Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Scoters, Loons, Mergansers, Eiders, Seals, Beluga Whales and more
June 16-20, 2017

Cape Merry is a stony point of land at the junction of the  Churchill River and Hudson Bay…and I started several of my mornings on the Cape. It was just me, an insulated mug of coffee and two cameras. A great way to start a morning in the low arctic. At this time of year (third week in June) the sun is rising, for all practical purposes, in the north (okay, slightly northeast); and sitting on the shoreline rocks, you face northwest and so have beautiful light in the early morning. Sunrise during my entire visit was at 4:05 am…but I couldn’t quite muster getting up and out THAT early…especially since sunset was at 10:30pm. So I compromised and got up at 5ish and got out to the Cape by 5:30am.

My alarm would roust me out of my very cozy bed in the Polar Inn at 5am. I had all my gear ready to go, and would quickly don long underwear (top and bottom), pants, fleece jacket, and wind/rain jacket. I also wore my winter hat nearly constantly for the first 3 days. Knee-high rubber boots were my footwear of choice for the entire trip.


Cape Merry looking across the Churchill River to old Fort Churchill.

Ice on Hudson Bay in the distance.

map
Churchill on Hudson Bay is only accessible by air. The train quit running in May. It is some of the most southerly tundra in North America (other than mountain alpine tundra in the Rockies).

churchill_area_map-roads
Cape Merry (#1) is the point separating the town site of Churchill from Hudson Bay and the mouth of the Churchill River. This is where I sat for several mornings photographing sea birds, whales and seals as they fed at the mouth of the river.


Common Eider male

One of my “Most Wanted to Photograph” birds on this trip was the Common Eider. We just don’t see them in Minnesota. They are an “ocean duck” in the Lower 48. The first morning I saw a flock loafing in the shallows of the shoreline of Hudson Bay. It was gray skies and heavy overcast so no photos. But patience pays off, and on my third morning on the Cape, I had this male come swimming right towards me. I hunkered down amongst the rocks and got as close to eye level as I could.

“The eider’s nest is built close to the sea and is lined with eiderdown, plucked from the female’s breast. This soft and warm lining has long been harvested for filling pillows and quilts, but in more recent years has been largely replaced by down from domestic farm-geese and synthetic alternatives. Although eiderdown pillows or quilts are now a rarity, eiderdown harvesting continues and is sustainable, as it can be done after the ducklings leave the nest with no harm to the birds.” [from http://www.wikipedia.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Common Eider male

I stayed low and still but kept shooting as this stunning male kept getting closer and closer. All my horizons were a bit kittywompus due to the contorted position I was shooting from, but I fixed that in Lightroom.

Eiders spend their winters with the Belugas in the Arctic Ocean, feeding in small open-water pools called “polynia.” They return to the Churchill area in May to nest along the coast. But they also utilize inland lakes near Churchill. They are also found in Siberia.

“Mother Common Eiders lead their young to water, and often are accompanied by nonbreeding hens that participate in chick protection. Broods often come together to form “crèches” of a few to over 150 ducklings. Attacks by predators may cause several broods to cluster together into a crèche. Once formed, a crèche tends to stay together throughout the brood rearing period, although some of the different females attending it may leave” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Sparky Stensaas shooting at Cape Merry, Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay. I spent 3 mornings nestled into the rocks at the mouth of the Churchill River shooting anything that flew or swam by.


Common Eider male in flight

These are LARGE ducks! And I wanted an in-flight shot showing their black and white wing pattern. This is okay…But I hope to do better on my next trip.

Eiders can fly at 70 mph!

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev, hand held]

Common Eider male in flight

At nearly 5 pounds (sometimes nearly 7 pounds!) they are the heaviest diving duck in North America…and at 2 feet long with a 3 foot wingspan, the largest as well.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev; hand held]


Common Eider pair

“This species dives for crustaceans and molluscs, with mussels being a favoured food. The eider will eat mussels by swallowing them whole; the shells are then crushed in their gizzard and excreted. When eating a crab, the eider will remove all of its claws and legs, and then eat the body in a similar fashion.” [from http://www.wikipedia.org]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Common Merganser flock takes off from a dead calm Hudson Bay

Seven males and one female run across the still waters of Hudson Bay in order to get airborne.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and Metabones adapter; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 250; hand held]


Harbor Seals loaf on the shoreline rocks of Cape Merry.

The seals were a source of much entertainment. They were cautious of me, but very curious as well. After a few days they even got used to me (I think…maybe I’m anthropomorphizing). As the tide on Hudson Bay went out (yes, it has a tide…and a quite dramatic tide), it would expose shallow rocks which the seals loved to sun on. These rocky loafing spots are called “haulouts.” There seemed to be a hierarchy as to who got what position…or maybe it was first come, first served.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens and Metabones adapter; 1/125 second at f8; ISO 100; tripod]


Harbor Seal basking in the early morning light.

Adult Harbor Seals can reach 6 feet in length and weigh nearly 300 pounds. Females can live to 30 or 35 years, while most males only survive to age 20 to 25. They eat fish and other sea creatures.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal buddies?

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Polar Bear meal…Harbor Seal

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal yawning revealing pink mouth lining.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Harbor Seal

“Do I look fat in this blubber?”

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/500 second at f8; ISO 320;  +0.66 ev; hand held]


Red-breasted Merganser pair

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


Red-breasted Merganser male

Perched amongst the rocks of Cape Merry, I was somewhat hidden from the waterfowl and loons that were either flying towards the river, or from the river to Hudson Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500;  +0.33 ev; hand held]

Red-throated Loon pair fly low over the Churchill River.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


Red-throated Loon in flight.

Another species on my “Must See and Photograph in Churchill” list. And, boy did I get to see a bunch! One morning, about 65 Red-throated Loons flew past the point of Cape Merry. Most were flying from the Churchill River to Hudson Bay. Many landed on the Bay…more like “belly flopped” on the Bay.

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f7.1; ISO 400; hand held]


Scoters and Beluga Whale…How often do you see that?!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/320 second at f8; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Three species of Scoters and ice floes on Hudson Bay

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]

Three species of Scoters and ice floes on Hudson Bay

I got as low as I could to make this very shallow depth of field image of three species of Scoters on Hudson Bay. In fact, I had to lay right on the beach and strain my neck to see through the viewfinder. But I LOVE how it turned out. Surf Scoters (big orange and white bill), Black Scoters (yellow knob on bill) and White-winged Scoters (strangely shaped orange bill with white around eye). Ice floes in the background.

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


Surf Scoter pair in flight

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]


The Trifecta of Scoter Species! Hudson Bay

All three North American Scoter species in one shot! Love it! From left to right: Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter (Velvet Scoter in Europe/England).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens at 340mm; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Black Scoter coming in for a landing

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


White-winged Scoter

The White-winged is an odd looking but strangely attractive Scoter species. I think I like the British name better…Velvet Scoter; it really fits the soft plumage of this sea duck.

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

Pacific Loon coming in for a landing on Hudson Bay

Not a great photo but I was just so thrilled to see a “new” species of loon (other than our Common Loon that is ubiquitous in Northern Minnesota), that I had to include it. Note the silvery sheen to the head. I will have more photos of this species on my “Tundra” post that will be forthcoming.

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

Parasitic Jaeger

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


Parasitic Jaeger

Jaegers “make their living” by harassing gulls in flight until they cough up their last meal. The jaeger then swoops down and catches the “gull vomit” in mid air and eats it. Not really “vomit,” the regurgitated mass is a solid.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2000 second at f5.6; ISO 200; +1 ev; hand held]


Parasitic Jaeger

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; hand held]


Beluga Whale trio

Every early summer thousands of Belugas migrate down from the Arctic Ocean to the mouth of the Churchill River. They begin arriving in mid June and stay until September. What brings them here? The answer is, of course, food!… Abundant populations of a little skinny fish called the Capelin, to be exact. They resemble Smelt (a reference for all my Duluth/Lake Superior friends), only reaching 5-8 inches in length. Incredible concentrations of this fish occur here in July when they spawn along the shores. Arctic Terns and other birds also enjoy the fishy bounty.


Beluga Whale trio with one spouting.

SOME INTERESTING BELUGA FACTS…

  • Belugas are the only white whale
  • “Beluga” means “the white one” in Russian
  • Young are brown-gray when born
  • Average length is 10-13 feet for adults
  • Mature males weigh between 990 and 2,200 pounds; females 550-1540
  • They can hold their breath for 20 minutes
  • Belugas have flexible lips that can “smile”
  • Communicate with facial expressions, sounds, slapping water
  • Unique among the toothed whales for being able to move head in many directions due to flexible neck
  • The lack of a dorsal fin is thought to be an adaptation to living under ice.
  • 60,000 Belugas live in the western Hudson Bay region. About 3,000 of those are found at Churchill
  • In the wild Belugas average lifespan is 15 years, but some may reach 40 or 50 years old.
  • Only predators are the Polar Bear and Killer Whale (Orca)


Beluga Whale mouth of the Churchill River

If you look closely, you can see what looks like “prop scars” on the back of this Beluga Whale. Since these whales feed in the shallow waters of the Churchill River, they can sometimes be nicked by a boat’s propeller.

My timing was quite good as the Belugas were numerous and close to shore. They come in to the Churchill River and feed on the abundant Capelin…a small fish…that is abundant here. Belugas are hard to photograph as they rarely stick their head out of the water, never breach, and they are very white. Nonetheless, it was a thrill to be in their company. One still and quiet afternoon I got to hear the sounds made by the Belugas as I ate lunch on the beach. It was an impressive array of grunts and bellows.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 320; hand held]


Beluga Whale pair spouting

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/4000 second at f5.6; ISO 500; +0.33 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

Belugas aren’t the only ones feasting on the abundant Capelin fish along the shores of Cape Merry; Arctic Terns are also imbibing. That’s a good meal for a tern!

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Cape Merry Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 400; +0.66 ev; hand held]

Arctic Tern Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada-2
Arctic Tern with Capelin fish

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]

Arctic Tern Hudson Bay Churchill Manitoba Canada
Arctic Tern plucking a Capelin fish from the waters of Hudson Bay

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/2500 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand held]
NEXT BLOG POST: Churchill 2017: North Edge of the Boreal Forest

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Journey to Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay: Bird Photography

June 17-21, 2017

In this first installment about my trip to Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay this June, I want to share a bit about the journey to Churchill, logistics of traveling in the Churchill area (lodging, rental vehicle, food, etc), a tour of the town, and the state of the town (due to some recent unfortunate circumstances which I highlight later in this post).

I was also in Churchill in 1987…30 years ago! Hard to believe. Here are the links to those posts:

Churchill 1987: Part 1

Churchill 1987: Part 2


The Tundra on approach to Churchill. Note Hudson Bay in background.

I’ve wanted to get back to Churchill for a LONG time…I love it there. It’s been 30 years, and the itch wasn’t getting scratched. The North is where my heart is…I loved Costa Rica and Mexico and Baja but I’m feel a much stronger pull towards the poles. My trips to Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland really connected with me. And Churchill is the closest, most easily accessible tundra/arctic to me in northern Minnesota. For several reasons, I had a strong desire to photograph and video the arctic species of birds and mammals. The first trip in ’87 was to see the rare and elusive Ross’s Gull. I succeeded in that, but my photos were not great…two words…film days. This time, bird photography was my goal, The Ross’s Gulls no longer nest here but My “Most Wanted” list was still long! (see photo below)

My “Most Wanted” list of species/subjects to photograph and video. A very long list for 4 nights/5 days trip!

High priorities for me were: tundra birds with wildflowers in the background, Willow Ptarmigan, Bonaparte’s Gulls nesting in spruces, shorebirds perched in trees, close up jaegers, sea birds in flight (Common Eiders, Red-throated Loons), Arctic Hare and Arctic Fox, bog landscapes and Pacific Loons at eye level.


Even though it was June 17, patches of snow still dotted the landscape.

Since the railroad isn’t running right now, the airline (Calm Air) has added flights. I’m not sure if this is the reason, but the price for my round trip airfare from Winnipeg was ONLY $400 US…This is $400 to $800 cheaper than it has been in recent years! I jumped at the opportunity.


I haven’t had a FREE hot meal on a plane (domestic flight) for many years! This was First Air’s breakfast meal on the 1 1/2 hour flight. Great breakfast sandwich. We also were given hot face towels! Luxury!


Chatted with this young Inuit man from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada on the flight. He told me stories of fishing salmon, Musk Ox, a white Grizzly Bear that his uncle “caught” (the word they use in the North for “shot”) and showed me how to write his name in the Inuit language. He was doing some training in Winnipeg and was heading back to Nunavut. The flight to Churchill would continue on to Rankin Inlet.


Churchill is the southern edge of the tundra…and the northern edge of the boreal forest.

The view flying in to Churchill


Potholes of the tundra south of Churchill. Note ice on Hudson Bay in background.


The flight from Winnipeg to Churchill was on a 737. Each of the fleet has a different arctic species on the tail; in this case, a Golden Eagle. A front-end loader is the luggage buggy!

I flew out at the 8am flight and returned via the 8pm flight…That way I had two full days of shooting on my “flying days.” But that meant another 2 nights of lodging in Winnipeg, which is fairly expensive.


A sign that is mainly meant for late fall/winter visitors. Few, if any, Polar Bears hang around town in summer. On my visit there were 2 bears around…but I never saw them.


One of the few new buildings in Churchill is the airport.


Welcome to the Polar Bear capital of the World! (Not in summer)


Polar Bear crossing….a winter phenomenon. A section of “the highway” in the background. The only paved road goes from town to the airport. The other 40 miles of road are all dirt or worse.


Main Street of Churchill Manitoba


Home, Sweet Home…Polar Inn

I would highly recommend the Polar Inn. Small and clean and with an amazing breakfast! I stayed 4 nights and the price was reasonable (about $100 US per night)…especially with not having to buy breakfast!

Note the warning adhered to my rental truck…The door hinges were already sprung from someone opening the doors and letting the wind yank them out of the car frame.


Breakfast buffet at the Polar Inn was VERY good! I would shoot from 5:30am to 9am and then come back and get some breakfast…egg mcmuffins, boiled eggs, yogurt parfaits, cereal, waffles and good coffee!


When I was in Churchill in 1987, the “store” in town was The Hudson’s Bay Company store. It has now been replaced by the very generic and boring Northern Store…a mini Walmart.


With the train not running, food stuffs were in low supply at the Northern Store (the only place to get groceries in town) …and more costly due to the expense of flying everything in. Milk shot up to $16 per gallon right after the train got washed out…but has since dropped to $7 per gallon. The bread shelves at the Northern Store were quite bare.


Inukshuk sculpture on the waterfront of Churchill


Sparky at the Churchill waterfront with Hudson Bay and a giant inukshuk (Inuit spelling: inuksuk) in the background.


You can’t rent a car in Churchill…but you can rent a beater truck for exorbitant prices (about $800 CDN for a week). But you don’t need luxury to get around on Churchill’s 60 miles of roads…15 miles paved and the rest various degrees of dirt and two-wheel track. This beauty had both door hinges sprung due so you had to be careful when opening the door on a windy day.


On my last two days, I noticed murals getting painted all over town. Turns out I just happened to be in town for the one week when artists from all over the world were painting their art on buildings. It was part of a grant program called Sea Wall: Artists for Oceans. Sea Walls Festival, is a public art program that promotes ocean conservation globally.

The murals explore the history of Manitoba and highlight some of the issues affecting its unique ecoregions: Tundra, Taiga, Boreal Forest, and the Arctic Ocean.

Seventeen artists from Canada, U.S., Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, U.K., Spain, Australia, and Japan as well as 2 Winnipeggers  made up the 30-member mural team.

And the weather was beautiful for painting…Lows in the 40s and highs around 70! Perfect. Lots of energy about town.


I saw this gentleman painting this mural and wanted to know more so I flagged him down and chatted. Turns out he is from Brazil! Arlin Graff is part of the 30-member team of muralists.


Here is Arlin from Brazil’s nearly completed geometric Polar Bear mural.


Another mural…This one of the Northern Lights by Charlie Johnston of Winnipeg.


Another mural in town is in progress


Local boys and the start of another mural.


Local kids playing along the rocks of the “city beach”….Hudson Bay and ice floes in the background.


Sled dogs are common around town, especially at the start of the Goose Creek Road. This cute fella lived in town and greeted every single person that walked down “Main Street.”


An interesting building in Churchill. The population of the town is about 900.


Winter transportation in Churchill


Now that’s a truck! Tundra Buggy Polar Bear tours are big business in Churchill during November and December. One local told me that many of the big tour companies are owned by outsiders who only live here for a few months. And not much money trickles down to the local economy as the tours are self contained….The companies hire their own big charter plane, then the guests stay in mobile housing units out on the tundra, and all food is flown in on the charter. So the local hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and tourist shops don’t benefit much. Most of the profits heads out of town with the owners in late December.


Cabin on Goose Creek Road

 


Monument on Cape Merry


I’m not sure what goes on at the Caribou Hall but it is a cool old building.


Churchill was formerly a port town where ocean-going vessels picked up wheat. The private company that owns the railroad, also owned the grain elevators (built in 1930) and port, but closed it over a year ago. No ships have come in or out for nearly 2 years.

Then another blow to the town in May: Several huge multi-day blizzards this winter led to a massive melt-off during spring thaw in May, washing out many stretches of the railroad tracks…The only way to get to Churchill overland is by rail…There is no road to Churchill. This was how I got to Churchill in 1987…36 hours ONE WAY by VIA Rail from Winnipeg. My friend Tyler and I sat up the whole way (no sleeper car) in a cloud of smoke from the Indians who were smoking up a cloud. More importantly, this is how supplies, food, cars, equipment get to Churchill…not to mention the small Indian villages along the route. It’s a big deal. I found the locals in good spirits though…and optimistic. Many jobs have been lost due to the Port of Churchill grain elevators closing…and now the railroad jobs are in jeapordy. Surprisingly, very few locals had left for “the South” for other jobs so far.


The renovated Churchill railroad depot now sits abandoned (until further notice!)


No trains have run since mid May (UPDATE: As of August 2017, the tracks have still not been repaired, and there is no plan to fix them.)


Trains sit idle at the Churchill depot…No one has been coming in to, or leaving from Churchill by rail for months.

 


The only gas station in town…and NOT open 24-7.

The only gas pump in town…and I didn’t even bother calculating what the cost per gallon in the conversion from liters…too depressing!


Churchill Weather Station….Evidently a tornado just came through! 🙂


The Eskimo Museum in Churchill is basically unchanged since my last visit in 1987…and that is good. This unique museum tells the story of Arctic Inuit life through carvings made by the people themselves. Carvings of greenstone, Walrus tusk, ivory, whale bone and antler.

Each cabinet has a phone that you pick up and it begins telling you about a specific carving and what is means to Inuit everyday life. A very clever way to interpret the carvings. Most carvings were done between the 1940s and present in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Arctic Canada.

 


A really unique set of carvings (made out of walrus tusk) of Pope Pius XII from the 1940s. Catholic missionaries had influence in many remote villages at this time. The green glasses were made of a plastic hair comb.


Another favorite sculpture/carving. This one shows an elder Inuit telling his son (?) stories about the Northern Lights/aurora borealis (cleverly depicted by the tines of a caribou antler.


All the carvings tell a story of Inuit life. Many date to the mid 1900s. This one tells the tale of a curious Polar Bear and a hunter with only a bow and arrow and his dogs for protection.


A creative carving of an Inuit hunter (ivory) spearing a seal below the ice (bone section)


The only “real” Polar Bear I saw while in Churchill was this stuffed mount in the Eskimo Museum. Evidently there were a couple live ones still hanging around east of town. I never saw one (good thing when on foot) but was hoping to see one while I was in the safety of my truck. No such luck. I did have a bell attached to my pack any time I was walking along the shore of Hudson Bay in areas of brush or rock jumbles.


Some old traditions have just morphed to modern versions….Inuit women carried their children in the hoods of their fur parkas…This is a modern summer version (Winnipeg airport on my way home)

NEXT POST: Churchill on Hudson Bay: Cape Merry Merriment!

Yellowstone #4—Ten Creative Wildlife Photo Tricks

I really do get bored with many of my wildlife “portraits.” Many images are just record shots of a species…Often they don’t tell you much about the critter, its behavior, or habitat. Plus, many other photographers have taken the same shot..and probably have better portrait photos of that species anyway.

Because of this I always try to take some creative wildlife photos on each trip. I detail TEN techniques below. Try one or two on your next wildlife photo shoot.

SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD

On this late April trip to Yellowstone National Park, my main creative endeavor was the shallow-depth-of-field wildlife shot. I accomplished this mainly via the Canon 200mm f2.0 lens that I rented from lensrentals.com. You can see that post and photos here.

ANIMALS IN THE LANDSCAPE

Black Bear in pines wide snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05115

Though taken handheld with a crappy kit lens (the Canon 18-55mm lens), I really like how this Black Bear photo turned out (the Clarity slider in Lightroom helped a lot!). Animal-in-the-landscape images really help us visualize the critter’s home

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 46mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 640; handheld]

Elk herd along Yellowstone River wide Yellowstone National Park WY -04788

Another almost surreal wildlife photo. There is something I really love about this elk herd photo…I think it’s that it has the quality of a composite image…as if I took 30 photos of a single elk from this one spot and then melded them together in Photoshop.

[Sony A6500 with Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens (Metabones adapter); 1/125 at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Mountain Bluebird on pine in snowy background Yellowstone National Park WY -04865

Mountain Bluebird in snowy landscape. Our tendency as wildlife photographers is to fill the frame with our subject…It takes real mental effort to NOT do this, and to step back and allow the critter to have equal (or lesser) presence in the landscape.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld]

SILHOUETTES

Gray skies?…Back light?…These are tough situations for a wildlife photographer. But you can always experiment with silhouettes in these cases. You do need a sky background usually though.

Mule Deer silhouette Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND-0814

Mule Deer silhouette. On our way home from Yellowstone each year, we camp overnight in North Dakota’s Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It breaks up the 17-hour drive home and allows us to get in just a little more shooting. This would have been a terrible image if I’d exposed for the deer themselves, but a the silhouette is quite nice.

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

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Teddy Roosevelt National Park ND-1040

Black-tailed Prairie Dog in Teddy Roosevelt at sunset. Underexposing helped highlight the rim light of this cute little guy giving his alarm call.

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

PHOTOSHOP CHANGES

Mountain Bluebird eye-level grass SATURATED spot color Yellowstone National Park WY -04955

Mountain Bluebird eye-level grass B&W spot color Yellowstone National Park WY -04955

Mountain Bluebird eye-level grass MUTED Yellowstone National Park WY -04955

Which of these 3 Mountain Bluebird shots do you like best? The bird was left untouched in Photoshop, but the grass was desaturated to different levels in two shots. My mind is not made up, but I still think I like the top image. By the way, laying in the grass to get eye-level shots is also a creative wildlife photography technique. I love how the foreground and background have blurred out.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

IPHONE PHOTOGRAPHY

Landscape Lamar River iPhone panorama Yellowstone National Park WY -6402

I just got the iPhone 7+ before leaving on this trip (replacing my “ancient” iPhone 5) and man, do I love it! The camera in the phone now has two lenses (one a “telephoto”), improved resolution, fantastic “Portrait” mode (try it!), and awesome video, including time-lapse, slow motion, and even 4K video!

This is a panorama of the Lamar River in the Lamar Valley.

TELEPHOTO LANDSCAPES

Okay, this is not a “creative wildlife shot” but it is a creative use of your telephoto lens. Isolating landscape/scenery with a long lens can give you a new perspective (fresh vision) of a place you’ve visited many times.

Rocks and sedges pattern Yellowstone National Park WY -05079

BLACK AND WHITE

Some images just don’t work well in color…so why not try them in black and white? Snowy wildlife scenes really lend themselves to this technique.

Bison high key snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05160

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 43mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f7.1; ISO 1250; handheld]

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

Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens; 1/1250 at f2; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; handheld

Bison herd crossing B&W Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05215

Bison herd crossing COLOR Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05214

Did converting this image of a Bison herd crossing the Madison to black and white help? Or do you prefer the color version?

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld]

GET HIGH!

No, I did not bring a drone into Yellowstone! But this is an effective trick for getting faux aerial images. I put on my widest lens (in this case a Rokinon 12mm lens), then attach the camera to the tripod and extend all the legs to maximum length (if you have a center post crank that up too). Now set your exposure in Manual mode, put on the self timer for 5 or 10 seconds, push the shutter and then hold the tripod as high over your head as possible. Wait until the shutter clicks. It takes many tries (to get the right angle and to get the horizon somewhat straight (and your arms get a real workout!)

Stream snow red sedges Yellowstone National Park WY -05607

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens (Sony mount); 1/125 at f16? (Lightroom does not record data from manual lenses); ISO 100; tripod held as high over my head as I could]

Stream snow red sedges Yellowstone National Park WY -05614

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens (Sony mount); 1/125 at f16? (Lightroom does not record data from manual lenses); ISO 100; tripod held as high over my head as I could]

Thermal pool surrounded by snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05622

You could not get this shot without using the tripod-over-your-head trick.

[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens (Sony mount); 1/60 at f16? (Lightroom does not record data from manual lenses); ISO 100; tripod held as high over my head as I could]

DETAILS

Bison hair fur close up Yellowstone National Park WY -0303

We don’t always have to show the face of an animal for it to be an effective wildlife photo. This is detail of a Bison’s beautiful hair.

BLUR, BABY, BLUR

Want the feeling of the energy of a moving mammal or bird? Try slowing your shutter down and panning with the critter. I shot this Grizzly cub at 1/20 second at f14.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0593

Yellowstone 2017 #3—Black Bears to Mountain Bluebirds (Late April)

Bison and three calves Yellowstone National Park WY -04779

No…Not a Bison cow with triplets…Just two playful “red dog” calves coming over to play with her nursing calf. The Bison were just dropping their calves in late April.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/160 at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Mountain Bluebird on shrub in snowy background Yellowstone National Park WY -04846

Snow greeted us as we pulled in to the Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone after driving all night from Duluth. But as we waited for someone to vacate the campground so we could pick a spot, this male Mountain Bluebird entertained us by foraging near the gate.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/320 at f6.3; ISO 100; handheld]

Mountain Bluebird on pine in snowy background Yellowstone National Park WY -04865

Mountain Bluebird male

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 100; handheld]

Woodchuck Groundhog Yellowstone National Park WY -0782

Yellow-bellied Marmot surveys his “kingdom” in Yellowstone.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/250 at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Woodchuck Groundhog Yellowstone National Park WY -06406

Yellow-bellied Marmot. I like how the shade of the mountain slope in the background becomes a beautiful blue blur.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

Elk pair Yellowstone National Park WY -6567

Elk pair; His breath visible in the cool morning air.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

Harlequin Duck pair on log Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05557

We were bummed that the road that leads to LeHardy Rapids was still snowed in. This is the traditional hotspot for Harlequin Ducks. But fortunately we spotted this colorful pair along the Madison River.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f7.1; ISO 800; tripod]

Harlequin Duck male back on log Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05535

Harlequin Duck male spreads his tail feathers after preening. Yellowstone is the southernmost breeding site for this species in all of North America! The main part of their breeding range includes British Columbia, Alaska, Yukon and Labrador. They prefer to nest along fast-flowing mountain rivers.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/250 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod]

Harlequin Duck male front on log Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05505

Harlequin Duck male

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/100 at f6.3; ISO 100; tripod]

Harlequin Duck male on lichen-covered rock Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05303

Harlequin’s love fast water…the more turbulent the better! They dive underwater in rapids to feed.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/500 at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod]

Bison herd along Madison River Yellowstone National Park WY -05200

Bison herd along the Madison River.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 18mm; (Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f6.3; ISO 160; tripod]

Beaver along shore snow Yellowstone National Park WY -05144

Beaver having a late afternoon snack.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f7.1; ISO 1600; handheld]

Black Bear and brown cub Yellowstone National Park WY -05072

Sow Black Bear and one of her two tiny cubs. I got some nice video of this trio, which I will include in a future post.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/320 at f8; ISO 400; tripod]

Bison and red dog calf Yellowstone National Park WY -05030

Bison and her “red dog” calf.

Bighorn ewe Yellowstone National Park WY -04896

We ran across a band of Bighorn ewes near Yellowstone Picnic area.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100; tripod]

Black-billed Magpie trio on rocks in snow Yellowstone National Park WY -04872

A trio of Black-billed Magpies wait out a snow squall near Mammoth.

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/60 at f13; ISO 100; braced on car window]

 

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]

Yellowstone 2017 #1—Grizzly sow & cub

This is Part 1 about our late April trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Lately, my buddy Ryan Marshik and I have been making our annual wildlife photo trip to Yellowstone National Park in the spring. This year we both were able to slip out of our family roles in late April.

One of the highlights was a sow Grizzly and her yearling cub. The ranger told us that folks call her “Valley Girl,” as she hangs out in a valley near Roaring Mountain. We were fortunate to cross paths with the pair on two consecutive days (April 28 and April 29)…They were oblivious to the two-legged photographers, and put on a quite a show.  The ranger said that they had just awoke from hibernation on April 26 or 27.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05778

Yearling cub. Young Grizzly stay with their moms for two winters. The ranger said that the sow “Valley Girl” had two cubs last spring but only this one survived into the second spring.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05804

Mom has a red tag in each ear and a radio collar. The youngster had learned well, and did everything mom did.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05818Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05828Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0530

[Sony A6500 with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1000 sec at f2.0; ISO 100; tripod]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0531

[Sony A6500 with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1000 sec at f2.0; ISO 100; tripod]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0571Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0579Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0587

The yearling would occasionally get preoccupied with digging up food (worms? roots?) and then look up, only to realize that mom had mosied away. The yearling would then run back to her. I figured I’d try some panning blurs at very slow speeds (1/30 and 1/20 second). These were the only four that were interesting.

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/30 sec at f13; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0590

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0592

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0593

[Canon 7D with Canon 200mm f2 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/20 sec at f14; ISO 100; hand-held]Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-0635Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-05965Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06003Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06024Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06061

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06082

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/200 at f7.1; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06090

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06129

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06112

Grizzlies have whitish claws, while Black Bears have black claws.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06148

Bear booty

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06156

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/640 at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06171Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06184

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand-held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06186

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand-held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06188

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06199

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 640; hand-held

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06474

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06480

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06566

Like mom, the yearling rolled in Bison dung several times. Not sure what the reason for this behavior is.Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06487

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/800 at f5.6; ISO 200; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06636

Nursing time! Even yearlings get a milk meal now and then.

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06661

At over 1-year old, the cub is still nursing.

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod

Grizzly Bear and cub Valley Girl near Roaring Mountain Yellowstone National Park WY-06680

Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f6.3; ISO 400; tripod

Pelican Stopover in the North Woods

Every spring for the last several years, a flock of American White Pelicans has stopped over along the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota. Here they find a couple ideal loafing islands in mid river and I suppose, good fishing. Arriving in late April, they usually depart by mid May. In 2017, they showed up on April 19th and departed by mid May. They are easily visible from the Fond du Lac Bridge that joins Minnesota and Wisconsin. I imagine these flocks are headed to major breeding colonies at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, but I’m not positive.

Am White Pelicans IMG_0006647

A flock of American White Pelicans has made the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac, Duluth, Minnesota (and nearby Wisconsin portion of the river) a spring stopover on their way to breeding grounds farther north. There are fewer than 70 breeding colonies in North America (50 in Canada, 18 in the U.S.), with 3 in Minnesota. Of course, some of these colonies are massive! They are considered a Species of Special Concern in Minnesota.

“The American white pelican formerly ranged throughout much of Minnesota, with nesting documented as far east as Aitkin County in 1904. The species declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, largely due to human persecution (Wires et al. 2005). There were no reports of nesting in the state after 1878 (Roberts 1932) until 70 nests were found at Marsh Lake in Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties in 1968. Nesting was limited to less than 10 colonies in the early 1980s, and the species was subsequently listed as special concern in 1984. In the 1990s, nesting was confirmed in several additional areas. Large numbers of non-breeding adults are also regularly seen on other Minnesota lakes throughout the summer. Although there is evidence of an increasing population in Minnesota, it might best be viewed as a recolonization of its former range (Wires et al. 2005). Colonial breeding habits and occupancy of a small number of breeding sites make white pelicans particularly vulnerable to decline, meriting special concern status. The Marsh Lake colony is the largest known colony in North America, giving it continent-wide significance (Wires et al. 2005).” [from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us]

American White Pelican flight St. Louis River Fond du Lac MN IMG_0006699

The “horn” is only grown for the breeding season…It disappears after that. [Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican group with bills up St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06925

“Pelicans are big birds that can overheat when they’re out in the hot sun. They shed heat by facing away from the sun and fluttering their bill pouches—which contain many blood vessels to let body heat escape. Incubating parents may also stretch their wings wide to aid cooling.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org]. I’m actually not sure if this is what is happening in this photo as at this exact moment a Ring-billed Gull flew directly over this group’s heads…Could it be an aggressive posture?

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100]

map American White Pelican North America Distribution Cornell

Range of the American White Pelican in North America [from Cornell]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06899

“Pelicans are skillful food thieves. They steal from other pelicans trying to swallow large fish and are successful about one-third of the time. They also try to steal prey from Double-crested Cormorants that are bringing fish to the surface. In their dense nesting colonies, some birds even steal the food that a parent on an adjacent nest has disgorged for its young.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 200; -1 ev]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN-06929

“Contrary to cartoon portrayals and common misconceptions, pelicans never carry food in their bill pouches. They use them to scoop up food but swallow their catch before flying off” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/400 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican pair St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0006630

[Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St Louis R Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_8295

Population Information:

  1. North America population estimate: 67,030 breeding pairs (1998-2001; King and Anderson 2005)
  2. Minnesota population estimate: 15,824 breeding pairs breeding at 16 different colony sites (Wires, Haws and Cuthbert 2005: The Double-crested Cormorant and American White Pelican in Minnesota: A Statewide Status Assessment)
  3. Minnesota has one of the largest North American colonies at Marsh Lake; over 80% of the state’s population occurs in this location

[Canon 40D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/320 at f8; ISO 400]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Chamber's Grove Park Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_7024

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens (& Metabones adapter); 1/2000 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Chamber's Grove Park Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_7035

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f7.1; ISO 200]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0017

“American while pelicans are a monogamous species, and most likely pair each year on their breeding grounds. Adults begin breeding when three years old. They perform a variety of flying and walking courtship displays, and select a nest site within a dense colony. Colonies are mainly located on isolated islands, also occupied by gulls and cormorants. A pelican colony can consist of thousands of birds (Evans and Knopf 1993). After courtship, each pair builds a nest by scraping gravel, soil, or vegetation to form a shallow depression. The bottom of the nest may contain little or no insulation. A clutch of two eggs is common. Both males and females take turns to continuously incubate and guard the eggs until they hatch, usually about 30 days later. The young are altricial. The first chick to hatch frequently harasses the younger sibling, causing it to leave the nest early or move to an area of the nest where it is fed less often. Second chicks often die of starvation, predation, or exposure. Adults feed chicks by regurgitating food into their beak pouch, where it is made accessible to the chicks. Parents continuously brood nestlings for about 17-25 days. As parents begin leaving nests unattended, groups of chicks huddle together for warmth, forming a pod or creche. These pods may also serve as protection from predators (Evans and Knopf 1993). The young walk from the nest at about 26 days, and fly after 62-63 days. [from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us]

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0029

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0046

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0057

I am trying to find out where this Pelican was banded. This photo was taken on May 6, 2013.American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0080

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0082

Did you know that the American White Pelican has arguably the LONGEST WINGSPAN OF ANY BIRD IN NORTH AMERICA? Well, at least it’s a close competition… The California Condor is almost exactly the same wingspan…NINE FEET!

According to The Sibley Guide to Birds, here are the North American birds with WINGSPANS OVER SEVEN FEET.

  1. California Condor—109″
  2. American White Pelican—108″
  3. Greater Frigatebird—90″
  4. Whooping Crane—87″
  5. Short-tailed Albatross—87″
  6. Black-footed Albatross—84″
  7. Bald Eagle—80″
  8. Trumpeter Swan—80″
  9. Golden Eagle—79″
  10. Brown Pelican—79″
  11. Laysan Albatross—78″
  12. Sandhill Crane—77″
  13. Mute Swan—76″
  14. Great Blue Heron—72″

Some more wingspans of large North American birds…

Turkey Vulture (67″), Great Black-backed Gull (65″), Flamingo (60″), Great Gray Owl (52″)

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0095

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/2000 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_0106

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9939

“American White Pelicans cooperate when feeding. Sometimes, large groups gather in wetlands. They coordinate their swimming to drive schooling fish toward the shallows. The pelicans can then easily scoop up these corralled fish from the water.” [from http://www.allaboutbirds.org].

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 100]

American White Pelican St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_9999

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1600 at f8; ISO 100]

American White Pelicans St. Louis River Fond du Lac MN IMG_0006664

[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; 1/1000 at f9; ISO 200]