Finally finished editing my video of a Bobcat in Carlton County in northern Minnesota. See the previous post for photos from this once-in-a-lifetime encounter at a friend’s cabin. I said it before, and I’ll say it again…truly a beautiful cat! Enjoy!
Posts from the ‘wildlife video’ Category
With apologies to Kevin Costner and the creators of the movie, Field of Dreams, I have modified the phrase “Build it and they will come.” to “Place it and they will come” and by “it” I’m referring to a convenient perch for a bird.
In this case, I had often seen and heard Belted Kingfishers at a nearby marsh. But they were usually perched far out in the water (Where there were perches!). Not great for photos. Plus, Kingfishers are one of the most spooky of all birds…Meaning they fly at the first sight of a human. So I found a spot on the edge of the marsh where I could get a clear view of the water. I found a good looking perch in my woods at home, hauled it to the spot and stuck it in the mud. I set up my pop-up blind about 20 yards away and waited….But I didn’t have to wait very long as a Belted Kingfisher found the perch within 15 minutes!
SHOOTING WITH SPARKY: PLACE IT AND THEY WILL COME. Join Sparky in the field as he shoots Belted Kingfishers.
Note the series of photos where the Kingfisher misses the perch and makes an amazing recovery!
I froze the second she landed ….I did not want to spook her…so I waited until she was relaxed and fishing. Then I started shooting. My leg fell asleep and my neck got stiff from trying to remain motionless in the blind.
[All shot with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6. Aperture-priority f5.6 and ISO 320 so shutter speed would be 1/1600 or 1/2000 and I could freeze any action]
[Wide angle video shot with Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20mm lens]
Heading north from my parent’s home I decided to stop by Monticello, Minnesota to photograph Trumpeter Swans wintering on the Mississippi River. Tucked into a suburban neighborhood on a cul-de-sac is a tiny lot-sized city park. Hundreds of swans winter here. The attractions for the swans are the Mississippi kept open by the discharge of a nuclear power plant and cracked corn. Sheila the Swan Lady began feeding a handful of swans years ago…and word got around the swan world. Now over 1500 Trumpeters winter here! Sheila has passed away, but her husband carries on, scattering hundreds of pounds of corn each day. Please put a few bucks in the donation box at the park to help support this feeding project.
It was cold…zero degrees…and I was plenty early, 45 minutes before sunrise. While dancing around to keep my feet warm, I set up my heavy tripod and got to work. You must stay behind a split rail fence so you are forced to shoot down on the subjects. Not the best angle. Eye level almost always gives animal images more impact. But occasionally swans will fly in at eye level. As the morning progresses, there is behavior and birds everywhere…a swan battle here, wing-flapping there, a flock of Goldeneyes rocketing past, a Bald Eagle overhead, a lamentation of swans flying in (yes…lamentation!). It is hard to swing the tripod head around fast enough to catch all the action.
As the sun rose the light turned the river steam a very nice gold, silhouetting swans and trees. Several small flocks were flying by. I set Shutter Priority to 1/60 of a second and panned at as they flew past. I’ve had great luck with this on previous trips. But today I preferred my 1/1000 of a second motion-stopping images…Swan feathers translucent and back lit against the blue river.
The noise…hundreds of Trumpeters trumpeting…has to be experienced to be believed. It is the highlight of any visit. And to me personally, the whole experience is unbelievable. I never would have believed this day would come. When I was in high school in the late 70s/early 80s, Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from Minnesota, which had not had a breeding pair since 1885. I remember seeing some captive Trumpeters at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Then the MN DNR and began a reintroduction program, bringing in eggs from South Dakota, Montana and Alaska. In 1987, 21 2-year old swans were released at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County. Today, the Minnesota population is over 2400 swans. An amazing success story.
More and more swans arrived, flying in towards the feeding area. But by now the light was getting “hot” and their white sunlit feathers were blowing out. The histogram was clipped on the white side. Not good. I packed up the gear and just enjoyed the cacophony of trumpeting Trumpeter Swans before heading home. Like they say, or if they don’t say it somebody should, “Any day shooting is better than a day in the office.”
Tips for shooting swans
1. Get there early! White swans in sunlight equals difficult exposures. Feathers tend to blow out to detailless white. I would even suggest getting there 30 minutes before sunrise. Any “steam” on the water may light up to a beautiful yellow-orange when the sun first peeks over the horizon.
2. Choose a lens that will bring the action closer but leave enough breathing room around the bird so sudden wing-stretching or flapping or fights will not leave part of a wing out of the frame. A 400mm on a crop-sensor camera works well as would a 500mm on a full-frame camera. But even a 300mm lens can yield very nice images. I also like to use my 70-200mm for some “bird in landscape” shots.
3. To stop the action, set your camera to Shutter Priority 1/1000 of a second and your ISO to Auto (if you have this feature).
4. Experiment! Pan with swimming birds as well as flying birds…1/80 to 1/60 second work best. Try some fill flash. Zoom. Use a wide angle lens for an “animal in the landscape” shot.
Trumpeter Swans at Monticello, Minnesota: Hundreds of Trumpeters, Canada Geese and ducks winter along the Mississippi River in Monticello, Minnesota. A tiny city park buried in a suburban neighborhood is access to the swans. Visit http://www.MonticelloChamber.com for more info and a downloadable pdf brochure.
All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.
Flight shots taken at 1/1000 second on Shutter Priority with auto ISO
The search pattern one develops while looking for wildlife in Yellowstone, is to carefully scan the roadside…not for critters…but for parked cars! A car pulled off to the side of the road usually means there is a critter someone has spotted. One evening, while returning from a trip to the southeast entrance, we saw several vehicles pulled onto the shoulder. We slowed, but assuming it would turn out to be a Bison, we expected to just cruise on down the road…
“Grizzly!” We gushed in unison…a very good find. And the Griz was in beautiful evening light. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the bear was about 170 yards away…a safe distance to be sure, but a little too distant for a straight 400mm lens. Thankfully Ryan (www.irentphoto.com) had loaned me a 500mm f4 lens, onto which, I put a 2x teleconverter. This combo on the 7D created a 1600mm lens equivalent (Some of the video was shot with TWO 2x teleconverter, AND a 1.4x teleconverter, creating a 4480mm lens!! Not the sharpest video in the world..but useable.)
As is often the case with Yellowstone Grizzlies, this bear was so intent on feeding that he rarely even stuck his head up for more than a few seconds every few minutes. He was actively digging for tubers…and with winter coming on fast, he had no time to lose in fattening up.
Here’s a video of “Teddy” the Grizzly digging tubers…Not very exciting but this is what Grizzlies do 90% of their waking time…EAT! Especially important since he would soon be going down for a long winter’s snooze.
What is the diet of a 300lb. to 600lb. male Grizzly in Yellowstone? According to the park’s website…”From September through October, whitebark pine nuts are the most important bear food during years when seeds are abundant (Mattson and Jonkel 1990). However, whitebark pine is a masting species that does not produce abundant seed crops every year. Other items consumed during fall include: pond weed root, sweet cicely root, bistort root, yampa root, strawberry, globe huckleberry, grouse whortleberry, buffaloberry, clover, horsetail, dandelion, ants, false truffles, and army cutworm moths. Some grizzly bears prey on adult bull elk during the fall elk rut.” So Teddy was likely digging for either yampa root, bistort root or sweet cicely root.
I’ve never been attacked by mammal when in the field shooting…sure I’ve been dive-bombed by Skuas in Iceland, terns in Alaska and MN but never charged. Ryan spotted this Coyote first…It was crossing Slough Creek and never once looked at us. I decided to lay up against the river bank to see if he’d come out of the woods near me. Ryan went east to see if he could cut him off in the meadow. A few minutes later here comes the Coyote, only 50 feet away and slowly stalking something. But he was staring at me. I didn’t put 2 and 2 together that THE COYOTE WAS STALKING ME! I took video until he got within 30 feet or so. I then switched to taking stills. I got off 2 or 3 shots and then I stuck my head behind the camera again to check the LCD and when I looked around my camera a second later the Coyote was in my face! His head was above mine and he was only six feet away. I jumped up and started yelling at him…He sauntered off…He did not run…I finally found a rock and chucked it at him. He kept going. No time for fear until it was all done. My heart was beating! The Coyote had covered the last 25 feet is a split second…If I was a rabbit I wouldn’t have had a chance.
Watch the video and “reenactment” below
We let a nearby campground host if he’d heard any strange Coyote stories lately…He laughed and said, “About an hour ago a couple in the campground were approached by a Coyote that just walked up to them to within 3 feet!…Not stalking just like it was begging.” We later found out that a woman had been bitten pretty badly by a Coyote a week previous in another part of the park. I don’t think this guy had rabies…eyes were clear, fur nice and thick, no foaming mouth…but this behavior is a bit unnerving. Anyway, a ranger was dispatched to the area to check it out…but we never did hear what happened to the Coyote of Slough Creek.
My hand was actually shaking…I eyed my “escape route” one last time, wondering how fast I could really climb that birch…Because I could hear large branches breaking and the deep guttural grunt of a bull Moose getting closer. I calmed myself and found the very tall dark blob through the vegetation in the viewfinder, focusing until the blob became the sharp image of a bull Moose. He was staring straight into my eyes…or the singular “eye” of my lens… I couldn’t tell which. His nostrils flared, trying to catch the scent of a cow Moose, and drool dripped from his mouth. Now was the critical time when he had to decide if he should come closer or retreat. He circled around me to get a better look…Maybe to actually get a better smell, since their eyesight is not great. As he shook his back and head violently, morning dew flying off his hump, his ears making audible flapping sounds, one could get a glimpse of the strength and power these animals possess. After another stare down, he moved off towards the west, grunting a few times as he departed. Sorry buddy…Hope you get lucky next time.
I’ve called in Moose before (see this post about a 2-Moose Adventure), but each time it is a rush…a thrill. Of course there are many unsuccessful attempts that make the successes so much sweeter. It was just a good day to be in the woods and there were many more highlights to come…a male Spruce Grouse feeding on the road, a Timber Wolf that appeared about 40 yards from me but then disappeared silently before I could get a shot, a Goshawk streaking through the trees. Then the most bizarre encounter…I drove a remote 2-track road a couple miles to a little used trail head…I’d only seen a couple grouse hunters all day…but there was a car here…odd, I thought…then my friend and fellow wildlife photographer Jason comes out of the woods on the trail. Crazy! We talked wildlife encounters for about an hour before my day-ending hike into the Boundary Waters Bog Lake. Yeah, a good day.
Birders and photographers from across North America put the Spruce Grouse high on their list of highly desirable target birds. Many of the folks I guide in winter would love to add this grouse to their life list. We usually cruise Superior National Forest roads at dawn hoping to catch a glimpse of one picking grit along the shoulder. And we pray that no logging trucks have already spooked (or smashed) the birds before we get there. Like many boreal birds, it is not rare, but rather rarely seen, due to the inaccessibility of their remote boreal forests and bogs in Canada, Alaska, Maine and Minnesota. Lake County has a reputation for being THE spot to find them (They do not occur in the Sax-Zim Bog).
I found this male Spruce Grouse picking grit along a remote dirt logging road in northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest a few days ago (early September 2012). He was a long ways down the road but I thought I’d get some “insurance shots” anyway. So I eased out of the car, put the camera on the tripod (set to its lowest level) and threw some camouflage netting over me and the camera and started stalking. I’d shoot some video and some stills and then move about 15 steps closer…slooowly. Then I’d sit for a while until he began feeding again. Initially I had stacked a 2x and a 1.4x telextender on the 400mm to get enough reach, and had to shoot at ISO 3200 (noisy!), but eventually, after getting much closer, I was able take off the 2x telextender and reduce the ISO to 800.
You can turn the HD feature on or off depending on the speed of your computer.
He flew up into some Tamaracks and began feeding on the needles. In summer they eat insects, blueberries, leaves, fungi and other berries. In fall and winter they switch to a diet of conifer needles. Tamaracks are utilized in fall before they lose their needles in mid to late October. Black Spruce and Jack Pine needles are the preferred winter food. They can store up to 10% of their body weight in needles in their crop. The slow digestion of this food during the long northern nights helps keep them warm. The grit picked from the road helps the gizzard break down the needles. I once found a road-kill Spruce Grouse and dissected it. I found that that individual only picked white/clear quartz stones for its grit….Maybe it instinctively knew that the quartz is very hard with sharp corners and would be a great needle grinder. Oh, and by the way, I ate that road-kill Spruce Grouse after dissecting it! I had to prove/disprove the myth that “spruce hens” taste like pine needles. In fact, it was as tasty as any Ruffed Grouse I’d ever eaten. Myth busted!
Shot with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 and 1.4x telextender on tripod. Camo netting over me and camera for stealthy approach.