Posts tagged ‘Duluth’

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]

Top Ten 2016 Creative Wildlife Images

I get bored with pretty portraits of wildlife, but I often fall into the routine of just filling the frame with the critter and not paying attention to composition, landscape and other creative ideas to pump a little life into my wildlife images. And I must admit, I didn’t make creativity a priority this year (2016). Let’s hope I can do better in ’17. But here are my “Top Thirteen” favorites…

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5287-1Bighorns play King of the Hill; Yellowstone National Park.
One of the wondrous things about Yellowstone is that you can observe wildlife going about their lives as if you were invisible. A century of protection has allowed critters the luxury of not being fearful of man. And so it was with this bachelor herd of Bighorn Sheep. The big old rams were laying down, resting, but the younger rams were playing “king of the hill,” taking turns knocking each other off this bluff-top boulder. By moving low, and slow, but in plain sight, we were able to get close enough to get some shots (and video) and enjoy their antics. Even though it was mid-April, many months removed from the rut, it was obvious that they were all still vying for position and dominance.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/1250 sec at f5.6; ISO 400; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

bighorn-gardiner-river-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5989Bighorn; Yellowstone National Park.
Kind of an Escher-esque image…It would be perfect if the left Bighorn was a couple inches farther right…But it’s unique enough as is. I like it for some odd reason.

bison-teddy-roosevelt-national-park-medora-nd-img_6336Bison; Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
I’d say this is my favorite image of 2016. Ryan and I were shooting along a backroad of “Teddy” before the sunrise, getting some cool subtle silhouettes…then the sun rose and we assumed we should move on so we would not be shooting into the sun. But It was a cool morning and I saw the breath from this Bison backlit and knew it would be a neat shot. So I hustled into a position where the Bison’s body would block the sun and backlight all the breath and steam coming off his body. I tweaked the white balance to add some “sunrise gold” color into the scene.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 158mm; 1/2000 sec at f22; ISO 200; Manfrotto tripod with Wimberly Sidekick]

rough-legged-hawk-along-cr29-sax-zim-bog-mn-img_9069-1Rough-legged Hawk, Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota.
Mid October is a beautiful time in the Sax-Zim Bog…the Tamaracks are at their peak yellow-gold color and migrant hawks can be seen overhead. This bird-in-the-landscape photo captures both these fall highlights. Rough-legs breed in the Arctic, but move south in late fall. They hunt small rodents by hovering and watching…and that is exactly what this Rough-leg is doing. Sometimes the small-bird-in-big-landscape shot works well, and I think it does here.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1250 at f5.6; ISO 800; braced on car window frame]

black-tern-thief-lake-wma-marshall-co-mn-img_1105Black Tern and Cattails; Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, Marshall County, Minnesota.
Did you do a double-take when first seeing this image? The cattails are only a reflection in a dead calm pond.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

bohemian-waxwing-wrenshall-city-park-crabapples-wrenshall-mn-img_2010Bohemian Waxwing; Wrenshall, Minnesota.
Kind of a blah photo straight out of the camera…but I saw some potential in it. I turned the gray skies into a dramatic white background by blowing out the whites in Aperture and Photoshop…then I “erased” a stray branch to strengthen the composition.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/4000 at f5.6; ISO 1000; handheld]

coyote-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_5688Coyote; Yellowstone National Park.
How often can you say you laid in the middle of the road to get a shot of a Coyote running at you? I wanted to get the canid right in the middle of the yellow lines so I laid right in the middle of the road. Strange composition but kind of fun.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm; 1/500 at f6.3; ISO 160; handheld]

img_1103-1Ducks and rushes, Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, NW Minnesota.
I reduced this image to its most important elements…the shapes of the rushes and the ducks in flight. I simply converted the image to black-and-white and clipped the whites in Photoshop.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1600 at f5.6; ISO 250; handheld]

ivory-gull-juvenile-canal-park-duluth-mn-img_9439Ivory Gull, Duluth’s Canal Park, Minnesota.
A very rare bird in front of a very famous lighthouse. A bird-in-the-landscape photo with a twist. The Ivory Gull is an elusive small gull of the High Arctic…It is rare even in its breeding range! But sightings in the Lower 48 are very rare. And last winter there were TWO in the area. Birders came from all over the country to add this bird to their “Life List.”
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 98mm; 1/250 at f7.1; ISO 200; +2/3 EV; handheld]

little-blue-heron-st-louis-river-western-waterfront-trail-duluth-mn-img_7487Little Blue Heron, St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota.
Does something look strange about this photo? It should…It’s upside down! I like the painterly quality the flipped reflection gives this image.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; 1/1000 at f5.6; ISO 320; handheld]

red-tailed-hawk-and-moon-yellowstone-national-park-wy-img_3979Red-tailed Hawk; Yellowstone National Park.
This Red-tailed Hawk ruined my image of the moon! Just kidding…
[Canon 7D with Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm;

trout-hatchery-durango-colorado-img_3558Trout, Durango, Colorado.
A slow shutter speed makes for a stylized photo of a swimming trout at the hatchery.
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L at 200mm; 1/6 second at f32; ISO 100; handheld]

wild-turkey-skogstjarna-wrenshall-mn-img_2903Wild Turkey, Skogstjarna, Carlton County, Minnesota.
To get this extreme wide angle shot, I set my camera with a 10mm lens on a mini-tripod outside my back window with a remote trigger attached. When the turkeys came in for some cracked corn, I remotely tripped the shutter (from the comfort of my easy-chair!). Note the displaying Tom in the background. I have not yet perfected this idea, but hope to work on it more in 2017.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens at 13mm; 1/100 at f8; ISO 400; remotely triggered from inside the house]

Christmas Coyote

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1439
CALLING IN A CANID
I drive over the bridge spanning the St. Louis River at Fond du Lac/Duluth (MN) at least 4 times a week, and I always check for eagles, otters, or whatever else might be utilizing this wild stretch of river. A couple days ago, I spotted something running along the far shore…but I was driving and it was so far away that I couldn’t tell if it was an otter, fox, coyote or wolf. I stopped and backed up so I could get the binoculars on it. But it was gone. Not sure why, but I decided to give a few calls on my Johnny Stewart predator call (that I always keep in my car). Almost instantly a Coyote came around the bend in the river, running towards the bridge on the frozen river.

I hustled back to the car, grabbed my camera with 400mm lens (which is also ALWAYS in my car) and hid behind the snow bank up against the bridge railing. Conveniently there was a hole in the snow bank where I could look through the bridge railing. She was coming fast and I tried to start shooting but my lens had frosted over. Frantically I tried to scrape the ice off the front of my lens with my glove (not usually a recommended practice!), then I tried shooting again but the lens would not focus! I found that I had the camera set to AI Servo focus mode and quickly switched it to Single Shot focus, which worked. In the process, I had breathed on the viewfinder and fogged it up…And now I couldn’t find the Coyote while looking through the camera! All this happened in a few seconds and by now the Coyote had slowed to a trot. I gave a few more calls (imitating what, I’m not sure!). A quick swipe of the viewfinder allowed me a passable view and I quickly started shooting, trusting that my autofocus was doing its job!

Well, that Coyote never saw me and came to a stop right underneath me, trying to figure out where the “wounded rabbit” was. I couldn’t resist a couple shots looking straight down on her from 40 feet above (NOT a good angle for wildlife photography!). And as I peeked over the top of the snow bank, she saw me and trotted off, turning back a couple times to make sure she hadn’t missed an easy meal. I really wished I had a dead rabbit to throw to her. As you can see, she was a beautiful animal. (Not sure if the Coyote was a male or female, but I choose to call it “her”)
Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1424[Taken looking straight down from the bridge…40 feet (?) above the river]
SHUTTER PRIORITY SURE THING
This was the perfect scenario for shooting with Shutter Priority. It was fairly early in the morning and overcast. I knew I wanted sharp Coyote images. If I’d had my camera set to Aperture Priority, I may have ended up with slower shutter speeds and the Coyote would be blurred. Yes, the image might be less “noisy,” but I’d rather have a sharp, useable, noisy image, then a blurred, un-useable, cleaner image that I’d delete anyway. So I set the camera to Shutter Priority 1/400 second (a compromise, to be sure, as it would freeze a walking/trotting Coyote but not a running Coyote) and Auto ISO. The camera automatically keeps the aperture at f5.6, 1/400 and lets the ISO range up and down…In this case from ISO 1000 to 1600. These settings allowed me to get sharp images in low light. This portrait was taken at ISO 1600 on a Canon 7D—a camera not known for its high ISO capabilities…and you don’t even notice the digital noise.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1428

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1384BIONIC HEARING
When I got home that evening, I calculated that the Coyote had heard my mouth call from 1/3 of a mile away! Never underestimate the senses of wild critters…Deer hunters know this very well! I do feel bad that this Coyote expended energy on a “wild goose chase,”…and I will not use this call on a Coyote in this area again this winter. I really only use the Johnny Stewart predator call when I see a critter duck into the woods and I try and get them back out into the open. My success rate is probably 2 to 5%.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1401

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1432HIGH KEY IMAGES
In these two images, I blew out the whites in Photoshop. I didn’t really need any detail in the snow and I like the look. So I moved the right slider in the Levels palette to the left until it completely clipped the whites.

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1381

Coyote called in St. Louis River Fond du Lac Duluth MN IMG_1446I really like “Animal in the Landscape” shots. These two are examples of that. It places your critter in its habitat and maybe tells more of a story than a “head and shoulders” shot.

[ALL IMAGES: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 (handheld but braced on snowbank), Tv (Shutter Priority) 1/400 second at f5.6. Auto ISO (ISO ranged between ISO 1000 to 1600 for these images)]

Attracting Hawks with a Feather Duster

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A forecast for strong NW winds in Duluth, blew me right up to Hawk Ridge earlier this week. Northwest winds pushes south bound migrating raptors towards the shoreline of Lake Superior. But the hawks don’t want to fly over the big lake…No thermals to ride, no food, no resting spots. So they funnel down the North Shore of Lake Superior right over Duluth and Hawk Ridge. Strong winds also keep the birds low, which is important for photography.
A photographer from Chicago had put his self-proclaimed “feather duster” owl on a tall pole on one of the overlooks at the Ridge. The thought is that some feathers waving in the wind will add an element of realism to a very rigid decoy. I had brought my plastic owl as well, but “Earl” stayed earthbound this time. The idea is that since hawks HATE Great Horned Owls, they’ll pause, fly over, and maybe dive bomb the faux owl, giving the photographer a fighting chance at capturing an in-flight hawk photo.

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7620

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7611Kestrels have always eluded me… Just try stopping alongside a perched kestrel and see what happens. Off they go, with their back to you. But today, finally, SUCCESS! Tracking these mini-jetlike falcons is extremely difficult, but the 400mm f5.6 locked on this time and I got nice sharp images. Key to this success were my camera settings: I knew I needed a shutter speed of about 1/2000 of a second to freeze the motion of a speeding raptor, and I knew I didn’t care so much about the aperture (even at f5.6 the entire bird would be sharp), and there was plenty of light. These 3 factors led me to set the camera to Tv (Shutter Priority) at 1/2000 of a second and auto ISO.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7634Sharp-shinned Hawks really find owls irresistible, and several made attacking passes at the owl. My goal is to get images showing the uppersides of the hawks, ideally with either a blue-sky background or a back drop of fall colors. Shots from underneath are a dime-a-dozen…Great for identification but pretty boring shots. Note that the dark bluish back and tail, and deep red eye, signify that this is an adult bird.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7660I love being able to shoot down on the hawks as well. The turning fall colors makes a nice backdrop for this migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Golden Eagle juvenile Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7581My first Golden Eagle of the year! A few hundred migrate from eastern Canada south over the Ridge each fall. You can tell this is a juvenile by the pattern of white underneath…dark underwing coverts and white at the base of the primaries and secondaries. Adult Goldens would be all dark under and juvenile Bald Eagles would show some white on the underwing coverts.

Sailboat Lake Superior Duluth IMG_7698Recent heavy rains caused red clay sediment from the St. Louis or Nemadji Rivers to wash out into Lake Superior.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7638A white-cloud background gives this Sharp-shinned Hawk portrait a unique look. I purposely let the whites blow out so that the hawk looks as if it was clipped from its real background.

Owl decoy feather duster IMG_7590Here is the “feather duster” owl decoy. He earned his pay today! And nary lost a feather.

Broad-winged Hawk Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7516The last few stragglers. Broad-winged Hawks are specialists on frogs, snakes and insects…so October 7th is pretty late for them. This is one of 3 that soared over early in the day. Note the banded tail of this adult.

Sandhill Cranes Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7556You often hear Sandhill Cranes before you see them…and that was the case here. A small flock of 4 soared effortlessly over the Ridge…Probably on their way to wintering grounds in Texas.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7669A rare visitor! Red-bellied Woodpeckers breed mainly south of Duluth, but this one made a brief appearance at Summit Ledges. We first heard it calling.

We also had a Merlin and Northern Goshawk (juvenile) dive on the owl, but I missed all those shots. This is a low-percentage endeavor! Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle also flew by. Meadowhawk dragonflies were also very common.

[All images shot with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens: Most at Tv (Shutter priority) 1/2000 second and Auto ISO (resulting in shooting at f5.6 for most]

Mega Warbler Fallout!

Black-throated Blue Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2214Black-throated Blue Warblers winter in the Caribbean and are not often seen in migration…especially males. And their nesting/singing sites are high in deciduous trees so an eye-level view is a real treat.

Duluth’s Park Point can be a major migrant trap during spring migration, BUT only if the right weather conditions come together. If we have beautiful spring weather during migration, the birds just wing their way north, bypassing Park Point. Sure, many birds stop along the way, but not in great numbers. This year we had the perfect storm of conditions as six days of fog, rain, wind and storms between May 18th and the 23rd trapped birds on the Point. Most warblers migrate at night, so when conditions south of us are good, they make major movements, but then they hit fog near Duluth and don’t dare journey out over Lake Superior. They plop down at the first available land, which is the 7-mile sand spit known as Park Point (and its twin, the 3-mile long Wisconsin Point). Fortunately for the birds (and unfortunately for the birders!) this phenomenon does not occur every year.

When we arrived at the Beach House parking lot on the Point on Sunday the 19th, birds, mainly warblers and Swainson’s Thrushes, were everywhere! You didn’t know where to look next. Majority were American Redstarts but my friend Ben Yokel had already seen 22 warbler species by the time we got there at 9:30am! Eventually 25 of the regular 26 species of warblers would be seen by birders over the next 4 days (only Pine Warbler was not recorded). Karl Bardon did some counts on the 21st (the day that the majority of warblers were feeding on the Lake Superior beach…hopping around on the sand as if they were tiny shorebirds!) and came up with some amazing numbers, including a state-high count of 452 Palm Warblers!

I ended up photographing TWENTY species of warblers during this mega-fallout. The highlight for me was the Black-throated Blue Warbler male, who put on quite a show, feeding for hours in a few pines near the soccer fields.

Nashville Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002305Nashville Warbler in Forsythia. I planted myself next to this blooming Forsythia to see who might come by, and in addition to this Nashville, I photographed a Least Flycatcher, Phoebe and a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in this same bush in a 15-minute span.

Black and White Warbler Concordia Language Village Bemidji MN IMG_2008 copyBlack and White Warblers are appropriately named. This is a male. The female lacks the striped undersides. Unlike other warblers, they often forage on the trunks of trees like nuthatches and creepers. They nest over much of the Eastern U.S..

Northern Parula in grass Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2244Northern Parula male foraging on the soccer field. With fog, rain and high winds, many of the warblers were only finding insects low to the ground.

Magnolia Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2184Magnolia Warbler male. One of the most striking of our spring warblers. “Mags” nest across Canada and the North Woods of NE N. America in dense cover of mixed coniferous/deciduous forests, especially attracted to young pines.

Cape May Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2167Cape May Warbler male. A real boreal species, preferring tall spruces in the far north of MN, WI, MI, Maine and much of boreal Canada. I often see them foraging in blooming willows like this one during migration.

Golden-winged Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2105Golden-winged Warbler female. I missed the male, who is even more striking. Found nesting in regenerating aspen stands, alder stands, but not very common. In the northeastern U.S. their existence is threatened due to interbreeding with the Blue-winged Warbler which is moving north into Golden-winged territory due to global warming.

Nashville Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2147Nashville Warbler. Note the rarely seen orange crown. A very common warbler in the North Woods. Note the willow catkins that add much to this composition.

5 spp of Warblers  Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002231FIVE species of warblers in one shot! Not a great shot but can you pick out the American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, Palm Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. On the 21st almost all the warblers were foraging on the sand on the Lake Superior side of Park Point.

Palm Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002230Palm Warbler. One of the MANY terribly-named warbler species in North America. It’s breeding habitat is as far from palm trees as possible, nesting in the Black Spruce bogs of Canada and the extreme northern U.S. from northern Minnesota to northern Maine. The name came from early observations on their tropical wintering grounds.

Common Yellowthroat Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002416Common Yellowthroat’s sport a “robber’s mask.” You can find them nesting in wet, marshy areas

Wilson's Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2201Wilson’s Warblers nest mainly in Canada and Alaska but a few do breed in far Northeastern Minnesota. Named for Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), considered the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon. Other birds named for him include the Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Wilson’s Plover.

Magnolia Warbler female Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002257Magnolia Warbler female.

Blackpoll Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002263Blackpoll Warblers nest just north of Minnesota so we only see them in migration. Note their orangey legs. Blackpolls make heroic fall migrations, flying NON-STOP over several thousand miles of open ocean from New England/Eastern Canada to Venezuela!

Chestnut-sided Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_0002268Chestnut-sided Warbler. In most years, the bulk of the warbler species migrate through the Duluth area AFTER the leaves have come out on the aspens. This year, the warblers are late but the leaf-out, green-up is even later. Good for birders!

American Redstart Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2084American Redstart foraging in the jetsam and flotsam on the beach. Redstarts are warblers, and often the most common warbler seen during migration (along with earlier migrating Yellow-rumpeds and Palms)

Northern Parula Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2058Northern Parula female. Love the yellow and blue combination! Nest high in coniferous trees, making unique pendulous nests woven from Usnea tree lichens.

Blackburnian Warbler Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2050Blackburnian Warbler foraging in the pines on a rainy day. They nest high in spruces in the boreal forests of eastern Canada, New England, Adirondacks and the North Woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Ovenbird Park Point Duluth MN IMG_2315Ovenbird eating an earthworm. This is a shot I needed 6 months ago for the 2nd Edition of our Earthworms of the Great Lakes book. Oh well. They are ground foragers that love worms. You’ve probably heard them singing in mature deciduous forests, “TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER.” Ovenbirds get their common name from the resemblance of their domed ground nests to the clay/earthen bake ovens of yesteryear.

PHOTOGRAPHY NOTES:
Foggy, gray sky days are among the most difficult conditions for bird photographers. But when you have THOUSANDS of warblers “dripping from the trees” in front of you, there is no excuse for NOT shooting. The key is FLASH! I used both regular synch-speed flash which gives you a 1/250 of a second shutter speed, and sometimes tried High-speed synch flash, which allowed me to shoot even to 1/1000 of a second and still be able to illuminate my subject. BUT, you need to be quite close to your warbler if using high-speed synch at these fast shutter speeds due to the fact that the flash output is much less than at normal synch speeds. Also, the flash takes longer to recycle so you only get one flash image before the camera switches to non-flash mode. An external battery pack would have solved this to some degree. Attaching a Better Beamer to my flash allowed the beam of the flash to reach MUCH FURTHER. The unit uses a plastic fresnel lens to magnify the flash output.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 handheld. Flash for most with Canon 520 and Better Beamer flash extender]

Boreal Owl Bonanza!

First of all, let me say that Boreal Owls are the cutest bird in the entire world! About the size of a Kleenex box, nearly as wide as they are tall, the Boreal has bright yellow eyes with two black “tear drop” marks and a face framed by black. Immaculate white spots dot the forehead. This has been a great winter to see this most elusive of all owls in northern Minnesota.

Roughly every 4 years there is an increase in Boreal Owl sightings in Minnesota. Usually, late in the winter, a few may be spotted hunting in the daytime, which often means that they are hungry!…possibly starving. You see, Boreals are normally nocturnal hunters. So when voles are at a low cycle further north, the Boreals need to move in search of food. In late January of 2013 they started showing up in Sax-Zim and along the North Shore. Guide Chris Wood found SEVEN in one day along the Scenic 61 highway north of Duluth. This has been a huge IRRUPTION! (yes, irruption is the right word).

And since Boreal Owls are rarely seen, this influx of day-hunting Boreals is big news. Most of the folks I guide still need it for their life list. So irruption years become BUSY years for the local guides (and I’m no exception!). In fact, the tiny owl hadn’t even been recorded nesting in the Lower 48 until the spring/summer of 1978 when a Boreal Owl pair took up residence in a nest box in Tofte, Minnesota.

Here is a compilation of video from 4 different Boreals taken between January 27th and February 8th.

Boreal Owl Scenic 61 nr Stoney Point Duluth MN IMG_0074437
Boreal Owl preens nr Stoney Pt Scenic 61 St. Louis Co MN IMG_0074883
Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MNIMG_0074823
Boreal Owl Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MN IMG_0074782
Boreal Owl sleeps Dodges Log Lodges Scenic 61 Lake Co MN IMG_0074762

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. BUT note that the top photo was taken with the 400mm AND stacked 2x and 1.4x teleconverters! Don’t let anyone tell you that you should NEVER stack teleconverters…I did and the photo turned out all right I think.

Gulls in my Face! How to make gulls look sexy!

I love a couple things that most people dislike…gulls (no such thing as a “seagull”) and dark overcast skies for photography. And today I wanted to combine these two to create an artistic, out-of-the ordinary image.
How did I get so close to the gulls? Remember, these were all shot with a 10mm-20mm lens…So you need your subject to be VERY close in order to appear somewhat large in the frame. The answer is stale bread! Once in a while I buy a large bag of unsaleable bread products from the local day-old-bakery. They call these “wildlife bags” and for about $5 you can have lots of fun. The disturbing part is that this particular loaf I was using today was about 6 months old (It had been in my car all summer) and there was not a speck of mold on it! I just shudder to think what we are putting in our bodies. But gulls have stomachs of steel.
The look I wanted was a dark and gloomy sky with the gulls lit in flight with a flash. But to get this “cold-warm” look you need a special technique. First you set your camera’s white balance to “tungsten,” this makes the dark gray sky a pleasing blue. But if you just used straight-up flash on the gulls they would also look bluish. So you need to “warm up” the light from the flash. To do this, I velcroed on two 1/2 CTO gels…These are orange gels that turn the light from your flash a very warm hue…It would be the equivalent of setting your camera’s white balance to “shade.” for example.
I then enticed the Ring-billed Gulls to very close range with scraps of bread, bagel and english muffin. Most would come within 3 feet on foot…Not quite close enough. So I tried throwing the scraps in the air…that worked much better. So I’d throw the bread in the air and then hold the camera at arm’s length and just keep shooting. Fresh batteries allowed the flash to recycle fairly quickly but even so I lost many images to the flash not firing. The result is that the gulls white feathers are neutral to slightly warm instead of bluish…A much nicer look.
Flash is great fun…but it is not often used creatively on wildlife. I had a blast with this and if you want to be further inspired, read Joe McNally’s “Hot Shoe Diaries,” “The Moment it Clicks” or any of his flash books.

Flash with CTO gel in place.