Posts from the ‘wildlife photography’ Category

Whooping Crane VS Sandhill Crane BATTLE-Evening at Necedah NWR Wisconsin May 29

[May 29 & 30, 2019]

Okay, okay…I must admit that I chose this “click bait” title for the Youtube upload of this video. Bad Sparky!

But will it work? Will I get more views compared to the original title…”EVENING AT NECEDAH: Whooping Cranes, Trumpeter Swans and more”? Probably, but I will never really know for sure since you cannot upload duplicate content to Youtube.

Regardless of all that nonsense, this was a MAGICAL two evenings at southern Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I filmed 90 percent of this from the observation tower at the south end of the refuge. It was a dead calm and quiet evening.

A Whooping Crane was feeding along the marshy shoreline in the company of two Sandhill Cranes. Peaceful for a while, but then the MUCH LARGER Whooping Crane got too close to the intimidated Sandhills. Not really a “battle” per say, but the Sandhills definitely freaked out as the Whooper got close.

HISTORY—The world population of Whooping Cranes was down to 15 birds by 1941. Intense conservation efforts slowly allowed the population to build. The original group winters near Aransas NWR in south Texas and breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada (a permanent non-migratory group spends the year near Kissimmee, Florida).

But biologists felt that they had “too many eggs in one basket” and that a winter oil spill in the Gulf could wipe out the entire migratory population. They started searching for a new place to establish a migratory flock. Enter Necedah.

The Necedah flock was established in 2001 with a handful of cranes that were famously taught to migrate south to Florida by following a glider. The bold experiment worked and today there are 79 adults making the round trip migration from Florida to Wisconsin each year. By the way, Florida was chosen over Texas as another way to spread the risk of a natural disaster killing off ALL the Whoopers.

Whooping Cranes have NEVER been common in North America. Even before white Europeans arrived on the continent the population was estimated to be only 15,000 to 20,000 birds. And they only lay 1-3 eggs but usually two and often only one survives.

Black Flies have caused many nest failures and mortalities at Necedah. Nesting in late April and May is at the peak of Black Fly emergence so incubating females are so tormented by the tiny flies that they abandon the nest. So a new method called “forced re-nesting” has been implemented by biologists to counteract this. They remove the eggs from the first nest of the season, which forces the Whoopers to renest at a later date after the peak of Black Flies. Success rates and fledgings have increased using this method.

The world population is now up to 800 birds as of 2021.

I also got to see and film two other species that I rarely see in the North Woods…the most lovely Red-headed Woodpecker and the caterpillar-feasting Yellow-billed Cuckoo. A real treat!

[Shot with Panasonic GH5 and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on tripod]

“Warblers & Warren” in Sax-Zim Bog Virtually Live 18 S2E3 May 28 2021

Even 25 degree temps in late May couldn’t put a damper on the breeding warblers of Sax-Zim Bog. Sparky sees Canada’s, Magnolias, Ovenbirds, Blackburnians, Nashvilles, Black-and-whites and several other warbler species. 

On May 28 he goes birding with Warren Woessner and Iris Freeman who made our boardwalk at the Warren Nelson Bog possible. They tell you about a warbler that we didn’t see, but heard very well…the premiere warbler of Sax-Zim.

We also eavesdrop on one of Head Naturalist Clinton’s school field trips, learn about an upcoming pollinator garden expansion, do some chores around the Welcome Center and tally the final numbers from our NINE Warbler Wednesday/Saturday field trips, including photos of the most rare species found on those excursions.

Pelican Antics & Pelicans from the Air: Two short films

Every spring for the last 10 years or so, a flock of between 30 and 120 American White Pelicans have stopped over along the St. Louis River near Fond du Lac Duluth, Minnesota. A great vantage point is Chamber’s Grove Park. The pelicans are probably on their way to large breeding colonies in the far north of Minnesota or possibly Manitoba.

I made these short videos a couple years ago, but am finally getting them out into the “webosphere.”

They are fascinating creatures to just sit and watch…Enjoy!

Watch an American White Pelican swallow a very large fish in slow motion.

This one is filmed entirely with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone…Note how the pelicans completely ignore it.

Virtually Live 16—Porcupines, Otters, Mink, Sandhill Cranes and more…”Early” spring in Sax-Zim Bog

NEW SEASON OF VIRTUALLY LIVE FROM SAX-ZIM BOG!

Virtually Live 16: Sax-Zim Bog in early Spring: Birding—S2E1 April 2021

Birding in the Sax-Zim Bog in April can often mean birding in snow…and we had snow on both mornings of shooting…April 14 & 19….but the birds are returning! In Virtually Live 16 (Season 2, Episode 1)  we search for Sandhill Cranes in the hopes of capturing video of them performing their courtship dance. Sparky finds a cooperative and cute Porcupine along Nichols Lake Road, Ring-necked Ducks on Nichols Lake, and he shares some very cool sightings from this past winter and early April—Great Gray Owl, Porcupine, River Otter, Mink.

Nemesis No More: Lewis’s Woodpecker… in Minnesota!

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

It has been a standing joke with my Uncle Howard about my lack of luck with the Lewis’s Woodpecker. You see, Howard lives at elevation near Durango, Colorado, and the Lewis’s is practically a backyard bird for him. Even on a visit to Howard and Judy’s with the family a few years ago, my jinx aura followed me and we only had one distant and poor look at a Lewis’s.

And each holiday season Howard sends us a DVD of his beautiful wildlife and landscape videos set to music. We always look forward to it and watch it as a family. But it seemed to me that there was always a cameo of a Lewis’s Woodpecker amongst the videos. I’m sure he wouldn’t do that just to rub it in 🙂

Rewind to the 1990s and early 2000s: I was birding around the country quite a bit then (pre-wife, pre-kids) and searched in FIVE western states before finding two Lewis’s in Utah. But it was a distant and poor look…and I did not get any photos.

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

Now fast forward back to January 2021. A Lewis’s Woodpecker shows up at a lake cabin in Morrison County, Minnesota. This is only the SEVENTH record ever for Minnesota. It’s normal range is the Rocky Mountain West with an outpost in the Black Hills of South Dakota…so this is exciting bird news in Minnesota. The bird was “discovered” (by white people) by Lewis & Clark on their 1804 expedition. Its common name honors Meriwether Lewis.

It is a larger woodpecker that is bigger than a Hairy or Red-bellied Woodpecker, but smaller than a Flicker. the pinkish-red belly contrasts beautifully with the glossy green-blue-black back, blue-gray “scarf” and red face and throat.

Unbelievably, the Lewis’s was visiting the suet feeders of a friend of mine, a regular visitor and donor to the Sax-Zim Bog. He is a professor at a local college and brings his students to the Bog each year.

I have photographed over 500 species of birds in the U.S and only have one really bad image of a Lewis’s, but life is busy and I didn’t make the time to drive the 5-hour round trip to see this Minnesota bird. Bridget and my sons, Birk & Bjorn, kept urging me to go. I assumed it was gone already, but I emailed Dr. Bill and found out that it was still there! So on Tuesday of this week (Feb 23) I made the trek.

There were two cars there when I pulled into his wooded oasis on a hill overlooking a lake…But the bird was there too, but flew off before I got my camera out. I only had an hour to watch the feeders before my appointment. The other folks left, and I got the prime spot. Dr. Bill asks that folks stay in their car since disturbing the bird would not be good.

I enjoyed the visiting Red-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Blue Jays and even a Pileated Woodpecker for about 45 minutes. But my meeting was coming up, so I was crossing my fingers that it would show up soon. Finally at the last possible moment it appeared in the huge oaks above. It gave me a really nice show, even stopping on a tree trunk at nearly eye-level (a much better photo than on a suet feeder or old deer rib cage!). I had kept the car turned off and the windows down to eliminate any “heat haze” created by shooting out of a warm car into 20 degree air. The Canon R5 and Canon RF 100-500mm lens did its job and I was thrilled!

Lewis’s Woodpecker jinx broken! Maybe I’ll make a holiday DVD for Howard and Judy this Christmas…and maybe, just maybe, there will be a short clip of this Lewis’s Woodpecker included 🙂

Lewis’s Woodpecker; Morrison County, Minnesota; February 2021

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm lens]

Ice Eagles: Bald Eagles fishing a frozen Mississippi River: Canon R5 Wildlife Photography Shooting with Sparky

During the icy grip of the February 2021 Polar Vortex cold snap, Sparky travels to the mostly frozen Mississippi River of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin to photograph Bald Eagles fishing open spots close to shore. He also looks for Golden Eagles inland in Houston and Winona Counties in Minnesota.

Bitter windchills means frozen toes and fingers, but the Canon R5 does an amazing job of autofocus while shooting super slow motion (4K 120fps) video of the eagles.

A trip to Old Frontenac Cemetery nets Sparky’s first photos and videos of Tufted Titmouse in Minnesota.

The trip ends at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg Wisconsin where an unexpected Gray Fox and Red Fox make a dusk appearance.

Virtually Live 15 Polar Vortex & The Wolf: Birding Sax-Zim Bog Feb 2021

[**I apologize to all my subscribers…I sometimes forget to post to my thephotonaturalist.com blog. Lately I’ve been posting everything to Facebook, Instagram and other social media, but forget to post here! This is one example. The Polar Vortex has moved on (about TWELVE days being below zero…only a few hours above zero during that entire time!) but I’m just getting around to putting Virtually Live 15 up here. So I promise to pay more attention to this blog in the upcoming year. Thanks!]

Put another log on the fire and enjoy this bitterly cool “Polar Vortex” episode of Virtually Live from Sax-Zim Bog!

Filmed over several days including the morning of February 11 with a record cold Minus-46F start to the day. Yikes!

How do our boreal birds survive this brutal weather? Sparky shares some physiological tricks our feathered fluffballs employ.

Then we flashback to warmer days and snowshoe with Sparky in Yellow-bellied Bog where he discovers an avian excavation. He then flashesback within the flashback to tell the tale of his wolf encounter in the woods.

We also visit the Welcome Center, Admiral Road feeders, Auggie’s Bogwalk at Fringed Gentian to see what birds and mammals are out and about in the below zero temps. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

Cameos by Boreal Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, Northern Hawk Owl, Evening Grosbeak, redpolls and even an Ermine.

Virtually Live 14 —BRRRRdathon 2021 Birding & Wildlife Photography Grand Marais Minnesota (Moose! )

The BRRRRdathon—World’s Coldest Birdathon episode of Virtually Live. The BRRRRdathon is an annual fundraiser for my non-profit, Friends of Sax-Zim Bog.

This week we are birding in Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior just south of the Canadian Border. Sparky is participating in the Wintergreen non-motorized division. We go along with his fat bike birding. But he takes an early morning detour inland into the Superior National Forest where he finds an amorous bull and cow Moose! During the BRRRRdathon we see Long-tailed Ducks, White-winged Crossbills and more. Find out who won this year’s event.

Thinking like a Wolf… or just lucky (photos & video)

December 30, 2020

As Executive Director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, I sometimes have to run supplies up to the Welcome Center, and on today’s early afternoon jaunt I spotted a Coyote crossing the road a long ways ahead. I pulled over and waited, but I wasn’t too excited since on every trip to Yellowstone we seem to get our fill of “yote photos.”

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

I squeaked to try and get it to come back out of the woods. It did, and to my surprise the “Coyote” turned out to be a Timber Wolf! 

I knew from previous experience that they will sometimes parallel roads while hunting, so I pulled ahead slowly and stopped at a game trail that gave me a bit of a window towards the bog. And sure enough, I saw just the back of a wolf quickly move across the trail.

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

Now I was getting a bit more confident that I could intercept one of the rarest (or at least rarely seen) of Minnesota’s abundant wildlife. About a half mile up I found a trail I figured it would cross. It was about 15 feet wide and I quietly got out of my van. The woods were silent under the still of last nights 6 inches of snow. 

I walked about a hundred yards in and waited. Sure enough a couple minutes later the wolf appeared! But instead of simply crossing the trail and vanishing, it turned and took a few steps toward me. It couldn’t figure out what I was, which enabled me to get a minute of video and photos. I imagine it was 50 yards away. Amazing experience! Magical experience! You never know what is around any bend in Sax-Zim!

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; handheld]

Video of Timber Wolf Sax-Zim Bog Minnesota

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens; 1/500 second at f8; ISO 1000; handheld

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 270mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 800; handheld]

Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020
Timber Wolf in Minnesota’s Sax-Zim Bog: December 30, 2020

[Canon R5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 270mm; 1/500 second at f7.1; ISO 1000; handheld]

Ghostly Great Horned Owl: Visitor from the Subarctic (video & photos)

December 27, 2020

A few days ago I went to see this pale beauty! Its been on my “owl bucket list” for a long time. Especially gratifying since I searched three times for the subarctic at Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, Minnesota a few years ago.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f8; ISO 5000; +1.0ev; tripod]

After a 4 hour drive from our homestead on the Wisconsin border of Minnesota, I arrived on the complete opposite side of the state on the North Dakota border. I had just about an hour before the sun set.

A wildlife photography friend had tipped me off to the location of this stunner. It had been seen on and off for a couple months. But as I began searching the numbers trees in the woods along the Red River of the North I started wondering if I would really find it.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

But then there it was! On a tree I thought I had looked at on my way in. Wow! What a pale beauty! The Subarctic (or Western Taiga) subspecies of Great Horned Owl is very pale or even white with black markings. But the disc around the eyes almost always shows some color. They can be mistaken for Snowy Owls if it weren’t for this trait (and of course their feather “horns” which on Snowies are tiny and usually hidden).

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 343mm; 1/400 second at f5.6; ISO 12,800; +0.0ev; tripod]

This boreal subspecies occasionally may mate and nest in northwestern Minnesota. This bird appeared to be a male since it seemed smaller in size. Females are significantly larger than males.

Thanks again to Matt Sorum who found this in Clay County a couple months ago!

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 428mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +1.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 363mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 1250; +0.3ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 6400; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 254mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; +1.66ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f7.1; ISO 4000; +2.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; SINGLE FRAME EXTRACTED FROM VIDEO]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/125 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

Subarctic Great Horned Owl (or west taiga subspecies) along Red River of the North, Clay County, Minnesota: December 27, 2020

[Canon F5 with Canon 100-500mm RF lens at 500mm; 1/250 second at f7.1; ISO 12,800; +3.0ev; tripod]

HD Video of Subarctic Great Horned Owl

Video shows it coughing up a pellet, stretching, fluffing, watching a couple woodpeckers and silhouetted against the full moon.