharp thing in this photo is the flower head of this tiny Shooting Star wildflower (see image below for size scale).

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/3200 at f2; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Shooting Star wildflower Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0767

Ryan photographing the same Shooting Star wildflower for scale.

Bison snowy head on Canon 200mm f2 lens Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0075

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Bison head black and white Yellowstone National Park WY Sparky Stensaas-0797

Sharp!

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/320 at f2; ISO 100; handheld; Processed in Adobe Lightroom]

Northwest Minnesota—Part 2: Norris Camp & Big Bog, June 12-13, 2016

Heading east from Thief Lake WMA I decided to check out Norris Camp, a remote Minnesota DNR station in the Beltrami Island State Forest that I’d heard had a nesting Black-backed Woodpecker. I was pretty sure that I was too late as most woodpeckers had fledged young already. But I was in luck! And I spent a couple hours with this pair of rarely seen boreal woodpeckers.

Black-backed Woodpecker nest Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1467 (1)Black-backed Woodpecker nest at Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest; Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
The folks at the camp pointed out that this was the same mated pair that nested on the grounds last summer. How did they know? Notice the band on the adult’s leg; they actually banded them last year and both the male and female returned to nest only 100 yards from last year’s nest. Woodpeckers NEVER use the same cavity twice but always excavate a new nest; it may be in the same tree but usually not. In this case, the tree they used last year had blown down since last summer. I don’t know much about site fidelity or mate fidelity in woodpeckers but this was a very interesting anecdote that I will for follow up on.
Also note the male’s yellow cap; the female shows only black on the head. He’s feeding a young male who is already sporting his jaunty yellow forehead feathers.

Black-backed Woodpecker nest Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1380Black-backed Woodpecker nest at Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest; Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

arctic Macoun's Arctic Oeneis macounii near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1427 (1)Macoun’s Arctic (Oenis macounii) at Norris Camp, Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
While waiting and watching at the Black-backed Woodpecker nest, I was treated to a lifer butterfly. Not 20 feet away I noticed an orange butterfly that was repeatedly landing on the same fallen log. I finally took a closer look and lo and behold, a Macoun’s Arctic! This species only flies every other year in the North Woods so I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. They are found in openings in sandy Jack Pine forests, and that is exactly the habitat I was in. Males use the same perch as they wait for females.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 184mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/1250 at f7.1; ISO 320; -0.67ev; hand-held]

arctic Macoun's Arctic Oeneis macounii near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1434 (1)Macoun’s Arctic (Oenis macounii) at Norris Camp, Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
When perched with wings folded, the Macoun’s Arctic is well camouflaged, like just another piece of bark. This species has a fairly limited range in North America extending from the North Shore of Lake Superior west and north to Churchill, Manitoba, British Columbia and just extending north into the Northwest Territories.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 135mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 320; -0.67ev; hand-held]

blue Silvery Blue Glaucopsyche lygdamus Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1669 (1)Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 100mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/1250 at f7.1; ISO 320; -0.67ev; hand-held]

Aquilegia canadensis Wild Columbine Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1347Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Polygala paucifolia Fringed Polygala Gaywings near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1567Fringed Polygala or Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Corydalis sempervirens Pale Corydalis Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1623Pale Corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens) in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Cypripedium arietinum Ram's-head Ladyslipper near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1543Ram’s-head Ladyslipper (Cypripedium arietinum) near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
One of my favorite orchids found in the bogs of north central Minnesota, the Ram’s-head Ladyslipper. This small group was past prime as you can tell by the collapsed dorsal sepal on top of the slipper pouch. This may mean that the flower had already been pollinated. It is a very small ladyslipper, maybe 6 inches tall. This group was growing in a Cedar bog.

Cypripedium arietinum Ram's-head Ladyslipper near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1550Ram’s-head Ladyslipper (Cypripedium arietinum) near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 113mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/250 at f8; ISO 250; -0.67ev; tripod]

Cypripedium parviflorum Yellow Ladyslipper Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1709Yellow Ladyslipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.

Platanthera hookeri Hooker's Orchid near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1607Mosquito on Hooker’s Orchid (Platanthera hookeri) in a Cedar bog near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota

Platanthera hookeri Hooker's Orchid near Norris Camp Beltrami Island State Forest Lake of the Woods Co MN IMG_1577Hooker’s Orchid (Platanthera hookeri) in a Cedar bog near Norris Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest, Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota.
[Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 104mm and Canon 500D close up attachment; 1/100 at f6.3; ISO 400; -0.67ev; tripod]

Big Bog sign IMG_3441

My last stop was Big Bog State Recreation Area (SRA) near Waskish, Minnesota on Red Lake. This is the largest patterned peatland in the lower 48, and massive in size. It was once home to Minnesota’s last wild Caribou herd which disappeared in the 1930s and 40s. Their trails can still be seen from the air.
The boardwalks is one mile long and a very pleasant hike. MANY interpretive signs highlight the human and natural history of the Big Bog.

Big Bog Boardwalk IMG_3443A portion of the mile-long Big Bog SRA boardwalk near Waskish, Minnesota.

Tamarack cones IMG_1758Tamarack cones along the bog boardwalk.

fritillary Bog Fritillary boardwalk Big Bog SRA Beltrami Co MN IMG_1779Bog Fritillary (Boloria eunomia) on the Big Bog SRA boardwalk.
This was my lifer Bog Fritillary! Unfortunately I mistook it for a different, more common species, and I didn’t take the time to get a really good photo. Oh well, just a reason to go back!
I was going to camp overnight in the area, but I got a text message on my phone that a Calliope Hummingbird had shown up in Duluth…in breeding plumage! This is a bird of the mountain west that has only been recorded in Minnesota a couple times…and never in its stunning breeding plumage. This was reason enough to head for home.

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.

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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.