Posts from the ‘wildflowers’ Category

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.

IMG_7825

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.

IMG_7981

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mating Game

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8279 - Version 2

IMG_8279

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.

Cactus in Minnesota?—Blue Mounds State Park: Part 2

Prickly Pear Cactus 3 1024x
CACTUS IN MINNESOTA?
Yes, actually two species of Prickly Pear Cactus occur in southwest Minnesota…Opuntia fragilis and Opuntia macrorhiza. And Blue Mounds State Park is a great place to see them for yourself. No, not giant cartoon-type cactus but a low-growing cactus with GORGEOUS and HUGE yellow blossoms. They should be blooming now! To make sure, call the park office in advance.
Purple Prairie Clover? 234_3452 copyIf you squint, you can almost imagine a time when tallgrass prairie covered the endless landscapes of southern and western Minnesota. And Purple Prairie-Clover (Dalea purpurea) was part of that rich mosaic of prairie wildflowers.
This species is a legume with a taproot that may reach down 6 feet into the soil! This root system helps prevent soil erosion. It is a true prairie plant that has evolved with fire, and does not tolerate shade. Pronghorns are even known to eat it.

Bison foursome Blue Mounds 153_5345 copyA looming thunderstorm provides a dramatic backdrop to these grazing Bison. Don’t let me mislead you…There is a fence around the entire herd, and they are not always visible to park visitors.

Bison run blur Blue Mounds State Park Luverne MN _MG_5157 copyIn 1961, the park added three bison from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska to start the present bison herd. Today, the Blue Mounds’ herd is maintained at more than 100 bison.

Coneflower Blue Mounds Rock Co MNNotice the deeply cut leaves and extemely reflexed ray petals of the Pinnate Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) (sometimes called Gray-headed Coneflower). To emphasize the incredible five-foot height of this prairie native, I crouched down with my wide angle lens and put the flowering heads “in the clouds” so to speak. This photo would not have had much impact if taken at “eye-level” with the flowers.

Gray Partridge near Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNGray Partridge, the bird formerly known as Hungarian Partridge, are not easy to find…anywhere. So I was very fortunate to run into this breeding-plumaged male near the park. They are one of the few birds that utilize seemingly barren crop fields that surround the park. I lost the original of this image when I dropped a hard drive years ago, but fortunately I printed a 4×6. This is a scan of that 4×6 print.

Turkey Vulture Blue Mounds State Park landscape Rock Co MN IMG_9978A Turkey Vulture soars over the prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. This is the same tree and Sioux Quartzite outcrop as in another photo in this post.

Great Horned Owl cliff, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5237Cliffs can be habitat too. This Great Horned Owl has made a home of the Quartzite cliffs on the east side of the park. Hiking trails parallel the cliffs along the base and also on top of the bluff.

GHOW-SS in flight, Blue Mounds S.P. MN _MG_5240We rarely see Great Horned Owls in flight during the day. So when this guy took off, I held down the shutter. He/she then obligingly banked to reveal the full spread of its large wings and a full tail fan. The fact that he/she peeked over his/her shoulder at me was a bonus.

Rock Wren BlueMoundsSP-Stensaas (1)RARE FIND
I found this singing Rock Wren at the top of a cliff several Junes ago. The closest this western bird regularly breeds to Minnesota would be the Black Hills of South Dakota, over 300 miles away! Unfortunately, this guy did not find a mate here and likely moved on.

Tree and Sioux Quartzite Blue Mounds State Park Rock Co MNSome outcrops of Sioux Quartzite are more red than others, and this one also has excellent patterning with crusted green lichens. This scene is near the drive up to the Interpretive Center. The Box Elder (I think it’s a Box Elder) adds to the composition that might be a little boring without it.

Bison Rainbow Blue Mounds-Stensaas copyA dawn rainstorm spawned a sunrise rainbow. The clouds, 180 degrees from the rising sun, lit up a beautiful pink color. In order to get the entire arc of the rainbow, I used my 10mm lens (equivalent of a 16mm lens as it was on my camera with a 1.6 crop factor) and placed the Bison underneath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to lift his head, but to no avail. I still like this unique image.

Round-lobed Hepatica: Variations on a theme


I was out digging up roadside trees (poaching?) to plant on my land today when I found a beautiful stand of Round-lobed Hepatica. I forgot about the trees for a while and spent about a half hour with this one clump. Hepaticas are interesting in that they can be one of several colors. Most clumps around me were white, but this group was bluish violet. They are one of our earliest wildflowers, blooming before the leaves come out on the trees. Species that bloom at this time of year in northern deciduous forests are called spring ephemerals and also include the Trout Lilies, Large-flowered Bellwort, Large-flowered Trillium, Wood Anemone and several violets. It may surprise some of you “southerners” that the aspen leaves are just now opening up here near Lake Superior. We are in the midst of “green up” and the ephemerals will be closing up shop as soon as the canopy closes up.

In my early days of photography, I was mainly interested in nice portraits of the entire plant for use in my naturalist talks and programs (for you kids, that was in the “film days” and presentations were via slide projecter…I’m ancient!) Only since adopting digital photography in 2004 have I been experimenting with “artistic” flower shots. Here are several variations from todays shoot.

PORTRAITS
Straight-up species portraits are not as easy as you might think. You really need to spend a few minutes “grooming” the site, flower and background. This is especially true with the smaller plants, like today’s hepaticas, since the background is only inches away and one bright stem or pine needle can ruin a shot.
A. Handhold your camera and experiment with angles to find the best camera position for your shot.
B. NOW set up your tripod and put the camera on it.
C. Check your background by stopping your camera down to f16 or so and taking a photo. Analyze on your LCD screen.
D. Groom the plant by removing dead stems and dead leaves.
E. Fix your background by removing “hot spots” created by out of focus light-colored needles, leaves, stems, sticks.
F. Tie back branches that are in the way. You can also use a heavy stick to lay gently on vegetation you’re trying to keep out of the frame.
G. Manual focus and use the Live View LCD magnified 10x to get precise focusing (Turn autofocus off!)
H. If sunny, shade the flower with your body, or better yet, a diffuser. (More about this in a later post).
I. Use your self timer or live-view to reduce shake resulting from pressing the shutter button.
J. Shoot many frames experimenting with varying f-stops to see what you like best.

I think we’ll talk more about wildflower shooting in an upcoming post. Too much to include in this post alone.

Canon 7D with Tamron 60mm f2 lens, fill flash from camera’s pop-up flash, tripod

Sparky’s Top Ten 2011

I really enjoy the exercise of picking my Top Ten from the previous year. As I peruse the “4-star” files, it gives me a chance to reflect on the adventures and misadventures, the misses and successes from the previous year. While the duties of being the father of a 3-year old and 1 1/2 year old has kept me close to home, I’m still fairly satisfied with the results. My point? You don’t really need to travel to Africa, Antarctica or Alaska to make stunning images. Start in your own backyard! The sunflower/raindrop shot was taken 20 feet from the front door!
Nine of the Ten were taken within 85 miles of home (Wrenshall, MN)
Six of the Ten were taken within 35 miles of home
Three of the Ten were taken on our land or in nearby Wrenshall

Here they are in reverse order (Hey, you’ve got to build excitement!)

NUMBER 10

This is the only photo of the bunch that was taken further than 85 miles from home; This perturbed Canada Goose was defending territory on my mother-in-law’s pond in Galesburg, Illinois. The light was perfect, it is tack sharp, and there is behavior. The goose’s open beak makes the shot. It also shows that common and familiar birds can still make great subjects.

NUMBER 9

Okay, I didn’t actually click the shutter of the camera for this shot…It was taken by my Bushnell Trophy Cam trail camera. And it’s not that great of a shot…BUT, I included it because 2011 was the Year of the Trail Camera for me…And this Bobcat was only 100 feet from the house. I’ve never seen a Bobcat on our 5 acres but the trail camera has recorded them on more than a dozen nights/days. It just goes to show how many subjects may be near by but never seen.

NUMBER 8

Another oddball choice, but I really like this picture. It is a HDR (High Dynamic Range) image created from 3 separate photos taken at different exposures. I’ve always loved vernacular architecture—old buildings, gas stations, city halls, school houses, barns—so this abandoned farm caught my eye as I was taking a “long cut” home through Pine and Carlton Counties.

NUMBER 7

I got very wet taking this images of a Le Conte’s Sparrow in the Sax-Zim Bog 40 miles NW of Duluth. It was just after dawn and this guy was singing away, intent on attracting a female even though it was late in the breeding season. Dew covered every blade of grass and I got drenched as I made my way closer and closer to the songster in the old hay-field. Le Conte’s Sparrows are not common so I was thrilled that he let me get within 20 feet. In fact, he was still singing when I backed off and returned to my truck.

NUMBER 6

A surreal landscape (icescape?) of bushes encased in a thick layer of ice on Stoney Point between Duluth and Two Harbors on Lake Superior. Taken at sunset but looking east…I much prefer the pink and blue of the eastern vista at sunset to the gaudy 🙂 oranges and reds of the west.

NUMBER 5

I love the position of the wings in this shot of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Yes, I wish it was an adult, red tail and all, but I’ll take it. Hawk Ridge; Duluth, MN

NUMBER 4

Pine Grosbeaks only visit the “tropical south” of northern Minnesota in winter. They nest in Canada. Their pinkish red feathers are stunning in the snowy woods. But this was actually taken in our local city park only five miles from home!

NUMBER 3

It is possible to have flying birds and the moon in focus without resorting to Photoshop! Taken in late October at Crex Meadows, Wisconsin…a major stopover in their migration south.

NUMBER 2

A very rare phenomenon…the “wavebow” was captured along the North Shore of Lake Superior in March. I just happened to be driving by and saw this scene. I pulled over and scrambled down the embankment to fire off a few shots before it disappeared. It is in the latest issue of Lake Superior Magazine as a two-page spread.

Drumroll please….NUMBER 1

Probably the photo that took the most time to get…I shot hundreds of images over a two week period to get this shot…And I finally got it right outside our front door! The time between a raindrop/dewdrop building up to critical mass and falling from the petal is milliseconds. The editors at the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer also liked it and it ran in the Nov-Dec 2011 issue.

If I get motivated I may do more “Top Tens” of landscape, birds, mammals etc. But I do hope this motivates you to do your own Top Ten images.

Prairie Wildflower HDR

Prairies are not just grass! And this photo shows the rich diversity of an Illinois tallgrass prairie. I shot it with a super wide 10mm lens from a low angle to dramatize the clouds. I handheld a Galen Rowell 2-stop graduated neutral density filter over the front of the lens to bring the sky down a couple stops and prevent it from blowing out when exposing for the flowers. This image is technically a HDR…A High Dynamic Range photo. It is the result of a single image being processed twice in Aperture (once for the sky and once for the foreground wildflowers) and then combined in Photomatix Pro. I then went back into Photoshop to adjust curves and darken the sky. Finally I brought it back into Aperture to give it final tweeks.

The Tallgrass prairies have mostly disappeared…Only a fraction of the original prairies still exist. Fortunately, most of the remaining tracts are now protected. Groups like The Nature Conservancy and state DNRs are not only protecting the lands but rejuvenating them with prescribed burns and wildflower and grass plantings.

Canon 7D, 10-20mm Sigma lens, 2-stop Galen Rowell graduated neutral density filter, handheld, f16.