Posts from the ‘wildlife photography’ Category

Lizards, Tortoises & Snakes—Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 7

Here are the seven species of herps I saw in southeast Arizona. Most were lifers for me. I get about as excited about new species of reptiles and amphibians as I do about new birds!

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Note the blue-tinted body and black bars on forelegs that help identify this Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) and separate it from the Desert Spiny Lizard below.
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

This male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) was very cooperative. He was displaying (and even doing a little “dance”). Maybe it was all for the benefit of the less-colorful female (pictured below).
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female (?) Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]
Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

I was thrilled to find this Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum) on Foothills Road after dark near Portal, Arizona. I joined him on the road and got some decent photos considering it was quite dark out. I had to move slow or he would bolt. This was my third species of horned lizard for my life list.
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

What great camouflage!

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

This old guy was sauntering along a dirt road near Patagonia, Arizona…and I couldn’t resist making friends with him. What a magnificent creature!

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Selfie with Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Eye-level view of Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai). Sometimes you just have to lay in the dirt to get the shot!
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

See ya buddy! Live long and prosper.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

I saw this very long and thin snake curled up on a dirt road in the mountains near Sierra Vista, Arizona on my way to Hunter Canyon. But by the time I got the car stopped, it was already up a nearby tree. I was really hoping to get a very up close look at this guy, especially since it was a lifer.

I determined that it is a Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

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Swedes Forest: Lizards & Cactus—Minnesota River Valley July 2019

July 23, 2019

Did you know that within the border of Minnesota lives 3 lizard species and 4 species of cactus? On this quick trip down to the western portion of the Minnesota River valley I hoped to see several of these rare species.

Panorama of Swedes Forest in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

My first stop was Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). This site was protected because of its unique rock outcrops, which were historically in a prairie setting. But over the years, Bur Oaks and other trees have grown up and shaded the rocks. The periodic fires of pre-White-Settlement times kept the landscape as mainly prairie, but with the fire suppression of the last 100 years, the forest has encroached. It is time to try and bring back the open grasslands here. On the day I arrived there was a crew cutting down these trees in order to restore the ecosystem.

A view from the exposed bedrock of Swedes Forest SNA.

I headed right to the most obvious rock outcrop south of the parking area. My main goal was to see the very rare Five-lined Skink, but I also knew there were Prairie Skinks here as well. After about 15 minutes I saw a couple-inch long skink start scurrying across the reddish rock. It stopped barely long enough for me to get a few shots. The first thing I noticed was its blue tail…but that doesn’t help identifying the critter since both the Prairie Skink and Five-lined Skink juveniles show this tail color. But by the head and back stripes and markings I could tell it was a young Prairie Skink. Still very exciting because I have never seen one before.

Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)
Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)

My only skink for the day (despite looking under many rocks) was this juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis). It’s blue tail is one clue but you really have to check out its back and head stripes to separate it from the similar, but much rarer, Five-lined Skink. This youngster was only a few inches long.

I nicknamed this jumping spider the “scary Halloween mask spider” for its unique abdomen pattern, and texted a photo to my kids. I thought I had a rare species at first, but later learned from Minnesota spider expert Chad Heins, that this was simply a young female Habronattus decorus, a jumping spider which I have photographed the very different looking male several times.

Have you ever seen a shiny green, red and blue beetle before? I hadn’t either…until I found this one foraging on a shrub. This is Calleida punctata, a species of ground beetle.

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly of mid summer. I rarely get to see them as they are never found in large numbers.

Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)
Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)

Shallow depressions in bedrock outcrops on the prairie create one of Minnesota’s rarest habitats. These low spots catch and hold rainwater since they have no outlet. One specialist in this microhabitat is Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink) as show in the 2 photos above. I was a bit late to see it in full bloom unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to come back!

Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)

Some may be surprised to learn that cactus grows natively in Minnesota. The above four photos are of one of the smaller species called Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). It is fragile as its Latin name implies, but it packs a painful prickly punch if you accidentally touch or kneel on one!

The tiny, but large for its family, Galgupha Ebony Bug is so shiny that you can see my reflection, and that of the sun, clouds and blue sky, on its smooth exoskeleton.

Plains Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus externus)

Dickcissels are only irregular visitors to my home territory of northern Minnesota, making summer irruptions every 4 years or so. But they are abundant breeders in the scrubby grasslands of Southern Minnesota.

**All photos taken with Canon 7D and either Canon 70-200mm f4 lens or Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. Macro photos with Canon 500D attached to Canon 70-200mm lens. Panorama photos taken with iPhone 7+.

Trio of Romping Red Fox Pups—Video & Photos

TRIO of ROMPING RED FOX PUPS. Carlton County, Minnesota. June 23, 2019.

I had a date with a kayak and a family of Common Loons on a lake near my home in northeastern Minnesota…but then I found these siblings out and about in the middle of the afternoon. The Loons would have to wait!

I pulled over and enjoyed their antics for about an hour. I shot video and photos out of the van window and they only occasionally looked over at me. In the entire hour I was there, only one other car came by, and even then, the pups came right back out onto the gravel road to continue their wrestling.

There is an old gravel pit that is now overgrown. Their den was probably in that area.
Play fighting pups

Video—Dancing Chickens: Shooting with Sparky

A morning on the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at Tympanuchus WMA in Northwest Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Chicken of the Prairie: A Morning in a Greater Prairie-Chicken Blind—Part 1

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4767

Greater Prairie-Chicken battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

April 26, 2019

Photographers and Birders never really get to enjoy the benefits of staying in a hotel. And this was true for me on Friday morning. I rolled in to Crookston, Minnesota late (after a 4 1/2 hour drive) and after packing my photo/video/sound gear it was already 11pm. Not much time to sleep before the alarm went off at 3:30am. No complimentary breakfast for spring/summer birders! Two granola bars would have to suffice. I had to be in the blind by 4:50am.

Even at that dark hour, the birds had beat me to the lek. Reflectors had marked the 300 yard path to the Greater Prairie-Chicken blind at Tympanuchus Wildlife Management Area in Polk County, Minnesota (in the northwestern part of the state). Honestly it was one of the nicest grouse blinds I’ve ever been in. Spacious and roomy with semi-comfy stools, and even a plywood floor! But like all blinds constructed for the public and not specifically for photographers, it lacked a low-angle shooting window. Photographers like to get eye-level shots. It makes the images more intimate and helps isolate the subject from its background. The addition of two “shooting windows” about a foot off the floor/ground would be really nice.

But as spectacular as their displays are, the sounds these guys make are simply mesmerizing. Crazy cackles, hoots, booms against a background of overhead winnowing of snipe and singing Savannah Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows and Western Meadowlarks. I even heard a couple Greater Yellowlegs and a Marbled Godwit. A true spring chorus!

I am far more familiar with Sharp-tailed Grouse displays, and in comparison, the Prairie-Chickens dance less and fight more. Sharptails perform fancy footwork dance displays and inflate purple throat sacs. Greater Prairie-Chickens do less dancing and seem to rely more on their impressive yellow-pink throat sacs and erected feather tufts. They also seem to face off with other males frequently.

By 9am, the energy level had dissipated and the birds melted into the brushy landscape.

**I WILL POST A VIDEO, INCLUDING SOUNDS AND SLOW MOTION, OF THE PRAIRIE CHICKEN DISPLAYS SOON. STAY TUNED!

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5098

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

The male’s display is

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5166

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

At the peak of displaying, I counted about 15 Greater Prairie-Chickens…Maybe 12 males and 3 females. In this photo you can see 4 males displaying.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5113

Though there were no low angle shooting windows in the blind, I did manage to lay on my belly and shoot a couple shots under the canvas blind’s zippered door. I like the out of focus red dogwoods/willows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5123

Greater Prairie-Chicken male at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4941

Greater Prairie-Chicken males at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4601

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4918

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Prairie-Chickens are a bird of open prairie and brushy grasslands. This part of Minnesota has thousands of acres of such habitat preserved in many Nature Conservency sites, DNR Wildlife Management Areas and the massive Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge (along the old beach line of Glacial Lake Agassiz).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens; 1/800 at f4; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4836

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The sun came up at 6:18am and the photography really kicked into high gear. I took over 1200 photos but “chimped and trashed” 700 of those, keeping about 500.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4887

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Love the head-on view!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4769

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Brief aerial “battles” were fairly common during my 4 hours in the blind. Most often they would face-off and then one would back off and wander away. But occasionally fights would erupt.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4768

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5011

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4979

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying n a shrub! at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Now here’s something you don’t see every day…A displaying Prairie-Chicken in a shrub!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5033

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5017

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5040

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4730

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4759

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying for female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4674

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 1250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4634

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4566

Greater Prairie-Chicken male in shrub at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2500; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4558

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off and battling at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 176mm; 1/800 at f4; ISO 2000; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN

Greater Prairie-Chicken males displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

Three males displaying just before the sun came up at 6:18am. They had been on the lek since before 5am and would continue until 9am. It takes a lot of energy to impress the ladies!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 70mm; 1/250 at f4; ISO 400; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4859

Greater Prairie-Chicken female at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

The females were more in evidence than at a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek (in my experience). But I saw no mating taking place. She lacks the male’s fancy throat sacs and feather plumes.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f6.3; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4878

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019]

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4430

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Not much to do photographically in the pre-dawn hour…Too dark. But what is fun is to slow your shutter speed way down and crank up the ISO and try some panning motion blurs. I got about 4 good photos that I’ve included here.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4384

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Love this motion blur at a very slow 1/3 of a second. I left the blue pre-twilight background but increased the white balance in the bird to a warmer hue. I do wish it was framed on the left instead of running out of the frame, but I can live with that.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/3 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4467

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/15 second at f4; ISO 1600; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4433

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

You can shoot before dawn! I love the artistic/painterly quality of these early morning motion blurs.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm L USM f4 lens at 200mm; 1/8 second at f4; ISO 3200; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5284

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/40 at f9; ISO 100; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5367

Greater Prairie-Chicken: two males facing off at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5238

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

Another front view of this amazing bird of the prairies.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_5181

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

This young male (in front) was constantly trying to display in the center of the lek. But the older males (?) would immediately attack him and drive him from the center fo the lek to the fringes. They would even bite his back. I am assuming that he is just a younger individual and has not yet earned his rightful place.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 320; handheld]

Greater Prairie-Chicken Tympanuchus WMA Glacial Ridge NWR Polk County MN IMG_4826

Greater Prairie-Chicken male displaying at Tympanuchus WMA near Glacial Ridge NWR; Polk County, Minnesota; April 26, 2019

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm L USM f5.6 lens; 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

 

Spring Snowstorm & early-returning Birds

On April 11-12 a ferocious spring blizzard hit Minnesota and affected most of the state. Winds in my home county (Carlton County) exceeded 50mph and created whiteout conditions. About 7-8 inches of snow fell but it was wet and windblown. The world was white again!

Some early migrants had already arrived in northern Minnesota. Males often arrive before females in order to set up shop in the best territories before the females arrive. But there is a great risk in arriving early in the North. You may get a great territory, but you’ll have to survive cold snaps, snowstorms, and lack of abundant food.

I decided to explore southern Carlton County to see how some of the migrants were faring. I drove along the thawed and flowing Kettle River, and also visited the brand new Wildlife Management Area called Firebird.

Red-tailed Hawk on wood fencepost in falling snow. Redtails vacate the North Woods in winter, avoiding the deep snow and bitter cold.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes arrived and began looking for food and a suitable nesting site.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

A Roughleg catches a vole! There must be an abundant population of these plump small rodents here, because there were many hawks; I saw 3 Roughlegs perched on 4 consecutive power poles! Also Northern Harriers and American Kestrels were out hunting here. I even saw an American Crow swoop down and catch a vole!

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

At least 6 Rough-legged Hawks hunted the fields and meadows of Firebird Wildlife Management Area the day after the storm. This large buteo nests in the Far North tundra and eats only lemmings. In their winter range in the northern U.S. they eat mainly voles. Though roughly the size of a Redtail, they have a much smaller beak and feet due to their dependence on small rodents such as voles. No rabbits for them!

This is the last fueling stop before heading back north for the breeding season.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

Red-tailed Hawk in the landscape of Carlton County

Eastern Phoebe in a snowfall. Surprisingly, this flycatcher will eat fruits and berries if no insects are available. I think this guy was catching early flying insects (midges?) along the open and flowing Kettle River.

 

Carlton County, Minnesota’s Kettle River.

Common Merganser along the Kettle River. His mate was just out of frame. ALL the lakes in the county are still frozen (even as of April 18), but rivers have opened up and this large duck is taking advantage of that.

Wilson’s Snipe on ice. These “shorebirds” don’t need a shore, only wet, waterlogged ground where they can probe for worms and other inverts. But they are extremely hardy and have been known to linger in the North even into December (if there is some open water to search for food).

 

Hermit Thrushes are the SECOND thrush to return to the North Woods in spring. American Robins are the first. Both can survive on berries just fine…No need for worms and insects now.

Hermit Thrush along the Kettle River

Killdeer wondering where its snow-free fields went.

 

GOOSE-A-PALOOZA: 4 species of geese migrating through western Minnesota

April 1-2, 2019

I took a quick trip out to the prairies of west central Minnesota to witness the amazing GOOSE MIGRATION of 2019. April 1-2. Numbers like this haven’t been seen in Minnesota in many years. In fact, Steve Millard, who has lived in west central Minnesota for 46 years says he’s never seen the migration this good!

Reasons for this more easterly path of migration this year may be that the snowpack and a frozen James River in South Dakota have forced the geese to migrate farther east. I was mainly in Stevens, Grant, Wilkin and Otter Tail Counties. Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese dominated, but also some Canada Geese and a few Ross’s Geese. Several thousand Tundra Swans (870 in one flooded field near Nashua, Minnesota!) and constant skeins of geese overhead. The sounds are probably my favorite part of the experience.

There was lots of snow along windrows and shelter belts. Most lakes were still frozen but meltwater pools dotted many fields.

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3383

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

I really love Greater White-fronted Geese, and they were one reason I made this hasty trip out west. I rarely ever get to see them in big flocks, so I was thrilled to find this amazing bunch just 0.8 miles east of the city limits of Elbow Lake, Minnesota. You can see that they are all on “high alert” but they soon relaxed and continued preening, resting and sleeping.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/800 second at f8; ISO 320; hand-held]

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3415

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF70-200mm f4L USM lens; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Greater White-fronted Geese just east of Elbow Lake MN IMG_3436

Greater White-fronted Geese near Elbow Lake, Minnesota (Grant County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 2x teleconverter; 1/640 second at f11; ISO 640; hand-held; braced on car]

skeins of geese North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3489

Multiple skeins of geese overhead near North Ottawa Impoundment (Grant County, Minnesota) on April 1, 2019.

Steve Millard, who has lived in west central Minnesota for 46 years says he’s never seen a goose migration this good before!

[Canon 7D with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; 1/800 at f8; ISO 250; +0.33 ev; hand-held]

Northern Harrier North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3521

Northern Harrier at North Ottawa Impoundment (Grant County, Minnesota)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/320 second at f5.6; ISO 320; +1.66 ev (a mistake!…leftover from previous shots); hand-held]

Tundra Swans in flooded field near Nashua MN IMG_3673

Tundra Swan flock just east of Nashua, Minnesota (Wilkin County)

870 Tundra Swans settled into this flooded field along with Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese. The sun only shone for about 10 minutes on the two days I was out there.

flock of geese and old windmill IMG_3818

Snow Goose flock and old Windmill (Wilkin County)

I saw this old windmill about the same time I saw the flock of geese feeding in a cornfield. I knew that I wanted a shot of the flock in the air with the silhouette of the windmill, so I waited, and waited, and waited. Just as I was about to give up, something spooked the flock and they obligingly took wing. It would have been great if they’d come a bit closer, but I still like the shot.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 113mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; -0.66ev; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3870

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3877

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3878

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

The three photos above were a single flock of Snow Geese that had rested the night in a flooded field. I got a few photos of them sitting (below) before they erupted in unison. The sound was amazing…deafening. They quickly settled back down.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Snow Goose flock in flight north of Nashua MN IMG_3901

Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

99.9% of the birds you see in the above photo are Snow Geese….even the ones with dark bodies. If it has a white head, it is a Snow Goose (in this photo). The white-headed, dark-bodied geese were formerly a separate species called “Blue Goose.” We now know that they are the same species as Snow Goose. The goose in the front left corner that is all dark with an orange bill, is a Greater White-fronted Goose.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

IMG_3904

Two Ross’s Geese with Snow Goose flock near Nashua, Minnesota on April 2, 2019 (Wilkin County)

Mixed in with the massive flocks of Snows were scattered Ross’s Geese. These are much smaller birds with a short stubby bill and greenish patch at base of bill. They lack the “grinning patch” of Snow Geese. Ross’s also have a snowy white head, as compared to Snow Geese whose heads are often stained a bit yellowish. You can see two Ross’s together here in the front middle of the photo (one facing left and one facing right). They are all heading to the High Arctic to breed.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF400mm f5.6L lens; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swans North Ottawa Impoundment Stevens County MN IMG_3960

“God Light” and a pair of Trumpeter Swans (North Ottawa Impoundment, Grant County, Minnesota)

[Canon 7D with EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 49mm; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; -0.66 ev; hand-held]

IMG_3978

Farm fields were mostly free of snow, but anywhere there were trees you found huge drifts of snow still.

IMG_3991

Old Bait shop in Otter Tail County, Minnesota

Abandoned Rose City Store MN IMG_3358

Abandoned Rose City General Store in Rose City, Minnesota